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THE B-LIST: Who's the best Bond?

A sure-to-rile ranking of 007

The Bonds thus far, spanning 1962-2020 (clockwise from left): Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.
The Bonds thus far, spanning 1962-2020 (clockwise from left): Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

Hold onto your hats, folks. I'm about to ruffle some serious feathers.

Many moons ago, I took it upon myself to do a definitive feminist ranking of all 24 Bond films. Said ranking was based purely on how the infamous hero and his various villains/allies treated the female characters. That met with plenty of outcry.

But I anticipate this will provoke even louder yelling: today, I'm ranking the six Bonds from worst to best. So let's dive right into this shark tank, shall we?

6. ROGER MOORE (1973-1985). BEST FILM: 1985's "A View to a Kill." Hoo boy, was Moore's tenure a dark period in the Bond franchise. His films have some of the worst racism ("Live and Let Die") and misogyny ("Octopussy," anyone? *Shudders*) in a series unfortunately famous for both. At one point, Bond dresses up as a circus clown. Talk about a death to dignity.

Moore's Bond leans too far into the camp territory without balancing it with real charm or any moments of sincerity, and he never truly convinces me that he's a capable spy. Every time he's on screen, I fight the urge to punch the walls — he's far too smug and unlikable to root for. "A View to a Kill" is his sole saving grace, mostly thanks to the superb villains Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) and May Day (Grace Jones, a personal hero of mine).

5. SEAN CONNERY (1962-1967, 1971). BEST FILM: 1963's "From Russia With Love." That's right — I'm ranking Connery second-to-last. Because, once again, he never really feels like a secret agent. His Bond is always far too obvious on supposedly undercover missions, and his callousness with his allies and assets is awfully unattractive.

While he may be a Grade A jerk to Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) in "From Russia With Love," it's still his best turn as Bond, as he juggles multiple plots, a veritable army of spies and bait-and-switch tricks aplenty in an attempt to get a Soviet cipher machine back to MI6. The entire sequence on the Orient Express — culminating in a genuinely brutal, thrilling brawl with SPECTRE assassin Grant (Robert Shaw) — is one of the better Bond moments to date.

4. PIERCE BROSNAN (1995-2002). BEST FILM: 1995's "GoldenEye." After the dreck that was Moore, Brosnan's tenure is (mostly) a relief. Yes, this is another high-camp era for the suave secret agent, but at least Brosnan is charming amidst the invisible cars ("Die Another Day") and literal white-washed baddies ("Die Another Day" — again. Phew, that was a bad film). Brosnan's Bond drops plenty of awful one-liners and innuendos, but his cheeky performance makes him more of an incorrigible scamp rather than a slimy skeeze.

And ah, "GoldenEye." One of the best video games of all time and an awfully fun tale of rogue agents and killer satellites. Sean Bean gets his evil on as the former Double O agent/Bond's erstwhile BFF Alec Trevelyan. Alan Cumming is hysterical as the over-the-top programmer Boris. Famke Janssen kills men with her thighs as femme fatale Xenia Onatopp, and Dame Judi Dench is the first female M. A solid debut, "GoldenEye" balanced goofiness with serious shoot-outs and Cold War commentary in a way no other Brosnan film managed.

3. DANIEL CRAIG (2006-2020). BEST FILM: 2012's "Skyfall." Craig has done some decidedly interesting things with the role, deviating from the traditionally "smooth" portrayal of the character. Yes, his Bond can be suave and charming. But he's more a brawler than a gentleman, which has led to much more exciting fight and chase scenes. It helps, of course, that his films have been the best produced and most polished, with Academy Award-winning directors at the helm, the biggest budgets and better special effects.

And "Skyfall," his best Bond outing thus far, isn't just the best Bond film — it's one of the best action films made. Period. By making the core of the story a mother/son dynamic — Dench's M is clearly Bond's pseudo-mother, while terrorist Silva (Javier Bardem) sees himself as the cast-off son — "Skyfall" is surprisingly Shakespearean and melancholic by the end credits, making it one of the most serious and thoughtful Bond adventures.

2. TIMOTHY DALTON (1987-1989). BEST FILM: 1987's "The Living Daylights." Birthday boy TDalts (who turns 73 today) is — hands down — my favorite Bond. Not only is he the best physical fit for Fleming's character, looking exactly how Bond should, he's also the snarkiest AND the most respectful around ladies. His Bond is the "rebel" Bond, who defies orders more than follows them, and he often lets things get personal, meaning he's the Bond we most root for.

Picking a fave Dalton outing is difficult because I love both of his films (and frequently wish we'd had more), but "Living Daylights" narrowly edges out "License to Kill" thanks to his tender dynamic with cellist Kara Milovy (Maryam d'Abo), showing the softer side of a man who's usually cold and mercenary in pursuit of his goals. Of all the Bonds, Dalton is the one I most buy as a smooth ladykiller.

1. GEORGE LAZENBY (1969). BEST FILM: 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service." That's right! I'm going there! I'm hereby crowning Lazenby — the Aussie who only starred in a single film — the best Bond! And I can back this up: of all the Bonds, Lazenby is the only one who actually made me believe he was a master spy.

When he goes undercover at Blofeld (Telly Savalas)'s "allergy research clinic" in the Swiss Alps, he actually commits to a secret identity, proving that his Bond is the sort of convincing actor a true secret agent would need to be, capable of subterfuge and subtlety. It's a shame Lazenby only made one film — especially considering Moore followed him — because he was a stellar 007.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at abarry@shawmedia.com.

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