The newest James Bond film, "Skyfall," is rapidly becoming the most popular one in the franchise's 50-year history, having already grossed more than $660 million around the world ($160 million of that take coming from North America). What's likely driving these record-smashing ticket sales is the movie's positive buzz. The review-tracking website Rotten Tomatoes shows that "Skyfall" has received a standing ovation from 92 percent of film critics, and the Cinemascore grade -- determined by a poll of opening weekend audiences -- is a solid "A."
Even though I haven't been a fan of the last several Bond pictures, I must admit that the wave of good feelings around "Skyfall" has me genuinely excited to see it (which I haven't done yet; when I do, I'll let you know). So I figured that before I see the 23rd adventure in the series, I'd take a moment to list my three favorites.
3. "Tomorrow Never Dies." I know, I know. And I hear you on some of your points: It doesn't have the best villain, the plot doesn't know if it's a lark or more serious at heart, and Teri Hatcher is way-miscast as a world-weary ex-lover of Bond's who's now married to the bad guy. But it's got several great action sequences -- the motorcycle-versus-helicopter chase is one of the best Bond chase scenes, period -- Pierce Brosnan is more relaxed and comfortable here than he was in his debut in "Goldeneye," the blond, square-headed henchman is eminently hissable, and Michelle Yeoh (as the Chinese spy who teams up with Bond) shows again why she was one of the world's top action stars.
2. "From Russia With Love." The second filmed Bond story, and a step up from from the first one, "Dr. No." Sean Connery seems even more confident in this one than in the first film -- and that's saying a lot. While "Dr. No" was a good establishing story, "From Russia With Love" allows the Bond character to grow. Plus there's some great villains in Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb and Robert Shaw's Grant, and while the movie takes place in about as few locations as any of the films in the series, there's still that sense of exotic, globetrotting adventure throughout.
1. "Goldfinger." Number three in the series, number one in my heart. Connery is somehow even more confident in his work here -- but so is everyone else involved. That kind of confidence could have led to disaster; it's clear that the makers had decided that they were going to make the biggest Bond movie possible, come hell or high water (or gold-cutting lasers). But while the movie teeters on the brink of being overstuffed, it's that tightrope walk that makes it such a fun adventure. Great villain, great scary henchman, great gadgets, great action set pieces -- and the most memorable "Bond girls" by a mile. Funny, sexy and adrenaline-pumping, this is the Bond movie that I compare all the others to, as well as one of the trio of movies that I compare all other big action blockbusters to, along with "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Die Hard."
Honorable mentions: The kick-off to the franchise, "Dr. No," is indeed worth watching, as is "Goldeneye" and "Live and Let Die," the first Brosnan and Roger Moore Bond pictures, respectively. Of the remaining movies, "License to Kill," Timothy Dalton's second and final turn as Bond is as dark, nasty and gritty as the series gets (and it was the first to be rated PG-13 instead of PG), but it's also a solid thriller that doesn't get as much positive attention as it deserves.