Dr. No More or: How I Lost Track of the James Bond Movies I’ve Seen

By  · Published on November 2nd, 2015

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Like most entertainment writers, I recently made the attempt to rank all 23 of the official James Bond movies released prior to SPECTRE. I couldn’t do it, because I haven’t seen them all. At least, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen them all. There are a few in the bunch that look familiar to a degree, but I’m just not sure. It’s possible I’m familiar with certain moments only because of clip reels. And then there’s my problem of confusing some installments for others. A lot of them blend together in my mind. I could have sworn the one with the Las Vegas car chase was the same as the one where 007 uses alligators’ heads as stepping stones.

Of course I’m an idiot, right? Those two scenes don’t even come from movies starring the same actor as Bond (the former is from the Sean Connery installment Diamonds Are Forever, the latter from the Roger Moore installment Live and Let Die). Also, I’ve shown my apparent knowledge of such distinction in the past. But I’m just being honest. I can’t keep the franchise straight, and maybe that’s just me getting old and senile or not caring enough about the movies at a young enough age (you can’t teach an old dog old movies or something). All I can say is, at least all 23 movies don’t star the same guy in the role of 007.

I’ve established in the past that movie series are better to continue forever than to attempt a reboot, and that can happen with recasting so long as it’s not accompanied by anything resembling an origin story or a retelling of any other story we’ve already seen previously. That’s what I’d hoped they were going to do with Indiana Jones, and maybe they eventually still will over Frank Marshall’s literal dead body. It’s what they would have had to already do if they’d kept making more movies regularly following Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – actually it sort of happened with the move to TV with The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. There comes a point in any franchise where a character simply needs a facelift for freshness sake.

That’s not something that is proven to work, however. Replace Shia LaBeouf with Mark Wahlberg (as another character) in the Transformers franchise and those movies still all blend together anyway – perhaps it’s because the giant robots are the true stars. And in the case of Friday the 13th, a series I realized while listing my favorite horror movies has too many installments that blend together, recasting the masked Jason Voorhees wouldn’t do the trick. Maybe one of the reasons I love the eighth Friday the 13th movie so much is simply because it’s easy to distinguish it as “the one where Jason goes to NYC” (that is, takes Manhattan), even though it takes forever for him to get there.

So, how many installments of a franchise are enough for a single star? I’m going to go with six. That’s the number for Connery as Bond, in official EON productions. Of course, he also had a little break near the end when George Lazenby took the role for one episode. Moore’s 007 run lasted seven movies, and aside from my being able to recognize “the one that takes Bond into space” (Moonraker) and, thanks to the poster, “the one where he runs up the Golden Gate Bridge” (A View to a Kill), I have the most trouble distinguishing between his installments. They almost all look so alike. It’s definitely for the best that Daniel Craig is supposed to be finished with the franchise after the next one, which will be his fifth.

You’re probably thinking, but what about Harry Potter, which kept its actors in their roles for eight movies? That franchise gets an exception because it’s based on a series of books with an ongoing narrative and an established end point. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Hugh Jackman also sort of get passes because half of their movies as Iron Man and Wolverine, respectively, are ensemble pieces that keep them from being so indistinguishable from the solo outings (similar to why supporting characters like M, Q and Miss Moneypenny could be portrayed by the same person for a lot more outings). Still, they’re both due for retirement as those characters soon. (Jackman is today being reported as having a small part in X-Men: Apocalypse before allegedly bowing out with one more solo installment.)

Vin Diesel, who has only starred in five of the seven Fast and Furious films, is hopefully going to be out after just one or two more. Tom Cruise needs to give up the Mission: Impossible series after one more. Sylvester Stallone, while appearing as Rocky Balboa for a seventh time in Creed, has the right idea in at least passing the torch and letting it focus on another character. And while a prequel doesn’t sound like the right way to go, it’s for the best that Bruce Willis is letting another actor take on the part of John McClane in the next Die Hard movie.

Years ago, actors could go on much longer, in part because franchises such as Tarzan and Andy Hardy were basically the TV series of their time and also because audiences couldn’t revisit past installments so easily and so could appreciate a new episode of Johnny Weissmuller or Mickey Rooney in their familiar roles again and again. Even then, the former’s run started to lose steam after six, especially since his original Jane, Maureen O’Sullivan, departed at that time – and yet he still continued with six more, though that was nothing compared to 16 installments of the Jungle Jim franchise he did afterward.

Surely there are other circumstances that make a film franchise difficult to keep straight, seeing as how the Bond series has gone through six different actors and I’m still having trouble. The two installments I noted as blending together for me in spite of starring separate Bonds? They also were both directed by Guy Hamilton and scripted by Tom Mankiewicz and featured scenes set in the US, which for the British spy and international scope of the franchise is too much too soon. Series as long and with as regular output as this one need to offer more diversity if they want to keep things interesting, yet not necessarily go to space for unique stand-out stories and settings.

Craig’s run also may need to come to an end soon because, like Moore, his years as Bond, never mind how many installments, is going past a decade. The other actors who’ve played the role have not lasted so long, and therefore each one kind of has his own designated decade (sorry Lazenby, but Connery has the ’60s and you have nothing). Craig is going to wind up owning the 2000s and 2010s, whereas Moore is primarily the ’70s Bond if we let Timothy Dalton have the ’80s with his two late-decade entries. It’s too bad that Craig’s installments have come more infrequently than the others’, but he’s just taken too damn long to get to only four movies.

SPECTRE is probably a good enough installment, but it doesn’t really look that distinct for a Bond film in general, let alone a Craig-era Bond film. In 20 years, especially if Craig goes beyond his contracted one more, much of it will be difficult to differentiate from his other installments.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.