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Bond, James Bond: See What Happened to All the Actors Who’ve Played Hollywood’s Top Spy Guy

And who might be the next on this list?

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Across a more than 60-year history, author Ian Fleming’s ultimate spy, James Bond, has been portrayed by seven actors on the big screen. But the first time Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, was adapted, it came for live television.

 In 1954, CBS paid Fleming $1,000 for the right to adapt Casino Royale, as an episode of Climax!, the network’s anthology drama series. Actor Barry Nelson took the role of Bond, who was an American agent in this version, with assistance from fellow agent Leiter (later played in the movies by Oscar nominee Jeffrey Wright) and a nemesis in scene-stealing Peter Lorre’s Le Chiffre.

Sean Connery in James bond movies
Sean Connery in “Goldfinger” (1964)moviestillsdb.com/EonProductions

Seven years later, when longtime Bond producer Eon Productions started planning a big-screen adventure for James Bond, it was decided a big-time movie star would be needed to adapt Fleming’s 1958 book Dr. No, and thus began a string of James Bond actors in order who would (mostly) become superstars for their contributions to the 007 universe.

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Sean Connery – Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Never Say Never Again (1983)

Sean Connery; James bonds actors
1962/2013

At first, Ian Fleming was not a fan of Scottish bodybuilder-turned-actor Connery (he came in third in the 1953 Mr. Universe pageant) playing the first of the big-screen James Bond actors in order.

Fleming wanted an elegant portrayal for his soon-to-become iconic character, and he saw Connery as too brawny to pull that off. But Eon’s Dr. No producer Cubby Broccoli thought Connery’s virility and fine form could lead to a sexy, suave leading man, after a bit of polish.

Bespoke suits, slick haircuts, an easy sense of humor (a trait of big-screen Bond that Connery is credited with adding to the character) and the studied development of a sense of cool turned Connery into the 007 many fans still consider the best one, getting even Fleming to eventually admit Connery had been the right choice to bring Bond to the movies.

Sean Connery in Dr No; james bond actors in order
Sean Connery in “Dr. No” (1962)moviestillsdb.com/EonProdcutions

After a couple of hiatuses during his run of 007 movies, Connery – who made millions of dollars and even a share of the gross profits of some of the films – was named the third-greatest hero in movie history (as Bond in Dr. No) by the American Film Institute in 2003.

Connery, who played the father of another iconic movie character, Indiana Jones, in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, won an Oscar (for The Untouchables), and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000. He died, at age 90, in 2020, at his home in the Bahamas.

David Niven – Casino Royale (1967)

David Niven
1957/1975 Bettmann / Contributor / Getty // Fox Photos / Stringer / Getty

Niven, a British actor and novelist, had already won a Best Actor Oscar for the 1958 drama Separate Tables when he starred in the first (of two) film adaptations of Casino Royale.

Though Niven had been Ian Fleming’s first choice for the James Bond actors in order back when Connery first debuted him in the movies, Niven was 56 when he finally played what was considered an old Bond, reflected in the fact that he was a war hero from 1899. He fit the buttoned-up Bond Fleming had initially craved, but lacked the edge and sexiness Connery had used to win moviegoers.

David Niven in Casino royale; james bond actors in order
David Niven in “Casino Royale” (1967) moviestillsdb.com/EonProductions

Niven won the role in Casino Royale after both Connery and The Pink Panther star Peter Sellers turned it down. It was Niven’s only 007 movie, but he did co-star with Sellers in three Pink Panther movies.

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His appearance was also the inspiration for villainous Green Lantern comic book character Sinestro, and he was perhaps most famous for his cheeky response to a streaker when he co-hosted the 1974 live Oscars telecast. “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?” he said. Niven died at age 73 in 1983 at a chalet he owned in Switzerland.

George Lazenby – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

George Lazenby
1967/2021 Reg Burkett / Stringer / Getty // Albert L. Ortega / Contributor / Getty

With Connery tired of the attention he drew as star of the Bond movies, he wanted out of the franchise. Broccoli was looking for a replacement Bond who could carry out the character’s sex appeal as effortlessly as Connery had, and after meeting Lazenby – then a model best known for starring in a Fry’s Chocolate Cream ads on TV – at a barbershop, Broccoli gave him an audition.

Lazenby impressed the producer when he showed up in a Rolex and Savile Row suit that had originally been made for Connery, and then accidentally punched a pro wrestler who was acting as a stunt coordinator on set.

George Lazenby in James Bond Movie
George Lazenby in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)moviestillsdb.com/EonProductions

Though the least popular big-screen Bond, Lazenby’s reviews weren’t terrible; but when he failed to sign a contract with Eon to continue on in seven more Bond flicks, producers moved on to the next star (Lazenby’s agent thought the 007 franchise was not a hot prospect for the future).

Lazenby did earn a Golden Globe nomination (for New Star of the Year) for the Bond performance, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the highlight of the Australian’s resume. He had guest parts on TV series like Hawaii Five-OB.J. and the Bear, and Baywatch, and a recurring role in the made-for-TV French erotic Emmanuelle movies of the 1990s.

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Roger Moore – Live and Let Die (1973), The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy(1983), A View to a Kill (1985)

Roger Moore; James bonds actors
1960/2016 Silver Screen Collection / Contributor / Getty // Phillip Massey / Contributor / Getty

After Connery returned to play Bond in Diamonds are Forever, the Eon gang wanted him to return to the franchise on a regular basis. He said no. In stepped Moore, who was already known for playing gallant Bond-like characters in TV series The Saint and The Persuaders! Moore and the screenwriters added an extra dash of humor to his portrayal, leading to his ranking as one of the all-time favorite 007s in mot fan polls.

Age 57 when he made A View to a Kill, Moore was seen by many critics (and even himself) as too old to continue playing Bond after seven movies in 12 years. But his signature, debonair, old-school movie hero portrayal did help his 007 flicks earn more than a billion dollars at the box office. Post-Bond, Moore focused on charity work (he received the UNICEF UK Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II), writing his memoir, One Lucky Bastard: Tales from Tinseltown, in 2014, and celebrating his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (aptly located at 7007 Hollywood Blvd.)  Moore died at age 89, in 2017, in Switzerland.

Timothy Dalton – The Living Daylights (1987), Licence to Kill (1989)

Timothy Dalton
1986/ 2022 Keith Hamshere / Contributor / Getty // Alberto E. Rodriguez / Stringer / Getty

Dalton turned down the chance to play Bond previously, on two different occasions, in 1969, because he thought himself, then in his mid-twenties, too young to follow Sean Connery in the role, and a decade later, because he was unhappy with the direction 007 was being taken. In 1987, he found The Living Daylights to be just right, and the classically trained actor decided he would play a decidedly more serious, darker, less playboy Bond than Roger Moore had portrayed.

Dalton was considered a great actor, but from the 007 fans’ viewpoint, not their favorite to play Bond. His Bond is considered by many to be tougher, and the most faithful to author Fleming’s original take from the novels.

Timothy Dalton in James bond movie
Timothy Dalton in “The Living Daylights” (1987)moviestillsdb.com/EonProductions

But when litigation about the rights to licensing of the novels delayed what have been Dalton’s third 007 movie, his contract expired, and he left the franchise. His acting career has never slowed since his Bond work, however, including everything from Looney Tunes: Back in Action and a TV miniseries version of Gone With the Wind to more recent work like Doctor WhoPenny Dreadful, the Yellowstone prequel series 1923, and The Crown.  

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Pierce Brosnan – GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999), Die Another Day (2002)

Pierce Brosnan; James bonds actors
1992/2024 Vinnie Zuffante / Stringer / Getty // Leon Bennett / Stringer / Getty

Brosnan was high on the Eon producers’ list for The Living Daylights, but when NBC picked up his option for another season of the drama about suave, Bond-y private eye Remington Steele(and Eon didn’t want him to star in both), Dalton won the role instead. Beloved Brosnan got his turn with GoldenEye, though, and became a franchise favorite during the three Bond flicks that followed with him as the leading man. Brosnan’s Bond was in many ways a greatest hits collection of all the big-screen Bonds: suave, cool, smart, a little lighter, sexy, and the very epitome of the tall, dark and handsome throwback Hollywood leading man.

Brosnan planned to do a fifth movie, but negotiations with Eon held the movie up so long that he decided to retire his Bond portrayal with Die Another Day. The actor, who first met Cubby Broccoli when his first wife, Cassandra Harris, co-starred in For Your Eyes Only, continues his prolific movie and television career, and raises money for his favorite charitable efforts by selling the paintings he makes. Most recently, Brosnan starred in the movie thriller Fast Charlie, and hosted the History Channel docuseries History’s Greatest Heists with Pierce Brosnan. 

Daniel Craig – Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015), No Time to Die (2021)

Daniel Craig
2002/2023 Evan Agostini / Contributor / Getty // Taylor Hill / Contributor / Getty

In November 2005, Daniel Craig was introduced to the world as the newest (and so far, final) James Bond actors in order on board a Royal Navy speedboat, with Craig wearing a tuxedo and lifejacket. The 007 fanbase did not, as a whole, embrace his casting. His blond hair was a sticking point, with dome dubbing him James Blonde, and a British newspaper running the headline, “The name’s Bland – James Bland.” But his debut in the second adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royaleearned raves from critics, and Oscar winner Steven Spielberg called Craig the “perfect 21st century Bond.” 

Since his pandemic-delayed final Bond adventure in 2021,  Craig has returned to the theater, starring in Macbeth on Broadway, and starred in Glass Onion, the sequel to the 2019 Oscar-nominated mystery Knives Out. He next stars in Queer, based on William S. Burroughs’ 1985 novel about an outcast American man who falls for a drug-addled military vet in 1940s Mexico City. He and actress wife Rachel Weisz live in Brooklyn.

The Future of James Bond …

James Bond actors
“Thunderball” movie poster (1965) Movie Poster Image Art / Contributor / Getty

With the aforementioned actors’ Bond years behind them, who will be the next actor to don a tuxedo and speed off into a new level of stardom in 007’s favorite ride, a hot Aston Martin? We went straight to talk on the street (by which we mean the Internet) to see a few of the names most frequently mentioned as potential James Bond material …

Reacher star Alan Ritchson is the action star of the moment, and could certainly fill out a tux like few others. He’s also an American, however, and the folks at Eon Productions have thus far been wedded to the idea of British actors as Bonds.

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Idris Elba in Luther
Idris Elba in “Luther: The Fallen Sun” (2023)moviestillsdb.com/CherninEntertainmnet

Luther star, and DJ, Idris Elba has a movie career that has drawn more than $9 billion in box office receipts, and, honestly, a more handsome, sexier Bond there could not be. He’s also British! But he’s also 51, and rumor has it that Eon may be looking for a younger star who’ll be the next of the James Bond actors in order and stick around for many movies to come.

Riverdale alum Charles Melton earned Oscar buzz and a Golden Globe nomination earlier this year for his performance opposite Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman in the drama May December. He’s also 33, right in the thick of the thirty something demo Eon desires,  so with his dark, curly locks smoothed down into a slick 007 ‘do, he is definitely a top contender to become a big-screen spy guy.

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