Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, and James Bond’s maddest mission

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James Bond exited the 1970s with a bang in Moonraker and attempted re-entry in the 1980s with For Your Eyes Only – we look at two vastly different 007 films.

This feature was originally published in July 2021 – it has been expanded and updated as part of our regular James Bond features, and contains spoilers for Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, and Fast & Furious 9.

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Where do we start with Moonraker? James Bond’s eleventh big-screen adventure begins “Where Most Bonds End” (as its tagline trumpted) with Roger Moore’s 007 skydiving sans parachute and returning baddy Jaws (Richard Kiel) tumbling after. It goes on to dish out Michael Lonsdale’s terrific villain, complete with withering putdowns; hover-gondola action, complete with double-taking pigeon; and, oh yes, the bit where Bond goes into space.

If you do prefer the more hard-edged Ian Fleming-flavoured Bond, the subsequent back-to-basics film, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, is probably more your cup of tea. Consciously echoing earlier, more grounded instalments like From Russia With Love, the next adventure puts Bond on the trail of the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC), a lost missile command system that was seemingly sunk in a naval disaster.

By this point in the franchise, it was well established that the scripts and tone could go in a different direction from the source material. The Man With The Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me were effectively in-name-only adaptations of Fleming’s stories of the same name, but Moonraker doesn’t even leave Britain, let alone the planet and For Your Eyes Only treats the different stories in that short story collection as a selection box for a feature film plot.

The more grounded plot sees Bond team up with Special Branch agent Gala Brand to stop ex-Nazi industrialist Hugo Drax from turning the titular British nuclear deterrent on London. The 1955 novel was published before anyone had even launched satellites into space, never mind manned missions.

Starring Roger Moore, the movie version takes its lead from the box-office success of Star Wars (against which the much less bananas Spy Who Loved Me still held its own at the box office) and makes Drax (Lonsdale) a eugenicist tech mogul whose audacious plan eventually sees Bond and undercover CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) pursue him into orbit. Oh, and Jaws has got a girlfriend now, because reasons.

The closing caption of the previous film promises “James Bond Will Return In For Your Eyes Only”, but in a somewhat one-sided space race, Moonraker came to the screen first. For Your Eyes Only became Moore’s fifth outing in 1981, drawing from various Fleming stories in a deliberate throwback to From Russia With Love concerning Bond’s race against the Soviets to recover an advanced ATAC missile command system.

These two very different films were released only two years apart, but it’s a lifetime in the context of one being the last Bond film of the 1970s and the other being the first of the 1980s…



As was his habit at the time, Fleming adapted Moonraker from an unproduced Bond screenplay idea he’d previously been working on, and thus long before producers Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s Eon Productions had the film rights, the author was developing a film version of Moonraker with the Rank Organisation.

Despite contributing his own script to get things moving, Rank didn’t move forward with it, and a frustrated Fleming ultimately purchased the rights back in 1960, in time for Saltzman and Broccoli to option them the following year. Incidentally, Fleming’s 150-page Moonraker script was discovered in a London bookshop in May 2022, as we reported on the site:

Read more: Lost Moonraker script written by Ian Fleming discovered in London bookshop

A decade or two later, Thunderbirds supremo Gerry Anderson was one of the first writers to pitch a treatment for Bond 11, or For Your Eyes Only as it was then known. Working with writer Tony Barwick, he wrote a story that differed significantly from the novel, reportedly featuring a villain called Zodiak and triplet henchmen called Tic, Tac, and Toe. Although Anderson’s treatment wasn’t taken up, the writer later sued Eon when elements of his story turned up in The Spy Who Loved Me instead and the case was settled out of court.

The first treatment for Bond 11 as we know it originated with Tom Mankiewicz, who agreed to write a story but then signed off and made way for returning Spy Who Loved Me screenwriter Christopher Wood. Mankiewicz’s treatment is still titled For Your Eyes Only, but he suggested changing it to Moonraker, along with the name of a space-shuttle operation that would otherwise have been called “Enterprise”.

Although elements of Moonraker the novel would show up in later films, it was taken as read that Moonraker the film needn’t be a faithful adaptation, which is just as well, because Broccoli had designs on following up the massive hit that was The Spy Who Loved Me with a space opera that could stand up next to George Lucas’ game-changing sci-fi sleeper hit.

In some ways. this “bigger and better” approach was quite a flex for the daddy of modern blockbuster franchises. In other, more sensible ways, it was a quite mad miscalculation.

Acknowledging the previous Moore Bond films’ debt to popular American cinema, there’s no doubt that Star Wars’ popularity inspired the genesis of Moonraker, but the producers also had one eye on NASA’s then-upcoming Space Shuttle program launch. In promoting the film, Broccoli insisted that the Bond film would be “not science fiction, but science fact”, an idea that’s laughable from the moment we catch a gleam of metal chompers, as Richard Kiel’s Jaws returns for more indestructible antics.

As a fan of Fleming’s books, Wood was eager to keep in touch with Bond as a grounded and dangerous character even as the story ventured into sci-fi territory.

Speaking at a Bond convention in 1982, Wood reflected: “My James Bond is an earthbound man who wears a suit and tuxedo and punches people on the nose. When you put him in space kit he loses that touch, he disappears behind that mask.”

Director Lewis Gilbert also returned from the previous film, and he’s noted that this one was very much led by audience opinion. The reconfiguration of Jaws from murderous goon to a more cuddly character who’s redeemed by the end of the story was a direct reaction to the popularity of the character with younger fans.

This still seems to upset a lot of older viewers who should know better than to be upset by this sort of thing, so we’ll move on.

Meanwhile, back in space – Broccoli met with George Lucas’ effects house Industrial Light and Magic about doing the effects for Moonraker. Blanching at ILM’s quote of $2 million and a 2% cut of the film’s profits, the producer resolved to shoot the effects scenes between studios in Paris and the then-newly built 007 stage at Pinewood Studios instead. Creating the effects would still prove to be a nerve-racking and time-consuming process.

With no time to use optical compositing to combine shots of actors on wires, lasers, and models in the climactic space scenes, visual effects supremo Derek Meddings had to combine them in-camera instead by carrying out multiple passes on the same piece of film. For his troubles, Meddings got an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects, though Alien took the gong on Oscar night.

A much bigger budget was required, not only to cover the cost of doing practical effects that could stand up to Lucas’ technical landmark, but also to build glorious sets (Moonraker marked production designer Ken Adam’s last contribution to the Bond series, at least in part due to the pressure and stresses of bringing this one in on budget) and shoot on location in Europe.

Although the end credits cheekily count “Outer Space” among the shooting locations, it was the stuff set on Earth that wound up pushing Moonraker’s budget into orbit. This included expenses on various location scouting trips through India and Nepal, neither of which appeared in the film.

The final production cost was estimated at $34m, which was more than twice the budget of any other Bond film up to that point. Heck, that’s three times what Star Wars had cost to make. With its audacious plot and visuals and the typically brassy Bassey theme song, the film is a testament to Broccoli’s clout with distributors-turned-equal-stakeholders United Artists – it’s a wonder that it got made the way it did.

While doing press for the film, Gilbert mused: “I used to make entire feature films for less than the Moonraker telephone bill.”

Fortunately for all concerned, the series’ moon-shot paid off. Despite more mixed reviews, Moonraker was an even bigger hit than The Spy Who Loved Me, becoming the first Bond film to cross the $200m mark (around $741m in 2021 dollars) at the worldwide box office.

Nevertheless, it took place on a scale (and a budget) that wouldn’t be sustainable for the regular turnaround of Bond films, and so it’s a true last hurrah for that part of Roger Moore’s era.


Attempting re-entry

“The Chinese have a saying: ‘before you set out on revenge, you first dig two graves’”

1981’s For Your Eyes Only also marked a changing of the guard behind the scenes, with regular editor and second-unit director John Glen stepping up to the director’s job, a role he would hold through the rest of Moore’s films and both of Timothy Dalton’s outings. Funnily enough, Dalton was among the stars Eon approached when it looked as if the 12th Bond film might usher in a new lead before Moore was persuaded to return for a fifth instalment.

The film’s uncharacteristically absurd pre-title sequence is at once a vestige of the version that would have introduced audiences to a new Bond in a scene at his late wife’s graveside, and also a transparent case of the filmmakers thumbing their noses at producer Kevin McClory and his screen rights to the character Blofeld, which gave Eon some bother when they planned to use him The Spy Who Loved Me.

After that diversion, it’s all a lot more grounded. For Your Eyes Only puts Bond’s quest for the ATAC McGuffin next to the story of Melina Havelock, (Carole Bouquet) whose vendetta against smuggler Aristotle Kristatos (Julian Glover) brings her onto a collision course with 007. The script comes from long-time Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum and producer-in-waiting Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s step-son, and as much as any film in the series might look down to Earth next to Moonraker, this is doubly a more straight-faced outing, relying on suspense rather than spectacle.

Though not without a sense of humour, Glen’s take on Bond is a more ruthless one, which would later suit Dalton perfectly. This direction occasionally rankled Moore, who famously objected to a scene where Bond kills lead henchman Locque (Michael Gothard) by callously kicking his car over the edge of a cliff, but this is underrated among his seven outings.

One much-maligned scene has Bond haltingly reject the advances of ice-skating prodigy Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson) when she tries to seduce him, but you would hope the scene would play out the same with any Bond star, because Bibi is a child with a crush. It’s no more embarrassing than any given love scene in the next two Moore films, I’ll tell you that much.

Also on Film Stories:
James Bond at 60 – where does 007 go from here?
No Time To Die, one year on – a James Bond finale
James Bond, Spectre, and the trouble with a retcon
Skyfall – resurrecting and retro-fitting James Bond
Quantum Of Solace – revisiting Daniel Craig’s difficult second James Bond film
Casino Royale, and the art of disarming and reloading James Bond
Die Another Day, and James Bond as his own worst enemy
The World Is Not Enough and the “Bond girls” of the 1990s
Tomorrow Never Dies – a James Bond film ahead of its time?
GoldenEye and the “Now That’s What I Call James Bond” package
Licence To Kill and James Bond’s special relationship with America
The Living Daylights, and what Timothy Dalton brings to James Bond
A View To A Kill – what really makes a good James Bond movie?
Octopussy, Never Say Never Again, and 1983’s battle of the Bonds
The story of Bill Conti’s For Your Eyes Only score
The Spy Who Loved Me – celebrating James Bond’s workplace romantic comedy
The Man With The Golden Gun – a James Bond film as good as its villain?
Live And Let Die and the making of Roger Moore’s James Bond
Diamonds Are Forever and the deal that brought Sean Connery back to James Bond
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the curious case of George Lazenby’s James Bond 
You Only Live Twice and the rise of the James Bond parody
Thunderball and the battles behind its film adaptations
Goldfinger – how James Bond found his gadgets, girls, and groove
From Russia With Love and its 2005 videogame remake
Dr No, and James Bond’s long road to the big screen

Meanwhile, composer Bill Conti gives Bond a different sound to the usual John Barry contributions while also referencing their most common motifs, and Sheena Easton’s sultry, swooning title song marks a more conscious trend towards pop music and the imminent arrival of MTV in August 1981 – Easton remains the only theme song artist to actually appear in the opening titles of a Bond movie.

But in the main, the serious tone makes the sillier moments stick out more than they did in Moonraker. Yeah, the double-taking pigeon bit is daft, but is it any dafter than an opening with Legally Distinct Bald Cat-Stroking Villain being tipped down a chimney, or the final gag where Margaret Thatcher (Janet Brown) is prank-called by a parrot she thinks is Bond?

Praised by reviewers upon its release in June 1981, For Your Eyes Only fell slightly short of Moonraker’s worldwide box-office take but it was a sizeable hit, proving Bond was still a draw in his third decade on screen. It held its own against other popular summer movies like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Clash Of The Titans, and even The Cannonball Run, which sees Moore moonlighting as a send-up of 007.

Throughout the 1980s, all of the Glen-directed entries’ box-office totals would range from $150m to $190m. Not bad going for a series that was consciously walking back from its biggest special-effects extravaganza.

That said, the budgets didn’t necessarily drop with inflation in the 1980s. $30 million didn’t go as far on 1985’s A View To A Kill as it did on Moonraker. At the box office, the franchise didn’t cross that $200m box-office mark again until the 1990s, when Pierce Brosnan came along after a long gap in production, and the budgets have only grown since then.



Maybe it’s a sign of the series calming down at the outset of the 1980s that some of the unused bits from Fleming’s Moonraker made it into subsequent films; the face-off in which Bond out-cheats the villain at a gambling table appears in Octopussy, Christopher Walken’s villain has the same Nazi-turned-Soviet ties as the literary Drax in A View To A Kill, and his plan to nuke England as revenge for a World War II defeat was echoed in GoldenEye.

Moonraker lacks for Gala Brand, a capable female character who doesn’t have to have sex with Bond or get summarily executed for being on his side. This is an open goal the films have missed repeatedly, (only No Time To Die manages a clean record on that score) but Chiles and Bouquet acquit themselves decently as Holly and Melina respectively, especially given the former’s typically bawdy name.

But the cooldown period in the films after Moonraker is not because that film was unsuccessful, but because Broccoli’s “bigger and better” mandate was not a sustainable strategy. From their fast turnarounds to the credibility of their stories, the Bond movies require some moderation of scale.

Nobody would expect Bond to carry on going off to infinity and beyond after this one, but where 1980s blockbuster cinema only got bigger, the following Bond films seem geared towards rediscovering more recognisable stakes instead of doing the genre homages of Moore’s previous decade in the role.

Die Another Day is as close as they’ve dared approach this level of high wackiness since, and the more serious films we’ve had in the 21st century since then have borne out a similar trend of recoil to that of the early 1980s.

While Craig’s Bond films took the series where no Bond film has gone before in a more dramatic and emotional sense, Mission: Impossible has picked up the mantle of ground-breaking stuntwork, Kingsman noshes down on limp innuendo and lad humour, and it’s left to Fast & Furious to slip the surly bonds of sanity and do a Moonraker.

(A year later, I’m still not over that jammy Ludacris – and ludicrous – line in Fast & Furious 9 as he and Tyrese’s Roman work on driving to space: “As long as we follow the laws of physics, we should be fine.” Science fact, indeed!)

Moonraker is Saturday-morning cartoon Bond, taking the franchise out on a limb and getting quite aggressively stupid as it goes bigger, but not better. You only wish the scattershot story was up to the high standard of Drax’s withering putdowns, like telling Bond that he arrives “with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.” Even if you really can’t stand this one, then Lonsdale’s performance is truly the saving grace.

Inevitably, For Your Eyes Only is better, but not bigger – it’s probably as close as the Moore era gets to a Bond film that you could drop either Sean Connery or Timothy Dalton in from either side. But then again, we don’t know if a parrot could do either of their voices quite so convincingly.


Moonraker is screening in select Cineworld, Odeon, and VUE cinemas nationwide from Friday 24th June. For Your Eyes Only will screen a week later, from Friday 1st July.

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