I have rewatched all of the James Bond movies, and I've decided upon what I believe to be the answer through analyzing each and every Bond performance. Now, one note before getting started, I did not include the actor from the 1950's TV version of Casino Royale, seeing as how the character was portrayed as an American card shark named Jimmy Bond and not as 007. Same goes for the spoof film, Casino Royale from the late '60s which starred Woody Allen and Peter Sellers, along with three other actors who all played different, comedic versions of James Bond. I only looked at the six "real" James Bonds: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.
Each of the "real" Bonds have their individual elements that make their portrayals charming and enjoyable, with James Bond being a character that has been open to different interpretation time and time again. Of course, in my mind there is only one, true James Bond, but I want to have a little fun getting there, so I've ranked the six actors from my least favorite, to my favorite Bond performer of all-time, to create some sort of suspense. I don't really know, but it sure is a lot of fun for me to write, so here we go with number 6:
Lazenby famously portrayed Bond once, and only once, in the now cult classic, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. There are many differing stories as to why Lazenby only played Bond once. One story goes that he told producer, Cubby Brocoli, to go f-himself, and another goes he became too much of a liability drinking, partying, and joining the hippy counterculture for the studio to want him to represent Bond, and another story simply goes that due to the poor box office returns of his one Bond film, he was seen as a dud and was replaced. No one truly knows why Lazenby only got one crack at Bond, and perhaps we'll never truly know why, it could be a combination of all three things, or something completely unrelated, all we can do is evaluate Lazenby's one time Bond performance. Initially, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was viewed as a major disappointment after the five previous Sean Connery films, grossing way less than the previous entries, with many fans detesting Lazenby and crying for the return of Connery. Over time, the film has been rediscovered by the later generations who grew up with the idea that there is no one James Bond, but several, being portrayed by many different actors, and these later generations have developed a fondness for the film, and for Lazenby himself. Up till Casino Royale, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was quite possibly the most serious, and most emotional Bond film, and that won it a lot of favor with die hard aficionados. While I feel On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the better scripts of the entire franchise, I am not a big fan of Lazenby's bond. He often comes across as wooden and trying too hard to match the charm and tough guy swagger of Sean Connery, just paling in comparison, though he does manage to go to some great emotional depths when called for, as well he flies across the scene in action sequences like a stunt man, making him one of the more believable Bonds in regards to having a license to kill. Even with the few things Lazenby excelled at, he just too often comes across as a Sean Connery impersonator and not as the genuine article, and that is why George Lazenby is my least favorite Bond performer.
5. Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan was the Bond of my childhood, though I knew him primarily through video games. Brosnan's likeness was used in nearly every Bond video game produced from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s, and that truly was my first exposure to him as Bond, playing Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64. So when I was younger, I thought Brosnan was Bond, in fact, the first Bond film I ever saw was when I was twelve and saw Die Another Day in theaters. It wasn't until I was actually in college did I venture outside of Brosnan and Daniel Craig to see another Bond film that didn't star either of the two, and while I still have a child-like affection for Brosnan's portrayal, it isn't my favorite James Bond. Majority of what keeps Brosnan from being the best Bond is the films themselves. The way the producers portrayed Brosnan's 007 was more as a suave superhero with a witty remark around every corner, doing and saying more insane things than Roger Moore and Sean Connery combined. Brosnan's Bond just had this feeling about him that he could never be hurt, and it's the biggest detractor of his performances, which are as suave and charming as any other Bond, perhaps even more so. Brosnan was the most pretty boy of any James Bond, and I actually believe his ability to romance women more so than any other Bond. As well, I never had a hard time buying that Brosnan was a man with a license to kill, who wouldn't hesitate to use it. The biggest problem is the fact that Brosnan was only given one truly great script to really flex his acting muscles and go beyond just the suave charmer. Goldeneye, his first and best performance as 007, was the only script out of his four that actually gave him anything to play with. In Goldeneye, he actually humanizes Bond by allowing himself to show how the events of the story emotionally affect his character, but the rest of his tenure as Bond never gave him any more to chew on than that, and so majority of his time as 007 is utterly forgettable.
I initially wasn't a big fan of Roger Moore's work as Bond, but that's because I wasn't watching the right Roger Moore Bond films. Roger Moore has played James Bond more than any other actor, racking up seven times as agent 007, but it took nearly three films for the producers to finally tailor the role to Roger Moore, rather than trying to make him another Sean Connery impersonator. The problem with his first two portrayals as Bond (in Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun), is that the scripts were written as if they were still for Sean Connery, and were not written to let Roger Moore influence the role. The results in both films, were a Roger Moore trying his hardest to make something work, but he often came across more so as a jerk and not as a charming British spy. Then, with The Spy Who Loved Me, it felt as if they either wrote the script to where Moore's own personality finally came through in the character, or Moore himself just finally found his groove to make the role his own, either way, from that point on, Roger Moore's films developed their own identity. Most of Roger Moore's tenure after his first two films was dominated by high adventure stories with tons of parody and comedy, but that is what made them work. Like Adam West as Batman, Roger Moore had the right sense of comedic timing, and the right amount of gentlemanly charm to make his Bond one of the more likable of the entire franchise. Roger Moore's Bond seems like he'd be a fun guy to hang around with, while I never felt as if he could be a cold-blooded spy with a license to kill, I always felt that I was safe whenever I saw Roger Moore having fun on the screen. His making Bond more of a gentleman and less of a tough guy may still alienate a few Bond fans to this day, but it's what makes his time as Bond unique and enjoyable, even if it's a far cry from what I think of when I think of tough guy secret agent, James Bond.
3. Timothy Dalton
Neither of the Timothy Dalton films were all that good, but the portrayal that Dalton turned in as Bond is one of the finest any actor has ever done. What Dalton did in The Living Daylights and License to Kill (his two appearances as the character), shed much of the gentleman-like aspect of Roger Moore's performance and made Bond darker to what he even was initially. Dalton's Bond was a man who was still charming and romantic, but not in the way of Roger Moore or even Sean Connery. Dalton sort of had a quietness to him, a dry wit, which gave his performance an unpredictability. In one second, you could see him charming a girl, and the next I would totally buy it if he leapt up and killed a man in cold blood. That's what I love so much about Dalton as Bond, I actually believe he has a license to kill and wont hesitate to use it. This is not because Dalton is a tough guy, I mean, he's a Shakespearean actor for crying out loud. No, this is because of the attitude that Dalton gave Bond. He isn't the bad boy Bond, but rather he has the personality that I would imagine a real spy would have to have in order to operate in the field. Which goes back to unpredictability and believing that he would actually pull the trigger if he had to kill. It's a shame Dalton was never given a better script, I mean, it took three films for Sean Connery's tenure as Bond to be enormously successful, the same with Roger Moore, perhaps if Dalton had managed to get a third go around he'd be more valued by most Bond fans, but alas it was not meant to be, with United Artists having money troubles that delayed the return of Bond for six years, with Dalton ultimately calling it quits before he got his third chance. I for one would have loved to of seen Dalton return for Goldeneye, with a good script and a proper chance to actually make Bond what he wanted it to be, but now it's just a what could have been rather than what was.
2. Daniel Craig
The current James Bond, and the second best portrayal of all the actors that have ever played Bond. It's actually quite astonishing to make a claim like that after only two Bond films as the character, one of which being just so-so, but Daniel Craig has proven in both of his 007 outings that he understands the character in-and-out. Daniel Craig's Bond is less boyish, he makes less quips, and is kind of the lone wolf, quiet man-type. While he has a sense of humor, it's very reserved and dryer than even Dalton's Bond, and the way he entrances ladies is by showing humanity, rather than charming them. Of course, what makes Craig one of the most effective Bond's of all-time is the fact that he is the most believable actor in regards to Bond being an assassin. There's something about the coldness in Craig's blue eyes and his chiseled face that just lets you know, he's not a pretty boy, but a man's man. A guy who could actually take a punch in real life and get back up and tear the other guy apart. He just has that swagger of a guy I wouldn't want to cross, but I would most definitely want on my side, and when you really think about it, a guy who kills for a living wouldn't be Roger Moore cheery or Pierce Brosnan charming, but he'd probably be more akin to what Daniel Craig is as Bond. While there were a few times in Quantum of Solace where I felt Craig went a touch too serious with the portrayal, not allowing himself to have any fun, when it comes to humanizing James Bond, he is the actor to beat.
1. Sean Connery
Was there any doubt that Sean wouldn't be number one? He's the quintessential Bond, and a large part of that is because he created the role. While his portrayal is in fact quite different from the original literary character, to people like me, who discovered Bond through film rather than literature, it was Sean Connery who set the precedence as to what Bond could, and should be. To this day, I still prefer the Bond who always has the witty comeback after a kill or night with a lady, but where Connery does one better on all the other Bonds that tried to infuse humor into their performances, is that Connery is a believable tough guy. He just has that toughness about him, even if he's cracking jokes and having a good time, you can tell Connery is the kind of man that could hold his own in a fight and probably come out on the winning side. It's hard to describe it, perhaps it's simply attitude, I don't know, but it's that something special that makes Sean Connery the best Bond of all-time. From the first time he said, "The name's Bond. James Bond," in Dr. No, he delivered each line, every action, as if it were his natural, everyday language. In so many ways, watching Sean Connery as 007 is like watching an idealized man that most want to be, but never can be. I think that's what's made the character of James Bond so enduring. He's wish fulfillment for the 12-year-old boy in all of us, we all want to be that hero and do insanely awesome things while making light of a situation, and that's what's so special about James Bond, and Sean Connery did this better than any other actor, making him, once more, the greatest James Bond of all-time.