The James Bond Movie Formula

“What a helpful chap…”

The James Bond Movie Formula

Step by step.

Screenwriters have a trick at their disposal. It’s a way for them to hit the right beats at the right time during a movie. It’s a bit of a crutch, but it almost always works. Knowing the right ingredients, stirring the pot a tiny bit, and serving it attractively is the Hollywood way.

Movies like Star Wars, Die Hard, and The Matrix all follow the formula.

The problem with writing to a formula isn’t movie after movie looking and feeling the same. It’s how the formulaic structure takes the audience on a leisurely ride with only the mildest of bumps along the way. It’s comfort food. This is the way Hollywood has done movies for a hundred years. Without a doubt, screenwriters have followed these story mechanics to make films audiences love.

“What a helpful chap…”

The longest movie series starring a single character is the James Bond franchise. In the early 60s, the Bond screenwriters took the barest of plot points from Ian Fleming’s novels and followed the formula to wild success. It took the producers until the third film, Goldfinger, to perfect it. After that, Eon Productions understood what needed to happen in every James Bond movie, and for the most part, it has with only slight deviations.

From Goldfinger up to The Living Daylights, the James Bond movie formula was essential. Twenty plus years of movies used the exact same stock writing techniques and tropes. It is the primary reason James Bond is the most successful franchise in cinema. License to Kill was a slight aberration to the formula, but the Brosnan movies fell back into the formula more or less.

At the dawn of the 21st century, with the Ethan Hunt’s and Jason Bourne’s of the film world nipping at Bond’s heels, the first Daniel Craig movie, Casino Royale, tried to upend the formula. Still, even with the Craig movies, many of the Bond tropes have maintained that “feeling” of a Bond movie for the movie-going audience.

Below is the James Bond Movie Formula. It’s a list of tropes and plot points that most of the Bond films follow.

“What a helpful chap…”

Traditional Theme, Logo, Single Shot and Blood

The traditional James Bond theme is played as the logo, which if you’ve never noticed, is the inside of a gun barrel, bounces across the screen. The view centers in on Bond walking. Bond then shifts his pose turns and shoots. Blood drips down the screen. Gun barrel logo staggers on-screen and drops to a corner, and then expands to the teaser sequence.

Bond Almost Dies/Teaser

His life is threatened by hook or crook, and Bond pulls off a fantastic stunt to save himself. This scene introduces key characters in the movie. Sometimes the teaser has Bond in it and sometimes not. Sometimes the teaser has some important information regarding the plot of the movie, sometimes not.

Opening Credits

The credit scene in Bond movies is practically a short movie all by itself. Most of the time, we see visuals that mirror the movie. Of course, lots of silhouettes of naked women prancing around.

Movie Theme Song

The theme song by a pop artist of the time is played during the opening credits. It almost always has the movie title in its lyrics. Occasionally, it is played in other parts of the movie, considering the mood of the music needed for the scene.

“What a helpful chap…”

Briefing of Mission

Bond walks into the office of MI-6 and flirts with Moneypenny. Next, Bond walks into M’s office and gets briefed on the situation. This scene is not as strict in the later movies. Case in point, Bond is briefed in a car in Tomorrow Never Dies.

Q Branch

Q gives Bond any special gizmos needed for the assignment. Lots of prop jokes. Most of the time, this scene occurs after the briefing, but occasionally has come at different points in the films.

After the Main Villain

Bond goes to the exotic location of our main villain, where he tries to contact the enemy. Sometime before the next step, he gets a Martini that is “shaken, not stirred.”

The Villain Has a Nasty Pet

Most movies have a sinister animal owned by the villain. It could be sharks, lions, pythons, or a killer attack cat. The main villain almost always uses these “pets” to intimidate subordinates.

“Bond, James Bond”

This can happen anytime during the movie. He announces his name typically when talking with a lady. Classically, this is how he introduced himself to the Bond Girl, but there have been variations in the later movies. When a new actor comes in to play Bond, it’s usually one of his first lines.

Casino Gamble

The casino or gambling scenes have been rarer in the later movies, with the obvious exception of Casino Royale. They typically happen at the start of the movie for character introduction. Whenever he gambles, Bond usually loses during the first hand but makes a comeback in the second bet. Bond’s most common game in this scene is baccarat. Of course, this has been varied to go with the times. For example, in Casino Royale, Baccarat is replaced by no-limit Texas Hold’em poker, which saw a tremendous resurgence at the time.

Fight with Main Villain Henchman

Here is where the stuntmen earn their pay—lots of fights where Bond just barely wins. The first henchman fight is almost always followed by the next step.

We Meet the Bond Girl

Bond comes into the circle of his female companion for the rest of the movie. The irony of all Bond movies is that Bond cannot complete the mission without theBond Girl’s assistancel.

Company of the Bad Girl

Not common in all of the Bond movies, but it has become popular in the last few movies. This female lead is the trusted lieutenant of the main villain. More often than not, she is the main henchman. Almost every time, she has a tryst with Bond and usually ends up dead or incarcerated.

“What a helpful chap…”

Sexually Hinted Female Name

There is a long streak of these going back to the very first Bond movie. Either the Bond Girl or the Bad Girl will have a name with a sexual connotation. Examples: Pussy Galore, Octopussy, Holly Goodhead, Plenty O’Toole (named after her father, I suppose…), and Xenia Onnatop. Even in the Bond parody Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, there was Lota Fagina as a Bad Girl, and in the Bondian episode “Our Man, Bashir” on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there was Mona Lovesett, which is my personal favorite.

Help from Across the Pond

An American Agent, usually CIA, is around to help Bond. It can be the Bond Girl, but Felix Leiter has filled this position most of the time.

Enemy Spots Bond

Bond flaunts his presence in an unsecured environment. As a secret agent, Bond is actually well-known for doing this in the movies. He might be captured at this point. Oftentimes, it leads to the next step but not always.

Fallen Comrade/Sacrificial Lamb

This can happen anywhere in the film, from the beginning right to the end. Someone in Bond’s assistance will die at the hand of the villain’s forces. It affects Bond emotionally, usually to a point of revenge.

“What a helpful chap…”

Chase Scene

Bond is in some exotic vehicle or location in a chase. It changes from movie to movie whether he is chasing or being chased or if the Bond Girl is with him or the villain’s henchmen (never the main villain). Lots of vehicle stunts with theme music. Occasionally skiing stunts and parkour round out the different types of chases.

Villain Headquarters Found/Bond and Company Captured

Bond finds the HQ of the villain and infiltrates it. Sometimes, the main villain captures Bond and the Bond Girl inside the HQ. Instead of killing them right off, they are placed in isolated situations where they will die if they didn’t do something creative. A lot of times, Bond is beaten or drugged out.

Left to Die

Just before they are left to die, the main villain explains the twisted reasoning of his own existence and actions. The Incredibles did a wonderful job mocking the “monologuing” of the main villain.

Bond Saves Self and Bond Girl

Using a gizmo given by Q earlier in the film, he escapes and starts to screw up the main villain’s plans of destruction.

Final Combat

Bond gets the advantage, and final combat with the main villain ensues. Bond wins. Bond always wins.

Battle Armies

Often, a large group of commandos arrives, assisting Bond in a huge battle royal with the villain’s forces. It doesn’t go well for the villain’s forces.

Destruction of Villain’s HQ

With the villain defeated, usually dead, the whole of the villain’s HQ is destroyed in a huge explosion.

“What a helpful chap…”

Secondary Combat

A minor, almost comical, fight ensues with the main villain’s henchman. Bond wins. Sometimes occurs before Final Combat.

Talking the High Road

Bond and the Bond Girl are retrieved in some exotic and unusual manner. They never get out under their own effort.

Bond and the Bond Girl/”Ohh, James…”

This sometimes happens before the previous step usually with comical relief for the audience.

Ending Credits

Black and white text scrolls across the screen with the movie score playing.

Coming Soon

The end of the credits has in the text “James Bond will return in …” to start promoting the next movie.

Take this list with you when No Time to Die finally hits multiplexes and check off the list. I bet most, if not all, of these, make the cut.

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