The fact that we are enjoying the 50th year of James Bond movies what with all the releases of this and that, caused us to reflect on the James Bond movie franchise again after so many months since our last posts. On our way home from work, we were quoting some of our favorite Bond lines, one of which is “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” by Goldfinger. It’s an immensely transportable quote. Its usage could apply anywhere (although perhaps the sub-phrase “enemy action” should be replaced with an appropriate alternative depending on the situation).
Anyway, we thought it would be interesting to revisit the villains of the Bond movies and have a go at sorting them from benign to deadly. When everything was shaken out, we came up with a list of the Top 10 Villains in James Bond Movies. Since the term “Top 10” is ambiguous, we’ll provide our definition for purposes of this particular list. Here are our criteria:
- Character appeal: How engaging is the character (for example, do we “love” hating the villain)?
- True Contender: Does the villain give Bond a real work out mentally, physically, or both?
- Scope: How big an impact does the villain have on the story?
- Actor/Actress: How well is the role played?
If our list was about villains that almost destroyed the franchise rather than Bond himself, the decision to put James Bond in a clown outfit in Octopussy takes it all. The only things missing were Ewoks.
Und zo, here is our list of the Top 10 Villains in James Bond Movies. First the short list in descending order:
||The Spy Who Loved Me
||Ernst Stavro Blofeld
||On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
And here we explain the list.
#10. The bottom of the list was the hardest since there are many that just didn’t quite make the cut. Coming in at the #10 is Karl Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me.
Character appeal: Stromberg is a megalomaniac with a utopian vision. This type of character appears more than once in Bond films, but unlike Hugo Drax in Moonraker, for example, Stromberg’s vision is more idealistic than elitist. Hugo is a glorified Nazi, whereas Stromberg is more like Captain Nemo. One has to have a bit of sympathy for Stromberg’s vision, deluded though it may be.
True Contender: Sure. Stromberg has the capital, the army (navy really), and a plan that puts Bond in a frantic race to defeat him before time runs out.
Scope: Well, world destruction and reconstruction after nuclear war is as big as it gets.
Actor/Actress: Curd Jürgens‘ portrayal of a delusional villain with a world weary vision is completely credible … in the James Bond Universe, of course.
#9. Unfortunately for the ladies, there has been only one true leading female villain (Elektra King in The World is Not Enough), so most of the villainy offered up by women has been through a supporting role. Our choice for #9 is not a bone toss to the women of Bond, however. Xenia Onatopp from Goldeneye is a deadly opponent worthy of respect.
Character appeal: Xenia is gorgeous. She’s also nuts. We want her to be sexy, but she’s pretty much just nuts. Her unpredictability and violent fury makes her very dangerous. Plus, Bond’s most vulnerable when it comes dealing with femme fatales.
True Contender: Uh, yeah. She can crush a man’s rib cage with her freaky leg grip thing. Xenia gives Bond a true gender-crossing thrashing for the first time since May Day scared him silly in A View to a Kill.
Scope: Pretty small, actually, because of the supporting role, but still, the main villain (Alec Trevelyan) relies heavily on her to protect him as he goes about his nefarious plans.
Actor/Actress: Famke Janssen is a very believable physical threat. She’s athletic and aggressive, but she also has the ability to reign in her sociopathy and come off as a refined woman when needed. Well, sort of.
#8. Le Chiffre from the Daniel Craig debut, Casino Royale, is next.
Character appeal: He’s actually a pawn, we come to learn, but he holds his own when confronting James Bond. We like that most of the best danger takes place around a baccarat table. It takes an interesting character to pull off such a subtle battle.
True Contender: Given Bond’s ego and passion for card games, Le Chiffre is indeed a dangerous fellow for Bond to tackle. Rather than besting Bond physically, Chiffre actually pulls off a better coup by beating him at the casino match.
Scope: Again, not huge, but there’s a hint of a much larger game underfoot.
Actor/Actress: Mads Mikkelsen is a good looking dude, no doubt. Combine that with an exotic eye and he’s mesermerizing. Like some of the other villains, it’s the subtly of his villainy that is so captivating. Mads pulls it off nicely.
#7. We’ll probably get hell for this but bear with us. Fiona Volpe in Thunderball is another supporting female character that deserves accolades because she actually presents more of a threat at some points in the movie than the main villain.
Character appeal: We love that she is absolutely immune to James Bond’s charms. She not only can’t be seduced, she mocks James Bond’s limitations. That’s a big ouch for the Man from MI-5. She’s just generally downright mean, too. And she’s completely flip about it! Fiona literally doesn’t care about anyone and leaves not just Bond but everyone else with lower self esteem after they’ve met her.
True Contender: Well, James had to go hunt around for his balls after taking on Fiona. That can certainly affect a man whose virility may be the difference between saving the world and whimpering in a corner.
Scope: Pretty small, but highly explosive.
Actor/Actress: Luciana Paluzzi pulls off “smug” perfectly.
#6. What’s the worst possible type of villain? The one you think is your close friend. Betrayal cuts right to the core. So it is with Alec Trevelyan in Goldeneye.
Character appeal: We like Alec right from the start. He and James have got each other’s backs. They’re daring, heroic, and loyal. So, a vengeful villain that is personally invested in the destruction of James Bond in addition to his much larger villainous plans makes him even more interesting.
True Contender: Bond and Trevelyan share the same training, skills, and intimate knowledge about each other. So, it’s like Bond fighting Bond.
Scope: Big. His plans call for a good old fashioned last hurrah of Cold War villainy.
Actor/Actress: Sean Bean just seems to have one of those faces that says “Yep, I’m the bad guy.” That was actually why we were caught off guard in the first few minutes of the film. Yeah, we’re slow, but once it was clear that Alec was the baddie, Sean eased into the role and made us dislike him very much.
#5. Speaking of good old fashioned fun … Largo (Thunderball) is the epitome of the self-possessed megalomaniac that is the foundation on which good classical Bond films are made.
Character appeal: Yeah, he’s sinister alright. And the eye patch makes him even more scary. It’s not surprising that Fiona Volpe is his underling. They’re just a bad crowd and Largo is smack-dab in the middle of doing bad things because he’s just bad.
True Contender: Yes. He’s smart. He’s ruthless.
Scope: He’s a big one. As Number 2 in SPECTRE, he has a large network of resources to unfold his sinister plan of stealing nuclear warheads and holding the super powers ransom.
Actor/Actress: Adolfo Celi plays Largo convincingly. His physical appearance along belies bad-assedness. His sharp eyes and cruel mouth (Fleming used that expression for James Bond himself, but it can most certainly apply here) would make anyone who’s got common sense, back their bus waaaay up. Did we mention the eye patch?
#4. The version of Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is our favorite. Yes, purists will complain that Blofeld shouldn’t be an American. Well, Nick Fury isn’t black in the Marvel comics (and the back-story pretty much would have to make him white), but Samuel L. Jackson plays that role neatly.
Character appeal: It’s Blofeld, for crying out loud. He’s the iconic number one baddie.
True Contender: Uh-huh. Bond pretty much gets his ass handed to him when Blofeld’s involved. Blofeld is almost always one step ahead of Bond, until the inevitable “Flaw” unravels the whole thing.
Scope: As big as it gets. The world always hangs in the balance when Blofeld hatches a plan.
Actor/Actress: Telly Savalas is a great actor regardless of whether you thought he belonged in Blofeld’s role. Maybe it would have been better to just name him some other villain for the benefit of those that don’t like the connection.
#3. Skyfall was a fantastic film for so many reasons including the fact that it was refreshingly un-Bondesque. It has been time for a shake up. Times have changed and so should the character. Anyway, like Alec Trevelyan and Elektra King, Raoul Silva is the formulaic betrayed and vengeful character that has proven to be a good convention for a Bond villain. The stories are richer because the personal connection complicates Bond. It’s the same reason the Bourne movies are so enjoyable. Trust destroyed can be a powerful catalyst for bad things to happen.
Character appeal: MI-5 agents are immensely resourceful, talented, and intelligent. So, it stands to reason that a agent particularly good at being good, could be even worse if he turned bad. Revenge is a dish best served bold.
True Contender: Yes. Silva is a fantastically adept villain with a very well developed plan.
Scope: Kind of a mixed bag. Ultimately, Silva wants to take M down. The collateral damage is unimportant. In that way, the Scope gets big. And did we mention a well developed plan?
Actor/Actress: Who doesn’t like Javier Bardem? The man oozes talent and charisma.
#2. This one is very hard because we can see #1 and #2 swapping places depending on our mood and view. But in the end, we think Auric Goldfinger belongs at #2.
Character appeal: Goldfinger is a big ego. He’s happy to get what he wants regardless of the collateral damage, but unlike Silva, he’s just flat out selfish and that makes him more dangerous since he really can’t be reasoned with and he’s not likely to succumb to poor judgment due to emotional impairment. He sees enemies everywhere and simply eliminates them, no questions asked.
True Contender: Goldfinger has a well organized criminal network at his disposal. Bond has his charm, Felix Leiter, and dumb luck. And there you have it.
Scope: Bombastic. For a change, he’s not about a Utopian world or global terror. He just wants all the gold he can get his chubby paws on.
Actor/Actress: It’s hard to think of anyone else in that role other than Gert Fröbe. With his piercing stare, his sinister laugh, and perpetual look of annoyance bordering on anger, Gert makes us really dislike Goldfinger. Yes, we root for his success to a degree just because we want to see him pull off the greatest heist ever, but really, in the end, we just want the bastard dead. Gert drills into that sentiment dead center.
#1. OK, this one may seem like the safe bet, but time and again, we keep coming back to it. Dr. No is the one that started it all. All villains are measured against him.
Character appeal: Well, if you like James Bond, you can’t not like Dr. No. He is the yin to Bond’s yang. He’s our first peak at how sinister and powerful SPECTRE is. He is super intelligent and ruthless. And, he can lead a criminal organization like there’s no tomorrow.
True Contender: Bond almost doesn’t save the day. A couple of errors in judgment on the part of a pre-occupied and miscalculating Dr. No is enough to give Bond the time and space to strike. And, unlike other members of SPECTRE that prove to be more cerebral than brawny, Dr. No is both. Bond could just as easily have died in his metallic hands.
Scope: Again, Dr. No sets the standard of big villain, big villainy.
Actor/Actress: We love subtle performances. If they are well done, they are usually more poignant to us than the over-the-top ones. Joseph Wiseman plays a dangerously quiet man who is one moment all business and then swiftly ruthless on his whim.
There you have it. Did we miss someone? Let us know if you think differently.