One phrase with six simple words changed movie history forever: The name is Bond – James Bond.
Based on the book series by British author Ian Fleming, the debonair spy’s high-octane escapades have captured moviegoers’ imaginations in 27 films over the past 60 years and have grossed more than $7 billion worldwide. Since the character’s first big-screen appearance in 1962, six different actors have portrayed 007, with a new Bond expected to be announced in 2022. While many aspects of the tuxedo-clad Bond have remained constant, each new actor brought his own unique spin to the character.
Let’s look back at the evolution of Bond, from his first appearance in theaters to the most recent iteration of the martini-sipping, Aston Martin-driving secret agent.
Sean Connery was the first actor to portray Bond on film, first starring in 1962’s Dr. No. Suave, sophisticated, and the creator of the on-screen Bond that we know today, Connery is still considered to be the 007 by many fans. And given that he’s responsible for making Bond a household name, it’s hard to disagree.
However, there was one person who wasn't sold at first: Fleming. The author initially thought the Scottish performer seemed too brutish and unrefined to portray Bond. Luckily, Fleming’s tune changed after he saw Connery in action.
In addition to Dr. No, Connery played the spy in five subsequent films: From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), and Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
Starring in only one Bond film, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Australian actor George Lazenby had the unenviable task of taking up the Bond mantle after Connery left (though Connery returned two years later for one more film). Many believed that Lazenby just wasn’t up to the task. He was young — only 29 at the time — which some critics saw as a detriment to his rendition of the well-traveled and experienced Bond.
After On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby claims he was offered a contract to star in six more Bond films but was advised by his agent to turn it down; apparently, his agent feared that the increasingly popular hippie culture of the 1960s and ‘70s would render the franchise antiquated and irrelevant.
After Connery officially drank his last sip of his “shaken, not stirred” martini, Roger Moore starred in seven Bond films between ’73 and ’85: Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), and A View to Kill (1985).
Unlike his predecessor Lazenby, critics enjoyed Moore’s different take on Bond: smarmy and even a little silly. Moore’s portrayal of Bond took the franchise in a lighter direction and steered away from the darker tone of the Connery films.
Moore’s role as Bond was certainly popular, and he’s tied with Connery for the highest number of on-screen portrayals of the spy.
A classically-trained Shakespearean actor, Timothy Dalton took his Bond duties in a serious direction. Starring in two films — The Living Daylights (1987) and License to Kill (1989) — Dalton didn’t stray too far from the source material to make his portrayal as accurate as possible. And that’s exactly what we got: a Bond that was cold, calculating, and more ruthless than any we’d seen prior.
Critical response was divided, as some felt his portrayal was too dark, especially when compared to Moore, but few would argue that he didn’t accurately represent the Bond people know from the books.
But Dalton’s Bond didn’t stay entirely true to the original character — and for good reason. Certain aspects of author Fleming’s dated source material, such as references to casual racism and homophobia, were omitted. These would be just a few of the changes that filmmakers would make to the Bond films to make them more suitable for modern audiences.
Starring in four Bond films — GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999), and Die Another Day (2002) — Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal was well-regarded among viewers and critics. Seen as a blend of his predecessors, Brosnan brought to the table Connery’s coolness, Dalton’s darkness, and Moore’s wry humor, and created a Bond unlike any other seen on film.
One notable aspect of Brosnan’s portrayal was his stance against Bond’s smoking. Despite the Bond of Fleming’s novels smoking 60+ cigarettes a day, the Irish actor denounced the unhealthy habit and opted to play the character more aligned with the actor’s actual beliefs. Of course, he did smoke a cigar in Die Another Day, but there’s no denying that he played a big part in bringing a newer Bond to modern audiences.
The most recent actor — and only blond — to portray Bond on film, Daniel Craig is hailed as one of the most accurate Bonds to be portrayed on the big screen. Craig’s Bond is steely, serious, and charming — exactly what Fleming envisioned in the original novels. The British actor made his Bond debut in 2006’s Casino Royale and starred in four other Bond films: Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015), and No Time to Die (2021).
Despite the accuracy of his portrayal, he followed the modern tradition of adapting a few of Bond’s less-than-desirable characteristics. Like Brosnan, Craig agreed that it didn’t make sense for Bond to smoke. But it wasn’t for social or political reasons. According to Craig, it was just common sense: “I don’t wish for [Bond] to smoke. Fleming wrote a Bond who smoked 60 cigarettes a day. I can’t do that and then run two-and-a-half miles down a road, it just doesn’t tie in.”
Now that Craig has taken his final bow as 007, there’s much speculation about who will portray the character next. Continuing to evolve the character, there are rumors the new Bond will be Black, with Idris Elba (Luther) and Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton) topping the list. Other names that are floating around to step into Bond’s shoes include Jamie Dornan (50 Shades of Gray), Tom Hardy (Mad Max), and Henry Cavill (Superman).