Why Timothy Dalton Is the Most Underrated James Bond

Playing James Bond is one of the most exclusive clubs in Hollywood. Over 60 years and 25 movies, only six actors have played Bond. Sean Connery kicked off the cinematic run in memorable fashion. Daniel Craig overcame the initial casting backlash to put his mark on the role. Timothy Dalton’s two-movie run as the international super-spy might not hold a candle to Connery, Craig, or even Roger Moore among fans, but he is the most underrated James Bond actor.

Timothy Dalton (left) as an underrated James Bond on the set of 'The Living Daylights;' Roger Moore in Bond movie 'Live and Let Die.'
(l-r) ‘James Bond’ actors Timothy Dalton and Roger Moore | Georges De Keerle/Getty Images; Silver Screen Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Dalton’s standing among ‘James Bond’ actors

Connery was the first big-screen Bond in 1962’s Dr. No. Roger Moore portrayed the character in seven straight films starting in 1973. Craig, who took over for Pierce Brosnan, finished a 15-year run as Bond with 2021’s No Time to Die. Those four actors typically take the top slots in the rankings for best Bond ever.

George Lazenby, who did one film between the Connery and Moore runs, and Dalton, who did two Bond movies between Moore and Brosnan, usually bring up the rear. 

But Dalton might be the most underrated James Bond of them all.

Dalton steered ‘Bond’ back on course after the Moore era

Moore’s Bond was always ready with a quip, a gadget from Q to get him out of a sticky situation, and, increasingly, unbelievable ways to escape outlandish situations. As the Moore era went on, the camp factor increased. Bond became more superhero than spy. It worked for the time when epic disaster movies — Airport, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure — won with audiences, but by the late 1980s, Bond needed a reboot.

In the first few minutes of The Living Daylights, fans know Dalton’s Bond is different. The movie starts with the killing of an MI6 agent on what is supposed to be a training exercise, a stark contrast to the megalomaniacal villains Moore increasingly faced during his tenure. Dalton’s Bond handles his everyday adversaries in more plausible ways without sacrificing excitement. 

Boardroom bickering and a slew of lawsuits led to a gap in Bond films, which led to Dalton being replaced. Yet his two movies were critical for establishing a new breed of Bond.

Dalton’s underrated Bond tenure also saw him bring back some elements from Connery’s portrayal while setting the table for Brosnan and Craig.

He revived the more serious tone of earlier ‘Bond’ movies

Even the producers knew the Bond franchise got a little off track during the Moore era. While admitting Moore made the role his own, Dalton told Entertainment Weekly that the producers revealed to him they wanted to take the character back to its roots. Of all the actors they could have chosen, Dalton got the call, and he owned it. 

Dalton’s underrated Bond is very much a product of its time, dealing with rogue KGB agents, drug dealers, and drug-dealing rogue KGB agents. Dalton’s Bond faced serious real-world enemies, and he handled them in straightforward and believable ways. His portrayal was the first time since the early Connery era that Bond felt like a real-world spy. Gone were the outer space laser shootouts, clown suits, and crocodile hopscotch of the Moore era.

When the long-running franchise needed a reboot, Dalton’s hard edge was the perfect choice. His two-movie run was critical to bringing Bond into the 21st century.

Dalton’s underrated ‘Bond’ opened the door for Brosan and Craig 

Moore tended toward campy Bond, but Dalton was gruff, no-nonsense, maybe even grumpy. Dalton’s two turns in the tux established the template for the Bond of the last quarter-century.

Brosnan’s Bond faced his share of supervillains, but in a way that reflected Dalton’s 007. Particularly in Goldeneye, Brosnan’s Bond seems to have little patience for the small details of being a spy. He wants results ASAP.

Craig took over from Brosnan for Casino Royale, but he continued the trend established by Dalton of a gritty, gruff Bond prepared to handle high-stakes situations with deft action instead one-liners.

He might never supersede Connery, Craig, Brosnan, or even Moore as the fan-favorite 007, but Dalton’s underrated James Bond helped breathe new life into the long-running franchise when it needed it the most.

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