With the international release of Daniel Craig’s final James Bond installment almost coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the death of iconic James Bond actor Sean Connery, fans of the movie franchise can’t help but look back with fondness at the actors who made James Bond famous. For diehard moviegoers, the debate over which actor is the greatest James Bond is one for the ages. Of all six screen actors to have starred as 007 in the spy franchise since its cinematic debut in 1962 (not counting the 1967 David Niven satire), popular opinion has narrowed the choice down to the late Sean Connery and Daniel Craig.
Here are three arguments why Sean Connery is the greatest James Bond of all time and three for Daniel Craig.
Daniel Craig is the best James Bond
He overcame hatred and proved his critics wrong
When Daniel Craig was originally cast as James Bond, there was immediate public backlash, criticism and even boycotting campaigns against him. These didn’t let up until the release of his first movie, Casino Royale, in 2006. However, his performance in the film not only scored rave reviews from critics and the public but also earned him a 2007 BAFTA nomination for best actor in a leading role – the first for any Bond actor. Even his predecessors have publicly praised him, with Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton each separately declaring him the best Bond ever.
His movies are the highest-grossing Bond installments
Ever since Craig took helm of the franchise, it has reached financial records. His Casino Royale debut was so acclaimed that the movie earned $599 million and became the highest-grossing James Bond movie in the entire series at that time. While his second film, Quantum of Solace, fell short with “only” $586.1 million, his third Bond film, Skyfall, which premiered in 2012, earned $1.1 billion, becoming the highest-grossing film in the entire series and the 25th highest-grossing film of all time. Craig’s fourth Bond film, Spectre, premiered in 2015, and amassed $880 million worldwide. As the figures show, Craig has financially rejuvenated the franchise. Time will tell what Craig’s fifth and final Bond film, No Time to Die, will rake in at the box office, though it’s off to a promising start with $113 million internationally (so far) after its opening weekend.
He brought James Bond into the 21st century – and humanized him
Prior to Craig being cast, the James Bond franchise was suffering the effects of aging. The character’s 1960s sexist attitude toward women, and the movies’ over-reliance on gadgetry and focus on the Cold War felt outdated, especially next to moral spies like Ethan Hunt and Jason Bourne. Craig changed all that. He portrayed a never-before-seen emotional depth that moved Bond away from the slick, pretty-boy stereotype. Craig’s intensity and vulnerability, combined with his physical toughness gave viewers a darker, more interesting and psychologically complex James Bond than they’d ever seen before. Craig’s Bond perfectly balances ferocity and subtlety and shows that he’s capable of killing others and getting hurt emotionally. Craig humanized the Bond character, which no other actor before him did.
Sean Connery is the best James Bond
He defined the role
If it weren’t for Sean Connery, James Bond – and especially Daniel Craig – wouldn’t be a household name 50-plus years later. With his debut in 1962’s Dr. No, Connery memorably laid the foundation for a 007 that has withstood the test of time. With his rugged good looks, charm and charisma, Connery set the sophisticated style of how Bond looked, dressed, wooed women, drank, used a gun and drove a car. He was playful one minute and ruthless the next; a refined tough guy that also infused the role with wry humor and knowing looks. He went on to star in six more James Bond movies, cementing how we think of the on-screen character. He’s come to represent the epitome of 007, and every other Bond since Connery can’t help but be compared to him. Plus, as portrayed by Connery, James Bond was selected as the third-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.
Most accurately and assuredly embodies the fantasy
For all the talk of today’s cinematic spies with a conscience and Daniel Craig’s success in humanizing James Bond, it’s important to remember that 007 is not meant to be a real person but the ultimate alpha male fantasy. In his books (at least until his 12th book), author and creator Ian Fleming never gave James Bond a backstory; he eats in restaurants, lives in hotels, sleeps with whatever woman he wants, and kills people. Connery masterfully embodied this fantasy figure with his suave, aloof and untroubled portrayal of James Bond. Connery brought unflappable calm to the role, whether he was killing bad people are charming women. In so doing, he perfectly embodied the fantasy and escapism that is James Bond.
Has the most dialogue to deliver of all Bonds – and does so with wit
Sean Connery’s mastery of witty dialogue has made his Bond the coolest and most collected of all. Due to the lack of cinematic technologies during the 60s and early 70s, Connery’s Bond films had to rely on more dialogue scenes than today’s explosion-packed Bond installments. He uses his wit and charm to great effect, whether trying to get out of tough situations or to connect with other characters. This brings another plot layer to the franchise for viewers to appreciate instead of just multiple fight scenes to move the plot forward. Connery’s perfectly timed delivery of clever dialogue makes his Bond more amusing for viewers than his successors. Such one liners like “shocking,” said after he kills an enemy by electrocution in Goldfinger, are what make Connery’s James Bond the most memorable.
The Bottom Line: Daniel Craig won over his haters and critics while modernizing and humanizing James Bond, all while making the franchise the most profitable it has ever been. However, Sean Connery is the actor who defined and epitomized the cinematic hero, using his charm, wit to embody the ultimate Fantasy. So, when the world is in danger, who do you trust to save the day?