Traditionally, James Bond’s big-screen outings aren’t very emotionally engaging movies – they’re just fun, goofy, over-the-top, globetrotting spy adventures. But, over the course of the franchise’s half-century lifespan, some of its twentysomething entries have surprised audiences with genuinely compelling dramatic elements.

Daniel Craig’s final turn as 007 in No Time to Die was recently praised as arguably the finest dramatic performance ever given in the role. A typical Bond movie will have a standard one-dimensional romance, but some of them – like Casino Royale and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – have gone above and beyond with captivating love stories about loss and betrayal.

8 No Time To Die (2021)

The most recent Bond adventure, No Time to Die, returned to many fan-favorite Bond tropes like a gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 and a climactic showdown at the villain’s lair. But it also had a compelling emotional arc for Bond. He learns that he’s a father, contracts a bioweapon that will kill his daughter if he ever touches her again, and allows himself to be eviscerated in a nuclear blast.

On rewatches, the most poignant thing about No Time to Die’s bittersweet ending is how early Bond accepts that he’s not making it off the island and he’ll need to give his life to save the world.

7 For Your Eyes Only (1981)

After Moonraker sent Roger Moore’s Bond to space, the producers brought the franchise back to its more grounded roots with a classic revenge thriller. Near the beginning of For Your Eyes Only, “Bond girl” Melina Havelock’s parents are whacked by a hitman in front of her.

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Even 007 is stunned by the narrow-mindedness of Havelock’s pursuit of vengeance. But after she watched her mom and pop get mowed down by gunfire, it’s hard not to have some compassion for her vendetta.


6 License To Kill (1989)

Timothy Dalton’s second and final film in the role of Bond, License to Kill, earned a 15 rating in the UK (the only movie in the franchise to do so) due to its dark tone and uncompromising violence. Instead of going through the motions with an official MI6 mission, Bond is motivated by a personal vendetta in License to Kill.

He goes rogue to pursue drug lord Franz Sanchez after Sanchez feeds Felix Leiter’s leg to a shark and kills his wife. Leiter is a fan favorite, so the audience shares Bond’s drive for revenge after Sanchez puts him through so much horror and heartache.

5 Skyfall (2012)

With Skyfall, the third of Craig’s five Bond movies, Sam Mendes found a nice middle ground between the gritty revisionism of Casino Royale and the more traditional goofiness of one-liners, Q Branch gadgets, and Aston Martins.

The movie’s climactic set-piece is subversively small-scale, with Raoul Silva confronting Bond at his childhood home in the Scottish countryside. This riveting home invasion sequence ends with the heartbreaking death of Judi Dench’s M.

4 Dr. No (1962)

The very first Bond film, Dr. No, introduced Sean Connery’s 007 as a relatively grounded secret agent. He has an on-and-off girlfriend, Sylvia Trench, and his mission is confined largely to the fictional island of Crab Key.

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Dr. No opens with the murder of an MI6 station chief and his unsuspecting secretary. This opening isn’t a breathtaking stunt showcase like a freefall or a bungee jump; it’s just a harrowing double homicide. Later in the movie, lovable supporting player Quarrel is abruptly killed by a flamethrower-laden tank in pretty shocking fashion.

3 The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The most widely acclaimed film of the hit-and-miss Moore era, The Spy Who Loved Me, pairs Bond with a KGB agent named Anya Amasova, played by Barbara Bach. As it turns out, Bond killed the love of her life, fellow KGB agent Sergei Barsov, on a previous mission.

This is far from a straightforward Bond movie romance. Amasova doesn’t just blindly fall for Bond, like most “Bond girls” do. She has to get over the fact that the worst tragedy in her life was his fault.

2 Casino Royale (2006)

Craig’s first film in the role of Bond, Casino Royale, acts as a sort of origin story for the character, detailing how he acquired his license to kill and 00 status. During the middle act, 007 falls in love with Vesper Lynd. He quits MI6 just to spend more time with her.

In the heartbreaking finale, Bond watches Vesper drown as he fails to save her from an elevator in a sinking building. This gut-wrenching turn establishes the most crucial part of Bond’s origin story: the tragedy that made him a cold-hearted government-sanctioned killer.

1 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby only made one movie in the role of Bond – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while Sean Connery was on sabbatical – but that one movie is widely considered to be the finest Bond film from a technical standpoint. It might not have the hammiest villain or the most memorable action sequences, but it does have gorgeous cinematography, an engaging espionage plot, and an even more engaging love story.

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007 falls in love with Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, played by Diana Rigg, and their romance builds to a happy ending that is then swiftly robbed from the audience. After Bond and Tracy get married in the final scene, Tracy is killed in a drive-by shooting. Instead of ending on a crude sexual innuendo, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service ends on a heartbroken 007 cradling his bride’s corpse.

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