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The Evolution of James Bond

“The name is Bond – James Bond.”

Have more iconic words ever been uttered on screen?

Well … yes, probably. But there’s no arguing that James Bond is one of the most enduring media figures to be portrayed on screen. The quintessential Übermensch, Bond’s high-octane escapades have captured our imaginations for over 50 years.

But the iconic character has changed a bit over the years (and rightfully so, given that the series has been running since 1962). Seven different actors have portrayed 007 on screen, and while his look has changed, so too has the character.  

Let’s take a look back at the evolution of Bond, from his origins to where he stands today.

Sean Connery

Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery in Hitchcock's "Marnie" trailer
Credit: Trailer screenshot/ Public domain

Connery was the first actor to portray Bond on film, first starring in 1962’s “Dr. No.”

Connery is well-known today for his charisma and smooth demeanor (features that would be applied to just about every depiction of Bond from then on), but back in 1962, he was considered a bit of a strange choice for the role.

In fact, Ian Fleming initially thought Connery was a terrible choice, noting that the Scottish actor seemed too brutish and unrefined to portray Bond on screen. However, his tune changed after he saw Connery in action.

Suave, sophisticated, and responsible for creating the on-screen image of Bond that we know today, Connery is considered to be the Bond by many fans. And given that he’s responsible for making Bond a household name in our culture, it’s hard to disagree.

George Lazenby

Starring in only one Bond film, 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby was one of the most controversial Bonds to appear on the big screen.

Lazenby had the unenviable task of taking up the Bond mantle after Connery left, and many believed that he just wasn’t up to the task. He was young — only 29 at the time of filming — which some critics saw as a detriment to his rendition of the well-traveled and experienced Bond character.

Overall, Lazenby did a fine job, but he did little to revolutionize the Bond mythos compared to others on this list.

Roger Moore

Roger Moore posing for a photo in a blue suit and tie
Credit: Allan warren/ CC BY-SA 3.0

Taking up the Bond mantle in 1972, Roger Moore starred in seven films between ’72 and ’85.

Unlike his predecessor, critics enjoyed Moore’s different take on Bond: smarmy, charismatic, and even a little bit silly. Moore’s portrayal of Bond took the franchise in a lighter direction, steering away from the darker tone of the Connery films and turning it into something more lighthearted.

While many of the later films returned to a more serious tone, Moore brought some much-needed levity to the role and gave viewers permission to have some fun with the series. Moore’s role as Bond was certainly popular, and he later became tied with Connery for the highest number of on-screen portrayals of the Bond character.  

Timothy Dalton

A classically-trained Shakespearean actor, Timothy Dalton took his Bond duties in a serious direction. Starring in two films, Dalton performed extensive research before filming, studying 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 Roger Moore, but few would argue that he didn’t accurately represent the Bond we knew from the books.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a perfect portrayal. Certain aspects of the dated source material were neglected—such as references to casual racism and homophobia—but all of the Bond style and sophistication remained. 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.

Pierce Brosnan

Actor Pierce Brosnan at the premiere of the movie "The November Man"
Credit: magicinfoto/ Shutterstock 

Starring in four Bond films, 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 coldness, and Moore’s wry humor—creating 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, Brosnan denounced the habit, opting 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.

Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig attending the Germany premiere of James Bond 007 movie "Skyfall"
Credit: Piotr Zajac/ Shutterstock

The latest (and some would say greatest) actor to portray Bond on film, Daniel Craig has received widespread critical acclaim for his interpretation. 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. And despite the accuracy of his portrayal, he followed the modern tradition of adapting 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.”

Craig’s most recent Bond film, “Spectre,” was released in 2015. Craig is expected to star in the franchise’s next film, but talks have already begun on who the next Bond will be. And given how varied his portrayals have been over the years, we’re excited to see who they choose to take up the role.

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