The James Bond franchise has a long and rich history that spans almost six decades, with just as many actors playing the lead role and soon-to-be 25 films in the official canon. But there’s one particular day that James Bond fans should celebrate every year, and for a pretty big reason too. That day is today, with November 17 proving crucial to 007’s legacy, as it saw the relaunch of Bond taking place, both times with a new actor, in 1995 and 2006.
What's even crazier is the fact that when it comes to Goldeneye and Casino Royale, the reinvention of Ian Fleming’s literary hero came thanks to the talents of one director: Martin Campbell. It’s the sort of kismet you couldn’t find anywhere else, and it’s all a part of why James Bond fans should have November 17 on their calendars this year, and every year to come.
November 17, 1995 – Goldeneye Hits Theaters
When Goldeneye finally made its way to audiences at large on November 17, 1995, it was at a crucial juncture in the history of the James Bond series. The last Bond film to be released, License To Kill, was somewhat of a distant memory, seeing as that particular event took place back in 1989. For a franchise that used to put out a new entry like clockwork every two years, a gap of triple that length was unheard of; though it would be the least of the franchise’s worries.
That six-year sabbatical happened because of some rather massive legal issues that were a by-product of MGM being acquired by Pathe Communications. As its new corporate owners tried to sell the distribution rights to the 007 series “at below-market value in order to fund the leveraged buyout,” this had begun a legal war between the studio and series producers Albert and Dana Broccoli. By time everything was settled and the dust had cleared, it was 1993 and some big changes were on the horizon. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Soviet Union was no longer a reality and the Cold War was virtually over at that point, leaving a new sociopolitical landscape for the Bond series to navigate. It would have to do so with a new face in the lead too, as by the time the wheels started turning on the film, Timothy Dalton’s contract was up, and he was not keen to renew his license to kill.
The fifth James Bond actor would need to be found before Goldeneye could turn its gaze to the world, and sure enough, Remington Steele star Pierce Brosnan was no longer held back by a network TV contract. While he had to pass on becoming Bond the first time around, Brosnan was able to slip into the tuxedo, continuing a new tradition of the second time being the charm. Announced as the new Bond in 1994, Pierce Brosnan wouldn’t be the only change to the landmark espionage series. Goldeneye’s greater stamp on the James Bond legacy would be in the casting of Dame Judi Dench, who became the first female to play the role of M. With traditionally womanizing 007 being given a stern female boss who'd call him out as, “…a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the cold war,” leading women in the James Bond legacy would start to change for the progressive from this point on. It all came to a head when Goldeneye was marketed to a then Bond-less world with the following explosive teaser:
Sure, change is a good thing, but did audiences flock to the sound of the James Bond theme after six years away? Indeed they did, as Goldeneye would become the fourth highest grossing film of 1995. This brave new world where the villains could be former allies, and new friends could be found in the debris of the shattered iron curtain, won fans old and new. And it couldn’t have happened at a better time, as Martin Campbell’s first time directing a new 007 movie came only a few short months before major competition would start to challenge the Bond franchise, with Paramount’s Mission: Impossible opening the following May.
Through four more outings, Pierce Brosnan would continue to dazzle the world as a mix between the suave wit of Sir Roger Moore with the gritty, killing edge of Sean Connery. By the time his tenure came to an unexpected end in 2004, the world of James Bond would see another evolution taking place very shortly after.
November 17, 2006 – Casino Royale Hits Theaters
Reaching the 40th anniversary milestone that 2002’s Die Another Day was meant to celebrate, the 007 franchise was in a pretty tight spot. The traditional formulas that governed the series since Dr. No kicked things off in 1962 had become somewhat tired, and the reaction to the silly and over-the-top nature of the film would only depreciate with age. Even worse, the Hollywood market was starting to develop some even stiffer competition to the James Bond legacy; and this time the competition had the jump on them.
Both the Vin Diesel-starring xXx and Matt Damon’s feature film adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity scored smash hits that tapped into the popular culture of the time. Capitalizing on the summer box office season, these twin competitors challenged the tradition of Bond before Die Another Day’s turn in the traditional November release spot. While managing to land as the sixth highest grossing film of 2002, James Bond’s impact on culture was starting to flag. So naturally, something had to be done, and in 2004, Pierce Brosnan was unexpectedly let go from the James Bond franchise, having fulfilled his contractual obligation. Much like the man himself, the Bond series’ hobby of resurrection took the films to a new and exciting frontier.
Finally having the rights to Casino Royale in the pipeline, MGM and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were able to make a serious film adaptation of the very first Ian Fleming book. While it had existed both as a TV movie and a comedy spoof in 1953 and 1967, respectively, it was the only full Fleming novel that hadn’t been adapted at that point. And for a bold new vision of the future, a new man would be brought in to save the day, as you'll see in this news report from the day that it all went down:
Rising star Daniel Craig was announced to the public as the sixth actor to play James Bond on October 14, 2005. Learning he’d gotten the role during his time making The Invasion with Nicole Kidman and future Casino Royale co-star Jeffrey Wright, Craig would soon find himself headlong in a whirlwind of showing the world how Bond became a 00-agent. While there would be a recalibration of the tone to the 007 saga, not everything would be changing just yet.
Dame Judi Dench would return for Casino Royale, with Bond and M still butting heads over everything from methodology to personal space. But this time around, the relationship started to take more of a turn towards a disapproving mother and her wayward son. While the Brosnan era would experiment with this sort of treatment itself, particularly in The World is Not Enough, that particular arc would be of greater importance through Daniel Craig’s embodiment of the role.
Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond built itself on the backs of both George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton’s versions of the character. Without their films in particular, Craig wouldn’t have the precedent to take tales of personal vendettas and romantic tragedy to the heights they started to scale with Casino Royale. Seeing a James Bond who could be beaten and get his heart broken, that was something even lifelong fans of the classic films hadn’t seen in a while. The invulnerable, always pithy 007 was replaced by someone who always felt like he was two steps away from quitting, but found just enough of a motivation to push forward.
While it would take four years to get James into theaters yet again, the wait was well worth it. Critics and fans still continue to herald that first film as, quite possibly, the best one of Daniel Craig’s run so far. From that opening gun barrel right through to the first time Craig got to call himself “Bond, James Bond,” 007 was back in action, and back in step with the world.
If it wasn’t for the bold risks taken by the producers behind the James Bond series, we may not have seen the franchise live too much longer past the shocks that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service delivered to the system. Course correction has always been a strong tool in the arsenal of the Broccoli/Wilson family, as they’ve been the stewards of one of the longest running film franchises in the industry. But twice, the big day that the world at large was taken aback by the reinvention of James Bond, happened to fall on November 17. It’s a day that 007 fans should always remember, and one that should be celebrated for generations to come. Because without Goldeneye and Casino Royale breathing continued life into James Bond, who knows what would have happened?
What we do know is that James Bond will return, and Daniel Craig’s time in the tuxedo will officially end after No Time To Die hits theaters on April 2, 2021. And should Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson and the folks at EON Productions actually have someone up their sleeve to become the next 007, it should be worth noting that November 17, 2023 could be a nice day to release the first adventure of the seventh James Bond. Whenever that day comes, it’ll be at the end of the same sort of selection process and decision making that has kept Bond in the gun barrel of popular culture.