There were big movie villains before Sean Connery first came up against Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No, and many more have joined since then. But there is no denying that the 007 film franchise defined and exalted what we think of when we think of indelible cinematic villains. After all, the megalomaniac villain gallery that James Bond routinely put through its paces was more than just your gardening sociopaths. For them nothing less than total world domination was their goal. And sometimes even the world wasn’t enough.
Regardless of the movie or the actor starring 007 at the time, Bond seemed to pose dangers in the way a black tuxedo might attract lint – or, say, a stray hair from Blofeld’s cat – on your lapel. Of course, these larger-than-life psychos on the big screen weren’t created right away. It’s hard to put Toby Stephens’ Gustav Graves on the same lofty plateau as Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger. But everyone has managed in their own way to bring something devilishly unique to the franchise and at the same time to give a face to the neuroses who dominated their special zeitgeist.
The 007 braintrust didn’t have to search long for their first group of Bond villains. The Cold War did that for them. The first Bond film, 1962 Dr. No, hit theaters just five short years after Sputnik launched (sparking the space race between the US and the dreaded Russkies) and just three weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis would bring East and West closer together than they had ever before Mutual assured destruction. So it made sense that so many of the Connery-led Bond films would revolve around hijacked missiles, space lasers, and various nefarious hammer-and-sickle schemes of the anything but commie-in namesake SPECTER. With her dagger-sole shoe Greetings from RussiaRosa Klebb’s battle ax was a case in point of being sneaky, cunning and strange the Soviet threat then seemed to be in the west. And SPECTER’s chrome-coupled top dog, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, would of course become both the alpha and the omega of all Double-O-Heavies – the dark, Nehru-sheathed shadow under which all subsequent Bond villains would operate.
With the Roger Moore era, the sheer Me Decade stupidity of the 70s seemed to replace the Soviet Union in 007’s attention. Blofeld had gone nowhere exactly. The special envoy was still petting his purring kitty and dreaming new plans for defense, terrorism, revenge and blackmail. But by then he was a bit of a Dr. Evil cartoon. Instead, Moore’s pugnacious, cheesy Bond competed against a laundry list of villains who appeared to be randomly pulled out of a bag like a bunch of devious bananagrams. In live and Let Die, he competed against Yaphet Kottos Kananga, a drug lord imported from a blaxploitation film set in one of 42nd The shabbier mill houses on the street. In Mondraker, he defeated a guy who had seen clearly war of stars once too often. And in A look at a kill, he met Christopher Walkens Max Zorin, a genetic super genius with a sweet tooth for horse breeding and silicon chips. (As I said, Moore’s tenure was strange.)
The Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan era got a little closer to the real world in their own way. Dalton’s first train in a tuxedo, 1987 The living daylight, was a jackhammer-subtle Iran-Contra allegory. (In an uncanny premonition of world politics, Bond also rides with the mujahideen in Afghanistan). And his successor, 1989 Licence to killHe nods to sadistic Latin American drug cartels. But these were funhouse mirror shots of the headlines, and the villains who anchored them were seldom memorable. For Brosnan, at least, the threats were getting closer. For example 1995 Gold eye serves one of the best villains in the Sean Bean MI6 renegade franchise, Alec Trevelyan, as he clashes with a Rupert Murdoch-like media mogul and the Byzantine world of the oil monopoly in his subsequent episodes. The less that was said about him die Another Day Swan song, in which he gets entangled with a North Korean nut that lives in an ice palace, so much the better.
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When Daniel Craig received his license to kill in 2006 Casino Royale, the franchise – and the villains who drove it – had cleverly stepped up its game. It was no longer enough to have a 007 archenemy with an idiosyncratic personality tic or trait, they had become perverted, three-dimensional whackos with layered onion peel backstories. Mads Mikkelsen’s bloodthirsty Le Chiffre is a fully realized maniac who is just as devilish at the card table as he is with brutal instruments of torture. But Bond’s dearest sick enemy would appear in Craig’s series best, Skyfall, in which Javier Bardem’s insane cyber-terrorist Silva not only operates from a bombed island of rubble and has a disfigured jaw and a sunken eye socket, which he likes to display like a twisted party trick, the story of how it came about is also with Judi Dench’s teacher: There is much. Too much of?
Not really. In fact, I would argue that the more psychological threads there were to untangle, the better.
Now, after 25 films in the franchise, we’re at a different crossroads. After Craig says goodbye, the Double-O’s have some serious decisions to make. Will they return to the Russians rising again? China? Global jihadists like ISIS? Zuckerberg tech disruptors? Local QAnon-style terrorists like those who stormed the Capitol on January 6thNS? All seem viable candidates. The only thing that is certain is that regardless of which actor – or which actress! Opponent.
For the casual fan of 007, it may be enough to just take every archenemy as it comes and not to ask too many questions. But for those of us who spend way too much time thinking about these things, there’s a nerdy need to evaluate things. These lists are, of course, a thousand percent subjective. Either way, here are my two cents for the best Bond villains, henchmen, and even a sub-list that outweighs the various Blofelds….
Top 10 Bond Villains:
10. Kananga, also known as Mr. Big (Yaphet Kotto) in live and Let Die
9. Dr. No (Jopseph Wiseman) in Dr. No
8. Karl Stromberg (Quark Jürgens) in The spy who loved me
7. Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) in Casino royale
6. Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) in A look at a kill
5. Alec Trevelyan (Sean Bean) in Gold eye
4. Francisco Scaramanga (Chrisropher Lee) in The man with the golden pistol
3. Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in Skyfall
2. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) in Golden finger
1. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (various actors) in different films
Top 10 henchmen:
10. Tee Hee (Julius Harris) in live and Let Die
9. Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) in The man with the golden pistol
8th May Day (Grace Jones) in A look at a kill
7. Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) in Gold eye
6. Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint (Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) in Diamonds are forever
5. Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in Golden finger
4. Oddjob (Harold Sakata) in Golden finger
3. Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) in Greetings from Russia
2. Red Grant (Robert Shaw) in Greetings from Russia
1. Kiefer (Richard Kiel) in The spy who loved me
Ranking of the Blofelds:
* 7. Max von Sydow in never say Never (not canonical)
6. John Hollis and Robert Rietty in For your Eyes Only
5. Christoph Waltz in spook
4. Charles Gray in Diamonds are forever
3. Anthony Dawson and Eric Pohlmann in Greetings from Russia
2. TV Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
1. Donald Pleasence in You only Live Twice
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