We here at Showbiz Tonight suspected we'd raise some eyebrows by ranking "Casino Royale" #1 in our countdown of the best James Bond movies ever (the countdown was part of our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the first Bond movie, "Dr. No"). But judging by the reaction of some of our viewers you'd think we'd handed 007 a martini that had been stirred. While many of you applauded our selection of Daniel Craig's 2006 Bond debut, some of you were downright scandalized that we chose it over such established classics as "Goldfinger" or "From Russia With Love."
Well, we here at Showbiz Tonight don't make tough calls that we're not prepared to back up. So here are the four factors that led us to name "Casino Royale" as the best of Bond.
IMPACT - With a $594 million worldwide box office haul, "Casino Royale" is the highest-grossing Bond movie ever. And its impact goes far beyond numbers. When the producers of the Bond series abruptly decided to end the successful box office run of the previous Bond star, Pierce Brosnan, and reboot the franchise with Craig, it was seen as a risky move. But the gamble paid off. "Casino Royale’s" critical and commercial success helped usher in a Hollywood reboot craze that has since brought us re-imagined takes on “Star Trek,” “Spider-Man” and “X-Men.” Says Grae Drake, senior editor of the online film review site Rotten Tomatoes: “‘Casino Royale’ is a fantastic standard for reboots that Hollywood has sort of compared everything to ever since.”
DANIEL CRAIG'S PERFORMANCE - Yes, Sean Connery perfected the mix of brains, brawn and sex appeal we've come to expect from 007. But Daniel Craig’s critically-praised performance in "Casino Royale" set a new high for the franchise. Whether he's declaring his love for Eva Green's Vesper Lynd, staring down his nemesis at the poker table, or letting loose with a sadistic laugh during a brutal torture scene, Craig took this character places we'd never seen Bond go before. Craig was so good he was nominated for a BAFTA, Britain's equivalent of the Oscar, for Best Actor -- an honor no other actor, not even Connery, ever received for playing Bond.
CROSSOVER APPEAL – It goes without question that guys love Bond, what with the cool gadgets he gets to use, the awesome cars he gets to drive, and the beautiful women he gets to... um… "date." And "Casino Royale" definitely delivers the goods as an adrenaline-fueled Bond flick. But "Casino Royale" is the rare Bond movie that seems to have an equally strong following among women; it’s aired on both the female-centered Oxygen network as well as the testosterone-fest G4 channel. Rotten Tomatoes critic Grae Drake, who happens to be one of “Casino Royale’s” female fans, credits its feminine appeal, in part, to the refreshingly grown-up love story between Craig’s Bond and Green’s Vesper Lynd. “The love scenes in ‘Casino Royale’ were off the charts,” Drake says. “[Bond and Vesper] had this amazing way of talking that made it feel like it was foreplay. That energy hadn't been captured in a Bond film in a long time.”
That thrilling but tragic love story brings us to the deciding factor in Showbiz Tonight’s decision to call "Casino Royale" the best Bond movie ever:
EMOTIONAL “OOMPH” –"Goldfinger" is a great film and a lot of fun. But it has zero emotional heft (unless you count the heartbreak car buffs feel when Bond wrecks that beautiful Aston Martin DB5). That's not the case with "Casino Royale." Watching novice agent James Bond fall in love with Vesper Lynd, only for her to betray him and then die right in front of him, is just wrenching - as is seeing Bond emerge from the tragedy as the stone-hearted killing machine we've come to know as 007 ("The job's done and the bitch is dead" remains the coldest line Bond’s ever spoken). 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is another Bond movie with a sad ending. But we never saw the tragedy that ends that movie affect Bond in any meaningful way in the films that followed. In contrast, the events of "Casino Royale" clearly weigh heavily on Bond throughout his next adventure, "Quantum of Solace." In fact, the events of "Casino Royale" will likely cast a shadow over the Bond character for as long as Craig plays him.
So, that’s why we picked “Casino Royale” over “Goldfinger” as the #1 Bond movie ever. We will concede, however, that “Goldfinger” still has the much better theme song.