Dr. No (1962), Sean Connery
The inaugural attempt opens with an odd, music-box tinkle and lots of flashing colored dots. It’s the simplest Bond opening, but it’s a classic. Eventually, we get silhouettes of dancing men and women, then Calypso drums and a reggae “Three Blind Mice” — with silhouetted blind men — that make no sense until everything blends into the opening scene.
Theme: “The James Bond Theme” John Barry Orchestra; “Kingston Calypso,” Monty Norman orchestra
From Russia with Love (1963), Sean Connery
Credits superimposed on writhing belly dancers, set to an instrumental version of the theme. Nothing too complicated, but a good indication of what’s to come.
Theme song: “From Russia with Love,” John Barry Orchestra
Goldfinger (1964), Sean Connery
More or less a souped-up version of the Russia opening. Scenes and action sequences are superimposed onto gold-painted models. A subtle, elegant counterpart to its famously trumpety theme.
Theme: “Goldfinger,” Shirley Bassey. A nutty classic.
Thunderball (1965), Sean Connery
Underwater, a fount of bubbles gives way to flickering fingers as a fetching young woman in silhouette slithers up against a violet background. A harpoon slides ominously onscreen behind her from the left, she kicks away just as it fires and Connery’s name pops up. The harpoon-bearing scuba diver swims off and “Thunderball” appears in twin red-bubble bursts … the rest is nubile swimmers being chased by lumbering harpooners. The most stunning, by far, of the first four. (There’s still little variety, though.)
Theme: “Thunderball,” Tom Jones. “Goldfinger” for guys.
You Only Live Twice (1967), Sean Connery
Easternized font, a persistent, erupting volcano, Japanese girls, cutouts and silhouettes. Absent are the gyrating bodies, for once, but you get spiral-fan designs, and the first hints of image-morphing.
Theme: “You Only Live Twice,” Nancy Sinatra. Pretty, pretty.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), George Lazenby
A very cool, psychedelic, Rorschach-y offering. A martini glass becomes an hourglass, Bond hangs from the hands of a clock, images from the preceding films slide through the hourglass (perhaps to cater to nostalgic anti-Lazenby-ites). Beauties kneel and repose against a backdrop of purple, green, and blue and a subdued instrumental theme.
Highlight: Best lead-in line — Lazenby, after a girl drives away and he’s left with her shoes in his hand, says, just dryly enough, before deploying a self-aware take to the camera: “This never happened to the other fellow.”
Theme: “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the John Barry Orchestra
Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Sean Connery
Maybe it’s the shitty song, but this one seems like a considerable step backward, as it reverts to the superimposed-scene rubric. It must be tough to come up with new ways to combine guns, chicks, and some reference to these ridiculous-ass titles, but I don’t know, after OHMSS, I sort of expected more. Meanwhile, we’ve got a cat’s eye that turns into a diamond, a gun made out of diamonds, girls wearing diamonds, tiny girls pushing a big diamond like a merry-go-round …
Highlight: A cutout of a diamond-textured girl dances inside the silhouette of a rounded diamond. Neat.
Theme: “Diamonds Are Forever,” by Shirley Bassey. “They are all I need to please me/They can stimulate and tease me/They won’t leave in the night/Have no fear that they might desert me.” Wow.
Live and Let Die (1973), Roger Moore
For the first Bond with Roger Moore, Broccoli went and got his new golden boy a Beatle and arguably the best theme song of the bunch. Not so, the visuals: Heavy on flames and unhappy-looking Caribbean women, these titles are sort of ghostly, but a little dull.
Highlight: On beat, a wide-eyed native girl’s head — already on fire, the poor woman — explodes and turns into a flaming skull.
Theme song: “Live and Let Die,” Paul McCartney & Wings. They don’t get much better than this.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Roger Moore
This one starts slowly, and doesn’t get much better. The iconic and eponymous gun makes several appearances, which are welcome and well-framed, but the whole thing feels like a retread.
Highlight: A silhouetted, clearly disrobed young woman dances in front of a red background and a brilliantly sparking fire. That, or the aforementioned gun cameos.
Theme: “The Man with the Golden Gun,” by Lulu. Oy.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Roger Moore
Begins as Moore has parachuted away from danger; silhouetted hands reach up to catch and shelter the spy, giving way to pistol-wielding his-and-her agents on trampolines. The first sequence to feature Bond himself as an active participant; also the first, I think, with (brief) nudity. Nonetheless, by far the sweetest song and opening.
Highlight: A tie: Moore’s hand raises a pistol in closeup, only to be covered and gently dissuaded by a female hand; oversized-gun-barrel gymnastics.
Theme: “The Spy Who Loved Me,” by Carly Simon. A very nice one. Save for the name check, you can’t tell it’s Bond-related at all.
Moonraker (1979), Roger Moore
Moore shows his mug again. A knockoff of TSWLM, except it’s not romantic and the trampolining is in outer space. (Seriously.)
Highlight: A girl flies like Superman, then gets oddly digitized and flies away. Weird.
Theme: “Moonraker,” Shirley Bassey. She did “Goldfinger,” OK? Let her stop.
For Your Eyes Only (1981), Roger Moore
Starts out like it’s gonna be another Moore showcase, then — bam! — up comes a bare-shouldered-and-singing Sheena Easton, and she never goes away. Pretty much a music video, which is weird, but not terrible. Plus: more nudity.
Highlight: Turnabout’s fair play — Bond silhouettes surround a woman, for once.
Theme: “For Your Eyes Only,” Sheena Easton.
Octopussy (1983), Roger Moore
No way this one can turn out well, huh? Starts with blue-tinted hands releasing a neon-red Bond outline that travels the length of a woman’s body, transmuting into the 007 logo and an octopus. After that, a lot of women just sort of laying about.
Highlight: Gotta be the weapon-toting arms wrapping around a thoroughly unconcerned Moore.
Theme: “All-Time High,” Rita Coolidge
A View to a Kill (1985), Roger Moore
Roger Moore’s last, and they send him out with a bang. A woman shows her day-glo fingernails, then unzips a long winter coat, which we enter to find lots of blacklight, fire, and skiing. Set to a not-bad pop bit by Duran Duran.
Highlight: Moore-in-silhouette shoots a female skier, turning her into an ice statue. Whatever.
Theme: “A View to a Kill,” Duran Duran
The Living Daylights (1987), Timothy Dalton
Big sunglasses, white satellite sunhats, gymnastics; this sucker just screams ’80s atcha — or would, if it could get the Pop Rocks out of its mouth for long enough. Notable for the introduction of the very serious Timothy Dalton, which demeanor is much belied by the outdated visuals.
Highlight: Gun-toting, blonde, ice-blue-eyed bathing beauty floats up from an oversized flute of bubbly to rest her ams and oh-so-sleepy head on the rim as the 007 logo, written in what looks like blue Lite Brite (a running theme throughout), rises like a Vegas neon sign in the foreground. Sounds campy, and is, but it’s fun to look at nonetheless.
Theme: “The Living Daylights,” by a-ha. Eh.
Licence to Kill (1989), Timothy Dalton
The Lite-Brite 007s are back! Licence (oh, you betcha that’s not a typo — they’re Brits, ’member?) opens with closeup of a red-(press-on?)-nailed woman, holding a camera whose lens frames a circular headshot of Dalton-as-Bond — the second “0” of “007” stops neatly over it, as well. Elements reminiscent of the Thunderball girls are present here, as is a terrible, terrible, terrible song. Also, small, differently hued girls dance across the screen as crosshairs pass menacingly over them.
Highlight: The appearance of Benicio del Toro’s name in the credits
Theme: “Licence to Kill,” by Gladys Knight. Not so awful until she gets to the chorus, then … yikes.
Goldeneye (1995), Pierce Brosnan
Enter the Brosnan. Fire-breathing golden ladies; golden sickles with hammers falling through them; a gun-mouthed, smoking, two-headed woman. Pretty slick, actually, ’cept for that last bit.
Highlight: Seriously, when that chick coughs up a firing gun barrel, I’m done.
Theme: “GoldenEye,” Tina Turner
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Pierce Brosnan
We pass through a wall of binary code and travel through fiber optics to end up at what looks like a Petri dish of squirming, microscopic ladies (oh, yeah!). Then, some very cool X-ray elements, and freaky women made of circuitry.
Highlight: A woman’s diamond necklace floats, grows, and rotates like a satellite; in close-up, her cheek turns into the edge of the earth, with the sun peeking ’round the corner. Sounds silly, but works.
Theme: “Tomorrow Never Dies,” Sheryl Crow
The World is Not Enough (1999), Pierce Brosnan
I get it. Oil-themed Bond = girls made of oil. Pretty good idea, and I suppose it had to be done. Nice try with the rainbow effect and all, but something about it just doesn’t seem that cool to me. Too-obvious CGI, maybe.
Highlight: The opening: Having nearly eaten it pre-credits, Bond falls, with drops of oil, and lands on a flat, black surface being pelted by said drops. Sharp-looking.
Theme: “The World Is Not Enough,” Garbage
Die Another Day (2002), Pierce Brosnan
Bond-torture + scorpions + tiny plankton-girls + weird fire-people + Madonna’s left-field Euro-digi-crap tune as backing = an unfortunate send-off for the dude who was born for the role.
Highlights: Umm … if pressed, I’d say the scorpions looked cool.
Theme: “Die Another Day,” Madonna
Casino Royale (2006), Daniel Craig
Craiggers features heavily in this one, as do card-suit motifs and pretty sweet silhouette animation. A misstep with the throwback lady-face-reveal via crosshair, but otherwise pretty cool: Catch Me if You Can meets Bond. What to do when the bandwagon’s right? Hop on and enjoy.
Highlight: Bond, in an animated fistfight, punches a guy, shattering him in a spray of red diamonds.
Theme: “You Know My Name,” Chris Cornell. Not a bad Bond-rock song at all. This could be the beginning of something nice.