Features and Columns · Movies

A Brief History of the Search for the Next James Bond

It’s a question that emerges every few years, but now it’s time for an answer.
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By  · Published on October 6th, 2021

Brief History is a column that tells you all you need to know about your favorite — and not so favorite — pop culture topics. This entry looks at the search for the next James Bond following the departure of Daniel Craig.  

Someday soon, there will be a new 007. No Time to Die, the latest installment of the storied James Bond franchise, marks Daniel Craig‘s final performance in the role of cinema’s most famous spy.

Since the first theatrical film adaptation of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels in 1962, six men have played the character for Eon Productions’ ongoing series. With Craig’s departure, fans, critics, and journalists are all speculating on who will continue in the franchise‘s marquee role.

As we prepare to hit the movie theaters and see Craig as Bond for the final time, here is a brief history of the search for his replacement — plus a look at some of the contenders, as well as what Craig plans to do next.

A Brief History of James Bond Actors

Sean Connery starred as James Bond in five movies from 1962 to 1967. George Lazenby became the second James Bond in 1969, starring in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He remains the only actor to play Agent 007 just once. In 1971, Connery reprised the role for Diamonds Are Forever. 

Two years later, a new James Bond era began with Roger Moore. He played the character for Eon Productions seven times, the most of any actor, ending with A View to a Kill in 1985. (Connery played Bond a seventh time but outside the main series.)

Two years later, Timothy Dalton became the fourth James Bond. His stint as 007 lasted for only two films: The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. He had originally been slated to star in more installments, but a series of legal issues halted production on the franchise. And thus began the longest drought in its history.

Then, in 1995, Goldeneye marked the debut of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. The movie grossed more than $350 million at the box office, more than double what the previous installment had made. Bond was back. Brosnan starred in four more films, ending in 2002 with Die Another Day.

Next came Daniel Craig. After being offered the role, the actor claims to have said, “Thank you, flattering, but I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”

Well, they had, in fact, found the right guy. In 2006, Craig arrived with Casino Royale, arguably the best installment of the franchise. He’s since reprised the role four times, in Quantum of SolaceSkyfall, Spectre, and now No Time to Die. 

Lashana Lynch as 007

No Time to Die has already made history. As was widely rumored, Lashana Lynch plays Nomi, an MI6 agent who has inherited the “007” moniker following James Bond’s retirement. This makes her the first Black performer and the first woman to become 007.

In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Lynch discusses what it meant to her to assume the mantle of 007, especially as a Black woman entering a franchise dominated by white men. After arriving on set, she sat down with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who co-wrote the script with Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, to discuss how to best craft the character of Nomi. She tells the magazine:

“I didn’t want to waste an opportunity when it came to what Nomi might represent. I searched for at least one moment in the script where Black audience members would nod their heads, tutting at the reality but glad to see their real life represented. In every project I am part of, no matter the budget or genre, the Black experience that I’m presenting needs to be 100 percent authentic.”

A Female James Bond?

After news broke that Lashana Lynch’s character would be a new 007, the usual racist and sexist backlash ensued online. But that didn’t bother Lynch, who says in the Harper’s Bazaar interview:

“We’re moving away from toxic masculinity, and that’s happening because women are being open, demanding and vocal, and calling out misbehaviour as soon as we see it.”

But could Lynch inherit the mantle of the James Bond franchise itself? And should she? When asked by Radio Times magazine whether Bond ought to be played by a woman, Daniel Craig answered in the negative. Here’s why:

“The answer to that is very simple. There should simply be better parts for women and actors of color. Why should a woman play James Bond when there should be a part just as good as James Bond, for a woman?

Franchise’s producer Barbara Broccoli has made similar comments:

“James Bond is a male character. I hope that there will be many, many films made with women, for women, by women, about women.”

The Men With the Best Odds

If Lashana Lynch (or any other woman) does not take over the lead role in the James Bond franchise, then who will? Near the top of the list seems to be Regé-Jean Page, the actor best known for his work in Roots and Bridgerton. He recently addressed the rumors he would play Bond on an episode of The Tonight Show, telling Jimmy Fallon:

“If you’re a Brit and you do something of any kind of renown, that people regard well, then people start saying the ‘B-word,’ you know? It’s like a merit badge. You get the ‘B-word merit badge. …  I’m glad to have the badge, I’m glad to be in such wonderful company of people who have the badge, but it’s a badge.”

Some betting odds currently have Page as the number one choice to replace Daniel Craig as James Bond. At number two is Tom Hardy, who has long been rumored to be in the mix to play the character. In early 2020, the internet got ahead of itself, to the point where publications incorrectly said that Hardy had been selected as the next Bond. But of course, no such decision has been made. Hardy has been addressing Bond rumors for years. In 2017, he told The Daily Beast:

“You know, there’s a saying amongst us in the fraternity of acting, and in the fellowship of my peer group, that if you talk about it, you’re automatically out of the race. So I can’t possibly comment on that one! If I mention it, it’s gone.”

More Favorites to Play 007

Others have speculated that Snake Eyes‘ Henry Golding may become the next James Bond. He would be the first Asian actor to play the role. In 2019, he told British Vogue, “Even to be in that conversation, it’s an honor, but it’s out of my hands.”

Sam Heughan, another contender, has publicly expressed interest in the role. According to British Vogue, the Outlander star said this on an episode of the Just The Facts with Alex Zane podcast:

“I went up for it when they did ‘Bond 21’ [Casino Royale]. It was an amazing experience and I was completely out of my depth. But I think now I feel the right age for it. I feel capable enough to do it. I’d love the opportunity to throw my hat in the ring.”

Another leading contender — particularly among fans — is Idris Elba. In a 2019 cover story in Vanity Fair, the Suicide Squad actor said of the rumors:

“Of course, if someone said to me ‘Do you want to play James Bond?,’ I’d be like, ‘Yeah!’ That’s fascinating to me. But it’s not something I’ve expressed, like, ‘Yeah, I wanna be the Black James Bond.'”

Earlier this year, fans reveled in a promotional video from 1995 marking the release of Goldeneye, in which a young Elba gives his reaction to the film. Watch it via Twitter here:

Discussions About the Next James Bond are Pending

Speculation over who will be the next Bond is never-ending. And while the debate is all in good fun, Barbara Broccoli has made it clear that no decision will be made for a long time. In fact, she says discussions will not even begin until at least 2022 — after they have given Daniel Craig’s James Bond a proper send-off. In a BBC Radio 4 interview (as quoted by Variety), she explained:

“We want Daniel to have his time of celebration. Next year we’ll start thinking about the future.”

Earlier this year, the documentary Being James Bond: The Daniel Craig Story was released featuring a video of Craig giving a short speech after filming his final scene as the character in No Time to Die. You can watch that speech, and Craig holding back tears, via Twitter here:


What’s Next for Daniel Craig

While Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond is over, he’s got another franchise that’s just beginning. He will be reprising his role as Detective Benoit Blanc, in the upcoming sequel to Knives Out. And it was recently reported that next year, Craig will be playing the titular role in a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Sounds amazing.

It is sad that the Craig era of Bond has come to an end, but it is exciting that the enduring franchise will enter a new phase, just as it has done on and off for nearly 60 years.

No Time to Die hits theaters on October 8, 2021, in the United States.

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Will DiGravio is a Brooklyn-based critic, researcher, and video essayist, who has been a contributor at Film School Rejects since 2018. Follow and/or unfollow him on Twitter @willdigravio.