Pierce Brosnan had accomplished quite a bit during his four film run as James Bond. Spearheading a reversal of commercial fortunes for the franchise, Brosnan navigated 007 out of the Cold War background that had become so synonymous with the character and presented a modern-day Bond that could quip, fight, and seduce with the best of them. Even better, Brosnan did it all with a pleasant affability, never complaining about the labour-intense role or seeking to make himself the end-all and be-all Bond.
Part of that was helped by the fact that Brosnan was afforded the ability to work outside of the flagship franchise. One of Sean Connery‘s significant reasons for leaving the franchise in the 1960s was that he was disgruntled at being kept at remedial status within the Bond universe. Connery wanted to be brought on as a producer, he wanted more artistic control, and he wanted to have the ability to work on films outside of the 007 umbrella. The initial two points were non-starters, but Connery eventually was able to strong-arm his way into starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie.
Brosnan was given more freedom with his non-Bond filmography. Since Bond movies were no longer produced on the same air-tight schedule that Connery was forced into, Brosnan had the time and availability to star in flicks like Robinson Crusoe, Dante’s Peak, and a decidedly Bond-like art thief in The Thomas Crown Affair. His easy-going nature and strong relationship with producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson at EON meant that Brosnan was given a longer leash than any 007 before him.
Also helping was major box office returns that the series had experienced with Brosnan at the fore. Timothy Dalton’s final film, 1989’s Licence to Kill, was the lowest-grossing film in the franchise when adjusted for inflation. Attempts to buy distributor United Artists’ parent company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer caused a third Dalton film to languish in development hell for years, and although the producers wished to bring Dalton back when production on what would become GoldenEye finally began, a combination of studio pressures for younger blood and Dalton’s lack of desire to sign on for multiple films landed Brosnan the role instead.
As it turned out, this was for the best: all four of Brosnan’s films were blockbusters, revitalising the franchise that critics levelled could not survive outside of the trappings of the Cold War. GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, and The World Is Not Enough each broke well over $300 million worldwide, but it was 2002’s Die Another Day that genuinely sent the Bond franchise into the stratosphere, becoming the highest-grossing film of the franchise up to that point. Not even middling reviews could keep the public away from what was once more a major global phenomenon.
By all accounts, Brosnan was prepared to return after Die Another Day. He was about to reach 50, but that wasn’t a problem – Brosnan was in fine shape, and Roger Moore had set an (arguably overreaching) precedent by playing the Bond character until he was 57. He had a strong relationship with EON, killer box office receipts, an eagerness to keep going, and was largely critic-proof when it came to the films’ success. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the series would experience another reboot with Daniel Craig at the helm for 2006’s Casino Royale.
While interviewed for the book Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films, Brosnan told writers Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury that it wasn’t his decision to leave the franchise and that his dismissal came from a largely unceremonious phone call from Broccoli and Wilson.
“I was in the Bahamas, working on a movie called After the Sunset and my agents called me up and said, ‘Negotiations have stopped. [Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson] are not quite sure what they want to do. They’ll call you next Thursday,'” Brosnan recalled.
“I sat in Richard Harris’s house in the Bahamas, and Barbara and Michael 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.”
There were a number of factors that ultimately led to Brosnan’s dismissal. The actor had originally signed a four film contract, which had been fulfilled with Die Another Day. While Brosnan was willing to sign on for more, there was a movement within EON to bring the franchise back to a more grounded and realistic setting. The script that was in development involved Bond gaining his 00 status, and it would have been incongruous to show Brosnan achieving such a status when he already had a number of kills and adventures in his back pocket. Ultimately, it was decided that a fresh start was required for the franchise, so Brosnan was given the boot.
Instead of announcing that he had been fired, Brosnan decided to be the gentleman of the situation and claimed that he was stepping down from the role by his own volition. While this might not have been true, it remained consistent with Brosnan’s constant effusiveness when it came to James Bond. Even after having been unceremoniously dumped, Brosnan has had nothing but praise for the franchise, EON, and his experiences during his tenure as Bond.