Daniel-Craig-and-Sam-Mendes-on-set-of-SkyfallAfter steering the franchise to previously unknown heights in the past six months with Skyfall, Sam Mendes has officially decided not to return to direct Bond 24.

The Mendes-directed 23rd James Bond film has taken more than a billion dollars around the world, and simultaneously had critics praising it from the start, culminating in two Oscars last month for Best Original Song (Adele’s and Paul Epworth’s Skyfall) and Best Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen M. Baker, tying with Zero Dark Thirty).

Despite having been offered to return for to direct Bond 24, Empire report that Mendes has ultimately decided that his theatre and other commitments won’t allow him to take the helm for the next instalment.

“It has been a very difficult decision not to accept Michael and Barbara’s very generous offer to direct the next Bond movie,” explained Mendes. “Directing Skyfall was one of the best experiences of my professional life, but I have theatre and other commitments, including productions of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and King Lear, that need my complete focus over the next year and beyond.”

We would have loved to see Mendes returning once more for Bond 24, but having given the franchise a new sense of energy in Skyfall, it also seems apt for a new director to take the helm and see it through to the next stage.

Daniel Craig is naturally expected to reprise his role as the iconic leading character, with Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, and Ralph Fiennes all very likely to return alongside him for Bond 24.

John Logan is set to pen the script for the coming sequel, and it will be very interesting to see who will take the helm in Mendes’ place.

Will the director be British once more, or will producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli once more look abroad? Hopefully we won’t have too long to wait to find out. And whilst Mendes won’t be back, both he and the producers leave open the possibility of returning to the helm (à la Martin Campbell [Goldeneye and Casino Royale]), with Wilson and Broccoli commenting:

“We thoroughly enjoyed working with Sam, he directed our most successful Bond movie ever, Skyfall. We would have loved to have made the next film with him but completely respect his decision to focus on other projects and hope to have the opportunity to collaborate with him again.”

Bond 24 is tentatively scheduled for release in late 2014, but that will of course depend on how the project develops in the coming months. Here’s to hoping that with a new director on board, it will live up to the bar (and expectations) Mendes and Craig have set with Skyfall. Let us know in the comments below who you’d like to see take the helm for Bond 24.