Daniel Craig Top 5 James Bond Film Ranked

For 17 years we saw Daniel Craig as James Bond

As a 38-year old actor best know for Layer Cake, he was cast as the world’s most famous spy, race across the Thames, ready to give put his own spin on James Bond.

Now, at 58, the sun has finally set on Craig’s landmark as Bond after five films. Four decades after Sean Connery first starred as James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No, five more actors went on to play the character in a series of films that varied wildly in quality and box office success. The formula changed very little until 2006’s Casino Royale, which took some eye-popping risks as it reinvented Bond for a new generation and century. From Sam Mendes to Marc Forster, 4 different directors aided Craig in his Bond era, each film bringing something fresh (some more so than others) but always reminding us why James Bond is such a classic character, and why Craig was the perfect actor to bring him into the modern age.

With Craig’s final installment in the role, No Time To Die, now free to watch on Amazon Prime, it’s the perfect time to dive back into Craig’s five outings as the iconic spy. Especially since it’s not looking like we’ll be finding out who will be following in Craig’s footsteps anytime soon. And if you’ve exhausted yourself on all things Bond, do not despair as Daniel Craig’s career beyond Bond is looking more than promising. He returned to the stage this year, playing Macbeth opposite Ruth Negga on Broadway.

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Later this year, Craig will be returning as the detective with the weirdest accent, Benoit Blanc, in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out 2 on Netflix, with a third coming in 2024. Craig just can’t keep away from mysteries it seems! And if you can’t wait that long, then check out our list of Danel Craig’s best non-Bond performances.

So, just where do Daniel Craig’s five Bond films rank against each other? Let’s take a look.

5. Quantum of Solace

Before director Marc Forster labored over the difficult (yet underrated) World War Z, he helmed the first direct sequel to any James Bond movie. Picking up literally minutes after the end of Casino Royale, 2008’s Quantum of Solace opens with a car chase so breakneck-paced that it’s difficult to fully register the action. This metaphor extends to the movie’s plot. As Bond and M (Jude Dench) interrogate Casino Royale‘s shadowy behind-the-scenes terrorist broker, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), they learn the hard way that MI6 has been compromised.

Bond bluffs his way into the middle of a shady deal between the CIA, represented by his “brother from Langley”, Felix Leiter (an underused Jeffrey Wright), and Gregg Beam (the wonderful David Harbour), and so-called environmentalist entrepreneur, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric). Greene is part of a larger criminal organization called Quantum (which we later learn is actually part of the even larger criminal organization called Spectre), and wants to stage a coup to take control of Bolivia’s water supply. None of it ever quite gels, as even Daniel Craig sometimes seems unsure about what’s going on. Forster delivers perhaps the artsiest Bond movie, which actually comes off a refreshing change of formulaic pace. Amalric is a fine actor, but he seems miscast as a Bond villain, and the audience never really buys that he’s a physical match for the burly Craig.

4. Spectre

Director Sam Mendes delivered a vast improvement of Quantum of Solace in 2012’s billion-dollar grossing Skyfall. It only made sense to retain Mendes for its follow-up. 2015’s Spectre enjoyed a lukewarm reception from critics even as it went on to become the second-highest-grossing Bond film, trailing its predecessor by a few hundred million at the global box office. The film has its strengths: some typically eye-popping action scenes (including the fluid master opening set in Mexico City and a bravura sequence with a helicopter on a snowy mountainside), very effective chemistry between Daniel Craig and new love interest, Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeline Swann, and a very welcome Christophe Waltz as Bond’s arch-nemesis Blofeld.

Ironically, Waltz and Blofeld are where Spectre‘s issues begin. The choice to tie every other Daniel Craig 007 entry together by retconning all the villains as agents of the über-evil society Spectre is a baffling stretch, as is the bizarre choice to make Blofeld Bond’s foster brother for some reason. The great Andrew Scott‘s smarmy bureaucrat wants to shutter the Double-O program and institute a nefarious surveillance program, but he’s actually working for Blofeld’s Spectre and… if you’re confused, it’s fine. The film’s last act nearly buckles under this strain, with two competing showdowns preventing it from truly coalescing.

3. No Time to Die

Craig’s swan song as 007 is a fine and fitting cap on his landmark run as James Bond. No Time to Die takes some big swings for a Bond film, and they mostly work. Director, Cary Fukunaga, fleshes out Madeleine Swann’s backstory (a welcome return from Seydoux) in the franchise’s first-ever flashback sequence and one of the film’s highlights. From there, she seemingly betrays Bond, sending him into self-imposed isolation in Jamaica. Lured back into the game by Felix Leither, Bond faces true obsolescence as M (Ralph Fiennes) has replaced him with the consummate professional, Nomi (Lashana Lynch).

Blofeld (Waltz) somehow engineers an attempt on Bond’s life at a weird soiree in Havana, where 007 is too-briefly joined by Paloma, played by Ana De Armas, whose fun energy with Craig in Knives Out is also on display here. The great, perennially-underused Jeffrey Wright’s final performance as Felix finally gives him something substantial to do, even if the details of the deadly (nanobot mist?) biological weapon which can target specific DNA sequences get lost in the shuffle. Rami Malek’s poison-obsessed villain has his own personal connection to Madeleine, and by the end, he comes off as a warped reflection of Bond. No Time to Die has its flaws (nanobot spray!), but it also has some real surprises, which includes possibly being the only franchise entry that does not find Bond seducing a random woman halfway through.

2. Casino Royale

2002’s Die Another Day was the final film in Pierce Brosnan‘s run as 007, and despite its box office success, the critics picked it apart for its gadget-happy CGI and formulaic plot. With the same year’s The Bourne Identity planting a flag for a leaner, meaner direction for the espionage thriller, James Bond felt like a dinosaur. 007 needed a reinvention, so the producers tapped Martin Campbell (helmer of Brosnan’s Bond debut, GoldenEye) to reboot the franchise yet again. Casting the blond (!) Craig as a muscular, no-nonsense Bond, ditching virtually all the gadgets, and stripping the franchise of its comfortable standbys (no Q, Moneypenny or supervillains in volcano lairs), Casino Royale broke new ground for Bond movies and remains as brash and engaging as it was fifteen years ago.

Retaining Judi Dench as M was a brilliant move, giving Bond the stern mother figure he sorely needs. As Vesper Lynd, Eva Green matches Craig scene for scene. She’s clearly far more than the franchise’s signature deeply troubling trope of Bond girl eye candy. Allowing Bond to fall in love with Vesper and then lose her (shades of the still-underrated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) after she betrays him, Casino Royale gives the misogynist-adjacent bent we’ve come to associate with the character a suitably sour origin that carries on through the rest of the films. Near the end, Bond claims that Vesper meant nothing to him: “The bitch is dead.” M sees right through this, and her trust in and concern for her best agent becomes a strong throughline for when the subsequent films get shaky.

1. Skyfall

The best film starring Craig as 007 is also (quite arguably) the very best Bond film of all time. Directed by Sam Mendes and written by franchise stalwarts, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as Gladiator screenwriter and Penny Dreadful creator John Logan, Skyfall opens with Bond and field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in hot pursuit of a stolen hard drive containing the identities of every undercover NATO agent. Bond is shot and presumed dead in the opening scene. After one of the greatest credits sequences in the history of the franchise, we find Bond “enjoying death” in the Caribbean as he boozes it up and nurses his wounded pride. He returns to service only after a bombing in London leaves MI6 vulnerable. M approves his return to active duty, and he comes face to face with his latest nemesis, Silva (the charmingly creepy Javier Bardem), who has a personal vendetta against M

Skyfall fills in the rest of this Bond’s backstory, revealing the deep-seated childhood trauma he has never processed. With Craig’s Bond, the filmmakers have tried to make him more than just the “sexist, misogynist, Cold War relic” (M’s words in GoldenEye) he had already become by the end of Brosnan’s run. Skyfall marks the high water mark of these efforts, as Mendes and company find just the right balance between bringing back familiar Bond tropes (Q, played by Ben Whishaw, and Moneypenny, revealed to be Harris) and exploring new territory for the character.

The final act plays out in a hollowed-out manor in Scotland, Bond’s childhood home. As 007 faces his past (and symbolically blows it up), Skyfall suggests that he is now full Bond, perhaps peak Bond. To get there, he had to hold his surrogate mother in his arms and watch her die. We may never again see Bond weep, but the moment is possibly the most important for this character. Can we allow this Cold War relic to reckon with such grief and trauma after Daniel Craig? As the world continues to process a seemingly eternal pandemic, these are things we all need to reckon with.

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Paul McDonald
Paul McDonald
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Paul is a freelance photograher and graphic designer and has worked on our most recent media kit.

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