James Bond has captivated audiences for over half a century. Created by Ian Fleming in 1953, the character has the longest running franchise in film history at 24 installments and counting. And it's easy to see why: the songs, gadgets, villains, and heroic stunts provide the perfect recipe for big screen entertainment. Bond the benchmark of cool, whether seducing the opposite sex or being particular about his martinis.
But there’s more to James Bond than box office sales, and the franchise has also connected with fans through comic strips and video games. These alternate Bonds have allowed quite a few actors to don the tuxedo in physical, vocal, or combined form. This list will rank the most important Bonds to have appeared on screen -- a belated birthday gift to the character, who according to “biographer” John Pearson, was born on November 11th, 1920. Given his age, this spy still looks quite spry.
Here's Every Adaptation Of James Bond, Ranked.
While many voice actors have lent their talents to Bond video games (Maxwell Caulfield, Adam Blackwood, Jason Carter), Kevin Bayliss kicks off our ranking. Bayliss was cast to accompany the likeness of Pierce Brosnan in the classic first-person shooter GoldenEye (1997). Regularly hailed as one of the greatest N64 games of all time, GoldenEye loosely follows the plot of the 1995 film, which finds Bond fighting against time and his former ally Alex Trevelyan to save the world.
Bayliss offers a smart blend of authority and cool to compliment the missions. He doesn’t try to do too much with the character, letting the game’s kinetic energy lead the way. The actor/game designer would go on to voice another iconic spy in Ethan Hunt (1998’s Mission: Impossible), but it's obvious which role will forever live on in dorms and living rooms. It’s the definitive 007 video game. For a detailed ranking of all the Bond games, check out our list here.
Omnibus was a documentary series in the 1970s that saw Christopher Cazenove portray heroes from popular literature. Among the roles that Cazenove played were Bulldog Drummond, Richard Hannay, and most famously, James Bond. Seen in the episode “The British Hero” (1973), the show loosely adapted scenes from the Fleming stories Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever. In the former, the laser table sequence from the Connery film is reverted back to a saw blade as it was in the novel.
Cazenove isn’t given much time to develop a personality as Bond. Most of his screen time is spent looking intense, but to his credit, he did it so well that when producers were looking to replace Roger Moore in the '80s, Cazenove’s name was among the candidates! While the British actor never did reprise the role, this hour-long show remains something of a rare find for Bond fans. The last widely known screening was at a James Bond 50th anniversary celebration in 2003.
Barry Nelson played the first live-action Bond in this Casino Royale adaptation from 1954. Released as part of the Climax! television series, it took several liberties with Fleming’s novel, the most notable being Bond's switch from being British to American. Obviously, no one knew the character would go on to become a sensation in the next decade, but even by 1950s standards, the program is noticeably amateur (and can be seen here). Nelson is badly miscast in the lead-- his bland personality and perky looks fall short of Bond’s needed gravitas. It doesn’t help that he’s referred to as “Card Shark Jimmy” Bond throughout.
The other problem with Casino Royale is that it was shot live, leaving flat deliveries and unintentionally funny action scenes to remain onscreen. Still, two takeaways make this debut worth noting: the chilling performance of Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre, and the conclusive proof that Bond should always be a Brit.
While many of its characters are billed as 007 (including Woody Allen, Ursula Andress, and Peter Sellers), David Niven plays the "real" super spy in 1967’s Casino Royale. A wildly indulgent spoof, Royale was the first Bond film to be made outside of Eon Productions, who remain the gatekeepers of the “official” franchise. Much was made of its stellar cast (Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, William Holden), five credited directors (including John Huston) and three credited writers (plus seven uncredited, including Allen, Billy Wilder, and Ben Hecht).
Somehow, the film falls flat, and remains an oddity that many Bond fans dismiss altogether. As the retired spy, Niven does what he can. His sophistication and narrow features are ideal for Fleming’s vision (the actor was briefly considered for Dr. No), but the rest plays too close to a poor man’s Pink Panther to leave a lasting impact. As will prove a running motif in the lesser Bond pictures, bigger is not always better.
After five adventures in the Aston Martin, Sean Connery stepped down as James Bond. Suffice to say, his replacement, the unknown and unproven George Lazenby, had a losing battle ahead of him. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service received mixed response in 1969, with many faulting Lazenby for his overwhelmed performance. While the Australian model certainly looked the part, he was miles away from the smooth aggressor that Connery had popularized.
Lazenby further damaged his legacy by playing the part only once-- the only Eon actor to do so-- while dubbing 007 “a brute” behind the camera. It’s any wonder the producers cancelled his seven-picture contract and got Connery back for Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Nevertheless, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has come to be seen as a seminal Bond film, even topping last year’s IndieWire list. Stiffness withstanding (“This never happened to the other fellow!”), Lazenby remains a divisive piece in the James Bond canon.
Timothy Dalton’s debut in The Living Daylights (1987) marked a creative shift in the series. Picking up after the increasingly silly Roger Moore outings, Dalton took Bond into more grim territory. The gadgets were less frequent, as were the gags, and in their place was an emphasis on realistic espionage. Fans familiar with Fleming’s original work praised the new approach, and Dalton, dedicated to doing most of his own stunts (unlike Connery or Moore), meshed well with contemporaries Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford.
In both Daylights and License to Kill (1989), Bond ditches the playboy veneer for a ruthless, at times reluctantly heroic persona. This uncommercial choice turned out to be the biggest complaint of Dalton’s tenure; which was sadly cut short by legal disputes. His appearances will always be overshadowed by his predecessor and suave successor (hint: the next entry). That being said, without Dalton’s brutality as a blueprint, Daniel Craig’s modern Bond would cease to exist.
Pierce Brosnan was actually offered the role of Bond in 1987, but commitments to TV's Remington Steele sidelined his chances. A decade later, after the franchise’s legal issues were resolved, Brosnan made his debut in spectacular fashion with GoldenEye (1995). The actor rejuvenated Bond both at the box office and with critics, as Roger Ebert complimented his performance for being “somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete” than any before him.
Brosnan’s tenure would take a turn for the worse come the 2000s. The World Is Not Enough (1999) and Die Another Day (2002) are acknowledged low points in the series; noted for their overuse of CGI and poor attempts at relevance. Despite this, the actor's work was always inspired, whether fencing, fist fighting, or driving a tank (and looking sharp while doing so). He may not claim the top spot, but Brosnan certainly deserved better than the 007 dismissal he recounted to The Guardian in 2015.
Tied for the longest-tenured Bond, Roger Moore played the role seven times between 1973 and 1985. He was the second attempt at replacing Sean Connery, and as such, created a persona that was very different from the previous films. In Live and Let Die (1973) and For Your Eyes Only (1981), Moore turned James Bond into a playboy who answered danger with nifty gadgets or a witty remark. Rarely seen with a hair out place, Moore's performance was meant to update Bond for the new generation.
Of course, as is the case with every actor on this list, Moore starred in some pretty pedestrian Bond films. Moonraker (1979) awkwardly aped science fiction, while Octopussy (1983) found the secret agent dressing up like a clown and a jungle man. Where Moore gets the edge over Brosnan is his longevity and distinct approach. Never before or since has 007 be more dapper in the face of eminent danger. Plus, when it comes to witty remarks, few can hold a candle to Moore’s comedic timing.
When Casino Royale was released in 2006, many were apprehensive about Daniel Craig. Complaints of his departure from the tall, dark, and handsome Bond that fans loved even took the form of internet forums like danielcraigisnotbond.com. The blond actor quickly silenced the critics when Royale proved to be one of the best spy films of all time. With his brooding intensity and cold manner, Craig and director Martin Campbell (who also directed GoldenEye) revived James Bond for the new millennium.
Craig has continued this massive success in Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015)-- the two highest grossing films in the entire franchise. Here, working with director Sam Mendes, Craig delved deeper into the character’s psyche than ever before. The icy eyes that initially turned fans off are now seen as one of defining Bond traits. Even if he doesn’t return a fifth time, Daniel Craig’s legacy is secure.
“He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond,” Ian Fleming once said, “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stuntman.” These words, spoken during the casting process of Dr. No (1962), were in reference to actor Sean Connery. The Scotsman was far from the Cary Grant-meets-Hoagy Carmichael hybrid that Fleming wanted, but Connery quickly won the author, and the rest of the world, over. From the moment he uttered: “Bond… James Bond” it was clear that a pop culture phenomenon had been born.
Connery was magnetic in each of his seven outings; the perfect mixture of masculinity and impeccable style. That his first three films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger) still rank among the best in the Bond franchise speaks to his staying power. Fleming was so impressed with the actor he wrote a half-Swiss, half-Scottish heritage for the character in subsequent stories. When someone plays a part so well that the creator makes changes to accommodate, that's a very good sign. Sean Connery is Bond... James Bond.
Who is your favorite Bond? Let us know in the comments!