In the film, Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the death of a British agent. The trail leads him to the island home of reclusive Dr. Julius No. Bond uncovers Dr. No's plot to disrupt American rocket tests, and scuttles his operation.
Dr. No's success, as the first major film adaptation of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, led to a series of films that continues to this day. Dr. No also launched a successful genre of "secret agent" films that flourished in the 1960s. It does not show Bond earning his double-0 status which grants him a licence to kill; instead it presents Bond as a seasoned veteran. Many of the iconic aspects of a typical James Bond film were established in Dr. No, beginning with what is known as the gun barrel sequence, an introduction to the character through the view of a gun barrel, and a highly stylized main title sequence, both created by Maurice Binder. In his work on film, production designer Ken Adam established a unique and expansive visual style that is the hallmark of the Bond film series.
On arriving at the airport in Jamaica, Bond is greeted by Mr. Jones, who claims to be a chauffeur sent to drive him to Government House. Bond phones to check this and finds it to be a lie, but returns to the car, being snapped on the way by an unidentified female photographer. On the journey, they are tailed by an unidentified vehicle and thinking it is a decoy, Bond orders Jones to pull into a side road to lose their pursuers. He threatens Jones with a gun, but before he can interrogate him, Jones commits suicide by biting into a cigarette laced with cyanide.
Through Pleydell-Smith, the Governor of Jamaica, and General Potter, who regularly played cards with Strangways, Bond learns that Strangways had hired a man named Quarrel to guide him while fishing. Bond visits Quarrel, but finds him to be uncooperative at first. He follows him to Puss Fella's beach bar, where Quarrel agrees to talk to him in private, but it is an ambush and he is attacked by Quarrel and Puss Fella. He manages to overpower them, only to find a man standing behind him with a gun. Inspecting Bond's own gun, the man realises that it is a model used by the British Secret Service and identifies himself as Felix Leiter of the CIA. He confirms that both he and Quarrel had been in the car that tailed Bond from the airport and that having seen him get into a car with a known enemy, they were unsure of his allegiance. Now convinced of Bond's identity, he tells Bond that he is working on the same investigation for the CIA and so they decide to join forces. Later that evening, they are sat discussing their theories in the bar, when Bond is again snapped by the unknown photographer from the airport. Quarrel restrains her so she can be questioned, but despite Quarrel nearly breaking her arm, she refuses to talk and they let her go after Bond pulls the film from her camera. Realising that enemy spies have been following him since he arrived, Bond questions who could make them so scared that they are unwilling to talk.
When investigating Strangways' home, Bond finds a receipt from a local geologist named Professor Dent who helped Strangways by identifying rock samples from a nearby island called Crab Key. Dent claims the rocks are ordinary Iron pyrites, but Bond quickly identifies the rocks to be radioactive. He also discovers that Crab Key is feared by the locals and that nobody dares go near it. Dent is revealed as a henchman of the enemy Dr. Julius No, the resident of Crab Key, who orders him to kill Bond.
Following an unsuccessful attempt to kill Bond by releasing a deadly tarantula in Bond's bungalow, Dent orders the Governor's secretary, Miss Taro to invite Bond to her home in the mountains. She is also a spy of Dr No's, however Bond is already suspicious of her, having caught her eavesdropping on a meeting between himself and the Governor, when she also claimed that government files on Dr. No and Crab Key had disappeared. His suspicions are realised when he is involved in a car chase with a black limousine en route to her home. The driver tries to kill Bond by forcing him off the road, but Bond outwits them and the hearse crashes over a cliff and explodes. Arriving at Miss Taro's house, she is shocked to see that he is still alive, but she quickly recovers and whilst Bond is preoccupied, makes a discreet phone call to Professor Dent. Guessing that Dent will soon arrive, Bond suggests taking Miss Taro to dinner and appears to phone for a taxi, but when the car arrives, she is taken away by the police and Bond returns to the house to wait for Dent to arrive. Bond questions him and Dent admits that Strangways had been murdered, but when Bond asks who they are all working for, Dent refuses to say any more, so Bond shoots him.
Bond and Quarrel set sail to Crab Key where they meet Honey Ryder, a seashell collector. After gaining her trust, Bond discovers that her father was murdered by Dr. No and she begs Bond to avenge his death, but warns him of a dragon that supposedly guards the island. Soon after, they are chased by several armed men and forced to flee into the forest. Being pursued till dusk, Quarrel is burned alive by the dragon, which turns out to be a painted tank fitted with flame throwers. Bond and Honey are captured and taken to Dr. No's lair, where they are put through a radiation decontamination unit, then imprisoned in a luxury guest suite where they sleep after drinking drugged coffee. Waking up, Bond and Honey are invited to dinner with Dr. No.
Arriving for dinner, Bond is intrigued by a large glass wall through which sea fish can be seen hugely magnified and realises that the lair must be deep underwater. Dr. No appears and proudly announces that he designed the 'aquarium' himself, before inviting them to join him at the table. During the meal it is revealed that Dr. No lost his hands in a radiation accident and consequently uses two powerful prosthetic replacements. He also informs Bond of his involvement with an international terrorist group called SPECTRE, for whom he has come to Crab Key to disrupt American rocket launches at the nearby Cape Canaveral. He admits to being impressed that Bond has consistently managed to outwit his attempts to have him assassinated and offers him the opportunity to become a member of SPECTRE, but Bond antagonises him and losing patience, Dr. No orders the guards to torture him and lock him up until he can be properly interrogated.
Having angered Dr. No, Bond is imprisoned in a cell, but escapes through an air vent. He soon finds himself in Dr. No's control room and, disguised as one of his men, he overloads the nuclear reactor that powers the complex, just as the American space craft is about to take off. A hand-to-hand fight ensues between Bond and Dr. No on a descending platform in the heart of the reactor. Bond manages to push Dr. No into the lift that collapses into the reactor's cooling vat and despite trying to save himself, Dr. No is unable to get a grip with his prosthetic hands and disappears under the water. As the whole of Dr. No's complex is in chaos with a full scale evacuation taking place, Bond searches for Honey. He finds her chained to the floor of a loading bay which is flooding with water and manages to release her. They escape in a boat, just as the entire lair explodes.
The film ends as Bond and Honey are seen seen floating on open water in the boat, which has run out of fuel. Felix Leiter arrives on an American Navy ship and they are thrown a rope to be towed to safety. We see Bond let go of the tow rope setting them adrift once again and he passionately kisses Honey, before they disappear into the depths of the boat as the credits roll.
The producers offered Guy Green, Guy Hamilton and Ken Hughes to direct the film, but all of them turned it down. They finally signed Terence Young as the director. Broccoli and Saltzman felt that Young would be able make a real impression of James Bond and transfer the essence of the character from book to film. Young imposed many stylistic choices for the character which continued throughout the film series. Thunderball was originally intended to be the first Bond film, but there was a legal dispute with the screenplay's co-author, Kevin McClory. As a result, Dr. No was chosen.
As the producers asked about financing to United Artists, the studio lent only $1 million for them to spend. As a result, only one sound editor was hired (normally are two, for sound effects and dialogue), and many scenarios were made in cheaper ways, with M's office featuring cardboard paintings and a door covered in a leather-like plastic, and the room where Dent meets Dr. No costing only £745 to build.
There are several apocryphal stories as to whom Ian Fleming personally wanted. Some sources, specifically Albert R. Broccoli from his autobiography When The Snow Melts, claim that he favoured Roger Moore, having seen him as Simon Templar on the television series The Saint. However, the details of this claim are disputed by the fact that the series did not begin airing in the United Kingdom until 4 October 1962, only one day before the premiere of Dr. No. It was known that Fleming wanted Noel Coward for the role of the evil Dr. Julius No and David Niven for the role of Bond. Moore was not linked publicly to the role of 007 until 1967 in which Harry Saltzman claimed he would make a good Bond, but also displayed misgivings due to his popularity as Simon Templar. Moore was selected later as Bond in 1973 for Live and Let Die.
Ultimately, the producers turned to Sean Connery for five films. It is often reported that Connery won the role through a contest set up to 'find James Bond'. While this is untrue, the contest itself did exist, and six finalists were chosen and screentested by Broccoli, Saltzman, and Fleming. The winner of the contest was a 28-year-old model named Peter Anthony, who, according to Broccoli, had a Gregory Peck quality, but proved unable to cope with the role.
Dr. No introduced the many recurring themes and features associated with the suave and sophisticated secret agent: the distinctive James Bond Theme, the gun barrel sequence, "Bond girls," the criminal organization SPECTRE, narrow escapes, Bond's luck and skill, his signature Walther PPK and the licence to kill, over-ambitious villains, henchmen, and allies. Many characteristics of the following Bond films were introduced in Dr. No, ranging from Bond's introduction as "Bond, James Bond.", to his taste for vodka martinis "shaken, not stirred", love interests, weaponry, and a closing scene with Bond finally alone with the girl (generally in a boat). Also, this film establishes the oft-repeated association (in this case, Project Mercury) between the Bond series and the U.S. manned space program - which would be repeated with Project Gemini in You Only Live Twice, Project Apollo in Diamonds Are Forever, and the space shuttle in Moonraker (not to mention several outer space sequences involving fictional satellite programs in Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, Die Another Day and Casino Royale).
During the series' forty-year history, only a few of the films would remain substantially true to their source material; Dr. No has many similarities to the novel and follows its basic plot, but there are a few notable omissions. Major elements from the novel that are missing entirely from the film include Bond's fight with a giant squid, and the escape from Dr. No's complex using the dragon disguised swamp buggy.
Several elements of the novel were significantly changed for the film, as well. These include the use of a tarantula spider instead of a centipede, Dr. No's secret complex being disguised as a legitimate bauxite mine instead of a guano quarry, Dr. No's plot to disrupt NASA space launches from Cape Canaveral using a radio beam instead of disrupting U.S. missile testing on Turk's Island, and the method of Dr. No's death by drowning in reactor coolant rather than a burial under a chute of guano.
In addition, some major elements were absent from the novel, but added to the film. These include the introduction of the Bond character himself in a gambling casino, the introduction of Bond's semi-regular girlfriend, Sylvia Trench, a car chase from the airport, a fight scene with an enemy chauffeur, a fight scene to introduce Quarrel, Bond's recurring C.I.A. ally, Felix Leiter, Dr. No's partner in crime, Professor Dent, and Bond's controversial cold-blooded killing of this character.
When Major Boothroyd replaces Bond's Beretta, he claims that it has no stopping power. He states the replacement gun's caliber as "7.65 mil with a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window." The Walther PPK given to Bond established a trend in the entire series as the secret agent's signature weapon. However, it should be noted that the Beretta M1934 replaced in the film is actually a higher caliber (.380 ACP/9mm short) with much more stopping power. In the novel it is a very small .25 (6.35mm) caliber Beretta that is replaced by the larger .32 (7.65mm) caliber PPK. Major Boothroyd's remarks originally referred to the .25 Beretta, not the .380 shown in the film.
The scene where a tarantula walks over Bond was initially shot by pinning a bed to the wall and placing Sean Connery over it, with a protective glass between him and the spider. Director Young didn't like the final results, so the scenes were intercalated with new footage featuring the tarantula over stuntman Bob Simmons. The book features a scene where Honey is tortured by being tied to the ground along with crabs, but since the crabs were sent frost from the Caribbean, they didn't move much during filming, so the scene was altered to have Honey slowly drowning.
When he is about to have dinner with Dr. No, Bond is amazed to see Goya's painting of the Duke of Wellington. The portrait had been stolen from the National Gallery allegedly by a 60-year-old amateur thief in London just before filming began.
As title artist Maurice Binder was creating the credits, he had an idea for the introduction that would appear in all subsequent Bond films, the James Bond gun barrel sequence. It was filmed in sepia by putting a pinhole camera inside an actual .38 calibre gun barrel, with Bob Simmons playing Bond.
Monty Norman was invited to write the soundtrack because Broccoli liked his work on Belle, a musical about murderer Hawley Harvey Crippen. Norman was busy with musicals, and only accepted to do the music for Dr. No after Saltzman offered him to travel along with the crew to Jamaica. The most famous composition in the soundtrack is the "James Bond Theme", which appears in a calypso medley over the title credits, and was written by Norman based on a previous composition of his. John Barry, who would later go on to compose the music for eleven Bond films, arranged the Bond theme, but was uncredited - except for the credit of his orchestra playing the final piece. It has occasionally been suggested that Barry, not Norman, composed The "James Bond Theme". This argument has been the subject of two court cases, the most recent in 2001.
The music for the opening scene is a calypso version of the nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice", with new lyrics to reflect the intentions of the three assassins hired by Dr. No. Other notable songs in the film are the Bouyon music song Jump Up, played in the background, and the traditional Jamaican calypso Underneath the Mango Tree, famously sung by Diana Coupland then Norman's wife, the singing voice of Honey Ryder, as she walked out of the ocean on Crab Key. Byron Lee & the Dragonaires appeared in the film and performed most of the music on the later soundtrack album.
In Japan, the film was titled We Have No Need of a Doctor when promotional materials sent to Japan by United Artists mistakenly featured a question mark instead of a full stop/period following the "Dr.".
Following Dr. No's release, the quote "Bond ... James Bond," became a catch phrase that entered the lexicon of Western popular culture as the epitome of polished machismo. On 21 June 2005 it was honoured as the 22nd greatest quotation in cinema history by the American Film Institute as part of their 100 Years Series.
The film had a budget of US$1,000,000, and grossed a total of US$16,067,035 in U.S. domestic box office and US$59,600,000 worldwide, making it a financial success. When adjusted for inflation, Dr. No's gross is $388,037,628. This places it as the 4th lowest grossing film in the Bond series.
In 2003, the scene of Andress emerging from the water in a bikini topped Channel 4's list of 10 sexiest scenes of film history. The bikini was sold in an auction for US $61,500. Entertainment Weekly and IGN ranked her as Top in a Top 10 Bond Babes list.