What made them turn in their licence to kill?

preview for Why Every James Bond Actor Quit

It’s coming up to three years since Daniel Craig’s James Bond era officially came to an end with No Time to Die, and we’re still no closer to finding out who the next 007 will be.

However, we can now look back on the series to date as all 25 James Bond movies are coming to ITVX this month. Every movie will be free to watch on the streaming service after they air nightly on ITV4 in March.

This trip down memory lane might have you wondering why each of the six 007 actors quit the iconic role, so that’s where we come in to help.

(If you want to know our thoughts on the best and worst Bond movies, we’ve got you covered here.)

1. Sean Connery – TYPECASTING!

thunderball 1965

EON / United Artists

The first and – for some – best Bond couldn’t quite leave the role behind as his exit was followed up by two returns.

After five outings as 007, Connery called it a day with You Only Live Twice and put it down to the “terrible pressure” that came with the iconic role, comparing it to “like living in a goldfish bowl”. “That was part of the reason I wanted to be finished with Bond. Also I had become completely identified with it, and it became very wearing and very boring,” he noted.

However, Connery would put on the tuxedo again after a one-movie break for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. He was said to have been brought back to the role with an improved contract that included production company United Artists backing two movies of Connery’s choice, with the actor using the funds to establish the Scottish International Education Trust.

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It was very much a one-and-done return, though, and Connery even said he would never play Bond again after Diamonds Are Forever. “I have always hated that damned James Bond. I’d like to kill him,” he said at the time.

Well, he never played the official Bond again, but he still came back as 007 in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, a non-canon remake of Thunderball from co-writer Kevin McClory.

2. George Lazenby – BAD ADVICE!

george lazenby as james bond 007 on her majesty's secret service

United Artists

When Connery took a break, the role of 007 moved to Australian actor George Lazenby with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service marking his first acting role.

Lazenby proved to be one of the most divisive Bond choices in one of the most divisive Bond movies, with the actor claiming that he was blacklisted in the movie industry after his manager talked him out of signing a contract for six more Bond movies.

It was reported that he was “difficult to handle” on set, something that Lazenby strongly denies.

“I had advice that James Bond was over anyway. It was Sean Connery’s gig and, being in the ’60s, it was love, not war. You know, hippy time. And I bought into that,” he reflected in 2017.

“They also said there’s a guy called Clint Eastwood doing movies in Italy, getting 500 grand a month, for doing a western. They said, you could do that. So I didn’t feel like I was losing the million dollars.”

Given that it remains his most notable role to date, perhaps Lazenby will feel the advice he got was well off the mark.

3. Roger Moore – AGE!

Sir Roger Moore, James Bond

Getty Images

Over his seven Bond outings, Roger Moore became the oldest actor to play 007, as he was 58 years old when he made his final Bond movie, A View to a Kill.

And it seems like age was very much a factor in Moore deciding to quit the role, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t do the stunts anymore.

“It wasn’t because of the physical stuff as I could still play tennis for two hours a day and do a one-hour workout every morning,” he recalled in 2014.

“Physically I was okay but facially I started looking… well, the leading ladies were young enough to be my grand-daughter and it becomes disgusting.”

It’s something Moore echoed in his final interview before his death, as he told the The Mirror that after A View to a Kill, he thought he looked too old to be “hanging around women in their early twenties without it appearing creepy”.

He did however reprise the role for London’s 2012 Olympics bid, alongside Samantha Bond, who played Miss Moneypenny in the Pierce Brosnan era.

4. Timothy Dalton – LEGAL ISSUES!

timothy dalton with director john glen on the set of licence to kill

Sunset Boulevard / Getty Images

Before he took the role of Bond, Timothy Dalton was concerned that he might become bored with the role if he played the same character for several years.

Yet, that wasn’t why Dalton left after only two movies as 007. It was in fact something completely out of his control: he was all set for a third movie in 1990, only for legal issues between Eon Productions and MGM to delay the production.

“Because of the lawsuit, I was free of the contract,” Dalton told The Week.

The door was open for Dalton to return as Bond when the lawsuit was resolved in 1994, but he had decided he would only want to return for one movie.

“[Producer Albert Broccoli] said, quite rightly, ‘Look, Tim. You can’t do one. There’s no way, after a five-year gap between movies that you can come back and just do one. You’d have to plan on four or five,'” Dalton recalled.

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“And I thought, ‘Oh, no, that would be the rest of my life. Too much. Too long.’ So I respectfully declined.”

5. Pierce Brosnan – NOT HIS CHOICE!

pierce brosnan in goldeneye 1995

Keith Hamshere/Getty Images

Poor Pierce Brosnan, the one Bond actor who, it seems, didn’t get the choice of when to exit the role.

Although Die Another Day was a critical misfire, it was – at the time – the highest-grossing Bond movie yet, so it seemed likely that Brosnan would return for a fifth role – and he certainly seemed up for it.

However, according to an interview in Bond book Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films, negotiations over a fifth outing didn’t go the way Brosnan wanted.

He recalled being in the Bahamas working on After the Sunset when he was told that “negotiations have stopped” and that the producers weren’t “quite sure what they want to do”.

“Barbara [Broccoli] and Michael [Wilson] were on the line – ‘We’re so sorry’. She was crying, Michael was stoic and he said, ‘You were a great James Bond. Thank you very much’ and I said, ‘Thank you very much. Goodbye.’

“That was it. I was utterly shocked and just kicked to the kerb with the way it went down.”

6. Daniel Craig – HIS CHOICE!

daniel craig, james bond, no time to die

MGM/Nicole Dove

We had thought that Spectre would mark the end of Daniel Craig’s 007 missions, but it turned out that he had one more in him.

After a lot of speculation about his Bond future following those infamous quotes, Craig confirmed in August 2017 that he would be back for one final movie.

Little did we know then that we’d be waiting four years for that to arrive, but No Time to Die landed in late September 2021.

By all accounts, Craig left the role on his own terms and explained that he decided to return to complete the story.

“I always had a kind of secret idea about the whole lot in my head, and where I wanted to take it. And Spectre wasn’t that,” he noted.

“But [No Time to Die] feels like it is. If [Spectre] had been it, the world would have carried on as normal, and I would have been absolutely fine. But somehow it felt like we needed to finish something off.

If I’d left it at Spectre, something at the back of my head would have been going, ‘I wish I’d done one more’.”