With 40 years of history in the books by time Pierce Brosnan’s Die Another Day premiered in 2002, a new chapter in the James Bond legacy was ready to begin. Unfortunately for Mr. Brosnan, this bold new future would move forward without him, as his contract was up and a surprise parting of the ways saw the fifth 007 walking out the door. While a financial success, the reaction by fans and critics to the 20th Bond movie was one that sent a clear message: James Bond needed a makeover. Being a somewhat freshly-minted fan to the franchise, with this particular fiasco being my first Bond film in theaters, I didn’t know what to expect.
Neither did anyone else really, as producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would use this time to announce that Casino Royale would finally be adapted into the official EON Productions canon. Sitting at the heart of it all was a young, relatively unknown actor that the producers believed could lead the series to a fresh start: Daniel Craig. Fellow James Bond fans, we’ve finally arrived at the moment we’ve all been waiting for: ranking the Craig era films, from worst to best. But before we get started, it’s time to take a look at Mr. Craig’s tenure as James Bond, by the numbers.
Daniel Craig’s 007 By The Numbers
In the post-Brosnan world of James Bond, 2003 to 2005 saw the competition to play the new 007 heat up in the usual fashion. This time, however, the internet seemed to be quite defensive over who was eventually selected from an eight person field of finalists. Daniel Craig’s announcement as the sixth Bond actor on October 14, 2005 saw a torrent of snarky comments decrying the actor as “Bland, James Bland,” and even questioning his hair color when it came to his ability to play the part.
All doubts were put to rest on November 17, 2006, as Casino Royale opened the doors to the Craig era wide open for success. With the ending to his five film arc already in mind, 2008 saw Quantum of Solace introduce seralized storytelling to the 007 series, through what seemed to be an act of desperation. From there, the pace of James Bond films in theaters would be a bit erratic and uncertain, thanks to various delays and some reticence by Daniel Craig to even return for his final film, 2021’s No Time To Die.
The Craig era is a tale of 15 years, five films, and a franchise’s financial high water mark being set by 2012’s Skyfall. It’s also an unprecedented era of storytelling in this saga, as the character and his surroundings were allowed to be modernized, while also retaining some of the traditions fans held dear. That push and pull would characterize the Daniel Craig run of James Bond films, and you’ll see why as I run down the ranking order of those stories.
5. Quantum of Solace (2008)
I had people guessing that director Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace was going to be at the bottom of the barrel, mostly because the public bias against that movie still reigns supreme. My final decision to land this movie in the back of the pack was a hard one, as the groupings of quality do seem to dictate a pair of movies gunning it out for the top and bottom slot. However, Daniel Craig’s second 007 outing isn’t a movie I’d even dream of saying I hated, as the futuristic look and stripped-down plotline are absolute winners considering some of the lows this series has previously seen.
The promise of serialized storytelling, plus the feeling of this adventure acting as a DLC add-on to Casino Royale, gives Quantum of Solace a slick and exciting feel. For the first time, we were picking up right where we left off with Commander Bond, and it was absolutely thrilling. Unfortunately, while the shortest entry in the Craig era does have a soft spot in my heart, it really does go by in a flash. Also, it’s hard not to feel the script coming together on the fly, as Quantum started production without a completed script and required some serious ad-libbing by Marc Forster and Daniel Craig to keep going. The “worst” movie in the lineup still packs a punch, with some crucial moments and themes already starting to lay their roots into the ground. So don’t even dream of skipping this one if you want the full story.
4. Spectre (2015)
The second of the enfants terrible in Daniel Craig’s James Bond run, Spectre also took some huge swings with the twists and turns it engaged in. As EON Productions had regained the rights to the nefarious organization that made such evil hay in the Sean Connery era, it would have been foolish not to bring Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) back into the fold. Though the twist of his secret past as Bond’s adopted brother was a sticking point for skeptics against this story, and you’ll still get some wildly diverse reactions when talking about it to this very day.
Sam Mendes’ second outing as a 007 director is the inferior effort to his previous film, but again, there are the bones of a tighter film just waiting to be build upon. Part of that process probably wasn’t helped by Daniel Craig’s history of injuries giving him a rather nasty time when it came to doing some of the more action intensive scenes, which also resulted in some scenes being completely changed to accommodate his wounds. Out of the lower bracket of films, Spectre edges out Quantum for second to last because it actually has a better structure to its story, and Waltz’s gleefully evil performance provides a lot of entertainment as well.
3. Skyfall (2012)
Sorry, folks, the 2012 spectacular that celebrated the 50th anniversary of James Bond is not the top film in the lineup. Introducing Sam Mendes into the director’s chair as the only person to return for seconds, Skyfall is the absolute center of the Daniel Craig films. The main reason being that after the risk-taking that was present in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the third installment saw a return to traditional 007 storytelling, while forging ahead into modernity in some key components.
The result is a movie that’s the perfect crossroads between the sweet spots of classic and contemporary Bond fans, with a tragic ending that still can be felt almost a decade later. The hype around Skyfall is absolutely earned, as it proved you can make a 007 movie for today, but still play around with familiar characters like Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) in such a way that they get to be fully-formed people. Even Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) expands the persona of a Bond villain into a greater threat, taking vengeance to the next level. Skyfall is another deep cut into the psyche of 007, offering a perfect way station between the adventure that kicked things off and the one that would bring it all to a close.
2. No Time To Die (2021)
There is a possibility that in the long run, No Time To Die might find its fortunes change in either direction of the Daniel Craig era spectrum. You can thank the divisive reaction to the film for that distinction, as co-writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga delivered the most polarizing adventure in the near-60-year history, eclipsing only 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Considering how much this outing owes to that entry in particular, right down to direct callbacks to George Lazenby’s only Bond film, it’s an honor that’s well earned.
Rami Malek’s Safin is absolutely a villain who could have used some more development, though that admission doesn’t sink my opinion on this movie for two key reasons. The first is that his quiet menace still works in certain watershed moments of the entire story, making him the perfect mirror image of the James Bond persona. But the larger reason that No Time To Die’s lack of a larger-than-life villain works is because this is the first time we actually got to see a Bond movie reckoning with the Commander himself.
Ghosts of the past haunt everyone in this movie, and 007 himself is the greatest victim. Rather than merely replaying the formula of a perfect, world-saving finale, we’re given a James Bond who sacrifices himself to protect the ones he truly loves. Bringing Daniel Craig’s run as Bond full circle, as Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) did the same exact thing in Casino Royale, we see James fall in love, only to be the one on the other end of the heartbreak. In its own tragic way, his love of Vesper allowed him to protect Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), and when you can nail that sort of ending alongside amazing action set pieces like the Cuba fight, you’ve made an amazing Bond movie for the ages.
1. Casino Royale (2006)
When I first saw Skyfall, I thought it had replaced Casino Royale as the best adventure in the reboot era of James Bond. The way that the movie had bound the classic and modern approach was pretty impactful when it was first released, and I’m still rather fond of it, as you can see. However, something has happened over the past couple of years, and it might be because of revisiting the entire run of 007 movies in my time as a Bond expert. I’ve started to value Daniel Craig’s debut in this cinematic universe as the best of the lot all over again.
Comparing the 21st entry in the entire James Bond canon to its successors, a lot stands out when looking at how James became Bond. The action and scope of director Martin Campbell’s second time reintroducing Commander Bond to the world are for the most part stripped down. And yet, the stakes are just as high on Safin’s poison island as they are when Bond sits across from Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen,) as the wrong wager could fund international terrorism.
Casino Royale also doesn’t waste any time showing us a James Bond who gets beaten up, falls in love, and has his heart broken in the line of duty. Laying down the important story beats and character traits we’d see become vital to Craig’s era of films, all of the building blocks are present. No scene is wasted, no character is non-essential and this movie never feels overstuffed, streaking by at a blazing, but thoughtful pace.
60 years later, we’ve just seen the conclusion of Daniel Craig’s James Bond arc play out. Almost two decades worth of history gave us five movies that revolutionized what the longest running franchise in cinema could do. One could even say that this is the most consistent batch of movies for the character since Sean Connery originated the character. Despite the public’s reaction, and even the doubts that some involved in the process had on their own ends, Mr. Craig has officially concluded the most important era in Bond history.
The 007 future is wide open, but it’s going to be tough to try and top the ride we’ve just taken with the character. That doesn’t mean it’s time to start doubting the decisions that have been made or have yet to be discussed. To do so would be foolish, as most of the mob who decided Daniel Craig wasn’t their James Bond probably change their minds by time it was all left on the field. So let’s try to never say never, and look to this unknown horizon with hope rather than despair.
No Time To Die is available to rent and own, on both digital and physical media. If you want to see what’s headed to theaters in the year to come, head over to the 2022 release schedule and see what’s coming. But if you want to run through almost the entire Daniel Craig run through streaming, check your subscriptions carefully, as the first four films are scattered throughout various platforms. You can start your journey with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, as at the time of this writing, those movies have reverted back to Netflix’s digital library.