With over 50 years and 24 films' worth of history, the James Bond franchise has taken the character to places its creator, Ian Fleming, never would have imagined. In April 2020, Daniel Craig's incarnation of the role will be back on the big screen with NO TIME TO DIE, Craig's presumed final outing as 007.
In honor of the upcoming release, we'd like to take you through the history of each James Bond actor and rank their entries individually. This isn't necessarily a competitive ranking, rather one that's limited to each actor's respective tenure in the role.
Settle in with a martini, you know how it's prepared, and get ready to bond with James Bond!
The Sean Connery Era (1962–1967, 1971)
1. From Russia with Love
Before the James Bond series crafted its winning formula of gadgets, girls and guns, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE put on one hell of a show. Sean Connery’s second outing as James Bond (and the second film in the entire franchise), the espionage, and intrigue are turned up to full blast as Bond pursues a decoding machine before his enemies can get it for themselves. Connery’s fights with Robert Shaw’s Red Grant are some of the best in the series’ earlier days, as they’re impressive, hard-hitting brawls for supremacy.
This is where James Bond became James Bond at the movies, full stop. GOLDFINGER gave the world memorable imagery, with those infamous scenes involving lasers and a gold-painted woman still burned into the iconography of the series. However, the film also saw Gert Fröbe’s titular baddie pull out all the stops in trying to rob Fort Knox. Spectacle is king in GOLDFINGER, and it delivers golden thrills every step of the way.
3. Dr. No
The very first James Bond film in the EON Productions canon, DR. NO introduced the world to 007’s adventures like a brick through a plate glass window. Iconic moments like Honey Ryder emerging from the waves, Sean Connery’s Bond introducing himself and even the famous “villain tells the hero everything” speech are born here in sparkling, timeless detail.
While the action isn’t as fast paced as some of Connery’s higher-ranking Bond films, THUNDERBALL is a spy romp through and through. Though it does draw out the villain’s plots to a degree, it still has some of the most impressive fights in the series. Not to mention, Sean Connery is actually in a tank full of sharks for one sequence, an accident that delivers one of the tensest scenes in 007 history.
5. You Only Live Twice
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is one of those James Bond films that is definitely a product of its era. Though some portions of the film haven't aged as well as others, there is stunning action work and a potboiler plot that sees Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), Bond’s ultimate nemesis, lurking in the series’ shadows no more. The space race heats up as Bond and Blofeld fight on opposite sides of starting World War III, and John Barry’s score only ratchets the tension to a higher degree.
6. Diamonds Are Forever
Sometimes, the James Bond series can be deadly serious. And others, in particular the era between 1971 and 1985, it can partake in more humorous escapades. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER certainly trades in a bit of a jokier tone, especially when it comes to Sean Connery’s time as 007. But even the eternally punny duo of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd have a deadly edge to show when the time comes, and the revenge-fueled opening montage of Bond interrogating an assortment of baddies is one of the series’ finest moments.
The George Lazenby Era (1969)
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is, quite possibly, the most underrated James Bond film ever. With George Lazenby playing the role for one and only film, the man never got to really settle into a groove with the character, like most other James Bond actors did. But considering he was an Australian model with no prior acting experience, Lazenby’s Bond more than holds his own, especially with Telly Savalas taking his turn in the role of Blofeld. Action, danger and romance all mingle quite nicely, with stunning ski photography and the most unexpected 007 ending ever.
The Roger Moore Era (1973–1985)
1. Live and Let Die
Introducing Roger Moore as the 007 that would define the series’ pace through the ‘70s and ‘80s, LIVE AND LET DIE is one of the most stripped down entries of Moore’s tenure. In the film, James Bond fights his way through voodoo, diplomatic intrigue and one of the most socially conscious villain plots in the series. And Moore’s standoff against Yaphet Kotto’s Kananga maintains the dangerous edge that makes Bond movies so great.
2. The Spy Who Loved Me
Pairing Roger Moore’s James Bond and Barbara Bach’s Soviet operative XXX was the best thing THE SPY WHO LOVED ME could have ever done for itself, turning its source novel — which was relatively light on Bond — into a double-barreled adventure against a shipping titan and his plot to destroy New York City. All that was left to do was introduce Richard Kiel’s legendary henchman Jaws, and this film had made its mark on history.
3. The Man with the Golden Gun
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is a rare James Bond movie, as it focuses more intently on its villain than most other 007 films. With Christopher Lee's Scaramanga acting as an evil mirror image of sorts for Roger Moore's Bond, the film's crazy action takes a bit of a backseat to this interesting hero/villain pairing. Don't worry — there's still quite a few heart-pounding moments, including the first ever computer-assisted car stunt. And yes, it's as breathtaking as you'd expect.
4. For Your Eyes Only
Roger Moore's most serious James Bond movie happens to be FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, an adventure that borrows a little bit from FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in that 007 is chasing after some very sensitive technology that some rogue actors are looking to exploit. Not only is the plot more of a personally driven exercise, with Carole Bouquet's Melina seeking vengeance for her father's death, but Moore gets to be his most ruthless in his part of the action.
You might not think the sentence you're about to read is true, but trust us, it is: OCTOPUSSY has the most serious sequence a film could feature with the lead dressed as a clown. Roger Moore's caper involving Faberge eggs and rogue nuclear arms deployment is breezy enough for a James Bond movie. But one of the best scenes is when Bond has to disarm a nuclear weapon in the middle of a circus, dressed as a clown. The tension is palpable, and Moore pours all of his gravitas into the moment.
6. A View to a Kill
A VIEW TO A KILL is another one of those Bond films that has a villain that's larger than life — and even bigger than the plot itself. Christopher Walken's Max Zorin is looking to shake things up in Silicon Valley real estate, and Roger Moore's James Bond is on the case to stop him by any means necessary. Some of those means entail a bit of horseplay (literally), but an amazing ski chase sequence and a thrilling finale at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge bookend this one rather nicely.
MOONRAKER is the most outlandish and quite possibly the most humorous James Bond movie out there. But Roger Moore’s incarnation of the character seemed to flourish when those aspects were in play. So, while the James Bond series tried to compete with the STAR WARS franchise in its own way, Moore struck an apt balance between the fascinating laser battles and the stealth investigative tactics that Bond is known for. Also, Richard Kiel’s Jaws gets a happy ending, and no matter who you are, that moment is a rather sweet send-off.
The Timothy Dalton Era (1987–1989)
1. License to Kill
Hear us out for a moment: LICENSE TO KILL is definitely one of the more unconventional James Bond films out there, but it’s also one of the most essential. Without Timothy Dalton and his harder-nosed approach to the character this time out, the building blocks aren’t there to carry George Lazenby’s charming/serious Bond through to inspire future generations. There are less gadgets but more action as 007 fights his way through a drug cartel led by Robert Davi’s formidable franchise. And throughout the whole film, James Bond’s quest for vengeance is executed by stealth action, double crosses and manipulation of his enemies. Ian Fleming would have been proud.
2. The Living Daylights
While LICENSE TO KILL is ranked above THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS in our James Bond standings for the Dalton era, that’s not writing the film off by any stretch. The more traditional Bond movie formula works like a charm with Timothy Dalton’s reserved but still dangerous suavity, dealing with Cold War defectors, rogue army colonels and a mysterious sniper who may not be as dangerous as she lets on. And Dalton’s big action opening as 007 is one for the ages.
The Pierce Brosnan Era (1995–2002)
Sometimes, James Bond is at his best when he’s reinvented for a new generation, and 1995 saw another such reincarnation when Pierce Brosnan debuted as the 007 of the decade with GOLDENEYE. Pitting Bond against a deadly female assassin (Famke Janssen) and an old friend turned villain (Sean Bean), the film also introduced Judi Dench’s M to the series, marking a significant change to the dynamic that Bond and M would enjoy throughout Dench’s term in the role.
2. Tomorrow Never Dies
The story of a media magnate (Jonathan Pryce) trying to cook up his own world war for ratings, TOMORROW NEVER DIES has an interesting concept that mixes the outrageous with the grounded. Showcasing another instance of Bond matching wits with a foreign operative just as talented as he, thanks to Michelle Yeoh’s amazing performance as Wai Lin, this film saw Brosnan get quite a workout on both his quips and his motorcycle skills. And in the history of Bond pairings of kills and one-liners, this adventure has one of the slickest.
3. The World is Not Enough
The story of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH isn’t as tight as some of the other James Bond films in the Brosnan era, but the action and adventure are more than ready to turn this outing into a fun ride. With one of the most impressive cold opens in 007 history, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH saw Pierce Brosnan only get more charming as time went on. Robert Carlyle’s Renard should also be noted as a memorable villain, as his icy personality made up for his underuse in the film.
4. Die Another Day
When your movie series spans 40 years and 20 films, a celebration is in order. At its best, DIE ANOTHER DAY honors the banner anniversary it celebrated in 2002, with Pierce Brosnan’s final outing in the role introducing a Bond that was not only captured, but disavowed by his bosses. Starting with a dark and gritty turn, the film soon reverts back to a late franchise mix of action and wit that some fans enjoy more than others.
The Daniel Craig Era (2006–Present)
1. Casino Royale
A calling card for Daniel Craig’s time as 007, CASINO ROYALE brought the James Bond series into the modern era with surprisingly personal edge and a knack for reinvention. Rebooting the series as an origin story, CASINO ROYALE sees Craig’s Bond start out as a brawler who knows how to take a punch and give five back. His chemistry with both Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd and baddie Le Chiffre, played by Mads Mikkelsen, adds tons of character-building for a new Bond, which just makes the superb action gel together all the better.
Director Sam Mendes, known for films like AMERICAN BEAUTY and ROAD TO PERDITION, earned his action wings by directing SKYFALL, the film intended to celebrate 50 years of James Bond on the market. Mendes was insanely adept at bringing to life another triumph in modernization and character building, as Bond and M go on an adventure to save their way of life from disgruntled ex-operative Silva, played with malicious glee by Javier Bardem. If CASINO ROYALE reintroduced James Bond to his emotions, the films that followed made sure to keep that card in the deck.
3. Quantum of Solace
As time has gone on, QUANTUM OF SOLACE has become a subject of generous re-evaluation by 007 fans far and wide and with good reason. A more subdued entry, QUANTUM OF SOLACE pits Daniel Craig’s James Bond against Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a villain with a really plausible scheme and more grounded means of pursuing it. Add a conspiracy angle with the development of Quantum as a substitute network of villains to replace Spectre, plus a direct continuation of the story from CASINO ROYALE, and you’ve got more than enough plot to cover the spots where the action dips just a little in quality.
Sam Mendes’ second Bond film, SPECTRE was a very ambitious effort to bring the famed villain network and its iconic criminal mastermind back into the 007 fold. With Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld finally reuniting fans with the most memorable Bond villain of all time, the results are appreciated in a mixed capacity, depending on who you ask. But no one can take away the growth that Daniel Craig’s Bond got to experience as a character, thanks to his partnership with Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann.
Where will NO TIME TO DIE fit in these rankings? We'll see after its April 8, 2020, release!