58 years. 24 (soon to be 25) movies. Countless colourful villains, elaborate lairs and outrageous gadgets. But only six men have ever officially taken on the mantle of James Bond, secret agent 007.
Since 1962, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and most recently Daniel Craig have all taken their turn strapping on the Walther PPK, but which of them is the greatest screen Bond of all?
In a RadioTimes.com tournament, we split the six Bond actors into pairs, pitting them against one other in three rounds. The winner of each round then moves on to a final three-way face off…
The ultimate champion will officially be crowned your favourite screen Bond. (Note: for the purposes of this poll, we’re only counting the six actors who’ve played Bond in the official Eon Productions film series – so no David Niven from 1967’s Casino Royale, or indeed Barry Nelson from the 1954 TV version.)
Round 1 pitted Sean Connery against Daniel Craig and saw you vote in your thousands – it was a close-fought battle, with Connery ultimately coming out on top with 56 per cent of the vote compared to Craig’s 43 per cent. That means that Connery goes through to our grand final, while Craig – in a shocking turn of events – has already been eliminated.
Round 2 saw George Lazenby up against Pierce Brosnan – once again, thousands of you voted, but the ’90s Bond ultimately emerged the victor with 76 per cent against his opponent’s 24 per cent.
Round 3 saw perhaps the most surprising result yet, as Roger Moore was knocked out of the competition – with 41 per cent of the vote, he lost out to his immediate successor Timothy Dalton, who scored 49 per cent of the vote.
This is what it’s all been building to… vote below to have your say in our grand final. It’s Sean Connery vs. Timothy Dalton vs. Pierce Brosnan – who will be named the greatest Bond of all? (If you’re finding it just too difficult to pick, we’ve written up a guide to both actors’ portrayals of 007 below which might help sway you one way or the other.)
Appeared in: Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
The original… but is he the best? There’s certainly an argument to be made for Sean Connery as the definitive screen James Bond, the Scottish actor having set the template in 1962’s Dr. No and also setting the bar against which all of his successors are measured.
Connery’s Bond was cruel, cunning, lithe and deadly – he moved (as first observed by Bond producer Cubby Broccoli’s wife, Dana) “like a panther” – but he also brought a charm and humour to the part of Bond, dismissing the gruesome death of many an adversary with a deadpan quip.
It was this easy magnetism that not only made Connery’s Bond an icon but also set him apart from the rather more stiff, uptight 007 who appears in Ian Fleming’s books – if Fleming’s Bond was a product of the 1950s, the edge and sex appeal of Connery’s screen portrayal made him the perfect screen hero for the more liberated 1960s.
Appeared in: The Living Daylights (1987), Licence to Kill (1989)
It’s a recurrent theme throughout the Bond franchise that each new “era” serves as a reaction to what preceded it, but never was that trend more pronounced than in the late ’80s, when Roger Moore’s frivolous interpretation gave way to Timothy Dalton’s far more grounded portrayal, the Welsh actor demanding a return to the series’ roots and the cold, unforgiving world established in Ian Fleming’s source material.
Times had changed and, again, Bond had to change with them, with the 1980s seeing Dalton become the first truly modern Bond, less of a cipher and somewhat more of a human being. Eschewing the outlandish for a more subtle approach, his films are not merely terrific examples of classic blockbuster cinema but still hold up as genuinely compelling thrillers three decades later.
Like Lazenby before him, Dalton gave us a vulnerable Bond, a man not a superman – and again, it wasn’t to everyone’s taste, with some contemporary critics and fans struggling to adjust after almost 15 years of his predecessor. Now, though, it’s clear to see the origins of Daniel Craig’s popular take in Dalton’s 007, with many fans retrospectively considering his Bond to be one of the finest.
Appeared in: Goldeneye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World is Not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002)
The man who not only revived a struggling franchise but took it to new heights – after the dwindling box office returns of the 1980s, the ’90s saw Bond become a serious contender again in the form of Pierce Brosnan.
Brosnan captured the best qualities of all his predecessors – Connery’s power and ruthlessness, Moore’s humour and easy charm, the more vulnerable side of the character as previously portrayed in different ways by both George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. But there was also a real joy to his performance – Brosnan was cruelly denied his dream role once before, having to back out of being cast as Bond in the ’80s due to a TV contract, and perhaps no screen 007 before or since has embraced the role with as much enthusiasm as he eventually did.
For the most part, his era is the purest kind of popcorn entertainment – Bond as escapism, rather than any kind of reflection on the contemporary world. There’s a sense of naughty fun to Brosnan’s portrayal – he’s clearly having a ball – and it’s infectious.
OUT OF THE RUNNING
Appeared in: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
It’s all too easy to dismiss George Lazenby as the Bond who failed – and also inaccurate.
Yes, he’s notable for being the only actor to have not returned for a second outing as 007, but it was his decision to step away from the role after just one film, rather than any desire on the producers’ part to replace him, that saw Sean Connery return to the franchise for the next instalment.
And if you’re going to appear in just one Bond movie, it might as well be On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – having been reappraised by critics and fans since its original lukewarm reception, Peter Hunt’s taut, emotional thriller is now generally considered one of the all-time great 007 films, if not the very best.
Some cynics might acknowledge the film’s greatness while still criticising Lazenby for lacking the swagger and sureness of his predecessor, but they’re missing the point – his less confident, more vulnerable Bond is the perfect version for a story where the character falls in love and endures great loss. It’s hard to imagine any of Lazenby’s fellow 007 actors – even Connery – pulling off that tragic final scene quite so well.
Appeared in: Live and Let Die (1973), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985)
Off the back of 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, which saw a disinterested Sean Connery cavort around Las Vegas in what felt like a parody of his earlier Bond outings, the 007 franchise was in serious danger of running out of steam.
Thank goodness then for Roger Moore, arriving with eyebrow raised and tongue firmly in cheek. As the Bond movies entered their second decade, audiences were becoming familiar with the series’ tropes, making Moore the perfect frontman for a revived franchise that no longer took itself too seriously – his was an almost self-aware Bond, wryly amused by the outrageous adventures he found himself caught up in.
Yes, he stuck around at least one movie too long, but it’s no exaggeration to say that, following Connery’s defining performance and the misstep (at least as the critics would have it) of Lazenby’s casting, hiring the wrong 007 to take up the mantle next could quite easily have killed the series. Instead, Moore’s confident, lively performance saved it, allowing the Bond brand to loosen up and laugh at itself.
Appeared in: Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015), No Time to Die (2020)
Daniel Craig’s debut as 007, Casino Royale, sees Judi Dench’s M refer to the newly-minted agent as a “blunt instrument” – it’s a phrase that, again, has its origins in the words of Ian Fleming, who described Bond as such (“an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department”) in a 1958 interview.
But it’s a tag that fits Craig’s portrayal of the character especially well. In a post-9/11 world, the cartoonish escapism of Pierce Brosnan’s final Bond outing, 2002’s Die Another Day, felt positively quaint, with 007 being outpaced by competitors like the no-holds-barred Bourne series. The time was right for reinvention and that the franchise got in Craig’s Bond, a brutal figure who tackled foes with all the ferocity of a bullet speeding down a gunbarrel.
This new 007 was a violent man operating in a violent world, but the revamped series’ new-found focus on Bond as a character – not merely a cipher or wish-fulfillment figure for the audience – has also allowed Craig to explore hitherto-unseen emotional depths. Ths Bond feels every blow, every loss, every heartbreak.
His tenure will shortly draw to a close, but like Connery before him, Craig was the perfect Bond for the era in which he played the role.
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