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The Spy with a Thousand Faces: The Best of James Bond

By Kevin Nelson · June 13, 2022

The Spy with a Thousand Faces: The Best of James Bond

His name is Bond — James Bond.

Spanning over 60 years, James Bond is one of the longest-running and most successful character franchises in the history of film. Few characters are recognized simply through their introduction or identified by three simple numbers.

Created by Ian Fleming in 1953, James Bond has become an iconic representation of smooth masculinity, daring bravado, and heart-pumping action and suspense. The character was inspired by Fleming’s own experience in the British Naval Intelligence Division during World War II.

Fleming went searching for the right name for this super spy but was coming up short. As an avid bird watcher, Fleming had a copy of ornithologist James Bond’s field guide, Birds of the West Indies. This was Fleming’s eureka moment.

Fleming described why he gravitated to such a simple name in The New Yorker:

“When I wrote the first one, in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be the blunt instrument…I thought, My God, that’s the dullest name I’ve ever heard.”

That mundane name would become a symbol of excitement and action. The man of international intrigue was created. 

Between 1953 and 1966, twelve Bond novels and two short story collections were published. Since the first film adaptation of Dr. No in 1962, there have been a total of 27 feature films released and eight actors who played the spy.

With Daniel Craig’s redefining reign coming to an end, it’ll be interesting to see which direction the James Bond franchise heads in and who is chosen to adjust their cufflinks. 

Until then, let’s check out some of the best 007 screenplays of all time. 

Scripts from this Article

Dr. No (1962)

Fleming originally wrote Dr. No as a television outline for the Jamaican tourism industry. When that fell through, he eventually sold the rights to most of the Bond novels to Canadian film producer Harry Saltzman.

Saltzman had a hard time finding financing until Albert R. Broccoli approached him with an offer to buy the rights. Saltzman refused to sell and the two ended up forming a partnership. They initially hired screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Wolf Mankowitz to pen the script but were sadly disappointed with the first draft. Mankowitz bowed out and pulled his name from the project out of fear that it would bomb. Writers Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather were brought on to rewrite the script. The film was produced on a million-dollar budget and introduced Sean Connery as the most interesting man in the world. 

One of the big changes the producers of the novels made was introducing SPECTRE as a fictional enemy instead of stoking tensions with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Like we’ve seen recently with Top Gun: Maverick, sometimes it works to have a fictional enemy to avoid political division. 

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From Russia With Love (1963)

With the success of Dr. No, United Artists doubled the budget for the sequel. Considering that President John F. Kennedy listed Fleming’s From Russia, With Love in his top ten books for Life magazine, Saltzman and Broccoli decided to make this the follow-up. Johanna Harwood and Richard Maibaum returned for the sequel. 

From Russia with Love established many conventions that became synonymous with the James Bond series, including the pre-title sequence, credit sequence and theme song, Blofeld (Number 1), secret gadgets, a helicopter sequence, postscript action scene after the climax, and the line “James Bond will return/be back in the credits.” 

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Goldfinger (1964)

As with the previous two films, Goldfinger was awarded another million dollars in budget and definitely stepped up the action. The film was centered around a North American audience, considering the last two films focused on the Caribbean and Europe, so James Bond finds himself lounging on Miami Beach when he’s roused into his next mission. 

Oozing with charisma, action, comedy, glamor, and “goooold,” Goldfinger introduced and helped establish more Bond conventions. There was a deeper focus on the conflict between Bond and the villains, Goldfinger was the first Bond film to have a cold open unrelated to the plot, the opening theme was sung by a popular singer of the era, and it built up the relationship between Bond and his handler, Q.

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Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

The seventh film in the series, and what was meant to be Sean Connery’s last time rocking the immaculate white tuxes, sports cars, and voluptuous women. Maibaum returned to write the script, but after star George Lazenby stepped down from the role the script was given a page-one rewrite.

Tom Mankiewicz was hired for rewrites on a trial basis after United Artists President David Picker saw his play, Georgy. Mankiewicz remained on throughout the production.

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The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

The tenth film in the James Bond franchise and third starring Roger Moore, The Spy Who Loved Me. The films faced a lot of difficulties from the jump. 

Producer Harry Saltzman was struggling personally. His other business ventures had failed and he owed a lot of money. On top of that, his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he suffered severely from depression (though it’d be a long time before mental health became an important facet of navigating life).

Under the United Artists contract, a James Bond film was expected to be delivered every eighteen months. Ian Fleming permitted Eon to use the title of his novel, but none of his plot points. 

Some of the writers called in to write to work on the script: Stirling Silliphant, Ronald Hardy, John (Belch) Landis, Anthony Burgess, Cary Bates, Derek Marlowe, Tom Mankiewicz, and Vernon Harris. Despite these writers’ best efforts, Maibaum and screenwriter Christopher Wood received the credit.

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Never Say Never Again (1983)

After pledging to never assume the role of James Bond again, Sean Connery’s wife suggested the title Never Say Never Again for the first James Bond feature film not produced by Eon, but by Warner Bros. The history of this one is pretty crazy.

Ian Fleming worked on a script with producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham for a potential Bond film titled Longitude 78 West, which was eventually abandoned. Never to let a good idea die, Fleming turned the script into the Bond novel Thunderball, but he didn’t credit McClory or Whittingham.

McClory took Fleming to High Court and they settled. When Eon began producing the films, they came to an agreement with McClory, giving him a producer and story credit on the 1965 adaptation of Thunderball on the condition that he would not make another version of the novel for a period of ten years. 

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Licence to Kill (1989)

In perhaps a glimpse of things to come, Licence to Kill was the sixteenth addition to the Bond legacy. It was the second and final film with Timothy Dalton in the main role. 

Dalton’s portrayal of the character was darker, as was the storyline for this one. Licence to Kill saw James Bond abandon his code on a quest for revenge over the death of his wife by a cartel leader. Much like many action films at the time, screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson found easy villains in cocaine smugglers.

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GoldenEye (1995)

Named after a real-life operation carried out by Ian Fleming during World War II, GoldenEye resurrected the Bond brand and helped bring the spy to a new generation of viewers. With Pierce Brosnan in the lead role, Bond returned to a more sophisticated and dashing version of the enigma of a man.

Oh, and the GoldenEye Nintendo 64 game was THE first first-person shooter console game that allowed you to play against your friends. If you lived during the 90s and knew someone with an N64, you spent countless hours playing that game.  

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Casino Royale (2006)

Enter Daniel Craig. The excitement of GoldenEye didn’t translate as much into Brosnan’s later turns as 007, so it wasn’t until Craig took the lead that the series really hit its stride. Screenwriters Neal Purvis & Robert Wade wrote the screenplay and Paul Haggis provided the rewrites. The writing and production shifted into a more realistic world.

The Texas Hold ‘Em tournament scene is a great example of building suspense through both what is said, as well as what isn’t. 

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Skyfall (2012)

The 23rd James Bond film and the third to star Daniel Craig. Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, Skyfall is an invigorating return to heart-pumping action. The opening scene with Bond racing across the rooftops on a motorcycle is so well written. The writers really did a great job of visualizing the world for readers without losing momentum.

The first page bursts readers off the starting block, and the stakes in Skyfall’s narrative just keep getting higher as the pages turn.

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No Time to Die (2021)

Written by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Cary Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, No Time to Die was the perfect send-off for Daniel Craig’s iconic run as the spy who rocked the world. Balancing a perfect level of humor and action, No Time to Die just felt like the right way to say goodbye. 

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Whoever takes over the reins next has some shiny shoes to fill. With every reinvention of the character, there seems to be a fresh take on a character that hasn’t changed all that much throughout the years. He’s still charming, he still gets the women, and he’s still one step ahead of you. He’s an archetype and a symbol, capturing the internal yearning of all young boys who wish to grow up to be an agent who can go anywhere, do anything — with the tenderness of an expert lover and the toughness of a commando.

Regardless of what the future of the franchise holds, we’ve yet to witness a character come along who can move the world quite like James Bond.  

Scripts from this Article