The Iconic James Bond Opening Sequence: 1962-2021

 As the ‘007’ Daniel Craig era comes to an end, Elen Jones looks back at the iconic Gunbarrel opening sequence 1962-2021


While title themes, of varying success, distinguish each major motion picture in the James Bond franchise, the opening Gunbarrel sequence of every film is a constant unifier. From 1962 - 2021 this iconic piece of cinematography has commenced (and certified) every movie. However, even this timeless staple has evolved with time. Back in 1962, Ian Fleming’s James Bond (007) was first brought to motion picture in Dr. No. Dots scan the shot, turning red and traversing like a caret across the screen. Then, the aperture zooms out to focus on a suave 007, walking in time across the shot. He wears a hat and what appears to be a double-breasted jacket. And suddenly he turns and fires. The shot ricochets as the ascending riff climbs, before the soft twang of the guitar and a zoom out to the first real scene. A red bloody hue descends across the camera, obscuring Bond from our view.

By Thunderball (1965), the graphics had improved, and the blood poured and was more vivid than the red watermark. The frame finds its target to begin the story.


In On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969): Bond still walks from left to right, but the tracking (pan from left to right) across the screen is more extreme, more dynamic. Again, the graphics are cleaner, and the blood is a crimson hue. In the subsequent films the viewfinder is further zoomed: Bond is bigger and closer. The blood drip is also more pronounced, displaying an element of shine on the drops, arbitrarily descending across the cinema screen.

Up to this point the John Barry theme has played behind the sequence, any changes in mood pretty much negligible. In, Moonraker (1979), Bond now in a bow tie and without a hat, walks across the frame to a slower theme.  

For Your Eyes Only (1981). The graphics are even whiter and cleaner, the blood now a vermillion – an even further right pan for viewfinder. In both A View to a Kill (1985) and Licence to Kill (1989) different parts of Barry’s theme are utilised: the slow ascent, the brass riff, the ringing bass guitar, the harmonious brass chords…

Though the "James Bond Theme" is characterised by Barry's jazz arrangement, parts of it are heard throughout the films through the repetition of motifs (Barry's arrangement is "tracked"). In No Time to Die (2021), ascending and descending melodies from Billie Eilish’s title theme (of the same name) are referred to at times of heightened anxiety or emotion.

In GoldenEye (1995), Brosnan is even larger and more central in the shot. Alluding to the modern interpretation of Bond at this time, synths are incorporated into the theme and super-sharp graphics are used. It makes a statement for Brosnan’s debut.

The following films use softer graphics, appearing more shimmery and classic, with the music returning to the original fanfare-feel, (but with a cymbal crash.) In Die Another Day (2002) the now infamous tune prevails, though it is paired with (even drowned by) a drum machine in the back, to bring the franchise into the new decade (and millennium).

Craig’s debut in Casino Royale (2006) signals the greatest change to date. It is a very quick scene, with no fanfare, leading straight to the theme sung by Chris Cornell. While the view zooms out, Craig remains centre screen. Sharp close lines mark the aperture of the lens. There are very drippy graphics of blood – by today’s standard the CGI evokes a crude horror, not found in this genre as often today. The blood obscures Bond before transitioning into scintillating kaleidoscopic patterns of playing card symbols.

By, Quantum of Solace (2008), we are back to the wider aperture. The motif is pacey and interspersed with a kick drum. Craig fires and then is pulled irrevocably backwards into a cage forming the ‘Q’ of Quantum of Solace.

Starting later into the motif Skyfall (2012) is action packed and lively. There is again a shiny aperture, affirming how the graphics are improving every time. The blood is less hyperrealist, more subtle and refined as a translucent, claret hue.

Spectre (2015) breaks onto the screen to the classic intro-music and reverted to the graphic aperture, rather than having visuals with tone gradients. Monochrome except for the vivid blood drip, now a block colour. The quiet guitar ‘wah’ fades smoothly into the opening scene as it did almost 60 years ago…


The current film, No Time to Die (2021) certainly imitates and references previous stylistic elements from early films, though it adopts a silver-grey tone. While the title sequence is slick, with surreal visuals, such as a rotating double helix of self-shooting pistols, the transition into this is through the arrangement of block-coloured dots in grid like patterns across the screen, rotating around the central point like international-style patterns. The graphics are finally superior to the real-life interpretation. Craig walks with ease across the shot. 

Despite the apparent uniformity of the Gunbarrel sequence, having now analysed the changes, subtle features signpost recurrent themes and tension which will be revealed in the plot. They also position the films in the present, each time redefining what the timeless figure, Bond, can (and should) say about us and our time, as each blockbuster comes around. Theme and title sequences, packed full of explicit reference, are memorable, but I would argue that it is the Gunbarrel sequence that instils the excitement in the viewer like nothing else.

At the very least, the sequence marks the beginning of an enjoyable 3 hours of escapism, as the sound swells, the gun fires and the lights dim to a ‘spy’ chord (EmM9) on a lone guitar…