From the fast cars to the tuxedos, we take a look at the franchise which has kept the world captivated for more than half a century…
As Spectre, the 24th instalment in the James Bond film franchise hits our screens, the world has been waiting to see the beloved spy and his latest escapades. Since the release of Dr. No in 1962, the Bond films have had audiences enthralled, and 53 years on the films are just as iconic as they’ve ever been – there’s definitely no let up when it comes to the hype surrounding the release of the latest Bond.
Now the third biggest film franchise in the world (just pipped to the post by Harry Potter and the Marvel films), the James Bond movies have made almost £4billion at the box office, and that’s before you take into account the huge sum expected to flood in from Spectre.
Of course, the billions the films earn once they hit the big screen justifies the huge expenditure – Spectre cost over £200million to create, making it one of the most expensive films ever produced. This is a far cry from Dr.No where the budget was just $1million (around £650,000). Although they went over this by 10%, the film made close to £40million – and the success of Bond was born.
Although it wasn’t the first of author Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, Dr.No became the first Bond film to be made, starring the – at the time, relatively unknown – Sean Connery. At first, Ian Fleming doubted the casting of Connery, saying “He’s not what I envisioned of James Bond’s looks… I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt man.”
Connery, a keen bodybuilder and footballer, had stumbled upon acting, through taking a backstage job at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre in 1951. This sparked an interest in the dramatic world, and, in 1953, during a bodybuilding competition in London, he was notified about an upcoming production of South Pacific, which he decided to audition for, landing the part of one of a Seabees chorus boys. This saw the beginning of a long and illustrious acting career; he began to land roles in both stage shows and film, even coming to Kent at one stage when The Condemned was shot in Dover.
It wasn’t just Connery who was a controversial decision when Dr. No was being created. The film’s producer, Cubby Broccoli (whose wife Dana was instrumental in persuading her husband that Connery was the right man for the role), faced challenges of his own when it came to the character development process, saying in an interview:
“Our first problem was the character of Dr. No, since he was going to be 007’s first and most fiendish adversary, the situation called for a character of menacing dimensions. This was the brief which our writers took away with them. Later, as we sat reading the pages, I had a sinking feeling. They had decided to make Dr. No a monkey. I repeat – a monkey. This threw Harry [Saltzman] and me into some dismay. A million dollars was being invested. We didn’t think that a monkey, even with a high IQ, could in any circumstances be 007’s ‘merciless antagonist’.”
Monkey role quashed, filming commenced, and Connery delivered in his first major film role. Even Ian Fleming, despite his initial reservations, was full of praise for the actor. After the successful Dr. No premiere, he was so impressed, he created a half-Scottish, half-Swiss heritage for Bond in the later novels.
Over the next five years, Connery went on to star in a further four Bond films (From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice) before putting down his gun in 1967, where George Lazenby took on the role of 007. However, it wasn’t long before Connery was back to playing the spy – in 1971 he reprised his role as Bond for Diamonds are Forever, and in 1983 he appeared as Bond in the lesser known Never Say Never Again, which was not produced by Eon films, the company behind the other movies.
Despite his overwhelming success as Bond, once he had hung up his tuxedo, Connery became somewhat disillusioned with his time as the spy, once saying “I have always hated that damned James Bond. I’d like to kill him.” While playing Bond had in no way hampered his acting career, he struggled with the fame that came with being so synonymous with the character. He was recognised everywhere he went, and over the following years attempted to separate himself from the franchise and the character that had made him a household name.
One thing that was inescapable, however, was his heartthrob status. Just like his character, Connery was never short of female attention, having a string of romances in the lead up to hitting the big time, before marrying first wife Diane Cilento in 1962. The pair had one son together, Jason Connery – now an actor and director in his own right, before divorcing in 1973. Two years later, Connery remarried to painter Micheline Roquebrune, and the pair remain married 40 years on.
Connery, who was knighted in 2000 has always remained a source of public interest, so it perhaps comes as no surprise that in 2015 he is still the nation’s favourite 007 actor. In a recent Sunday Times survey he was named the ‘ultimate 007’, gaining 45.2% of the votes – his closest rival being the current Bond, Daniel Craig.
Connery was a tough act to follow, and seemingly, none have succeeded in outgunning him since. George Lazenby’s stint as the infamous secret agent lasted just one film, and with Connery reprising his role shortly afterwards, it would seem that succeeding Connery was a formidable task.
The next to try – this time for a longer reign in Bond’s suave suit was Roger Moore, who was already a household name from his role in The Saint by the time he was signed up to step in to 007’s shoes. He was considered for 007 in 1968 before finally accepting the part in 1972, and went on to star in seven Bond movies, including Live and Let Die, Octopussy and A View to a Kill. Moore is the longest-serving James Bond actor, having spent 12 years in the role, and was also the oldest actor to play the spy – he was 45 when he was cast as Bond and 58 when he announced his retirement in 1985.
After Moore’s departure, the next actor to step into the now legendary spy suit was Timothy Dalton. Unlike Moore’s portrayal of Bond, which was more comical and dry, Dalton brought a new ruthless, hard-edged side to the character – similar to the James Bond found in Ian Fleming’s original novels. He only played the role for two films, The Living Daylights and License to Kill, but fans of the character created by Ian Fleming praised the way in which he portrayed Bond.
Timothy Dalton was originally due to star in a further Bond film, but due to the film’s production being delayed by a lawsuit, in 1994 he announced he would no longer be playing the role, and two months later, Pierce Brosnan was announced as the next Bond. After marrying Bond girl Cassandra Harris, the Irish actor was considered for the part in 1986 but commitments to TV drama Remington Steele meant that he didn’t sip 007’s martini until Goldeneye in 1995.
Often considered the ‘smoothest’ of the Bonds, Brosnan, who went on to star in a further three Bond films, had publicly admitted he’d like to match Sean Connery’s run of movies and do six. However, this wasn’t to be, and in 2004 after nine years as 007 he announced he was stepping down, paving the way for the current Bond, Daniel Craig, to step up to the plate.
He may be a household name now, and the nation’s second favourite Bond, but there was some level of controversy and criticism when Daniel Craig was cast as Bond in Casino Royale, owing mostly to his looks. The previous five actors had all been dark-haired and reasonably tall, whereas Craig, with his blonde hair, 5ft10 stature and blue eyes was a far cry from previous castings. Critics and the media went to town on him, threatening to boycott the film if he remained the star.
However, he had much support from his predecessors – Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton and Roger Moore all publicly backed him. When Casino Royale was released in 2006 and quickly became the highest grossing Bond film, the critics were silenced, and after Skyfall was named as the most successful British film of all time, it would seem Daniel Craig has certainly put paid to all those naysayers.
With Spectre being Craig’s fourth Bond film, he is currently contracted for one more, and speculation continues to mount on whether he will try to outlive his other 007 ancestors or whether the time has come for him to hang up his tuxedo.
“I really don’t know. Honestly. I’m not trying to be coy. At the moment I can’t even conceive it,” Craig said recently when questioned about his future as the secret agent.
When pressed on whether he’d like to make six, maybe seven films like Connery had, he said: “At this moment, no. I have a life and I’ve got to get on with it a bit. But we’ll see.”
Having just signed up to play Lago in an off-Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Othello next autumn, and with a few other projects in the pipeline, whether he decides to continue his reign as Bond or not remains to be seen, but either way, it’s doubtful he’ll be far from the limelight whether he’s playing the spy or not.
Whether it was Moore’s humour, Craig’s brooding or Connery’s virility, each actor given the opportunity to play Bond has brought something unique to the character, and has made James Bond the household name and phenomenon that he is today. As the films continue to smash box office records, there’s no questioning the unwavering loyal following they have held from the very first instalment to the current offering. And the obsession doesn’t stop when audiences leave the cinemas – from product placement in the movies making items sell out in seconds to a rise in gin sales because of Bond’s favourite Vesper tipple, the 007 films have created not just a love for the protagonist, but a love for all things Bond – and it doesn’t look set to stop any time soon.