Daniel Craig was announced as the sixth Bond in 2005 and stayed in the role until No Time to Die's release this year
After 16 years, five films and one rather questionable pink tux, Daniel Craig's tenure as James Bond sadly came to an end earlier this year.
While we're still not entirely sure what a Quantum of Solace is, we do know that Craig delivered some of the finest films in the franchise, and he's going to be a tough act to follow.
It is an extremely important casting decision. A huge amount of box office revenue depends on choosing the right actor for the role.
"A new Bond is not just a red-carpet suit and a timepiece endorsement arm," says Mark O'Connell, author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan. "He must be a movie star, an ambassador for the series and cinema, a media diplomat, an anointed son of British culture and the face of a billion-dollar ecosystem of products and endorsements.
"He must be instantly recognisable across all corners of the globe as James Bond. He must be good looking, able to hold the camera and dominate cinema screens the size of football pitches."
Of course, any new Bond actor would likely want to pay homage to those who have come before him, "but he will bring his own qualities to the role," notes O'Connell. "He does not need to have been a leading man. Daniel Craig wasn't when he got the role in 2005. Yet, he was a leading man in waiting - something producer Barbara Broccoli had to instil in him over a year or so of conversation about taking on the Bond baton."
So, who could it be?
There are several candidates whose names have been Bondied about in recent years.
Let's start with the basics: one thing we do know is that the next Bond will be another man. "James Bond can be of any colour, but he is male," producer Barbara Broccoli said in 2020.
"I believe we should be creating new characters for women - strong female characters. I'm not particularly interested in taking a male character and having a woman play it. I think women are far more interesting than that."
With that in mind, things don't get much more masculine than Tom Hardy, an actor used to being tough on screen - he played both Kray twins in Legend and has starred in Venom, Dunkirk and Mad Max: Fury Road.
With roles like that, it's easy to understand why Hardy has been considered the bookies' favourite for some time. He threw his hat into the ring back in 2012, telling Magic: "I'd love to play Bond with [Tenet director] Christopher Nolan or something. It would be awesome."
However, at 44, there's now a risk he could have missed the boat. It's worth remembering this is a role that Daniel Craig stayed in for 15 years. Hardy would be pushing 60 if he kept it for that long.
The issue of age is also considered a potential barrier for Idris Elba, 49, who was the favourite to take over the role for a solid decade, following his hugely popular performance as Stringer Bell in The Wire.
"Cars, ladies, martinis. Who wants to do that? It sounds terrible," Elba joked in 2016. The actor has also acknowledged, however, that he might be "too old" to take it on.
O'Connell notes: "Connery and Lazenby were both barely 30 when they got the gig. As Craig and his injuries will testify, it is a hard slog playing Bond with all action cinema's expectations. It is a younger agent's game."
So which younger agents might be in the frame? Bridgerton star Regé-Jean Page, 33, certainly wouldn't be a bad prediction - he looked as if he was auditioning for 007 every time he stepped on a red carpet this year. You can't argue with anyone who rocks a tux as well as him, and former 007 Pierce Brosnan has said he'd make a "wonderful" Bond.
Page has kept a level head about the rumours though. "If you're a Brit, and you do something of any kind of renown that people regard well, then people start saying the 'B' word," he told The Tonight Show earlier this year. "It's like a merit badge.
"I'm very, very glad to have the badge," he added. "I'm glad to be in such wonderful company of people who have the badge. But it's a badge."
Game of Thrones star Richard Madden is another actor who could be in the running, largely thanks to his role in BBC drama Bodyguard which required him to wear a tuxedo, reverse a car out of gunfire and know his way around a weapon.
And it's only right and proper that producers consider some new Scottish talent, bearing in mind the first actor to play James Bond in the film series was of course the late Sean Connery.
But Madden, 35, has also played down the speculation. He told GQ in 2018 that he was "more than flattered to be mentioned" in relation to Bond, but added: "Everyone just loves the rumour mill on that topic. I'm just the current one. There'll be a different one next week."
Similarly, McMafia star and fellow Bond favourite James Norton told the Evening Standard: "Bond's such an icon and means so much to so many, so there's an inevitable amount of speculation. But that's as much as it is - speculation. Very flattering, very humbling speculation."
The issue with several of these actors is they are favourites with the bookies. That might sound like a good thing, but producers have often chosen someone far less obvious in the past, perhaps on purpose.
"It is worth remembering that in the immediate year or two after Pierce Brosnan's final Bond film [2002's Die Another Day], the 'bookies favourite' headlines never once mentioned a guy called Daniel Craig as they obsessed over Clive Owen because he once wore a tuxedo in another film," O'Connell notes.
"There is always the 'bookies favourite' and it tends to be whichever good-looking actor is launching a new television show at the weekend with a clever PR team generating such rumours. All the recent rumours of the last few years are Sunday night TV drama totty," he adds. "James Bond has never really been Sunday night totty."
Could that hamper the chances of some other favourites associated with the world of TV drama, like Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston and Cillian Murphy? Maybe, but we still wouldn't bet against any of them.
Which raises the question, who might be a less obvious choice?
You may not have heard of Tom Hopper before, but Madden's Game of Thrones co-star experienced a surge of interest and bookie activity in October, despite previously being considered a firm outsider.
Prior to that, you could place a bet on him with odds of 100-1 to be the next Bond. By late October, that had been slashed to 3-1 amid rumours that he was on a shortlist which had been compiled by Broccoli.
"It looks like we have been caught on the hop here," said William Hill spokesman Rupert Adams at the time. "Tom Hopper was completely off our radar, but he is firmly on it now. The gamble suggests that he is almost certainly on the shortlist."
The 36-year-old has had roles in TV series such as Casualty, Doctors and The Umbrella Academy, and appeared alongside Amy Schumer in 2018's I Feel Pretty.
Elsewhere, Irish actor Jamie Dornan's work has ranged from Fifty Shades of Grey to a potentially Oscar-nominated performance in Kenneth Branagh's Belfast. Don't count him out of the race.
Clive Standen, the star of TV series Taken (based on the film trilogy of the same name), and Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding have also been touted by many.
Super Man actor Henry Cavill was actually in the running to play Bond last time around, and was widely assumed to have been the runner-up to Daniel Craig.
Mind you, back then Cavill would have been in his early 20s, possibly too young for the role, which means his odds may actually be better this time.
"At this stage, it's all up in the air. We'll see what happens. But yes, I would love to play Bond, it would be very, very exciting," Cavill told GQ in 2020.
O'Connell concludes: "I have always said the next Bond will be someone we all know, but no-one thought of mentioning.
"The names I would shake into the vodka Martini of contenders would be Oliver Jackson-Cohen (The Invisible Man), Harris Dickinson (The King's Man), George Mackay (1917), Matt Smith (Last Night in Soho), Paul Mescal (Normal People) and Nicholas Hoult (The Great)."
As speculation continues, there is only one thing we can truly be sure of. As viewers were told at the end of the No Time to Die credits: James Bond will return.
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