The History of Bond: From Books to Bond Movies

How Ian Fleming's famed creation, James Bond, became a worldwide movie phenomenon.

Chuck Walton

By Chuck Walton

The History of Bond: Sean Connery

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

After many delays (COVID and otherwise), "No Time to Die" will finally debut in theaters on October 8, 2021. The 25th film in the James Bond franchise arrives with fanfare. For now, at least, it will be the last appearance of Daniel Craig's 007. And the production has an interesting history, with original director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire") departing the project and Cary Joji Fukunaga (HBO's "True Detective") taking the helm.

Honestly, we're just happy to finally have a new Bond movie. And grateful that it will play in theaters first. If any series needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible, Bond, with its lavish production designs and expansive stunts, is it.

But how exactly did we get here, with a franchise that's spanned 60 years, and raked in $7 billion? (sixth-highest grossing film series of all time, behind only the MCU and the Avengers, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Spider-Man)

Let's take a closer look.

First, there was...

Fleming. Ian Fleming.

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

James Bond begins with author Ian Fleming. After serving in World War II in Britain's Naval Intelligence Division and 30 Assault unit, the writer decided to create his own fictional spy hero. The man would be based on many of Fleming's own experiences, and would be a composite of commandos/spies from his real life, plus more from his imagination.

On Fleming's Jamaican residence, called Goldeneye, the author wrote his first James Bond novel, "Casino Royale," in 1952. Over the course of the next 12 years, before Fleming's untimely death in 1964, he authored twelve Bond novels and two collections of short stories. During that time, too, his creation appeared in a CBS one-hour special – as an American (!) played by Barry Nelson.

The popularity of the books also led to a radio broadcast of "Moonraker" in 1958 in South Africa, and the debut of a "Casino Royale" comic strip series that same year in The Daily Express. More media adaptations would follow through the decades. Most importantly, Fleming sold an option on the film rights for his Bond works (except "Casino Royale") in 1961 to a Canadian theater and film producer named Harry Saltzman.

Enter Eon Productions
© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

Harry Saltzman wasn't the only producer interested in James Bond. Since 1959, American producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli was keen on adapting the spy to the big screen, too. Initially dissuaded by his former partner Irving Allen, Broccoli was eventually convinced to seek out the rights, and formed a partnership with Saltzman called Eon Productions. They also created a company called Danjaq, which to this day holds the rights to all the trademark Bond elements that appear onscreen.

With the formation of Eon Productions, the duo got to work immediately on the first Bond movie, an adaptation of Fleming's 1958 novel "Dr. No." The author's preferred choice to play James Bond was Roger Moore. The producers sought out Patrick McGoohan, the star of a British TV spy series named "Danger Man." Thankfully, he turned them down.

The Classic Bond: Sean Connery

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

Sean Connery wasn't the favorite to win the role. Before debuting as Bond in 1962's "Dr. No," he was most well-known for the kid movie "Darby O'Gill and the Little People." But he had the right build for the job, and a unique magnetism. His star was most definitely on the rise.

The first Bond movie was a massive success, earning $6 million on its $1 million budget, and inspiring a bunch of copycat films and TV series throughout the rest of the 1960s (the "Matt Helm" films with Dean Martin; the "Flint" films with James Coburn; TV's "Man from U.N.C.L.E.").

And Connery was the main attraction. Tall, strong, forceful, and with enough dash and wit to bring in all the relevant audiences, the actor would parlay his success with the series over the course of five total Bond movies in the '60s. Included are some of the most highly regarded to this day: "From Russia with Love" (1963), "Goldfinger" (1964), and "Thunderball" (1965).

By the time he made "You Only Live Twice" (1967), though, Connery was worn out from the role, and the comparisons to his real life. The Scotsman, who wasn't as royally coiffed as his always-on and high-society alter ego, was ready to take a well-deserved break. For the meantime. Connery would be lured back again for the Eon Bond film "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971) [and the non-Eon Bond film "Never Say Never Again" (1983)], before truly retiring the role forever.

The One-and-Done Bond: George Lazenby

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

If looks could kill and were the only thing that mattered, then George Lazenby would rank high in the Bond pantheon. In fact, Lazenby wasn't an actor. He was a model. After a fortunate encounter with producer Albert R. Broccoli in a barbershop, Lazenby's fate was sealed. Connery wanted no more to do with James Bond (at the time), and Lazenby looked exactly like James Bond should.

After a successful audition where he accidentally punched the stunt coordinator (a pro wrestler), Lazenby was granted the part. And, ironically enough, his one outing, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969), holds up as one of the finer Bond films. It has all the exotic locations, cool weaponry, stylish clothes, and espionage viewers expect. But it's also gritty and ultimately tragic. On top of it all, Lazenby looks the part and holds his own.

Unfortunately, the model-turned-actor didn't truly appreciate the opportunity, and resigned from the role after his one appearance. Still, it's a worthy performance and a great film.

The Glamorous Bond: Roger Moore

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

Of all the James Bonds to date, no one looks more elegantly adorned than the classically handsome Sir Roger Moore. He's also the epitome of '70s and '80s Bond, having debuted in "Live and Let Die" in '73, and exiting the series in '85's "A View to a Kill."

In today's more brutal and realistic cinema, the lighthearted tone of Roger Moore's Bond era gets somewhat short shrift. However, he existed in the popcorn movie heyday, where every other season yielded a "Jaws," "Star Wars," "Superman" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." All in all, he held up his end of the bargain.

Roger Moore is the capable man of action. He just always sports a great tan as well. And the quips. Under Moore's tenure, comedy became a staple of the series alongside the stunts and espionage. As with all of the Bonds, Moore was a ladies man, but he might also be the most extreme version we've seen. He was definitely the silliest. It made perfect sense when, near the end of his reign, Moore appeared in the all-star car chase ensemble "Cannonball Run," in a parody of his ultimate spy.

The Dark Bond: Timothy Dalton

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

The history of Bond is a bit like a roller coaster – it has its highs and lows. It's also a constant yin and yang balance to create a 007 that fits the times. By the late '80s, and Timothy Dalton's brief period as James Bond, a shift was made to bring Bond back to his moody roots.

Dalton was the perfect actor to keep our hero grounded. Maybe too much so. "The Living Daylights" (1987) and "License to Kill" (1989) both have their own pleasures, and all of the signature franchise touches. But after the disappointing grosses for "License to Kill," producer Albert Broccoli started to wonder about the series' future, and his place in it. Harry Saltzman had exited Eon in 1975, while Broccoli's stepson Michael G. Wilson had taken on an elevated role.

Lawsuits between MGM and Eon/Danjaq in the early '90s complicated things further. Focusing more on the issues at Danjaq, Albert. R. Broccoli named his daughter Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson as the principal Eon producers. They, in turn, shook things up, including lots of changes in the behind-the-scenes personnel…and their leading man.

The Polished Bond: Pierce Brosnan

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

© United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

The franchise roared back to success, critically and commercially, with 1995's "Goldeneye," and the long-awaited casting of Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. Years before, the producers had been interested in spotlighting the actor in the role, especially after his success as a very Bond-like investigator on TV's "Remington Steele." That series, though, and Brosnan's contract, kept him from signing on in the '80s.

Now, Brosnan and the new producers would be responsible for four Bond movies that would catapult the franchise back into pop culture relevance for the back half of the '90s and early '00s. "Goldeneye" and '97s's "Tomorrow Never Dies" were both solid entries and world-wide successes.

Brosnan, physically, was closer to the suave Roger Moore in look, but still preserved some of the grit of Dalton and Connery. He'd always looked the part even in non-Bond roles, and he did his best in all of his Bond projects.

Unfortunately, by the time of "The World Is Not Enough" (1999) and "Die Another Day" (2002), the series once more was starting to appear a little stale – the stunts were grand but more and more ridiculous, and the supporting players and plots weren't quite breaking new ground. Further evolution was the order of the day.

The Modern Bond: Daniel Craig

© Sony Pictures/Everett Collection

© Sony Pictures/Everett Collection

By the mid-00s, the producers had regained the rights to make the original Bond story, "Casino Royale." They were determined to reboot the series in every way, with new Bond films that weren't beholden to the past films, and that could be serialized as a new plotline.

They also had a wholly new Bond in mind.

At the time, Daniel Craig's casting was seen as highly controversial to the Bond fanbase. Blond hair, blue eyes, and not even 6' tall, Craig was not the traditional Bond...not even close to the one envisioned by Ian Fleming (who himself had only lived to see Sean Connery as a movie Bond in the first two pictures).

However, what Daniel Craig brought to the screen was exactly what Bond needed. Relevance. Realism. Grit. Toughness. Vulnerability. If every Bond is a product of their times, then Craig has been the perfect hero for the last 15 years, fully capable and fully human. In his four Bond outings, Craig's consistently done all of the superheroics expected of Bond. He's also screwed up plenty of times, and done his best to learn his lessons.

His agony at losing his true love in "Casino Royale" had real pathos. While Craig's an action hero, he's also a damn good actor. In "Quantum of Solace," the underrated entry, Craig as Bond is dogged in his pursuit to find out what organization is response for his loss. "Skyfall," the peak of the current era, is a perfect blend of A-list filmmaking and performances, as we learn more about Bond's past, and his close relationship with M (Judie Dench).

"Spectre," for whatever reasons (more script development?), was a letdown after "Skyfall," but Craig was captivating nonetheless.

The Future for Bond?
© MGM / © Danjaq

© MGM / © Danjaq

Now, we're excited to find out how Bond's relationship with his new true love, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), will play out in "No Time to Die," and the motivations and identity of new Bond villain Safin (Oscar winner Rami Malek).

We also understand completely why the producers are sad to think this may be the last Bond outing for Daniel Craig. It will be exciting to see who assumes the mantle next. But we'll miss Daniel Craig, too.

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James Bond

About the Author

Chuck Walton

Chuck Walton

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.

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