What do you get if you mix dazzling good looks and irresistible charm with an array of outlandish gadgets and a pretentious signature cocktail? Only the most iconic movie character of all time. Yup, you guessed it: the man, the legend, James Bond 007.
With 25 films, eight actors (including David Niven), six billion dollars in box office revenue and more women than he can remember, Ian Fleming’s steel-nerved agent is the subject of (nearly) the most successful film series ever. But just how, after 53 years, is James Bond still packing out cinemas and slaying bad guys? I mean, Agent Cody Banks only got two bites at the apple, and they were awesome, right?…
Original producer (and the brains behind bringing Bond to the big screen) Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli was certainly confident of the tuxedoed fella’s drawing power. In a 1996 interview he estimated half the global population had seen a James Bond picture. Now, at that point that would have been 2.91 billion people – which is a whopping eleven-and-a-half million cinemas’ worth of Bond fans. So it’s probable that was just the vermouth talking. But still, it wasn’t the first outrageous decision Broccoli had made regarding the English operative.
In 1961, casting a then-unknown Scottish actor in the title role was met with open consternation by many, not least by Fleming himself; but Sean Connery proved such a hit with the public that the writer was later forced to admit that although Connery was “not quite the idea I had of Bond,” he “would be if I wrote the books over again.”
Misfit cast aside, Dr. No was released to worldwide acclaim on October 5 1962, and the audience reaction was even better. Broccoli claimed crowds even tried to “break the doors down of the cinemas” to get inside. Connery would go on to play the role a further four times in the sixties, but Dr. No was arguably the quintessential Bond performance from the gravel-toned Scotsman. Nevertheless, Goldfinger, Thunderball and Diamonds are Forever aren’t exactly bad alternatives, and that’s without mentioning 007’s sophomore effort From Russia with Love. A slickly produced, swirling two hours of Russian double agents, gondola chases and poisoned toe-spikes, From Russia revealed a darker side to Bond, but still retained the effortless ’60s Soho cool of the original.
Sandwiched between Connery’s last two appearances as the famed British agent is George Lazenby’s solitary (and unfortunate) turn in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Pilloried in the press by an unforgiving media on its release in 1969, OHMSS doesn’t deserve the bad rap it gets. Lazenby isn’t admittedly the most charismatic of Bonds, but a plot that includes the womanising agent finally wed to none other than queen of cool Diana Rigg cannot be ignored. And the absolute monster cliffhanger ending is perhaps one of the best moments in cinema.
After a brief knee-jerk return for Connery in Diamonds are Forever – think fluffy white cats and cassette tapes in bikini bottoms – we come to undeniably the nadir era for 007. Yes, it’s camper than camp, might-as-well-wink-at-the-camera Roger Moore, and more white chinos than you can shake a well-oiled revolver at. His seven episodes did include a few of the series’ biggest successes – The Man With the Golden Gun and Moonraker in particular – but there’s something about the smarmy pimple that just rubs serious Bond fans up the wrong way. Of course, Christopher Lee’s conniving, scheming Scaramanga blows most Bond villains clean out of the water, so we can’t totally write off the Moore period, however much we might like to.
By the time Roger Moore’s last attempt (the Grace Jones-featuring A View to a Kill) hit screens in 1985, he was a whopping 57. Rather too old to be wrestling bad guys hanging off the Eiffel Tower, you’d think. So along with 1987’s The Living Daylights came side-smile expert Timothy Dalton. Although better received than Lazenby was in ‘69, the public still didn’t take to Timmy D the same way they did Connery or Moore (weirdly); which is a shame, because 1989’s License to Kill is up there with the best of the franchise. Still, ol’ Tim only got two cracks of the whip before it was out with yet another suave suit and in with the new.
If ever there was an actor born to play the fearless British agent, it was Irishman Pierce Brosnan. Blessed with the kind of ravishing facial features and 24-carat smile that even Bond would kill for (wouldn’t be too difficult), Brosnan took to the part like a secret serviceman to a tuxedo. The downside was that he played the part much the way Roger Moore did, with more than a knowing glance to the viewer and with zero realism. His four takes were undeniably enjoyable – Robert Carlisle’s crazed villain Renard in The World is Not Enough (1999) and Sean Bean’s 006 (no prizes for guessing how he ended up) in GoldenEye (1995) were high points. But given the success of the next phase of Bondology, Brosnan now feels more like a placeholder, admirably holding the reins until a modern titan jumped in the saddle.
That titan would be speedo-clad hunk Daniel Craig. Not anybody’s first pick as 007, but the perfect choice to carry the role out of a beat-up Aston Martin, and into a new age. Giving Bond a grittier, rougher edge than the cocktails-and-martinis flavour of past actors, Craig bled and bruised his way through the excellent Casino Royale (2006), the not-so-excellent but equally abrasive Quantum of Solace (2008), before turning out for Skyfall (2012), the peak of the 2000s (and ’90s, come to think of it). A perfect melange of old, new and thrilling Bond.
It’s not quite certain what direction Sam Mendes’ upcoming Spectre will take, but with Craig in the seat it’s safe to expect more of the same. Beyond that though, with Craig recently saying he’d rather slash his wrists (eesh, nice) than act in a fifth film, it’s safe to say we’ll have a new face for number 27.
Whoever it is, be it hot favourite Idris Elba or underdog Damian Lewis, they better get in training now, because the 53 year-old film veteran has a habit of chewing up and spitting out even the toughest of customers. We’d like to wish the poor beggar good luck, and advise them not to get too attached to that classic Aston; they have a habit of getting, well, completely totalled.
Top 5 James Bond Films:
From Russia with Love (1963) – A stripped-back, gadget-low Bond is what we got for the series’ second outing, and boy are we glad. Featuring a sublime Sean Connery in his best performance ever, From Russia is as intelligent and effortlessly cool as they come, all the while managing to open up 007’s darker side to a fascinated audience.
Licence to Kill (1989) – An unmitigated flop upon release, Timothy Dalton’s knife-edge thriller is in fact one of the best. The most violent Bond yet features torture, drug cartels, brain-exploding pressure chambers and a cocaine shredder. Try getting past those with your tuxedo intact…
Skyfall (2012) – Javier Bardem’s psychotic villain is the perfect foil to a down-and-out Craig in this 50th anniversary Bond. A superb mixture of gritty realism and retro-tinged nostalgia, Skyfall sits proudly atop the pantheon of 007’s modern era.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – Boasting perhaps the finest Bond Girl of all time in Diana Rigg, number six in the canon is arguably the most underrated of the series. Showcasing a different side to 007 – reflective and moody – the quintessentially ’60s OHMSS exhibits a raw physicality not seen in Bond until Craig took up the mantle 37 years later.
Goldfinger (1964) – The popular choice for ‘Best Bond Ever’ is this iconic mid-sixties release. Connery excels, zapping rock-solid bodyguards and flourishing more classy one-liners than you can shake a steel-rimmed bowler hat at.