The nature of James Bond’s job as Britain’s best spy puts him in many life or death situations. Top 10 Films reveals the best edge-of-your-seat moments when you think – just for a split second – Bond might not make it.
James Bond has endured a number of near-misses in his life. It comes with the job. As Britain’s best spy and our favourite purveyor of polyamory, 007 has been putting his life on the line for Queen, country and cinema since the 1960s.
From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig and an assortment of actors in the middle, the name “Bond, James Bond” has become synonymous with an old school type of hero; a swashbuckling male rogue with a penchant for fast cars, beautiful women and a licence to kill.
Though we know he has as much chance of dying as the chief villain has of “getting away with it”, the writers and directors who’ve picked up the challenge of bringing Ian Fleming’s character to the screen have done so knowing audience expectation – after so many films – has become a part of the interior decoration.
Therefore, drama in scenes of carnage armed with the knowledge that Bond isn’t going to come to any harm has to come from the circumstances, the backdrop of story and supporting characters, innovation in plot, set-piece and special-effects, and, above all else, performance on the part of Bond himself.
In this top 10, I look at my favourite 007 near-death escapes; those moments when Bond is in real peril and must use his intellect, experience and perhaps one of Q’s gadgets to get himself, and any other “good guys”, to safety. Oh, and he needs a little bit of luck sometimes too…
(11). The Man With The Golden Gun (Hamilton, 1974)
When In Doubt – Run
Here’s a more comedic “near-miss” during the Roger Moore canon of Bond movies, one that certainly doesn’t make the top 10.
Unarmed, alone and largely helpless, James Bond makes the mistake of posing as villain Scaramanga only to be rumbled and sent to Hai Fat’s dojo to be disposed of. Faced with an entire army of martial artists including a very angry black belt, 007 drops the pretence and simply does a runner!
Now for the top 10…
10. GoldenEye (Campbell, 1995)
Bonce To The Rescue
Our Top 10 James Bond Near-Death Experiences begins with 1995’s GoldenEye, the first outing for Pierce Brosnan after taking over secret agent duties from Timothy Dalton. GoldenEye was significant for a number of reasons, not least the fact it was the first franchise entry not to take any story elements from the works of novelist Ian Fleming. This modernisation of the franchise also saw veteran actors of the series Robert Brown and Caroline Bliss replaced by Judi Dench and Samantha Bond in the roles of M and Miss Moneypenny respectively.
The story revolves around the GoldenEye satellite, a powerful device capable of firing a powerful electromagnetic pulse knocking out major infrastructure and causing electrical fires and devastating explosions.
When the device falls into the hands of the Janus crime syndicate, Bond sets out to find those responsible and bring the device back into allied control. He makes headway following a tight squeeze with henchwoman Xenia Onatopp who, after eventually being subdued by Bond, takes him to her leader.
It is here that Janus reveals himself to be a rogue British agent, a descendent of Nazi collaborators, whose purpose in life has become the destruction of the British government who he holds responsible for his parents’ deaths.
Before Bond can shoot Janus, he is stunned by a dart and loses consciousness. He awakens to find himself locked in a military helicopter that has been programmed to self-destruct.
Unable to prevent the machine from beginning its self-destruct programme because his hands are tied, Bond decides the only way to escape is to eject. Using his head – literally – he swings his bonce into the ejection button, sending himself and his passenger, a gorgeous ally called Natalya Simonova, into the sky just before the helicopter erupts into a ball of flames and flying metal.
9. Thunderball (Young, 1965)
Bond is in shock (and in trouble). Director Terrence Young’s 1965 outing for the British secret agent was an unsubtle introduction to sillier, less-serious Bond adventure founded upon increasingly outlandish gadgets, devious henchman, villainous lairs, femme fatales, quips and car chases.
If 007’s missions had been given a layer of comedic value in his previous outing (Goldfinger) – you know, with that line about Pussy Galore and “I must be dreaming” and the henchman using a bowler hat to behead his victims – Thunderball takes things up a notch. Indeed, it begins with Bond battling his first cross-dresser.
Checking in on the funeral of a former SPECTRE member – Colonel Jacques Bouvar – Bond is keen to confirm the threat to national security is definitely heading to the grave. But he smells a rat.
Waiting for Bouvar’s widow to return home, he suddenly attacks the grieving woman when they’re alone. It’s less a surprise to see 007 hitting a woman given his gender politics than it is to see him unveil her as Bouvar himself.
With no qualms about street fighting a man in heels, Bond and Bouvar grapple only for the villain to succumb to a fire poker to the neck. Yet, while Bond dispatches his enemy he’s only gone and raised the suspicions of a well-armed security force. He heads to the roof but there’s surely no escape from there.
This could be the end of Bond! But, no, wait. What’s this? A jetpack!
8. The Living Daylights (Glen, 1987)
Henchman, Bomb, Plane Crash
This time James Bond is surely done for. The unfairly maligned Timothy Dalton, who took over from Roger Moore for 1987’s The Living Daylights, finds himself in something of a pickle.
007 has got himself caught up in a battle with the Soviets in Afghanistan after the British government learns a rogue General named Pushkin has revived an old KGB policy of Smiert Spionon: death to spies.
Having being captured and taken to a military base, Bond makes escape look easy as he evades his captors and jets out of harm’s way in a Soviet army logistics plane. But his flight is about to hit some major turbulence.
Henchman Necros leaps aboard the plane while Bond is taxiing down the runway and is quick to reveal his presence once airborne. In true superhero, super-agent style, Bond opens the aircraft’s back door, grapples with the villain for dramatic effect, then, when Necros’ last line of saviour is the black military boot adorned by 007, the wily British agent cuts his shoe laces with a knife Mick Dundee would be proud of.
His boot comes loose and flies off into the clouds along with the latest villain to try his hand at assassinating Britain’s favourite polyamorist.
Yet, not all is well. With his latest squeeze – the beautiful cellist Kara Milovy – also on board, 007 needs to act quickly to save both their lives. This is a James Bond movie after all. Yep, there’s a bomb on the plane and it’s about to explode.
Bond disables it by, well, simply pressing the off-switch. But panic ensues as the pilotless aircraft has drifted towards a cliff face. Bond gets there in time to readdress the plane’s altitude and narrowly avoid a squish.
But the plane then takes shrapnel damage from a battle on the ground between the Soviets and regional guerrilla fighters. The engines are hit and no amount of tapping the fuel gauge will save the doomed plane. Bond and Kara are going down – it’s all over for 007.
But wait, he lines the plane up with a strip of desert too short to land on but lengthy enough to drop a 4×4 carried in the cargo hold on to. Bond opens the back door, tells Kara to put her seat belt on, and backs out of the plane a few metres above the ground.
The pair drive off into the sunset to make love until 1989’s Licence To Kill while the plane explodes in the mountain side.
7. For Your Eyes Only (Glen, 1981)
Remote Control Airways
In a rare moment of tenderness and back-story, 007 is seen laying flowers by his wife’s grave before an MI6 helicopter arrives to take him back to headquarters. However, old nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld isn’t about to let Bond enjoy his flight. He uses a radio-controlled device to electrocute the pilot and take possession of the helicopter, flying it at his own whim.
Unable to get to the cockpit due to a Plexiglas partition, Blofeld flies the aircraft erratically, intending to drag out the secret agent’s demise a little longer.
But, typically, the courageous Brit has other ideas, stepping out the door and shimmying along the helicopter’s landing legs. He manages to hold on despite Blofeld performing the sorts of manoeuvres only children with toy planes might attempt. Thinking of number one (and Queen and country), Bond allows the electrocuted pilot to drop from the sky so he can gain entry to the cockpit – if he wasn’t dead before, he is now.
Finding and disabling the device controlling the helicopter’s movement, Bond decides it’s time to finish his feud with Blofeld once and for all. He finds the wheelchair-bound villain on an industrial site.
Allowing the bald bad-guy’s iconic cat a safe getaway, Bond swoops low, picks up Blofeld by the helicopter’s landing legs, and takes him skyward for a taste of his own medicine. The villain’s demise comes when 007 dumps him down a tall chimney stack. Cue opening credits!
6. Diamonds Are Forever (Hamilton, 1971)
There’s a reoccurring theme in Guy Hamilton’s Diamonds Are Forever involving Bond being buried alive. This is the focus of the film’s entry in the top 10 with two sequences from the film, both of which involve Blofeld’s henchmen Wint and Kidd.
In the first sequence, Bond is apprehended at a crematorium, knocked unconscious, placed into a casket and sent into the cremation oven. He’s unarmed and out of ideas. In fact, he’s done for. However, his life is saved by diamond smuggler Shady Tree who discovers the loot planted by Bond and the CIA is fake.
Not a man to learn his lessons when it comes to life and death, 007 pursues Blofeld to Las Vegas, where the British secret agent is out-thought and knocked out by gas. Wint and Kidd dispose of an unconscious Bond in a pipeline to be installed in the Nevada desert. Having endured being cremated alive, Bond can now experience being buried alive with an unmapped road built on top of him in the middle of nowhere. Bond has absolutely no chance of survival…
But he regains consciousness in time to avoid being squished by a motorised maintenance device, finding his escape through one of the pipeline’s entry hatches.
5. Moonraker (Gilbert, 1979)
James Bond should have learned that playing with toys can often get him into trouble. An updated, upgraded and far better version of the very silly spine straightener sequence in the equally silly Sean Connery effort Thunderball, is Bond’s brush with the centrifuge chamber in Moonraker.
Eager to show off for the gorgeous Dr. Holly Goodhead, Bond is more than happy to example his alpha male credentials by strapping himself into the G-Force simulator. Problem is, one of Hugo Drax’s evil henchman is watching on. When Goodhead is called away to another engagement, Drax’s employee increases the machine’s power to fatal levels.
Surely Bond won’t survive this one? But thanks to Q’s gadget-for-the-right-occasion, 007 manages to escape seconds before he loses consciousness by firing a wristband-mounted dart into the cockpit’s electronics causing a fire and automatic shutdown.
4. Octopussy (Glen, 1983)
Gorilla Suit Escape
How did 007 escape this one? A middling film in the Roger Moore canon but hardly his worst effort (that would be A View To A Kill of course, but you knew that).
In a story involving Faberge eggs and Indian elephants, Bond finds himself earth’s saviour against a rogue Soviet unit fronted by General Orlov who plots to bomb a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany in a complicated attempt to weaken Europe’s defences in order for the Soviet’s to attack.
When 007 finds himself defenceless onboard a train carrying circus equipment and costumes, he pulls on a gorilla suit to evade detection. When one of chief villain Kamal Khan’s henchman realises Bond’s ruse, he reaches for a sword and lops off the gorilla’s head.
Surely that can’t be the end of Bond? And, sure enough, we see a roof hatch open and Bond make his way out of it. In a matter of seconds, how Bond disrobed from a full body Gorilla suit and made his escape is anyone’s guess. But that’s why he’s Britain’s number one super spy!
3. Live and Let Die (Hamilton, 1973)
Bond On The Menu
If James Bond is good at one thing, it’s getting into the most dangerous messes. Thankfully, he’s even more adept at getting out of them. When it comes to defying death in the world of secret agents and international, megalomaniacal crime lords, few have dodged the bullet (in both its steel-tearing flesh and metaphorical guises) more times than England’s best-known male chauvinist pig.
Sorry, I do Bond a disservice there – clearly over the years he’s shown a real appreciation of the opposite sex. But his chances of bedding anyone else look dramatically diminished after he pursues a black magic-peddling Caribbean dictator in Guy Hamilton’s 1973 adventure Live and Let Die (Roger Moore’s first in the role of Bond).
Meeting the dictator’s henchman Tee Hee (a name he perhaps took from his favourite kid’s TV show), Bond discovers that despite the villain’s playfully unassuming title, there’s no place safe when he’s around.
Tee Hee introduces Bond to his “pet” crocodiles. There’s a thousand of them he claims. Deciding to give 007 a false sense of security, the hook-handed individual takes the British agent on the “dinner run”. However, when Tee Hee wishes Bond goodbye, it’s clear the pleasantries were all a con. No, he wasn’t lying when he said it was crocodile feeding time. But he did leave out the part that said a secret agent was on the menu.
Stranded and defenceless on a small piece of dry earth protruding from a crocodile-infested lake, Bond is in trouble. What’s he going to do? Easy. He waits until the crocs are closing in, sensing they’re being treated to a large lunch; a meal whose bill is being picked up by the Queen of England. Then, with enough crocs between him and the safety of the mainland, he hops, skips and jumps his way home using the man-eaters like stepping stones.
Making sure his tie is neat, the suited 007 plots a hasty but ingenious revenge. He opens the safety gate to the croc-infested water and ushers them into the henchman’s lair with some tempting meaty treats.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me (Gilbert, 1977)
Union Jack Parachute
The best Bond film can only compete for the crown if its opening sequence lives up to the billing. Fittingly, The Spy Who Loved Me’s first five minutes hits all the right notes.
We begin underwater with a British submarine in crisis. It appears to malfunction and the Captain loses all control. Cutting away from the distressed nuclear sub, we learn British military control has lost contact with it. Over in Russia, the same has happened to one of their fleet. Both governments call on their best “men” for the job – Agent XXX of the Soviet Union and, of course, James Bond for the Brits.
Given the life-or-death nature of the job it’s unsurprising to find both agents in post-coitus after-play with an insignificant other they barely know the name of. The wry ol’ devil Lewis Gilbert throws in a terrific twist when he reveals Agent XXX to be the beautiful female operative Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach).
Over in snowy Austria, 007 has to ditch his après-ski date and the sexual innuendo to dodge a bunch assassins on a mountain top. Problem is: he’s running out of snow to make his escape.
Up in the clouds there’s really nowhere to go. Bond is done for. That’s it, this time he’s not going to make it. In fact, he gives up all hope and simply skies straight off the edge of the mountain. He’s falling to his doom and the title music hasn’t even started yet. But wait. What’s this? A secreted parachute decorated with the Union Jack. Oh, James…you cheeky devil! Cue Carly Simon’s gorgeous “Nobody Does It Better”.
1. Goldfinger (Hamilton, 1964)
The Crown Jewels Are Under Threat
Goldfinger features one of the most famous lines in any Bond film when the British secret agent tries to buy himself some time by asking: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Chief villain Goldfinger doesn’t hesitate in his answer: “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!”
This moment remains Bond’s closest shave with death given that for once a bad guy isn’t interested in small talk and willing to kill the hero at his first opportunity.
However, the ever-cunning secret agent makes a calculated move to mention Operation Grand Slam moments before the laser beam burns a hole through his short and curlies.
Goldfinger, instead of using his torture device to get 007’s entire knowledge of the secret operation, does what any Bond villain worth his salt would do: lock up the secret agent in a secret underground lair in order for him to escape his colour co-ordinated but inept guards, kill the villain and save the world.
Written and compiled by Dan Stephens
What are your top 10 James Bond near death escapes?