Top 10 Pre-Title Sequences

A large part of why we have had a James Bond film franchise for 60 years is because of the establishment of a formula and sticking with it. For 19 films in a row, starting with From Russia With Love in 1963, audiences recognised the Bond film formula from the first minute opening with the Gunbarrel sequence, then having a Pre-Title setpiece before an elaborate montage of the credits along with the film’s title song. The Daniel Craig era would experiment with the formula by adjusting the Gunbarrel or moving it to the end of the film, but the Pre-Titles remained as what it always had been; a strong opening scene with a memorable action sequence to hook the audience. Sometimes they would connect to the plot of the film and other times they would be an isolated adventure; some taking only a few minutes whilst others can go on for over 20 minutes. In the 24 Pre-Title Sequences in the EON Bond films, there is a huge range of action, adventure and style appealing to all tastes of Bond fans.

Since the Sorta app allowed people to rank their list of preferred Bond films, I have seen it as a way to rank any element that recurs in the films, having previously used the app to rank the title songs. Like any kind of fan would, I know my favourites instantly but ordering a Top 10 list can be difficult, but the Sorta app does all the heavy lifting by asking me to compare two films at a time and then arranges the results into the list. To pick and choose, I have had to be vigilant in my thinking, taking into account the sequence as a whole, and not just base choices on a memorable stunt. When I saw the list, I was somewhat surprised that some featured so highly in the rankings whilst others did not make the top 10 at all, but I stand by my choices. Without further ado, here are my Top 10 James Bond Pre-Title Sequences:

10. Thunderball

Most famous for Bond’s daring escape using a jetpack, although the stunt looks dated by today’s standards, it was actually done for real then, and was an impressive spectacle to 60s audiences. Done today, it would be comprimised of cgi and green-screen, and not be half as impactful. Despite the iconography of the jetpack as a moment in Bond history, it is what transpires before that purs Thunderball on to this list. Attending the funeral of SPECTRE agent Jacques Bouvar, Bond uses his gentlemanly knowledge of social etiquette to deduce that Bouvar is alive, and plays his hunch by punching the grieving widow in the face. Revealed to be Bouvar in disguise, 007 reveals that he saw through the disguise because a lady would never open a car door by herself. What follows is one of Connery’s best fight scenes, with Bouvar played by stunt co-ordinator Bob Simmons, whose skills in fighting in high heels are hypnotically amazing when you watch closely.

9. For Your Eyes Only

Beginning with a slow reveal of Bond at the grave of his late wife, this sequence was originally conceived to introduce a new actor into the role of 007 by referencing the previous continuity. Roger Moore would ultimately return, but the references to the past would remain; an always welcome touch, as continuity of the series by the 80s had declined greatly since the films released in the 60s. Leaving the graveside by helicopter, Bond is put in jeopardy when the transportation is remotely hijacked by someone we all recognise as Blofeld, but for legal reasons is never referred to by name. As Bond tries to regain control by climbing into the cockpit from the outside, he clings on for dear life as the helicopter is flown haphazardly around the structures of Beckton Gas Works; with some breathtaking stuntwork from Martin Grace doubling as Bond. Ending with Bond dropping the Man in a Wheelchair down a chimney, the act defiantly says that Bond has moved on, and the filmmakers do not need Blofeld to make a Bond film. On a side note, Bill Conti’s score triumphantly kicking in when Bond takes back control of the helicopter is one of the most satisfying punch in the air moments from the franchise for me.

8. Octopussy

A rarity in Bond film openings, Octopussy offers up an isolated 007 adventure completely unrelated to the main plot. Like a well crafted short story, we are given all the aspects of a whole Bond film in less than ten minutes. A gorgeous female accomplice, a villain to face off against, action, gadgets, sexual chemistry, quips, and a jaw-dropping action sequence; it is all here. The obvious highlight is the Acrostar jet sequence, as Bond escapes from the Cuban militia. Not just a tense and exciting scene, it is beautifully crafted in editing to blend practical effects, rear projection and miniature work seemlessly. Not just a great Pre-Titles action sequence, but also one of the most memorable of all the films.

7. Goldfinger

The originator of the stand-alone opening sequence, Goldfinger sets the template for the Bond formula moving forward. Connery is now settled into the role, and has softened slight from how very serious and direct he was in Dr. No. This makes gags like a duck scuba disguise and wearing a dinner jacket underneath a wetsuit much more palatable. As Bond, Connery turns the character into a male fantasy in this sequence, having accomplished his mission without breaking a sweat and heading to a late night rendez-vous with a lady. The scrappy fight with the thug sent to kill Bond feels very much how a fight in real life would go, but cannot measure up to the train fight with Grant in From Russia With Love, because it is launched into pop culture history with three words: “Shocking. Positively shocking.”

6. Moonraker

One indisputable criticism of Moonraker is that it is very derivative of it’s predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me. Rushed into production ahead of For Your Eyes Only because of the sci-fi success of Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Moonraker‘s plot would essentially be the same as The Spy Who Loved Me, swapping out under the sea for outer space. The Pre-Title Sequence would keep the same pace as before: a hijacked Macguffin, M asking Moneypenny where Bond is, Roger Moore seducing a lady and caught in a deathtrap that he will escape via an amazing stunt. It is the stunt that propels Moonraker‘s opening above so many others in the franchise, as James Bond is thrown out of an aeroplane without a parachute, and has to grapple with a would be assasin for a parachute during free fall. The sequence is a major credit to stuntmen Jake Lombard and BJ Worth, who made 88 jumps to film the sequence.

5. The Spy Who Loved Me

No list of the best Pre-Title Sequences is complete without The Spy Who Loved Me. The fantastic editing and cinematography of the ski chase shot by Willy Bogner combined with the thumping beat of Marvin Hamlisch’s Bond ’77 create a great opening action setpiece alone, but the picture perfect single shot of Bond skiing off a cliff and then opening up a parachute emblazoned with The Union Jack is the ultimate feel-good moment for a Bond fan. The symbol of British patriotism used as a taunt for Bond’s would-be assasins and a sight gag for the audience, and it never fails to impress. Aside from one of the most memorable stunts put to film, we have a mysterious sequence begining the plot with the vanishing of a submarine, a bait-and-switch introduction to Bond’s opposite number in the KGB, and M’s line of dialogue ordering Bond to pull out of whatever (or in this case whomever) he is doing. Everything combines to create one of the most quintessentially British moments in cinema history.

4. Casino Royale

If you are going to reboot Bond then you had better make a statement in the Pre-Title sequence; and thankfully Casino Royale does just that. Showing the two kills Bond has to make before achieving Double 0 status, we see the new James Bond just as capable in a physical fight as he is as a cold-blooded executioner. Shot in black and white, a choice that not only signifies a time when that is how Bond sees the world before learning about the bigger picture but also a time before Bond has blood on his hands, which changes when the familiar but different blood from the gunbarel drizzles down the screen. The juxtaposition of the calm moment of Bond confronting Dryden intercut with the fight with the contact is jarring, and the fight flashback footage being even more grainy and saturated works well visually in the edit. The audience instantly realises who James Bond at this point in his spy career, and it is a strong and highly positive start for Daniel Craig in the role.

3. GoldenEye

Nothing is more symbolic of the James Bond franchise leaping into the 90s after a 6 year gap than 007 bungee jumping off the Verzasca Dam. The extreme pasttime was early into it’s popularity amongst tge masses, and so to have James Bond do a jump felt fresh and contemporary instantly, and not a character left behind in the 80s. The following infiltration into a Russian weapons facility alongside 006 becomes a pulse pounding, tense sequence, as 006 is captured and Bond is surrounded by a small army. Shooting his way out, the icing on this delicious cake of a sequence has Bond driving a motorcycle off a mountain ledge to freefall to a diving plane and escape before the plane crashes. The action manages to just about balance on a tightrope over falling into the realm of the ridiculous, and makes for an entertaining way of introducing Pierce Brosnan. The real treat is seeing two Double 0 agents working together as a team. In the few minutes we have of James Bond and Alec Trevelyan together, both the characters, their differences and their relationship is clearly established, and will be vital to the film’s plot moving forward.

2. The Living Daylights

Continuing the trend of Pre-Title Sequences being at their best when introducing a new actor, we cone to the introduction of Timothy Dalton. The premise of the sequence is probably the strongest of any of the film’s Pre-Titles; whilst on a training exercise, an assassin kills a Double 0 agent, and Bond abandons the exercise to give chase, jumping on to the top of an escaping Land Rover as it hurtles down the rock of Gibraltar. It’s fantastic to show Bond working with other Double 0 agents, even if so briefly, and allows Dalton to stay hidden while we do not know which agent is which, until his dramatic reveal. Not taking anything away from Roger Moore’s highly talented stunt team, but it is really refreshing and impressive to see Dalton doing as much of his own work as possible, clinging to the Land Rover roof as it speeds along. The sequence ends wonderfully, with Bond parachuting onto an imminent paramour’s yacht, showing that the tongue-in-cheek humour of the ladies’ man is still there in this more rough incarnation of James Bond.

1. Skyfall

What most people do not realise about the opening of Skyfall is that over five films and 15 years, this is one of the few times we see Daniel Craig play 007 with the reputation of Britain’s best spy. His origin is prolonged through Quantum of Solace, most of Skyfall has him injured and dubbed obsolete and No Time To Die in full retirement; so this Pre-Titles is what we have of Craig’s Bond at the character’s best. Starting with a tense scene of an operation gone fatally wrong. Bond pursues a stolen hard drive in a sequence rather like a nesting doll; it starts off small, but as each layer is added it becomes bigger and bigger. All of the action is at the other level you expect from a James Bond film, whether it is a motorcycle chase over the Grand Bazaar or jumping off a JCB into a train carriage. Some of the highlights of Thomas Newman’s underrated score play over the entire sequence, and despite the climax being spoilt in every trailer and TV spot, the tension on first viewing ramps up spectacularly as the odds against Bond’s success become insurmountable.

Let me know in the comments what are your favourite Pre-Title Sequences from the James Bond films, and if you enjoyed my top 10, please like and share.

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