Thunderball’s 50th: apex of the 1960s spy craze

Thunderball British quad poster.

Thunderball British quad poster.

December marks the last major 007 anniversary of this year — the 50th anniversary of Thunderball, the fourth Bond film and the apex of the 1960s spy craze.

This blog has written a lot about Thunderball. It was a milestone. In the fall of 1965, spies had taken over television, trying to get a piece of the spy frezy unleashed by Agent 007. But Thunderball transcended all that.

A half-century after it was released, Thunderball generates mixed reactions. For those who were there, it was a huge event. For those who weren’t, some go so far to wonder what the fuss was all about.

The former looks fondly at a spectacle that could only be viewed on the silver screen, not on TV. The latter sees a slow-moving movie (at least in its underwater sequences).

The former sees a self-assured Sean Connery as Bond, at the height of his powers. The former says, “Meh!” and the original 007 director, Terence Young, phoning it in.

In the U.S. and Canada (ticket information outside that region is hard to come by), no James Bond movie sold more tickets for viewing in a theater. Not just during its initial release, but various re-releases that took place for almost a decade.

In the end, which James Bond movie you like best comes down to personal preference. When looked at on that basis, there are untold opinions.

But Thunderball remains the movie when 007 made his biggest impact on popular entertainment. Thunderball was the follow-up to Goldfinger, the first Bond mega-hit. That was a time that can’t be re-created.

Thunderball, like other spy-entertainment of the mid-1960s, was like catching lightning in a bottle. No matter was happens in the 007 film series, Thunderball remains something to be celebrated.

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3 Responses

  1. Agreed. This is why I give Thunderball a pass. It shows Bond at his zenith. He will never be that captivating again. Simply – this was an encapsulation of a phenomenon. It almost has to be taken separate from the inherent quality of the script, actors, action etc like the ‘With the Beatles’ album – not their finest work but it is all about the cult of personality that existed at the time of release. When I watch Thunderball I look at how cool Connery is (rather than how engaged he is), the grandiosity of the action scenes (rather than their effectiveness) and the style of 65. It was different than a reboot like Casino or Goldeneye or a leap of faith like TSWLM – it was the accumulation of momentum from the previous three films.

  2. Connery was at his physical best, not too young, not too old, and trim. When he’s wearing his dark dinner suit, gliding through the casino with his back to the camera, this is the iconic 007 (along with the rest of the movie, of course), much like Bogart’s Rick in the final scene in Casablanca. A shame that Fleming didn’t live to see it. He would have been pleased that he gave Connery the benefit of the doubt.

  3. No other Bond film had the feel of worldwide danger that Thunderball had. From Tom Jones’ song to Maurice Binder’s titles, no other Bond felt as big.

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