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File:License to kill ver1.jpg

And they are not kidding about the tagline.


The 16th James Bond film, starring Timothy Dalton in his last appearance. After an escaped drug lord brutally attacks Bond's friend Felix Leiter, Bond starts a personal vendetta against him that requires him to become a disavowed agent in the process.

It is a polarizing film, with some viewing it as a cheap attempt to be Darker and Edgier and cash in on the late '80s Miami Vice craze, while others view it as a welcome return to the style of the books (the film uses elements from Ian Fleming's original novels of Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun--additionally, both Dalton and Robert Davi used the novel of Casino Royale to help define their characters). It was also affected by the 1988 Writers' Strike, with Michael Wilson having to finish off the script on his own.

Though the film tested better than any previous Bond film (not considering inflation), and did very well overseas, it flopped in America, due to a poor promotional campaign and even poorer release date (the late summer of 1989, after half a dozen action blockbusters had already cleaned up at the box office). A third film with Dalton was planned, but legal issues kept the series in a long-running hiatus.


This film contains examples of:

  • Action Dress Rip: Justified. Pam's evening dress zipped off at the knee level.
  • Action Girl: Pam Bouvier is one of the better examples, as she is one of the very few Bond Girls who never needs rescuing.
  • Adaptation Distillation: An interesting one, because the movie isn't directly based on any Ian Fleming novel. License does lift Felix Leiter's shark attack from the novel Live and Let Die... the movie version of which starred David Hedison as Leiter. The movie also mixes elements of The Man with the Golden Gun and a short story The Hildebrand Rarity.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Sanchez is a likable enough guy that you almost forget he beats his girlfriend, had a guy's heart literally cut out, had a man's wife raped and murdered right before feeding him to a shark, and shoved a henchman into a decompression chamber (wrongfully thinking that he'd betrayed him).
    • Professor Joe Butcher is a straighter example. He's a conman, but he's never anything but pleasant. Even when Pam pulls a gun on him, or steals back her "donation", he can only smile about the whole thing. It helps that it's not his money being stolen, and he did get to see her shapely leg.
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 Sanchez: (when asked what to do about the blood-splattered money) Launder it.

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  • Bullethole Door
  • Car Skiing: The climactic chase has Bond commandeering a tanker truck and somehow managing to dodge a Stinger missile with this maneuver.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Partially averted. Some of the gadgets Q brings to Isthmus City (the exploding alarm clock and the laser/X-ray Polaroid camera) are never used (in the field). However, the gun only responds to Bond's handprint; this saves his life later when a villain tries shooting him with it.
  • Collapsing Lair
  • Conveyor Belt O' Doom: The victim being a young Benicio del Toro.
  • Cyanide Pill: The Hong Kong DEA agent bites down on one when questioned by Sanchez.
  • Darker and Edgier: This remains the darkest Bond flick, to the effect that some audiences were turned off by the violence. Others thought it was more faithful to the books. In fact, some scenes had to be trimmed or removed to avoid an R-rating (They were later restored for the Ultimate Edition DVD/Blu-Ray). It did get a 15, roughly equivalent in terms of what's allowed, in the UK and is the only Bond film to date to have a theatrical release rated 15.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Q actually gets to be a supporting character in this one, rather than his usual one scene appearance to give Bond his gadgets.
  • Death by Materialism: Killifer, Heller and Truman-Lodge. Inverted with Milton Krest; Sanchez only thinks he died for this.
  • Dirt Forcefield: One of the few movies where Bond doesn't have it.
  • Dirty Cop: Killifer.
  • Disturbed Doves: Bond dislodges a few while rapelling to his sniping point for Sanchez's office.
  • The Dragon: Dario.
  • Exploding Fishtanks: Done when Bond is found in Krest's place and is fired upon.
  • Explosive Decompression: A variant thereof.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • We've seen Sanchez beat his unfaithful girlfriend, have her lover's heart cut out, and had Leiter's wife raped and murdered. But before torturing Leiter himself, he insists on paying the corrupt DEA agent who broke him out of jail, even though he could have easily not done so, explicitly stating, "I gave this man my word". After the horrible things we've already seen him do, a moment like this really stands out.
    • Both Killifer and Krest are nauseated by Sanchez dipping Leiter into the shark pool.
    • A mook truck driver rescues his companion from the burning vehicle.
    • Dario used to be with a group of South-American rebels named Contras until they kicked him out. He must have been pretty damn bad for that to happen.
  • Everything's Even Worse with Sharks: Poor Felix.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Dario.
  • Five-Bad Band: Sanchez's empire.
  • Forklift Fu: Heller is impaled on a forklift by Sanchez.
  • The Generalissimo: Hector Lopez.
  • Giggling Villain: Dario (Benicio del Toro).
  • Hate Sink: Milton Krest is a disgusting scumbag who is only in for himself and is only interested in money.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Sanchez's plan probably would have succeeded if he'd just left Felix Leiter's family alone.
    • Bond says if Killifer values money so much, he can keep it. Of course, he's dangling over a shark pool - and if Killifer didn't try to catch the briefcase, he wouldn't topple in. (Said shark was the same shark to maim Felix, of course.)
  • It's Personal: The entire premise. Making it worse is that Bond's not only doing it for Felix or Della, he's avenging what happened to his own dead wife.
  • Jossed: Until this movie, fans tended to assume "Felix Leiter" was just a codename assigned to whoever Bond's CIA contact was, given his tendency to be played by a different actor in every movie.
  • Just Between You and Me: See below. Inverted, since it's the hero revealing his reason to the villain.
  • Karmic Death: "Don't you want to know why?"
  • Kill It with Fire: Sanchez' death, and a few mooks during the final chase.
  • Machete Mayhem: Sanchez's gasoline truckers have machetes, in case of hostile takeover. The man himself is also holding one when he confronts Bond in the climax.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Bond himself basically become the Iago to Sanchez's Othello, except that this time Sanchez really, really deserves it.
  • Man On Fire: Sanchez starts out this way, followed by Stuff Blowing Up.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Robert Davi as Sanchez.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The movie itself due to the excessive violence. Plus, at least six other blockbusters crowded this movie out of the market in the summer of 1989, making some believe it really was the licence to kill the franchise. At the very least, it prevented any future Bond films from being released in the summer. Later they almost did this with Quantum of Solace, though.
    • Pam Bouvier's name, and her alias 'Miss Kennedy' are a reference to JFK's wife.
  • The Mole: All over the place. Ed Killifer helps Sanchez escape and sells Leiter out to him. On the other side, Heller is trying to sell Sanchez's Stinger missles to the American's in exchange for protection. Kwang infiltrates Sanchez's circle posing as a drug baron, and Lupe plots against him and helps convince him that Krest is a Mole (or at least a traitor), when in fact he is loyal. Bond himself is sort-of this, and for a moment believes Pam is one when he sees her meeting with Heller.
  • Mythology Gag: At the Hemingway House, Bond is led to a shadowy figure stroking a cat, a la Blofeld, but it turns out to be M.
  • Neutral Female: Lupe.
  • Ninja : Working for Hong Kong Narcotics. Of course.
  • Path of Inspiration: Professor Joe Butcher, a TV evangelist and head of the Olimpatec Meditation Institute. Both are a front for Sanchez's drug operation and donations inariably end up funding that, with "targets" actually drug dealer speak for agreeing new market prices for their product.
  • Porn Stache: Part of Q's disguise.
  • Precision F-Strike: Q tells Pam not to be upset at Bond spending the night with Lupe, as it's something often required by his job. Pam's response: "Bullshit!" Quite shocking given the lack of profanity in the series before then.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Perhaps the most serious, heartfelt in a Bond film.
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 Franz Sanchez: You could have had everything

Bond: Don't you want to know why?

[takes out the lighter Felix gave him, and sets Sanchez on fire]

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    • Sanchez gets one himself.
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 Truman-Lodge: Brilliant! Well done, Franz! Another eighty-million dollar write-off!

Sanchez: Then I guess it's time to start cutting overhead. (cue SMG)

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  • President for Life: The president of the Banana Republic. Mentioned as a threat by Sanchez -- if he doesn't cooperate, "for life" may not be very long at all.
  • Product Placement:
    • The title sequence is literally a commercial for Olympus brand cameras. It has a photography theme that doesn't really correlate to anything in the movie.
    • Both the Coast Guard helicopter and Sanchez's helicopter prominently display the logo of Aerospatiale, a French aircraft manufacturing company and the manufacturer of both of the helicopter models shown.
  • Psycho for Hire: Dario.
  • Psycho Electric Eel: Bond pulls one of Krest's men into a tank full of them.
  • Rape as Drama: Leiter's wife was tortured and raped before being murdered, as evidenced by the line that the baddies gave her "a nice honeymoon."
  • Right-Hand-Cat: Sanchez's pet iguana (with a diamond necklace).
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge
  • See You in Hell: Felix yells this (with some Narm, sadly) at Sanchez when he gets dunked into a...
  • Shark Pool: Somewhat justified in that it occurs in a marine research facility.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: While Pam is insulted to be Bond's "secretary", when she shows up at the bank in the dress she bought with the money Bond gave her, Bond is so stunned by how beautiful she is, he does a Double Take.
  • She's Got Legs: Pam, and how!
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Especially in bar brawls.
  • Shut Up and Save Me: "SWITCH THE BLOODY MACHINE OFF! " (which is kind of a Bond One-Liner, as Dario had just fallen into said machine, a shredder)
  • Slasher Smile: Dario enjoys flashing one of these.
  • Sniper Rifle
  • So Proud of You: Bond takes time to tell Q he would have been a great field agent. Dawwwwwwwwww...
  • Stealth Pun: Felix's lighter. Get it? What's even funnier is that they had explicitly used that pun in Live and Let Die - where Leiter was played by the same actor.
  • Title Drop: Double when considering the Viewers are Morons entry.
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 M: Your licence to kill is hereby revoked.

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  • Tragic Keepsake: Bond's lighter.
  • Turn in Your Badge / Rogue Agent: The premise of the film is Bond resigning his License to Kill to go after Sanchez.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Possibly.
  • Vapor Trail
  • Viewers are Morons: A rumor exists that the original title for the film, License Revoked, was changed because test audiences didn't know what the word "revoked" meant, or that they would be confused why Bond not being able to drive (i.e. a driving licence) was such a bad thing.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Initially, Sanchez treats his men well. At the end, where everything's falling to pieces, he's gunning them down with MAC-10s for being annoying. Also an example of a Blofeld Ploy.
  • The Voiceless: Braun.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Pam Bouvier calls Bond out when she and Q catch up to him in Isthmus for letting his personal vendetta endanger a critical DEA plan to cripple Sanchez's operation. In Bond's defence, he didn't know about the operation: the DEA had led him to believe that nothing was happening. Technically, it wasn't. Kwang is a Hong Kong Narcotics agent, hence why the DEA picked up Sanchez at the start in the first place. Pam herself is CIA: she's referring to Sanchez's owning Stinger missiles he was threatening to fire at American passenger jets if the U.S. didn't stop harassing him. Her operation was trying to get the Stingers back, but Bond's assassination attempt spooked her contact. This, combined with Bond realizing he blew Kwang's operation as well, makes him realize his Roaring Rampage of Revenge wasn't that clean and simple. Of course, Bond being Bond, he ultimately demolishes it single-handedly. It would be awesome except a lot of good agents and people were killed by his fuck ups.
  • Your Head Asplode
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