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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Vicky Jessop

James Bond ranked: from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, who played him best?

Is there any cinema role more enduring and more iconic thanJames Bond? The suave 007, who first appeared in the pages of Ian Fleming’s 1953 novella Casino Royale, has become a box office juggernaut, thrilling audiences since 1962, when Sean Connery made his debut in Dr No.

Over the years, we’ve had baddies galore, heart-stopping action scenes, Bond girls aplenty and, of course, a succession of actors who have made the character their own. But who was the best?

With Aaron Taylor-Johnson hotly tipped to replace Daniel Craig as the martini-swilling superspy, here’s our guide to which Bonds hit the target – and which may need a few more lessons in the shooting range.

7) David Niven

Few but the most dedicated Bond fans know about David Niven’s association with the role, but he actually appeared as the ‘original Bond’ in the spoof 1967 film Casino Royale. Suave, debonair and handsome, he was a star of Golden Age Hollywood and played an older version of the superspy, as well as one that hews very closely to Fleming’s original vision for the character. And yet, a bit-part in an oft-forgotten film does not a 007 make: what a shame he never had the chance to apply his brand of acting genius to the role.

6) George Lazenby


Poor George Lazenby: forever fated to grace the bottom of every (proper) 007 ranking. The Australian actor donned the tuxedo for one solitary outing, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and his Bond is certainly a lot less polished than many of the others.

This Bond is slightly wooden at times (none of Connery’s suaveness here), and struggles to keep up with the demands of the script – though the infamously bleak ending, and his doomed romance with Diana Riggs’ Tracey, give rise to some heartbreaking scenes towards the film’s end.

But there is humour (Bond’s attempts to go undercover as Sir Hilary Bray are a particular highlight) and with admirers including Steven Soderbergh and Christopher Nolan, Lazenby’s legacy has been burnished over time.

5) Roger Moore


There’s a distinctly silly aura to many of Roger Moore’s Bond films. Which is fine, if the inherent campness of the role appeals.

This was an era where Bond had truly broken through as a pop culture icon, and Moore’s seven films (over 12 years) leant hard into the idea of the superspy as a fun, over-the-top action hero.

Films like Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only proved he was more than capable of delivering a witty gag. But while the action sequences were definitely entertaining, this was Bond as cartoon: too much froth, not enough substance.

4) Timothy Dalton

(MGM/ United Artists)

Was Dalton the right fit for Bond? Maybe not: the actor, who cut his teeth in Shakespeare productions, brings a certain gravitas and grimness to the role that didn’t always land with audiences. Though it was a welcome change from the campness that characterised the Roger Moore era, his po-faced Bond was a far cry from the rogueish charmer audiences loved.

Dalton only appeared in two films, The Living Daylights and License to Kill, but he imbued them with a sort of romantic sadness that Daniel Craig would take and run with on a few decades later. Both films underperformed at the box office, and Dalton was quickly shunted aside in favour of the younger Pierce Brosnan.

3) Pierce Brosnan


Pierce Brosnan was, on paper, the perfect Bond. Charming, always ready with a quip and possessed of an impressive head of black hair, Brosnan brought a welcome dab of humour back to Bond.

Brosnan’s clear passion for the role shines through across all four of his films. What brought him down, ultimately, was the source material. While GoldenEye remains a true classic (and arguably one of the best Bond films ever), Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough fall short – while his last film Die Another Day is a true dud (the invisible car will forever haunt those who saw it, as no doubt it still does Brosnan).

2) Sean Connery

Actor Sean Connery as James Bond next to his Aston Martin DB5 in a scene from Goldfinger in 1964 (PA) (PA Media)

One of the upsides of a franchise like James Bond being around for so long is that people have their own favourite 007 – which is often influenced by who they were watching growing up.

With that in mind, Connery isn’t our first choice (cue gnashing of teeth from hardcore fans), but he’s an inescapable part of the franchise’s legacy. The Scottish actor was the first Bond to take up the reins seriously and make the role his own.

As the original, he is what many would see as the best Bond. His version of the character was suave, wryly humorous and handy with a gun – there was violence lurking underneath the surface, too. And even if some of his films (notably, all the parts involving women) don’t stand the test of time, then at least he left us with some classics: notably Dr No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

Daniel Craig


When his name was announced, people doubted whether Craig had enough charisma to play the rogue superspy. He was old. Plus, he was blond! A blond Bond: how ridiculous.

And yet, Craig proved them all wrong. He succeeded in bringing depth to the role (which is, let’s face it, a pretty shallow one), exploring the ramifications of PTSD and the toll that a job like his takes on the body and mind.

His Bond is brutal: a “brute in a China shop,” as M puts it, full of rage and childhood insecurities. Craig also made the films into a fascinating exploration of his psyche, spread out across five entries and 15 years. The Bond of Casino Royale is brash and arrogant, but that armour is gradually stripped away until you get the haunted man of later films (though fortunately Skyfall does also give us his tricked-out Aston Martin and spy gadgets too).

It’s as introspective as Bond ever gets, and Craig arguably reinvented the entire franchise doing so. These will be big boots to fill.

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