Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bond-arama: Final Ratings/Final Thoughts

Today we conclude the James Bond series, all of which can be found at our Bond-arama page(LINK)! We’ve examined all the movies and ranked them. We’ve talked about what worked and what didn't and how they could have been made better. Now it’s time for some finishing thoughts.

The Rankings I: While many of you made very persuasive cases for why From Russia With Love (or even Thunderball) should be the number one movie, sadly, I think the public continues to see Goldfinger as the top Bond film. That’s the one that wins the polls and which people talk about the most. That’s the one people use to introduce people to the series too and it’s the one characters in other films (e.g. Trainspotting) talk about as the pinnacle of the series. So here are the final rankings for the top three:
Goldfinger (1964)
From Russia With Love (1963)
Dr. No (1962)
The Rankings II: That said... if I were rating the films on how much I enjoyed them, they would be ranked differently. They would be ranked differently too if we went by Box Office numbers. How differently? Check out this chart and you can compare all three sets of rankings. The first list is the Box Office results in 2012 dollars. The second list is the one we created here as an “objective public list.” The third list is how I would rank them in terms of how much I enjoy each film personally.
Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

Notice a couple things. First, there are some real anomalies in the Box Office numbers. For example, Dr. No is near the bottom even as we ranked it near the top. For Your Eyes Only also sits nine spots lower than we ranked it. And somehow, Die Another Day moved up from the bottom to 12th place, i.e. the top half. What this suggests is something we already knew: Box Office results are not a guarantee of quality.

Notice too that the “big” films did better than the smaller films. Indeed, most of the top nine are all about volcano lairs, undersea bases, space stations, and nuclear weapons. Clearly, that is what draws people to the theater.

Also, look at how close the series apparently came to dying at the end of Roger Moore’s era through the Timothy Dalton’s films. The lowest performing films, by far, are the four films of that era.

Final Thoughts: Finally, I found it fascinating writing these. It was interesting to see how many really weren’t that great even though we tend to think of the series as generally superior to other films. It was even more interesting to see how easily so many of these films could have been dramatically improved with only minor tweaks. It struck me too how many of these films were copies of prior films.

Ultimately, what I found most interesting was that the elements that we think make Bond films (larger than life villain with big scheme, strong Bond girl, and complete Bond) are not what made the best Bond films. To the contrary, the elements that made the best Bond films seem to be the presence of a strong male relationship for Bond (Kerim Bey, Felix Leiter in Dr. No, Casino Royale and Thunderball, Rene Mathis, Tiger, Kristatos), a smaller but more clever threat/scheme (FRWL, Casino Royale, FYEO), and a complex rather than a larger-than-life villain (Dominique Greene, Red Grant, Le Chiffre, Columbo).

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the series!

Thoughts?

(P.S. Feel free to share your own rankings!)

26 comments:

PikeBishop said...

Hmm. some observations about the box office:

1. The 80s in general weren't kind to Bond. Moore's last two, the finale being his all-time worst and the two Dalton films take up the bottom four slots.

2. Dr. No is fifth from the bottom, not unusual for the first film in a seies.

3. The box office seems to indicate that the franchise hit its zentith with Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.

4. Box office took a beating due to the critical beating Lazenby and OHMSS in general took, although Connery's return in DAF did generate some buzz.

5. Moore's two best are strong box office champs, but then the decline starts with Moonraker. Apparently more people realized this was a blatant Star Wars rip off then I had figured. Hmmmmm.

6. Interesting how the Brosnan films are pretty much grouped together on the chart. People were willing to give him a shot after the Dalton misfires and not having the character in movies for almost seven years, but they all drew about the same amount of ticket buyers. He kept the franchise afloat, but nothing more.

AndrewPrice said...

Excellent observations PikeBishop! Let me throw out another observation -- you would think that each Bond would have at least one film near the top, but that's not true. The best Brosnan is 12th. Lazenby was 14th. And the best Dalton was 21st. Every Craig is above the best of those three guys.

Tennessee Jed said...

I guess my final thoughts are ones I have previously shared with you. I never really felt the film seris was all that great per se. James Bond is an iconic character, and the films, generally, were entertaining if you could take them at face value. To me, the books were more true to lif and enjoyable, but I do GET that the film franchise developed in a different way. I think it is a franchise that has to adapt and re-boot. Hell, Bond would be well into his 80's now. Connery got the benefit of being first, and did such a damn fine job, it was tough on everyone who followed. Roger Moore stayed on too long and became a parody. They struggled until finding Daniel Craig who is right up there with Connery in terms of getting the character right. As far as the things we think about with Bond (the girls, the songs, the opening scene) they may not make the plot any better, but they are what most people remember. Maybe that is actually the real lesson of Bond?

PikeBishop said...

Let's look at the buzz factor for each "new" James Bond, exluding Connery's first appearance in Dr. No, for reasons cited above:

Moore; Live and Let Die; #3 all time, impressive in anyone's book

Craig: Casino Royale #6, billed as a true reboot of the character and it worked. Nice job Daniel.

Connery 2: Diamonds Are Forever #8. Welcome back Sean, all is forgiven. Nice bounceback.

Brosnan: Goldeneye, #12. Hmmmm. Seven years since Dalton put us all to sleep. Cold war is over you "misogynist cold war dinosaur" but we're willing to give you a shot. Not the shot we gave Roger or (Ugh) Lazenby but still.

Lazenby: OHMSS #13. We're willing to....................sorry you're not Sean and mentioning him in the first five minutes.....................Naaaaaaaahh

Dalton: The Living Daylights. 21, My God Man, 21!!!!!! James Bond, in 1987? I wonder if people were already seeing the Soviets on the ash heap of history, two years before the Wall came down! it was the era of Gorbachev and the era of Gorbachev and Reagan in Iceland! James Bond? Puh-leez!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I think there is a disconnect in the films. On the one hand, you have the fans, who like the more realistic films. Then you have the public who tend to be drawn in for the spectacle, but don't really care about the character itself. So what you get is that the "best of" lists are dominated by the most complete films, but the Box Office is dominated by the biggest spectacles.

In terms of the books v. the films, I have come to the conclusion that Hollywood is incapable of making a book the way it is written. I assume that's an ego problem.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Excellent question. Perhaps Glasnost killed Dalton? Or maybe people just didn't think he fit the role. Hard to say, though Brosnan didn't do that well either, so maybe it was the era.

The one that amazes me actually is that Brosnan doesn't have a top 5 film. People were truly excited when he took over the role because he seemed to fit the role perfectly (at least in theory). I would have guessed that Goldeneye would have had that massive buzz potential to make it one of the biggest hits in the series... but apparently not.

Tennessee Jed said...

there are many valid reasons why films have to do some things differently than books, but with this franchise, it pretty much became keeping only the title. As I have mentioned, I feel the strongest books were From Russia With Love, and Moonraker. While I recognize the book Moonraker would not FIT the template of what the franchise became, I am an old romantic who feels a film like Eye of the Needle still is a great story and film that holds up after all these years. If they made it straight up, it could make a great film, but it wouldn't be a modern Bond film unless they added in some elements like they did in Casino Royale.

PikeBishop said...

And also Andrew, color me surprised and glad that "Die Another Day" didn't crack the top ten. I mean was there ever a more obnoxious marketing orgy surrounding a James Bond film? Stoli Vodka comes to mind, also a Bond girl who was one of the hottest box office properties at the time? it barely edges out Brosnan's first film in total box office.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, True. But I think the issue really is ego. Look at the adaptations of things like Lord of the Rings and how they made pointless changes for no reason whatsoever. That's the history of book adaptations. Yes, sometimes, changes are needed, but nowhere near the level of changes normally made.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I'm shocked it got as high as it did and thankful it didn't go higher. That film shouldn't have earned $10. But that is the power of marketing.

Tennessee Jed said...

I'm sure ego played a role, although having re-read the entire series a few years back, I'd be the first to admit that some of the stories are probably too thin to sustain a full length feature film. And then, I doubt the film makers thought too much about trying to recreate the plot of a given book. They were trying to make a big iconic profitable cash register.

Your series reminded me that these films, as a whole, are hardly great works of art. They relied on peoplegoing in the summer to see if the franchise could ""top" the earlier films with bigger more convoluted plots and special effects. I realize that towards the end of the Moore era, I had quit going to them. Probably a combination of life events with growing disgusted at how silly they had become. (the Louisiana sherriff, Jaws, etc.) I came back to it when Brosnan took over, but it took Craig to successfully regain my interest.

Jason said...

Re: Brosnan’s films. Interesting that “Tomorrow Never Dies” is his lowest grosser. I liked the film and didn’t think it was Brosnan’s worst. I wonder if the fact that it was competing against Titanic hurt. TND opened at number two behind Cameron’s epic and I suspect never got a chance to rule the box office roost with Titanic sucking a lot of oxygen out of the air.

I think “Die Another Day” also benefited from commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Bond series.

As far as why Goldeneye didn’t become one of the series’ biggest hits, I wonder if the public was burned out on action films at the time. This was 1995, after a whole lot of Die Hard rip-offs came and went. I wonder if moviegoers had soured on too many gunshots and explosions for a while.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, They were trying to make a big iconic profitable cash register.

Bingo!! And very well said.

On the franchise, you are correct -- they were basically trying to pull people in for a summer tent pole film. What amazed me, doing the series, was just how bad most of these films were. I never really stopped to think about before. I knew that some were bad, but I never thought about how many were bad.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, That's very possible as well. Timing is everything in terms of box office success. If you arrive before the public is ready for you or after they are burned out or you get drown by the competition, that can massively affect your box office results.

In terms of Brosnan specifically, you could be right. I'm not sure why his numbers turned out as they did. All I can say for sure is that I think they're pretty much backwards.

AndrewPrice said...

BTW, Feel free to share your own rankings.

tryanmax said...

I still feel like T-Dal gets stiffed. The phrase "License to Kill" became an expression in it's own time. Unfortunately, that time was heavily-dated. Maybe in time T-Dal will be regarded as Lazenby 2.0 (the best possible outcome) derided at the time, but in retrospect, not all that bad. Truthfully, though the Craig films are certainly much bigger and better, they still somewhat vindicate the T-Dal films in that they too are darker, more violent, and strive for greater realism.

The problem with Brosnan is that everyone expected him to bring Remington Steele into the franchise, but he didn't. Instead, he tried to play a more serious character which was out of step with the more campy direction the producers took the franchise post-T-Dal. It was like Rob Hoskins in Toontown, except Brosnan was oblivious to the surroundings.

tryanmax said...

BTW, I gave up on finishing the Moore films and jumped over to the remainder. So there are still a couple late Moore films I haven't seen.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, What did you skip in the Moores?

I don't think Dalton's image will improve over time. If anything, his image is sinking by comparison to Craig. Dalton's one claim to fame in the franchise was that they were supposed to be darker and more brutal. But that's exactly what Craig has done too. But Craig's films have been so good that they've exposed just how poorly the Dalton films were executed. The end result is that Craig has stolen Dalton's claim to fame and exposed Dalton's films as not even good at the one thing they supposed did that the others hadn't.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. I agree about Brosnan. I think people expected Remington Steele and instead, they got depressed, monogamous, mono-Bond.

shawn said...

Why Dalton failed:
It was the 80s, the era of big action flicks. Schwartzenegger and Stallone were box office gold and the Bond flicks were more of the same, but Dalton just wasn't larger than life.

The Living Daylights- bad Ah-Ha theme song. It was the Age of AIDS and "Oh my God, Bond can't be sleeping with every hot babe he meets, it would be irresponsible to give that message to the kids". So we go monogomy-Bond. Still, I thought it was a decent flick.

License to Kill- A return to over-the-top action and stunts. I liked the dark tone, but most people didn't as the previous Bonds were serious to silly and so this didn't have the feel of previous Bonds. Also, at the end when Bond tells Leighter that he got revenge for Leighter's dead wife, the mood is too jovial, in contradiction to the rest of the film and for the scene in question. Still, I generally like it more than most people do.

Moore- started off pretty good, stayed way to long and became too silly.

Lazenby- I recently watched On Her Majesty's Secret Service again and I think the public was ready for Not-Connery. Lazenby was decent in the role, had the physicality and I think if given 2 or 3 films, would have acquitted himself nicely.

Brosnan- A solid Bond. Way better than the scripts he received.

Craig- A nice reboot to the cold blooded government hit-man. The public is finally ready for a dark and gritty Bond.

shawn said...

Oops- on Lazenby it should read- the public was not ready for Not-Connery.

ScottDS said...

We all know money isn't a good arbiter of quality, otherwise Avatar would be one of the best movies ever made.

Having said that, it seems that fans can be pretty forgiving and, unlike other franchise films, even the weakest Bond films can be elevated (if only slightly) by a cool set piece or favorite gadget. And they don't pretend to be something they're not.

And on your personal list, I think you rank The Man with the Golden gun just a tad (read: waaay!) too high, but that's just me. :-)

tryanmax said...

Andrew, actually the only Bond film I haven't seen isFor Your Eyes Only. But in my effort to see them all in order I ended up skipping the 80s films and only half watched the Gilbert films.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I think you are right. The big problem for Dalton was that he paled in comparison to the BIG action stars of the age and his films were far too flat compared to the things Schwarzenegger and Stallone were doing.

I also think Lazenby got caught up in the not-Connery problem.

Moore's problem was that he stayed too long and his scripts became too hammy.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, True, money is definitely not an indication of quality. It's an indication of "event status," which is more often than not the result of great marketing.

No... I tend to think that The Man With the Golden Gun is in the right place. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, LOL! That's Moore's best one! I recommend seeing that one. It's very different than all his others.

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