Fifty years and 23 films is an endurance record that no other film franchise has ever matched and never will. James Bond has been part of American and International culture since 1962 when "Dr. No" was released. The Bond legacy has been divided into five distinct phases of evolution as the series has evolved with the times.
Phase one was all Sean Connery. Connery was dark, good looking, sinister with an edge, sarcastic and cold-blooded. From 1962-1971, he filmed six Bonds with an increasing adeptness, fighting a series of madmen who wanted to "rule the world" for their own gains. Hardcore fans still refuse to let go of the Connery personna. His run was interrupted by the one-off performance of George Lazenby in "On Her Majesties' Secret Service" but he concluded his run with "Diamonds Are Forever". Connery was indeed a great Bond but all things must pass.
Phase two belonged to Roger Moore, stretching from 1973-1985. He was less dark in his approach, good looking, sarcastic and cold-blooded but with less of an edge. Moore's Bond evolved with the times having a larger arsenal of gadgets and much cooler cars. He, too, fought a series of egomaniacal villains with delusions of grandeur but his technique was more investigative rather than just beating the information out of people.
One fact that is sometimes ignored is that Moore was the first choice to play Bond but had to decline because of his involvement with the television series "The Saint", not only as an actor but as a producer and director. Bond producer Albert Broccoli hired Connery at the suggestion of Moore who would star in seven Bonds.
Phase three was the dark period of Timothy Dalton. Dalton had been approached to take over for Connery but refused to do so claiming to be too young at the time. He finally took over the role following Moore's retirement because Brosnan was unavailable. Both of his films had a sinister edginess that some fans found too abrasive. Although they both did well at the box office, Dalton's Bond was a little too real. He insisted on keeping it closer to the Fleming character in the books which meant a distinct lack of humor. His portrayals were solid but the audience was unable to completely identify with him.
From 1995-2004, Bond was reborn in the person of Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan was a determined blend of Connery and Moore. He was dark-haired and good looking with a sinister edge like Connery but human, charming and witty like Moore. Brosnan's Bond did not smoke and had to be more politically correct than either of those men. He was still a bit of a playboy but he also had to use his wits and brains to gain the upper hand. The villains he faced no longer wanted to rule the world, they just wanted money and power.
Then came Daniel Craig. Craig is radically different from any of the previous actors. He is blond with very short hair, blue-eyed and almost scruffy by comparison. His nomination to the role was derided and protested quite vehemently but he filmed "Casino Royale" anyway--and won. The adaptation of the Fleming novel was much closer to the character in the book and Craig nailed it.
"Quantum of Solace" became a 'much-anticipated' release and "Skyfall" completes the rebooting (i.e. rebirth) of Bond. Craig's version successfully completes the evolution into the 21st century of high-tech crime and crime-fighting, political correctness and the ongoing need for enforcers from the shadows.
"Skyfall" has become the first Bond film to cross the $1 billion mark in ticket and disc sales worldwide. It's a major victory for MGM Studios who had to team with Sony Pictures to afford to film it. It's a victory all around on a level with J.J. Abram's rebooting of the "Star Trek" franchise. With Craig willing to return twice more (at least), Bond will be around a while longer.