James Bond Movies Almost Started With A Different 007 Story, And It Would’ve Changed The Franchise’s Next 61 Years

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Summary

  • James Bond could have had a completely different story and look if the original plan for the franchise had gone through.
  • Thunderball was originally intended to be the first James Bond movie, but a legal dispute delayed its release until 1965.
  • Starting the franchise with Thunderball would have changed many details and might not have properly introduced Sean Connery as James Bond.


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By now, the stories that make up the James Bond franchise are well-known and deeply steeped in popular culture, however, the franchise almost began with an entirely different story, and thus, the James Bond audiences know and love might have looked entirely different. James Bond first originated as a book character written by author Ian Fleming in 1953. Then, in 1962, the thrilling adventures of the British spy came to the screen with the very first James Bond movie, Dr. No. Since then, Bond has been portrayed by seven actors in 27 different films, with the first being Sean Connery and the most recent, Daniel Craig.

It is quite shocking that James Bond might have begun with a different Ian Fleming James Bond story, simply because the franchise is so popular and well-known. Connery’s Bond has become iconic, and especially his performance in Dr. No established him as the James Bond. However, this might have been completely changed if this original James Bond plan had gone through. Any number of things could have happened, from small changes to the overarching James Bond timeline to a complete failure of the franchise if the story had gone wrong. Ultimately, it is likely a better thing that James Bond has proceeded as it has.

Related: James Bond’s Thunderball Almost Started A Shared Spy Universe


Thunderball Was Almost The First James Bond Movie: Rights & Controversy Explained

Sean Connery on a beach in Thunderball

Though it is best known as the fourth film in the James Bond film franchise, and the fourth Sean Connery James Bond film, Thunderball was actually supposed to be the very first James Bond movie of all. Thunderball follows M16 agent James Bond as he goes on a mission to find two NATO atomic bombs, which SPECTRE has stolen and threatened to detonate on a major city. Thus, Bond travels to the Bahamas and comes face-to-face with the eyepatch-wearing, card-dealing Emilio Largo. With the help of CIA agent Felix Leiter and Domino Derval, Largo’s mistress, Bond takes down Largo and his henchmen in a variety of underwater battle scenes.

Although Thunderball was intended to be the first James Bond film, this never came to fruition because of a series of controversies with rights. Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman began work on the James Bond film franchise in the early 1960s, and though they wanted Thunderball to be the first film, they couldn’t move forward because of a legal dispute between author Ian Fleming and his former collaborators, who claimed that Fleming stole the idea for Thunderball from a screenplay the trio had wrote. Fearing backlash from these collaborators, Broccoli and Saltzman held off on Thunderball until the dispute had settled, which apparently, didn’t occur until 1965.

Ultimately, the first James Bond story to be adapted to the screen was Dr. No. Written as the sixth installment in the James Bond books, Dr. No tells the story of Bond chasing after the villainous Chinese-German scientist Dr. No, who intends on violently taking down the American space program. With the help of the beautiful Honey Ryder, Bond has a face-off with Dr. No at his impressive island headquarters in Jamaica. Though not as splashy as Thunderball, Dr. No most definitely succeeded at bringing James Bond to a larger audience, and in turn, making him a global superstar. In some ways, it was the perfect start for the series.

How Thunderball Would Have Changed The James Bond Movie Franchise

James Bond firing a speargun in Thunderball

There is no question that if Thunderball had been the first James Bond adaptation, it would have changed the franchise completely. First and foremost, it would have completely changed the introduction of Sean Connery as James Bond. Connery portrayed Bond for a total of six movies, starting with Dr. No, and ending with Diamonds are Forever. As previously mentioned, Dr. No certainly has the expected charms and thrills of a James Bond story, but it isn’t nearly as dramatic as Thunderball with its intense underwater scenes. Ultimately, starting with Thunderball might have been a risk, as the project would have been massive and might not have properly introduced Connery.

Furthermore, starting with Thunderball would have affected the introduction of SPECTRE. While Dr. No introduces the criminal organization through Dr. No, Thunderball would have had to do the same via Emilio Largo, and this would certainly make an impact. Though Largo is as villainous as any Bond villain, he does not have the same flair as No. In fact, No is the perfect person to introduce SPECTRE because he has a clear evil vision, a creepy demeanor, and is definitely the type to go on a classic villain rant, explaining all of his intentions and backstory. Meanwhile, Emilio Largo is better used for action rather than long and explanatory monologues.

Ultimately, starting the James Bond franchise with Thunderball would have changed countless details in the series. Not only would it change the order of Sean Connery’s movies, but it may have changed future Bond orders as well depending on how well it succeeded. In general, changing this order changes everything from villains to allies to Bond girls. The way in which Bond was introduced to audiences is arguably vital, and Thunderball would have definitely been a risk. If Thunderball had begun the series, all sorts of details would have to be switched around and introduced at different times, and perhaps, would even affect the plots of the most recent movies.

Why It’s Good Thunderball Wasn’t The First James Bond Movie

James Bond and Paula Caplan

In the end, it is a good thing that Thunderball didn’t kick off the James Bond film franchise. As previously mentioned, Thunderball has great drama and action, but that isn’t necessarily right for the start of a major franchise. If anything, a first movie should be somewhat cut and dry. It should introduce the main character then see them succeed with some flair, but nothing too overwhelming or unrealistic. Then, it is the job of the sequels to raise the stakes and drama.

That is what Thunderball did as the fourth James Bond installment. Thunderball took what had already been introduced in the early Sean Connery Bond films, and elevated it to a new level. This can be shown by the underwater fight scenes, which are unlike anything Bond did before that. Ultimately, starting James Bond with Thunderball easily could have been a box office disaster, while using it as the fourth installment was a wise and successful choice.