The pre-title sequences have become a beloved staple of the James Bond movie franchise. No Time to Die’s opening rewrote the rulebook with the longest cold open in the series’ history, encompassing a disconnected prologue, a showdown with SPECTRE assassins, and a continuation of all the plot threads from Daniel Craig’s Bond movies.
Back when the franchise first began with the late, great Sean Connery in the role of 007, when the trope hadn’t been fully established, the first batch of opening scenes were a mixed bag.
6 Diamonds Are Forever
Connery’s final official Eon production in the role of Bond (he returned to the role over a decade later for the unofficial Never Say Never Again), Diamonds Are Forever, follows on from its predecessor You Only Live Twice with Bond’s globetrotting pursuit of a still-alive Blofeld. There are a few unsettling moments in this sequence that blatantly challenge Bond’s characterization as a hero, like needlessly choking a woman with her own bikini top.
There are also confusing cartoonish touches, like Bond having a mousetrap in his pocket to catch a goon reaching for his gun and Blofeld falling into a vat of goo. Even Bond’s quippy one-liner is lazy: “Welcome to Hell, Blofeld!”
5 Dr. No
For the most part, Dr. No gets the Bond franchise off to a terrific start. Ursula Andress remains one of the most iconic Bond girls, Joseph Wiseman remains one of the most iconic Bond villains, and Terence Young perfectly characterized 007 from the offset. But the opening sequence leaves a lot to be desired, because the tradition of opening with a high-concept action set-piece hadn’t been established yet.
As a result, the opening doesn’t feature Bond at all. Instead, it sets up Bond’s mission with the murders of MI6 Station Chief John Strangways and his secretary in Jamaica. It’s an action scene that kicks off the plot right away, but now that Bond has become such a cultural icon, it seems baffling that his first big-screen outing takes so long to introduce him.
4 You Only Live Twice
The opening scene of You Only Live Twice seemingly ends with Bond being assassinated. It takes a while to introduce 007, starting with the theft of a space capsule and cutting between various military characters trying to figure out what happened to it. When the movie finally gets around to Bond, he’s in bed with a woman in Hong Kong before assassins burst in, shoot him dead, and his body is swallowed by the bed.
After the title sequence, of course, it’s revealed that Bond’s death has just been faked to allow him to investigate Blofeld and take down SPECTRE, but it’s a pretty exciting way to kick off the movie – and perfectly sets up Nancy Sinatra’s moody, heartfelt theme song.
3 From Russia With Love
The opening scene of From Russia with Love is delightfully subversive. The movie begins with Bond being targeted by henchman Red Grant, played by Jaws’ Robert Shaw. Much to the audience’s surprise, when Grant pounces, he manages to kill Bond. For a second, it seems as though Bond is dead and the movie will only be a couple of minutes long – and then the whole thing turns out to be a training experiment.
SPECTRE is training its best assassins to face Bond in retaliation for the events of Dr. No, and Grant’s abilities are unparalleled. The ease with which Grant kills the Bond decoy in this training exercise sets up the brutal, authentically life-threatening fight he’ll have with the real 007 on the Orient Express later in the movie.
Overall, Thunderball is considered to be one of Connery’s weaker Bond movies, but it ends strong with an astonishing underwater battle sequence and it starts strong with a twisty opening action scene. Bond attends the funeral of an enemy operative, disappointed that he didn’t get to deliver the final death blow, then goes to the widow’s house to pay his respects.
Initially, there doesn’t seem to be any action on the horizon, but the sequence takes a surprising turn when the colonel’s widow turns out to be the colonel himself in disguise – complete with high heels and stockings – ready to fight 007. This is one of the most intense, visceral fight scenes from the entire Connery era.
After Dr. No and From Russia with Love laid the groundwork, the third Bond movie – 1964’s Goldfinger – perfected the series’ now-familiar formula. Like every other element of Goldfinger, the opening scene is the gold standard (pardon the pun) for the episodic 007 formula. Just like Gert Fröbe’s eccentric eponymous megalomaniac and the spectacular finale at Fort Knox, Goldfinger’s opening action scene set a high benchmark for what would eventually become a well-worn franchise trope.
Following the baffling reveal of Bond’s disguise (a fake duck strapped to the top of his wetsuit), the gentleman spy emerges from the water, plants explosive devices at a drug laboratory, then sneaks off to a bar before detonating them. He takes off his wetsuit to reveal a pristine white tuxedo underneath and coolly lights a cigarette as the lab explodes behind him. In the space of a few minutes, director Guy Hamilton perfectly reintroduces the Bond character.
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