Women love him, men want to be him. He is dangerous, sexy. And now, he’s 50 years old.
The fictional spy known around the world as James Bond made his big screen debut in a London theater on Oct. 5, 1962. Today, his popularity spans every continent and virtually every entertainment genre from movies and books to comics and video games.
“Bond is far and away the most famous spy in history. The only problem is, he never existed,” said Mark Stout, curator and historian at Washington’s International Spy Museum and a former CIA analyst.
“James Bond is the perfect fantasy for men, whether they’re American or British, or whatever nationality. He gets to play with all the toys, he’s a hero who saves the world, he gets all the best-looking girls with no effort whatsoever,” he added. “What man wouldn’t want to be James Bond, whatever country he’s in?”
Fans of 007 and all things Bond are celebrating the 50th anniversary with a Global James Bond Day that features film showings, exhibits, Bond movie musical performances, even a charity auction, all in recognition of the fictional MI6 agent, who is the creation of British journalist and author Ian Fleming.
Since the first Bond movie, “Dr. No,” premiered in 1962, the spy films have become one of the longest, continually-running film series in history. There have been 22 Bond films grossing more than $5 billion worldwide, and six actors, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, have played the spy.
“Money’s nice, and if Bond hadn’t made a bundle he wouldn’t still be around,” wrote movie critic Richard Corliss in Time magazine. “But the true measure of the franchise is its cultural and political impact. Begun in the deep freeze of the Cold War, as the world suffered its worst case of the nuclear nerves... it could almost be said that this fictional British spy changed the world as much as any actual secret agent.”
The movie has its fair share of beautiful women, white-knuckle chase scenes and exotic toys like the Lotus sports car-submarine or the imminently appealing satellite laser death ray. But the secret behind Bond’s enduring popularity may have more to do with how the movie’s villains have been allowed to evolve over time.
“In the early 1960’s and Ian Fleming and the makers of the Bond films looked at Khrushchev and his softening toward the West and realized that for an enduring film they couldn’t have the Soviets as the bad guys,” said Stout. “As the relationship improved it wouldn’t be a credible threat that was believable to audiences.”
Instead, he said, they created the fictional terrorist organization SPECTRE, or SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. It became a timeless enemy that could represent the threat of nuclear war and subversion many feared from the Soviets and communists without actually being Soviet.
More recent Bond movies have focused on modern global concerns like computer hacking, out-of-control media moguls, and cyber security. At a time when America’s security is threatened by groups like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, the film series has become famous for its rogue operatives rather than enemy states like China.
The newest Bond film, “Skyfall,” hits movie screens next month, and focuses on cyber threats and security compromises reminiscent of the WikiLeaks scandal.