Iconic Daniel Craig Performances

8 minute read

By Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Much like the actors who preceded him in the role, you can’t talk about Daniel Craig’s career without bringing up James Bond. Craig’s physical and gritty portrayal of the popular British spy not only helped resuscitate a struggling franchise but essentially launched his career outside of the UK. However, anyone who’s paid attention to Daniel Craig’s work outside of the Bond movies knows his acting talents extend far beyond just 007.

Although his most popular roles tend to be ones in which his rugged charms and quiet reserve are on display, Craig is arguably even better when he gets the chance to run a bit wild. Here’s a look back at 10 iconic Daniel Craig’s performances. Enjoy!

10. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Uncredited Stormtrooper

If there’s a downside to Daniel Craig’s extended time playing James Bond, it’s that there’s a perception he’s as dour and serious in real life as 007. While it’s true he’s built his career on the back of portraying rugged rogues, Craig is funnier than many give him credit for and this sense of humor is on full display in his now-famous cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Even though he doesn’t show his face, you can tell Craig is having a great time playing a wannabe badass stormtrooper who falls victim to a Jedi mind trick orchestrated by a captive Rey (Daisy Ridley). The moment Craig flips the switch from menacing captor to an unwitting accomplice in Rey’s release leads to one of the film’s best little moments, as Craig’s character casually tosses his weapon aside as he exits the room as if he doesn’t have a care in the world.

Source: Screenshot via Disney/Lucasfilm

9. Elizabeth (1998) – John Ballard

Religious zealots are such a tried and tested villain archetype in cinema, it’s easy to forget that one of Daniel Craig’s first big roles was playing one in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth. Craig portrays the Jesuit priest John Ballard, an infamous historical figure who was involved in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Despite being a relatively minor role overall, Craig makes the most of his limited screen time by portraying Ballard as an intelligent and dangerous man driven by unwavering faith. Craig doesn’t get enough credit for the way he utilizes his striking blue eyes in many of his performances, but the strength of his stare is on full display here, especially as Ballard gets closer to his mark. It’s just too bad he didn’t survive long enough to make it into the sequel!

Source: Screenshot via Gramercy Pictures

8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) – Mikael Blomkvist

What a shame David Fincher never got to follow-up on his excellent adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s first novel in the acclaimed Millennium series. While Rooney Mara justifiably earned an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of heroine Lisbeth Salander, Daniel Craig holds his own opposite Mara as investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist.

Craig beat out a murderer’s row of A-list stars for the chance to work with Fincher, including Brad Pitt and George Clooney. He has genuine chemistry with Mara and even manages to inject a bit of humor into the proceedings, which is no small task given the film’s grim subject matter. He even went to the trouble of adopting a neutral accent to fit in with the Swedish setting which, let’s face it, is more effort than most actors from the UK will take when playing a non-British European character.

Source: Screenshot via Sony Pictures Releasing

7. Logan Lucky (2017) – Joe Bang

Director Steven Soderbergh reportedly gave Craig “carte blanche” to develop his character however he wanted in this heist dramedy and boy did that decision pay dividends. Sporting a platinum-blond buzz cut and convincing hillbilly accent, Daniel Craig is nearly unrecognizable as bank robber Joe Bang. Of course, just because a performance is showy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s great but Craig undeniably turns in admirable work here.

Despite sharing the screen with the likes of Adam Driver and Channing Tatum, Craig pretty much steals every scene he’s in with his manic energy and commitment to the absurd character he’s created. While not his best performance — there’s really not a ton of interior complexity to Joe Bang underneath all that bombast — Logan Lucky is definitely Craig’s most outright comedic role as an actor and serves as a template for what he’s capable of when he strays outside of the Bond template.

Source: Screenshot via Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street

6. Road to Perdition (2002) – Connor Rooney

Sam Mendes’s Depression-era gangster film is best known for casting Tom Hanks against type as a ruthless mob hitman (and for featuring one of the late Paul Newman’s final performances). While everyone remembers Road to Perdition for the riveting father-son relationship story between Hanks and his young co-star Tyler Hoechlin (yes, that’s the same guy who plays Superman in the CW’s DC Universe shows), the film’s great cast of supporting players are often overlooked.

In addition to Jude Law, we have a young Daniel Craig playing the jealous son of mob boss John Rooney (Newman). In less capable hands, Connor Rooney could have come off as a one-dimensional villain but Craig imbues the character with just enough pathos that you can’t help but pity him. Much like Tom Hanks, it’s rare to see Daniel Craig play the bad guy but his performance in Road to Perdition serves as an argument that maybe he should do it more often.

Source: Screenshot via DreamWorks Pictures

5. The Mother (2003) – Darren

In this lesser-known British drama, Craig plays a handyman named Darren, who strikes up a passionate affair with an older widow (Anne Reid), who also happens to be his lover’s mother. This is one of Craig’s more understated roles, as Darren is essentially just an ordinary guy — albeit one that has the good fortune of looking like Daniel Craig. In Craig’s hands, Darren is portrayed as a deeply flawed yet surprisingly vulnerable man whose unhappiness leads him into the arms of a much older woman.

The Mother falls into absurdity somewhat in its final third and unfortunately, Craig is dragged down with it (if ever wanted to see him hurl a workbench through a window like a raging lunatic, you’ve come to the right place). Despite this, The Mother stands as one of Daniel Craig’s more underrated roles and is worth seeking out just for the quiet bits of bonding between its two central characters.

Source: Screenshot via Sony Pictures Classics

4. Layer Cake (2004) – XXXX (Unnamed Protagonist)

According to Casino Royale director Martin Campbell, it was Daniel Craig’s performance in Layer Cake that convinced him the English actor was the right man to take over the role of James Bond and it’s easy to see why. Teaming up with filmmaker Matthew Vaughn in his directorial debut, Craig anchors this electrifying British crime thriller with a central performance that shows off his charisma and action star chops.

Playing a charming London cocaine distributor eyeing retirement from his dangerous trade, Craig’s unnamed protagonist must navigate a whole bunch of dastardly criminals as takes on “one last job”. Much like 007, Layer Cake’s protagonist is a man of sophisticated tastes who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty when the need calls for it. While it’s easy to view this performance as an audition of sorts for the Bond role, it stands on its own as one of Craig’s greatest roles.

Source: Screenshot via Sony Pictures Classics

3. Munich (2005) – Steve

It’s hard not to think Steven Spielberg and Daniel Craig would make for an exciting filmmaking partnership, what with Craig’s leading man presence and Spielberg’s blockbuster flair. In fact, Craig has appeared in more than one Spielberg film but never in the lead role. Not that that really matters when you consider the strength of Craig’s performance in their first collaboration, the brooding 2005 revenge drama Munich.

Craig plays Steve, a member of a secret Israeli covert ops group tasked with assassinating 11 Palestinian targets in retaliation for the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Steve is the team’s ice-cold South African driver (Craig nails the accent, by the way) and serves as a great foil to Eric Bana’s Avner Kaufman, whom Steve at one point accuses of being an ineffectual leader (unlike Steve, Avner grows increasingly tormented by the blood on his hands). Much like Layer Cake, Munich served as something of a dry run for Casino Royale, as you can see aspects of Craig’s Bond in the suave and confident Steve, but it’s still easily one of Craig’s best performances.

Source: Screenshot via Universal Pictures

2. Knives Out (2019) – Benoit Blanc

It takes some serious acting chops to create an instantly iconic character, especially when you’re already closely tied to one of the biggest movie franchises in the world. But from the moment Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc enters the frame (or more accurately, hovers in the background of said frame until he’s ready to speak) in Rian Johnson’s sensational Knives Out, it’s clear he’s doing something special. Channeling a southern-fried Columbo, Benoit Blanc is a cigar-chomping private investigator who feels like he jumped right out of an unreleased Agatha Christie murder mystery.

Craig commits wholly to the bit with manic energy and in many ways, Blanc is the antithesis of the actor’s brooding James Bond. While Craig’s comedic timing has been present in some of his previous roles, Knives Out leaves no doubt about his range as a performer. We can’t wait to see what other oddball roles he sinks his teeth into in his post-Bond career.

Source: Screenshot via Lionsgate

1. Casino Royale (2006) – James Bond

We debated whether to go with something less obvious for the top spot but in the end, it had to be Bond. It’s hard to believe now but when Daniel Craig’s casting was first revealed, the news was met with vitriol from some circles and pithy indifference from others (The Daily Mail famously ran a front-page story describing him as “Bland … James Bland”). However, it’s clear from the black-and-white cold open to Casino Royale, in which we see a newly introduced 007 brutally kill a man in a public bathroom, that this would be not just a defining role of Daniel Craig’s career but 21s century cinema as a whole.

Craig brought James Bond back down to earth with his physical approach to the role but he also injected the character with a much-needed human touch. For all the exciting stunts he’s pulled off across five Bond movies, no scene better encapsulates Craig’s unique approach to the role than Casino Royale’s shower scene, in which he tenderly comforts a terrified Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) after she’s forced to kill a man. In the Daniel Craig era, Bond is more than a relic of outdated tropes of masculinity; he’s a human being.

Source: Screenshot via MGM/Columbia Pictures

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)