The Three Rules Sam Mendes Says Every James Bond Film Should Follow

To date, there have been 25 official James Bond movies, enough for the character to have attained a seemingly permanent fixture in the pop cinema lexicon. Although invented as an adjunct of the Cold War, James Bond has returned to theaters every few years — even after the end of the Cold War — to enact an amusing collection of well-worn spy shenanigans. The James Bond formula is well-known even to people who haven't seen any of the movies: James Bond, aged 30 to 45, works for MI6. He is often seen wearing very nice, tailored suits and expensive wristwatches. He carries a handgun at all times, and loves vodka martinis (like a philistine; gin is where it's really at). He is given a handful of high-tech tools and weapons by the clever engineers in MI6's basement and sent to a series of exotic locales to investigate a rival government's war secrets and/or the doomsday plans of a single deranged billionaire. 

Along the way, James Bond will drive a car very fast, display physical prowess in sports (often skiing), have sex with multiple dazzling female models, and commit at least a dozen murders. James Bond isn't so much a character as he is a collection of adolescent power fantasies held by men over the age of 40. And that's just fine. James Bond, the walking machismo amalgam, has proven resilient over the years, and just saw his last outing in 2021 with the release of Cary Fukunaga's "No Time to Die."

But the rules for making a James Bond movie may be even simpler than the above. 

Indeed, in a 2021 issue of Empire, director Sam Mendes ("Skyfall," "Spectre") laid down only three things that every Bond film must have. 

Rule #1: a girl

According to Mendes, and I quote, "there needs to be a female contingent that interacts with Bond in a way that verges on the racy side. Which is number one." 

One of the primary aspects of James Bond is his sex appeal. He's typically played by a charming and handsome actor, and his ability to effortlessly seduce women is key to the audience's presumed maleness and heteronormativity. Indeed, James Bond's sex appeal is such a seminal part of his character that it was being lampooned as early as 1967 with the release of "Casino Royale" (only four canonical Bond films had been released prior). In "Casino Royale," MI6 is facing a crisis: Too many of its spies have been assassinated in a post-coital state. It turns out its easy to kill James Bond if you know for certain he'll fall into bed with whichever slinky Russian counterspy happens to be passing by. 

The solution is to hire David Niven, an openly asexual James Bond, to lead a team of spies who are trained specifically not to have sex on the job. 

Even after "Casino Royale," every single James Bond movie has verged on the racy side, with each film featuring a notable "Bond Girl" to fall for and/or seduce our hero. Perhaps in an attempt to canonically reclaim the title, a more stern version of "Casino Royale" was released in 2006. In that one, Bond does indeed have a romance. 

Rule #2: Bond is fictional

Mendes also feels that, however weighty the action in a Bond film, a filmmaker would do good to remind themselves that James Bond is a fictional construct. In Mendes' words: 

"[H]e doesn't live entirely in the real world, in the sense that you can't put him on the street. He's not Bourne. Bourne is a footsoldier. You walk into Waterloo station this morning, he's probably there, standing next to you. Bond can't do that. He has to have his own space around him."

Indeed, witnessing James Bond do "ordinary" things would seem anathema to the character. Could you picture Bond picking out groceries? Trying on shoes? Visiting a post office? James Bond doesn't need to take care of these things, as he lives in a universe where these things aren't necessary. Does James Bond have a favorite food? Anything the hotel brings to his room, I suppose. He can make a quiche, but only for professional or sexual reasons. 

Mendes seems to have broken this rule, however, in "Skyfall." In that film, much hay is made of James Bond's childhood home. James Bond, it should seem to the outsider, had no childhood. He appeared in this world fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' skull. There's a reason why the animated series "James Bond, Jr." is about James' nephew and not his son. James couldn't possibly have a child and live in domestic bliss. It's not in his make-up.

Rule #3: The lone wolf rule

And thirdly, Mendes feels that James Bond, while possessed of allies, must always be seen as a singular force. To quote: 

"He also can't work in tandem with another man of a similar age. You can't be Butch and Sundance. You can't have a buddy. There's this constant tension where he only has relationships with his senior figures in MI6 — and women."

This makes sense if we're to believe that James Bond exists primarily as a power fantasy. Being powerful belies an element of self-reliance, of ultimate capability. James Bond will not need to rely on a team member to get him out of a scrape, nor will he have to go out of his way to spring a colleague that is particularly dear to him. To quote Fred Astaire: No strings, no connections, no ties to my affections. I'm fancy-free, and free for anything fancy. Companionship is provided, instead, by his bosses and by a slew of women. 

Perhaps a facet of toxic masculinity, but James Bond is also not allowed to express camaraderie. There may be a lot to unpack with the fetishizing of Bond's solitude. Is part of the James Bond masculine fantasy a rejection of warmth between men? Is there a homophobic element to it? James Bond reveals that a major portion of universal masculine fantasy is an express inability to ask for help. He is alone, and getting to know him is forbidden. 

If one becomes concerned about the real-world implications of James Bond as a cultural signifier, however, perhaps we ought to merely refer to rule #2.