October 2022 marks the official Bond 60 celebrations around the world, as Dr. No came out on October 6th, 1962. To continue our James Bond 007 editorial, I have decided to write an official (and surely divisive) ranking of the six actors who wore the tuxedo in the last decades.
While each of them played Bond in a distinct way, it’s important to mention that this ranking is not a reflection of my opinion on their acting skills, but on the lasting impression they left on me as a massive fan of the franchise. All of them played James Bond very well, but some were more memorable for me than others. My personal ranking changed a lot throughout the years, as rediscovering the films made me challenge my original perception of the actors. I’ll be successful if I can encourage you to look at these actors in a new way.
*WARNING – This ranking reflects my own opinion as a film critic, and not necessarily the ones of my colleagues at ScreenHub Entertainment. I will also only consider the movies produced by EON production, which excludes the Casino Royale spoof from 1967 and the unofficial entry starring Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again (1983).
6) Timothy Dalton (1987-1989)
There had to be a loser in this list, and unfortunately, my least favourite James Bond is and remains Timothy Dalton. One of the key things that works against him is that he only played 007 twice, and both those films are not the most memorable in the franchise (Licence to Kill is one of my least favourite films for its poor 80s DEA style vibe comparable to Miami Vice). Contrary to others on the list, he didn’t have much time to explore the universe of Bond in detail, leaving us with scenes that are not so iconic and almost “un-Bond like”. Although Dalton’s intention was to capture the essence of Ian Fleming’s depiction of James Bond as a more serious and lethal assassin, that resulted in a character that was more grumpy and less approachable. Again, Dalton is brilliant as an actor and he was a good Bond, but it is not the one I revisit for a fun watch. I never really connected with him as much as the others as I like my Bond to be stylish and more charismatic, but I confirm that The Living Daylights is a cool contemporary approach to the Cold War.
*Standout film: The Living Daylights (1987)
5) George Lazenby (1969)
I decided to place the black sheep of the Bond franchise before Dalton considering how excellent On Her Majesty’s Secret Service really is. No kidding, George Lazenby’s film is perhaps my favourite of the 1960s over the Connery films, and that’s saying enough. Sure, he played Bond only once and he wasn’t even an actor when he was hired by the producers Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, but he was still able to bring a small dose of charisma to Bond that was lacking from the Connery era. Lazenby’s film is the most emotional one prior to the Daniel Craig era to this day. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service needed a more human approach to Bond, which he did succeed in bringing after many years of Bond seeming invincible with Sean Connery. This is the one where James Bond finds love and gets married…leading to tragic results. This movie needed a more sensitive man to be 007, and thank god Lazenby was there for that. Also, George was a great fighter, as his hand-to-hand combat scenes are quite excellent!
That being said, as an untrained actor, his acting was more wooden compared to the others and he needed to be dubbed during many scenes to replicate a Scottish accent. What also didn’t age so well though is how George Lazenby likes to conduct himself as an ‘Alpha Male’ in 2022 during his interviews, still thinking that he lives in the 1960s. He is an entertaining fellow, I’ll give him that; I believe that his recollection of how he actually landed the role of James Bond is quite entertaining, but over the top. Watch the Becoming Bond documentary on Hulu, and see what I mean..
*Standout film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
4) Roger Moore (1973-1985)
Good old ‘Rog’! Of the entire list, this is the one that I grew most appreciative of since I rediscovered and analyzed the Bond movies. For me, Roger Moore is just pure entertainment, as I find him to be the most fun of all. The reason why I don’t rank him at the top is that his movies tend to be too campy (The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only are the exceptions), and some are just pretty terrible (looking at you A View to a Kill). However, Roger deserves some recognition for being a charming fellow while on the set of his movies, he had tremendous respect for the role and it shows in his performance. Even though not all his movies are great, he played Bond the longest, in seven different entries. He had more time than any to analyze and dissect the role, which gave his version of 007 a little more depth as time went by. Others may find him to be a clown, but I see him as a dashing gentleman with a great sense of humour. However, if you want him more serious and scary, he is able to achieve that on surprising occasions – I recommend revisiting For Your Eyes Only (1981), where he delivered his absolute best work as a more dangerous Bond.
*Standout films: Live and Let Die (1973), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and For Your Eyes Only (1981)
3) Sean Connery (1962-1967, 1971)
I figured I’ll have a lot of explaining to do for this one. How is it that the iconic, the first, and commonly known as the best James Bond among Bond fans ranks only #3 in my list? The first and main reason in my mind is a little ludicrous, but true nonetheless: Connery’s Bond is aging very poorly. Sean was my grandfather’s Bond, so a cultural product of the 1960s. However, Connery as Bond was the one that was the most violent towards women and whose manliness never gave way to any weaknesses or human emotions. That’s fine for most Bond fans I suppose, but I always liked my Bond to show humanity from time to time. What can I say, I’m a product of my time. Connery will always remain cool, he moves like a panther and is dashing in a suit as always (especially in Goldfinger), but part of me believed he took himself a little too seriously, god bless his soul. Contrary to others on the list, especially Moore, Brosnan and Craig, Connery’s acting degraded as time went by, as he became less committed to the role for financial reasons.
Of course, nobody can deny that he will always remain the most iconic and the one that the others based themselves on. Sean Connery had undeniable style and elegance, making him perfect for the role. He is the original James Bond 007, so he will always deserve a high ranking on everyone’s list.
*Standout films: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965)
2) Pierce Brosnan (1995-2002)
I’ll say it straight away: Pierce was MY Bond! As a child of the 90s, he was the actor I grew up with as 007, and GoldenEye was actually the very first franchise film I watched. Still today, I watch Brosnan as Bond and try to learn from his clothing style and charming maneuvers before I go to cocktail parties. I could have ranked him #1, but I believe that I needed to be fair to the one who explored the character’s many facets the most. Although his movies are never ranked as the best in the franchise (Die Another Day is known by most as the absolute worst film ever), Brosnan gave it his all every time, showing great talent and love for the character. He absolutely nails it in The World is not Enough as the aggressive but charming Bond. What is also great about the Irish actor is that he captures basically all the essentials of the ones that came before him: he has Connery’s indestructible manliness, Moore’s charm and Dalton’s dark impulses as a great assassin. He remains, to this day, my personal favourite and a very complete version of 007. As time goes by, I hope that his movies will age better, and it is surprisingly the case with Tomorrow Never Dies and the main plot focusing on a media mogul’s attempt to launch World War III to boost his ratings (does Trump come to mind?).
Standout films: Goldeneye (1995) and The World is not Enough (1999)
1) Daniel Craig (2006-2021)
I think Daniel Craig has an unfair advantage above all the others: the scripts that were delivered to him explored the character of James Bond from head to toe, giving the character the biggest background during his run of 5 movies. The previous eras of Connery and Moore focused on Bond being an indestructible force of nature, but Daniel’s reboot of 007 was able to sell us that Bond is actually just a man…and I love that! Sure, he is fit and capable as a field agent, but he can be wounded, he can be psychologically impacted, he can drink too much, he can love, he can hate and he can have so much to lose. In movies like Casino Royale and Skyfall, we know a little more about where he comes from, allowing us to connect with him more as a protagonist (that’s the case with me). Craig was the Bond of my teens and young adult years, meaning that I was able to reappreciate the world of 007 through his approach with more mature eyes. Yes, I’m a firm defender of that they actually did make a wise choice in No Time to Die to make James Bond a father and to actually sacrifice him, as that’s perhaps the most heroic thing a modern man can think of.
So, yes, Daniel Craig is the best James Bond for giving us a character that is both more grounded and more realistic. There’s a physicality and style to him that honours the Bond formula, while also offering a believable story arc from start to finish. Big shoes to fill for the next fella!
*Standout films: Casino Royale (2006), Skyfall (2012) and No Time to Die (2021)