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The Evolution of James Bond in Movies

Bond… James Bond – The notorious Mi6 agent better known as 007 and arguably one of the most well-known and influential movie characters in the history of Cinema! I would be shocked to find someone who has not watched at least one of the 007 movies! The franchise is the 6th highest-grossing film franchise in history after all! James Bond has a long and storied history and with No Time To Die right around the corner I can think of no better time to break down the character’s history and evolution than right now!

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The Evolution of James Bond in Movies

The Evolution of James Bond

Bond… James Bond – The notorious Mi6 agent better known as 007 and arguably one of the most well-known and influential movie characters in the history of Cinema! I would be shocked to find someone who has not watched at least one of the 007 movies! The franchise is the 6th highest-grossing film franchise in history after all! James Bond has a long and storied history and with No Time To Die right around the corner I can think of no better time to break down the character’s history and evolution than right now!

James Bond has appeared in 24 canon films with the 25th being No Time to Die, and in 2 additional films that are not considered canon with the main series of films. So let’s break down the history and evolution of James Bond and all of his cinematic outings – Starting with his inception.

While the first 007 film was Doctor No. released in 1962, this was not his debut to the general public. James Bond first appeared in the 1953 novel Ian Fleming titled Casino Royale. James Bond would appear in 14 full-length novels and 9 short stories. After Ian Flemmings death numerous other authors took to writing stories for the character and there are still new novels being written and being released to this day!

Sean Connery: 1962–1967

James Bond’s Cinematic debut was in the aforementioned Doctor No released in 1962! Dr. No was an adaptation of the 1985 Novel of the same name and cast the legendary Sean Connery as the very first James Bond! In the film, James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a fellow British agent. The trail leads him to the underground base of Dr. No, who is plotting to disrupt an early American space launch from Cape Canaveral with a radio beam weapon. Although it was the first of the Bond books to be made into a film, it was the sixth book in the series. 

Sean Connery was a Scottish Amateur Bodybuilder whom Ian Flemming was actually opposed to. Fleming believed Connery to be an overgrown stuntman lacking the finesse and elegance to play James Bond. Sean Connery was able to prove everyone wrong and was often described as cool and collected, but also violent and arrogant. An important aspect of James Bond to Sean Connery was his humor. Connery believed that the one defect to the literary version of the character that Fleming had written was that there was no humor around the character. Connery ensured that there would be moments of tongue-in-cheek comedy that would engage the audience and give them a reason to smile.

Connery would reprise his role as James Bond for 4 more films – From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice before stepping away from the role. After five James Bond films in six years, Connery left the role in 1967’s You Only Live Twice which was adapted by the 1964 Novel of the same name. Connery stated that the reason for his departure from the role was “It became a terrible pressure, like living in a goldfish bowl … that was part of the reason I wanted to be finished with Bond. Also, I had become completely identified with it, and it became very wearing and very boring”.

David Niven: 1967

The same year Sean Connery walked away from the role we had a rather unusual situation take place. That was the release of another James Bond film titled “Casino Royale” which was loosely based on Ian Flemmings’s original James Bond Novel. What makes this film stand apart from others in the James Bond film series is that it is in fact not part of the canon Franchise. This film was not made by EON Studios – a British film production company that primarily produces the James Bond film series. Casino Royale was released on 13 April 1967, two months prior to Eon’s fifth Bond movie, You Only Live Twice. David Niven was cast as James Bond who was Ian Flemmings’s original choice to play Bond in the EON films before Sean Connery was cast.

The film followed an elderly James Bond forced out of retirement to investigate the deaths and disappearances of international spies, he soon battles the mysterious Dr. Noah and SMERSH. David Niven was 56 when performing in Casino Royale. 

The film was a financial success, the musical score was praised, earning the composer an Oscar nomination but, Critical reaction to Casino Royale, however, was generally negative. 

There were a few noticeable differences between Niven and Connery’s James Bonds. Niven’s Bond was an elderly man and father who no longer held the 00 title after his retirement and it is hinted that Sean Connery had simply taken the name Bond and title of 007 simply to continue the legend. Niven’s character also drove a vintage Bentley rather than Connerys favored Aston Martin.

George Lazenby: 1969

Returning to the main series of films,  after the departure of Sean Connery, George Lazenby was cast in the role of James Bond for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” It was released in 1969 and adapted the 1963 novel of the same name. George Lazenby was a model with no prior acting experience. Lazenby never signed a contract, with negotiations dragging on during production, and after discussion with his agent regarding playing a spy during the evolving 70’s social awareness he left the role of Agent 007 even before the release of On His Majestys Secret Service in 1969. 

The film follows James Bond who faces off against Blofeld, who is planning to hold the world to ransom by a threat to render all food plants and livestock infertile through the actions of a group of brainwashed “angels of death”. Along the way Bond meets, falls in love with, and eventually marries Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo.

Critical opinion was split about Lazenby; he has been considered to have been the worst Bond and was often derided by fans of Connery. Many described his performance as bland and unengaging however for his performance as Bond, Lazenby was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor at the following year’s 27th Golden Globe Awards in February 1970.

Sean Connery: 1971

Following George Lazenby’s singular performance, Sean Connery was approached to take on the role once again in 1971’s Diamonds are forever which was based on the 1956 novel of the same name. The story has Bond impersonating a diamond smuggler to infiltrate a smuggling ring and soon uncovering a plot by his old enemy Ernst Stavro Blofeld to use the diamonds to build a space-based laser weapon. Bond has to battle his enemy for one last time to stop the smuggling and stall Blofeld’s plan of destroying Washington, D.C. and extorting the world with nuclear supremacy.

Connery was enticed back to the role after it was known to him that money wouldn’t be an issue. When approached about resuming the role of Bond, Connery demanded—and received—a fee of £1.25 million, 12.5% of the gross profits and, as a further enticement, United Artists offered to back two films of his choice. His performance received mixed reviews and many called his weight into question, describing him as slow and overweight. Many others also described his performance as unengaging and boring. 

Roger Moore: 1972 – 1985

After the release of Diamonds are forever Connery declined the role once again and it was offered to Roger Moore. Moore’s first outing as 007 was in 1973’s Live and Let Die, based on the  1954 novel of the same name. 

The storyline involves a Harlem drug lord known as Mr. Big who plans to distribute two tons of heroin for free to put rival drug barons out of business. Bond is investigating the deaths of three British agents, leading him to Kananga, and he is soon trapped in a world of gangsters and voodoo as he fights to put a stop to the drug baron’s scheme.

When playing Bond, Moore tried not to imitate Connery. His rendition of Bond was written to match Moore’s persona and gave him more comedic scenes and a much more light-hearted tone. Moore is by far the most elegant and well-mannered of the Bond Renditions – often described as an English debonair country gentleman. However, this didn’t sit well with some viewers who described him as far too nice and well-mannered to be an international super spy with a license to kill. However, most fans of the franchise believe that Moore struck a perfect balance between action and comedy.

Another large difference between Moore and Connery’s Bond was their choice of weaponry. Connery’s signature sidearm was the Walther PPK, whereas, Moore was given a Smith and Wessen 44 Magnum in an attempt to make him look tougher. This was a result of the macho image associated with the gun after Clint Eastwood’s character Dirty Harry used the gun.

Moore would appear in 6 Bond Sequels from 1974 to 1985. These included The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moon Raker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill. 

Moore was 57 in his final film A View to A Kill, the oldest actor to play Bond in an Eon film. The film received mixed reviews but critics were vocal about their disdain for an actor of Moores age to be in the role. Often pointing out the lack of believability in action sequences and the issues of a 57 Bond acting alongside a 30-year-old actress. 

Sean Connery: 1983

However, Moore was not the only man to portray Bond during this period, as Sean Connery returned to the character in 1983’s Never Say Never Again. The film was based on the 1961 Novel Thunderball, which had previously been adapted in the 1965 Bond film titled Thunderball starring Roger Moore. Never Say Never Again was not produced by Eon Productions but by =Taliafilm in association with Kevin McClory, one of the original writers of the Thunderball storyline with Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham.

This was Sean Connery’s seventh and final time in the role of James Bond and marked his return after a 12-year hiatus. Connery was 52 at the time of filming, making him 3 years younger than Roger Moore at that time. 

The film features an aging Bond who is brought back into action to investigate the theft of two nuclear weapons by SPECTRE. The film opened to positive reviews, with the acting of Connery singled out for praise as more emotionally resonant than the typical Bond films of the day. While the film was successful, it was less so than the Roger Moore film Octopussy released earlier that same year.

Timothy dalton: 1986–1994

Timothy Dalton was the next to pick up the reigns as James Bond and appeared in two films – The Living Daylights in 1987 and Licence to Kill in 1989. Timothy Dalton was a classically trained Shakespearean actor who was incredibly passionate about portraying the character as accurately as possible and read the original James Bond Novels extensively. Daltons Bond was much darker than those that came before. He was dark, cold, ruthless and showed little humor. He was a focused killer who had no time for fun. This was a result of Dalton wanting to see a darker bond, who was no longer a womanizer but closer to the darker character Ian Fleming wrote about.

The Living Daylights was based on the short story written by Ian Flemming and was the last film until 2006’s Casino Royale to use the title of a story by Ian Flemming. 

The film sends James Bond to investigate a KGB policy to kill all enemy spies and uncovers an arms deal that potentially has major global ramifications. The film was received fairly well but fans were conflicted about Dalton’s portrayal. Many loved the darker take on the character,  and later even calling it ahead of its time comparing it to Daniel Craig’s performance. However, detractors believed that he was far too serious and it resulted in times, in an unenjoyable experience.

1989’s Licence to Kill was Daltons final film as Bond. It was the first film not to use the title of an Ian Flemming story, and the story was in fact largely original, but borrowed elements from Live and Let Die. The film sees James Bond seeking revenge after the murder of his friend and after MI6 refuses to assist him, he takes matters into his own hands. 

Again, the film was received favorably, but Daltons darker tone was received criticism.

After Dalton’s two films, litigation ensued over the licensing of the Bond catalog, this resulted in the delay of what would’ve been Dalton’s third film. His six-year contract expired in 1993 and he left the series in 1994.

Pierce Brosnan: 1994–2004

Pierce Brosnan would take over as James Bond in 1995’s GoldenEye. This marked the return of Bond to screens after a 6-year hiatus caused by legal disputes. It was the first in the series not to utilize any story elements from the works of novelist Ian Fleming. The film follows James Bond as he sets out to stop a Russian crime syndicate from using a secret space-based weapons program known as GoldenEye. 

Many received Brosnan’s performance as bond positively. Claiming that he was a closer representation of Flemmings bond than Moore, but more lighthearted than Dalton. The largest departure Brosnans Bond brought to the table was his refusal to smoke cigarettes. He did, however, smoke a cigar in Die Another Day.

Brosnan performed the role of Bond in 3 more sequels from 1997 to 2002. The films included Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is not Enough and Die Another Day. By the end of his tenure most viewed Brosnan favorably with Die Another Day becoming the highest Grossing Bond film up to that time. 

Daniel Craig: 2005 – 2021

In 2005, Daniel Craig was introduced as the 6th Bond in the franchise (Ignoring David Niven’s Outing in Casino Royale). When Craig was cast there was major backlash from fans. Throughout the production of the film sites like danielcraigisnotbond.com and other internet communities and campaigns threatened to boycott the film. Craig, unlike previous actors, was not considered by the protesters to fit the tall, dark, handsome and charismatic image of Bond to which viewers had been accustomed. The name James Blonde was thrown around as an insult. The Daily Mirror even ran a front-page news story critical of Craig, with the headline, The Name’s Bland – James Bland.

Craig’s first film was 2006’s Casino Royale. The film takes place at the beginning of Bond’s career as Agent 007, as he is earning his license to kill. Bond on an assignment to bankrupt terrorist financier in a high-stakes poker game at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The film begins a story arc that continues in the 2008 film, Quantum of Solace.

Despite the negative reactions to his announcement as Bond, on the release of Casino Royale his performance was widely praised. Many believed that Craid was conceptually the closest to Flemming’s original conception of the character. Viewers loved his take on Bond as a professional killing machine, a charming, cold-hearted patriot with a taste for luxury. While some still believe he doesn’t have the physical attributes of a traditional Bond actor, he has definitely created his own identity within the character.

Craig would reprise his role in 4 sequels, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre and the upcoming No Time to Die.

And that brings the History and Evolution of James Bond to a close, for now. If there is one thing that has been proven through the years, it is that audiences are always hungry for a new 007 film, and so we can continue to expect them for years to come.