The 7 Best James Bond Movie Stunts
9/17/2020 • 4 min read
For a long-running set of films known for action and spectacle, the James Bond movies have fewer notable stunts than you might expect. The MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movies, for example, have crammed more spectacular stuntwork into six movies than the Bond series has into 25.
That, in part is because the MISSION movies built on a foundation established by Bond. The first James Bond movie, DR. NO, helped define what a modern action movie would look like. Sean Connery played Bond as a determined and resourceful hero, and threw in the first ante in a game of one-upsmanship that played out on movie screens for decades to come. Accordingly, the Bond series does have some spectacular stunts, which often put performers at death's door. We wouldn't celebrate the danger of these stunts for that sake alone. Seeing performers at the top of their game perform astonishing feats, however, is a different matter. Here are the best James Bond movie stunts.
(Note: Whenever possible, the choices that follow are illustrated with the actual stunt footage.)
7. From Russia With Love - Train Fight
The second James Bond movie properly introduces SPECTRE and begins to move the film series towards the sort of over the top espionage that would become a hallmark of the franchise. And while none the Sean Connery movies are not really focused on the sort of stunt work that became integral to 007 adventures during the Roger Moore years, each movie has at least a couple of simple, low-key action and stunt elements. Perhaps the best example is the fight in a cramped train compartment between Bond and Red, a SPECTRE assassin played by Robert Shaw. While stunt men Jackie Cooper and Peter Perkins choreographed the fight, Connery and Shaw reportedly performed almost the entire battle themselves. Combined with expert direction and editing by Terence Young and Peter Hunt, the desperate, brutal battle is one of the high points of Connery's run as Bond — and indeed of the entire series. If Connery's first Bond movie also stands as one of the templates for the modern action movie, the imaginative editing in this fight scene —with close-ups and jump cuts — points towards ideas that will be crucial in other fight scenes for decades to come.
6. For Your Eyes Only - Drop and Climb
The fifth Roger Moore Bond movie, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, climaxes at an abandoned monastery built high on a rocky precipice. The location is real; the movie's villain lair is one of the Meteora monasteries, with "Meteora" translating to "suspended in air." (While the place is real, that doesn't mean the movie had the run of the place. In fact, the monks were not very happy to have a big movie production in their monastery — the deal to allow filming was brokered by someone else — and they did as much as possible to impede the shoot.) To get up to the spot Bond has to climb a sheer rock face — and at one point, he is thrown off the cliff and drops around 300 feet before his ropes break the fall… and not his back. While another character's fall from the monastery was achieved with a (fairly obvious) dummy, nothing so safe would do for the hero's own action moment. Regular Bond stuntman Rick Sylvester performed elements of the climb and did the fall as well. It wasn't his first big Bond fall, either, as we'll see a little further down this list.
5. The Living Daylights - Cargo Net Battle
After years 12 years of Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton took over the role of James Bond with the 1987 movie THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. Compared to Moore's version, this was a back to basics Bond in many ways, closer to the original character as written in novels by Ian Fleming. While Dalton was contracted for three movies, his run was cut short by a confluence of factors including legal troubles for the Bond producers, which delayed the movie that eventually became GOLDENEYE, and stiff competition for Dalton's second outing from movies like BATMAN and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE. But Dalton was a terrific Bond and his first outing is better than it gets credit for being. Among other highlights of THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS is the showdown between stunt performers BJ Worth and Jake Lombard, doubling for Dalton and Andreas Wisniewski, who played the henchman Necros. The two men hang from a cargo net suspended from a C-130 Hercules transport airplane as it flies 6500 feet above the Mojave Desert (doubling for Afghanistan). It's a simple setpiece that required intense planning and absolute courage on the part of the two stuntmen.
4. Goldeneye - Bungee Jump
Everything about the opening sequence to Pierce Brosnan's Bond debut, GOLDENEYE, is designed to emphasize the scale and danger of the stunt to come. Wide aerial shots of the Verzasca Dam in Switzerland establish how huge, austere, and lonely the place is. A man in black runs across the top of the dam, and quickly anchors a rope that, we realize, he's about to use to descend the face of the huge grey slab. When stuntman Wayne Michaels actually makes the leap, he does so in a wide shot, in near-complete silence, building on the uncomfortable image of one tiny man who might soon bounce off thousands of tons of concrete. Michaels set a bungee-jumping world record with his first-take leap, and he also started a trend — thousands of people have subsequently performed the same leap as the movie turned the location into a tourist attraction. The jump also announced GOLDENEYE as an ambitious new Bond adventure after legal wrangling kept the MI:6 agent away from movie screens for six years. It worked, and we still think of Brosnan's debut as his best Bond movie, and one of the best in the series overall.
3. The Spy Who Loved Me - Ski Jump
The first two James Bond movies starring Roger Moore are not quite what fans eventually came to expect out of movies featuring the man who eventually became the longest-running Bond. This third Moore movie, however, is where the "Roger Moore Bond" really came into focus. Producers understood that the series needed new energy, and so they designed an opening that could showcase the more smooth, refined and lightly smirking 007 played by Moore. The MI6 agent is ambushed by Soviet agents in Austria, leading to a brisk downhill ski chase, capped by stuntman Rick Sylvester, doubling for Roger Moore, making an astonishing jump off a mountain cliff — which turns into a triumphant base jump as he opens a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack. Most of Sylvester's fall through open air is scored with complete silence, until the Bond fanfare declares the agent's successful escape. The stunt is so good that fans often gloss over the excellent ski flip, also performed by Sylvester, seen earlier in the chase.
2. The Man With the Golden Gun - Corkscrew Car
This is one of those movie stunts that fulfills dreams a lot of people had as kids playing with toy cars, and consequently seems almost impossible. Here's the setup. Bond has to cross a river, but there's good news: A bridge. There's also bad news: The middle of the bridge is missing. Good news: There are angled ramps on either bank of the river. Stunt driver Joie Chitwood barrels onto the first ramp in an AMC Hornet, describing a perfect in-air barrel roll before a successful landing — all done in a single take. In some ways it is such a matter-of-fact shot that you have to see it a couple times to appreciate just how great it is. (If this was a Jackie Chan movie, we'd see the feat from three different angles and repeated in slow motion so that no one could miss the achievement.) The only complaint anyone can possibly lodge about this stunt has nothing to do with the performance itself. For reasons no one understands, even the man himself, composer John Barry did not celebrate the jump with Bond's well-known fanfare. (Perhaps he didn't want to repeat his work on the ski jump from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME?) Instead, he scored the corkscrew jump with… a slide whistle. Watch it just above and marvel how one of the greatest car stunts ever performed nearly becomes a silly throwaway — but now you know just how great it really was. If you ever harbored dreams of owning this particular car, it went to auction in 2017, where it sold for $110,000 — a bargain!
1. Casino Royale - Crane Chase
The first 20 minutes of CASINO ROYALE have almost everything: Hard-hitting hand to hand combat, spectacular parkour leaping, and even a great Texas Switch. (That's where a stunt performer leaps or falls out of view and the star — in this case, Daniel Craig — bounces up to carry on the scene. You see this when Bond jumps off a roof just as the street chase begins.) While there's not a classic Bond car stunt, 007 does drive a bulldozer. And then there's the actual fight on the crane, which features an impeccable combination of stunt work and digital compositing to create a seamless whole. Altogether, CASINO ROYALE has more energy than many other Bond movies put together, and the action and stunt work throughout the movie is a big part of why it is among the very best Bonds.
See NO TIME TO DIE when it opens on April 2!
All images courtesy of EON Productions and United Artists.