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Science fiction cinema doesn't exist without Sean Connery

Contributed by
Oct 31, 2020, 8:46 PM EDT (Updated)

Whether you think of him as James Bond, Dr. Henry Jones Sr., or the Scottish guy who attacks the letter "s" as though it offended him, you know Sean Connery. The legendary actor has died at 90 and leaves behind an action movie legacy that is literally undeniable. The entire genre of action films was invented by the EON productions James Bond franchise, and the reason everyone loved those movies in the 1960s was because of Sean Connery.

When you watch old James Bond movies, particularly films like Thunderball or You Only Live Twice, you may be surprised at how understated Connery's Bond is, compared to how we think about him. Part of the success of the James Bond movie cocktail is that the famous antihero spy is quippy but calm. You can't imagine James Bond delivering a speech like Captain Kirk, or getting excited like Luke Skywalker. Sean Connery defined how to be awesome for movie heroes for nearly half the 20th century, and he did it by actually playing it cool. When talking about genre action heroes, we tend to have a loose definition of "cool," but Connery's Bond was literally cool insofar as he was calm and collected, right before taking someone out or hitting an ejector seat button.

Relative to science fiction movies, Sean Connery's Bond films also brought speculative tech into the mainstream. In Thunderball (1965), Bond uses a jetpack to evade capture, and then, as he tucks it into the trunk of his tricked-out car, Connery quips: "No well-dressed man should be without one." 

James Bond's mirco-breather in 'Thunderball.' (Credit: EON)

This may seem like a small thing, but before James Bond movies, big action flicks tended not to blend sci-fi elements into their plots. Although Bond doesn't have any gadgets in the first Connery film, Dr. No (1963), the titular villain has robot hands, and the entire ending sequence plays out in a present-day sci-fi setting. By Goldfinger (1964) James Bond had a car with an ejector seat and micro-transmitters that could fit into the sole of his shoe. And although Bond's jetpack was real-life tech in 1965, the idea that an Earthbound hero could have gear that rivaled Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers was a revelation.

Some critics and pundits have pointed out that Bond's reliance on sci-fi gizmos and gadgets is a crutch of the series, but when you watch the early Connery films, it's hard not to love the naturalistic way in which all of the fictive technology is incorporated. Could Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn have had their portable breathing devices in The Phantom Menace if Sean Connery didn't have something even slicker in Thunderball first?

The reason the early Bond films did such a good job incorporating science fiction is that Sean Connery did an amazing job of selling the idea that everything was real. Sure, Bond asks Q if he's "joking" about the ejector seat in Goldfinger, but the everyday earnestness of Connery is what made us believe it. Sean Connery was Han Solo before Han Solo existed, and every single genre-movie hero since then has followed in his footsteps. The legacy of Sean Connery isn't just James Bond movies, it's every sci-fi action movie you love, too.

 

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