Sean Connery the original James Bond
(United Artists)

How Sean Connery Set the Gold Standard For All James Bond Portrayals

Sean Connery, the dashing debonair who single-handedly transformed tuxedos into the ultimate espionage ensemble and made ruggedness look effortlessly cool, brought an unequaled charm to the silver screen that set the gold standard for all 007 portrayals. In the classic film Dr. No, Connery stepped into Bond’s impeccably polished shoes, introducing the world to a spy who was as comfortable at a high-stakes poker table as he was in a high-speed chase.  

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By the time Goldfinger (1964), arguably the most renowned of his films, was released, we had seen Connery provide the ideal mix of wit and danger, immortalizing lines that would echo through the halls of cinema history. With the same calm confidence he had in Goldfinger, Connery led Thunderball (1965) through an undersea skirmish and a volcanic lair, leading to James Bond’s status as more than a spy but also a cultural symbol who personified a time of exploration, refinement, and, of course, mischief. In honor of Sean Connery’s cinematic exploits, below is a list of the original James Bond movies arranged in order of their release date, and why they work so well. 

Dr. No (1962)

Sean Connery and Ursula Andress in Dr No
(United Artists)

Dr. No is a cinematic gem that set the template for spy thrillers for decades to come. Directed by Terence Young, this film is where we first hear Sean Connery deliver the immortal line, “Bond, James Bond,” with a nonchalance that belied the cultural impact it would have. The story, a concoction as potent as Bond’s preferred martini, takes us on a whirlwind from the casinos of London to the sun-kissed beaches of Jamaica, all in pursuit of the enigmatic Dr. No, a villain as sophisticated as he is sinister. 

Ursula Andress’ iconic emergence from the sea as Honey Ryder set hearts racing, while Connery’s portrayal of Bond had everyone either wanting to be him or be with him. Dr. No is where the legend began, a timeless piece that introduced a character who would become a cornerstone of cinematic history. 

From Russia with Love (1963) 

Daniela Bianchi and Sean Connery in From Russia With Love
(United Artists)

The second outing in the James Bond series, From Russia with Love, is where the 007 franchise really started to shake and stir the spy genre. Under the deft direction of Terence Young, this film takes Bond—again played with that trademark Connery charisma—beyond the mere confines of a movie hero into the realm of a cultural icon. Here, Bond isn’t just battling a singular villain; he’s up against an entire organization, SPECTRE, making the stakes as high as his eyebrow arched in surprise. 

The film whirls from the majestic corridors of Istanbul to a heart-pounding train ride across Europe, proving that Bond’s world is as vast as his collection of gadgets. Speaking of which, this is the film that introduced us to Q and his array of spy paraphernalia. Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana Romanova is both the bait and the beauty, ensnaring Bond in a web that’s part love affair, part lethal trap. 

Goldfinger (1964) 

James Bond poses with car in 'Goldfinger'
(United Artists)

Goldfinger is where the franchise struck gold, both literally and cinematically. Sean Connery returned as the ever-dashing 007, with a twinkle in his eye and a gadget up his sleeve, courtesy of the ever-inventive Q. Directed with flair by Guy Hamilton, this film takes Bond on a glittering journey from the golf courses of England to the vaults of Fort Knox, all while pitting him against one of the most memorable villains in the series: Auric Goldfinger. 

Goldfinger, played with enticing malevolence by Gert Fröbe, is a man with a Midas touch so lethal it could turn the global economy on its head. The film is a goldmine of iconic moments: who can forget the sight of Shirley Eaton as Jill Masterson, covered in gold paint, or the introduction of the Aston Martin DB5, complete with ejector seat? Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is as formidable as she is alluring, adding a new dimension to the Bond girl archetype. Goldfinger is where the Bond formula was perfected.

Thunderball (1965) 

Claudine Auger and Sean Connery in 'Thunderball'
(United Artists)

With Thunderball, the franchise plunged into more profound, turbulent waters. This installment, directed by Terence Young, dives headfirst into a world of underwater intrigue and nuclear jeopardy. The film’s plot bubbles with tension: SPECTRE has hijacked two atomic bombs, and it’s up to Bond to defuse the situation before it explodes into global catastrophe. The underwater scenes are a visual spectacle, with Bond and his foes engaging in aquatic ballets of espionage, complete with harpoons and hidden dangers. 

Claudine Auger’s Domino adds a splash of allure, her connection with the eye-patch-sporting villain, Largo, providing a current of personal stakes amid the larger tides of the narrative. Thunderball also amps up the gadgetry, with Bond equipped with everything from a jetpack to a tricked-out wristwatch, proving that in Bond’s world, the accessories make the man. 

You Only Live Twice (1967) 

Akiko Wakabayashi and Sean Connery in 'You Only Live Twice'
(United Artists)

The plot of You Only Live Twice thrusts our daring spy into a universe where the stakes are as high as the orbiting spacecraft at its center. Directed with a visionary eye by Lewis Gilbert, this film finds Bond in the land of the rising sun, Japan, where he navigates international espionage against the backdrop of sumo wrestling and cherry blossoms. 

The story, a brainchild of Roald Dahl, is twisty, involving hijacked space capsules, global panic, and the ever-nefarious SPECTRE. The film’s villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, makes a memorable appearance, stroking his cat and plotting world domination with a chilling and charismatic calm. The action is a buffet of Bond delights: we have ninjas, helicopter battles, and even a mock funeral.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971) 

James Bond in 'Diamonds Are Forever'
(United Artists)

Diamonds Are Forever, the seventh sparkle in the James Bond crown marked the return of Sean Connery to his signature role, and what a dazzling comeback it was. Directed by Guy Hamilton, this film takes Bond on a glittering chase from the sun-baked streets of Amsterdam to the neon-lit extravagance of Las Vegas, all in pursuit of a diamond smuggling operation. 

The plot has Bond crossing paths with the likes of the enigmatic Tiffany Case and the diabolically brilliant Blofeld, who is as obsessed with constructing a laser satellite as he is with his own survival. Connery, slipping back into Bond’s shoes with ease, delivers each quip and punch with his characteristic panache. 

Never Say Never Again (1983) 

Kim Basinger in 'Never Say Never Again'
(Warner Bros.)

An unofficial entrant in the Bond canon, Never Say Never Again is like that wink from an old friend long thought retired. Embodying the phrase ‘aging like a fine Scotch,’ Sean Connery returned as James Bond, proving that you can return to the spy game after saying ‘never again.’ This film, directed by Irvin Kershner, spins a tale of stolen nuclear missiles, a SPECTRE plot, and a rejuvenated 007 who’s as adept with a quip as he is with a Walther PPK. 

The title, a playful jab at Connery’s previous vow to never play Bond again, sets the tone for a self-aware film full of enthusiasm. Kim Basinger’s Domino adds modern charm, while the villainous Maximilian Largo offers a challenge worthy of Bond’s comeback. The film nods to past glories—high-stakes gambling, exotic locations, and a bevy of gadgets. 

(featured image: United Artists)

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Faith Katunga
Faith is a freelance journalist with an insatiable curiosity for all aspects of current events, from the global economy and fashion to pop culture and travel. She watches an absurd number of cat videos on Instagram when not reading or writing about what is going on in the world. Faith has written for several publications, including We Got This Covered, Italy Magazine, TheTravel, etc., and holds a master's degree in Fashion Culture and Management.