The debate over who is the greatest James Bond actor is hotter than which is the best Star Wars movie. Most people pick Sean Connery or Roger Moore, with maybe the newer generation choosing Daniel Craig, yet most people sleep on Pierce Brosnan. The 007 films that Brosnan starred in might not be the highest rated or the biggest box office darlings as some of the others, but if it wasn’t for Pierce Brosnan’s successful turn as the superspy, the James Bond franchise would be as extinct as 3 Ninjas right now.
The landscape of cinema had changed dramatically in the ’90s. As the book American Cinema of the 1990s: Themes and Variations revealed, action was the most popular genre at the time and audiences loved films that blended the high-octane moments with storylines about global threats and political chicanery.
In other words, it was the golden age of the blockbuster. Audiences wanted bigger and louder movies than ever before, as a trip to the cinema was usually reserved for films with the best marketing campaigns and the ones that promised a feeling akin to an amusement park ride.
There had been 16 Bond films from Eon at that point, and no one was convinced 007 had the oomph or the pizazz to rivet a new generation of fans. Plus, it had been six years since Timothy Dalton’s Licence to Kill hit the screens, as the James Bond franchise was rocked by a legal dispute over rights issues.
How all the pressure was on Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond to succeed
Speaking to The A.V. Club, GoldenEye director Martin Campbell revealed how all the pressure was on the 1995 film to succeed — but no one expected it. “When we made it, there was a lot of doubt about, did anybody want to go and see Bond anymore?” he said. “The gap was too big. The last Timothy Dalton [film] made money, but it didn’t do very well. We’re in the ’90s, and really it’s past its sell-by date. So that was the challenge. And there were even budget discussions and so forth, which is very unusual on Bond, and we had to tighten our belt a bit. There was no guarantee and I think UA were not totally sure that it would be a success and so forth.”
Not only did GoldenEye succeed, but it blew every other Bond film out of the water in terms of its box office performance at the time. It cost $60 million to produce, but raked in over $350 million, as per Box Office Mojo. It also notched up a haul of positive reviews, sitting on an 80% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
More importantly, Pierce Brosnan delighted as a different version of Bond. This was an action hero version of 007, who quipped off one-liners and engaged in some of the most spectacular action scenes committed to film at the time. Doug Thomas of The Seattle Times raved about Brosnan’s performance, saying: “He captures a bit from each predecessor – the panache of Sean Connery, the cheeky humour of Roger Moore, the serious grit of Timothy Dalton.” Thomas’ analogy is spot-on, as Brosnan’s James Bond does feel like the perfect combination of every 007 actor before him.
In the end, Brosnan’s four films as James Bond — GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day — were enough to save the franchise from total extinction, as they brought in over $1.4 billion at the global box office, as per The Numbers.
What Pierce Brosnan thinks of his James Bond
While Pierce Brosnan appreciates what James Bond did for his film career, he doesn’t believe he did anything special with it. “It never felt real to me,” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2005 (via CBS News). “I never felt I had complete ownership over Bond. Because you’d have these stupid one-liners — which I loathed — and I always felt phony doing them.”
As an actor, it’s easy to understand why Brosnan feels the way that he did. However, that’s exactly what the ’90s version of James Bond required. He might not look back at his work as revolutionary or the quintessential embodiment of the character, but there’s no doubt that every 007 fan owes Brosnan a debt of gratitude for saving the famous spy’s time in cinema.