Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten - James Bond Pre-credit Sequences

When it comes to James Bond, most of the films follow a pretty rigid formula. Sure the creators shake things up once in a while. But when you’ve got a franchise that started in the early 1960s, a certain set of expectations are accepted. One of these is that every James Bond film is going to have a pre-credit sequence.

Of course this isn’t strictly true. Dr. No didn’t have a pre-credit sequence. The elements found in the pre-credit sequence seem to change over time. Sometimes you get a mini James Bond adventure that has nothing to do with the plot. Sometimes  the sequences is nothing but set up for the plot and the villain. For me the best combine all the elements together, giving us a nice set up to the plot, while also giving us a taste of Bond in action.

This means that it is time for another top ten list. This one features my favorite James Bond pre-credit sequences. I’ve got each actor represented, so there should be enough to please everyone. At the time of this writing there are 23 Bond flicks, so this will represent about half the series. So lets dive in…

Runner Up - A View to a Kill (1985)
This one almost made the list, and hell, I may even swap it at some point. This Roger Moore pre-credit scene starts in Soviet Russia, with 007 searching for a dead agent on a snowy glacier. Unfortunately the Russians know he is there and have a search party looking for him - including skiers, snow mobiles and a helicopter. Bond finds the dead agent and the stolen microchip he was smuggling. But the Russian soldiers find him and a pretty awesome ski chase erupts. Bond ends up on one ski, but he steals a snowmobile and is doing pretty well, until the helicopter blows it up. 

Bond survives the destruction of the vehicle, but grabs one of it's struts and proceeds to snowboard down the glacier. Now in 1985, snowboarding was in its infancy. So this was a huge deal, and it looked so damn cool (even though we all knew that Roger was way too old to be doing the actual stunts). Bond escapes his pursuers, blows up the helicopter with a flare, and then heads off to a submarine disguised as an iceberg for some quality make out time with a hot fellow agent. Now the whole thing is edited with skill and moves really well. If you can ignore the random insertion of California Girls by the Beach Boys in the soundtrack, then it is very entertaining. But I suspect my enjoyment of this has more than a bit of nostalgia, since A View to a Kill was the first Bond film I saw in theaters. 

This is one of those pre-credit sequences that is plot heavy. It introduces us to this film’s Bond girl, Tracy. But it does it in a way that immediately grabs our attention. Tracy is trying to kill herself by walking into the ocean, and Bond saves her. Almost immediately thugs attack Bond and he is forced to some brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Right off, this shows us that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service a James Bond adventure unlike anything we’d seen up to this point. Suicide? Does that even happen in Bond’s world? It shows us the new James Bond, and how he moves in action. Lazenby was always good in the action scenes. You also get to see way director Peter Hunt was going to present the action scenes with some seriously kinetic editing. Finally you’ve got that famous line, “This never happened to the other fellow.” Love it or hate it, it’s memorable. This was the first time the producers attempted to introduce a new actor as Bond, and I think they did a fine job. It gave us a bit of everything and prepared us for the very interesting and unique movie ahead.

9. Die Another Day (2002)
A fair argument could be made that the pre-credit sequence for Die Another Day is essentially a rehash of the pre-credit sequence for Tomorrow Never Dies. Both feature Bond taking on an army of attackers. Both feature Bond using his wits and skills to come out on top. And both end up with Bond in an unusual vehicle and chase. But what I like about the version in Die Another Day is that it plays as a real prelude to the story. Tomorrow Never Dies has a side character making an appearance, but that’s about it.

Besides, Die Another Day features hovercrafts, and you almost never see those in movies. I love the concept of the escape thought he demilitarized zone. But the real kicker is that Bond does not get away. In fact he is captured and the opening credits start with him in enemy hands. This is an excellent start to the film, action packed and then suspenseful. It is a shame the rest of the movie doesn’t come close to measuring up.

8. Octopussy (1983)
Looking over Roger Moore’s pre-credit sequences, I was sorry to see that so many of them were lackluster. Even this one starts out pretty typical. 007 shows up in disguise in a Central American country. His objective is to blow up a spy plane. He sneaks into a military base dressed as an officer, and nearly places the bomb successfully. But the officer he is impersonating shows up and blows his cover. Luckily Bond is not alone, and his sultry fellow agent distracts his guards. Bond makes his escape, and it all seems fairly conventional. 

But then the Bond blasts off in that miniature jet, and man is it cool! The little plane hurtles across the screen rushing back toward the military base. The army fires a missile at Bond, but he evades it, and then flies into the hanger with the spy plane. They try to shut the doors but Bond's plane is too quick, and the missile takes out the whole hanger. Bond then lands his plane at a local gas station and asks the attended to "Fill 'er up." It is obvious that nearly all the footage you see is actually the real plane speeding around the screen. Even when special effects are used, they are actually really well done. This little plane makes the sequence a real winner.

7. Goldeneye (1995)
Here we have another pre-credit sequence that has to introduce a new actor as James Bond. Much like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service this one gives us a lot of plot information for the rest of the movie, but also manages to give us a solid action sequence on top of it. 007 and 006 sneak into a chemical weapons outpost in Soviet Russia. Their mission is to blow it up. Simple enough, but of course everything does wrong, and Bond watches 006 die and barely escapes the exploding facility.

The short scene builds the camaraderie and competition between 006 and 007. It gives us some intense action scenes, and the wonderful moment when Bond escapes from the Soviet soldiers using a cart with a squeaky wheel. There is also the physics-defying jump off a cliff – and the audience I saw the film groaned and cheered at the same time. Goldeneye’s pre-credit sequence has a little bit of everything and is still a lot of fun to watch.

6. Skyfall (2012)
Of the three Craig film’s this is easily the most interesting and in a way the most traditional of the pre-credit sequences. In it, Bond is searching for a fellow agent, who he finds murdered. Bond pursues the murderer, and works with another agent, Eve to catch him. This leads to an extended chase scene and a fistfight on top of a moving train, while Eve tries to line up a sniper shot to take out the enemy agent. In the final moments, she declares she can’t get a clean shot and M tells her to shoot anyway. Bond is hit and falls off the train and into a gorge.

This is an intense opening scene, and it does an amazing job of showing us the visual skills that director Sam Mendes and his cameraman Roger Deakins were going to give Skyfall. There some wonderfully noire shots in the first half. During the chase scene, the action is easy to follow and intense. It also sets up the final conflict with M, as we wee first hand how she must treat her agents – as tools. Much like the Die Another Day pre-credit sequence, it ends with Bond in jeopardy. This is a great pre-credit sequence, just lacking the really spectacular moment to push it up the list.

5. Thunderball (1965)
If you want spectacular than it is hard to top Thunderball, which was really one of the biggest Bond films of the 60s. In this pre-credit sequence we see Bond at a funeral for an enemy agent. After spotting something unusual at the funeral, Bond sneaks into the dead man’s house and proceeds to punch the widow in the face! Turns out the enemy agent was in drag as his own wife, and faking his death. Bond enters a brutal hand-to-hand fight with agent and eventually kills him. But guards are hot on his heels and he needs to make his escape.

At this point you’re snickering at the brutality of the fight with the man in drag. It’s really bizarre. But then James Bond straps on a jet pack! Yes… a jet pack, and flies to his waiting Aston Martin from Goldfinger. He blasts the baddies with a spray of water that knocks them over and escapes. The fact that a working jet pack appears in the film puts this sequence on the list. But the brutality and oddity of the fistfight makes the whole thing surreal and cool.

In a lot of ways this Roger Moore pre-credit sequence mirrors the one for Thunderball. Bond finds himself being pursued by Russian agents. It quickly turns into a top-notch ski chase. Now, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has the best ski chase in the Bond series, but this one is pretty exciting. It probably would have made this list with just that.

But then it just goes spectacular. Bond makes his escape by skiing off a cliff. Not just any cliff, but what appears to be the largest cliff IN THE WORLD! I swear he falls and falls and keeps falling. Just when you think this whole thing can’t get any more crazy, his parachute opens into the Union Jack. It’s amazing. It’s funny. And it is just thing to get this spectacular film rolling. The Spy Who Loved Me is Roger Moore’s best pre-credit sequence, and probably his most entertaining film.

This is one of the longest pre-credit sequences of the series. It really is like a James Bond short story. It starts with Bond in Spain negotiating with a Swiss banker. Suddenly a sniper starts taking everyone out, and Bond narrowly escapes with the money he needs to obtain. Back at MI6 headquarters Bond delivers the money to M’s old friend. But the money is booby trapped and explodes. Then someone is sniping at Bond again. This time he sees the assassin is the lovely cigar girl from Spain.

Bond goes after her using Q’s tricked out fishing boat (a stealth boat with a ton of weapons) to chase her down the Thames. This is one of the best the chase scenes in the series. It is endlessly creative, has some exciting moments, laugh out loud scenes and an amazing musical score by David Arnold. The scene ends with Bond chasing the killer into a hot air balloon taking off over the Millennium Dome. This lasts nearly 15 minutes, but it flies by. I wish the rest of the film was this good.

Something about introducing a new actor as James Bond just brings out the best in the directors when they have to cook up these pre-credit sequences. In this case, the crew is introducing Timothy Dalton in the role, and showing us that this isn’t going to be like the previous Roger Moore films. This Bond is much more dangerous. Things start off with a training exercise on Gibraltar. Bond and two other agents sky dive onto the island. The guards are waiting for them, and are armed with paint balls to take them out. Little do they know that a Russian agent is also there, and he’s been told to kill the British agents.

What follows is one of the best actions scenes of the 1980s. Bond tracks down the killer and fights him on a moving jeep as it hurtles down the winding cliff roads on Gibraltar. Timothy Dalton is obviously doing as much of his own stunt work as possible, and on location. If that wasn’t impressive enough the whole thing ends with the jeep plummeting off a cliff and Bond landing in the yacht of lovely woman and offering him a martini. What a great way to kick off this movie.

1. Goldfinger (1964)
Yeah, it’s a bit of a cliché to pick Goldfinger as the best of anything James Bond. But in this case I think it is fully warranted. While From Russia with Love gave us the very first James Bond pre-credit sequence, Goldfinger perfected the concept. It starts with James Bond using scuba gear to sneak into a compound somewhere in Latin America. As part of his disguise, a false seagull is perched on his head. Bond takes out a guard or two, plants his explosives on the cache of drugs and then escapes. He pulls off his wetsuit to reveal a tuxedo underneath. He then heads to a party where he hits on a sexy dancer while the building outside explodes. Bond takes it all in stride. He then follows the dancer into her dressing room for some personal attention, but is attacked by a thug. He outfights the man and kills him by tossing the thug into a tub and then throwing a plugged in fan into the tub afterward. It ends with the quip, “Shocking. Positively shocking.”

This scene has it all, thrills, action, sex appeal, a dash of humor and the post kill quip. It is everything you expect and want from a James Bond movie wrapped up in a neat package. Each time I see it, I marvel at its simple but effective storytelling and how it influenced so many elements that came after it. As fun and exciting as many of the other pre-credit sequences on this list are, the Goldfinger one really ends up being the perfect example of this 007 trope.


  1. A short story as opposed to a novel has its own restrictions and potentials created by the need to complete a story arc in a tight space. A good writer of the one is not necessarily a good writer of the other. A filmed opening sequence has similar restrictions and potentials when compared to the full movie, and it is a good notion to treat them independently; certainly the Bond franchise makes a point of having special ones. I'd forgotten most of these until you described them, but I like them all.

    I like the old school stunts and fx. That Arcostar mini-jet, for example, really did fly through a hanger. Today that likely would be done cgi. (Well, in a Bond film maybe not.) But as convincing as some cgi work is, we know it isn’t real and that takes an edge off it. “Safety Last” is still scary because we know Harold Llyod is really hanging on the clock. (For the close-ups, they did use a safety net, but it is still remarkable stunt work; for the long shots there was no net.) A cgi remake just wouldn’t put the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach.

    1. I agree with you. One of the amazing things about these films is the reliance on superior stunt work. When the films move away from that (like "Die Another Day" did) they just feel wrong. That said, a lot of those older Bond films used rear projection quite extensively. It is distracting at times, but often it is coupled footage of crazy stuntmen so it balances it all out. That said, even ones that didn't make the top 10 here included some amazing feats. The free fall sequence from "Moonraker" is really impressive, it just goes into full wacky mode with Jaws flapping his arms like a Warner Brother cartoon.

      I agree, I think some of these pre-credit sequences showed how skilled the directors/editors really were. Some understood the short medium. I hadn't watched "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" in years, but that opening scene is edited with an amazingly modern feel during the action scenes. Really impressive stuff. Then you get the horrid pre-credit scene from "Quantum of Solace" which is edited so rapidly that it ends up a confusing mess. Wow, that one hurts.

  2. I know this isn`t specifically to do with pre-credit sequences, its just that i always thought it was interesting how "Lethal Weapon 2" gave "License to Kill" a right good hiding at the North American box office in the summer of 1989 there-by signaling that Bond was dead and buried (at least for 6 years anyway). By the way, i thought "Skyfall" was ludicrously over-rated and i simply cannot inderstand how it went over $1 billion worldwide

    1. Well there were several reasons for the "License to Kill" not making the numbers. I don't know if it was "Lethal Weapon 2" alone that did it. What is even more interesting is how "License to Kill" has actually been getting more appreciation these days, while "Lethal Weapon 2"... not so much. :)

      Well, it appealed to a lot of folks. It followed "The Dark Knight" template pretty well, and that was a proven winner. I really enjoyed "Skyfall", certainly a lot better than "Quantum", but of the Craig flicks, "Casino Royale" is still tops. But "Skyfall" has to be one of the best looking James Bond films made. The visuals are really amazing.

  3. "Quantum of Solace" was disappointing simply because there was 30 minutes missing at the end, the 100 minutes of its running time was pretty good but the fans have come to expect a running time of 130 or 135 minutes for all Bond movies there-fore they felt cheated out of two more major action sequences, and rightly so, that last half hour should`ve been astonishing, instead it wasn`t even there, what a swizz ! ! !.

    1. I don't know about that. I saw a lot of people complaining about the length of "Casino Royale" as well as many of the Brosnan films. I think "Quantum" went out of it's way to address that concern as well as increasing the amount of action. Quantum actually has more action scenes then "Casino Royale". But the big difference to me was that the action scenes in "Casino Royale" were staged, filmed and edited much much MUCH better than the ones in "Quantum". The editing in Quantum in general is atrocious.

      Now to your point, "Quantum" is very much an epilogue to "Casino Royale" and feels like it is missing something as a stand alone film. It was an interesting experiment, but I just think the whole movie was not directed very well. The final scenes were supposed to deliver an emotional punch - but it came across more like a whimper.

  4. Some of my friends have said they watch Casio Royale and Quantum back to back as one long movie and it works pretty well for them that way. I haven't tried that yet. I've yet to see Quantum. I did enjoy Skyfall quite a bit. I think I like my Bond films reigned in quite a bit more than others. In other words, I don't want to see Superman, but someone a bit more down to earth ie. the way Sean Connery portrayed him, though he got a bit over-the-top as well. Of course, it's a bit like comics in many ways or some other franchise that's had a long history, they have to keep changing things up to give older fans something new and different as well as update it to appeal to newer fans and the times.

    I thought Skyfall was a nice return to form. I want to rewatch some of the Bond films again, I just haven't gotten around to it yet. Some I haven't seen either, but for sure they can be great escapism when in the mood. I can't speak very well to the opening credit sequences and such for that reason--they just aren't that fresh in my mind. I think the last ones I watched were Goldfinger, Skyfall, and Thunderball. I do remember Thunderball's underwater scenes and the opening scenes to it, which I think was strong.

    1. Yeah, in general the Craig films have brought Bond back down to earth. The series needed that after the wacky craziness of "Die Another Day". You also might want to check out the Dalton films. Those were like a prototype run for the Craig style of Bond.