A good Bond villain does not always make for a great Bond film, but it doesn’t hurt. It’s common knowledge that a film with good conflict will be more engaging to watch, and the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist is the driving factor of the James Bond franchise. Therefore, along with one of the most well-known and legendary protagonists of all time, the franchise is also home to some of the most well-known and legendary antagonists as well. This is a list that honors the best antagonists in the Bond franchise. They’re the ones that are the most creative, memorable, or relentless, all characteristics which help make their respected films that much better. They’re the ones that left the biggest impact on audiences and the franchise as a whole.
***SPOILER ALERT*** – WARNING: PLOT DETAILS AND TWISTS ARE DISCUSSED BELOW.
For this list, we’re looking at the main villains only. Henchmen play a big part in many Bond films, but they are ultimately at the command and whim of the main baddies.
10. Elektra King
Film(s): The World is Not Enough
Origin: Assassinated her father to take over his oil business
Defining Feature: Missing earlobe.
Evil Plan(s): Collaborates with terrorists to blow up the competition’s facilities in order to create an oil monopoly.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Sends a dummy bomb through her father’s pipeline to lure Bond away from M and kill him.
Method of Defeat: Bullet to the heart – Thanks to the dying heroics of Valentine Zukovsky, Bond busts out of Elektra’s torture chair and shoots and kills her.
Most Famous Henchman: Renard – KGB-turned-terrorist with bullet lodged in his brain, making him unable to feel pain.
Not only is Elektra a woman (one of only TWO main villains in the entire franchise), but she’s also a Bond girl. Those two things make her character unique, interesting, and exciting. Being a Bond girl is an interesting twist because not only is it somewhat unexpected, but it adds dimension to a typically one-sided role. As a woman, she also plays off of the stereotypes associated with traditional roles for women in the franchise. The film starts with her being the typical damsel in distress, Bond has to look after her. Later though, it twists around and Bond and MI6 becomes the victim. It shows that women can have much more of an important role than the writers had previously been giving them. Elektra may not be as memorable or legendary as some of the other villains on this list, but her character is just as effective, if not more so, and she really elevates her film.
9. Emilio Largo
Origin: Benefactor of a multi-million dollar family fortune and a successful black market profiteer, he is a member of SPECTRE, known as “No. 2”.
Defining Feature: Eye patch.
Evil Plan(s): Steal nuclear warheads and then force governments to pay him money in order to have them safely returned.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Traps him in his shark-infested pool.
Method of Defeat: Harpoon through the abdomen – Shot by his mistress in the back while he was in a fight with Bond.
Most Famous Henchman: Fiona Volpe – Fast-driving SPECTRE operative and assassin who helps to organize Largo’s plan and prevent it from being foiled.
When we think of James Bond villains, we think of well-dressed rich guys with elaborate plans of world-domination. Largo fits this description well, with the addition of an eye-patch for extra intimidation. While many Bond villains would follow the formula used for Largo, including a few on this list, he was the first one. He also introduced an important technique used in almost every other Bond film – the complicated attempt at Bond’s death. Instead of just shooting Bond, Largo traps him in a shark tank. Bond escapes, of course, but the idea of putting your hero in a complex life-or-death situation is actually good for the movie. It makes it exciting and it is easy to create a feeling of fear in the audience. Seeing Bond sort out the situation makes him that much more impressive of a hero and adds to his plight against the villain. Largo taught us how a Bond villain could be successful, so it’s no surprise that later films often repeated the formula.
8. La Chiffre
Film(s): Casino Royale
Defining Feature: Cries blood.
Evil Plan(s): Manipulate the share value of an airline to make money for a terrorist organization. This plan fails, so he resorts to setting up a high stakes poker tournament to recover his losses.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Poisons his martini.
Method of Defeat: Bullet to the head – Killed by Mr. White, an accomplice, because of his inability to recoup the lost money.
Most Famous Henchman: Valenka – Girlfriend/Henchman
Le Chiffre is the original James Bond villain from the works of Ian Fleming. Desperate, corrupt, and twisted, there’s nothing that Le Chiffre isn’t willing to do to get what he wants. In the film, he combines a technical proficiency with a physically disturbing presence. Crying blood doesn’t diminish his physical abilities, but it immediately casts him with a creepy vibe. Later, during the torture scene, the first in the franchise where we genuinely feel pain for Bond, we see that aggressive creepiness really take over. More importantly, La Chiffre is a human who makes mistakes. He is one of the few villains who doesn’t outright fail because of his mistake, but tries to make up for it. It is this desperation to win back his money for the sake of his own life that makes La Chiffre effective, and believable as a villain. This, in turn, sets up a great confrontation with Bond, who also feels more human that we are used to. Le Chiffre makes this list because he makes his film great, and is a character steeped in tradition.
7. Dr. Julius No
Films(s): Dr. No
Origin: A rich nuclear physicist who offered his services to the US and USSR but was rejected. As revenge he joined SPECTRE.
Defining Feature: Robotic hands.
Evil Plan(s): Develop a device that disrupts rocket launches by interfering with their guidance computers.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Unleashes a poisoned spider into his bedroom at night when he is sleeping.
Method of Defeat: Boiled alive – Along with Bond, gets caught in a cage that is being lowered into the water surrounding his nuclear reactor. Due to his artificial hands he can’t climb out to escape.
Most Famous Henchmen: The Three Blind Mice – A trio of assassins who pretend to be blind.
Dr. No created the mold by which a majority of future Bond villains would be cast, including all of the ones ranked higher on this list. Immediately, he establishes the idea of a Bond villain being classy and sophisticated, echoing Bond himself. Dr. No is also very talented in his particular field of knowledge. Being good at something would turn out to be a very important trait for many future Bond villains. It establishes that they know what they are doing, which lends credence to their various schemes and actions. Dr. No also happens to have motivation for his actions. He feels like he has been betrayed, which explains his turn to the dark side. Finally, his robotic hands make him feel threatening and weak at the same time. Threatening because we don’t know what he is capable of, but weak because he is lacking something. This weakness, either physical, as in this case, or emotional, like in many other cases, is something that Bond can exploit to his advantage. That’s part of what makes the Bond movies fun to watch, seeing our hero figure out how to win. Dr. No is the character which establishes all of these things, and is so successful in doing this that the franchise has persisted for 23 (and counting) more adventures.
Origin: Former M16 operative turned rogue into a cyber-terrorist.
Defining Feature: Facial implants.
Evil Plan(s): Release the identities of undercover agents as a revenge plot against MI6 and M.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Forces him to shoot a bottle of whiskey off of Severine’s head, or else he will be killed.
Method of Defeat: Knife in the back – An ironic technique chosen by Bond to prevent Silva from forcing M to kill them both.
Most Famous Henchman: None stand out.
Skyfall finally gave us a Bond villain that was menacing on more than one level. For one, like many of the villains on this list, he is out for revenge. More often than not, the Bond films celebrate the exploits of MI6 as necessary for global security. Silva’s claimed betrayal and resulting vendetta against M is proof that things don’t always go as smoothly as we’d like. It’s this glimpse into reality that is the foundation of Silva’s character, and this is what makes him so effective. On top of this, Silva has additional layers of darkness. Most obvious is his facial wounds, a physical reminder of the pain he has endured. Second, his skills with technology and his planning of terrorist attacks makes him a viable threat in our modern world. Finally, his sexual advances towards Bond is something we’ve certainly never seen in a Bond villain before, and this makes him that much more unique.
5. Alex Trevelyan
Origin: Formerly 006, fakes his death in order to form a crime syndicate in Russia.
Defining Feature: Burn scar on side of his face.
Evil Plan(s): Use the Goldeneye satellite to create an EMP pulse in London to cover up a robbery of the Bank of England while plunging the country into financial turmoil.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Ties him up and traps him in a helicopter that is programmed to self-destruct.
Method of Defeat: Falls off of and then gets crushed by giant satellite dish – Bond kicks him off the dish while he is trying to jam it.
Most Famous Henchman: Xania Onatopp – Bond girl/villain who obtains sexual satisfaction from killing.
How brilliant is the villain in Goldeneye? After decades of spoiled and crazy millionaires and pie-in-the-sky drug dealers, the franchise finally gave us something different. Trevelyan is not only a former MI6 agent, but a friend of James Bond. Having the character fake his own death in order to carry out his plan (which, admittedly, gets a little crazy) is not only unique among Bond villains, but creates an interesting and chilling foundation upon which the film builds. It also creates a drive in James Bond that is more personal. This is someone who betrayed him and his country, and therefore, his motives are justified. Finally, like the next villain on this list, Trevelyan has a skill set to match Bond’s. That makes him very dangerous.
4. Francisco Scaramanga
Films(s): The Man With the Golden Gun
Origin: High-price assassin with a special gun that fires bullets marked with their intended victims’ names.
Defining Features: Third nipple.
Evil Plan(s): Kill the creator of a new alternative energy, and then sell that technology to the highest bidder.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Lures him into his deadly funhouse.
Method of Defeat: Bullet to the heart – Inside the funhouse, Bond hides behind a mannequin and shoots and kills an unsuspecting Scaramanga.
Most Famous Henchman: Nick Nack – Diminutive but sharply dressed assistant and accomplice to Scaramanga.
Christopher Lee (who, oddly enough, was a cousin of Ian Fleming) was well renowned for his ability to play sinister villains, and his take on a James Bond antagonist remains one of his most fondly-remembered roles. The character of Scaramanga works because he is on the more realistic side of Bond villains, even though the film is rather silly. At his most basic, Scaramanga is a lethal and talented assassin. The fact that he charges $1 million per bullet for his work is not only intimidating, but unique and creative. Right from the beginning of the film, his character is set up to be a formidable adversary to Bond, and once he is confronted by Bond, he doesn’t disappoint. Lee’s performance gives Scaramanga a classy and deadly demeanor, and for once we have a villain that matches well with Bond’s skill level. That makes him more than just your typical villain.
3. Rosa Klebb
Films(s): From Russia With Love
Origin: Former head of operations with Soviet counterintelligence outfit “SMERSH” who defected to become part of SPECTRE. Known as “No.3”.
Defining feature: Retractable poisoned knife in boot.
Evil Plan(s): Steal a code machine from the Soviets in order to lure James Bond to Istanbul and kill him as revenge for the death of Dr. No.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Grant pretends to be a secret agent in order to get close to Bond on a train and kill him – but really the entire film is an elaborate scheme to kill Bond.
Method of Defeat: Bullet to the chest – Shot by Tatiana Romanova as she attempted to stab Bond with her poisoned shoe knife.
Most Famous Henchman: Red Grant – Ruthless and immovable SPECTRE assassin whose weapon of choice is a garrote.
While Goldfinger and Blofeld may be more identifiable super-villains, Klebb has the distinction of being the most terrifying. Her film isn’t filled with grandeur allusions of world-domination or get-rich-quick schemes. Instead, it’s about espionage and revenge, which feels more realistic and therefore haunting. Klebb isn’t maniacal either. She’s intelligent and really good at her job. This makes her intimidating, to the point that even her own people are afraid of her. That’s what a good villain should be, someone who scares the hell out of everyone because of their competence, not just their confidence. Klebb leaves a lasting impact on the franchise as an adversary which has a more personal feel against Bond that it is never quite able to be created again until Skyfall.
2. Auric Goldfinger
Origin: Master gold smuggler.
Defining Feature: His love of gold.
Evil Plan(s): Contaminate the US Gold reserve, which would make his gold more valuable.
Most Elaborate Scheme to Kill Bond: Straps him to a table, attempts to kill him with a slow-moving laser.
Method of Defeat: Falls out of airplane – During a struggle on an airplane with Bond, Goldfinger fires his gun which breaks a window. He then gets sucked out of the window.
Most Famous Henchman: Oddjob – Goldfinger’s intimidating and strong chauffeur and bodyguard, armed with a razor-tipped hat that he throws at his enemies.
Goldfinger isn’t the most evil, most insane, or most charismatic Bond villain, but he is probably the most famous. Not only does he spout one of the most famous lines in the longest-running film franchises of all time, but his film is one that is fondly remembered. After all, his film is only one of two that is named after the villain. Having a villain obsessed with gold is genius, especially when you consider that his plot isn’t trying to cause death and destruction, but make himself richer. It’s a somewhat more identifiable scheme than many of the others on this list, although the way it is pulled off seems somewhat convoluted. Goldfinger the film is also somewhat unique in that the villain, the henchman, and the Bond girl are all fondly remembered. Nearly all of the other films have only one of these things going for it, if any.
1. Ernst Blofeld
Films(s): From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever, For Your Eyes Only, Spectre
Origin: Master criminal and leader of SPECTRE, known as “No.1”. It is assumed that he undergoes plastic surgery on a regular basis to modify his appearance for his own safety.
Defining Feature: Often sitting down, petting a white long-haired cat.
Evil Plan(s): Besides being the man behind all of SPECTRE’s plans, he is directly involved in the following plans:
- You Only Live Twice – Hijack US and Soviet space capsules to start a war.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Demands that his past crimes be pardoned or else he will release a group of brainwashed women to distribute a harmful bacteria around the world which will contaminate food supplies.
- Diamonds Are Forever – Creates a laser satellite with diamonds which he uses to destroy nuclear weapon stockpiles, ushering in a new world order for the highest bidder.
- Spectre – Organize all of the world’s surveillance under his watch for supreme political power.
Most Elaborate Scheme(s) to Kill Bond: Triggers an avalanche, sacrificing his own men, in order to try to get Bond.
Method of Defeat: Constantly avoids dying, yet to be defeated, unless you believe that “wheelchair villain” at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only is meant to be Blofeld – if this is the case, then death by falling from a helicopter.
Most Famous Henchman: Technically, all other SPECTRE villains, but for each film:
- You Only Live Twice = Hans – Blofeld’s silent muscle-bound body guard.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service = Irma Bunt – Assistant to Blofeld and overseer of his brainwashed Angels of Death.
- Diamonds are Forever = Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd – A duo of witty assassins who seem to enjoy their work.
- Spectre = Mr. Hinx – Muscle-bound, mostly silent, and ruthless SPECTRE henchman.
While you could easily make a case for Goldfinger being the best Bond villain, Blofeld is simply the villain of all villains, so he deserves the number one spot. For one, he’s the leader of the evil organization of SPECTRE, and many of his subordinates are villains on this list. Second, he is the Bond villain featured in the most films, with either a prominent role or a supporting/background role in seven of 24 Bond films. He is the Darth Vader to James Bond’s Luke Skywalker, the Voldemort to his Harry Potter. He’s such an important character that the franchise has been involved in legal battles where the rights to his use caused them to have to make up new villains, which feel a lot like Blofeld but they aren’t named Blofeld. His success as the ultimate super-villain has made for countless rip-offs, parodies, and has fundamentally changed how action movies approach their antagonists.
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