With the stage set for Daniel Craig’s departure from the James Bond franchise after the September release of No Time To Die, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on the career of one of England’s highest-grossing acting exports.
Craig signed on as 007 in 2005; No Time To Die will be his fifth appearance as the character, following from Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre. Over the course of some 16 years, these four films alone have raked in over $3 billion in box office sales alone. Cinema restrictions aside, it seems likely that his next performance as Bond will bring in another healthy contribution to that total.
At the comparatively young age of 53, Craig already has a healthy filmography to his name, with some great acting credits both in and beyond the James Bond role. So, ahead of its release, we put together a list of the ten best Daniel Craig films ever. Read on to find out what they are.
#10 - Defiance
Director: Edward Zwick
Also starring: Liev Shreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos
IMDb Score: 7.2
Defiance is a Second World War film centred on the Bielski partisans, a nomadic Jewish resistance group in Belarus fighting back during the occupation of Eastern Europe. While critical response was mixed, Defiance is regularly cited as a reliably good war film that covers a conflict that often doesn’t get much recognition on the big screen.
At the 2009 Oscars, Defiance picked up just one technical nod for Best Original Score, for a soundtrack composed by Pretty Woman and The Dark Knight’s James Newton Howard.
#9 - Spectre
Director: Sam Mendes
Also starring: Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes
IMDb Score: 6.8
A critical miss that is still full of stunning, beautiful set pieces, Spectre was director Sam Mendes’ second outing in the Bond franchise after the popular Skyfall. It starred Craig’s 007 opposite Christoph Waltz of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, in an excellent performance as long-time Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Spectre was largely criticised for being inconsistent with a plot that was at times thin and illogical, harkening back to days where Bond films didn’t have to make all that much sense. It was, for many, a step backwards after the refreshing successes of Casino Royale and Skyfall.
That said, while sometimes mindless, the set pieces in Spectre are undeniably beautiful. Its opening tracking shot is perhaps the best example of this: a fantastic four-and-a-half minute romp through the streets during Dia de los Muertos celebrations, into a hotel, up a lift, into a room, onto the roof, and across a series of buildings to set himself up for a shootout.
#8 - Munich
Director: Steven Spielberg
Also starring: Eric Bana, Ciarán Hinds, Geoffrey Rush
IMDb Score: 7.5
Munich is a historical action thriller about an Israeli-sanctioned hit squad formed in response to the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympics. Seeking revenge for the murders of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, a Mossad agent puts together a team of volunteers to extralegally assassinate 11 Palestinian terrorists allegedly responsible for the massacre.
Craig plays second fiddle to Eric Bana as a South African Jewish driver called Steve. Out of the limelight, Craig still plays a key role in a thriller that asks tough questions about the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the costs one will go to in pursuit of vengeance.
Munich was a controversial picture that saw Spielberg come under a fair deal of criticism, but it was still critically well-regarded. It picked up five Oscar nods, including for Best Picture and Best Director, but did not win in any category.
#7 - Logan Lucky
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Also starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Seth McFarlane
IMDb Score: 7.0
Perhaps unfairly derided for its simplicity and pacing, Logan Lucky is a heist comedy film directed by Ocean’s trilogy veteran Soderbergh. Depending on your definition, it is somewhere between his fourth and his seventh heist film, and very clearly well-trodden ground from a seasoned director.
Logan Lucky is fun. It follows Logan brothers Jimmy (Tatum) and Clyde (Driver) as they plan to rob Charlotte Motor Speedway after Jimmy is laid off. The heist itself ends up being conducted during a busy, high-traffic NASCAR race, and requires Clyde to break into prison to spring Craig’s character, Joe Bang.
I think it’s not an unfair assessment to say that Craig’s performance steals this film. His character is an oddball, bleach-blonde career delinquent who could have been written as completely unhinged; instead, he’s smart and sympathetic enough that we enjoy watching every second he’s on screen.
#6 - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
Director: David Fincher
Also starring: Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard
IMDb Score: 7.8
An English-language adaptation of the 2009 Swedish film of the same name (itself an adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s 2005 novel), The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo stars Craig as disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist as he investigates the disappearance of 16 year old Harriet Vanger.
Despite the fact that it was a well-told story by the time of its release in 2011, Fincher’s adaptation of the Swedish crime drama was critically and commercially successful, with praise for both Craig and Rooney Mara’s performances. It also marked the second time that Fincher had collaborated with the now celebrated duo of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for a film score.
Broadly recognised as a well-made, high-authority crime drama, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo picked up five (mainly technical) nominations at the 2012 Oscars, including one win for Best Film Editing.
#5 - Knives Out
Director: Rian Johnson
Also starring: Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer
IMDb Score: 7.9
The newest entry on this list, Knives Out is the most recent foray by American director Rian Johnson, who also directed Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi alongside a handful of Breaking Bad episodes.
A classic whodunit with an ensemble cast, Knives Out features exceptional performances across the board, but Craig (despite his interesting choice of accent) steals the show. The film is intelligently written, featuring excellent performances from Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more. Overall, it is incredibly enjoyable and well worth two hours and 10 minutes of your time.
Despite this, Knives Out picked up just one nod in the Oscars in early 2020, for Best Original Screenplay.
#4 - Road to Perdition
Director: Sam Mendes
Also starring: Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Paul Newman, Jude Law
IMDb Score: 7.7
An early-2000s big-budget crime classic, Road to Perdition is best remembered by many as the first film where Tom Hanks went “dark”. It was released during the peak of the actor’s powers, giving him a chance to show everyone what he could do in a more unusual or uncomfortable role.
Road to Perdition is set during the Great Depression, following Hanks as mob enforcer Michael Sullivan who gets on the wrong side of a tight-knit Irish-American crime syndicate. After the boss’ son, Connor (played by Craig) guns down a man in cold blood, he and Michael come to blows. Connor then orders Michael’s family killed, with the exception of his 12-year-old son Michael Jr. The remainder of the film is something between a chase and a heist film, with Jude Law playing voyeur assassin photographer Harlen Maguire.
Sam Mendes’ second outing after the brilliant American Beauty in 1999, Road to Perdition was widely celebrated as a beautifully-made and excellently-written film. It picked up six Oscar nominations, including one win for Best Cinematography.
#3 - Skyfall
Director: Sam Mendes
Also starring: Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris
IMDb Score: 7.8
Widely recognised as a welcome return to form after the disappointing Quantum of Solace, Skyfall had everything Bond fans wanted: some of the new, some of the old, and a passing of the torch. After being shot and left for dead in Istanbul, Craig’s Bond stays under the radar for three months until an attack on the MI6 building brings him out of pseudo-retirement.
Skyfall is the biggest box office success of all four of Craig’s Bond films, and the highest-grossing Bond film of all time. It is a film of many different and distinct movements, featuring a wonderful performance from Oscar winner Javier Bardem and the seventh and final outing of Judi Dench’s M.
It also had plenty for older fans of the franchise to feast on, including the return of the DB5 from Goldfinger and Thunderball as well as one of Albert Finney’s final on-screen performances.
However, as well as being a crowd pleaser, Skyfall remains one of the most intelligent entries in the Bond franchise. It tells a thoughtful, complex story which shines some light on James Bond’s past, without giving too much away. It brought cybercrime into the spotlight as the Bond theme of the hour in a relatively tasteful way. Finally, it is brimming with excellent dialogue, including Javier Bardem’s famous rat story and some of Craig’s best 007 quips.
Despite this, Skyfall was relatively neglected in the dramatic categories at the 2012 Oscars, but picked up six technical nominations, and two wins for Sound Editing and Adele’s theme song of the same name.
#2 - Casino Royale
Director: Martin Campbell
Also starring: Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench
IMDb Score: 8.0
Casino Royale beats Skyfall in this list for one reason and one reason alone: it redefined James Bond. After 40 years of Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Dalton, and Brosnan, Eon Productions set out to change 007 to be more modern, to reflect what audiences looked for in 21st century spy thrillers.
What we got was a perfectly balanced film: slick, cool, and inspired by decades of spy film heritage, but at the same time emotional, gritty, and violent.
Inspired in no short part by the early and mid-2000s Bourne films, Casino Royale pulled no punches from the beginning. No more controlling BMWs from a Nokia touchpad; no more blimps, no more airlocks, no more Nick Nack, no more Jaws. Instead, we were given a three-minute black and white opening with a brutal fistfight in a bathroom, and an MI6 defector shot in the head halfway through a sentence.
Fifteen years on from its release, Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond is still undeniably electric and an amazingly-told story. It is complex without being obtuse, and funny without being camp. It was a smart, brave decision to make this film rather than sticking to the Brosnan formula, and it is underlined perfectly by Daniel Craig’s wonderful performance.
#1 - Layer Cake
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Also starring: Sienna Miller, Michael Gambon, Kenneth Cranham, Colm Meaney
IMDb Score: 7.3
Recognised by many as Daniel Craig’s last big-screen audition for the Bond role, Layer Cake is a wonderful British crime film that is in no small part inspired by Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. It is Matthew Vaughn’s directorial debut, with a script adapted from a 2000 novel of the same name by J. J. Connolly.
It stars Craig in the lead role as an unnamed British cocaine distributor who operates with professionalism and discipline in no short supply. Just days before his proposed early retirement, boss Jimmy Price asks the protagonist for two things: tracking down a millionaire’s runaway daughter and buying one million pills from a less-than-subtle Cockney gangster wannabe known as “The Duke”.
Layer Cake is a reasonably low-budget feature, but it oozes coolly through its 105-minute runtime with an outstanding soundtrack and an ensemble of excellent performers from classic Shakespearean and character actors. Michael Gambon, who enters the fray in the second half of the film, is excellent as rival old-time mob boss Eddie Temple.
However, Craig’s performance stands above them all, showing his ability to go from slick to frustrated to defeated to terrified all in a matter of minutes. Layer Cake is an underrated gem, a diamond in the rough that many outside of the UK have never thought to look for. It is a wonderfully intelligent yet amazingly accessible film, and that’s why it tops Pension Times’ list of the top ten Daniel Craig films of all time.