For years, Hollywood has adapted books and short stories to the big screen. More recently, studios have prioritized franchise longevity by choosing to adapt long-running book series, such as Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and The Lord of the Rings. One book series, in particular, has been adapting its stories, titles, and characters into box-office blockbusters for sixty years now, and its name is Bond. James Bond. However, because “cinematic universes,” “soft reboots,” and “franchise films” are fairly modern terms, the studio’s approach to adapting Bond in the ’60s was much more careful than some studio moves nowadays. In short, they picked one of the strongest and most adaptable stories from the 10 Bond books that writer Ian Fleming had written at the time and set out to make a great standalone film. When that film was a success, they picked another to follow, and although this made for an overall strong collection of 25 official adaptations, the billion-dollar franchise in no way resembles the order in which the stories were published.
In order to truly compare the publication order with the adaptation order, one must first accept that there’s not much similarity to begin with, let alone the fact that several Bond films borrow story titles but not the plots themselves! Add to that the idea that Bond’s fictional life was told out-of-order to begin with, with scholars such as John Griswold and Henry Chancellor constructing their own chronologies of which story takes place when. Although both largely agree, Chancellor states in his book, “Fleming was always vague about dates.” The first book, Casino Royale, was only officially adapted once Daniel Craig became Bond in 2006 with book 2 being Roger Moore‘s first outing in 1973. This is followed by another Moore and then an even earlier film starring Sean Connery! However, by working our way through the list of movies in Bond-actor blocks, we can reference specific periods where some patterns were visible in the order.
How Do Sean Connery’s James Bond Films Compare to the Novels?
In 1961, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman purchased the movie rights to James Bond. Dr. No was released in 1962, based on the sixth Fleming book. The plot largely matches its source material and starred Sean Connery in the role of James Bond. Connery’s original run as Bond lasted for five films. His second was From Russia With Love which was actually the book prior to Dr. No and was followed by Goldfinger which was the book after Dr. No. Connery’s era remains somewhat loyal to this era of Fleming’s writing until 1965’s Thunderball which may well have only been the ninth book, but Fleming’s eighth book (For Your Eyes Only) featured five stories (including Quantum of Solace and From a View to a Kill) which these adaptations elected to skip.
From there, these adaptations jump around much more, with the fifth film, You Only Live Twice being the twelfth of fourteen Bond books written by Ian Fleming before his death. Connery’s version of Bond had been in the zeitgeist so much by this point in 1967 that it inspired a parody movie starring David Niven in the role. 1967’s Casino Royale was loosely based on the first James Bond book, and much like Austin Powers did in the late ’90s and early 2000s, this parody triggered a reboot for Broccoli and Saltzman’s official Eon Studios Bond films.
George Lazenby Took Over as James Bond
Australian actor George Lazenby took over the role of James Bond from Scottish actor Sean Connery. His time in the tux only lasted for one, albeit acclaimed, film. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service closely follows the novel of the same name which serves as a direct sequel to the novel of Thunderball (albeit after the detour story of The Spy Who Loved Me) and continues into the story of You Only Live Twice. This is what Fleming referred to as the Blofeld Trilogy or the SPECTRE Trilogy. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service works as a standalone film more by necessity than anything, since its source material takes place between Connery’s fourth and fifth installments. Connery returned to the role, however, to bookend his Bond tenure with Diamonds Are Forever, the precursor to his first two films (books five and six).
Roger Moore Did Seven Films as James Bond
The franchise was rebooted yet again in 1973 with English actor Roger Moore as Bond. Although Casino Royale had been parodied too recently to adapt it again, it seemed at first to be starting from scratch by doing the next best thing. Moore’s first outing was in Live and Let Die, based on the second book by Fleming. However, instead of following this up with book 3, Moonraker, which Moore would eventually star in, his second film was instead The Man with the Golden Gun, the thirteenth and final Ian Fleming full novel (not including Octopussy and The Living Daylights which was a collection of short stories).
From there Moore’s Bond seemed to be tackling the franchise from both ends of the chronology, filling in any gaps not already occupied by Connery or Lazenby. The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, and Octopussy followed, before yet again, Connery returned to the role to reclaim his stake as the one true Bond. Never Say Never Again was an unofficial 1983 film produced outside of Eon Productions. It’s officially based on Thunderball, an adaptation of which Connery had already starred in, in 1965. This was Connery’s unofficial seventh turn as Bond, and Moore returned the favor by returning as the character for his own seventh time in A View To a Kill which takes its name from From a View to a Kill.
Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan Each Got Their Turns as 007
Welsh-born actor Timothy Dalton was the next to take on the role and he did so for two films. First was The Living Daylights which was part of the final Fleming book, a collection of short stories which also featured Octopussy. The second was License to Kill which doesn’t take its name from any pre-existing Bond prose but contains elements from the Fleming book Live and Let Die as well as The Hildebrand Rarity, a short story featured in the eighth book For Your Eyes Only.
Dalton hung up his tux which gave way to Irish actor Pierce Brosnan to don the black tie in 1995. GoldenEye was the first Bond film not based on any element of the Fleming stories. It was also the first not to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli, instead produced by his daughter Barbara Broccoli. Brosnan’s tenure as Bond continued in this fashion with three original films and titles; Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, and Die Another Day.
Daniel Craig Was a Bond For a New Age
Much like how the cinematic climate shaped Bond’s rebranding in the ’60s, when Daniel Craig took on the role in 2006, the franchise warranted a gritty Bourne Identity or Batman Begins-like approach. This meant beginning at the character’s first appearance. A loyal and brutal adaptation of Fleming’s original novel Casino Royale rewrote the book on Bond adaptations for a modern audience, grounding the franchise in reality again. Although its film sequel directly followed Casino Royale‘s events, Quantum of Solace took its title from a 1960 short story in For Your Eyes Only, which is the eighth book. This was followed by Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time To Die which were all original creations for the films.
To an extent, one could imagine that Daniel Craig’s Quantum of Solace took place in the space between the first and second novels, but as No Time To Die opted to give the character a definitive ending, it’s clear that the only way each film can fit together canonically is if the actors’ works are intertwined with one another. In short, to watch all five actors’ Bond films in an order that makes sense would mean watching them roughly in book order, with some exceptions. The popular fan theory that James Bond is not a real man but rather a moniker given to the agent known as 007 could help make sense of the films’ contradictory elements, but in the end, it’s up to each individual person to decide on the perfect order to absorb these stories.
Bond is constantly being reinvented and having his story continued, even in the books. Since Fleming’s death, Christopher Wood has written novelizations of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker due to the films’ differences from the novels of the same name. Kingsley Amis, John Pearson, John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Jeffrey Deaver, Sebastian Faulks, William Boyd, and Anthony Horowitz have all written official Bond novels, some of which are ripe for film adaptations. Risico, 007 in New York, and The Property of a Lady are Fleming titles still unclaimed by the movies, and despite elements of The Hildebrand Rarity featuring in License to Kill, it’s still up for grabs too. If it wasn’t clear by now, there’s no killing James Bond, in or outside of his stories. If time, chronology, and continuity can’t stop him, Blofeld doesn’t stand a chance!
He’ll die another day / He’s got no time to die / Insert one of the countless appropriate Bond puns here.