As every true fan or “student” of James Bond knows, there’s an increasingly urgent need to agree on which of the movies is, in fact — objectively — best.

In the good old days, anyone who could hang his argument on “Ian Fleming” prevailed. That gave way to solace that nothing that failed to star Sean Connery was legitimate for consideration.

But now it’s gotten completely out of control.

Some 007 experts and film historians have taken to suggesting that generic considerations such as scripting, editing, special effects, and, perhaps most egregious, acting serve as criteria in grading any one James Bond movie against another. What on earth does the general public have to do with the success or failure of Bond? By what right?

Where were they in 1962? How many James Bond conventions have they ever attended? How many of them have personally had lunch with Peter Hunt?

Thankfully, the last two James Bond films finally put the question to rest.

“World wide gross” is a bulletproof number, immune from manipulation. More importantly, it shows the 2006 Casino Royale as best Bond movie ever, having taken in $596 million so far. Quantum of Solace is second, at $576 million.

Whew! Natural order confirmed. For the sake of harmony, I think we can all give a little and concede that Quantum of Solace was only 96.6% as good as Casino Royale.

Those financials are from, as are all others I’m gonna cite in this article. I’m open to more authoritative sourcing — if it appreciably changes the analysis and conclusions laid out here.

Unfortunately, as my title for this article implies, the problem with world wide gross criteria is Moonraker.

At $210 million, Moonraker outperforms every James Bond movie before it. Every single James Bond movie starring Sean Connery, including Never Say Never Again. Yet, in the Branding Bond, James Bond 2011 annual ranking, Moonraker came in five up from the bottom. The HMSS Weblog folks gave it a collective “D” grade and say there’s only one film worse (admittedly having neglected to consider the 1967 Casino Royale movie).

Maybe “bottom line” isn’t the bottom line some might think it to be.

If not, what is?

For this round, let me suggest the Albert R Broccoli standard: Money on the screen. The business term for this is return on investment, or ROI. And I think it’s a good idea to look at James Bond movies vis-à-vis stewardship of an asset with which the producers and studios have been entrusted. Because, ultimately, they finance films made with good will that was earned and has to be re-earned via audience attraction.

By the “ROI criteria,” Dr No is the all-time best James Bond movie. Budget $1 million, world wide gross $59.6 million. Almost a 60:1 ROI. The next two films after that are Goldfinger and From Russia with Love, approximately tied at $40 taken-in for ever dollar spent.

At the other end of the spectrum, Quantum of Solace is dead-last by a clear margin. With a reported budget of $230 million, it returned just $2.50 for ever dollar spent. The World Is Not Enough peformed better by 20 cents per buck, and Die Another Day delivered a 3:1 ROI.

Ironically, this ROI focus starts to suggest that Moonraker actually marked the turning point at which considerably less budget money was showing up on the screen.

Without exception, the first 10 Eon Productions James Bond movies returned at least $10.25 for every dollar invested. The “worst” of the pre-Moonraker period was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The last movie to break 13:1 was The Spy Who Loved Me.

Not one movie since then has returned as much as 7:1 against budget.

Moonraker had a budget of $31 million and a $210 million world wide gross. The ROI on Octopussy was slightly better than that. For Your Eyes Only set the high-water-mark at 6.98-times investment.

No actor since Roger Moore has made a James Bond movie hitting 6:1 ROI. And, contrary to vigorous spin and desperate attempts to revise history, Pierce Brosnan remains a clearly more bankable 007 than Daniel Craig. GoldenEye delivered $356 million from a $60 million production, versus the $102 million it cost to get $596 million from the 2006 Casino Royale. And, as noted above, nothing in Mr Brosnan’s 007 resume approaches the moneypit performance Mr Craig gave in Quantum of Solace.

Now we’ve been promised a Skyfall that’ll rival Goldfinger as “Bond with a capital ‘B'” — in so many words, and iconic imagery. Last official budget report we had, in November, that’s based on spending levels similar to Quantum of Solace, meaning $230 million (plus or minus).


Goldfinger returned $41.63 for every budget dollar. By my math, that means we should get a $9.57 billion take from Skyfall.

Um, wow. Can’t wait to see that.

Personally, I’d have been willing to cut some slack in expecting something that was merely as good as, say, the pinacle of Roger Moore’s James Bond work. Not the best ROI, mind you; just the best in terms of, you know, those “objective” fans who feel compelled to point out how poorly Mr Moore delivered in bellbottom tuxedo and Seiko wristwatch. This, they say, “just to be honest.” Take The Spy Who Loved Me, budget $14 million, world wide gross $48.7 million.

On that basis, Skyfall will merely have to do a $3.05 billion gross. And when Skyfall delivers on its promise of that sorta ROI, I don’t think anyone will question any decision they make on word capitalization.

Conversely, how could anyone help but deliver a higher-grossing James Bond movie than Dr No with a budget 31 times bigger? That’s all Moonraker ever did.

Eon Productions has promised us that Skyfall will be Goldfinger or better. Noted. That means a multi-billion-dollar Bond. Noted.

Otherwise, come November, if we start hearing “gross” rationalizations, figure someone hasn’t been keeping up on current events.

Space shuttles don’t fly anymore.

Not even for the most zealous among new James Bond fans.