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"This private vendetta of yours could easily compromise Her Majesty's government. You have an assignment, and I expect you to carry it out objectively and professionally!"
"Then you have my resignation, sir!"
"We're not a country club, 007! Effective immediately, your licence to kill is revoked, and I require you to hand over your weapon. Now. I need hardly remind you that you're still bound by the Official Secrets Act.
M and James Bond[src]

Licence to Kill (released in the United States as License to Kill, but sold in the U.S. home video market with the British spelling) is the sixteenth film in the James Bond film series made by EON Productions. Released in the United Kingdom on 13 June, 1989, Licence to Kill is the fifth and last Bond film to be directed by John Glen, and the second and final film with Timothy Dalton portraying British Secret Service agent, Commander James Bond. It is also the final film to have Robert Brown as M and Caroline Bliss as Miss Moneypenny as well as the final film to have both the Gunbarrel sequence and the main title sequence designed by Maurice Binder before his death in 1991 and the final film to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli, who was unavailable for 1995's GoldenEye due to his declining health. Broccoli had been credited with producing every EON James Bond film since Dr. No (1962), with the exception of Thunderball (1965).

This was actually the first EON Productions entry to use a title not derived from either a novel or a short story by Ian Fleming. However, it does contain elements and characters from Fleming's novel, Live and Let Die, and the short story, "The Hildebrand Rarity" (from the collection For Your Eyes Only). This would be the last James Bond film to make direct use of Ian Fleming's concepts and characters until Die Another Day (2002).

Plot Summary[]


The story opens with James Bond and American his friend, DEA agent Felix Leiter (previously of the CIA), on their way to Leiter's wedding. Meanwhile, DEA agents spot drug lord Franz Sanchez flying into Key West, Florida, where he catches his mistress in bed with another man; in retaliation for her infidelity, he has his henchman Dario cut out the man's heart while he brutally whips his mistress. The DEA dispatches a helicopter to collect Leiter and Bond in an attempt to capture Sanchez as he tries to escape. The pair successfully capture Sanchez by pulling his plane out of the air with a Coast Guard helicopter and then parachute down to Leiter's wedding.


Shark Bait

Felix Leiter being fed to the shark.

Later that same day, DEA Agent Ed Killifer assists Sanchez in escaping federal custody, lured by Sanchez's promise of two million dollars for whoever aids him in escaping. On their honeymoon night, Leiter and his new wife, Della, are captured by Sanchez's enforcer Dario and several of Sanchez's henchmen. In retaliation for Sanchez's capture and imprisonment, Leiter is bound and lowered into a Shark Tank; the shark bites off the lower half of one of his legs. After hearing the news of Sanchez's escape, Bond returns to Leiter's house to find Della in her wedding dress, dead. In the study, Bond finds Felix, maimed but still alive, bearing a note from Sanchez: "He disagreed with something that ate him." Apart from giving Felix a wife, this portion of the film is closely modeled on a previously unfilmed chapter of Ian Fleming's Live and Let Die novel, down to a furious Bond who almost immediately sets out to hunt and kill those involved in his friends' torture and mutilation.

Bond begins his revenge by killing Killifer, causing him to fall into the same tank with the shark which maimed Felix; he then ruins Sanchez's latest drug shipment and steals five million dollars from Sanchez to finance his exploits. Under pressure from the DEA to rein in his agent, M meets Bond in Key West's Hemingway House and orders him to an assignment in Istanbul, Turkey. Bond refuses, but M insists that Bond take the Turkey mission, claiming that Bond's vendetta could easily compromise the British government. Refusing to let the matter go, Bond subsequently resigns and M orders his resignation effective immediately, revoking his licence to kill. Bond then escapes MI6 custody and becomes a rogue agent, bereft of official backing (but later surreptitiously helped by MI6 armourer Q, who voluntarily joins Bond while pretending to be on leave).


Bond journeys to the Latin American country of "The Republic of Isthmus" (closely based on real-life Panama), where he finds his way into Sanchez's employ at the cost of the lives of several Hong Kong narcotics agents and the MI6 agent in Isthmus. After joining with Sanchez, Bond (with the aid of CIA agent-pilot Pam Bouvier) carefully frames Milton Krest, one of Sanchez's key lieutenants, making Krest appear disloyal to Sanchez. Sanchez punishes this perceived disloyalty by trapping Krest in a hyperbaric chamber and then suddenly depressurizing the chamber with a fire axe, causing Krest to tear into piece fashion; for Bond's perceived loyalty, Sanchez permits him into his inner circle of friends. Sanchez takes him to his base, where Bond learns that Sanchez's scientists can render cocaine chemically undetectable by dissolving it in gasoline, and then sell it disguised as fuel to Asian drug dealers. The buying and selling are conducted via the fundraising television programs of the fake American televangelist Professor Joe Butcher.


James Bond reacts to killing Franz Sanchez

The re-integration process will be available to those underworld clients who can pay Sanchez's price. With the aid of Bouvier, Bond destroys Sanchez's processing plant; in the process, 007 kills Dario by knock him into a cocaine processing machine . As the processing plant explodes, Bond pursues Sanchez as he escapes with four tanker trucks filled with cocaine/gasoline. After destroying three of the trucks, Bond and Sanchez fight aboard the final remaining tanker, which ends up out of control and then rolls down a hillside. Although Sanchez has the upper hand by having Bond at the point of his machete, Bond pulls out a cigarette lighter; Leiter's gift to Bond for being the best man at their wedding and sets Sanchez afire. Sanchez, burning alive, stumbles into the wrecked tanker truck's cistern, causing its cocaine-gasoline to explode.

Later, Bond, Bouvier and Q are attending a party at Sanchez's residence. Bond takes a telephone call from Felix, informing him that M is offering Bond his job back. Bond doesn't give Felix an answer, but instead pursues Bouvier into the pool, where they kiss as the credits roll.

Cast & Characters[]


Michael G. Wilson was forced to finish the screenplay alone due to a strike by the Writers Guild of America which prevented Richard Maibaum from participating further. For Maibaum, this was his final James Bond script, later dying in 1991.


See: Licence to Kill (soundtrack)

Vehicles & Gadgets[]

Main articles: List of James Bond vehicles and List of James Bond gadgets

  • Dentonite Toothpaste; Plastic explosives disguised as ordinary toothpaste. The remote trigger is disguised as a packet of Lark cigarettes.
  • Signature Rifle; A camera that when assembled became a sniper rifle that only worked for Bond, due to a "optical palm reader" built into the grip.
  • Laser Polaroid Camera; When the flash is used on this camera, it shoots a laser. The pictures it takes are X-rays.
  • Exploding Alarm Clock; Q carries it with him to Isthmus, but it is not used. "Guaranteed never to wake up anyone who uses it."
  • Cigarette Packet Detonator; Contains a concealed receiver which works in tadem with the 'dentonite' plastique.
  • Rake Radio Transmitter; A two-way radio disguised in the handle of a rake.
  • Lincoln Continental Mark VII - Bond's rental car in Key West.
  • Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow - Much like Moonraker where Bond was a passenger in a Silver Wraith II, he is chauffeured around Isthmus City in a Rolls-Royce.


Film locations[]

  • Key West, Florida
  • London, U.K.
  • South America
  • Republic of Isthmus — Isthmus City (fictional)

Shooting locations[]

Licence to Kill is the only James Bond film to date not to have used a film studio in the UK.


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Taking inflation into account Licence to Kill is the least financially successful James Bond film. Since its release many authors, fans, and critics have debated the reasoning for this. More often, Licence to Kill is blamed for its increase in violence over previous Bond outings. This led to a 15 rating in Britain and a PG-13 rating in the United States; the latter having been created in 1984 and gone through a major reclassification (along with PG) in 1989.

License revoked

Licence Revoked was the planned title.

Another reason often brought up is Timothy Dalton's dark portrayal of James Bond, although it is often acknowledged that his interpretation is closest to Ian Fleming's secret agent character. Additionally, Licence to Kill drastically breaks away from the "Bond formula" by having 007 become a rogue agent in an attempt to obtain revenge for the near-death of his good friend Felix Leiter. Due to this change, the film is often seen as having less humour than previous films, most notably Roger Moore's Bond films.

Albert R. Broccoli has openly stated that he disliked the handling of the marketing and promotion for Licence to Kill, which was severely affected by a late title change. The original title for the film, Licence Revoked, had a large amount of promotional material already produced by artist Robert Peak. Peak's promotional work was based on Dalton's portrayal of Bond and was more dramatic and hard-edged in what many consider more akin to the style of artwork for Dirty Harry. The delay in producing corrected materials, this time created by Steven Chorney in a more traditional style, is said to have negatively affected the film especially in the United States. The reasoning for the name change is purported to have been the result of test screenings shown in the United States where the audience apparently misunderstood the word 'revoked' (supposedly thinking it referred to driving licences). It has been reported that there was some confusion with the British spelling of "Licence", which in American English is spelled "License". It is possible that due to this confusion the film was re-titled for the home video market in the United States with the British spelling, "Licence to Kill", although some U.S. television networks display the title with its U.S. theatrical title.

The marketing issues are said to have put a serious dent in the film's potential for box office success in the crucial US market. It was also in competition with several other movies in would prove to be one of the most successful summer blockbuster seasons in film history. Among the films competing with Bond were Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Ghostbusters II. As a direct result, Licence to Kill was the last Bond film, to date, to open in the summer.

Third Dalton Film[]

Pre-production work for the third James Bond film starring Dalton, fulfilling his three-film contract, had commenced in May 1990. The ultimately unmade 17th Bond film that was originally planned for release in 1991.

However due to legal wranglings over the ownership of the franchise, the series went on a six year hiatus until 1994. During that time, screenwriter Richard Maibaum had died, and Dalton exercised an option in his contract and resigned before the role was given to Pierce Brosnan one year before the next Bond film, GoldenEye was released.



  • The story of Felix Leiter's shark attack was originally in the book Live and Let Die, although in the book Leiter, in addition to losing a leg, loses an arm. The possible loss of an arm is alluded to in the film, but not confirmed. The tactic Sanchez uses for smuggling drugs into the United States also comes from Live and Let Die.
  • Tracy Bond is referenced when Della gives James her garter. (It is stated that it was a long time ago.)
  • The film was due to be shown on ITV in the UK on March 13, 1996, but was cancelled after the Dunblane Massacre occurred that day.
  • James Bond is never shown in the film wearing a necktie, although he does wear a bow tie for a brief period.
  • The film featured a real, identifiable brand of cigarettes during one key sequence, which led to the studio requiring the addition of the United States Surgeon General warning regarding cigarette smoking to the closing credits. Smoking occurs in many Bond films, however this is the only film which featured the warning. The cigarette manufacturer in question paid a fee to have its brand featured, which sparked debate over the appropriateness of product placement in motion pictures.
  • The twisting roads in Mexico where the tanker scenes were shot, Rumorosa, were said to be haunted from frequent traffic deaths that had occurred there. The film crew experienced many unexplained accidents and ghostly phenomenon while there, such as trucks driving off by themselves in the night or sightings of ghosts. The final scare came when the still photographer was capturing images of the last tanker explosion. In one picture, a distinct fiery hand is seen coming out of the fireball. The hand was not seen on any of the rushes from the other cameras which further added to its ghastly nature. The making-of documentary on the 1999 DVD talks more about these strange happenings in Mexico.
  • In some ways the film has close relations and similarities to Roger Moore's first gig as Bond, Live and Let Die:
    • Both films are set in a fictional country. (Live and Let Die in San Monique, Licence to Kill in the Republic of Isthmus)
    • Both films feature drug lords as a main villain without global-scale megalomaniacal motives. Instead, their goals are mainly focused on drug distributions on specific areas.
    • Both films feature henchmen characters noted for their sneering grins. (Live and Let Die has Tee Hee and Baron Samedi [who was noted for his mocking, rather demonic laugh], while Licence to Kill has Dario)
    • Both films feature speedboat chases.
    • Both films feature plane chases.
    • Both films feature Bond playing card games against a Bond Girl.
    • Both films feature scenes where Bond's signature firearm is being confiscated by the enemies, leaving Bond to opt other sorts of weapon during the subsequent phases of his missions. During the climactic battle in Live and Let Die, long after Tee Hee crushes Bond's Walther PPK with his prosthetic hands, he carries a Smith & Wesson Model 29 .44 Magnum revolver, which he would later use to kill the voodoo tribal chief at San Monique and destroy a lifelike robotic replica of Baron Samedi. In Licence to Kill, Sanchez persuades Bond to leave his Walther behind on his head office as he promises Isthmus City is a "safe" place. Bond would later borrow Pam Bouvier's Beretta to check into his suite after being told that "your uncle has arrived", only to comically discover it is Q welcoming him, and this encounter results with Q supplying Bond with a custom-made signature rifle and plastic explosives that would be used the next day to unsuccessfully assassinate Sanchez.
    • Both films feature villain characters killed by physical inflations that lead up to explosions. In Live and Let Die, as a way to conclude the final fight, Bond forces Dr. Kananga to swallow the shark gun pellet whilst being drowned in the shark pool, causing Kananga to blow up like a giant balloon and explodes. In Licence to Kill, Sanchez locks Krest in a decompression chamber, after the former mistakenly believed that Krest had set out an assassination plot against him. Sanchez then gradually increases the pressure on the valves and axes the vent, causing Krest's head to inflate and blow into pieces, killing him.
    • Both films feature sharks in pivotal scenes. In Live and Let Die, the shark is seen at the final battle when both Bond and Kananga plunge down the pool where Bond forces Kananga to swallow a shark pellet, causing him to inflate and explode. In Licence to Kill, Milton Krest's pet shark has mauled both Felix Leiter's legs and Ed Killifer. Also in Licence to Kill, there is an ally character named Sharkey.
    • Both films feature reptiles. In Live and Let Die, a snake is smuggled inside Bond's bungalow only for him to kill it with a flamed aftershave. Later on, Bond is surrounded by alligators in the middle of a small lake and makes his escape by jumping on their backs. At the climax, a coffin of snakes is featured in a portion of the final battle, where the snakes later supposedly "kill" Baron Samedi instead of Bond or Solitaire. In Licence to Kill, Franz Sanchez pets an iguana which was disliked at first by his mistress Lupe Lamora. However, at the end of the story, Lamora is seen as conquering her hatred of the animal, even sporting it with diamond necklaces.
    • David Hedison portrayed Bond's CIA (then transferred to DEA in Licence to Kill) ally and best friend, Felix Leiter, in both films. Leiter's leg maiming scene in Licence to Kill is inspired by one from the original Live and Let Die novel and never occurs on its film adaptation, where Leiter is, instead, shown in a completely healthy and physically unharmed state, saying goodbye to Bond and Solitaire who would depart on a train leaving San Monique.
    • Unlike most of Bond films, John Barry did not score Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill.
  • Benicio del Toro is the second Academy Award-winning actor to play a Bond villain (after Christopher Walken in A View to a Kill), although did not win his Oscar until 11 years after Licence to Kill with Traffic.
  • References are made to Ernest Hemingway twice: the use of his home in the Florida Keys and when Bond hands in his resignation, he says "It's a Farewell to Arms."
  • The movie title and the alternate title is said by M when Bond is handing in his resignation: "Your License to Kill is revoked."
  • It is so far the only film to have the main Bond girl (Pam Bouvier) and the supporting Bond girl (Lupe Lamora) to survive in the film, appearing in the end.
  • This is the last James Bond film to feature the airline logo "Pan Am" as the airline went bankrupt 2 years later. The logo can be seen when Bond is about to check in for a flight behind the receptionist.
  • First James Bond film to show Felix Leiter being wounded, and the same thing would later occur in No Time to Die, where Leiter is shot to death by the cunning CIA operative Logan Ash.
  • This is the first Bond film to be rated PG-13 by the MPAA in North America due its darker and edger tone and for language.
  • This was the last Bond movie to release in the summer. After intense competition that year, all future Bond films since open in either autumn or winter.
  • The last bond film to be released in the 1980's and the last to be released in the two-year chronological odd number gap.
  • Timothy Dalton's final appearance as James Bond.
  • John Glen's last Bond film as the Director.
  • Also, this is the last appearance of Caroline Bliss as Miss Moneypenny.

Teaser poster.


See: Licence to Kill (novelisation)

Comic book adaptation[]

Licence to Kill was adapted as a graphic novel by writer-artist Mike Grell, who would go on to write several original James Bond comic books. The adaptation was published in both hardcover and paperback editions by Eclipse Comics in 1989.


External links[]