James Bond movies: ranking the best gun barrel sequences from the series

No Time To Die is the 25th James Bond movie, and is scheduled to hit us in September. Daniel Craig bows out as 007 in his fifth Bond film, which pits him against Rami Malek's evil Safin.

There are, of course, many elements to a Bond movie that have become entrenched in pop culture. From the one-liners to the exotic locations and the gadgets, the Bond franchise generates a great deal of nostalgic pleasure from these ingredients.

And then there's the opening gun barrel sequence, which has featured in all of the movies in one way or another. Traditionally arriving in the first few seconds of the film starting, it's a statement of intent, announcing 007's point-blank abilities and cementing him as the world's greatest secret agent.

So, with No Time To Die incoming, we thought we'd rank the best gun barrels from the series. Now, pay attention...

 

007. Die Another Day (2002)

Die Another Day is surely one of the worst Bond movies, derailed by an increasingly fanciful reliance on invisible cars, space lasers and other elements. Such decisions ultimately derailed the Pierce Brosnan era, compelling him to give way to Daniel Craig's relatively grounded portrayal of 007. 

However, there's a pleasing anything-goes attitude to certain elements of the movie, including the gun barrel opening. As the Bond series ventured further into the era of CGI set-pieces, Die Another Day was forced to follow suit, setting out its stall during the gun barrel with a visible bullet fired at the audience for the first time in the franchise's history.

 

006. Thunderball (1965)

Sean Connery made his first James Bond gun barrel appearance in his fourth 007 movie, Thunderball. By this stage, the Bond franchise was coming into its own as a pop culture phenomenon, defined by a now-familiar formula of guns, girls, gadgets and exotic locations. The series' increasingly outlandish approach had, in many ways, been defined by 1964's Goldfinger, which veered away from the relatively gritty and grounded Dr. No and From Russia With Love. 

This is the ideal stage to remember the late Connery, who passed away in October 2020. His interpretation of the Bond character cast a lengthy shadow over all the actors who followed, and the Thunderball gun barrel is, therefore, a historic moment, the first time where he makes his mark on a Bond movie prior to the opening credits. 


005. Dr. No (1962)

This was the moment where it all started. One of the longest-running franchises in film history began on a relatively unassuming note with a sharp-suited individual walking from right to left, captured through a pinhole camera simulating a gun barrel. When he abruptly turns and fires, the screen drips red to simulate blood, and the unmistakable strains of the Bond theme kick in for the first time in the franchise's history.

Dr. No was, of course, Sean Connery's first Bond movie. However, it's not Connery in the gun barrel but his stuntman Bob Simmons – he would take the place of Connery in the first three gun barrel sequences in the series. The bleeping effects heard during this particular opening sequence were added by Maurice Binder, later to become immortal thanks to his opening credits designs, to allude to evil villain Dr. No's technological plan.


004. GoldenEye (1995)

Before GoldenEye arrived in 1995, the Bond franchise had suffered a six-year hiatus. Complicated legal wranglings between MGM and Danjaq, Bond's parent company, hastened the departure of Timothy Dalton, and then there was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Was Bond relevant any more? Could 007 sustain any more adventures without Cold War paranoia as a fallback? 

It was imperative that GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan's first 007 movie, put these doubts to rest immediately. Director Martin Campbell adds visual polish and tension right from the opening gun barrel, adjusting the visuals so they glimmer with a slick, typically 1990s polish. In this era, Bond was competing with high-concept action movies from the likes of Jerry Bruckheimer (The Rock et al), and it was essential that a new aesthetic was established. Coupled with Eric Serra's controversially experimental score, and the gun barrel demonstrated a desire to blow away the stale cobwebs of the old, initiating a brand new, bigger-budget era of Bond thrillers.


003. Licence to Kill (1989)

Music is one of the most important signifiers in the Bond canon – within the context of the gun barrel, it can inform the tone of the upcoming adventure before the movie has even started. Timothy Dalton's second, and final, 007 movie is the most violent and darkly tormented in the series, sending Bond off-grid to hunt down ruthless drug baron Sanchez (Robert Davi). And we know the movie means business from the turbulent, brooding tone of Michael Kamen's score during the gun barrel.

Kamen was already a veteran of the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard action franchises when he was imported into Bond (John Barry was sought, but not available). The off-kilter percussion and string rhythms of the Licence to Kill opening certainly owe a lot more to the scores from those movies than the traditional Bond sound, but that's what makes Licence to Kill so refreshing. Of course, when the ballsy electric guitar line kicks in, we're reminded that, fundamentally, this is still a Bond movie – just one that promises to upend conventions in a number of shocking ways.


002. Casino Royale (2006)

Daniel Craig's debut Bond movie shows us the genesis of the gun barrel sequence. After the excess and campiness of the Pierce Brosnan era, it was imperative that 007 came back down to Earth (hastened also by the success of the first two Bourne movies). And the opening of Casino Royale gets us primed with a moodily stylish black and white intro showing Bond on a mission to earn his 00 stripes.

The scene intercuts between Bond confronting traitorous MI6 section chief Dryden (Malcolm Sinclair), and his assassination of Dryden's contact in a bathroom. The fight itself is brutal and destructive with 007 drowning his enemy in a sink, the violence augmented by the stark photography and David Arnold's discordant score. For the first time in years, here was a Bond movie investing us in the physical and emotional toll of killing. 

As the seemingly dead man revives and aims a weapon at Bond, the latter turns and fires, the camera pulling back to take the point of view of the deceased. The gun barrel emerges, the blood drips down and Chris Cornell's terrific title song begins. It's another sign of how director Martin Campbell, with his second Bond movie, can both honour and augment the legacy of the world's most famous secret agent.


001. For Your Eyes Only (1981)

This one's all about the music. In at number one is the gun barrel from Roger Moore's best Bond movie (level pegging with 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me) – and it's composer Bill Conti who gives the classic Bond theme a kick in the pants. At that point best known for the Rocky franchise, Conti adds bucketloads of cowbells, synth and electric guitar to the familiar melody to really energise the theme, staying true to original composer John Barry while advancing Bond into the 1980s.

The gun barrel itself may be relatively unadorned and ordinary, but the music gets us fired up before the film has even started. It effectively sets up one of the grittier Roger Moore movies (not that that's saying very much) in which gadgets are kept to a relative minimum, and the world's most famous secret agent is instead forced to rely on his wits. (This was a deliberate choice on the part of the filmmakers given the ludicrousness of the preceding Moonraker in 1979.) Kudos as well for the way in which the sequence leads into one of the most sensitive openings in the series, as Bond visits the grave of his late wife Tracey. 

 

No Time To Die is scheduled for release on September 30th. What's your favourite James Bond gun barrel opening? Let us know @Cineworld.