The Best Movie You Never Saw: Octopussy

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

Welcome to The Best Movie You NEVER Saw, a column dedicated to examining films that have flown under the radar or gained traction throughout the years, earning them a place as a cult classic or underrated gem that was either before it’s time and/or has aged like a fine wine.

This week we’ll be looking at OCTOPUSSY!

THE STORY: After 009 is found dead with a fake Faberge egg in East Berlin, 007 is sent to India, hot on the trail of Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) who he suspects may be a forger involved in Cold War smuggling, but is actually working in cahoots with a mad Soviet General planning to start World War 3. Luckily, he has an ally in Khan’s smuggling partner, the beautiful Octopussy (Maud Adams) who rules an island populated by female thieves and acrobats.

THE PLAYERS: Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Steven Berkoff & Kabir Bedi. Music by John Barry. Directed by John Glen.

THE HISTORY: OCTOPUSSY came along at a strange time for the 007 franchise. The late Roger Moore was riding high, having made five Bond films, the last three of which were back-to-back hits (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, MOONRAKER and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY). Even still, Moore wasn’t willing to sign any long-term contracts, and often spoke to the press about retiring from the part (in fact – Michael Billington came so close to playing Bond in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, promotional photos were taken). Thus, the EON team started testing other actors, and believe it or not, we came very near to having James Brolin as an American James Bond (actually, his screen-test is pretty decent).

In any other year, Brolin as Bond might have happened, but 1983 was not a year they could afford to take chances in. At the time, Sean Connery was prepping a huge-budget THUNDERBALL remake, eventually called NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, which was the result of a long-standing legal case so complicated a whole book was written about it. They had no choice but to implore Moore to return, and in a happy ending for them, OCTOPUSSY made over fifteen million more (Moore?) at the box office – in 1983 dollars. For all the talk about Connery being the better Bond, Moore won this outing.

Well, I don’t go by rumours; but if Sean felt that with this film he was going to knock everybody out of the box, the results proved otherwise. Their film did thirty per cent less than ours at the box office. In saying this, I’m not trying to score a point. The movie business is a game where anybody can throw their hat into the ring. But not with Bond. – Albert R. Broccoli – The Autobiography of Cubby Broccoli

But what about the movie itself? Something strange has happened to OCTOPUSSY over the years. It was a smash hit in 1983, but in the years since it’s been widely written-off by fans as a silly outing (the naughty Awfully Good boys even did a video about it), and it’s not among the more popular titles from the James Bond catalogue. While probably more seen than other films featured in this column, it’s relatively obscure as far as 007 films go. But why?

WHY IT’S GREAT: This is gonna sound like sacrilege to some, but OCTOPUSSY is my favorite James Bond film. I tell people it’s ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, but no, it’s OCTOPUSSY, and if I were to be stranded on a desert island with a home theater, it would be one of the titles I’d choose. I know it’s silly – even by Bond standards. It’s the one where 007 dresses up as a gorilla, then a clown (actually a very effective sequence) and also swings through the jungle like Tarzan, perfectly imitating the Johnny Weismuller scream. I don’t care, I still love it.

Part of this, no doubt, comes down to nostalgia. It was, I believe, the second James Bond film I ever saw (back on the old ABC Sunday Night Movie), and to this day Roger Moore is, if not the best Bond (hard to argue with Connery), my favorite. For younger viewers, or those of you without my sense of nostalgia, OCTOPUSSY is still well-worth checking out. For all the talk about how the Daniel Craig movies imitate the BOURNE series, you can see the DNA of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK all over this one, with a cool high adventure vibe running throughout. Many believe George Lucas and Steven Spielberg opted to use India for INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM after watching OCTOPUSSY, and even if they didn’t, the gross-out dinner is a direct lift from Bond’s “stuffed sheep’s head” meal with smooth baddie Kamal Khan.

There is a scene in Octopussy where he comes across a tiger in the jungle. He sat and spoke to it like he is talking to a dog. There was another moment during the shoot which I remember for his impish humour. I was wearing an elaborate turban which was completely white. It almost looked like a bandage. When he saw me on the set, he asked, ‘Are you feeling better now?’ – Kabir Bedi – Live Mint Interview

The villains are pretty slick in this one, with Louis Jourdan, Bollywood icon Kabir Bedi, and frequent eighties baddie Steven Berkoff, filling the ranks. But, this also has one of the more kickass Bond heroines, Maud Adams’s titular character. While it’s hard to imagine any contemporary film getting away with that title, and also a bit much that the one James Bond movie to shoot in India only has white, European love interests, but Adams is a good match for the aging Moore, with their chemistry strong. She’s also a heroine in her own right, lording over an island of thieves and acrobats, which she turns on the baddie towards the end (with an airborne assist from 007 & Q – who I believe is carried away to an orgy towards the end). It also has one of the best scores of any Bond movie, with John Barry really pulling out all the stops on this one. Heck, I even had a soft spot for Rita Coolidge’s theme song (which got a great shout-out in TED).

BEST SCENE: There are loads of good action scenes in this one, but the final battle, where Bond fights the henchman on top a plane that’s mid-flight is ultra-dynamic, made even more so by amazing second unit photography and great stunt-work.

SEE IT: Bond movies are all easy to find, and if you own any of the sets on DVD-Blu-ray, you already have it.

PARTING SHOT: Look, I’m a realist. I know OCTOPUSSY is a silly film, but what’s wrong with that? Its good eighties cheese that’s beautifully directed, shot, edited, acted and scored. If you haven’t seen OCTOPUSSY in a while, give it a spin, and if you, by chance, have never seen it, give it a look with the right fun-loving attitude and you’ll have a blast.


About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.