26 movies, 12 novels, two short story collections, one television series and eight different actors over six decades — this is the history in numbers of the James Bond franchise. The latest installment, “Spectre,” opened last weekend with Daniel Craig starring, for the fourth time, as the dapper British spy with a license to kill. Craig, who has held the part of 007 for nearly a decade, continues to bring his own interpretation to the iconic character, one that has undergone many changes since his first appearance in a 1953 Ian Fleming novel.
James Bond was first played on the screen by Barry Nelson, in “Casino Royale,” a 1954 episode of the television series “Climax!” (1954 – 1958). In this iteration, Bond, then in his early stages of development, was not given a lot of backstory — a choice that Nelson himself found to be a poor one. In a 2004 interview with Cinema Retro, he expressed his frustration with the time constraints of a 40-minute television episode, which did not allow for a lot of background information, and he described the show as “too superficial.” The first actor to play the role of Bond, Nelson was presented with unique challenges: he had only Fleming’s novel — and no previous films — as a reference. The episode did not have much of a lasting impact, which is likely why so many current Bond fans believe Sean Connery was the first actor to take on the role.
It was Connery’s portrayal of Bond, in fact, that allowed the franchise to find success. He played Bond six times, first appearing as 007 in “Dr. No” (1962). Connery’s Bond was a cold and dangerous one. This Bond was excellent at his job, efficient and effective, but he also possessed a stone-cold seriousness that stood in opposition to the light-heartedness of later iterations of the character.
In 1967, two different Bond films were released. “You Only Live Twice” starred Connery and marked his fifth appearance as Bond. Another movie, “Casino Royale,” also hit theaters, but with David Niven in the lead. Producer Charles Feldman decided to make it a satirical film — a decision that had both positive and negative consequences. “Casino Royale” was financially successful and earned an Academy Award nomination for the song “The Look of Love,” but it was generally seen as chaotic and a poor continuation of the Bond story.
In 1969, George Lazenby played Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The overlap of three different Bonds in one time period made for a disjointed storyline, especially since Lazenby portrayed a Bond whose personality was the polar opposite of Connery’s. Lazenby’s Bond was not nearly as cold as his predecessor was, as the actor was more interested in displaying Bond’s intelligence.
The next Bond, Roger Moore, was part of the franchise for 12 years (1973 to 1985) and was in seven films, playing an almost disconcertingly campy Bond. His was a light-hearted performance, and he was not concerned with portraying Bond with the same intensity as Connery had.
Timothy Dalton took on the role after Moore, playing 007 in two films (one was released in 1987, the other in 1989). His interpretation of the character once again represented another overhaul of the infamous spy. He tried to focus more on the Bond described in Fleming’s book, and the resulting performance was similar to Connery’s. This Bond — ruthless and dangerous — was also loyal.
The two actors who followed Dalton similarly took cues from Connery’s performance. Pierce Brosnan, who played Bond in four films (from 1995 to 2002), performed a diluted version of the Connery Bond. His Bond was a little less snarky and cold, and Brosnan also focused on conveying Bond’s intelligence. Craig has perhaps managed to deliver the most complex Bond to date. He might be a loner, but he is loyal to the people he cares about. Craig plays a Bond who has the ability to be warm, to love and, possibly, to settle down, which (spoiler alert!) is (perhaps) what the ending of “Spectre” hints at.
In the early years of the film franchise, it seemed that with each new Bond came a radically different personality. This may have been a ploy to keep viewers interested, since, with Connery and Moore both playing Bond for several years in a row, 20 years of the same Bond personality would have been monotonous for moviegoers. Beginning with Dalton, however, each successive Bond seems to expand upon his previous incarnations rather than completely disregard them. The continuity has allowed the series to evolve and has prevented each new Bond from appearing isolated from his predecessors. The three most recent Bonds have also opened up emotionally, and their personalities have become less extreme. In other words, there has been genuine character development.
“Spectre” looks to tie up many loose ends and to close the storyline of Craig’s Bond into a neat little package: the ending of “Spectre” has Bond essentially driving off into the sunset with the Bond girl du jour, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). This seems as good a time as any for Craig to exit the franchise, especially given the actor’s comments in which he implied that he was sick of playing Bond. Indeed, Craig has explicitly said that he does not want to do another Bond film. Given these statements, all signs seem to point toward Craig’s departure, but the actor does have a five-film contract, making it likely that he will return for another film, especially since his Bond has been so financially successful. “Spectre’s” opening weekend raked in less than expected, trailing the debut weekend of “Skyfall” (2012) by $20.4 million. Though Craig will probably not be leaving the franchise immediately, he is nearing the end of his time in the iconic role. Unsurprisingly, this has prompted many to speculate about who will play Bond in the future and how that actor will shape the character. Whoever it is will have a quite a legacy to uphold. The James Bond movie franchise is one of the longest-running and most successful in history, and it will likely continue to thrive even after Craig departs.