I’ve been scouring the internet over the past several months looking for rankings of James Bond movies, opening theme songs, and actors from worst to first (yes, I know I don’t have a life, thank you very much). To say that I have been disappointed by the rankings of all three would be an understatement to end all understatements. There have been certain indisputable truths I’ve come across (Die Another Day is objectively one of the worst Bond films in the series and, conversely, Goldfinger is a Top 5 classic), but other entries in the list seem to irk me for how low/high they are placed. Everyone seems to love Daniel Craig as Bond (I don’t), and many lists tend to damn certain favorite films of mine, such as The Living Daylights or Tomorrow Never Dies to the deepest depths of mediocrity. Hell, even License To Kill, my favorite Bond theme song and movie starring my favorite Bond actor, Timothy Dalton, more often than not gets placed outside of most lists’ top tens.
I figured it was time for some revenge, but I decided to at least make this a (somewhat) fair list. Metrics were used to determine the characteristics I thought were most important to a Bond character: Looks, Physicality, Impact, Movies, Miscellaneous. More on those in a minute, but suffice to say this is a relatively subjective list. I tried to keep this a balanced ranking with objective criteria but some of my biases were harder to hide than others. Each category is used to rank the actor on a scale from 1 to 10 and then all five are added to make an aggregate score (out of 50) and percentage:
Looks – How well does this actor portray a dashing 00-agent
Physicality – Separate from looks, how does this actor stack up in the physique aspect and does he have enough physical prowess to play the role? Does he do his own stunts etc.?
Impact – How memorable/iconic was this Bond?
Movies – The movies that these specific Bonds were in, were they any good? Plot? Dialogue? Memorable villains?
Miscellaneous – A hodgepodge of any criteria left out such as Q gadgets, Bond girls, and (most importantly) theme songs.
With that in mind let’s jump right in, starting with (subjectively) the worst Bond…
6. George Lazenby: 32/50 (64%)
Looks: 8.5/10 – Lazenby was an Australian model at the time of being selected to play our favorite 00-agent, so its no surprise he looks the part to portray an international spy tasked with seducing gorgeous women as part of his job description. Lazenby is one of the better looking and more convincing actors to play 007, which helps him big time in this particular ranking criteria but wasn’t enough to save him from being at the bottom of this list.
Physicality: 8.5/10 – George Lazenby stood at 6’2” and was a very broad man with an athletic build (as mentioned above, he was a model). He was also the youngest actor at just 29 years old to play James Bond. It is even rumored that Lazenby requested to do his own stunts but the studio vehemently denied it. Nevertheless, Lazenby ended up breaking a rib on set anyway. The only thing keeping his score from being any higher is the aforementioned lack of stunt work.
Impact: 5/10 – Here lies one of Lazenby’s Achilles heels, as the man starred in only one Bond film before his agent advised against it, due to the changing culture of the 70’s. Apparently after 1969’s On Her Majesties Secret Service, spy movies were on their way out. Its a shame, because OHMSS is considered a hidden gem by most. Personally, I thought the movie was solid but nothing to write home about, which is partially why the Aussie ranks so low in this category. He is often referred to as the “forgotten Bond,” and his Impact ranking reflects this.
Movies: 7/10 – As I just mentioned in the Impact category, Lazenby only starred in one good but not spectacular film. OHMSS was a close adaptation to the Ian Flemming novels, but Lazenby’s lack of acting experience and poor delivery of certain lines knocks him down a notch or two. A seven here seems more than fair.
Misc: 4/10 – OHMSS’ lack of gadgets coupled with Lazenby’s haphazard and ultimately subpar usage of Bond’s signature quips makes this a rough category for Lazenby. Dovetail this with the absence of a seminal “Bond Theme Song” and Lazenby falls flat here
Best Film: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Best Line: “This never happened to the other guy” On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).
5. Roger Moore: 32.5/50 (65%)
Looks: 8/10 – In terms of looking the part, Moore has this in spades. It can be argued whether Moore’s Bond was a departure from the gritty novels of Flemming, but in terms of a suave secret agent who looks great in a tuxedo, look no further than Roger Moore. His only knock here is his age, as Moore is one of the older actors to play Bond and by his last film, 1985’s A View to a Kill, he was 57 years old.
Physicality: 5/10 – When fans think of James Bond, they may think of two different and diametrically opposed archetypes: Daniel Craig’s barrel chested take on the spy is at one end of the spectrum, and at the other end lies Moore’s relatively scrawny and aging rendition. Moore is, to even the nakedest of eyes, the weakest Bond in terms of brute strength and physical performance. Many of his action and fight scenes seem overly choreographed and his Bond relied heavily on gadgets to outdo his opponents. Bonus points for the skiing scene in The Spy Who Loved Me, which showed off a bit of athletic prowess by 007, but by and large, Moore doesn’t have the physical chops to pull his score any higher above average.
Impact: 7/10 – If we are talking about sheer number of films being starred in, Moore is tied with Sean Connery for most times playing James Bond (seven). Strip away Connery’s “non-cannon” spin as Bond in Never Say Never Again (for the purposes of this list, we won’t), and Moore even takes the cake in the quantity department. Some of his movies, however, fall flat in the department of being memorable. Some even sit in the infamous category. By virtue of volume, Moore has a high score in the impact section of this list. His score could have benefitted from not having his name tied to so many forgettable clunkers, though (see: Moonraker, Octopussy, A View To A Kill).
Movies: 5.5/10 – Upon initial inspection, this score may seem a bit harsh. Peel the layers back a bit, however, and you will see most of Moore’s Bond movies have not aged well. Yes, Connery’s movies of the 60’s have dated CGI in scenes but they felt somewhat endearing. Moore’s films seemed to try to cash in on the latest trends of the times even more so than their predecessors and followers, and even more to their detriment than the others. Moonraker was a clear grab at the Star Wars phenomenon of the late 70’s and Moore’s first turn as Bond in Live and Let Die was a shameless go at the Blaxploitation movement of the early 70’s. Sure, Moore had fan favorites like The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only, but most of his catalog is weighed down by bloated and over the top spy movies that almost seem like parodies of themselves (for Christ’s sake, he dresses up as a clown in Octopussy and its played completely straight).
Misc: 7/10 – The good: Moore’s Bond was a quip machine. The man absolutely knew how to deliver a classic Bond line like few others in the series. The music, while not phenomenally memorable save for Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die, wasn’t awful either. The bad: The gadgets in most of these movies have not stood the test of time and many of the villains in the movie are way too outlandish, even for a Bond film
Best Film: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). Best Line: “I’m now aiming precisely at your groin. So speak now or forever hold your piece.” The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
4. Daniel Craig: 36/50 (72%)
Looks: 6.5/10 – Listen, I know I’m going to catch some heat for this, but I just don’t understand the appeal of Daniel Craig. He’s a decent enough looking guy, but holy hell does he not fit the mold of James Bond. I get that we have to be open to trying new things, but with something as classic as the James Bond character trope, Craig sticks out like a sore thumb. He doesn’t have the same debonair disposition as those who preceded him, he just looks like a brute in the vein of a Jason Bourne (okay, I’m done ranting now; bias hat is coming off).
Physicality: 10/10 – Where Craig lacks in the suave department he more than makes up for in the physical realm. The scene in Casino Royale where Bond steps out of the beach is etched into everyone’s mind; this is the first time we’ve seen a Bond who looks like he could believably kick the ass of all the oversized henchmen thrown at him without having to use any fancy gadgets. Kudos to you, Craig. You shine in this section like none before you.
Impact: 6.5/10 – Again, not to be a hater, but I feel as though Craig hasn’t had enough time to sit in our brains as 007 for his impact to be any greater than it is at a 6.5. He’s had good movies (Casino Royale routinely sits at the top of most people’s lists, be it fair or not) and bad movies (Quantum of Solace, conversely, ranks near the bottom of every list I’ve read) just like every other Bond (well, almost every other Bond, but we’ll get there). Craig’s score here is bound to rise over time, but many of you reading this list probably weren’t even old enough to legally purchase a ticket to Casino Royale when it was released in theaters barely a decade ago. Give it time.
Movies: 7/10 – So we talked about Craig’s rollercoaster ride in the section above from his first outing to his second, how about the rest? Skyfall was critically acclaimed when it was released in 2012. Then Craig came crashing back down to earth with very mediocre and ultimately ambivalent scores for his 2015 film, Spectre. Subjectively, I felt a 7/10 here was more than fair, as you may be presently aware I am not exactly running the Daniel Craig Fanclub. Quantum of Solace almost put me to sleep on a plane ride to Texas one time and Casino Royale, at times, felt like a franchise that was trying to go in the opposite direction of everything it had built in the past.
Misc: 6/10 – I find myself, once again, gritting my teeth and trying to find more positives than negatives, but here’s where some of my biases come into play. Craig’s quips left much to be desired, the gadgets were few and far between, and the songs were steaming piles of garbage save for Adele’s Skyfall, which felt like a return to form in the arena of Bond Themes (this coming from someone who, musically at least, despises the very ground Adele walks on, but to each their own). By giving this a 6/10 though, I am acknowledging that the positives outweigh the negatives. Just don’t ask me to name them any time soon.
Best Movie: Casino Royale (2006). Best Line: something about scratching his balls during a torture scene in Casino Royale?
3. Pierce Brosnan: 36.25/50 (72.5%)
Looks: 10/10 – This may be a product of my formative years taking place solely in the Brosnan era (1995-2002) but anytime I think of James Bond my mind immediately goes to Pierce Brosnan. The man was born to play Bond. He is so suave and erudite and exudes a charisma about him not seen since the Connery years. Seriously, go back and watch his first two films, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. Every scene in those movies is a master class on how to be an international lady killer when you step in the room.
Physicality: 6.5/10 – While not the most physical looking Bond, Brosnan more than holds his own. He isn’t the 6%-body-fat-speedo-model that Craig is but he certainly isn’t the wet napkin that is Roger Moore for the majority of his Bond days either. His Bond has a few cool stunts and athletic feats to go along with this theory as well, particularly in Goldeneye. Brosnan starts to show his age physically by his final installment, Die Another Day, but in his first few movies he is passable as an action star/super spy. A middle of the road Bond physique deserves a middle of the road score.
Impact: 6.75/10 – This was virtually a coin flip of a difference between Brosnan and Craig: both starred in 4 up and down films with their first flicks generally being their best outings. Brosnan’s Bond has been around a whole decade longer than Craig’s rendition, though. Also its worth noting Brosnan has something going for him that no other Bond can even come close to: Goldeneye for the N64. Every college dorm room from 1997 to now has probably had their fair share of death matches on this classic FPS. And if they haven’t, shame on them!
Movies: 5.5/10 – Brosnan’s first two movies, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, are personal favorites of mine and seem to be generally well received by the masses. Even The World is Not Enough was a decent movie that only seems to get criticized for its choice of casting outside of the always fantastic Brosnan. What really weighs this score down (and heavily, I might add) is the absolutely god-awful Die Another Day. I won’t go into detail about how much of a crap-fest this movie is, as everyone else on the internet seems to have done that for me. Trust me when I say this movie is one of the few Bond flicks that is worth skipping. Its so bad, in fact, that Daniel Craig’s Bond, dark and brooding, is almost necessary to scrub the minds of Bond fans everywhere, and this is coming from someone who LOVES Brosnan as Bond.
Misc: 7.5/10 – As with just about everything else in the Brosnan section of this list, its a tale of two halves. Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies feature delightful gadgets, villains, theme songs, and even Bond girls. The World is Not Enough is hit or miss on these, with a surprisingly good theme song done by Garbage of all people. Die Another Day torpedoes all of this effort and brings the aggregate score of Brosnan down significantly (Madonna, anyone?).
Best Movie: Goldeneye (1995). Best Line: “What, no small talk? No chit chat? See that’s the problem with the world these days, no one takes the time to do a proper interrogation.” Goldeneye (1995)
2. Sean Connery: 38.5/50 (77%)
Looks: 8/10 – A bit of a heads up, since Connery was the first Bond in the franchise he will be graded on somewhat of a curve for the most part. That being said, vintage Sean Connery is what Bond is supposed to look like, suave and sophisticated with a hint of manly action hero. A reoccurring theme will be present throughout: had Sean Connery stopped after making 1967’s You Only Live Twice, his score might have been higher. After taking a four year hiatus, Connery returned in 1971’s Diamonds are Forever looking like a shell of his former self, gray hair and all. Who knows what could have been if Connery had simply said enough after 5 films.
Physicality: 6.5/10 – Connery suffers from a similar fate as Pierce Brosnan in that his physique started to regress as his career went on. This is understandable; we are humans, we age. Connery seemed to be aging on speed, though. Take his first break from Bond into account. When we see Connery last, he is starring in You Only Live Twice and still looking like a man with plenty left in the tank. Flash forward just 4 short years and Connery looks like a different person altogether. His hair is peppered with white, his skin looks saggy, and he’s rocking a proud beer gut 45 years before some idiot introduced us to the “dad bod” craze. Before this, however, Connery is more than adequate enough physically to play James Bond.
Impact: 10/10 – Who didn’t see this coming. If it wasn’t for Connery, Bond may have gone in a completely different direction. Everything we see in subsequent Bond films owes its very existence to the Connery era. Make no mistake, a perfect score in this category is more than justified. Connery’s Bond is the blueprint for not only every following Bond, but every following spy movie in the 20th century as well.
Movies: 7/10 – Broken record alert: this score would be much higher if Connery had stepped down after You Only Live Twice. Trust me its as tiring for me to type as it is for you to read. While its true Diamonds are Forever is a real cumbersome weight tied to Connery’s ankle, as is the unofficial Never Say Never Again, Connery’s first five films are all hallmarks of the genre. In particular, the middle trifecta of From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and Thunderball offers some of the best the series has to offer, with the latter playing host to one of my favorite Bond songs ever. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend watching those three films if you’re a Bond fan. You won’t be disappointed.
Misc: 7/10 – 007 is known for having much of the following: sweet gadgets, a cool car, tons of women fawning all over him, and iconic theme songs. For the most part, Connery delivers in all phases of the game here. Again, much of this has to do with Connery being the proverbial guinea pig of the series. Some of the songs fall a little flat (music pun) but Tom Jones’ Thunderball sits comfortably in my Top 3 Bond songs of all time, and the gadgets, cars, and girls are all way up there in terms of their rank in the pantheon of James Bond. Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Connery was and always will be the king of Bond quips.
Best Movie: Goldfinger (1964). Best line: “That gun, it looks more fitting for a woman.” “You know much about guns, mister Bond?” “No, but I know a little about women.” Thunderball (1965).
Timothy Dalton: 41/50 (82%)
Looks: 8.5/10 – He may not have the quintessential Bond looks of Brosnan, but Timothy Dalton could pull of a steely eyed lady killer with a penchant for expensive suits like few others. Everything about him screams international man of mystery: his cold blue eyes, his chiseled bone structure, and his jet black hair that always seems to be perfectly in place. His look isn’t as iconic as Connery or Brosnan but Dalton brings his own unique aesthetic to James Bond that few would find fault with.
Physicality: 8.5/10 – Dalton had something going for him that no one else in the series prior did: he did a lot of his own stunt work. He certainly wasn’t the most physically imposing of Bonds, as he didn’t have the height of Lazenby or muscular stature of Craig, but Dalton more than made up for this with his stunt work and athletic ability. Skydiving, waterskiing, or hanging out of the back of a plane, he did it all and convincingly too. He falls in the middle of the physique spectrum much like Brosnan did; not a tank like Craig but not a shrimp like Moore.
Impact: 6/10 – If there is one knock anyone can justify in levying against Dalton, it is that he only had two movies to make his mark. Granted, both movies were phenomenal in their own unique ways. This doesn’t make up for the fact, however, that Dalton just didn’t have enough time to endear himself to the masses, leaving only his most hardcore supporters (guilty as charged) to be his flag bearers. If it wasn’t for Lazenby’s woefully average one-and-done as the 00-agent, perhaps Dalton would be labeled “The Forgotten One.”
Movies: 9.5/10 – Okay, so I’m a bit of a fanboy, but I warned you from the start some of these rankings were subjective. With all that being said, at their absolute worst, The Living Daylights and License to Kill were both above average Bond adventures with some of the best Bond girls in the series and action scenes that were both believable and entertaining. Dalton shines in both of these films as a flawed yet professional killer who sometimes lets his emotions get in the way; he’s great at what he does but we still see that he’s human. Juxtapose this with the Bond directly before Dalton, Moore, who seems to always have a smug disposition no matter what situation he’s in, and this is a welcomed change. The next time someone comes at you with “Daniel Craig is gritty and a throwback to the Flemming novels,” just pop in that License to Kill VHS (look it up, kiddos) and let em know Dalton was doing it nearly two decades beforehand.
Misc: 8.5/10 – This is the part of the review where I reveal I am an unapologetic fan of the 80’s. With that in mind, everything about these movies was 80’s culture personified. The Bond girls scream late 1980’s with their hair and fashion, and the plots are classic representations of that decade of decadence we all secretly love. The villains are fun and memorable, particularly Sanchez from License to Kill, played expertly by Robert Davi. The plots are a departure from Moore’s campy run as 007 without straying too far from the classic formula and Dalton picks his moments with those signature Bond quips. The songs give this category a huge boost. The Living Daylights, while a product of the times (1987), was so deliciously late decade excess, it has to be admired, right down to its tinny keyboard interludes. It remains a concert staple of A-ha’s. Saving the best for last, Gladys Knight’s License to Kill is so wonderful. It mixes the big band feel of early Bond with 1980’s studio haze, for lack of a better term, dripping with appeal. The result is my all-time favorite Bond song, and Knight delivers a sultry performance that remains criminally underrated (a recurring motif of Dalton era movies).
Best Movie: License to Kill (1989). Best Line(s): “Stuff my orders! I only kill professionals. That girl didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other. Go ahead, tell M what you want. If he fires me I’ll thank him for it. Whoever she was it must’ve scared the living daylights out of her.” The Living Daylights (1987). *Preparing to fire rockets from his Aston Martin* “I’ve had a few optional extras installed.” The Living Daylights (1987).
By The Numbers:
Looks: Highest – Pierce Brosnan (10/10). Lowest – Daniel Craig (6.5/10)
Physicality: Highest – Daniel Craig (10/10). Lowest – Roger Moore (5/10)
Impact: Highest – Sean Connery (10/10). Lowest – George Lazenby (5/10)
Movies: Highest – Timothy Dalton (9.5/10). Lowest – Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan (5.5/10)
Misc.: Highest – Timothy Dalton (8.5/10). Lowest – George Lazenby (4/10)
My Personal Rankings:
Bonds (metrics aside)
6. Daniel Craig
5. Roger Moore
4. George Lazenby
3. Sean Connery
2. Pierce Brosnan
1. Timothy Dalton
5. Goldfinger (1964)
4. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
3. The Living Daylights (1987)
2. Goldeneye (1995)
1. License to Kill (1989)
5. Tomorrow Never Dies (Sheryl Crow)
4. The World is Not Enough (Garbage)
3. Thunderball (Tom Jones)
2. The Living Daylights (a-ha)
1. License to Kill (Gladys Knight)