Way before he became the modern Bond, Daniel Craig was an actor worth checking out. He had a palpable grit and strength about him. He was a man of resource, and a man of action. And there was a magnetic intensity in his presence. It's what the EON producers saw in him, and it's why they cast him as their 007.
Strangely, folks sometimes forget that his casting was controversial. He didn't look like any James Bond before him. Too blonde. Too short. Blue eyes. That's James Bond?
Nowadays, absolutely. Daniel Craig, for an entire generation, IS James Bond. But the hints were always there, and in films prior to his tenure, and during, he's proven his worth time and again. So, for the Bond and non-Bond film lovers, we present 9 crucial Craig movies that define his mettle.
1 / Elizabeth (1998)
It's a small role, but a crucial one. Daniel Craig plays John Ballard, an English priest involved in a plot to assassinate Cate Blanchett's Queen Elizabeth I. The movie's spectacular, covering Elizabeth's rise to power. It was nominated for Academy Awards in 1998 for seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actress. And it gained notoriety for Craig, eight years before he became Bond.
2 / Road to Perdition (2002)
Once more the villain, Daniel Craig gives a standout performance. He plays Tom Hanks' nemesis in a tale of gangland violence set in the era of Al Capone. The dueling assassins are well-matched, and the story, which includes Tom Hanks' character's young son, has style and substance to burn. It's also directed by Sam Mendes, a few years after his Oscar win for "American Beauty," and some years before his masterpiece Bond film, "Skyfall."
3 / Layer Cake (2004)
Director Matthew Vaughn ("Kingsman") weaves a labyrinthine tale of crosses and double crosses in the London criminal underground. Daniel Craig plays the drug dealer just trying to get through it, and get out of the business. He's sort of the poor man's Bond, if Bond was having his worst day. Somehow, though, Craig holds onto a level of resilience. His ability to take his punches, and just keep rolling, is admirable. You can see here the stuff of legends…and a future Bond.
4 / Munich (2005)
Steven Spielberg's based-on-real-life thriller is absorbing, as an actioner and drama. Eric Bana and Daniel Craig play two Jewish foot soldiers charged with the finding the killers of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and their coach – and assassinating them. As the killings pile up, the men and their associates grapple with the moral consequences. Bana and Craig are well cast. They handle the action capably (by the way, also worthy is Eric Bana's performance as a commando in "Blackhawk Down"). They also effectively reflect their characters' inner turmoil.
5 / Defiance (2008)
Once more cast as a Jewish soldier, this time in World War II, Craig excels as leader and warrior. Alongside his two brothers, Craig leads a fight against the Nazis, and helps lead the way of others to freedom. By this time, the actor had already debuted as 007. But he continued to show his action chops in more gritty dramatic fare.
6 / Cowboys & Aliens (2011)
The first pairing of Indiana Jones and James Bond occurred in "Indiana Jones" and the "Last Crusade" (Harrison Ford and Sean Connery). The next happens here, with Ford and Craig fighting interstellar aliens as reluctant partners in the wild, wild west. The final results received lukewarm reviews. But we chalk that up more to the expectations for director Jon Favreau and his all-star cast. On a rainy weekend, this genre mashup of sci-fi and western is grand fun. And one more example of Craig's leading man versatility.
7 / The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
David Fincher's take on the bestselling psychological thriller (already adapted in its native Sweden in 2009) is sexy, stylish, and gripping. If not better than the original film, it's still immensely entertaining. Rooney Mara as avenging angel Lisbeth Salander does original actress Noomi Rapace justice in the role. Daniel Craig as her reporter mentor and boyfriend is also amazing. While he's not Bondlike in his powers, he's a capable and empathetic supporting player.
8 / Logan Lucky (2017)
Like his next fantastic role in "Knives Out," Daniel Craig's character in Steven Soderbergh's NASCAR heist film is a joy to discover. His Joe Bang is a demolitions expert who agrees to help Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) Logan steal money from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Will they pull it off? Watch and savor. Either way, you'll dig Craig's zany, crazy performance, and Driver's one-armed, low-key Southern boy. It's James Bond and Kylo Ren like they've never been seen before.
9 / Knives Out (2019)
It's not just Daniel Craig's best non-Bondian performance. We'd argue it's his best role, and best movie to date. As the sleuthing detective Benoit Blanc, Craig is the pearl in the oyster in a sea of casting treasures. He and co-lead Ana de Armas have an incredible chemistry that we can't wait to see reignited in "No Time to Die." We also can't wait to see Craig return as Benoit in the "Knives Out" sequel. James Bond is the franchise of Craig's past. "Knives Out," from genius filmmaker Rian Johnson, is his future.
About the Author
Chuck is an editor/writer who's worked for NCM, Fandango, Movies.com, MediaTrip, Hollywood.com and Newsweek. His favorite movie is "Jaws." He's definitely a dog guy.