The James Bond franchise perpetually pulls people in to picture theatres despite being at the point where it's repetitively regurgitating the recombined recycled remnants of the first five or so films for the fifth phase of the franchise. By this point I think people go just to see what combination of key elements have been pulled out of the big box at EON Productions, and whether any interesting twists have been added to them.
The thing about this series is that many of the titles were - and still are - very catchy. I'll happily make the accusation that the Bond franchise has probably been the cause of more generic, knock-off spy thriller titles than anything else. But some of them do seem irrelevant to the story. Well, that's not true in most cases...
Here, for your reading pleasure, is a list of the titles of the James Bond films, novels, and short stories - along with what relevance they have to the plot. I'll go with the order of film production, since they're better known. I'm only doing Ian Fleming stories, because I'm not crazy enough to bother with the spin-offs.
First Run of Films
Aside from the obvious "How short a title can I make?" game, this is the name of the insane villain of the book and film. It's quite clear he's the prototype of the "mad villain with a secret underground lair and misdirected megalomania turned up to seventeen" type of character that's become such a cliché it's laughable now. The easily escaped death trap cliché probably got a boost, if not it's start, here too - though they make a bit more sense in the context of this story.
Dr. No took the name "No" as his last name as a rejection of his absent father. He's a walking, talking freak show even after discounting the fact that he has dextrocardia and metal pincers for hands - in the book, he also undergoes painful procedures to increase his height, and has all his hair removed - down to his eyelashes.
From Russia With Love
This is the note Moneypenny jokingly scrawls on the back of the photograph of the defector Bond is sent to recover. It's presumably a play on signing a postcard sent to friends or family back home while on vacation.
I suspect you know that this is the surname of the villain.
Ian Fleming took the name from a real person. Who was not amused, but did not have a laser, indestructible manservant, room rigged with nerve gas, or nuclear weapon... So there was a legal dispute, instead.
In the book and the film, this is the name MI6 gives to its branch of the international operation to recover the stolen nuclear weapons. It's likely a reference to the weapons that SPECTRE are holding the world to ransom with.
You Only Live Twice
In the film, Bond's death is faked so he can work undercover to find Blofeld and stop his plan to start World War Three. The title is referred to his seeming resurrection.
In the novel, "You only live twice" is the first line of Bond's appallingly bad attempt at Haiku. It's plainly disgraceful - and he gets told so. There's also the fact that when he is knocked unconscious after blowing up Dr Shatterhand's castle he develops amnesia, getting a new life.
Diamonds Are Forever
The DeBeers slogan is A Diamond is Forever - it's not a short jump to this title. In the book, a sign in the window of the mob-run jewellery chain says "Diamonds Are Forever". Bond frequently ruminates that death is forever, and compares this thought to the slogan.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Nice and easy to source: This one is most likely a play on On Her Majesty's Service. It doesn't have much relevance to the movie other than the fact Bond works for the secret service.
Live and Let Die
It's obviously another twisting of a well-known phrase. The only notable thing is how it comes up: "Some people say 'live and let live'. I prefer to 'Live and Let Die'". It's the same in both versions.
The Man With the Golden Gun
The book has a very boring explanation - Scaramanga's nickname comes from his high fee for assassinations. Later the reader learns he has a gold-plated revolver, probably acquired after the nickname. The film, on the other hand, features the same nickname for the villain, but has a gun made from four different components, all innocuous items made from gold.
The Spy Who Loved Me
The book is so bad the Fleming didn't want it published - It's probably only worth reading for the explanation of what happened to SPECTRE after the events of Thunderball (I'd give a proper assessment, but I refuse to read it). The book title refers to James Bond - the story is a first person narrative from the point of view of the Inevitable Young Woman.
The film licence was only for the title - which should tell you how much the author hated the book. Here the title refers to the Russian spy Bond is assigned to work with on a mission to save the world from the plot of You Only Live Twice.
In the book, this is the name of the missile being built on the south coast of England by a private defence contractor - that is secretly intended to destroy London on it's test launch. In the film, it's the name of the space shuttles made by the private aerospace company run by the villain.
For Your Eyes Only
In the short story, this is the security clearance on the dossier detailing M's private vendetta. In the film, the dossier is about the more acceptable plot involving the missing SEATAC device.
Octopussy is the name of the blue ringed octopus owned by the villain of the piece - who feeds himself alive to his pet to avoid capture.
In the film it's a nickname, derived from the title character's tattoo of the same type of octopus (which she has a fixation with). It's implied she's the daughter of the octopus owner from the short story, which seems tenuous at best. But then the whole film is strung together by a web of tenuous connections, so it's best to just pretend you're watching something else entirely.
A View to a Kill
A ridiculous title for a ridiculous film, the short story is no better but at least it means something there. The film dropped the word at the start of the title, "From", and then had a title with no relevance at all. A ham-fisted attempt to have it in dialogue (the view from Zorin's blimp to the site of the "kill") just sounded forced. It's just another sign that this was the low point for the series. The theme song had a better crowbarring of the title than the film!
The title of the short story (which is basically about hunting down spies) is apparently taken from the 18th Century song D'ye ken John Peel. An alternate verse runs like this:
Yes I ken John Peel and Ruby too
Ranter and Royal and Bellman as true,
From the drag to the chase, from the chase to the view
From a view to the death in the morning
The Living Daylights
In the short story, which was fairly well recreated as part of this film, Bond is supposed to shoot a KGB assassin to ensure a defection tuns smoothly. When he sees it's the attractive woman he was leering at earlier, he decides to shoot the rifle she's using instead. When told he was supposed to shoot her, he says: "I must have scared the living daylights out of her".
Licence to Kill
What? You've never heard that phrase before?
It was established in the novels that double-0 agents are "licenced to kill". To earn their wanton murder pass, they have to perform two assassinations. In the novels, Bond shot someone in New York from an adjacent skyscraper, and later stabbed a sleeping spy in Stockholm.
Originally this film was to be called "Licence Revoked", but EON decided this was too confusing for Americans. Bond's licence to kill is actually revoked in the film. Nobody seems to mind that he kills people anyway.
This is the name of a Soviet super weapon, which seems to be nothing more marvellous than a satellite with a nuclear weapon on board. Detonate it in low Earth orbit, and there goes the enemies' electronics. Naturally, someone steals it. Or rather, the firing system - private space launches are a thing of the past in this franchise. Full points for having a super weapon that's halfway plausible, though.
Goldeneye was originally the name of Ian Fleming's home in Jamaica.
Tomorrow Never Dies
As far as I've ever seen, there is no good association between the title and anything in the film.
Originally the title was "Tomorrow Never Lies", which would have been great. The villain is a media mogul who owns a newspaper called "Tomorrow". M observes that their news is always eerily prescient. Then we see that the villainous, veiled reference to Rupert Murdoch makes the news - even when it's a war. He has his own intelligence network and a small navy - which is why his newspaper is always right. You can imagine the ad for the newspaper: "Tomorrow... Never lies!"
The tale is that a typo during production resulted in the change to "Tomorrow Never Dies". I'm not sure I entirely believe it. It's equally likely someone thought "Hey, the word "die" always looks good in a Bond title!" without actually thinking too hard about it.
The World is Not Enough
A ridiculously difficult to type title, which was taken from the even more annoying-to-typists title, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In that film and book, we learn that it's the family motto for the protagonist. Here, at least it's shoehorned into the film in an almost-believable way.
Die Another Day
A painfully bad title for a painfully bad film, taken from Bond finishing the "He who fights and runs away" saying in a poorly worded threat.
Both the novel and the film (multiple films, actually - also the TV episode, comic, etcetera) involve a contrived plot about bankrupting the villain in high-stakes gambling at a casino. A casino called... called... Casino Royale!
Quantum of Solace
This short story is quite good - the title refers to the concept of the smallest bit of empathy someone can have for another human being.
The movie doesn't really mention that. The new evil organisation that is going to replace SPECTRE in the rebooted franchise is finally given a name here - they're called Quantum. The idea that Bond recovers a tiny bit of sympathy or feeling for Vesper Lynd (a Quantum double agent from the previous film) is a thread in the movie. But you'd only know that's relevant to the title if you know about the short story.
This was a rather good film, drawing on the past in a way that Die Another Day failed to do with style. Making a reference to the old films not just out of a sense of hooray anniversary but to set up a later plot point was well done.
Oh, right, the title: It's the name of the estate in Scotland that Bond's parents owned. He owns it now but it's traumatic for him to think about. The Secret Service Psychological Assessment uses the name of the estate in word association to see if he's fit to serve. Bond can't take the reference to his dead parents on top of the other things he's dealt with, but gets sent on a mission that is a massive pile of fuckups and also a couple of shamefully wasted set pieces. Then at the end he decides to trap the villain and goes there to rig it with death traps, turning the Bond film around into a story about the villain invading Bond's lair (which gets blown up).
For those who haven't heard, SPECTRE is the evil organisation Ian Fleming made up to have villains not aligned with a nation. It was overused in the original series until legal issues stopped them from using it at all, until the recent resolution of all those issues. Originally short for Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge & Extortion, here it is simply a cool-sounding name for a shadowy organisation.
Oh, and it immediately got retroactively added into the plot of all the reboot films, so they clearly learned nothing.
The title of this story is a badly rendered Italian accent version of the word "risky". I wouldn't expect it to be used the same way if it ever becomes the title of a film. Given that the plot of this one was already used in part of For Your Eyes Only, the title is the only useful thing left!
The Hildebrand Rarity
This is an incredibly rare fish that Bond gets coerced into helping recover - said fish then gets stuffed down the throat of an incredibly nasty man, who suffocates.
The Property of a Lady
This refers to the item being auctioned by a KGB double agent to secure her fee for betraying the secret service. The title gets worked into one of the films (Octopussy), which used this story for a sub-plot.
007 in New York
This one is a bit complicated, so bear with me.
In this short story, James Bond - who has the code number 007, which denotes his status as an agent licenced to kill - visits a city in the United States of America called "New York".
This city is named after the city of York in North Yorkshire, England. The word "New" denotes that New York is named after the original city of York, and is used to lessen confusion.
The word "in" is used to suggest the location of James Bond (the 007 of the title) relevant to the city of New York. He is surrounded by New York, and to the extent that he doesn't leave, contained within it.
Subsequently, the conclusion can be reached that this title refers to James Bond visiting the city of New York.
Never Say Never Again
Appalling though it may be, this one is now owned by the same people who own the rest of the Bond films - MGM. It's also the source of frequent confusion about which films are official (this one is not), so I might as well include it. What we have here is a dire remake of Thunderball, without any of the things that made it good. It gets its title from the myth that Sean Connery said "Never again!" when he finished making Diamonds Are Forever. The story goes, his wife replied: "Never say never again!" - and trust me, 99% of the dialogue in this film is worse than this story.