With a film reel that has spanned 50 years, and 22 “official” films, James Bond is one of the most recognizable figures in the history of movies. Created by Ian Fleming in 1953, James Bond is a spy for The British Secret Intelligence Service, otherwise known as MI6, and has enthralled audiences past and present alike with huge stunts, hot women, and witty dialogue. The James Bond Franchise is the second highest-grossing Movie franchise after Harry Potter, and personally still stands as one of the few bridging points between me and my father, of which I appreciate a lot. There has to be something about James Bond, and the men who’ve played him, that has allowed this character to survive for so long, despite so many contract disputes, legal battles over ownership rights, several instances of a declining fan base, all of which, at one point nearly brought the James Bond franchise to a tragic end. The franchise has gone through hell and back, and it is still alive and kicking.
So, with HBO Asia doing a “Bond Evolution” segment for the month of December, and because I haven’t done one of these in a while, I’m gonna count down my favorite performances as James Bond, starting with…
6) Roger Moore
Allow me to be the first to say that this doesn’t mean that I think Roger Moore is a horrible James Bond. No I think he was a good one, and was the right Bond for his era. He has “officially” played James Bond more than anyone else (Sean Connery’s Never Say Never Again  isn’t really considered an official James Bond movie because it wasn’t produced by Eon Productions), and if it weren’t for what he brought to the table, James Bond wouldn’t have survived that long.
No, Roger, you are awesome, and probably one of the, if not the wittiest of all the people to ever grace the James Bond persona. I just didn’t enjoy your movies as much. Roger Moore came out in that crazy time in the 70′s where the whole of the US turned sci-fi.
Star Wars had hit the theaters and shattered every single Box Office record at that point, so as a result, major mediums of entertainment began to shift towards sci-fi. DC Comics started the Silver Age, when their plots became a lot more science fictional, most notably the Green Lantern, who became a universal policeman vs. a man with a green magic lamp. Music saw the rise of bands like Electric Light Orchestra that started to use synthesizers, with rising levels of success. Movies saw Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, and the resurrection of the Star Trek franchise.
The James Bond franchise, then suffering from the loss of Sean Connery and many rumors that without him the franchise would fail, had to do a lot of things in order to build up the movies in the face of a new, strongly sci-fi oriented crowd. They had to find a new face of Bond who would take this new concept of Bond and make it his own. Enter the smooth-talking, wise-cracking Roger Moore. I will admit that he was a sloppy hand-to-hand combat fighter, and that he was probably the least macho of the James Bonds, but he still carried with him an aura of class and gentleman standing that is a rare quality period, and brought it to his Bond performance. He just had the bad luck of being in that 70′s sci-fi niche that fans of Connery didn’t like, and that new fans in the 80′s and onward found too over-the-top.
5) Daniel Craig
If Roger Moore was all suave and no action, Daniel Craig is the complete opposite. They tried to make him a new, gritty Bond. He is not the superman that we’re used to seeing, but a human being, with emotional issues, as well as not being able to escape from any situation unscathed. That being said, Daniel Craig was a good choice, having a much rougher look than most of the Bonds before him.
My only problem is that he isn’t as dashing and debonaire as his predecessors, and while I’ve seen women swoon over Connery’s piercing eyes or Brosnan’s aura, the only time I heard a collective gasp from the women while watching Casino Royale was when he came out of the water showing off his abs. No gasps when he was hitting on the Bond girls, just on that one time he showed his abs. That was a bit sad, because it was a characteristic that every single Bond had before him. They were all men who exuded an aura of masculinity and raw energy that made it believable that all these women would fall for them. Craig, in one instance, tried to look “intense” but came off as “I’m gonna rape you.” and it didn’t work for me. He pulled off some great stunts and, his flawed character is great on screen, but he just lacked that level of charisma that I, as well as most people, have come to expect off of James Bond. Yes, it may be due to the writing and the way he was portrayed, but that doesn’t change the fact that I found this to be my 5th favorite Bond performance.
4) Pierce Brosnan
The smooth-talking Irishman lands in the 4th spot. Arguably the best-looking in a tuxedo, Pierce Brosnan’s charm and screen presence cannot be denied, the guy could talk his way out of anything, and into anything, and is considered by many as the iconic look of the modern day James Bond.
Pierce Brosnan always had that refined gentleman look about him, and that was evident in his stint as Remington Steele, a James Bond-esque figure from the TV show of the same name, which was what had him shortlisted for the role of Bond in the first place.
Whereas Roger Moore would have the wit to make you like him and lower your guard, Brosnan had the power in his voice to command. There’s a stronger sense of “I would follow this guy’s orders” that Brosnan had which lacked in Moore’s performances. Still, like Moore, he wasn’t much of a fighter, and aside from Golden Eye, was a very unconvincing action hero.
I think movie writers saw that similarity, and that’s why after Golden Eye, began to write Bond films that were more sci-fi in nature once again, culminating in the very disappointing Die Another Day. On a side note, to whomever made Die Another Day: Don’t spend so much money on an ASTON MARTIN VANQUISH and then spend a crap load more money TO MAKE IT INVISIBLE. Why would you get such a cool car and not show it off more?! Why make it invisible, when it can show up on heat sensors and when you don’t suppress the car’s engine?!
Okay, sorry for that. Anyway, Pierce Brosnan was a great Bond too, despite his films progressively getting worse along the way. There were just a couple more Bonds who did better.
3.5) David Niven
David Niven isn’t officially counted as one of the James Bond actors, because up until the 90′s the rights to Casino Royale was owned by a different company, until Eon picked it up after a long time, and therefore isn’t officially on this list (hence the 3.5). But he put on a great performance anyway and I thought I should share it with you guys in any case.
Niven played James Bond in the 1967 parody version of the film. So, actually, the Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig is a remake. The plot of the parody movie is that James Bond comes out of retirement to deal with an organized group called SMERSH, which was the Russian Counterintelligence program. David Niven’s James Bond (the original) makes a declaration that all field agents be called James Bond so as to confuse the enemy, even the women (brilliant idea, by the way, and it totally predates the theory that James Bond isn’t a person’s name, but a code name for different agents, which explains small changes like how Judi Dench is still M in the movies starring both Brosnan and Craig). So, Niven isn’t the only James Bond in this film, but is co-named James Bond along with other great performers such as Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.
Niven is technically the second person every to play Bond on the big screen, and was Ian Fleming’s own personal choice for James Bond over Sean Connery, and it’s not hard to see why. Niven is the personification of class, his poise and style paint a picture of the kind of gentleman that the world no longer sees. David Niven is a one-in-a-million performer, and while this role is very underrated, rest assured it is a Bond performance that shouldn’t be missed. You may or may not like the humor of the film, but I have yet to hear anyone bash Niven on his performance. This is a fan trailer of the 1967 Casino Royale done in the style of the new one. Enjoy!
3) George Lazenby
A lot of people harp on George Lazenby because he was only in one James Bond film. There are a lot of people who just subscribe to the idea that: “He must suck, after all, there must be a reason why he was only in one Bond film.” Scouring the internet, a lot of reviews seem to take this stand. I take the opposite. George Lazenby’s “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is my absolute favorite Bond film. The plot was incredible, the characterization was absolutely brilliant, and the ending was the most powerful ending among any of the Bond films. And George Lazenby was really good as well!
So you may be asking, if this guy is so good, why didn’t he ever play Bond again? Well, for one thing, MGM wanted him to play Bond again. They even offering to up his pay to try and get him to stay. No, he, upon the incessant prodding of his manager, was convinced that the James Bond series was going under and that the series was going to crash and burn, and so he chose not to reprise his role. Sean Connery ended up coming back for one more film before the reigns were passed on to Roger Moore, who (like I said before) went sci-fi in order to save the franchise. After George Lazenby’s decision (and I dare say it was a bad one) to leave the Bond franchise, he took several roles in films that bombed badly at the box office, and thus was solidified as “that guy who played James Bond one time.”
Despite the fact that the rest of his career fell out, he still put on one of the most amazing Bond performances ever, and it kills me that so many people had prejudiced against him simply because he only made one film.
Timothy Dalton vs. Sean Connery
And so we’ve gone through all the rest, and we’re down to the final two Bond actors. Timothy Dalton and Sean Connery. Let me tell you all though, that this is the closest thing to a tie that I can think of, and as far as I’m concerned, the are both James Bond. The only difference, is which Bond you like more.
If you’ve read the books or are a fan of amazing character development, then Dalton is your choice. If you picture Bond as that super man, that ideal man that men idolize and women simply fall in love with, then Sean Connery is for you. That’s about the only way of measuring which Bond I liked more. Let me break it down a little for you.
Dalton was the Bond who followed after the long stint of Roger Moore. He brought a very different face to Bond that hadn’t been seen since In Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Dalton brought in a flawed James Bond to the fore, a character who was dashing, debonaire, but had a chip on his shoulder, which was why he did all the things he did. Till then, James Bond’s penchant for danger and doing incredibly dangerous stunts had always come from a “because I can” sort of cockiness. Dalton showed a Bond who did it because he’s trying to fill in some missing peace of his own self. Hm… a man who fights crime, dispensing one-man justice through a dedication to the ideal of justice and and use of technological gadgets, stemming from a deep-seeded need to fill in a blank left in on his soul because of a traumatic past event, kind of sounds familiar, but I can’t put my finger on it.
Either way, he brought a side of Bond that no one had seen before, and that no one would see again until it was redone in Casino Royale with Daniel Craig. Unlike Roger Moore, his predecessor, Dalton was a huge fan of Ian Fleming’s books, and as such, played the character much more true to the book. The reason he only shot two films was because MGM got into a huge legal battle over the rights of the film that lasted for several years (another one of the times when people thought the James Bond franchise was over).
By the time they were ready to film Golden Eye, Dalton was too fed up with the delays to continue, also siting that he felt that he was already too old for the movie. The film was supposed to start pre-production in 1990, but the legal battle pushed it back to 1994. By 1994, there were delays in writing and the pre-production and Dalton, by then 48, decided to hang up that tux and move on with his career. That film ended up being Golden Eye, which was released in 1995, starring Pierce Brosnan (I’d even argue that part of why this is Brosnan’s best Bond movie is because it was written for Dalton).
Dalton’s Bond had a lot of emotional trauma, and gave a lot more depth and understanding into who James Bond was and why he acted the way he did. Hell, in License to Kill, James Bond rebels against MI6 in order to settle a personal vendetta. Bond goes rogue! That was unheard of at the time, and it paved the way for Craig to even be considered for the role.
Dalton is the reason I put Craig at number 5. Dalton looked like a man who could beat you up, and unlike his predecessors, he wanted to do most of the Bond stunts himself. Like Daniel Craig, he was tough, strong and macho, and yet, despite his gruff and chiseled features, and unlike Craig, he had a level of grace, poise and inner sensitivity that would still have women fawning over him (and not just his abs). This guy put on an all-around perfect performance of James Bond, and anyone who doesn’t give this man an ounce of credit is no fan of the James Bond series.
When you hear Sean Connery, you think of James Bond, and when you hear James Bond, you think of Sean Connery. It’s really that simple. No matter who you ask, even people who haven’t really watched the movie, no one will ever say that Connery is a bad James Bond. Everyone has a gripe against one of the other Bonds, but no one in their right minds would tell you that Connery was their least favorite James Bond, and that is well justified.
Sean Connery took on the role of James Bond and made it his own. He took the book’s character, and over the span of 7 movies (8 if you count the “unofficial” Never Say Never Again) turned him into a film icon. Connery’s Bond is the perfect man. Sure he’s got flaws, but his womanizing and cockiness were never so huge that it would cripple him as a person. In a far contrast from the psychologically tortured Bond of Dalton, Connery’s Bond came in with an unbridled confidence that he could get out of any situation, of which he always did. In Connery’s Bond movies, despite him being in life-threatening situations, you knew from the look on his face and the aura of his character, even before he did anything, that he would find an ingenious way to escape, and say a witty one-liner off the top of his head as well.
Connery showed a Bond that could kick ass and was supremely attractive and self- assured. His Bond was a man who loved to play with the toys and gadgets he was given, but could flip on a switch and become a highly efficient Secret Agent. He was the personification of “a natural”. He was the Bond whom you couldn’t match up to no matter how hard you trained, because he just had a natural aptitude that made him better than everyone else. If Sean Connery wasn’t as great as he was, Bond wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did.
So with all that description about why I think these two are the perfect Bonds, I hope I have given you enough information to explain my decision, because as much as I want to take the coward’s way out and say its a tie, I’d feel like I’m giving you guys a dis-service. So without further ado, let me present to you my all-time favorite James Bond:
This is a close one for me, this is the emotional equivalent to a 51%-49% split. These guys are two very solid definitions of James Bond, and in their own rights are the practically perfect epitomes of these two ideas of who James Bond is. It really all boiled down to preference, and I’m a guy who just enjoyed the emotional depth of Dalton better. It was a Bond that fits much better with us as a contemporary audience, a hero who has flaws, human like the rest of us, yet with an almost super-human like resolve that could carry him past personal issues and overwhelming obstacles put forth by an incredibly powerful enemy in order to succeed.
Connery could breeze through these brushes with international criminals where normal people would have struggled so much to overcome. Dalton’s Bond would struggle just like the rest of us, but would keep going way past the point where most of us would have quit. They are both indomitable character’s but in very different ways. And personally, Dalton’s character was one that resounded with me more.
But don’t take my word on it! Watch the movies for themselves! You’ll be the best judge of which Bond films you like the most. There’s a reason this series has been around for 50 years, and if you haven’t checked any of these Bond films out, you’re missing out. Till next time!