Ever since 1962, the James Bond series has essentially been the film equivalent of a theme park Stunt Show Spectacular. Every movie fits in as many audacious setpieces, chase scenes, and fistfights as possible. So far six actors have played the world’s most indefatigable secret agent, and he’s faced off against dozens of imposing henchmen and femme fatales. The series has employed some of toughest men and women in the history of film. The thing is though, only some of them were in front of the camera. The others were stunt doubles.
Many of the actors, even some of the Bonds themselves, came up as athletes and were well suited to perform some crazy stunts on screen. Others were perfectly content to stand back and watch as lookalikes threw themselves out of airplanes. And by no means are we judging them; the ability to look tough on film doesn’t have to go hand in hand with being tough in real life.
This is a list of performers first and foremost, and if someone’s acting is so believable that you accept them as an action star even if that’s nothing close to their real personality, that’s just as impressive in its own way.
Let’s be real, it takes a certain amount of baseline toughness just to be in an action movie. This is all relative, if we label someone “Not Tough” it’s (almost) always because the actor is simply too nice to be intimidating.
With all that in mind, let’s take at 13 James Bond Stars Who Are Legitimately Tough (And 12 Who Are Only Tough Onscreen).
25 SEAN CONNERY (JAMES BOND) - NOT TOUGH
Sean Connery provokes the classic question; can you separate the art from the artist? Connery's screen persona is charismatic and likeable - not just as Bond, but in all his movies. Connery the perspn once said he has no trouble hitting women. “If a woman is a b****, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it.”
It’s a statement that would sink your career today. Indeed when Barbara Walters brought up the comments many years later Connery faced them head on and reiterated what he’d said: “Haven’t changed my opinion.”
Sean Connery will always be the definitive onscreen 007, but these aren’t the words or actions of a real man.
24 DANIEL CRAIG (JAMES BOND) - TOUGH
Cut Daniel Craig some slack for those infamous comments about never wanting to return to Bond. They’re usually presented without context; he was interviewed days after filming wrapped on Spectre and the guy was tired out. Why was that? Because he does so many of his own stunts.
When you see Bond hanging off the top of a crane or getting pummeled by Dave Bautista, that’s nothing but Daniel on the screen.
He may gripe if you catch him on the wrong day, but Craig is getting ready for one last go-round as 007 despite recently celebrating his fiftieth birthday. He’s made of steelier stuff than most of us.
23 PIERCE BROSNAN (JAMES BOND) - NOT TOUGH
Back in the early 2000s, there’d be satirical articles on the Internet with headlines like “Pierce Brosnan Breaks Arm After Reaching For Coffee on Set of the Latest Bond Film.” And you’d fall for it, because Brosnan was forever getting injured making these movies.
Brosnan could convey intensity on the screen, but in life he came off as endearingly giddy about the role he had landed. It was like your friend’s hot Dad was playing James Bond, and all those reports of sprains and stitches humanized him even more. We’d all get hurt too if we were 007.
22 SEAN BEAN (006) - NOT TOUGH
Unbelievably, it was seventeen movies before anyone thought to have Bond go up against a rogue 00 agent. Sean Bean was worth the wait. He’s perfect casting as Bond’s dark mirror image.
Bean had a paralyzing fear of flying.
That was a problem given the remote New Zealand locations of The Lord of the Rings, but Bean would set his alarm and simply walk (or even climb) to the set.
Again, these tough/not tough labels are tongue in cheek. Everyone has elements of both, how else to explain someone who’s terrified of helicopters but doesn’t think twice about an early morning mountain climbing expedition?
21 DAVE BAUTISTA (MR. HINX) - TOUGH
Spectre revived the concept of the implacable, silent henchmen for the first time in decades. If you’re giving 007 an overwhelming strong opponent in 2015, who better to cast than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? Oh, he’s busy doing literally every other franchise in Hollywood? Never mind then. Who better to cast than Dave “Batista” Bautista?
As it turned out, casting Bautista in the role of Mr. Hinx paid off. His star has been blowing up in recent years with his roles in Blade Runner 2049 and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Of course, his tough guy credentials from his twelve years in the WWE speak for themselves.
20 ROGER MOORE (JAMES BOND) - NOT TOUGH
On the other hand, the late Roger Moore was charmingly self-deprecating. "Of course I do my own stunts.” he often said. “I also do my own lying."
To be honest, it’s a stretch even to say Moore was tough on screen.
His 007 usually charmed or cheated his way out of trouble. That’s not a criticism, as the movies were tailored to his strengths.
Moore was a pacifist who developed a distaste for guns after serving in WWII. He would later spend his golden years as ambassador to UNICEF. Enjoyable as Roger Moore was as James Bond, his greatest heroics took place off camera.
19 DAME JUDI DENCH (M) - TOUGH
It’s an injustice that Dame Judi Dench’s photo isn’t next to the word “venerable” in every single dictionary. A consummate actor who at age 83 has no intention of slowing down, she’s even managed a degenerative eye condition since before 2012, but simply has scripts read to her.
Dench thoroughly embraced playing Bond’s boss, and the producers always considered themselves lucky for having someone of her stature in that role. Indeed M’s screentime would only increase with each movie, to the point where she’s the full fledged co-lead of Skyfall, evading gunfire and running through snowy Scottish highlands. It nicely reflects both Dench’s commitment to the role and to her craft.
18 BENICIO DEL TORO (DARIO) - NOT TOUGH
Benicio Del Toro’s future star power was on display even in this tiny role. Pay close attention to Dario next time you watch Licence to Kill. Why is he grinning like that? Why does he draw his switchblade in that really weird way? Why does he add three extra syllables to the word “honeymoon?”
These are some strange acting choices, but after this movie Del Toro would go on to play every shifty character in Hollywood, so why argue with results?
Dario offered a small taste of the intensity Del Toro would bring to his future roles, but any time he’s interviewed the actor comes off as disarmingly pleasant and very humble about his success.
17 TIMOTHY DALTON (JAMES BOND) - TOUGH
Timothy Dalton is the Peter Capaldi of the Bond series - not as accepted by wider audiences, but those who like his grounded, darker take like it a lot. That humanity makes his feats of Bondian heroism feel all the more real.
Dalton insisted on doing many of his own stunts. There’s a moment where Bond is being lowered out of a helicopter on a winch, all the other actors in the scene have mysteriously been replaced with stunt doubles but Dalton’s face is there for the world to see. It’s maybe a little distracting in fact, as you come away from the scene more impressed with Dalton than with Bond.
16 EVA GREEN (VESPER LYND) - NOT TOUGH
As played by Eva Green, Vesper Lynd is by a very wide margin the most complex character in over fifty years of Bond films. At different times calm and collected and vulnerable, she’s both a femme fatale and a tragic figure. And of course, tough. Casino Royale might be the very best Bond movie, and Vesper’s a huge part of that.
Eva Green has taken on other roles in productions with an edge like 300, Sin City, and Penny Dreadful (alongside Timothy Dalton), but calls herself a nerd.
She says she's someone who would never move to Hollywood because she’s kind of a homebody.
15 MADS MIKKELSEN (LE CHIFFRE) - TOUGH
Because of Mads Mikkelsen’s three year stint as an incredibly athletic, incredibly dangerous Hannibal Lecter, it’s possible we’re assigning a retroactive “toughness” to Le Chiffre that isn’t actually there. The guy is one of the most ineffectual Bond villains, the huge mistakes the character makes are actually plot points. The last time we see him, he’s begging for his life.
Mikkelsen himself is a tough guy all the way. In his recent film Arctic, he spent the shoot in freezing conditions and went without food, all in the name of looking authentically worn down onscreen.
Can anyone picture Le Chiffre putting up with that?
14 JAVIER BARDEM (SILVA) - NOT TOUGH
If he’s played by Javier Bardem and he’s got a really weird hairstyle, chances are he's an amazing bad guy. Bardem’s turn as Raoul Silva earned him almost as many accolades as his role in No Country for Old Men, and notably Skyfall to date is the one time the Bond villain fully achieves his goals. He wanted revenge on M and he got it.
When Bardem is smiling onscreen it’s often the creepiest thing, but when he smiles in real life, he’s a really good looking guy.
The Spanish actor has been married to Penelope Cruz since 2010, and despite all his sinister roles, insists that he’s nothing like that off screen.
13 GEORGE LAZENBY (JAMES BOND) - TOUGH
At first, George Lazenby makes a bad impression as James Bond. It’s his first time acting, and that’s painfully clear. By the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you’re far more impressed with him. Why is that?
The movie’s second half is wall to wall chases and fight scenes, Lazenby is visibly doing many of his own stunts, and he’s crushing it.
Lazenby himself says he got the role when he broke the nose of his scene partner in the audition. Fun fact: that guy is in the movie as Blofeld’s henchman Grunther. His nose looks like it’s healed just fine, but the stony looks Grunther keeps giving 007 seem quite genuine.
12 FAMKE JANSSEN (XENIA ONATOPP) - NOT TOUGH
The Bond series was ushered into the '90s with the help of Xenia Onatopp, a sadist who strangled men (and women, it’s implied) with her thighs. This was a lot of people’s first encounter with Famke Janssen, who would have a varied career with roles in the X-Men and Taken series, along with Netflix’s Hemlock Grove and NBC’s The Blacklist: Redemption.
As is nearly always the case, Xenia is over-the-top but Janssen is far more soft-spoken and mild mannered.
She’s also an activist, serving as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN and the Water Ambassador to the Green Cross.
11 GRACE JONES (MAY DAY) - TOUGH
Grace Jones has a long history of volatile behaviour, but there’s one thing you can definitely say about her, she doesn’t take guff from anyone. Even in the '80s, Jones wasn’t having it when an interviewer was asking her things like “Does your masculinity carry over to your... preference?” Someone should double check if that guy survived the interview.
He was badly informed as well as rude: Jones was in a high profile relationship with Dolph Lundgren in the mid-80s. Iif anyone has a Time Stone and can show us the alternate reality in which we can see what their kids would have looked like, please let us know!
10 CHRISTOPHER WALKEN (MAX ZORIN) - NOT TOUGH
If A View to a Kill has anything going for it, it’s the scene of a banana-blond Christopher Walken chasing 007 around on top of the Golden Gate Bridge with a fire axe that he got out of his blimp while his dynamite-wielding dad looks on. Every word of that is real.
Walken’s turn as the sadistic Max Zorin typecast him as a villain, but he’s famously a nice guy who’s been married for fifty years.
He also sometimes posts cooking tutorials on YouTube.
The sight of Christopher Walken preparing chicken is bizarre in its utter ordinariness. But he looks like he’s having fun, so “moah powuh” to him.
9 CHRISTOPHER LEE (FRANCISCO SCARAMANGA) - TOUGH
Francisco Scaramanga wasn’t Christopher Lee’s only iconic screen role, by far. No doubt you’re already familiar with his 93 years of general awesomeness.
Let's zero in on that wonderful anecdote from The Lord of the Rings, when Peter Jackson tried to direct Lee in a scene where his character Saruman gets a knife in the back.
Lee stopped Jackson and assured him that, thanks to his time in World War II, he was well acquainted with the sound a man makes when he’s stabbed.
Someday they’re going to declassify all those files on Christopher Lee. When they make a movie about his life, we’ll be first in line.
8 MICHELLE YEOH (WAI LIN) - TOUGH
If there’s a downside to Michelle Yeoh’s character Wai Lin, it’s that she’s barely in Tomorrow Never Dies until the hour and fifteen minute mark. From there, she makes up for lost time as she drives around on a motorcycle and throws both fists and shurikens at henchmen with reckless abandon.
James Bond was just one stop in Yeoh’s long, action packed career. She’d previously fought alongside Jackie Chan in the Hong Kong film industry, and would later go onto Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Star Trek: Discovery. Today, she looks back on Bond and Pierce Brosnan fondly, and of course, still insists on doing her own stunts.
7 JEFFREY WRIGHT (FELIX LEITER) - NOT TOUGH
Casting HBO fixture Jeffrey Wright as Bond’s longtime friend Felix Leiter was a smart move. Wright brings his trademark mumbly intensity to the part, along with a hidden danger that has yet to reveal itself. It’d be great to see Bond and Felix on a mission together.
Or maybe it wouldn’t. Wright has been called a jock, but the 52 year old recently lamented that age was catching up with him. “I skied yesterday with a woman who lives out here who’s a stunt woman on Westworld. She dragged me across the mountain like a rag doll.”
If they want to do a James/Felix buddy cop film,they'd better do it soon.
6 ROSAMUND PIKE (MIRANDA FROST) - TOUGH
Even those with undying affection for the Bond series will acknowledge that, after Die Another Day, Rosamund Pike could only move onto bigger and better things. Not right away mind you: she still had 2005’s Doom in her future, but her role in Gone Girl would eventually put her squarely on the A-List.
Still, Pike came as close to saving that Bond movie as anyone ever could. She committed to the role of Olympic fencer Miranda Frost, undergoing months of training with legendary swordsman Bob Anderson in order to look believable in her climactic duel with Halle Berry.
5 ROBBIE COLTRANE (VALENTIN ZUKOVSKY) - NOT TOUGH
Another character so popular he merited an encore, Robbie Coltrane played Valentin Zukovsky in two separate movies. In GoldenEye he was an affable Russian crime boss. But when he was crossed in The World is Not Enough, he picked up a cane in one hand and an Uzi in the other and personally went after the villain of the movie.
Coltrane is a longtime staple of the England comedy scene, and has of course softened his image after a decade playing Rubeus Hagrid across eight Harry Potter films.
He has becomes good friends with JK Rowling and the two have participated in charitable events together.
4 DIANA RIGG (TERESA BOND) - TOUGH
Forget this Mrs. James Bond business. Far as we’re concerned, in OHMSS George Lazenby is playing Mr. Teresa di Vicenzo. Trained in both the theatre and karate, Diana Rigg was a double threat and the true draw of this movie. When Bond bursts in to rescue Teresa from the aforementioned Grunther, she’s already rescued herself.
Rigg’s inner steel was still on full display almost fifty years later as Lady Olenna on Game of Thrones.
3 RICHARD KIEL (JAWS) - NOT TOUGH
Jaws is arguably the most popular of James Bond’s villains, and when he’s not played for comic relief, he’s legitimately terrifying. The scene where he suddenly appears in 007’s train compartment, a hulking figure in that awful powder blue suit, is one of the most intense in the series. Even Bond looks scared.
Richard Kiel’s other well known role as Adam Sandler’s intimidating but erudite #1 fan in Happy Gilmore hews far closer to what the man was really like. Jaws was mute and dangerous, but it’s no surprise that Kiel was by all accounts a big sweetheart, and his passing in 2014 provoked an outpouring of well wishes.
2 “TIGER” JOE ROBINSON (PETER FRANKS) - SO TOUGH
Despite participating in a terrific elevator fight scene during Diamonds Are Forever, “Tiger” Joe Robinson isn’t a household name even among hardcore Bond fans. The actor and wrestler is guaranteed a spot on any self respecting list like this after a real-life near mugging in Cape Town.
Sizing his eight attackers up, Robinson asked them a simple question: “Are you tired of living?"
Robinson then proceeded to break one of the attacker’s arms before turning his attention to the others. When he heard about the attack, Sean Connery passed along his sympathies… to the muggers. At the time, Robinson was 71 years old.
1 HAROLD SAKATA (ODDJOB) - TOUGH
Oddjob began a proud tradition of silent, impossibly strong henchmen.
If anything, Harold Sakata’s strength was downplayed onscreen.
The Honolulu-born Sakata has a long, storied career as a wrestler, and even took home the silver medal for weightlifting in the 1948 Olympics.
Oddjob is primarily remembered for throwing a bowler hat with a concealed blade in the rim. You might manage to dodge it, but considering that Oddjob’s back up plan is to simply pummel you, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. For good reason, he’s the original James Bond tough guy.
Who's the toughest James Bond actor in your opinion? Let us know in the comments!