With a series as long running as the James Bond franchise, can there truly be a single best film? I ask this not just because there are so many to choose from but because there are so many different kinds. It's interesting that for a franchise so famous for its iconographic conventions, there have been quite a number of changes and distinctive differences between installments throughout the years. Some might wish to section the films off by their star -- Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, Craig -- and some might prefer to categorize by director, especially those with multiple titles -- Young, Hamilton, Gilbert, Glen, Campbell.
To compare Campbell's Casino Royale to any of Hamilton or Gilbert's cornball entries, you might as well compare it to the 1967 parodic version of Casino Royale. They're just not the same kind of movie. It's like looking at Burton Batman versus Nolan Batman. And just as there are actually some people who actually like the Schumacher Batman, there are people whose favorite Bond movie is Moonraker. Personally, my favorites in the 007 series are Diamonds Are Forever and the latest, Skyfall. It's not just a preference to me, though; I think they're truly the best at what they're going for, and the things they're going for are miles away from each other.
I named both those titles in my contribution to this week's Criticwire Survey at Indiewire. For this survey, Matt Singer asked film critics to name their favorite -- not necessarily the best -- and the results show an unsurprising opposition to the sillier '70s titles and harder-edged '80s installments. The only film to reach double digits from the 46 critics polled is Casino Royale, with 11 votes. Goldfinger came in second with seven votes and Skyfall, which many of you haven't even had a chance to see yet, got six counting my own. Of course, Quantum of Solace received no mention, but otherwise it does seem like the Craig Bond favoritism is in part a matter of current fashion of tastes and maybe in part a matter of them, in being newer, having the fortune of being seen by a larger percentage of these critics.
Many other critics have been ranking with focus on "best" at their outlets, and there's still not a lot of surprises. At the Toronto Star, Mark Dillon sided with four on Criticwire in naming On Her Majesty's Secret Service. At Forbes, Mark Hughes named Casino Royale. So did the folks at E!, while What Culture's Oscar Harding places it only below Skyfall. Ask Men prefers Goldfinger, and the early '60s stuff in general, putting Dr. No and From Russia with Love higher than Craig as well. Goldfinger, which is the one Hamilton installment that's not like his other cheesier efforts, is also the number one for the guys at HitFix, Sal Pizarro at the San Jose Mercury News, Bob Sassone at USA Today's PopCandy and listmaking fans at IMDb here, here, here, and here (well, the last is close enough if we discount Skyfall for not being out in the U.S. yet).
So, it looks like critics and fans are mostly in agreement about two titles, yet if we look at Rotten Tomatoes, it's Dr. No that has the hightest percentage, followed by From Russia with Love and Goldfinger in a tie. At the same site, however, the non-professional "audience" rates Goldfinger much higher and Casino Royale even higher. Also looking at non-critics, with the exclusion of Skyfall the current IMDb user ratings put Casino Royale only a hair above Goldfinger. So, these could easily be considered the ever-tied dual best Bond films, at least until Skyfall gets an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, which no other has achieved beforehand.
What is the best James Bond movie?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter:
Join the next discussion on Twiter by following Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic) and Movies.com (@Moviesdotcom).