Here is my personal list, one at a time, of the top ten movie characters ever. However, feel free to agree or offer better choices and argument. SPOILER CAUTION! The content below may give away some of the plot of the film(s) concerned.
#1 – JAMES BOND
“The name’s Bond, James Bond”
The ultimate movie character is, of course, the legend that is James Bond. What other character continues to enthral and fascinate nearly 50 years after his original showing (1962’s Dr. No) through an astonishing record-breaking 22 ‘official’ movies and with 6 different actors. We simply cannot get enough of Ian Fleming’s licensed to kill British secret agent, ‘007’, who risks his life for Queen and country to often save the whole world. Men want to be him; women want to be with him.
No matter how big the problem, no matter how bad and powerful the villain, no matter how dangerous, James Bond is your man. He somehow manages to be suave, charming and sophisticated as well as being tough, cold and brutal. On the one hand he is an English gentleman who will happily discuss the sherry or wine he is drinking and meet you to play a round of golf, but will not even blink if he needs to put a bullet between your eyes.
He is seemingly the classic ‘lone wolf’ character who does not seek out relationships but somehow makes meaningful but fleeting friendships wherever he goes. The only people we see him being friendly with consistently are people he knows through work, Moneypenny (played by Lois Maxwell initially and then by Samantha Bond) and CIA agent Felix Leiter (played by actors Jack Lord (Dr.No), Cec Linder (Goldfinger), Rick Van Nutter (Thunderball), John Terry (Living Daylights), David Hedison (Licence to Kill) and most recently Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale & Quantum of Solace).
His profession, as England’s No.1 secret agent, suits being a loner but he very much maximises any opportunity to seduce a lady as he knows that he or she may not be alive for very much longer. Over the films we see that he has made a couple of attempts at meaningful relationships but they have always ended very badly indeed. In the recent Casino Royale (2006) we see a younger James Bond (Daniel Craig) who has just got his licence to kill and then proceeds to fall head over heels in love with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and even resigns so to be with her. However, she double crosses him and she ends up dying.
In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond (played by George Lazenby) not only falls in love again, but actually marries Tracy Di Cicenzo (Diana Rigg) only for her to be shot dead at the end of the movie. At the beginning of For Your Eyes Only (1981) we see him lay flowers at her grave. James Bond is so deeply hurt by the tragic end to these relationships that he has clearly decided that he is not going to allow himself to become emotionally attached like that again to anyone.
Natalya: How can you be so cold?
James Bond: It’s what keeps me alive
Natalya: No, it’s what keeps you alone
Vesper: You can switch off so easily, can’t you? It doesn’t bother you, killing those people?
Bond: Well, I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.
(2006’s Casino Royale)
Ironically, James Bond’s most interesting relationships tend to be with people who don’t seem to like him very much. His relationship with M (played originally by Bernard Lee and then by Robert Brown, and most recently by Judi Dench) has evolved over the years and began with M generally treating James Bond in the same manner a strict schoolmaster does with a naughty pupil, but by 2002’s Die Another Day we see the relationship has grown much stronger and there is genuine care and respect for each other. However, with Casino Royale going back to Bond’s beginning we are seeing an M who seems to really not like or trust Bond at all, not until he proves himself.
His relationship with Q (originally called Major Boothroyd) is also very amusing and has developed over the 22 films. Played superbly by the much-loved Desmond Llewelyn (although Peter Burton was the original Major Boothroyd in Dr.No) their relationship is first revealed in Goldfinger where Q is clearly quite annoyed by the cavalier Bond who has no respect for the equipment he and his department spend long hours creating. By 1999’s The World is Not Enough (Desmond Llewelyn’s last film) Q is much more of a loving uncle figure to Bond.
Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
James Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.
Each Bond film sees 007 take on a new villain and they normally end up with some sort of encounter where the villain, although wanting to kill Bond, shows respect for what Bond has done. Dr.No has a mostly civilised dinner with James Bond and one gets the feeling he is trying to see if he can recruit him, but realises his unwavering loyalty to his mission and England.
Dr. No: [to Bond] Unfortunately I overestimated you, you are just a stupid police man…
(metal door opens and guards enter)
Dr. No: …whose luck has run out.
However, Dr.No, like all the other villains that follow, actually underestimates James Bond who always manages to foil whatever world-domination plan they happen to have. He has several interesting encounters with Auric Goldfinger, with the most memorable one being the infamous scene with Bond strapped to a table with an industrial laser pointing right at him.
James Bond: You expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No, I expect you to die
In 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond is admired and respected by the villain, the 3-titted expert hitman Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), who believes he and Bond are very similar in character. He lures James Bond to his secluded island in Phuket which has now proved so popular with tourists it is actually called James Bond Island. Scaramanga and Bond dine together as gentleman before they get down to their business.
Francisco Scaramanga: You get as much pleasure out of killing as I do, so why don’t you admit it?
James Bond: I admit killing you would be a pleasure.
Francisco Scaramanga: Then you should have done that when you first saw me. On the other hand, the English don’t consider it sporting to kill in cold blood, do they?
James Bond: Don’t count on that.
As they eat, Scaramanga outlines a proposition for him.
Francisco Scaramanga: A duel between titans… my golden gun against your Walther PPK.
James Bond: Pistols at dawn; it’s a little old-fashioned, isn’t it?
Francisco Scaramanga: That it is. But it remains the only true test for gentlemen.
James Bond: On that score, I doubt you qualify. However, I accept.
James Bond always wins out in the end but not before frustrating his foe who keep failing in their attempts to kill him.
“Why can’t you just be a good boy and die?” Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean), Goldeneye
James Bond also had a curious relationship with the most famous henchman of all the films, Jaws (played by Richard Kiel), who appeared in just two films and although Jaws is committed to his task of killing Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me they both give each other a nod of respect in Moonraker and when Jaws falls in love, he actually ends up helping Bond.
James Bond’s world is a lonely one full of danger and he is someone who definitely has a dark side. However, our enjoyment of this character is the seemingly effortless and fearless way he conducts himself. In particular, his laconic and pithy remarks in the most lethal and precarious moments help define his approach to life.
(Bond has just been discovered in bed with KGB agent Anya Amasova in 1977’s Spy Who Loved Me)
M: Bond! What on earth do you think you’re doing?
James Bond: Keeping the British end up, sir
Tracy: Suppose I were to kill you for a thrill?
Bond: I can think of something more sociable to do.
Bond: I tend to notice little things like that–whether a girl is a blonde or a brunette…
Tiffany: And which do you prefer?
Bond: Well, as long as the collars and cuffs match
Bond: [in bed with Jones] I was wrong about you.
Dr. Christmas Jones: Yeah, how so?
Bond: I thought Christmas only comes once a year.
There will always be the argument about who is the best Bond with Sean Connery most often winning as the original James Bond. George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton seem to be the least popular Bonds, whereas Daniel Craig’s reputation seems to be growing. I felt Pierce Brosnan was a most excellent and worthy 007, but my favourite has to be Roger Moore. He wasn’t as tough as Sean, but there is something about how he played him, the charm, and the humour and he was somehow more refined and matured than the early Bond.
James Bond simply is the best movie character ever. Carly Simon seems to have found the perfect lyrics in her song from The Spy Who Loved Me: