Despite a variety of interpretations of James Bond both in terms of tone and style, there are certain cinematic motifs which tie together even the most diametrically opposed films in the canon. Whether it’s a hard-boiled, down-to-earth entry like From Russia With Love or a comic-book fantasy adventure like Moonraker, they all contain certain visual, thematic and musical cues which remind you that we’re playing in the same action-packed sandbox. The most obvious of these motifs is arguably the “Gunbarrel Opening” which depicts Agent 007 entering to the James Bond theme, framed by a stylized gunbarrel, then turning to the camera and firing directly at the screen which quickly spills over with blood before disappearing. The tradition first began with the 1962 film Dr. No and until Pierce Brosnan’s swan song Die Another Day was always the first shot of the film.
The new films starring Daniel Craig shook up a lot of things about the venerable franchise, including the style and placement of the gunbarrel. The latest 007 film Spectre prides itself on honoring many of the franchise’s most cherished traditions, some of which we haven’t seen for a while thanks to Austin Powers and legal issues. While opinion varies among critics and fans as whether these references represent a return to form for the series or simply patronizing fan service, one thing is clear: It’s good to see the gun barrel return to its proper home at the beginning of the film. So before you head off to the theaters to catch Spectre, take a trip down memory lane and see how this iconic cinematic motif has evolved over the last five decades.
The original gunbarrel in Dr. No is the only in the series not to feature the actual actor playing James Bond. In this case, stunt coordinator Bob Simmons played the part. It’s remarkable how close subsequent films stayed to the format established here, the obvious exceptions being the titles which appear before the gunbarrel as well as the strange radar sound cue.
The Simmons footage was used for the next two films, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, although the radar sound was removed as were the credits.
The fourth Bond film was the first to be shot in the Panavision format, forcing the filmmakers to reshoot the gunbarrel for the first time to accommodate the new widescreen format. This time the gunbarrel actually featured Sean Connery, although his stance appears a bit wobbly, and the sequence lacks the punch of the original footage. The footage was rescored and reused for the next Bond You Only Live Twice.
Actor George Lazenby enjoyed a one-film stint as the legendary secret agent and while many deride his performance as amatuerish, most hard-core Bond fans know that this is one of the strongest films in the series. The gunbarrell of this film however leaves much to be desired, due to unwelcome return of the producer credits, a weird “drop to one knee” performance from Lazenby and a jarring moment when Bond continues to walk after the gunbarrel has stopped moving, the only time this will occur in the series.
The Shiny Gunbarrel
Connery returned for one more film in the official series and the Panavision footage from Thunderball was reused, although a bizarre shiny effect was used to spice up the sequence for the 1970s. It doesn’t help.
When Roger Moore was cast as the third James Bond, a new gunbarrel was filmed featuring the actor. This is the first time Bond appears in the gunbarrel without a hat, demonstrating the changing style from the 1960s into the 1970s. The sequence is scored by Beatles producer George Martin, who added some disco flair to the arrangement. The footage was reused in The Man With the Golden Gun with more traditional music by John Barry.
With 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, the filmmakers returned to the Panavision format and the gunbarrel was reshot with Moore. The result is one of the strongest gunbarrels in the series, featuring a confident stride from Moore and a dynamic pose at the end. This footage was rescored and reused for the remaining Moore films despite the fact that the bell bottoms he wears were out of style by the time his stint as 007 ended in 1985. The Panavision Moore gunbarrel also has the distinction of being scored by the largest variety of composers, Marvin Hamlisch, John Barry and Bill Conti.
Dalton is an oft-overlooked Bond actor but his performances his two 007 films are extremely strong, including his gunbarrel. Like his interpretation of the Bond character, his stride and pose are stark, bold and effective.
Brosnan’s performance in the gunbarrel sequence is one of the least energetic but it matches the actor’s ultra-cool, suave interpretation of the character. The barrel itself looks better than ever, for the first time it seems like an actual dynamic object with physical properties rather than a two-dimensional image.
The footage was rescored and reused for each of his four films but the last entry, Die Another Day added a CGI bullet zooming at the camera. Did the filmmakers think audiences didn’t understand what was happening in this sequence after 40 years?
Craig’s first Bond film was a true reboot, explaining the origin of many of Bond’s most memorable trademarks. The movie even explains the backstory of the gunbarrel itself for the first time! Turns out, the gunbarrel represents James Bond’s first kill as a secret agent. The gunbarrel itself was again redesigned and the blood was given a more three-dimensional appearance. This is the first time that the gunbarrel did not start the film and the first time it was part of the story.
Quantum of Solace’s gunbarrel is more traditional, even though it is placed at the end of the film and bleeds into the title for some reason.
Skyfall also features a gunbarrel at the end of the film rather than the beggining.
Want to see the gunbarrel finally return to its proper place at the beginning of the film? Then head out to see the newest entry in the series, Spectre.