We know the name: Bond. James Bond. But in 2021, we have to ask ourselves: What does the “007” moniker even mean these days?
With the lavish No Time To Die sending off Daniel Craig’s take on the legendary MI6 agent this weekend, it can be overwhelming to consider not just Craig’s influence on the role but the impressions left by so many Bonds before him. Yes, there’s the age-old debate of which handsome actor played the super spy best: Craig, Connery, Lazenby, Dalton, Brosnan, Niven, or Moore?
But the more interesting angle, it seems, can be found in the question of “best Bond” itself. More than 68 years in, how we define what makes a Bond better than other Bonds speaks to not just the character’s literal narrative but to the impact the franchise is having with movie-goers across generations. How is 007 shaping our world — and, more importantly, is it for good or evil?
Staring down the promise of a new Bond casting sometime soon, we decided to swap intelligence on our favorite Bonds, going beyond the same ol’ suspects to toss in a few wild cards.
George Lazenby as James Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
“This never happened to the other fellow.”
Credit: United Artist/Getty Images
Any case for George Lazenby as the best Bond is really a case for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the best Bond movie, since that was Lazenby’s only Bond movie.
Let’s review: It’s got a main theme that slaps mightily and also perhaps the best decades-later remix of said theme. It’s wall-to-wall ’60s mod culture fashion sense and trippy visuals. Telly Savalas — Kojak himself! — is the villainous Bond nemesis Blofeld, and his look in this movie was the inspiration for Austin Powers’ nemesis, Dr. Evil. There are also multiple gunfights that unfold on skis, with one where Lazenby’s Bond accidentally invents snowboarding after one of his skis gets shot and he ditches it.
It should be said that the misogyny factor is quite high in this Bond. At one point, Lazenby repeatedly slaps a woman (who admittedly has a gun pointed at him) as part of an interrogation that quickly transforms into foreplay. Later, he sleeps with two women in one night, both under false pretenses. Not great! But he also, somewhat indirectly, pays for those transgressions with one of the biggest gut-punch Bond endings in the series history. He falls in love with the woman he slapped earlier and goes off to live his happy ending in a post-MI6 life. But a vengeful Blofeld finds them and stages a surprise drive-by that leaves Bond a grieving widower. Still problematic in a few ways, obviously — but narratively speaking it remains one of the wildest Bond endings to date. — Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Timothy Dalton as James Bond (Living Daylights thru Licence to Kill)
“In my business, you prepare for the unexpected.”
Credit: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Image
Taking on the role of Bond after 12 years of Roger Moore almost winking straight down the camera was a significant task. But Dalton’s fresh intensity paved the way for the likes of Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig to move the character back into a (slightly) darker mindset, affected by years of service to MI6, the reality of that license to kill becoming a little heavier.
Only playing Bond for two films, The Living Daylights and License to Kill, Dalton is at his best when he’s doing cool spy shit — whether yelling “We’ve nothing to declare” to a border guard while tobogganing through the Austrian border on a cello case, or getting his license to kill revoked and going completely rogue agent. Parachuting into Felix Leiter’s wedding in License to Kill is a supremely great BFF moment, but kissing his wife at the reception isn’t the best.
Unfortunately, Dalton is pretty romantically cheesy as Bond and seems genuinely uncomfortable when he’s trying to be smooth — the carnival sequence in The Living Daylights is so painful. — Shannon Connellan, UK Editor
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond (Goldeneye thru Die Another Day)
“One rises to meet a challenge.”
Credit: Keith Hamshere / Getty Images
Pierce Brosnan is the Bond most millennials (and possibly Xennials) picture when they think of this iconic bit of IP, and not just because of the millions of hours lost to GoldenEye 007 on Nintendo 64. Brosnan is classically handsome, even pretty, in a way that none of his older counterparts ever achieved (with apologies to my fellow Australian, George Lazenby, and his chin dimple); when people under 50 muse about the qualities required to step into Bond’s dress brogues, I guarantee you that they’re picturing Idris Elba or Regé-Jean Page in Brosnan’s arch, sleek pose, not Daniel Craig’s lumbering gruffness.
His four-film run, from 1995’s Goldeneye to 2002’s Die Another Day, crystallises the franchise’s MO in a delicious stew of high-octane cheese, sleek set pieces, impossible gadgets, and stunning, capable women with names that hark back to the best-worst of the vintage era — from Famke Janssen’s killer-quads queen Xenia Onatopp to Denise Richards’ Dr. Christmas Jones.
Brosnan single-handedly, if belatedly, carried the Bond brand out of the stale Cold War conflicts that had powered it since the 60s, and did so with a self-effacing elegance that never cramped his smirking, efficient shoot-em-up style. The man fenced with Madonna and did a handbrake turn in a tank, for God’s sake. The last Bond before the Dark And Gritty Reboot was the perfect balance of classic and (relatively) modern, and his shadow still lingers over whatever comes next. — Caitlin Welsh, Australia Editor
Daniel Craig as James Bond (Casino Royale thru No Time To Die)
“A gun and a radio. Not exactly Christmas, is it?”
Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Eon Productions
I’ve never identified much with, or aspired much to be like, any James Bond. Daniel Craig on the other hand, sold us a more relatable, gritty, visceral, action-oriented Bond. One that I think I could be closer to, realistically. Less snobby and polished and refined; someone I could maybe cross paths with.
The Craig movies also, in my opinion, like Casino Royale, Spectre, etc. are noticeably darker — visually and thematically. Daniel Craig brings to James Bond what Heath Ledger brought to the Joker. When I first saw Craig in the role, I was hooked. Like, double-O my goodness, this guy is cool.
Everyone you need to remember before seeing ‘No Time to Die’
When it comes to aggressive, realistic action sequences, Daniel Craig also comes off as the most badass, but we owe major props to the movie magicians behind the camera for making him look so good. But yeah, he’s way more badass than the previous cheesy, snobby, old Bonds. — Matt Orsini, PR Manager
Lashana Lynch as “The New 007” aka Nomi (No Time To Die)
“It’s only a number.”
Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Eon Productions
Historically speaking, James Bond is a man of excess. Too many suits, too many martinis, too many bullets, etc. So it’s no wonder that when the going gets tough, like really tough, he tends to be in dire straits for resources. Namely, 007 is always out of time.
Start up any final act of any Bond film, and you’ll find that the window for winning is closing. And what’s worse? Bond has got just one final shot to set things right. It’s under these extreme circumstances — no padding, no do-over — that Lashana Lynch brings “the new 007” Nomi to life in No Time To Die. She’s an exquisitely effective character who, even without sharing the Bond name, exudes the icon’s suave staying power. With a limited amount of screen time and no promise of a sequel to continue building her character, Lynch leaves it all out the field — delivering tight combat and a charismatic persona that scream spin-off franchise. She rules, full-stop.
But this is more than a great performance: Nomi paves the way for other actors who aren’t handsome white cis dudes to take a shot at the 007 name. As the first Black woman named 007, Lynch has broken progressive ground in a franchise riddled with problematic old-world views. Here’s hoping MGM gives her the starring 007 role she deserves, sometime soon. — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
Cookie Monster as Sesame Street‘s “Double-Stuffed 7”
Did Sean Connery fend off airborne chickens? No. Would Pierce Brosnan’s eyeballs spin chaotically during action sequences? No. Was Daniel Craig’s theatrical motivation fueled by a soul-level love of cookies? Honestly I don’t know. Only a single James Bond can say yes to all of the above. And that Bond is Monster. Cookie Monster.
It feels journalistically important to admit that I have seen exactly one James Bond movie. I rented Quantum of Solace from a Redbox in Pittsburgh and fell asleep for the final 30 minutes. But I do know Muppets. So when a chance comes to claim a Muppet as the best anything, I am THERE.
And while The Spy Who Loved Cookies is not technically Bond canon, Cookie Monster as Double Stuffed Seven certainly deserved consideration as the best suave secret agent. His blue fur pops in a tux, he learns important lessons about listening to directions, and he doesn’t shy away from a pun. If I learned one thing from the 74 minutes of Quantum of Solace I watched, it’s that more puns would’ve helped.
(Please don’t yell at me on the internet for this take. All Muppets deserve their own feature films. Give me Oscar the Grouch as an Avenger already, you cowards.) — Annie Colbert, Executive Editor
Daniel Craig as Saturday Night Live‘s “Party Bond”
While Daniel Craig brings a lot of suave intensity to the role of James Bond, this Saturday Night Live sketch is where he truly shines. In a delightful turn of events, his typically hardened exterior gives way to giddy excitement when he keeps winning at a Las Vegas craps table. Soon, everyone in the room, from old ladies to bachelor party members, is rooting for 007, much to the consternation of the agent attempting to speak to him.
Sure, it’s only a 3 minute sketch, but there’s something so exciting about Bond letting loose and having fun for once. Craig fully commits to the bit, showboating for the casino crowds before declaring himself “Simba, King of the Jungle!” and singing a bit of “Circle of Life.” Heck, he even forgoes his traditional martini (shaken, not stirred, obviously), for a pint glass of vodka and Red Bull.
It’s a ridiculous subversion of Bond tropes, but Craig never loses sight of the character. It’s a perfect parody of Bond, and Craig gets major props for not being afraid to send up one of his biggest roles and knocking it out of the park. — Belen Edwards, Entertainment Writer
The Office‘s Michael Scott as Threat Level Midnight‘s “Michael Scarn”
Have I seen a single James Bond movie in my 28 years of life? I don’t think so. And to be honest, I don’t really feel the need to. Why? Because I’m sure I’ve already seen the greatest Bond of them all: Steve Carell as Michael Scott as Agent Michael Scarn in his original film, Threat Level Midnight. I have no doubt that Sean Connery’s original Bond and Daniel Craig’s recent revival were great, but The Office‘s take on James Bond simply must be superior, because Michael Scott has Bond in his blood. Remember that time he effortlessly joked, “I am Bond-fire! James Bond-fire!” This man was born to play Bond.
Not only did Scott bless us with the unique action movie, Threat Level Midnight — a cinematic labor of love that took over a decade to write, cast, film, and edit — but his performance as the Bond-like Agent Scarn was full of heart and personality. It’s also worth noting that Scarn has his own song and dance (very cool!) and he was crucially sampled on a Billie Eilish track BEFORE the teen wrote and recorded the No Time To Die theme. His influence. A legendary agent. — Nicole Gallucci, Senior Editor
Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery impression for Saturday Night Live
Technically, he’s not playing James Bond, but bear with me for a minute. In this recurring Saturday Night Live sketch, Darrell Hammond plays Sean Connery as a contestant on Celebrity Jeopardy. Connery will always be considered the quintessential Bond. So Hammond as Connery is really Hammond as Bond.
And that’s kinda the point of the parody. Hammond’s impression imagines Connery with the same characteristics that made Bond so iconic, but also exaggerated as a crude potty-mouth who peaked when he left the franchise. Instead of in his comfort zone at the blackjack table, seducing (read: coercing, but we’ll leave that for another time) a femme fatale, he is on a game show in the present day (ish) that has seen several waves of feminism, and a whole bunch of other stuff that Hammond’s Connery would have learned about if he had gone to sensitivity training.
Hammond’s Connery acts as if he’s had a few too many martinis…