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Sam Mendes and company: Ranking the 007 directors

With recent rumors swirling that Danny Boyle could be coming on board to direct the newest James Bond film, what better time is there to look at the directorial history of the franchise? The prospect of Boyle in the world of Bond is enticing, if slightly unexpected and not a match that makes sense on paper. Still, much of the 007 history in terms of directors has been avoiding the A-listers. Maybe in this new era, there’s a different sort of focus? If nothing else, it’s something very interesting to contemplate. The last choice was a big name, so perhaps this is the new normal for the world’s most popular secret agent.

To catch you up, the 25th Bond outing has been looking for a new director after Sam Mendes helmed the last two. The initial final three shortlist was Yann Demange, David Mackenzie, and Denis Villeneuve. There was radio silence for a while, then Villeneuve announced he wouldn’t be taking the job, opting to focus on his Dune remake instead. This left Demange as the front-runner and likely choice, up until about a week ago. Then, Boyle was reported to have interest in the job and has pitched an idea with his frequent scribe John Hodge. Now, we await word if the franchise stalwarts choose Boyle and Hodge’s pitch, or if they move back towards Demange and the current script by Bon veterans Neil Purvis and Robert Wade. In the meantime, let us look back on the previous directors of the series…

Below is a list of the filmmakers who have worked in the Bond world so far to date. There’s been 11 so far, with more than half having done multiple entries. Interestingly, almost all of the weaker efforts were by one and done directors, so make of that what you will. There’s probably a pretty steady grouping of most of these, but everyone does tend to like different types of Bond movies. For me, this is how I see it. Take a look and keep that in mind. Personal preference and such. Don’t at me, as the kids say these days.

This is how I would rank the 11 directors who have tackled official James Bond movies:

11. Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day)
10. Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough)
9. Lewis Gilbert (Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me, and You Only Live Twice)
8. Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace)
7. Roger Spottiswoode (Tomorrow Never Dies)
6. Guy Hamilton (Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun)
5. John Glen (For Your Eyes Only, License to Kill, The Living Daylights, Octopussy, and A View to a Kill)
4. Peter Hunt (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
3. Terrence Young (Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball)
2. Sam Mendes (Skyfall and Spectre)
1. Martin Campbell (Casino Royale and GoldenEye)

As you can see, the series has usually veered away from auteurs and looked at the sorts of directors who could mostly make the trains run on time. That’s part of why we’ll probably never see Christopher Nolan take up shop within the 007 world. Campbell especially is a great example of someone who’s totally solid outside of the franchise, but at his best within. Then, there’s the classic helmers like Glen, Hamilton, Hunt, and Young, who all did strong work with Bond, James Bond. The only true misfire was Tamahori in my book, with Apted just being totally uninspiring, but your mileage may vary.

If Boyle does indeed end up directing, he’ll be perhaps the most overt visual stylist ever to take up the job. That could either be a huge plus, as we’ve seen with Mendes and Skyfall, or it could be a bit of a mess, like with Forster and Quantum of Solace. We’ll see what ends up happening. The word should come down in a few weeks, though Boyle did just set up a musical with Simon Curtis that will be shooting first. That may just complicate things, but time will tell. Either way, we’ll have a new Bond director announced sooner rather than later. Sit tight…

Stay tuned to see if Boyle signs on to direct the next James Bond flick!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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