Based on Ian Fleming’s novel secret agent, James Bond has been one of the most coveted and sought after roles in Hollywood ever since the character’s debut in Dr. No over 60 years ago. Famously, Sean Connery was the first to play the part on the big screen, and set the benchmark of what the character ought to be with his suave style and slick demeanor. Moore re-worked 007 into a more comedic screen presence; Brosnan laced him with sex, sophistication, and wit; Craig completely re-invented him; while Lazenby and Dalton’s brief tenures in the part have retrospectively earned the deserved praise that eluded them upon release.
One thing that cannot be disputed – though it sadly often is – is that each of the six actors who have portrayed Bond have ventured to distinctly new areas to make their iteration of the character uniquely their own. They have even done so with such impact that debate still rages as to who was truly the best Bond, with each actor being well represented in those discussions. This ranking covers Eon’s iconic, long-running film series.
6 George Lazenby
Diehard fans of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service would be encouraged not think of this as George Lazenby being regarded as the worst Bond, but rather as the sixth best. Despite appearing as 007 in just one movie, the Australian actor has garnered a cult supporter base for his portrayal of Bond which remains as criminally underrated as the film he appeared in.
Succeeding Connery in the role was no easy task, but Lazenby found enough room in the script to flesh out the character and make him his own through a soft romantic touch and reserved dramatic weight. With the film being touted as the most somber in the franchise and finding higher praise retrospectively, Lazenby’s performance has aged like a fine wine as the most poignant and tragic Bond to have graced the screen.
5 Roger Moore
When it comes to Eon produced Bond movies, no actor has been as prolific in the James Bond role as Roger Moore. Debuting in 1973’s Live and Let Die, the English actor portrayed 007 seven times across 12 years and, while the quality of his outings varied, there are few who would dispute his standing as an immortal screen icon because of his achievements in the franchise.
While Lazenby was the first actor to play Bond after Connery made the part famous, it was Moore who proved that the franchise had a definite future beyond Connery. A distinct shift from Connery’s suave, smooth-talker, Moore’s Bond still boasted a sense of style but was also infused with a sarcastic wit, perfectly embodied by his tendency to raise a doubtful eyebrow upon villains and lovers alike. Many would argue he outstayed his welcome in the franchise, but no one could dispute his ability to bring fun and energy to the role throughout his tenure.
4 Timothy Dalton
Not dissimilar to Lazenby’s Bond, Timothy Dalton’s tenure as 007 has come to be viewed much more favorably in hindsight. While the actor was eager to appear in more Bond movies, he starred in just the two in the late 80s, both of which excelled in mixing the formulaic Bond plot with the decade’s taste for bombastic action while also giving Bond himself a hostile rawness which his predecessors lacked.
As is frequently opined, he presented a modernized idea of Bond long before audiences were ready to see it, but he also excelled at hearkening back to the early eras of 007 when the opportunity arose. A daring Bond, and a deftly balanced one as well, Dalton may not be the greatest Bond of all time, but he is by far the most underrated and, in many regards, the most influential concerning how modern audiences perceive the character.
3 Pierce Brosnan
Bond has always been slick, but Pierce Brosnan made 007 as cool as could be throughout his critically imbalanced, four-movie tenure as James Bond. The Irish actor absolutely nailed the character’s balance of sophisticated charm, cheeky fun, and underlying danger to routinely appeal to fans as a dashing 007 which excelled as both a call back to old-fashioned suaveness and a modernization for a new-age, post-Cold War era.
In many ways, Brosnan’s Bond is the closest anyone has gotten to beating – or, at the very least matching – Connery’s portrayal at his own game, but he was far from a cheap copy of what had come before him. He fully embodied Bond’s mixture of fun, recklessness, and responsibility, and largely became a fantastic Bond actor in spite of his films rather than because of them.
2 Daniel Craig
Daniel Craig’s importance to the continued success of the Bond franchise is undeniable. Coming into the role at a time when action spy sagas like The Bourne Identity and the Mission: Impossible franchise were surpassing Bond, Craig also had the added pressure of audiences disliking the idea of a blond Bond and doubting his ability to do the role justice. 15 years later, with 2021’s No Time to Die, he exited the franchise as the longest-serving and, in the eyes of many, most compelling Bond to have graced the screen.
Defined by his coarse edges, uncaring coldness, and combative nature, Craig’s Bond served as a radical modernization of the character and the franchise which today’s audiences quickly embraced. Casino Royale and Skyfall stand tall among the greatest films the franchise has produced largely thanks to Craig’s grounded, gritty rawness as well as his subtle nods to all the Bonds who came before him.
1 Sean Connery
Sometimes the original really is the best. Sean Connery was the inaugural 007 way back in 1962’s Dr. No where he set the gold standard of what James Bond ought to be. A true icon of cinema, Connery made the character famous with his effortlessly suave demeanor, slick composure under any set of circumstances, and more than a hint of his incomparable Scottish accent which helped create more than one famous line within the franchise.
Above all else though, he ensured that Bond was always great fun. Even many of the elements of the early Bond films which haven’t aged quite so gracefully – from the unfiltered chauvinism to the stilted fight sequences – are imbued with a distinct of-the-time charm which Connery’s charisma makes easier to absorb. In addition to being the greatest Bond, Connery’s 007 helped pioneered the action spy-thriller, setting the foundation for what the enthralling blockbuster subgenre stands as today.
KEEP READING: All 27 James Bond Movies Ranked Worst to Best, According to Rotten Tomatoes