Christopher Nolan
March 06, 2013 at 09:32 PM EST

It’s fair to say that Sam Mendes did a pretty good job with his James Bond film. Skyfall earned rave reviews, made $1 billion at the global box office, won two Oscars, featured the first actually-popular Bond song in forever, is generally credited with re-rescuing the Bond franchise from its most recent low point, and somehow managed to introduce all the old pre-Craig tropes (Moneypenny, Q, Monty Norman’s theme, M-as-a-Man) while still feeling fresh. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bond producers wanted to bring Mendes back for another film — or possibly two more films, since Skyfall co-writer John Logan is reportedly working on a two-film saga. Alas, Sam Mendes announced today that he’s too busy working on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and King Lear to make a James Bond movie. (Read that sentence a couple times and tell me Sam Mendes isn’t the luckiest kid on the playground.)

Mendes’ departure means that one of the most surefire blockbusters of the next few years needs a new director. The past history of the Bond franchise — which, unique in moviemaking, has mostly been steered by a single family and not by a studio — offers us some hints. With the exception of Marc Forster, the Bond directors have all been British, if you fuzzily consider that New Zealand — home of Martin Campbell (Goldeneye and Casino Royale) and Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) — used to be part of the British Empire.

The franchise typically prefers to work with directors that aren’t bigger names than the franchise: Both Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino tried, and failed, to make a Bond film. Experience in action movies helps, but it isn’t essential. The Mendes pick indicates that the Bond producers are open to directors with a more distinctive, personal stamp — and considering how much people reacted to Skyfall, they might be looking for a director who can make a Bond film that feels a bit more personalized. And it helps if, like Mendes, you’re a lifelong Bond fan who can throw out “I remember watching Live and Let Die when I was 10″ stories.

A journeyman British director with a distinctive style and a Bond fetish, currently unattached to another franchise: On the face of it, Matthew Vaughn seems like a no-brainer choice. Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class was practically half a Bond movie, between the glittery ’60s sets and Kevin Bacon’s Blofeld-with-superpowers. Vaughn is a hot franchise commodity right now — he was in the discussion for Star Wars: Episode VII and is also producing the new Fantastic Four. To top it all off, Vaughn was responsible for Daniel Craig’s breakout role in Layer Cake. And the Craig vote is an important one: The actor supposedly offered Mendes, his Road to Perdition director, the Skyfall job over cocktails.

But Mendes wasn’t a franchise director. He was best-known for eye-popping smaller films…much like Danny Boyle, the director of Slumdog Millionaire. Technically, you could argue that Boyle is already a Bond director: In his capacity as the mastermind of last summer’s Olympic Games, he filmed the video where James Bond met the freaking Queen of England.

There are some other tantalizing possibilities. Like Mendes, Kenneth Branagh has a background in theater and a built-in cult of personality, but his work on Thor shows that he’s willing to do franchise work. (Unfortunately, Branagh is currently directing and starring in Jack Ryan, which is basically a Bond movie by any other name.) Paul Greengrass influenced the Bond franchise’s mid-decade reboot with his work on the Bourne movies; it might seem crazy that he’d make another movie about a spy with the initials “JB,” but hey, we all thought it was crazy that J.J. Abrams would reboot another franchise with the word “Star” in it.

Thinking a bit further outside the box — and away from the British isles — Alfonso Cuaron is finally going to release his long-in-the-works sci-fi film Gravity this year. It’s been just about a decade since he raised the game of that other British blockbuster franchise — maybe he’ll be looking for a palate-cleansing big-money blockbuster. Then again, maybe the Bond producers will take a different page from Harry Potter. For its fifth film, the boy-wizard franchise picked a then-unknown BBC director named David Yates to make the film, and Yates stuck with the franchise forever after. Maybe Yates is a possibility…or maybe the Bond producers want to find their own David Yates. In which case don’t be totally shocked if you hear the name Paul McGuigan, who made a few meh features (Push, Lucky Number Slevin) but is also responsible for many of the eyepopping episodes of Sherlock. (Maybe they’ll bring Steven Moffatt along as a co-writer? With Jessica Brown-Findlay as the Bond girl and Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain? An anglophile can dream, can’t he?) And while we’re talking journeyman filmmakers, why not throw in Martin Campbell, the defining Bond director of the modern era thanks to his reboot Goldeneye and his re-reboot Casino Royale. (Sure, Green Lantern wasn’t good, but that Last Resort pilot was awesome.)

Then again, maybe the producers will look for a slightly younger helmer. Quick, Young British Directors Speed Round! Duncan Jones and Gareth Edwards are both attached to other projects (World of Warcraft and Godzilla, respectively) but contracts can be rewritten. Steve McQueen seems too arty by half, but his star is rising with the upcoming historical film 12 Years a Slave. Geek auteur (and EW aficionado) Edgar Wright and The Raid director Gareth Evans have extremely distinctive non-Bond styles, but they’re both genre favorites who’ve proven that then can make fine action movies.

And then there’s Joe Wright, who practically seems like a younger version of Mendes. Like Mendes, Wright has directed a Best Picture nominee (Atonement) but has also shown he can do decent action scenes (Hanna). Like Mendes, Wright makes movies that emphasize gorgeous imagery. (In this metaphor, Roger Deakins = Seamus McGarvey.) Like Mendes pre-Skyfall, Wright is coming off a noble-failure experiment (Away We Go = Anna Karenina) and could be open to a surefire hit.

But let’s dream big, shall we? In the last few years, the natural suggestion for every “Who should direct [insert blockbuster film]?” has become Christopher Nolan, who did a rescue job on the Batman franchise with Batman Begins and then turned The Dark Knight into the defining film of the whole superhero era. Here’s the thing: For once, Nolan isn’t that crazy of a possibility. He loves James Bond movies. He turned Inception into half a Bond movie. He told Empire last year that he still wants to make a Bond movie — that he’s even met with the producers.”It would have to be the right situation and the right time in their cycle of things,” he said at the time. Well, Nolan isn’t directing a movie. The Bond producers need someone to direct their movie. The situation doesn’t seem wrong, anyhow.

While we’re dreaming: Maybe, after half a century, it’s time for a Bond movie to be directed by a woman? Maybe Kathryn Bigelow could bring Bond back to earth and make a 007 movie set in something that roughly resembles the actual geopolitical realities of the moment? Or maybe Daniel Craig could work his magic and get his Girl With a Dragon Tattoo director David Fincher onboard? Maybe the Bond producers will finally make poor Steven Spielberg‘s dreams come true? (Munich is basically a dark-as-a-black-hole Bond movie. And hasn’t Tony Kushner finally paid his dues enough to work on a James Bond film?) Heck, why not get Quentin Tarantino to make the movie, and convince the previous five James Bonds to return for cameos that elaborately interweave through the Bond mythology, and then maybe Tarantino can secretly make the movie about Women’s Liberation?

Your turn, fellow Bond aficionados. Who do you want to make the next 007 film? Nicolas Winding Refn? (Only if Gosling plays the villain.) Ang Lee? (What can’t he do?) Tom Hooper? (No.) Somebody else named Gareth? Maybe Roger Deakins can just film a two hour visual poem of Daniel Craig shooting people while Adele sings in the background?

Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich

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