James Bond in Space! The Making of MOONRAKER (1979)

Good Intentions

When The Spy Who Loved Me was released in July of 1977, the plan was for Eon Productions, who made the James Bond films, to make For Your Eyes Only as their next picture. Eon Productions had even stated that this was their intention during the end credits of the 1977 release.

However, as 1977 dragged on, one thing stood out to the producers, a little movie called Star Wars. The film was well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time. It’s domestic box office alone was $307 million (nearly $1.4 billion when adjusted for inflation) during its initial release.

The Script

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (Superman: The Movie) turned in a script for For Your Eyes Only in January 1978. However, producer Albert R. Broccoli decided not to move forward with it. Still, some of the action sequences from the Mankiewicz script would eventually be used. This included the Acrostar Jet sequence in Octopussy (1983) and the Eiffel Tower sequence in A View To A Kill (1985).

Broccoli wanted to cash in on the science fiction craze that Star Wars had generated. With that in mind, he decided to make Ian Fleming’s Moonraker as the Bond next movie. However, with the exception of the name of the villain, Hugo Drax, as well as aspects of a thrilling sequence where Bond and his female companion are nearly burned to death by the ignition of a rocket, nothing from Fleming’s story was used.

Script duties for Moonraker were handled by Christopher Wood. Wood was a co-writer on The Spy Who Loved Me. He also wrote the novelizations for both of these classic films.

“I constantly suggested that Bond should be put in more real danger, something that the audience could empathize with. One example: in the glassworks scene I wanted 007 attacked with a white-hot poker that would be plunged into a padded chair just beside his head. The leather/straw filling would ignite, melt, shrivel, with flames scorching Bond’s face as he struggled to twist away. We would feel what might have happened to his flesh…But, alas, the (movie’s) tone stayed too jokey and I cannot escape some of the blame for this.”

– Christopher Wood

Finding a Director

In early 1978, Steven Spielberg was fresh off of Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977). Subsequently, he expressed interest in directing Moonraker. Broccoli instead chose to rehire Lewis Gilbert, who had directed You Only Live Twice (1967) and The Spy Who Loved Me.

“I called Cubby Broccoli twice…after Jaws which was such a huge success, I thought ‘Hey people are giving me final cut now.’ So I called up Cubby and offered my services but he didn’t think I was right for the part. Then even after Close Encounters came out and was a big hit – once again – I tried to get on a Bond film and now they can’t afford me.”

– Steven Spielberg


Richard Kiel, who played Jaws, the standout villainous henchman in The Spy Who Loved Me, reprised the role in Moonraker. The plan for the character evolved over the production process. Jaws would have a more comedic role in the movie. He would also gain a love interest, Dolly. Finally, he would reform his criminal ways by movie’s end.

“In (The) Spy (Who Loved Me) Jaws was meant to be scary. Kiel’s playing persuaded Lewis Gilbert to exploit his menace for laughs. We just got away with it…Not, as far as I am concerned, in Moonraker. His petite love interest made me squirm.”

– Christopher Wood

Dolly was played by French actress Blanche Ravalec. Kiel, was 7′ 2″ in height and over 2 feet taller than the 5′ 1″ actress. There was some concern by Broccoli that the height difference may be a problem for audiences to accept. However, those fears were quickly put to rest when Kiel stated that his wife was the same height as Ravalec.

For Holly Goodhead, the movie’s “Bond girl” co-star, the production turned its attention to Charlie’s Angel’s star Jaclyn Smith. Unfortunately for her, she declined the role due to scheduling conflicts with her hit show. The role would go to actress Lois Chiles (Dallas) who hit off of Lewis Gilbert while sitting next to him on a flight.

The role of villain Hugo Drax was originally filled by James Mason. However, since this was an Anglo-French production, he had to be replaced due to the casting criteria of the 1965–1979 film treaty between France and the UK. He was replaced by French actor Michael Lonsdale.


Due to the astronomical taxes in the UK at the time, the decision was made to film the majority of the movie in France. Although Moonraker was primarily shot in France, other location shooting was also needed due to the requirements of the story. This included shoots in California, Venice, Italy, and Rio de Janeiro.

Only the cable car interiors and space battle exteriors were filmed at Pinewood Studios in England. However, the special effects shots were produced at the studio.

The French production was primarily in Paris. The sets, designed by legendary art director Ken Adam, were the largest ever constructed in France. They required more than 222,000 man-hours to construct. Hugo Drax’s California home was actually shot at 2 different French chateaus: Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte just outside Paris and Château de Guermantes in northern France.

The Stunts

The pre-title sequence for Moonraker, where Bond battles Jaws in the air without a parachute, was shot above Lake Berryessa in Northern California. Stunt coordinator Don Calvedt and skydiving champion B.J. Worth developed the equipment for the scene. This included a 1-inch-thick parachute pack, which was concealed under the suit. It gave the impression of the missing parachute. Stuntman Jake Lombard was brought in to test it all.

Lombard eventually played Bond in the scene, with Worth as the pilot from whom Bond takes a parachute. Stuntman Ron Luginbill portrayed Jaws.

When the stuntmen opened their parachutes at the end of every shoot, custom-sewn velcro costume seams separated to allow the hidden parachutes to open. The scene took a total of 88 skydives to complete. The only scenes shot in the Paris soundstage were close-ups of Roger Moore and Richard Kiel.

Special Effects

The movie centered around NASA’s Space Shuttle program, which had not yet been launched. Derek Meddings and his miniatures team had to create the rocket launch sequence without any reference footage. They used shuttle models attached to bottle rockets and signal flares to simulate take-off.

The smoke trail was created with salt that fell from the models. The climactic scenes of the space station’s destruction were created by Meddings and other members of the special effects team. This was accomplished by shooting the miniature model with shotguns.

The space scenes were done by rewinding the camera after an element was shot, which enabled other elements to be superimposed in the film stock. This process could occur over 40 times per shot.


The title song “Moonraker” was written by composer John Barry and lyricist Hal David, who replaced Paul Williams’ original lyrics. Frank Sinatra was considered, but ultimately the decision was to hire Johnny Mathis. When Mathis heard the song, he dropped out of the project because he thought it was terrible. That left the production scrambling for a replacement.

Filming the James Bond movie "Moonraker."

Singer Kate Bush was offered the song, but declined the job. Shirley Bassey was brought in to record the song, her third for the James Bond franchise with “Goldfinger” and “Diamonds Are Forever” being the other two.

Barry also composed the film’s score, which incorporated music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind as well as The Magnificent Seven. It was recorded in Paris instead of at CTS Studios in London, which was typically used in the James Bond series.

Roger Moore and Richard Kiel

“He (Roger Moore) didn’t mind that I stole scenes, that I came off really funny. He played right with it, and made it work.”

– Richard Kiel

Over the course of the two 007 movies that they appeared in together, Roger Moore and Richard Kiel began to develop a close friendship. This would last until Kiel’s passing in 2014 from a heart attack, at the age of 74.

On the set of the James Bond film "Moonraker."

“He (Richard Kiel) was one of the loveliest – I know it sounds ridiculous, but he was one of the sweetest men. He was a very bright man. You know, he looked a little extraordinary and you wouldn’t think, at first glance, that this wasn’t one hell of a brain. He was a wonderful, marvelous, warmhearted man.”

– Roger Moore

Reception and Legacy

Despite the modern consensus that it is a silly, lesser movie in the James Bond franchise, upon release, Moonraker was the most financially successful movie in the series. The film grossed over $210 million (over $785 million when adjusted for inflation). This box office number reigned supreme until 1995’s GoldenEye, starring Pierce Brosnan.

Roger Moore and Lois Chiles. James Bond

The movie also earned three Saturn Award nominations: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Special Effects, and Best Supporting Actor (Richard Kiel), as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.

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