Few film series franchises hold the distinction of running for over five decades. Most film series, no matter how successful, eventually end because the timeline and story call for it. However, lucky for the swashbuckler-loving ladies and action-and-gadget-crazy gentlemen, the 007 franchise will not be meeting its demise anytime soon. In fact, it’s considered the longest continually running and second highest-grossing film series to date (behind the Harry Potter series).
A character immortalized by English author Ian Fleming in novels and short stories, James Bond was first revealed to the public on bookstands in 1953. Bond, as depicted on print in twelve novels and two short-stories, is a member of the British secret service and goes by the agent code, 007. He attempts to catch the most dangerous of crooks with the help of Q (short for Quartermaster), the agent who provides Bond with his gadgets and by the instructions of M (short for MI6), the head of the agency.
The novels were too captivating not to be turned into a film, the first of which was Dr. No in 1962; and the rest is history.
The coveted role of James Bond was taken on by a good number of actors throughout the years. Some agreed to do more films than others, believing the role would boost their careers. Others jumped ship after only a few films, probably to avoid the risk of being typecast as Bond and not being able to grab other movie roles outside the franchise. So who were the actors who played 007?
1. Sean Connery (1962-67, 1971, 1983)
The first actor to ever portray James Bond on the big screen was Sean Connery with the film Dr. No. With his smoldering eyes and lean physique, he made for a very striking Bond and played the role of the Casanova-like detective with gusto. He went on to play Bond four more times, then temporarily retired from the role. He agreed to reprise it in 1971 with Diamonds are Forever. Getting rave reviews yet again for his performance in the film, he was wooed into coming back for yet another installment twelve years later in the film, Never Say Never Again. His portrayal was heavily criticized, prompting him to put his foot down and declare that it would be his last movie in the franchise.
2. David Niven (1967)
A spoof was conceptualized for Casino Royale and David Niven was tapped to play an older, retired 007. Niven’s Bond takes over the post of M when the latter is killed in an explosion and what follows is a comical decision for Bond to rename all the other agents to James Bond to confuse the enemy—including Ursula Andress! Though this film was not part of the official series, Niven still holds the title of being the first actor to do a film spoof of 007.
3. George Lazenby (1969)
After Connery retired for the first time, producers had to quickly search for a new actor to play the role, one who would do just as well or even surpass Connery’s Bond. They settled for Australian model George Lazenby, who starred in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Apparently, Bond fans felt that his performance was not of the calibre they were expecting, so this was his first and only Bond movie. Subsequently, fans were glad to hear that producers would be bringing back Sean Connery in the 1971 installment to the series.
4. Roger Moore (1973-1985)
Roger Moore may not be top-of-mind when you think of actors who played James Bond, but he holds the record for starring in the most number of Bond movies for EON Productions. He kick-started his Bond career with the film Live and Let Die and went on to star in six other movies in the franchise. His portrayal of Bond can be described as sophisticated, yet comical. This blend was probably why he was asked back seven times to do the role.
5. Timothy Dalton (1987-1989)
After Moore decided that his seventh Bond film would be his last, Welsh actor Timothy Dalton stepped up to the plate to be the next 007. He starred in two Bond films, The Living Daylights and License to Kill and many deemed his portrayal as the most faithful to the James Bond character in the novels. With all the rave reviews he got, he was set to continue with his reprisal of the role, but had to drop out of the franchise due to legal issues.
6. Pierce Brosnan (1995-2002)
Almost five years had passed since Dalton played Bond and producers needed a new actor to take over the role. They found him in Irish actor, Pierce Brosnan. He was a sexy, suave Bond, playing the role with much flare, starting with Goldeneye in 1995. He starred in a total of four Bond films before deciding to hang his hat, saying he didn’t want to be boxed in and known only as 007.
7. Daniel Craig (2006-present)
There was a four-year gap after Brosnan stepped down before a new Bond was found, due in part to the fact that many fans (especially the females) had already taken to Brosnan and lauded him as an outstanding James Bond. When it was announced that Daniel Craig was cast as the new Bond, many vehemently protested against the decision, saying Craig was too rugged and too blonde to make a good Bond. However, when Casino Royale was released, the naysayers ended up eating their words. Craig made an excellent Bond and has starred in three Bond films and counting!
Influence in Pop Culture
The James Bond franchise paved the way for the spay genre and many espionage movies followed as a result of it. As a testament to its success, it has also been parodied and spoofed numerous times, the latest of which are Mike Myers’ Austin Powers series of films and Johnny English starring Rowan Atkinson.
Catch phrases from Bond became as famous as the franchise itself. “Bond…James Bond” became 007’s signature introduction and has been voted as the best one-liner in cinema by the British movie-going public. With regard to Bond’s poison of choice, he always orders his martinis, “shaken, not stirred”—up until Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale, when he is asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, to which he utters, “Do I look like I give a damn?”
The series of films has also made famous many high-end luxury brands. Bond used many types of luxury sports cars, including several types of Aston Martin models. The most famous Bond car was the silver grey Aston Martin DB5, which made its first appearance in Goldfinger and also appeared in the latest Bond film, Skyfall.
James Bond has always been associated with luxury wrist watches. He has worn the brands Rolex, Hamilton, Tag Heuer, and the Bond films in the recent years saw him sporting Omega watches.
Perhaps James Bond’s biggest impact on pop culture is his many, many, many love interests, a woman in each Bond film known famously as the Bond girl. The Bond girl can hold a myriad of characteristics. Some are cunning, others are sweet. Some are villains, others are allies, but one thing’s for sure: the Bond girl is always eye candy. She is gorgeous and sexy and balances off the virile masculinity of Bond. Some of the actresses who were Bond girls include Ursula Andress, Jane Seymour, Michelle Yeoh, Denise Richards, and Halle Berry.
The film series celebrated its 50th year in film in 2012 and what better way to showcase its success than being included as a parody (along with Queen Elizabeth II, no less) in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics? Indeed, 007 is a huge part of pop culture and will hopefully continue to be so for 50 more years.