The Best (and Worst) James Bond Titles

Today we get a new Bond theme song and that is always an occasion to celebrate. But whilst so many talk so fondly of the songs, what about the imagery that accompanies them?

The Bond title sequence is an art form, oft imitated but never bettered. The mix of guns, girls and danger perfectly captures the series although some title sequences (mostly the Roger Moore entries) are just downright gaudy or even nightmarish. So, like I said, they pefectly capture the series.

Here we look at five of the best, one of the worst and a couple of honourable mentions (because with Spectre marking the 24th entry into the franchise, there were a lot to choose from).

The Worst

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
I stress again that we’re not talking about the actual music as John Barry’s theme is fantastic, bold and exciting. The title sequence it accompanies however is clumsy and exhibits the lack of faith in the film and it’s leading man that for many stops it from being the greatest Bond film of all time. The animation of the title sequence is clumsy, the footage from previous films an example of how little faith the producers had in their leading man and, more appallingly, the intelligence of their audience to understand this was still the same Bond you already knew (Although that “this never happened to the other fellah” wink at the camera gave rise to that interminable many Bonds theory). Dock extra points for the closing titles that destroy the tender and beautifully played finale by crowbarring in the James Bond theme because EON were scared a downer ending wouldn’t play

Honourable Mentions

For Your Eyes Only
This was the first and only time that the songs performer appears in the title sequence but beyond that the rest of the sequence is reasonably by the numbers girls and guns.

Casino Royale
Daniel Kleinman is going to appear a lot here. He has seen two new Bonds in and unlike other titles designers he establishes the tone of the new actor and the new era, honouring the formula without feeling slaved to it. He does that brilliantly with Casino Royale.

The Best

5. The Spy Who Loved Me
This is the title sequence that most easily falls into self parody but for all the silly images, from the hands cupping Bond’s Union Jack parachute like some patriotic scrotum, Bond doing somersaults, Bond constantly bedding women or Bond pushing over a line of naked (except for their hats) female soldiers, the sequence somehow succeeds. It puts Bond front and centre and sets the style for the rest of Roger Moore’s tenure. The girl doing gymnastics on the barrel of the gun is a lingering image and again sets the tone for the rest of this era. Guns are increasingly fetishised and made phallic during this time – a whole thesis could be written on the freudian allegory. This is the kind of imagery that best sums up the Moore era, the first time it felt like titles were being designed for his Bond and shaking up the formula.

4. Goldeneye
Daniel Kleinman has three entries in this best of list. This isn’t to belittle the fantastic work that Maurice Binder did over the years but this is the first time that the titles were so heavily influenced thematically by the films they were attached too. Where previous titles may have been influenced by location, here the sequence is inspired by it’s position in the canon. The first post Cold War Bond. Kleinman keeps the bond staples that Binder et al had established (women and guns) and raises the game. The sequence takes influence from the world at large and imagery inherent in the script. The two faced woman (Janus) is a creepy image, both sexual and uncomfortable. Some of these women even have their clothes on. Times had changed.

3. Die Another Day
Again, it is important to stress that we’re judging the titles and not the song as this is unquestionably the low point of Bond’s musical history. However, this is the first and only time that the title sequence has been an intrinsic part of the story telling (though you could make a concession for the part of Casino Royale in which Bond’s 00 Status is granted to him). The imagery of fire and ice perfectly captures the films setting, narrative, leading ladies and that this is a film of two halves (the first half is great, the second half not so much).

Watching Bond get tortured, establishing the passing of time, is captivating, harrowing stuff. It’s just a shame you’ll want to mute your TV to watch it.

2. From Russia With Love
This is the film that established the formula that Bond title sequences would follow for the next 50 years. Words projected on near naked women. It’s simple, elegant and stylish. The next film in the series, Goldfinger, took this idea and changed it up by projecting images from the film onto the body of a golden woman with the titles framed elegantly off to the side. It’s beautiful and technically more impressive but it is the simplicity of From Russia With Love’s titles that makes them arguably the most captivating and erotic of the Bond titles.

1. Skyfall
Daniel Kleinman’s masterpiece. I can just watch the Skyfall titles on their own. An anniversary film, the sequence is steeped in imagery from the film but also harks back to classic titles and even book covers. Mendes is a big Live and Let Die fan and this is echoed in the skulls. The whole imagery of Bond is here. Silva appearing as a deadly Banksy, the constant sense of forward movement, the building sense of dread. The titles don’t just borrow from imagery and moments in the film, but are rich in theme and character; fighting the shadows, Bond’s shattered image in the mirror. No other title sequence has so perfectly set the tone for the whole film. No other title sequence has been so beautiful. No other title sequence has been so unquestionably, sublimely Bond.

Sean Mason

Updated: Sep 25, 2015

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