007 is one of those rare franchise characters exhibiting multiple actor’s interpretations over generations. It’s a role that has to date, been played seven times over six decades in twenty seven films. It’s an astonishing number of films we will certainly never see duplicated. With rapidly evolving tech and an ever changing map, James Bond has been forced to update interpretations of the secret agent persona to reflect the time of its filming. That said, there are clearly some iterations that stand out above others and likewise there are actors better suited to the role. The debate rages on as to who is the best Bond and even more heated is the race to find the next one, as the franchise steadily marches on. Now that the Daniel Craig era is at an end, it’s time for us to weigh in on who we think the best 007 has been so far and who should be on the short list to take up the gauntlet, or Walther PPK as it were. Here are the Bonds to date, in order of worst to first.
Best Bond Actors
Nobody remembers this guy in the Bond world. Poor David. He had some big shoes to fill and many creative “choices” were made. After Sean Connery retired from the role, Niven stepped in to film “Casino Royale” in 1967. It was not a standard Bond film but a comedy and also featured the likes of Peter Sellers and Woody Allen. It was enough of a departure from the established formula that it was a one off for Niven and the only Bond film to be remade.
Following David Niven in one off attempts was Australian actor George Lazenby. Another single film casualty, Lazenby was a victim of being too realistic and following Connery’s beloved version which many believe is best. This iteration of Bond is much closer to the book’s vision. George and Director Peter R. Hunt, brought grittiness and close physical combat to the part instead of pure gimmick, at the cost of charm and romance. This was not appreciated by the masses in 1969. George’s biggest problem is that he played 007, thirty years too early.
Welcome to the Gentleman bond era. Roger had the charm, the hair, the one liners, and some fresh comic book style adversaries that took the franchise to the stratosphere. This is really the version of Bond that set the modern formula. Every film had exotic locales, bad guys with private lairs, henchmen with high tech appendages and marketable nicknames, and yet each somehow blended subtle comedy in with the action. Many love this version of the character most, as Roger Moore’s version undoubtedly bedded more ladies than would come before or after.
On paper, Pierce is the obvious choice for Bond. He’s Roger Moore version 2. There’s absolutely no denying that “Goldeneye” is one of the best Bond Films made, but things went downhill quickly after that. While Brosnan is also a great Bond, he was a casualty of popular film trends. The late 90’s and early 2000’s put an amplifier on the already tired formula of the Moore era and fell into extreme predictability. Every film had two bond girls, one of whom would likely die but not before a roll in the hay with our hero. Brosnan’s bond was rarely in physical combat and routinely saved by the gadget dujour, introduced in the first act. In each film Brosnan was akin to Adam West’s Batman who luckily wore his shark repellant boots when the head honcho left him to die. It was so commercialized it often felt like these films were made to sell watches and cars, which if you recall had switched to BMW from Aston Martin.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is Craig. He’s a gorilla in a tux. After the Brosnan era spared us from heavy hand to hand fighting, the pendulum swung the other way as Craig was nearly all combat. The 2006 remake of “Casino Royale” kicked the door in and introduced the new Bond in an exciting way. It was a refreshing change and reinvigorated the franchise that seemed on its last legs. That said, it also peaked with “Skyfall” and fell into predictable mediocrity afterwards. Craig’s version was more grounded in realism as well with the spy gimmicks toned down and mostly trapped in the Aston Martin he drove. Craig gave the franchise a great run and was fueled by a series of solid directors like Sam Mendes adding art and serious cinematography to an action heavy series. He was also heavily aided with the regular supporting talent of Judy Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, and Jeffrey Wright. It’s a dream team of costars.
Like George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton’s version of bond is steely and true to the book’s vision. Also like his predecessor, Dalton’s interpretation of the character came decades too early for audiences to evolve their appreciation for realness over fantasy. Dalton brings a dark, mysterious badass quality to 007 and perhaps needed more typically cheesy Bond scripts to balance him out. Dalton was the mission focused killer the post Moore era asked for, and rejected once they got him. Its rumored that he was offered the role over Roger Moore years earlier in For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill, to force the previous Bond’s retirement. He should have accepted. Those classics could have really ignited his career as the tone of “The Living Daylights” and “License to Kill” are not as lighthearted as the aforementioned films.
What is there to say about the GOAT? Connery took the world of nail biting, deadly espionage and turned it into a playful, lasting male fantasy. The man was so damned charming and charismatic that an entire generation ignored the sloppy combat scenes and ease that he was repeatedly captured only to escape without any real spy craft. The Bond era under Connery is one where the bad guy will likely become your friend, ply you with food and drink and look the other way while you bed his girlfriend. This is at a time where men had come home from WW2 and Korea so they knew what real action was. Audiences were transitioning into darker, adult themes in cinema and yet everyone overlooked the corniness of Connery purely because of cool. The man was so loved that he retired the role, came out of retirement to play bond again in the 70’s, then came out of second retirement to played Bond yet again as late as the 1980’s, going head to head with Roger Moore’s version. Connery is and will always be Bond. If he was still alive today, he’d likely be recast as 007 again.
Special Mention – Tom Cruise
Okay, hear me out. While Tom Cruise is obviously not 007, he is better. The James Bond Franchise has lost its way. A decade ago, “Skyfall” was the last quality entry and only because it was a back to basics storyline with a tremendous villain that was much needed. There was a void in realistic and updated spy movies after “Casino Royale”, and Tom Cruise stepped back in as Mission Impossible’s Ethan Hunt to completely resuscitate his own franchise. Starting with “Ghost Protocol”, the M.I. series brings better fight sequences, far superior vehicle chases, large scale consequences, insane stunts, and a lead character who won’t pause the mission because a girl in a bikini wants to get familiar. Ethan Hunt as a spy is more believable than Bond ever was. Of course these two were never meant for direct comparison, but Mission Impossible has now become the fun that 007 used to be. I dare you to name any singular James Bond film as good as “Ghost Protocol”, “Rogue Nation”, or “Fallout”, let alone three films in a row of such quality. We are all anxiously awaiting the last two installments of Cruise’s M.I. coming to theaters soon. It’s a high bar that is raised only by Cruise himself, and is only making it harder for a new James Bond to emerge.
Enough about who was best. It’s time to recast. So who’s next to wear the tux? Here’s a short list of the top contenders best suited for the role.
Who will be the next James Bond?
Idris is easily the number one draft pick. He’s the obvious choice with the looks, skill, box office draw, and action resume. The problem is age. No one has started the Bond role over 50 and while the man looks good, one must ask how long he can play such a demanding physical part with realism. That said, Roger Moore did play the part until nearly 60, so Elba could easily squeeze out a few Bond films before the audience calls bullshit. Give this man the part already and start filming before it’s too late. The clock is ticking.
There has been a steady buzz associating Hardy and future 007 casting. Tom has shown moments of acting greatness in “Bronson” and the more debonair turn in “Inception” was a welcome change. However, Hardy’s largest roles are ironically when the director covers his face and limits his dialogue. “Bane”, “Venom”, “Mad Max”, he keeps coming off as a rough around the edges brawler which may not be the direction for the franchise after fifteen years with Daniel Craig.
Tom exudes that young Pierce Brosnan energy. He’s the best fit and has the pedigree to be a lady smashing, British secret agent. If you make a list of role requirements, he checks every box with style and ease. The accent is smooth, the delivery is poised, he reeks of gentleman suave, and is tailor made to wear a tux. Hiddleston has plenty of action under his belt with the Loki character, but has that long term role ruined his ability to be the white knight or does it grant him license to walk in the gray areas of the spy world and blur the lines of good and evil?
If we’re going purely on talent then Chiwetel Ojiafor should be given the role tomorrow. He’s easily the best actor on the list. We haven’t seen much of his action side even though he’s been in a Marvel movie and likely to appear in future volumes with heavier roles. The intriguing thing about Ojiafor is that he brings a modern realism to the role. James Bond should never be the prettiest man at the party. Sticking out and drawing all attention is a relic of the Connery era that would get a spy killed on their first assignment today. Ojiafor would be a believable version that could blend in, slip in and out of gatherings while being cool and sophisticated enough to charm an asset one on one.
With a diverse resume of leading heroes Cavill is an easy fit here. Whether in “Superman”, “The Witcher”, “Immortals”, “Stardust”, Cavill is often cast with a charm and goodness that can also turn if pushed. He’s already believably played spies in “Mission Impossible: Fallout” as well as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.“ While he offers the same imposing physical presence as Daniel Craig, he offers a likability and range that his predecessor did not. Just please don’t edit out his mustache if he wears one.
A rare talent that we’ve watched grow over the years, Dev has the ability to be a new take on Bond that shows the ever evolving world of secret agents. Gone are the standard Caucasian Brits of the 60’s that are unable to stay in the beating sun of the riviera for more than a few minutes. Patel is a modern Brit and has a chameleon quality to him as divergent as the films he chooses. Long hair or short, beard or shaven, accent or no, the man can be what he needs to be for any role and thusly a great agent that adapts to the mission. No James Bond in history has ever been anything but a stiff Brit in a tux and Patel could change all that. He’s the everyman that makes all guys think that if called, they could suit up and be spies.
Out of nowhere comes newcomer Rege Jean-Page. The lady fans of Bond threw his hat into the ring for him. He’s a late bloomer but deservedly getting recent attention. He’s a great choice for another reboot year one Bond style reinvention. He’s young, attractive, has physical presence and solid range. He established himself as a serious talent as Chicken George in “Roots” then cemented himself as full blown heartthrob as the Duke of Hastings in “Bridgerton”. Sure he’s best known for showing his bare ass and a strong pull out game but isn’t that half of the Bond role anyway? Rege would be the most believable lady killer on the list and can easily be molded into an action star. This is the choice that will put younger people in theater seats and continue the franchise but the studio would still be forced to show his abs and ass in every single film. It’s not the worst compromise to ensure James Bond’s longevity.