There are a few key elements that we have all come to expect from a James Bond film. There’s the title character’s signature “Bond, James Bond” introduction, the repeated appearances of martinis shaken (not stirred), the myriad of gadgets wielded by the secret agent, and the highly stylised opening credits.
But if there was a single irrefutable James Bond motif that truly drop us into the world of 007, it’s the gun barrel sequence. In all of the Eon Productions films, most often opening the film proper but occasionally being placed slightly further back in the introduction, James Bond walks across a white background while being caught in the sights of a firearm. With his signature panache, Bond turns, shoots the foe, and freezes as the sequence dissolves into the film’s first proper scene.
It’s a joyous hallmark of every Bond film, and occasional rearrangements and recalibrations all serve to solidify the sequence’s place as being emblematic of cinematic Bond. It just wouldn’t feel like a James Bond movie if we didn’t see our hero show off his marksman skill at the outset of every film.
But for the first three Bond pictures, we don’t see Sean Connery taking out the unknown assassin. Instead, an anonymous silhouetted man only implied to be James Bond is the one doing the shooting. He’s wearing a hat and business suit, and there’s not much implication that he’s in danger before he makes a dramatic turn and lets off a round with a wash of red to confirm that the shooter is no more.
Just like the opening titles for Dr. No, the gun barrel sequence was designed by legendary artist Maurice Binder. At the time, there was no indication that the Bond series would be any sort of major success, much less the cultural phenomenon it eventually became. Binder simply had stuntman Bob Simmons take on the role of Bond during the sequence, and the film goes right into the opening credits.
It wasn’t until the series changed aspect ratios for 1965’s Thunderball that anyone considered actually using Connery at all. Both From Russia with Love and Goldfinger simply reused the original sequence, plus or minus a few minor touches to colour or sound effects. But since the original gun barrel sequence could not be adapted to the widescreen Panavision anamorphic format, a new version of the sequence was shot, this time with Connery rightfully taking on the role of 007. From then on, the Bond actor would always be the individual in the gun barrel sequence.