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Daniel Craig's era as James Bond comes to an end with 'No Time to Die.' What's next for the franchise?

As Craig takes his final bow as the iconic British spy, speculation continues to mount around who will succeed him in the next installment.

On the last night of filming "No Time to Die," many of the crew members stuck around Pinewood Studios near London until 1:30 a.m. to watch Daniel Craig wrap his last scene as the infamous British spy.

The last scene Craig filmed in his five-movie run, which wrapped in October 2019 and debuts in theaters this weekend, didn’t involve one of the franchise’s patented chase sequences or a gritty fight. Instead, it is a fairly innocuous scene in which Craig runs down an alleyway, disappearing around a corner.

But the moment felt historic, said producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, caretakers of the 59-year-old film franchise.

It was enough to move the hundreds on set watching to tears, Wilson said.

“It was a metaphor for Bond, the character, and for Daniel leaving,” Wilson told NBC News. “So it was highly emotional for us. We all had either open tears, or a lump in our throat, or found our voices breaking.”

Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson at the world premiere of "No Time to Die" at the Royal Albert Hall on Sept. 28 in London.Ian Gavan / Getty Images

"No Time to Die" indeed marks the end of an era for one of the most popular franchises in movie history.

As Craig takes his final bow, speculation continues to mount around who will succeed him. With that talk comes increasing pressure on those involved with the franchise behind the scenes to consider casting an alternative to another white man in a black tux.

Craig is 'a legend'

Before speculating about the future, Craig and many involved in the making of the film are ready to take a celebratory lap in the proverbial Aston Martin DB5.

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, “No Time to Die” is the 25th official installment of the franchise. Almost exactly two years after Craig’s final day on the set, his final on-screen mission hits theaters, delayed for most of that time by the Covid-19 pandemic. “No Time to Die" picks up after the events of 2015’s “Spectre.”

Bond has left MI6 for an anonymous life in Jamaica — at least until his old friend CIA agent Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) arrives in need of help tracking down a kidnapped scientist. The trail leads Bond on a collision course with both the woman whose heart he broke, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), and a deadly new villain (Rami Malek).

In the process, Craig completes the evolution of the character, which he first played in 2006's "Casino Royale."

"He's a legend," Broccoli said of Craig. "Over the course of the last five films we were able to explore the inner life [of Bond], and I think he’s done a remarkable job."

Movie audiences have seemed to agree. Craig’s first four Bond films were the four top-grossing installments in franchise history at the North American box office, according to Comscore. Although, inflation should be considered when comparing them to the movies of the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras.

Daniel Craig in "No Time To Die."Nicola Dove / MGM

Craig's 2012 entry, “Skyfall,” broke the $1 billion mark at the box office worldwide, according to Comscore data.

“The casting of Craig as 007 was arguably the main ingredient in the creative mix that has over the past 15 years set the stage for the James Bond franchise to continue with substantial momentum that will carry forward now and into the future,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior box office analyst for Comscore, said.

The not-so-secret formula for continuing Bond successfully in a cinematic landscape dominated by superheroes and sci-fi is “balancing the ever-changing need for continuity and change," said Mark Edlitz, author of "The Many Lives of James Bond: How Creators Have Decoded the Superspy."

“Audiences usually see Bond in his tuxedo, with a martini in one hand and a gadget in the other, battling villains’ intent on taking over the world,” Edlitz said. “But the filmmakers also change with the times to keep the series current. For instance, the villains’ goals are no longer rooted in the Cold War.

"Whereas Connery’s Bond fought Cold War enemies in the '60s, Moore’s faced off against an industrialist who wanted to annihilate Silicon Valley, [Timothy] Dalton’s took on the drug trade, [Pierce] Brosnan’s went up against a media mogul and Craig’s faced off against an environmentalist."

Sean Connery in a scene from the James Bond film "From Russia With Love" in 1963.United Artist / Getty Images

Edlitz added that Craig could not have thrived as Bond in Moore's era and vice versa. Regardless of whomever the new Bond will fight next, though, there is something that remains universal about the secret agent's appeal.

"He’s a classic hero," Broccoli said. "He’s not somebody who’s doing it for his own personal glory or trying to amass wealth or fortune. That sort of classical hero is something we can all want to aspire to."

The search for the next Bond

The latest film has already achieved a major milestone for the franchise: casting a British actress of color, Lashana Lynch, as the new 007 — the numerical designation at MI6 previously occupied by Bond.

Lynch said she was indoctrinated into the earlier Bond films by her dad, who was "silenced and floored" when she shared the news of her casting.

"Every single shot, every single scene that I shot is in the movie," Lynch told NBC News. "And I’m able to stand by my creation. They were able to respect my creation and I’m able to talk about it in its fullness to the people that I care about — to young Black girls who are seeing themselves on screen, to young boys who are seeing the strength of a woman [on screen]."

Lashana Lynch in "No Time to Die."Nicola Dove / MGM

Her dad accompanied her to the London premiere of "No Time to Die," in what Lynch described as "a really emotional moment all around."

Lynch's casting comes amid a broader push among many 007 fans for more diverse casting in the next installment, be it a person of color or a woman.

Considering the initial backlash over casting Craig — a blonde — for a role previously played by brunettes, the very idea remains a touchy subject.

In December 2014, Idris Elba was publicly name-checked by Amy Pascal, then the Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair, as her suggestion for a successor to Craig in a secret email that leaked during the hacking of the studio's servers. The mere hypothetical triggered a rash of outrage over the prospect of deviating from the white spy from the original source material, Ian Fleming's novels, and all of the films to date.

"It’s not going to happen, but I would hope a Black or brown person or a woman being 007 or being James Bond would be the start of a real new wave in cinema," Lynch said. "But because of the world we live in, we know that actor is going to get so much stick for even being put in that position when they worked hard to be there."

Craig weighed in on the subject in an interview with the Radio Times last month, saying, "There should simply be better parts for women and actors of color."

"As a character, James Bond has a lineage and a legacy that is rooted in instances of sexism, misogyny, and colonialism," Lisa Funnell, associate professor in the women’s and gender studies department at the University of Oklahoma, said in an email.

"So, for me, the question is whether we should be casting a woman in this particular role," Funnell, a scholar on the Bond franchise, added.

Broccoli has said the next Bond will certainly be British, but she and Wilson won’t even begin to brainstorm about who exactly that will be until next year at the earliest.

“That’s for the future. We haven’t really been thinking about that,” Broccoli said. “We don’t really want to. We just want to celebrate Daniel right now. It feels inappropriate to start talking about his successor until he’s had his time.”