After Skyfall became the highest-earning and most critically acclaimed James Bond movie in decades, it's no great surprise that Hollywood wanted director Sam Mendes to return for the next movie in the 007 franchise. But according to Empire, Mendes has turned the job down in favor of "theater and other commitments" that will keep him occupied for the foreseeable future. Who can fill Mendes' shoes for the upcoming (and currently untitled) 24th James Bond film? Here, 10 directors we'd like to see considered:
1. Brad Bird
After decades spent working in animation, Brad Bird proved his big-screen action credentials in 2011 when he helmed Ghost Protocol, the franchise-reviving fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible series. At a time when directors are increasingly reliant on computer-generated effects, Bird managed to film Tom Cruise scaling the world's tallest building without even using a stunt double. His admirable commitment to practical effects would serve the ever-grittier 007 franchise well.
2. Christopher Nolan
In the wake of his Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan has become the go-to director for reviving big-budget Hollywood franchises — but his participation in the 007 franchise would make more sense than most. Skyfall villain Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) bears more than a passing resemblance to Heath Ledger's take on the Joker in The Dark Knight, and Nolan himself has admitted that Inception's snowy mountain action sequence was designed, in part, so he could get a James Bond movie out of his system. Now that the slot for Bond 24 is open, why not just do the real thing?
3. Kathryn Bigelow
The James Bond franchise has come a long way since the era when 007 could just slap a woman on the butt and send her away during "man talk" — but after 23 films and more than 50 years, the series still has never boasted a female director. Fortunately, there's an ideal female candidate for the job: Kathryn Bigelow, who won Best Director in 2008 for The Hurt Locker (and was robbed of a nomination for Zero Dark Thirty earlier this year). Bigelow has shown that she can make a tense thriller without sacrificing the complexity and murkiness of the modern political landscape, and would surely shine as Bond's next director.
4. Ben Affleck
And then there's the other director who was wrongly denied an Oscar nomination this year: Ben Affleck, who's still riding high on his Best Picture win for Argo. The once-mocked actor has proved his credentials as a sharp action director in films like The Town and Argo, and he's clearly not averse to big-budget Hollywood franchises, since he was reportedly the runner-up to J.J. Abrams in the race to direct Star Wars: Episode VII. We think 007 would be a pretty good consolation prize (as long as he agrees not to set Bond 24 in Boston).
5. David Fincher
With Skyfall, Sam Mendes proved that a director best known for artsy fare can deliver a singularly satisfying James Bond film. If producers want to replicate that model for Bond 24, they should look no further than The Social Network's David Fincher, whose ultra-meticulous style would be a fascinating fit for the franchise. Fincher has already showed off his thriller bona fides in films like The Game and Se7en, and he's already worked with Daniel Craig (in 2011's big-screen adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
6. Duncan Jones
Jones is still early in his career, but he's pegged himself as a director to watch, with 2009's brilliant indie sci-fi drama Moon and 2011's uncommonly cerebral action flick Source Code. And his interest in the 007 franchise is well-established: Jones' next project is reportedly a biopic of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
7. Rian Johnson
Like Duncan Jones, Johnson is a director with both a terrific indie debut (2005's Brick) and a brainy action movie (last year's Looper) under his belt — and like Jones, the directorial chair for Bond 24 could be exactly the right job to move him into the top tier of Hollywood's young up-and-comers.
8. Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh insists he's retiring from film directing, but if he changes his mind, he certainly has the credentials for a very promising James Bond entry. Soderbergh's Ocean's trilogy showed that he could handle a stylish blockbuster with verve and creativity, and last year's Haywire proved that he's eminently capable of delivering terrific, kinetic action scenes.
9. Darren Aronofsky
Aronofsky is the darkest of dark horse choices: Though widely hailed as a great director after films like Black Swan, The Wrestler, and Requiem for a Dream, he's never tackled anything that even resembles a big-budget action film. But he's come very close before: Aronofsky developed his own dark, enormously unconventional take on Batman before Batman Begins was even in pre-production, and he nearly directed the upcoming X-Men spinoff The Wolverine before dropping out. If Aronofsky has been waiting for the right franchise to make his blockbuster debut, he could do far worse than 007.
10. Martin Campbell
And for all the inherent riskiness of these choices, there is one tried-and-true option left on the table: Martin Campbell. Campbell has capably guided the James Bond franchise through two difficult transitions by directing both Goldeneye (Pierce Brosnan's first film as 007) and Casino Royale (Daniel Craig's first film as 007). If producers don't want to risk shaking and stirring the newly revitalized James Bond franchise, they can always return to the man who's already ensured 007's safety twice before.