A highly subjective category, and a much debated one. After watching the films this year, this is how they rank in my eyes.
# 6 Pierce Brosnan.
The mid-80s Bond needed a replacement, and it took almost a decade to revive the series. The series stalled due to many legal wranglings. I remember when the film makers were deciding on who will be the next Bond, Pierce Brosnan was always on the top of their lists. Brosnan had a lot of popularity for his look and suave coming out of his hit TV series Remington Steele. It seemed to me that the film makers were looking to find a new “Roger Moore”.
When they announced that Brosnan won the role, I had a hard time imagining him playing Bond. That said, as a true Bond fan, I went out to watch Goldeneye in 1995 and remember being bored to death. The movie felt long and slow. Brosnan did not add anything different to the character, and if anything, you could have renamed James Bond to Stuart Little for all I cared, as the role became really shallow.
After re-watching Goldeneye, and finally getting around to watch his other movies, I found them entertaining as pure action movies. To me, though, Bond is more than just the action. There should be something dark about his character that adds something to the movies. Fleming depicted him as a lonely, and empty soul.
Brosnan did not bring this element to the character. He just brought a superhero who can do incredibly unbelievable acts. Further, his movies introduced CGI, which unfortunately for Brosnan, made his character that much less credible.
#5 Roger Moore.
I found that Roger Moore was placed in a bad situation when he joined the series. At 46, was about 10 years too old for his “first” movie in 1973. He was replacing an actor who was clearly bored with the role, but also defined it. He was a very different person than Connery. He was known for a TV Series, The Saint, and he morphed his adaptation of Simon Templar to the Bond series. This is not really the Bond as written by Ian Fleming, but Moore did bring a cool sophistication to the role, and his own brand of humour, but he did lack the overall toughness of his predecessors.
What I found interesting was to witness how the Bond misogyny changed from Connery to Moore. Connery was a product of the 60s. If you ever watch Mad Men, you will see first hand how women were regarded by men during that era, and the James Bond character, being written in the late fifties, reflected that reality. Connery’s character became more misogynistic with each film, as the womanizing were heavy selling features to the audience of the time. The difference between Connery and Moore in this space is that I would have expected Moore to downplay it a bit more catering to an audience of the 80s. It actually became his most dominant Bond character trait.
In looking at his movies, it was clear that the first two, which I thought had interesting plot lines for their era, Moore tried to hard to make his Bond different. To degree, he succeeded in changing the character, but it was not popular. At the time, the Man with the Golden Gun had the worst box office sales of all the Bond films, and the series was on the verge of being cancelled. When I watched his movies shortly after the Connery’s, you can see that it just does not work. To Eon’s credit, they brought in some really creative gadgetry and a most unforgettable villain (Jaws), that really helped re-establish the series and brought a different cool to it.
Though he got away with his age in the first couple of movies, by the time he did his last over a decade later at age 58, A View to A Kill, his age was apparent and ridiculous. He joked about his age, when working with Tanya Roberts on his last movie, stating that he was well older than her mother. Point well taken. He should have left the series after Moonraker in 1979, which, in itself, was too science-fictiony for James Bond.
That said, I would argue that some of the most memorable Bond moments and stunts came from his movies, and he is a class act in real life.
#4 George Lazenby.
Call him a one hit wonder. George was probably the most improbable Bond. Australian born, and a model, and very limited acting experience. He was placed in an interesting position landing a very high profile job.
He got the role, in what can be argued as one that required the most acting range. It is hard to evaluate someone on just one performance, but he had a strong script, he did a lot of his own stunts (unlike Connery), and Eon was smart to cast Diana Rigg across from him, as she is an acclaimed actress who can almost carry a movie by herself. They had a lot of chemistry, and I believe he did an excellent job given the opportunity presented to him.
It would have been easy to see him doing more films. His presence was very conducive to the late 60s, and he brought an authenticity and toughness that were important to the Bond role. I thought it was a good job by a rookie, though he really did not bring too much new to the character (perhaps by design). I think he shot himself in the foot when he refused to sign on for seven more movies. It could have helped him evolve as an actor.
He firmly is entrenched in the “where are they now” files. I just did a quick scan on IMDB, and was shocked to see that he took part in a bunch of “Emmanuelle” flicks in the early 90s. Don’t think a career can sink any lower.
Bad decision George.
# 3 Timothy Dalton.
I found Bond lost a lot of that original Connery toughness in the Roger Moore movies. The Bond character was evolving more to the “playboy” as oppose to the hard nosed cold spy. Moore was aging too, and the Bond movies formula was not as appealing to the 80s audiences.
In comes Timothy Dalton. He was more of a stage actor, and as such, he brought a very strong, cold, and hard edged Bond. This, to me, was who Bond was suppose to be. Dalton’s intensity to the role was a shock after being use to the Roger Moore cool and wit. I guess, as I have seen some stage actors when they go to big screen, they come across as a bit over the top, and Dalton could have been perceived that way.
For me, it was what the role needed. Roger Moore was not a strong and as “physical” an actor. Dalton was. Interestingly, he was considered to be Bond before Roger Moore in the early 70s, but was too young. I think, given the interesting plots of the Moore movies, it would have been cool to have seen him in those flicks. Sadly for him, his third movie was held up in legal wranglings and after waiting for four years for them to resolve, he stepped down from the role.
I liked how Dalton took the character. The only thing I would have hoped for as a little more levity. He delivered a very heavy punch.
#2 Daniel Craig.
The series needed a makeover, and badly, after the films of the 90s. The first Daniel Craig movie was a prequel, and that allowed him to bring an almost new character to the series. He brings out a coldness and sociopathic character to the screen. It is a much more modern, and real, take on the original Bond character.
I believe that he brings to the screen the James Bond that Ian Fleming originally thought. A man who is completely empty. The character is never satisfied by any vice or addiction. He gambles, he womanizes, he drinks, all of these never satisfies. He also does not know how to express love when he is confronted with it.
The movies Casino Royale and Skyfall shed to light the Bond character very well, while at the same time being very strong movies. Craig hoped that his portrayal is less sexist. It does, and it gives a much more real picture as who Bond really is suppose to be.
Craig, like Connery after a few films, is getting fed up of the role. You saw that attitude in Connery’s later Bond flicks. I am hoping not to see that in the upcoming Spectre.
#1 Sean Connery.
What can you say. He was the original. He was 60s-era tough. He had screen presence and he brought a humour and “cheekiness” to the role. Being the first, all the other Bond’s had to measure up to the standard he set.
If you watch Dr. No, you will see what may be the closest take to Fleming’s orginal Bond character. Box office success and the era shaped the character from there. I would find it hard to argue that for the era, no other actor could have delivered the role as well as Connery. He was a true actor. He had charisma. He had qualities that most young men would have desired at that time to help build the Bond myth. I would also argue that the series would not have taken off like it did if wasn’t for Connery.
He also defined some “formulas” that were used by subsequent Bond actors. For example, the dry and silly wit, the martini’s, a very cheeky personality (watch his interactions with Q), and the delivery of the “Bond, James Bond” line.
I plan to show my top Bond movie list this week. There is no surprise that the Connery films are towards the top. The films were raw, so less dependent on effects, and props, and therefore more dependent on the characters to make them successful.
Agree with my list? Let me know what you think!