License to thrill?
After 50 years, the world’s most debonair secret agent is showing no signs of age, still jumping out of planes, surfing the tops of high-speed trucks, and, generally kicking ass. So on the occasion of James Bond’s 50th anniversary—Ian Fleming’s suave action hero first hit the big screen in 1962’s Dr. No—it’s only fitting to pay tribute to what’s become a tradition of the classic franchise: the high-octane, pulse-pounding, pre-credit opening action sequences.
From Daniel Craig’s swashbuckling brandishing of a gun to Sean Connery’s iconic delivery of a pun, here are nine of the most memorable James Bond opening scenes—007 of the undeniable best, plus two more divisive sequences that stick out for other reasons.
001. ‘Goldeneye’ (1995)
Filling out 007’s tux for the first time in 1995’s Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan announces his arrival in heart-stopping fashion, in what remains not only the most thrilling Bond stunt of all time, but one of the best action-film openings ever. Despite the franchise’s inextricable ties to music, the Goldeneye opening begins a capella, with Bond taking a breathtaking bungee jump off a 750-foot dam, soundtracked only by the sound of the cord unraveling. The pre-title sequence concludes with Bond pursuing a plane off a cliff in a motorcycle, flying through the air, landing on the aircraft, and navigating it to safety as the first beats to Tina Turner’s theme song kick in.
002. ‘Goldfinger’ (1964)
Like a 007 comfort-food buffet, the opening sequence to Goldfinger includes all the quintessential Bond ingredients and serves each up with delicious finesse. It launches with an amusing ruse: Bond makes his entrance swimming underwater, disguised by a mallard he wears as a hat. Then, in rapid succession, there’s hand-to-hand combat, a secret entryway, a bomb detonation, a quick-change into a crisp white dinner jacket, a shot of a half-naked lady dancing at a swanky bar, a love scene with a totally naked lady, an interruption to said love scene by a bad guy, and, finally, after the bad guy is electrocuted in a bathtub, a kiss-off pun delivered in the wry manner that only Sean Connery could pull off: “Shocking. Positively shocking.”
003. ‘Casino Royale’ (2006)
Shot in stylistic black and white, the opening to Casino Royale is a more cinematic departure from the typical Bond pre-title sequences. But the moody color palette imbues the scene with both a foreboding sense of darkness and fitting Bondian class, a change of pace that serves well in introducing a new 007, played by Daniel Craig, and a new, grittier direction for the franchise. The noir vibe cleverly bridges the gap between the character’s cinematic roots in the 1960s and the effects-heavy, more graphically violent nature of Craig’s tenure as the iconic character. Plus, those who prefer their Bond in more traditional chase sequences were certainly delighted later in the film during a Parkour stunt chase that seemingly defies the laws of physics.
004. ‘From Russia With Love’ (1963)
A Bond opening doesn’t always need million-dollar explosions to be effective. From Russia With Love starts with a classic cat-and-mouse chase, a suspenseful sequence in which Connery’s 007 stalks a henchman as the score crescendos dramatically. The best part, however, is the thwarted expectations. Just when it looks as if the bad guy has defeated Bond—before the opening credits, no less—a winking, Mission: Impossible—style reveal lets the audience breathe a sigh of relief as the theme music starts.
005. ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ (1977)
The opening to The Spy Who Loved Me embraces the campiness of the Bond franchise while still managing to produce a series of pulse-pounding stunts. Roger Moore’s 007 beds a snow bunny in a chateau at the top of the mountain, but, of course, gets called out on a mission, and the snow bunny, of course, turns out to be a double agent. As Bond skis down the mountain, he’s ambushed by Russians who tail him down the hill. Things get dire when our brave agent skis over a cliff and careens through the air, but—again, of course—a parachute deploys, replete with—what else—a Union Jack emblazoned on top. After a tense, at times laughable chase, comes the kind of rah-rah moment that amps up the audience for the rest of the film.
006. ‘The World Is Not Enough’ (1999)
With special effects capabilities becoming more sophisticated and things-that-go-boom budgets ballooning as the Bond franchise chugs along, it’s almost unfair to compare the action openings of the later films to the early ’60s films. But it’s hard to deny the dazzling stunt sequence produced at the beginning of 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. Brosnan is effortlessly dashing as he pilots a speedboat in a high-speed chase on the Thames River in London. Landmarks whiz by, the boat submerges, things explode, Bond ends up dangling from a hot- air balloon: it’s the onslaught of action that modern audiences have come to expect from a Bond film, all executed with adrenaline-boosting energy.
007. ‘License to Kill’ (1989)
License to Kill appeared at the height of the macho-man movie heyday of the late ’80s and ’90s: Lethal Weapon, Rambo, Indiana Jones, and The Terminator were all series at the height of their popularity. So it’s fitting that the opening sequence to License to Kill kicks off with a comparable amount of braggadocio and testosterone, featuring a stunt sequence that has Timothy Dalton, in his second rodeo as Bond, jump out of a helicopter and quite literally lasso a plane’s tail to its towing cable—a high-flying action set piece that’s mostly impressive just because it looked really darned cool.
008. ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981)
Most audiences like their Bond shaken, not stirred. That said, they don’t like their Bond shaken up so much that he’s been frothed, altered, and reimagined beyond recognition. That’s what makes the opening sequence to For Your Eyes Only so polarizing. Camp is an essential element of the Bond franchise, especially in its early days. But the extent of the madcap goofiness in the helicopter ride is too much for some 007 diehards. An exceedingly cartoonish villain pets a longhaired white cat while doling out grade-C comic-book zingers like “I hope you had a present … fright!” Then, cue cheesy ’80s music! Bond rallies, hooks the villain’s wheelchair on the leg of the chopper, and dumps him in a smokestack. While the abundance of clichés is too silly for most to handle, the scene has been embraced by some fans—chiefly Mike Myers, who modeled Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films after the bald bad guy.
009. ‘Die Another Day’ (2002)
There’s a laundry list of reasons why Die Another Die ranks among the worst Bond films in franchise history. The heady, overly complicated opening action sequence could certainly be one of them. The camera work is entirely too scattershot and hectic: explosion! quick cut! another explosion! camera angle change! look, more explosions! Then that opening transitions into Madonna’s unilaterally derided theme song. Yet in a B-movie blockbuster sort of way—a class a Bond movie should never be included in—there’s something thrilling and at least fun to watch about the boom-a-palooza that kicks off the film, and the production value is top-notch. It’s telling, however, that after this, Brosnan’s action-heavy swan song as 007, Casino Royale, rebooted the series four years later with a much more character-driven tale.