Not only are FSR’s resident Bond nerds (specifically yours truly and my partner in espionage, Brian Salisbury) gearing up for the release of Skyfall in November, but we are also rubbing our hands together with anticipation of opening our new Bond 50 Blu-ray box sets that came out this week. Since we’re in the movie news business, we can watch all 22 of these films, we can chalk up the 40+ hours of movie watching to a full work week. We bet you’re feeling an extreme amount of jealousy right now (or an extreme amount of pity for us… not quite sure which).
But as we prepare to watch all the James Bond movies again, we’ll also reflect upon the different actors who have played James Bond in the past. Here’s a quick breakdown of the legendary (and one not-so-legendary) Bond actors over the years. Fortunately, since Daniel Craig has signed on for some additional post-Skyfall movies, this piece should still be relevant for a while, and that’s a valuable commodity in the ever-changing world of the Internet.
Years Active: 1962-1967, 1971, 1983 (rogue)
Films: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, Never Say Never Again
History: Although considered the best James Bond by many, Connery was not the first choice. Bond author Ian Fleming wanted David Niven, and a list of other actors were also considered, including James Mason, Patrick McGoohan, Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Stewart Granger and even Cary Grant at one point. Plus, according to Roger Moore, some industry friends said he was on the short list as well, but he was unavailable because he was filming his television series The Saint. Connery won the role by offering a certain something that producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli liked, and the rest is history.
Career highs: Connery originated the film role with Dr. No, then played Bond through both Goldfinger and Thunderball, two of the highest grossing films in the series in adjusted dollars.
Career lows: After taking a movie off, he was persuaded to return to the role of James Bond in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, paid a then-ridiculous $1.25 million to pretty much phone in his performance. He returned to the role once again in the unofficial remake of Thunderball to help lawsuit-happy writer Kevin McClory give the finger to Cubby Broccoli with the cheeky Never Say Never Again.
Years Active: 1969
Films: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
History: To date, Lazenby was the youngest actor to play James Bond, stepping into the role at the age of 30. Like Connery, he was not the first choice. Originally the role was offered to Timothy Dalton (who would later go on to play Bond in 1987), but he turned it down because he felt he was too young. Because Lazenby’s film was the first time someone other than Connery played the iconic spy, there were plenty of clues added to reassure the audience this was the same character. Clips from the previous five Bond films were included in the title sequence, Bond sorts through a bunch of props from previous films in his office, and Lazenby mugs to the camera and says, “This never happened to the other fella,” after being abandoned on the beach by Diana Rigg in the pre-credits sequence.
Career highs: Though a lousy Bond, Lazenby’s incarnation was allowed to marry the charming and loveable Diana Rigg, giving Bond some emotional humanity audiences wouldn’t see again until Daniel Craig took over the role in 2006.
Career lows: After landing the biggest role in his career, Lazenby quit the franchise on the advice of his agent who convinced him that the misogynistic character would not survive the liberated 1970s. Oops.
Years Active: 1973-1985
Films: Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill
History: After Sean Connery left the role for good (sort of) in 1971, Moore won the role of Bond. At 45, he was the oldest actor to start playing Bond, and he is currently the oldest actor to have played Bond, which would be age 57 in A View to a Kill. Although quite a few critics and fans consider him one of the weakest Bond actors, he starred in the most movies and played the character for the longest period of time (seven appearances over twelve years to Connery’s six appearances over nine years, as long as Never Say Never Again isn’t included). Unlike how Lazenby was introduced, Moore’s first film Live and Let Die took several steps to differentiate him from previous Bonds, including the character specifically not ordering a martini and not uttering the famous line, “Bond, James Bond.”
Career highs: While at least half of the Moore films were utterly ludicrous, he did reign as Bond in some solid outings, including his inaugural Live and Let Die as well as the more even-keeled The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only.
Career lows: Moonraker was the studio’s answer to Star Wars, sending Bond into space to fight a master race with lasers. Moore’s final film, A View to a Kill, may have featured Christopher Walken as an unlikely Bond villain, but the 57-year-old actor’s sex scene with the sexually confusing and growling 36-year-old Grace Jones was particularly disturbing.
Years Active: 1987-1989
Films: The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill
History: Dalton was offered the role of James Bond twice: once for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and again in the middle of Roger Moore’s tenure. However, he did not take up the role as 007 until 1987’s The Living Daylights. Unlike Lazenby and Moore, Dalton brought a more rugged look and demeanor to the spy, which reminded some rather fondly of Connery. Sadly, Dalton was only able to play the role twice because after 1989’s Licence to Kill, the rights was caught up in a legal battle that stalled the franchise for six years. (Sound familiar?)
Career highs: When The Living Daylights went into production, the public’s awareness of AIDS had hit a full stride. In an effort to be more responsible, Bond was given a more monogamous role, as opposed to the whoring around that Connery Moore and Lazenby did. (Okay, let’s forget the fact that he bangs that hot brunette in the bikini on the yacht in the pre-credit sequence, but that was before he met Maryam D’Abo’s character.)
Career lows: In The Living Daylights, Bond joins forces with the Mujahideen to fight against the Soviets, which some believe is where Al-Queda got its start. Also, Dalton’s haircut in Licence to Kill was just plain silly.
Years Active: 1995-2002
Films: GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day
History: Like most of the Bonds before him, Pierce Brosnan was originally considered for the role in a previous film. When Roger Moore stepped out of his spy shoes, Eon Productions tapped Brosnan as the next James Bond. However, Brosnan’s fledgling show Remington Steele was renewed for another season (which was terrible, by the way), and he was not released from his contract. After Dalton’s tenure as Bond, and after the rights to the franchise had been sorted out in the mid-90s, Brosnan was given the role to revitalize the series with 1995’s GoldenEye.
Career highs: Not only did Brosnan’s Bond successfully reboot the franchise, he also helped introduce the world to Judi Dench as M and say good-bye to Desmond Llewelyn as Q in The World is Not Enough.
Career lows: The mid-90s filmmaking techniques ushered in a new generation of CGI effects that hold up about as well as the blue-screen shots of Roger Moore skydiving. Also, as movie budgets soared, Brosnan’s films became notorious for cramming product placement into the film to an embarrassing level. In fact, Tomorrow Never Dies was the first movie to have its entire production budget covered by product placement consideration fees.
Years Active: 2006-present
Films: Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall
History: After Die Another Day, which many considered too over-the-top, Eon Productions decided to reboot the entire Bond series (except for Judi Dench as M, who managed to survive this weird alternate universe transition). After another exhaustive search, Daniel Craig won the role as a young, wet-behind-the-ears James Bond who had just earned his license to kill. Craig played Bond rugged, bringing a Connery quality tot he role. He showed more emotion, which had only been seen in Lazenby’s portrayal. Although not the youngest actor to play James Bond, he is the only actor to have been born after the release of Dr. No.
Career highs: The Casino Royale reboot is considered by some to be one of the best Bond films ever made. Let’s see if Skyfall can live up to it.
Career lows: Quantum of Solace was a partial misfire, abandoning or changing some of the more beloved traditions of the series.
Rogue Agents: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen
Years Active: 1967
Films: Casino Royale
History: With the success of the James Bond franchise in the 60s, producers Michael Garrison and Gregory Ratoff (who were best known for the madcap comedy What’s New, Pussycat?) exercised their rights to Casino Royale, which they had purchased in the 1950s from Ian Fleming. Because Eon Productions didn’t want another rights battle like the one they had with Kevin McClory over Thunderball, they passed on the project. So, Garrison and Ratoff made their own Bond movie, which amounted to a spoof with David Niven as the aging spy brought out of retirement. Peter Sellers played a James Bond imposter, and Woody Allen played the whiney pseudo-villain Jimmy Bond. This film is absolutely nonsensical and fits in with no other Bond film.
Career highs: None.
Career lows: The entirety of Casino Royale until 2006.
Rogue Agent: Barry Nelson
Years Active: 1954
Films: “Casino Royale” on Climax!
History: Eight years before the James Bond character would be immortalized by Sean Connery, CBS television bought the rights to adapt Casino Royale from Ian Fleming for $1000. The adaptation appeared on live television as part of the Climax! series. It featured Nelson as an American spy, James “Jimmy” Bond going up against Peter Lorre as LaChiffre. Interesting to watch as a side-note in Bond history, the kinescope of this episode can be found on YouTube and on the 1967 Casino Royale DVD.
Career highs: He later went on to interview Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Career lows: Nelson played one of the lamest James Bonds ever… and that includes George Lazenby.