Welcome back for the final weeks of 00 Saturdays here at Film Seizure. Now, a couple quick notes. Originally, weeks 49 and 50 were reserved for the 25th James Bond film, No Time to Die. But, this is 2020. Naturally, we had to be nimble around here. With that now delayed until 2021, I had to come up with a new plan. So, let’s do some countdowns!
This week, I’m going to do Top Ten Pre-Title Sequences from the James Bond series. As I’ve tried to impress upon everyone throughout this year, my point of view of what makes a great pre-title sequence, theme song, villain, or movie is just that – my point of view. I don’t expect to meet everyone down the line in total agreement. I like some movies others don’t and some like movies I don’t, and that will totally ring true in each of the countdowns I do. So… Just keep that in mind. Though, if you do agree with me, please let me know!
Without further ado, let’s dig in!
Before we get into the countdown proper, let’s take a look at those that just barely missed. Each of these do different things when I was going through the list of movies and seeing which ones stood out for quality and which ones stood out for other reasons.
First up, I’m going with Goldfinger. While this is a movie that I simultaneously don’t care much for with each passing year and still totally appreciate its importance in both the Bond series AND in action cinema, the opening sequence is a fun little side quest for 007. It has nothing to do with the larger story, but it’s almost a peek into Bond’s life in between the missions that are big enough to make movies out of. It’s got a touch of humor, a touch of class, and Bond just being Bond in the way only Connery could.
Next honorable mention goes to the “other fella” – George Lazenby. In his only outing, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is about as good as it could have possibly gone. It’s an overly underappreciated film in its 51 years on this Earth, but has gained a great deal of fans in the 2000s. In 1969, though, it was a hard act to follow Connery. Producers, writers, and the director knew this so they cleverly introduced him in the opening sequence with a cheeky wink, a car chase, damsel in distress (the incomparable Diana Rigg), and a fist fight with thugs. Out of the gate we get to hear Lazenby say the famous “Bond, James Bond” line and see him in action. That’s not too bad all in all.
The third choice for an honorable mention is one that is more nostalgic – Octopussy. This opening is much like Goldfinger in which it’s a smaller side mission that doesn’t go with the rest of the larger plot of the movie. Bond just gotta do a thing in Cuba. That’s all. He’s got a babe with him and a fake horse in a trailer that turns out to house the smallest jet plane ever created at that time. It’s a great representation of what Roger Moore’s era was about – gadgets, babes, humor. It also even allows us in the West to kind of beat our chests a little bit during the Cold War (which does play a major part of the larger plot of Octopussy).
Enough of these also-rans. Let’s get to the top ten!
In the most recent film released (again, 2020, so… not that most recent film), Spectre had a tough time finding the audience it hoped to. It was bogged down by a bad plot idea of intertwining James Bond with his “greatest” villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. We were all for bringing Blofeld and his organization SPECTRE into this new timeline/series/saga/whatever you’d call the Craig era, but we didn’t care what their history was.
That said, the film’s opening title sequence was brilliant for three major reasons. First, it’s gorgeous. It hearkens back to some of the 60s Bond films and placed Bond in a very culturally distinct place, a Day of the Dead (Dia de Meurtos) celebration. Second, Bond is there with a babe, Estrella (naturally), and they are followed by a very long cut that takes you all the way from the street with Bond and Estrella (Stephanie Sigman), to her room, to him going along rooftops, to have him finally stakeout across the street from some bad guys that he’s going to assassinate. Thirdly, there’s the action element. Bond’s attempt on the bad guy’s life, as it tends to go in these movies, goes awry. This leads to a big, exciting scene with buildings crumbling and an out of control helicopter before Bond finally drops the bad guy off at his final resting place.
The rest of the movie might have disappointed, but not the opening sequence.
LICENCE TO KILL (1989)
Okay, so this is another nostalgia pick, but my love of this entry comes from more than just nostalgia. In Licence to Kill, Bond (Timothy Dalton) is a one-man wrecking crew on a revenge mission. His friend, Felix Leiter (David Hedison) and his wife, Della (Priscilla Barnes), are attacked by vaguely Central American drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi). It’s a Bond film and plot people weren’t ready for in 1989, but since Daniel Craig’s run, Dalton’s two films (The Living Daylights released two years prior to this one) have gotten deservedly re-evaluated.
In this opening sequence for Licence to Kill, I love how all of our primary players are seen right here in the opening moments. First, we have Bond and Leiter on the way to Felix’s wedding until they learn they can capture top drug criminal Sanchez. They chase the drug lord to the Florida Keys where we also meet the incredibly alluring Lupe (Talisa Soto), the abused mistress of Sanchez’s. But we also get a little bit of lore. I love any chance in which we can get some of Bond in his life outside of being a super spy. We see his deep admiration for his friend Felix, so much so he’s the best man. It’s Bond on his day off and just so happens to later capture a freakin’ helicopter like he went fishing for marlins before skydiving into his pal’s wedding.
That’s a hell of a way to start your adventure – and nice to see the good stuff before things go dark on us.
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)
You Only Live Twice does two very unique things for a Bond film, and both things have been duplicated in later films. First, we start in space. In 1965’s Thunderball, Bond spent a lot of time in water. Two years later, the space race was hot and Bond’s baddie Blofeld was using a unique spacecraft to steal American and Soviet spaceships and astronauts to try to ignite a new World War. In 1967, the world had Doctor Who, Lost in Space, Star Trek, and a slew of sci-fi movies, but it was still rare to see space look so good and realistic as it did in You Only Live Twice. For that to be the first thing you see, and the tension around Blofeld’s craft not just stealing a spacecraft, but also kill an innocent astronaut in the process is kind of scary.
But don’t worry about rising tensions in the world because James Bond is in Hong Kong with a Chinese girl. They argue over the meaning of Bond saying that Chinese girls are different or better, and everything seems very nice and all is good.
BUT THEN BAM! Some guys barge into Bond’s room and assassinate him! The opening sequence ends with the ominous declaration that Commander James Bond is dead. At least he died on the job.
CASINO ROYALE (2006)
So, I’ve established a couple entries ago that I like Bond lore. I like it when something in a movie or, even better, an opening sequence can build upon James Bond as a character. Casino Royale, the first outing with Daniel Craig in the 007 role, takes that idea to the Nth degree. This isn’t just lore, it’s the very beginning of James Bond as a member of MI6’s 00 section. We see his first two kills that grant him that prestigious license to kill.
It’s shot in black and white, the first for a Bond film (not counting the early gun barrel shots). It’s also shot in two different ways. The scenes in which Bond confronts the crooked agent selling secrets feels smoother, softer in the dark office. The scenes with the agent’s contact in the bathroom is gritty and grimy. This is for maximum effect. The first kill is the toughest – that’s even established in the dialog. That’s all grit and primal clawing and fighting. The scene in the office is quiet and easier. In fact, it’s considerably easier.
This is one of the very best Bond moments in the entire series. The only reason why it lands at 7th instead of a higher position is because it’s so short. Most of the opening titles after the Connery era were at least twice as long as the opening credits. This sequence is just a tiny bit shorter than the theme song for the movie, “You Know My Name”.
How’s about some more Bond lore?
When GoldenEye broke a nearly 6 1/2 year absence, no one was more ready than I was. Holy cow I couldn’t wait to see the gun barrel and the opening sequence and the title sequence. I also couldn’t wait to see how Bond would be re-established for the 90s. The world had changed mightily in the 6 years since he’d last been projected on movie theater screens. GoldenEye had lots to do.
And it did it in spades. We get to see Pierce Brosnan introduced in a funny little moment where he knocks out a guy taking a dump in a Soviet base. We then see Bond team up with another 00, Alec Trevelyan. Very quickly we know that 007 and 006 are good friends and very talented in what they do. However, things don’t go so well and 006 ends up dead. Bond is forced to escape an entire gaggle of Soviet soldiers. It’s a scene with stuff that takes place some years in the past, shows Bond with a friend and fellow agent, and is bookended by a fantastic stunt with Bond jumping off a giant dam and another very Bond moment of him diving off a cliff to catch a falling airplane to escape just before the whole chemical facility goes boom. Bond was still relevant and fun in the post-Cold War 90s.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)
When I was putting together my list of the best opening sequences, I quickly realized something – some of my least favorite films had spectacular openings. If you have been following 00 Saturdays for the entire year, you know that I love all these movies. I also know some are good, some are fantastic, and some are just plainly bad. I also go against the grain sometimes too (disliking Goldfinger, loving Moonraker, etc.). But in this list, of the bottom nine films in the series (according to me), FIVE of them are mentioned in this article either in the top 10 or in the Honorable Mention section. The Man with the Golden Gun is one of those bottom nine that is riding high.
This scene is cool. It’s kind of dark. It’s a little creepy. It’s entirely focused on Christopher Lee being a bad ass. This is a funhouse of horrors that his Scaramanga uses to train and remain at the top of his game as an assassin. After he kills a goon, he fires at his wax statue of 007 himself – the ultimate prize and the famous agent, and probable second best assassin in the world, he’ll soon be coming face to face with by almost accident before the end of this adventure. It’s a solid scene with a solid villain played by an absolute heavy of all heavies.
THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)
Hey, how about that? The first six films in this list covered each of the first six decades in which a Bond film has been released. Now it’s time to start doubling up.
The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my very favorite films in the series, and it also has one of my very favorite opening scenes as well. A big part of this is that this is one of the films in the series that has an opening scene that ties DIRECTLY into the central drama of the primary plot of the rest of the film. In this scene, we see Bond in Austria escaping from a bevy of Soviet agents. One of those agents is the lover of Agent XXX (Barbara Bach) – which Bond kills. XXX and 007 are later teamed up on a highly important mission to deal with the problem of Karl Stromberg who is a weirdo fish guy. The two competing agents, forced to work together on this mission for the good of the world, eventually have to deal with what their jobs entail and their growing attraction for one another.
But to hell with all of that. Most people just remember the exclamation point to this sequence. Bond is being forced to ski toward the edge of a cliff. There’s no other place to go but over. He does and it seems like Bond is certainly falling to his death, but he kicks off the skis and pulls the ripcord on his parachute that is emblazoned with the Union Jack while the Bond theme reaches its crescendo and fades into the greatest Bond theme of them all, “Nobody Does It Better”. Now THAT’S a classy way to punctuate your action scene.
TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997)
Here’s the highest ranking “bad movie with a great opening” on the list and it’s a fantastic scene… and a dud of a movie.
Tomorrow Never Dies comes on the heels of the smash hit that was GoldenEye. I was on cloud nine with the return of Bond and back to the old school one-every-two-years release schedule. The movie opens with MI6 and the Royal Navy spying on a terrorist bazaar somewhere on the Russian border. There’s a what’s what of possible arms to be bought and sold to a who’s who of international terrorists. One of these guys will play into the later plot involving a plot to pull Great Britain and China into a war, but that’s for later.
Naturally, their “man in position” is none other than James Bond. The Admiral in charge of the Royal Navy orders a missile strike, but Bond reveals there are nuclear warheads up for sale. Bond is forced to take on the terrorists and steal the airplane the warheads are attached to because the British missile strike can’t be aborted. So he punches and shoots his way through the bazaar against a ticking clock before eventually having to deal with a guy in the back of the plane he’s flying and a pursuing jet firing on him from behind. This is textbook Bond opening sequences. If you’re reading this and also hired to write the next Bond film, I urge you to watch this opening and take notes for your opening sequence.
Also… Maybe give me a call for more ideas or a set visit or some swag?
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987)
For a long time after this movie was released, the opening sequence for The Living Daylights was my favorite. It’s a wonderful way to introduce Timothy Dalton as Bond by having him be incognito for several minutes before a dramatic zoom on his face as he watches one of his 00 mates fall to his death. This is the one sequence for the first half of this movie that uniquely feels like we’re watching a movie written for a new Bond. One of the lesser critiques of the movie is that it was written at a time in which not everyone was sure if Roger Moore was serious about leaving the part or who would be Bond. So it was mostly written for a generic Bond in a very Roger Moore style.
But in this sequence, we are watching a special training assignment to test the defensive abilities for the British base at Gibraltar. The 00s are tasked to infiltrate and not be captured or paintballed (thus signifying they were killed in action). However, there is someone else there, a Russian assassin who is carrying out a plan to resurrect an old Soviet initiative to kill any spies they encounter. After killing his team, Bond chases the man down and rides on top of an explosive-filled truck before making sure the bad guy goes kablammo with that truck full of explosives.
It’s one of the more exciting scenes the series had seen for several movies now that a much younger actor has taken over the role. It introduces Bond in a great shot. It shows a little more lore with Bond being tapped to join a training mission. It’s got a lot going for it and a scene I’m glad to watch any time I get the urge to see something very classically cool.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)
I mean… Right?
The opening sequence to The World Is Not Enough is notable for two things. The first is its length. It is still the longest opening before the main titles of the entire series coming in at over 13 minutes. It’s almost 16 minutes before you get to the first actual scene of the movie post credits. That’s nearly an entire reel of film. You’re fully invested in what’s going on before Garbage can even tell us more about what is or is not enough in the theme song!
In addition to that, you have two unique action scenes. The first, and what the original opening scene was to be, takes place in Bilbao, Spain. Bond is questioning a bank about some transactions and avoids an assassin’s bullet and repels down from the banker’s office window in very Bond fashion. While that part is fun and features a decent, but small stunt, and a good fist fight, it was deemed too short and not quite exciting enough to be the true opening to the movie. So what do you do? Well, when your first scene of the movie has another HUGE action scene with a cool ass boat chase on the River Thames ending with a pretty assassin killing herself by shooting a helium tank, and Bond being injured (not something we’ve seen too often in the series up to this point), you just slide that credits sequence back to after that scene.
In doing so, you now create a giant opening sequence full of a whole bunch of action and is able to dial back the tension post credits to start telling your story. It was a great decision. The first bit of that sequence was plenty fine, but doesn’t end with a bang. It went from being middle to low in the pack to the very best opening sequence by just sliding the credits back to the end of the first reel of the film. It’s maybe the single best editing decision of the entire James Bond series.
Come back next week as I count down the Top Ten Bond Villains!