Effects on Popular Culture

From Rags to Riches

The James Bond franchise originally began as a novel series written by Ian Fleming in 1953. But after multiple adaptations into movies, video games, radio, television and more, it earned its name as the second longest-running film franchise. In fact, by jumping on the “Bondwagon”, one was lifted from the Hollywood recession. It was a rags-to-riches story—whereas the first Bond movie cost roughly $1 million to make, the others cost up to $40 million. Sean Connery, the first James Bond actor, skyrocketed to stardom in the 1960s.


A Double Identity: The Literary & Filmic Bonds

The James Bond featured in Fleming’s novels and in the subsequent films are so different that some claim that they are hard to even compare! Early on, film producers were aware of the fact that Fleming’s ominous secret agent would not fare well with their 1960’s audiences. As a remedy, they wanted to make Bond a “man of the world”. They added humor to their scripts, and even went so far as transforming Connery himself. The first Bond director, Terence Young, helped to refine Connery by showing him around the “high life”, a world with which he was relatively unfamiliar.

As the films continued to be produced, their tones changed. Goldfinger (1964) was the first film that really flourished. It was financially successful, propelling both Bond and Connery to everyday household names, and prompting many Bond imitations. It was also surprisingly very different from the first two films—it seemed to be even more humorous, almost poking fun at itself.


With Connery’s retirement came George Lazenby, a man with little acting experience. Although his one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), did not bode well with audiences at the time, it is now seen as one of the best Bond films overall—and one of the most accurate to Fleming’s novels. The fact that this is the case shows just how different the films really were from their literary origins.

Connery agreed to a comeback after Lazenby’s film, and afterwards Roger Moore took over. With Moore’s films came a transition from action-thriller to action-comedy, and thus even more emphasis on the humor. These films were undoubtedly successful, but many wonder whether or not they took Bond seriously.

A Global Phenomenon

As previously mentioned, the James Bond franchise was truly a rags-to-riches story, with the first film costing relatively little make and the series skyrocketing from there. When adjusted for inflation, the film franchise has brought in a total gross revenue of about $13,821,033,350, making it second only to Britain’s most beloved wizard, Harry Potter. Averaged over time, the franchise makes about $8.59 per second today. This includes the films exclusively—thus leaving out the immense profits made from selling James Bond merchandise. And while the box-office success rates do not exactly follow a steady upward curve, it surely says something that the franchise has been successful for such a long period of time.

Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond-with-The-Queen-in-Olympics-filmToday, it is estimated that one in every three people have seen James Bond on the big screen, or at least on television. He is revered as a “global phenomenon”, and is credited with “setting the standard for cool, classy, unruffled style…” His character even appeared in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, evidence of his continued modern-day popularity, not just in America and Europe, but everywhere.

The Bond franchise led to many Bond imitations that initially flourished, but then died out, leaving James Bond as the number one secret spy agent. The spy genre in general also became more popular, sprouting gadgets, sex, and violence in books, movies, and so on. Consequently, “The Bondaza” spread throughout America and Europe. Americans and Europeans were buying everything from trench coats, cuff links, snorkels and evening suits to chocolates, underwear, handkerchiefs, shaving cream, shoes, raincoats and games as everyone’s favorite agent became a franchise. To this day, online catalogs exist where Bond fanatics can get their fill of merchandise—all based, of course, on their beloved Agent 007.

Instant Recognition: The James Bond Theme

The most prominent song of the James Bond era is the “James Bond Theme,” which was written by John Barry. The theme song is described as “that melange of bravura surf-rock twang, skittish bebop and brassy swing jazz”, which is now identified as adult contemporary. It has been the theme song for James Bond ever since it was premiered in Dr. No (1962), and it has become the distinctive and ever-recognizable symbol for the James Bond franchise.

The music in the James Bond movies was greatly impacted by the times. Music was inspired by artists from the Grammys such as Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong. For example, Matt Monro, a Sinatra-soundalike, sang the theme for From Russia With Love (1963), and Louis Armstrong himself sang “We Have All the Time in the World” for Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

Live and Let Die (1973) acknowledged the existence of rock and roll, which was a different musical take on James Bond. 1970s rock was represented by Led Zeppelin’s heavy metal and Pink Floyd’s progressive rock, which apparently did not fit the theme of James Bond; music eventually returned to adult contemporary ballads, sung by both UK and US artists, like Shirley Bassey and Rita Coolidge.

The music from these films jumpstarted an entire genre of spy music, which music experts have described as having “a cool, slinky vibe”, and as being “rooted as much in jazz and pop as in classical music”. Since the release of the very first Bond movie, American TV and film composers have followed Barry’s lead, a true testament to the ever-present influence that the James Bond franchise has continually held over American culture.

What to Wear: Fashion through Bond’s Eyes

Fashion during the James Bond movie era was also influenced by the many movies that were released. The most well-known fashion item was Bond’s variety of tuxedos. From 1962 to 1971, the tuxedo’s look expanded into the daytime suit, which was to be worn everyday of a man’s life. The three-piece gray jacket that was worn as the daytime suite appeared in Goldfinger (1964).

Then, from the 1970s to the 1980s, the cream dinner jacket became a trend, paired with black pants and a bowtie to complete the penguin-like appearance. The dinner jacket first appeared in Goldfinger(1964), and then again inThunderball (1965). Later on, James Bond became more casual, incorporating the overcoat and modern day sportswear to show that a suit was not always needed to look clean and trimmed.

Not only was menswear influenced by the James Bond movies, but women’s clothing at the time also reflected the range of female outfits from the films. From the infamous Honey Rider bathing suite in Dr. No (1962) to silk, shoulder-padded jumpsuits in Moonraker (1979), the clothes emphasized the sex appeal of the women in the movies.

Print to Film & Back Again: The Comic Book Bond

The first James Bond comic book was released right after the first film, based directly off of Dr. No(1962). Many European nations–Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland–were also publishing Bond-inspired comic story lines. But the next American comic book to portray Agent 007 would not arise for nearly another twenty years, when Marvel Comics released two books, each based off of a film–For Your Eyes Only (1981) and Octopussy (1983). A few years later, Eclipse Comics released a comic based off of License to Kill (1989), illustrated by Mike Grell.

Grell’s worked signaled a shift in the Bond comic industry. From this point forward, his comics began to consist of entirely new story lines–in other words, plots that were independent of the James Bond literary and filmic industries. The first of these original comics was Grell’s Permission to Die. The fact that these newer, more original Bond comics are successful illustrates the influence that Bond continues to have over today’s culture. People still honor and revere James Bond, consistently wanting to hear more about him.

zig-zag-1970 james bond comics

Big Screen to Small Screen: Bond-Inspired Video Games

The popularity of the James Bond books and movies also led to the creation of James Bond video games. As the movies were released, the video games would portray the actors and plots that appeared in the specific movies. In all, there were about twenty-five James Bond games. The first video game, James Bond 007, was created in 1983, a standard vehicle combat game using a generic secret agent for the Atari adaptation. However, despite the popularity of the movies and books, the first video game did not gain the same recognition, as it did not capture the excitement and sex appeal of the movies.

There were a number of video games that came out in the 1980s, but the most momentous was 007: License to Kill (1989). This video game brought in new technology that was able to digitalize the movie character of James Bond, a stepping-stone for the video games franchise.


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