Not including the multitude of actors in the first screen version of Casino Royale (1964), there have been seven actors to portray superspy James Bond. Although I had grown up watching the Bond films I didn't pay close attention to them until my college roommate played his collection of video tapes. It became a pre-class favorite for us to sit and watch when we probably should have been studying. I've seen all of the Bond films and even the 1950's Tv program that had the first broadcast version of James Bond. That's where I'll start, ranking the Bonds starting from 001 up to 007.
001-Barry Nelson (1954)
Jimmy Bond! Nelson played the spy on a live television show adaption of Casino Royale, if I remember correctly it was a half hour episode. I don't remember much else other than it was different to see Bond portrayed as an American. This was the only time Nelson would play the spy, he passed away last year.
002-George Lazenby (1969)
When Sean Connery announced he was leaving his signature character behind (the first time), it was obvious the Bond producers didn't know what to do because they hired this guy. Lazenby was mainly known as an underwear model when he scored the role of a lifetime. He didn't stick around and it sounds like his own doing, Lazenby appeared in only one film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. To be fair, Lazenby wasn't all bad as James Bond. He had a laid back confidence and athleticism that was generically effective. Thankfully, the filmmakers stacked the deck for Lazenby's arrival by bringing in Diana Rigg as his co-star, Rigg was much more famous as the stylish cat suited spy Emma Peel from The Avengers. Her performance puts Lazenby over as James Bond and since she wasn't going to be in the next film it was probably best Lazenby stopped anyway.
Favorite Lazenby Bond - There's only one, so it's gotta be On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The most arty of the James Bond movies with it's expanded running time, flashy editing and strong story (James Bond gets married) the movie stands separate from the rest of the series for many reasons. Oh, and Telly Savalas as Blofeld. Who loves ya baby?
003-Timothy Dalton (1987 - 1989)
Shakespearean Bond. Dalton snagged the role when Pierce Brosnan was blocked from claiming the Walther PPK due to contract issues. His approach to Bond was to be simultaneously as realistic and true to Ian Fleming's vision as he could get away with. Dalton's Bond came off as an intense, sweaty little man who liked to speak to people with a weapon pushed in their face. When he debuted in The Living Daylights (1987) I liked Dalton even though he lacked charisma and was entirely unfunny. One critic nailed his performance as "someone who walks around like he's trying to figure out a math equation in his head" and the monogamous relationship portrayed in Daylights got him tagged the "Safe Sex Spy". Being entirely unconvincing as a ladies man didn't help either. However, following the waning years of the Roger Moore era his serious 'tude was refreshing.
In Licence to Kill (1989), Dalton's approach was included into the writing which made things a bit worse. Trying to be more realistic, James Bond became a bumbler. He made mistakes often, got blindsided and needed to be bailed out of trouble by his friends constantly. James Bond became a guy who talked a lot of smack but couldn't back anything up. A hyper emotional wimp. As Kill tanked at the box office, the Bond series fell into limbo and it looked like Dalton would be the last James Bond.
Favorite Dalton Bond - The Living Daylights puts Tim Dalton through the standard 007 paces with decent results. Like many introductions to the 007 world, the new James Bond gets a new Aston Martin and a fair share of globetrotting for his trouble. Distinct for its romance novel emotional core, this was James Bond decked out in 80's glitz. Not the best Bond film, but one of my personal favorites.
004-Roger Moore (1973 - 1985)
More than any other actor, Roger Moore looked like the description of the literary James Bond minus the facial scar. But the comparisons to Fleming's book version stops there. As my childhood friend once said, Moore is "funny Bond". Roger Moore imbued James Bond with an innate smugness that overreached even his own abilities. His Bond was the best thing on earth and knew it. Everything was a wry joke unless something interesting happened, then you got an arched eye brow. Easily the funniest of all the James Bonds, Moore perfected the art of zinging one liners that started with Connery. He fit the 70's perfectly, Roger Moore's Bond was Hugh Hefner in grotto mode with a gun. Though he wasn't very convincing in fight scenes James Bond was a suave, intelligent playa under Roger Moore. That's not to say Rog couldn't turn up the heat as he kicked off a hitman called The Dove from a cliff with the car and everything. Looked the guy right in the face and kicked him off. The only real strike against Roger Moore was that he definitely overstayed his welcome, looking increasingly pudgy and craggy as the years wore on.
Favorite Moore Bond - It's a close one, but I'm going for The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977. Moore was still in his prime and paired up with Barbara Bach (the first agent XXX!) it played to all of the Playboy fantasies of the era. Beautiful women, hot ride (a Lotus that doubled as a submarine), glorious locations and thrilling action. The near replay of the enemy base attack ending to You Only Live Twice came as an added bonus. Coming in at a close second? For Your Eyes Only (1981).
005 Daniel Craig (2006 - Present)
It seems a little early to rank Craig this high since he's just getting started. But Craig brings a believable ruggedness and impetuous brutality to the role that's very watchable. When Craig was first named Bond, I didn't get why he was selected. I mean, James Bond is supposed to be this slick handsome dude that gets the ladies. Craig is not that, he's what I call "Bloke Bond". A guy who's just as at home at a soccer (sorry, in Britain it's "football") match as he is at a high class singles bar. It wasn't until I saw the movie Layer Cake that I got it, that Craig had a ruthless cruelty balanced with a cool intelligence that was a good fit for 007's latest incarnation.
Favorite Craig Bond - Again, there's only one to choose from until November 14th and that's Casino Royale (2006). Though criticized for being a little slow in parts, Casino Royale is a satisfying recasting of James Bond for the 21st century. An added layer of fake outs and head games elevate this movie with Craig playing James Bond as a rookie agent for the first time since the character's film debut. Relatible and believable with a nice chemistry featuring Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. Good stuff.
006 Sean Connery (1962 - 1967, 1971, 1983)
The definitive James Bond, Connery had all of the elements that made the character famous. Sean Connery was the model James Bond powered by a strong physical presence, low burning intensity and charm. The film series made Connery a movie star and he would become an acting legend. He was the guy women wanted to see and men wanted to be. For a generation of people growing up during the Cold War, Connery embodied the gentleman spy to perfection.
Connery was also the Bond to show the most growth in the position. In the first film, Dr. No, the Ian Fleming influence loomed large as Connery played up more of the cold blooded killer angle. Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, chatting up Ursula Undress-I mean Andress one moment and then sneaking up behind an enemy and slitting their throat the next. As the series continued the darker edge of the character was downplayed allowing Connery to be more bemused by the situations he was in. By the time he got to his official Bond swan song Diamonds Are Forever, Connery had a confident and relaxed demeanor.
This reminds me of one of my favorite Bond zingers, in You Only Live Twice the redheaded femme fatale has Connery/Bond tied up to a chair on a boat. She says to Bond mockingly "I've got you now." And Bond looks at her and says "Well, enjoy yourself." In writing it doesn't seem as funny but I always get a kick out of that scene.
Favorite Connery Bond- Are you kidding? How could it not be Goldfinger? The suped up Aston Martin DB5, the girl painted in girl, battling Odd Job in Fort Knox and trading martial arts moves with Pussy Galore in a barn...it's epic stuff. Although From Russia With Love is the better movie in terms of storytelling, Goldfinger has all the bells and whistles you expect from a 007 adventure.
007 Pierce Brosnan (1995 - 2004)
I know almost everyone else would pick Connery as #1 and with good reason. But who does #2 work for? (joke for the Bunny) Yeah Baby Yeah! (is it too late for Austin Powers jokes? Yup, it's too late). For me the Bond I liked watching the most was The Billion Dollar Bond, Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan was the guy I wanted to see be James Bond, I avidly watched the first season of Remington Steele and liked the combative relationship between Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist's characters. When he came within inches of being named Bond in '87 only to be shot down by a contract to a dying tv show, I thought he was done career wise.
Everyone likes a good comeback story and I was pumped to hear that the James Bond series was resuming in 1995 with the man who was denied his licence to kill being brought in to star. Brosnan came in and nailed the whole works. He understood more than the other actors that played Bond that he existed in a fanciful world that seem real only to the characters living inside it. Brosnan worked that into the performance, doing things like a straight up sprinters run to evade automatic gunfire, shooting at people by waving the gun in their general direction without aiming yet hitting all his targets, smirking while winning or gritting his teeth under pressure. It was cartoonish yet convincing because we as a public had seen so many of these movies we knew what to expect. Pierce Brosnan played it with the perfect pitch of knowing and drama.
Best Brosnan Bond - Goldeneye (1995) is my all time favorite James Bond movie, Brosnan gives full commitment resurrecting both his career and 007 in the process. And finally they got a decent director to give the movie some visual flair. All of the series hallmarks are in place and with renewed energy it all seems fresh again. And Xenia Onatopp was by far the most effective Bond villian since Jaws.
James Bond will return...in about 8 days!