In a 1971 interview with the BBC to promote the release of “Diamonds Are Forever,” his sixth stint as James Bond, Sean Connery compared the experience of starring in the franchise to being a pawn.
He swore off any future sequels, telling his interrogator, “I’ve got other things I want to do. I have no desire to have 100 million pounds.”
Twelve years later, having suffered a series of film flops like “Meteor” and “Cuba,” he was back enjoying his martinis shaken, not stirred in the aptly named “Never Say Never Again.”
Daniel Craig, routinely described as the best Bond since Connery, is at a similar impasse. His stint as 007 has been among the most financially successful in series history — 2012’s “Skyfall” became the first Bond picture to pass $1 billion worldwide and his latest installment, “Spectre,” has racked up $300 million in two weeks of release.
Yet Craig has hinted in interviews that he is ready to hang up Bond’s Walther PPK and explore new challenges.
If that’s true, he should seriously reconsider.
Outside of Bond, Craig’s films have done only marginal business. “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” made $232 million globally, but its $100 million budget meant that it lost money after exhibitors got their stake. Now Sony is reportedly rebooting the series without the actor.
And films like “Cowboys and Aliens,” “Dream House” and “The Invasion” struck out with audiences and critics, losing millions of dollars in the process. As Bond, Craig is gold, but that popularity hasn’t translated to other projects despite his considerable talent.
“He’s not going to be getting offered a lot of starring roles in great films,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “He’ll be able to attend 007 conventions until he dies, but the Bond role hasn’t usually done wonders for people’s careers. You step outside of the tuxedo and some of the magic goes away.”
Aside from Connery, who was eventually able to put Bond behind him, winning an Oscar for “The Untouchables” and scoring commercial successes with “Hunt for Red October” and “The Rock,” the four other men who have played the suave spy have struggled to remain relevant after leaving the franchise.
Roger Moore’s post-Bond work includes such gems as “Boat Trip” and “Spice World.” Pierce Brosnan scored good reviews for “The Matador” and “The Ghostwriter,” but those were overshadowed by duds like “The November Man” and “No Escape.” Timothy Dalton flirted with Razzie glory with “The Beautician and the Beast,” swapping Bond girls for the dulcet tones of Fran Drescher. And George Lazenby is probably signing autographs at a comic book store near you.
Yes, Bond is a physically demanding role, one that’s cost Craig an ACL and a fingertip and resulted in countless scrapes and bruises. And, yes, he’s probably done as much as he can do plumbing the emotional depths of cinema’s most famous misogynistic alcoholic. But remaining in her majesty’s secret service also gives him leverage to get plays produced on Broadway and to headline more personal films.
“Spectre” does take pains to tie all of the previous Craig films together, so it could be seen as a perfect send-off for the actor. After likening returning to the series to slitting his wrists, there are hints that Craig’s views have softened. Producer Michael G. Wilson, for instance, seems confident that the actor will return and the film’s backers, Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, have an incentive to get him to stay on board. The companies are looking for a new distribution partner and the prospect of relaunching the franchise without Craig and the global goodwill he commands might not be as appealing to studios who have grown accustomed to seeing the Bond films perform at “Skyfall”-like levels.
If he does exit the series, Craig deserves credit for keeping the Bond franchise relevant in the 21st century. When his casting was announced, fans were apoplectic, objecting to everything from his hair color (“Bond can’t be blond”) to his inability to drive stick.
“Initially no one can live up to Bond,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “As an actor you have to prove it to the world that you’re worthy.”
Prove it he did. Craig brought a danger to Bond. He looked like he could crush a man’s skull with his hands, and might enjoy himself while he did. He deviated from tradition in other ways. Whereas Moore and Brosnan emphasized the character’s wit and urbanity, Craig spit out his punchlines like broken glass. He was the first Bond who looked like he might enjoy an Heineken more than a vodka martini.
“He lends a bit of mystery to the character,” said Rory Bruer, distribution chief at Sony, the studio overseeing the rollout of “Spectre.”
It was a brutality and a nihilism that dovetailed perfectly with the aftermath of 9/11, in which the threat of terrorism was ever present and global powers seemed willing to sacrifice their moral compass in order to safeguard their people.
But times change and perhaps the series would benefit from a new attitude and face of the franchise.
“As long as they find someone else to replace him that fans respond to, the property will stay strong,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “People liked a darker Bond, but if he leaves, they may go back to more of the tongue-in-cheek not overly serious approach.”