A recent poll conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS revealed that Sean Connery remains America's favourite James Bond. Fifty per cent of respondents went for Connery when asked who was the best Bond. Pierce Brosnan was second with 12%, closely followed by Roger Moore, who polled 11%. Daniel Craig was third with 8%, while George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton brought up the rear with 1% each. While the margin of error of plus or minus 3% suggests that the differences between Brosnan, Moore, and probably Craig, are not statistically significant, Connery's place at the top is clear enough.
The poll reminded me of the 'Pint of Milk' interviews that feature in Empire magazine. Each month, a well-known actor, writer or director is asked a series of quirky questions largely unrelated to their latest release or career in film. The questions vary between interviews, but all interviewees are asked, “how much is a pint of milk?” Another question asked on a fairly regular basis is, “who is the best James Bond?” Looking through an archive of classic 'Pint of Milk' interviews on Empire Online, I was interested to see the responses to that question. As with the respondents in the CBS poll, the film-making community seems to favour Sean Connery.
All the interviews available online appear to have been conducted during the tenure of Pierce Brosnan, who consequently gets an honourable mention from most interviewees. So, on the question of the best Bond, Peter Ustinov thought that nobody could touch Connery, but considered that Brosnan had developed into 006 at least. Dan Ackroyd similarly thought Connery the best, but conceded that Brosnan was doing a wonderful job. Michael Keaton admitted he wasn't particularly familiar with the film series, but said that he liked Connery. Though he hadn't seen any of the Brosnan films, Keaton thought Brosnan looked natural in the role. Kyle MacLachlan went with Connery as the best Bond, with, unusually, Roger Moore a close second. Brosnan, he thought, was suave, but lacked the element of danger. Tim Robbins, in response to the question of the best Bond, answered “Mike Myers”.
Judging by these surveys, Sean Connery's position as 'best Bond' is unassailable. Quite how we measure the notion of best Bond is debatable to say the least, but the responses nevertheless point to certain important qualities. Two of them appear to be danger and toughness, which are strongly associated with Connery's portrayal. These are evidently not enough, however, as Timothy Dalton, who took a gritty approach to the role, is at the bottom of the CBS poll, while Daniel Craig, a tough, muscular Bond, only manages a middling position. Possibly a perceived lack of humour in Dalton's and Craig's Bond, certainly when compared with the Connery, Brosnan and Moore eras, is a factor here.
The Empire interviews suggest that being the current Bond boosts the ranking of that actor. Had the interviews taken place more recently, the interviewees might have placed Daniel Craig second. On the other hand, the results of the CBS poll pointed to an age factor to the responses. Respondents over the age of 45 tended to pick Roger Moore as second best Bond, while those under 45 went with Brosnan, suggesting that people tend to regard the Bond they grew up with or first saw as their (second) favourite Bond.
As for Connery, there is a remarkable consensus among all respondents that Connery is the best Bond. I wonder, though, whether the view has become so well established in popular culture that it is now almost a natural response given without much consideration or critical thought. Like any meme that is successful by being long-lived, widespread and oft-repeated, the view or meme that Connery is the best James Bond (along with the opposite meme that Lazenby is (usually) considered the worst Bond) is somewhat self-perpetuating. Connery is likely to remain on the top spot for a while yet, no matter how well the Bond films of Daniel Craig and his successors do at the box office.