RANKED: James Bond Villains

Spanning fifty-five years and twenty-four films, six actors have portrayed 007, and each has brought with them a unique interpretation of the ‘stupid policeman’.  Some of their performances have been excellent, joining with superb writing and filmmaking to conjure near-perfect action-espionage masterpieces.  Others have been almost jovial – a result of the era and tone of the film in which they appear, but also perhaps a sly acknowledgement of the series’ fading influence.

Whether remarkable or ordinary, these performances are not exclusive to certain actors or periods in time.  Moore is best known as the ‘joke’ Bond yet has moments of brilliance in many of his films – moments devoid of raised eyebrow or smug remark.  Dalton, conversely, is remembered as the ‘straight’ Bond, but his films are not without the series’ trademark humour and wit.  It’s well-documented that Connery – so iconic as the James Bond of the 60’s – grew weary of the role, and his reappearance in ‘Diamonds are Forever’ was certainly not driven by his love for the character.  This shows in his performance, still enjoyable yet so far removed from his pre-Lazenby outings that it almost defeats the purpose of his return.

Lazenby is perhaps the biggest paradox of the entire franchise.  Whilst ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ is widely regarded as the finest 007 instalment, his portrayal of Bond – his only outing as the secret agent – is almost universally considered to be the weakest.  This highlights the importance of factors away from the leading man. Of course aspects such as design, direction, script and score are vital to an entry enjoying enduring success, but the casting and characterisation of Bond’s supporting company cannot be underestimated.  And with each 007 release comes an array of audience expectations with regards to that casting: the ‘Bond-girl’; the henchmen; if applicable, M, Q, Moneypenny; and most importantly, the villain.

Revisiting each film based on the merits of its primary antagonist – its ‘Bond villain’ – opens new angles from which to analyse the films.  Whilst ‘The World is Not Enough’ remains by no means an essential entry, by acknowledging the unique nature of its villain, a newfound appreciation may be obtained.  The villain of ‘For Your Eyes Only’ is difficult to recall, yet perhaps the film’s lack of standing is as much a result of its weak antagonist as the weak antagonist is a result of an under-powered film.

The influence of Blofeld is everywhere of course; the early Bond villains worked for him (except for ‘Goldfinger’) and then the main baddie was him.  Legal wrangling’s and new ideas mean he is conspicuous by his absence through the Moore, Dalton and Brosnan era’s, whilst his recent ‘reimagined’ return is the source of much debate.  In this list, the ‘original’ Blofeld (‘From Russia with Love’ through to ‘Diamonds are Forever’) has been separated from the Christoph Waltz interpretation (‘Spectre’).

Ranking these villains is an incredible task, disagreement and debate inevitable.  Towards the back of the list, all but the most forgettable ‘baddie’ – appearing in the lowest points of the franchise (Kamal Kahn, Aristotle Kristatos) – still have their endearing qualities.  Some villains have been dragged down by the film in which they appear (Elektra King, Max Zorin), whilst others are rated highly through elevating already-impressive instalments (Trevelyan, Le Chiffre).  Some are iconic (Scaramanga, Goldfinger) but a villain’s synonymy with their correlating film is not always a positive thing (Gustav Graves, Elliot Carver).

So, here they all are, ranked and analysed – away from, and as part of, the world they exist in.  There will be uproar, certainly, but this is nothing personal.  It’s purely business …

Blofeld

1. Ernst Stavro Blofeld

(Donald Pleasence – ‘You Only Live Twice’; Telly Savalas – ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’; Charles Gray – ‘Diamonds Are Forever’)

Transcending the title of ‘Bond villain’, Blofeld is intimidating and incorrigible; his evil plans inventive and imaginative; his character often imitated but never equalled.  His shadow looms over every villain in every Bond film in which he isn’t the primary antagonist – if they don’t work for him, viewers will compare them to him.  ‘Number One’ is an icon of modern times: the original ‘supervillain’.

Blofeld and Bond

‘Dr. No’ succeeded in creating intrigue around it’s titular villain by not fully revealing him until close to the climax – prior to his first appearance he only features as a shadow and a voice.  Blofeld – head of the criminal organisation SPECTRE – is built up in a similar way, only rather than a few scenes, he has two entire films dedicated to building his reputation.  The primary villains of ‘Dr. No’, ‘From Russia with Love’ and ‘Thunderball’ are just henchmen to this criminal juggernaut, and when he is finally revealed as a thoroughly evil mastermind played by Donald Pleasence in the epic ‘You Only Live Twice’, it ends years of audience speculation.

Bond and Blofeld

Charles Gray’s portrayal of Blofeld is silky smooth, and in ‘Diamonds are Forever’, viewers are given a three-for-one deal.  Whilst the film forgets the life-changing events that played out in its predecessor, it’s all silly fun and Gray knows it – giving just the right amount of acknowledgement without ever going full-panto.

Telly Savalas is the most significant of the three actors that portray the supervillain – his incarnation is a true enigma – playing many characters yet never fully revealing his true self.  His Blofeld is also the only one willing to get his hands dirty; rolling his sleeves up to fight Bond man to man.  He has the magnetism of Gray and the sinisterism of Pleasence – definitely part of the reason ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ is widely considered the cinematic high-point of 007’s fifty plus years.

The series unfortunately neglected to follow-up on Blofeld and henchwoman Irma Bunt changing Bond’s life forever in the film’s final scene, but this was the moment, nevertheless, that 007 became more than a secret agent audiences wanted to be or be with, and became a secret agent audiences could empathise with too.  This was the moment that Bond, as a direct result of his nemesis’ actions, became not just a saviour but also inherently un-saveable.  This was the moment James Bond 007 became a real human … And Ernst Stavro Blofeld a real monster.

Franz Sanchez

2. Franz Sanchez

(Robert Davi – ‘License to Kill’)

Pride; greed; power; trust; loyalty.  Not every 007 film needs a strong theme to be successful, but the ones that do seem to be the most enjoyable, and ‘License to Kill’ is soaked in tangible, Shakespearean theme.  Franz Sanchez is a villain who’s as ruthless as he is charming, and he embodies the film’s core themes with palpable menace.

Hungry for more power as he looks to expand his empire, Sanchez is a proud drug lord with the world in his pocket.  But it isn’t money that Sanchez considers his most precious commodity – it’s loyalty – and that means betrayal comes at a high price.  When his mistress absconds with another lover who promised her his heart, Sanchez gives her just that.  When an associate is suspected of ratting on him (an idea planted by Bond), Sanchez’s retribution is mind-blowing (literally).  And when a DEA agent gets the better of him, Sanchez makes it personal – bribing the agent’s friend and colleague to help him escape captivity before exacting his wicked revenge by murdering his wife and feeding him to the sharks.  That agent is Felix Leiter, and Sanchez just made himself a new enemy.

Enter a different kind of Bond. A Bond still portrayed by Timothy Dalton in his second and final outing, but a Bond full of resentment and anger.  It’s like that beautifully intense scene from ‘The Living Daylights’ has been captured and turned into a full-length feature: the Prater fair; the balloons; Saunders dead …  ‘Smiert Spionam’ …  In that moment – with an immaculately conveyed expression that spoke a thousand words – Dalton’s 007 got the message.  And now, in ‘License to Kill’, everyone will be getting his.

Simply put, Sanchez is the perfect foil to Bond’s protagonist.  This goes beyond ‘villainous plans’ and ‘sinister baddies’ and goes somewhere deeper.  Somewhere darker.  ‘License to Kill’ – largely thanks to Robert Davi’s Sanchez – isn’t just the best 80’s Bond film, it’s one of the best films of the 80’s full stop.  Don’t you want to know why?  Clear and perfectly executed theme.

Auric Goldfinger

3. Auric Goldfinger

(Gert Fröbe – ‘Goldfinger’)

A criminal mastermind posing as a wealthy businessman, pompous Auric Goldfinger cements the characteristics of the archetypal Bond villain, and existing in a world boasting expensive cars, distinctive henchmen and beautiful, conflicted women, ‘Goldfinger’ establishes the Bond film rules for all subsequent instalments to follow.

This familiarity proves to be both blessing and curse, for whilst these recurrent franchise features have continually bred success, they have also often led Bond down a road of nostalgic nods and smug throwbacks that, despite raising a smile, can remove audiences from a film’s core narrative.

Excellent as Sean Connery is here, this is inexcusably Goldfinger’s show – the song; the title; the plot – everything revolves around him.  This was a time prior to James Bond needing a modern-day ‘character arc’, a time when it was enough for him to be just a strong protagonist – Fleming’s ‘blunt instrument’ –  a time when Bond served the story rather than the story being built around him.  ‘Do you expect me to talk?’ he asks as he looks down at a life-ending laser cutting its way towards him. ‘No Mr. Bond I expect you to die’ laughs Goldfinger in return, and with that staunchly delivered line, Goldfinger weaved himself not only into Bond folklore, but forever into pop culture.

Alec Trevelyan

4. Alec Trevelyan

(Sean Bean – ‘Goldeneye’)

‘Her Majesty’s loyal terrier’ has returned, this time played by a ruggedly smooth Pierce Brosnan and operating in a post-Cold War world where the rules have changed.  In many respects ‘Goldeneye’ picks up where ‘License to Kill’ left off six years before in that it continues to challenge audiences’ expectations of the Bond character and world. And it does so to largely great effect.

Director Martin Campbell gives the film a slick sexiness befitting of the era, but as with ‘Casino Royale’ eleven years later, ensures that character and story remain at the heart of the action.  The superbly-written Alec Trevelyan is central to the film’s success: already a strong villain owing to his former ‘00’ status, his backstory with Bond – steeped in pathos and tackling themes of loyalty and brotherhood – strengthens his character even more.  This unique relationship also offers us a rare glimpse of a James Bond stripped of ‘glib remark’ and ‘pithy comeback’; of a James Bond who, usually so untrusting, must deal with having his trust – and perhaps even his heart – broken because of Trevelyan’s betrayal.

As Trevelyan/006/Janus – one-part charmingly efficient cyber-terrorist; one-part ruthlessly manipulative sociopath – the ever-reliable Sean Bean not only delivers one of his finest career performances, but also one of the most interesting antagonists to appear in the franchise to date.

Dr. No

5. Julius No

(Joseph Wiseman – ‘Dr. No’)

The first, and arguably best of the Bond films reveals one of the series’ most enigmatic and stony villains, as what begins as a relatively grounded investigation gradually builds to a showdown with a mad scientist.

The ‘unwanted child of a German missionary and a Chinese girl of a good family’, Dr. No betrayed and robbed the ‘powerful criminal society’ he was treasurer of and now works for SPECTRE as an atomic energy specialist.  Operating from his Caribbean hideout, he has a ‘dragon’ protecting him and ‘Three Blind Mice’ as henchmen …  A grand story that in today’s flashback-obsessed world would require an extra half hour of exposition is here conveyed with a few meticulously delivered lines from the late Joseph Wiseman.  He delivers those lines in the oft-imitated, never duplicated lunch at Dr. No’s lair in which he outlines his sinister plan to Connery’s Bond, viewers here being treated not only to a classically written and grippingly executed scene, but the original blueprint for decades of villainous monologues to come.

In the end, No’s prosthetic metal hands ensure he can’t cling to his own life.  It’s his ‘original sin’ (the nuclear expertise he chose to use for evil previously resulted in the loss of his hands) that ultimately, and ironically, causes his demise.  Appearing in only two scenes, Dr. No still enjoys the least screen time of any principle villain to date, but this doesn’t prevent him from being one of the most fondly remembered.

Scaramanga

6. Francisco Scaramanga

(Christopher Lee – ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’)

Portrayed by the late, great Christopher Lee – an actor with a rich history of playing villains – Francisco Scaramanga’s ‘mano a mano’ face-off against Roger Moore’s roguishly slick 007 is a match made in movie heaven.

Benefiting from a solid backstory (elephant friends; abusive circus trainers; the KGB), and a legendary existence (a golden gun; million-dollar hits; a third nipple), Scaramanga – the wealthy hitman of the film’s title – is an exceptional villain in a tonally inconsistent film.  And whilst this smooth and sadistic assassin is a welcome break from the megalomaniacs of Bond past and present, his legacy will forever be tied to a film that hints at excellence, but often leans towards laziness.

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7. Elektra King

(Sophie Marceau – ‘The World is Not Enough’)

In ‘The World Is Not Enough’, 007 says goodbye to the 20th Century, but more importantly, audiences bid farewell to a genuine Bond legend.  Desmond Lewellyn’s ‘Q’ has an escape plan, and after providing an array of well-timed comic moments in his seventeen Bond films, makes his exit just before the franchise hits rock bottom.

In the villain department, Robert Carlyle plays Renard, an ex-KGB terrorist who can’t feel pain.  This pointless trait – the result of a skull-lodged bullet travelling ever-so-slowly towards his brain – not only allows him to play with hot coals without it hurting, but means he can say things like, ”you can’t kill me, I’m already dead”.  Luckily, his character gets a lot more interesting when it transpires Elecktra King – family friend of M and formerly innocent captive of Renard’s – is in fact the primary villain of the film and not the tortured Bond-girl-in-waiting she was introduced as.

This twist allows for several factors to play out, factors that place Elektra among perhaps not the greatest, but certainly the most unique of Bond villains.  Her alliance with Renard – manipulating him from terrorist kidnapper to submissive lover – is distinct to a Bond film, and her relationships with both M and Bond take on a new dimension too.  Through his affair with Elektra, Brosnan’s desire for his Bond to explore real relationships takes a step up from the wasted Terri Hatcher role of ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’.  Her switch from vulnerable victim to seductive sadist clearly affects 007, and when he utters the line ‘I never miss’, it’s soaked full of subtext that places it worlds away from the ‘one-liner’ it sounds like on paper.

Unfortunately, these carefully developed threads are repeatedly obliterated by a wrecking ball of gratuitous, boring action scenes; a horrifically two-dimensional Bond girl; and numerous other ticked boxes on the checklist of 90’s franchise ‘musts’.  The end result is essentially a twelve-year-old’s wet dream crushing what, in more capable hands, may just have been a fine, and unique, Bond instalment.

Silva

8. Raoul Silva

(Javier Bardem – ‘Skyfall’)

‘Skyfall’ broke a lot of series rules whilst re-establishing plenty too, and whilst it positioned M as ‘Bond-girl’, audiences were treated to a villain that, in the rich tradition of Scaramanga, Trevelyan and even Gustav Graves, was a dark mirror image of 007 – a ‘bad Bond’.

Like ‘Goldeneye’ baddie Alec Trevelyan, Silva is a former MI6 operative turned cyber-terrorist with an axe to grind.  What distinguishes Silva however is that his issues lie not entirely with the secret service or even with Bond, but with Judi Dench’s ‘mother’ figure M, here making her long goodbye after seventeen years.

Despite its phenomenal success, the film suffers from numerous issues, with plot-holes, ridiculous coincidences and a final act that fails to tie the films threads together chief among them.  Bond also technically fails his assignment, but these problems are papered over by the last few minutes of the film in which Craig’s 007 looks to the future ‘with pleasure’.

After his gripping ‘look upon your work’ reveal to M, Javier Bardem is suddenly forced to portray Silva as caricature, rather than character, slipping from avenging angel to devilish lunatic – all barked orders and gnarled reactions.  A shame, as the atmospheric approach to his desolate island, his epic long-walking, rat-monologuing entrance, and his hinted-at sexual desires all set up an excellent villain with so much more potential.

Max Zorin.jpg

9. Max Zorin

(Christopher Walken – ‘A View to a Kill’)

Sir Roger Moore’s reign as 007 stutters to a stop in a film where James Bond is sadly an afterthought in an otherwise quality cast of characters (not you, Stacey Sutton) stuck in a structural mess of a movie.

Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin is a breath of fresh air after the wooden villains of ‘Octopussy’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’; his origin story more comic book than Fleming novel and his on-screen presence electrifying and unpredictable.  Henchwomen Grace Jones is a one-off too, her switch from bad to good offering a high-five moment in an instalment full of mediocre minutes.

Rumour has it that David Bowie was wanted for the Zorin role, and though the bottle-blond hair and bony smile suggests some truth to this, it’s hard to imagine another actor owning the character as well as Walken does here, carrying the Moore era over the finish line with a crazed, gritted grin.

Drax.jpg

10. Hugo Drax

(Michael Lonsdale – ‘Moonraker’)

After plunging to the depths of the sea in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’, Sir Roger is back, and this time he’s aiming for the skies and beyond in ‘Moonraker’ – a delicious adventure that regularly soars away with itself.  But for every ludicrous escapade Bond enjoys here, there’s a forgotten gem of a moment: Jaws finally popping his cork is silly, yes, but the pheasant-hunting ‘you missed’ trip with bad-guy Drax is vintage 007.

At first, Drax’s dry impassiveness is easily mistaken for bored laziness, but in an instalment that frequently veers towards ridiculous, his easy-going nonchalance is not only refreshing, but strangely eccentric to a series that’s overly-reliant on sinister mega-villains.

Le Chiffre.jpg

11. Le Chiffre

(Mads Mikkelsen – ‘Casino Royale’)

With the reboot button firmly hit after ‘Die Another Day’, Brosnan’s tenure was over; his efforts at making 007 more than just a walking parody, washed away.  Maybe if he’d looked over his shoulder he would have seen it coming – the computer-generated wave, the knife wielding secret agents riding its crest, blades aimed squarely at his back …  Cue Daniel Craig’s Bourne-again Bond, free-running onto screens in a guise that respects the Fleming source whilst remaining current.

Ironically for Brosnan, ‘Casino Royale’ succeeds in addressing what he yearned for all along – the true character of Bond – his nature, his purpose, and, crucially, his relationships.  It’s because of this – as well as the able hand of Martin Campbell and skilled pen of Paul Haggis – that allies and enemies no longer exist purely for James Bond to punch, kiss, or quip at.  The distinct impression is that these characters inhabited this world long before 007 entered their lives, and will continue to after he leaves …  If they survive.

The villain of the film, Le Chiffre (French for ‘The Number’), is the strongest example of this for two reasons.  Firstly, he’s a Fleming creation and it shows.  Secondly, Danish actor Mads Mikkelson plays him with utter sincerity.  The campy fun of Gustav Graves is nowhere to be seen here, replaced with a real actor portraying a real character with his own issues, and more importantly, his own motives.  In terrorist banker and extreme gambler Le Chiffre’s world Bond is the antagonist, and when he thwarts his plan and places him in direct danger, the stakes are palpably raised.

Motives.  Goals.  Raised stakes.  The fundamentals of good story and the basis for great character.  Le Chiffre has all three in spades, making him not just a captivating villain, but an engrossing man.

Kananga.jpg

12. Kananga/ Mister Big 

(Yaphet Kotto – ‘Live and Let Die’)

Roger Moore’s first Bond (and arguably his finest), ‘Live and Let Die’ does what many of the 70’s instalments did: it reacts to the times.  ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ brings back the villainous master-plan, the lair, and the army of henchmen as a reaction to the two-man duel (and perceived commercial failure) of ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’.  ‘Moonraker’ responds to the sci-fi renaissance of the time whilst ‘For Your Eyes Only’ retaliates to that films excesses by toning things right back down.  Here, ‘Live and Let Die’ reacts to the ‘blaxploitation’ films of its era by inhabiting that same world, and the results are excitingly fresh in a Bond film that stands out as a unique instalment.

The primary villain of ‘Live and Let Die’, played by the talented Yaphet Kotto, is also a unique proposition.  Technically Kotto plays two separate characters: island dictator ‘Dr. Kananga’, and the gang-leading drug-baron ‘Mr. Big’ he creates to carry out his opium business undetected.  He plays both with distinction; Kananga as menacing thinker, Mr Big as irritable extrovert.  His relationship with Bond-girl Solitaire is particularly memorable.  He sees the medium as a possession rather than a person, and the occult environment they both inhabit lends the film an imitable charm.  Also highlights are Kananga’s henchmen Whisper and Tee Hee, two distinctive baddies who are worlds away from the forgettable non-entities of latter-Moore adventures.

Sadly, Kananga’s nuances seem to get forgotten as ‘Live and Let Die’ nears its climax, especially when he meets his explosive end and the film veers from voodoo to vacuous.  But overall, he’s an engaging and idiosyncratic villain.  The ‘did you touch her’ scene in which he reveals his alter-ego to Bond stands as a fantastic example of Moore’s 007 at his best, pushed to his excellent limits by a noteworthy enemy.

Largo

13. Emilio Largo

(Adolfo Celi – ‘Thunderball’)

Considered among the best by many fans, ‘Thunderball’ has many strong features, but James Bond – here played for a fourth time by a Sean Connery still having fun – and villain Largo, aren’t the strongest.  Henchwoman Fiona and ‘Bond-girl’ Domino are both interesting and complex and it’s the shifting dynamic between these women, Bond and Largo that remains the most distinctive element of a film that’s remembered as much for its underwater cinematography as it is for its plot.

Domino’s disdain of Largo is intense and palpable – she is his mistress and essentially his prisoner – and when Bond tells her Largo is responsible for her brother’s death, the hatred reaches boiling point.  Domino’s affair with 007 is less for pleasure and more for mutual benefit: Bond must foil Largo’s evil plan and Domino wants Largo dead.  Largo (‘Number 2’) is a fine character in his own right – the first meeting with Bond at the casino; the civil conversations showing fake respect; the much-parodied SPECTRE meeting – it’s all good, but Fiona Volpe (‘Number 10’), steals the evil limelight from right in front of his eye.

Another villain ultimately controlled and therefore overshadowed by Blofeld, Largo is a victim of the more successful elements, and more successful characters of ‘Thunderball’.

Stromberg.png

14. Karl Stromberg

(Curt Jürgens – ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’)

With ‘You Only Live Twice’ and ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ not only sharing the same director, but also essentially the same plot, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the films villain – intent on orchestrating a full-blown nuclear war and resetting civilisation from his underwater palace – was initially written as Blofeld.  Only legal issues around character rights led to his first appearance since ‘Diamonds are Forever’ being abandoned, and to shipping magnate Karl Stromberg becoming the first villain to be purely created for the film series.

Still bearing similarities to Blofeld, and with successor Hugo Drax unleashing a plan that again carried more than a passing resemblance to Stromberg’s, this baddie is perhaps not as distinctive as he could be.  But ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ blended just the right amount of comedy and drama with a good dose of stunt-filled action in a film that, along with ‘Moonraker’, stands as the pinnacle of Moore’s Bond reign.  So, whilst Stromberg’s webbed fingers, dastardly drawl and symbolic obsession with the sea don’t make him a classic villain, Curt Jurgens does more than enough to be warmly remembered as an integral part of a great film.

klebb.jpg

15. Rosa Klebb

(Lotte Lenya – ‘From Russia With Love’)

Chilling, cold and calculating, Spectre-trained ex-convict Red Grant is a highlight not only of ‘From Russia With Love’ but of the franchise as a whole, and his character – never more exciting than when pitting wits and fists against Connery’s 007 on the Orient Express – is held in high regard by fans.  But Red Grant is only henchman to Rosa Klebb, and Rosa Klebb is only puppet to mastermind ‘Number 1’ – here making his mysterious, cat-stroking debut.

Sandwiched between such fabled villains, and in a classic entry also featuring legendary Bond ally Kerim Bay and a catalogue of celebrated sequences, the character of Klebb gets lost despite her special shoe and the punchy performance of Lotte Lenya.

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16. Elliot Carver

(Jonathan Pryce – ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’)

Following the thrilling, vendetta-driven smarm of Alec Travelyan comes the zany Elliot Carver, a business tycoon intent on starting World War III so his press empire can win the ratings war.  Already operating around an absurd plot, ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ prioritises sending up ‘twenty-four-hour news culture’ and real-life media barons over rounded characters, and this Bond baddie doesn’t cope well with the attempted satire.

Whilst Jonathan Pryce relishes his pantomime-portrayal of a villain that feels like a reject from the mid-Moore era, in the year the first ‘Austin Powers’ was released, this Bond needed something a little more grounded.  ‘The distance between insanity and genius is measured only by success’ quips the arrogant Carver, and proving his point, Pryce’s hammy turn as the fiendish media mogul should be remembered as ridiculously melodramatic rather than intelligently over-played.

koskov-e1502811606921.jpg17. General Georgi Koskov

(Jeroen Krabbé – ‘The Living Daylights’)

With the Bond franchise increasingly leaning towards self-parody, Timothy Dalton’s arrival as a ruthlessly cool 007 signalled a fresh direction.  Part of the actor’s intrigue was his ability to craft believable relationships with every character – General Pushkin (John Rys Davies), Kamran Shah (Art Malik) and Saunders (Thomas Wheatley) all feel incredibly real – and this ability strengthened a less thrilling aspect of the superb ‘The Living Daylights’: its villains.

KGB traitor General Georgi Koskov is as much plot device as character – his playful tone initially betraying his predicament – but once it’s revealed Koskov’s defection to the West is a sham and he’s working with arms dealer Brad Whittaker (Joe Don Baker), the lightheartedness makes sense.  Comically charming almost to a fault, it’s testament to Jeroen Krabbé’s performance that he’s remembered at all in a film that boasts so many other fine qualities.

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18. Gustav Graves/ Colonel Tan-Sun Moon

(Toby Stephens/ Will Yun Lee – ‘Die Another Day’)

One of the biggest (and only) achievements of ‘Die Another Day’ is that actor Toby Stephens portrays the principle villain as so intensely obnoxious, it’s hard to determine whether it’s the character or actor that’s so unlikeable.  That character begins life as North Korean Colonel Tan-Sun Moon (Will Yun Lee), but having seemingly fallen to his doom after a pre-titles duel with Bond, he undergoes ‘gene therapy’ to re-emerge as arrogant Caucasian Gustav Graves.  Ludicrous though the Graves story is, it’s just one of many ill-judged elements in an entry so catastrophic it led to a series revamp and the end of the Brosnan era.

At its most acceptable away from ice-cutting sun-lasers and surfing secret-agents, Graves actually provides ‘Die Another Day’ with some of it’s less deplorable moments.  When he tells Bond he modelled the ‘disgusting’ Gustav Graves on him (‘that unjustifiable swagger, the crass quips’), audiences are briefly reminded of some of the finer James Bond-Bond Villain interactions.  With the benefit of hindsight then, in a film that gave us an ‘electroclash’ theme song and invisible cars sold by Basil Fawlty, perhaps Toby Stephens isn’t so unlikeable after all.

khan

19. Kamal Khan

(Louis Jourdan – ‘Octopussy’)

More curio than essential canon, on paper ‘Octopussy’ makes for a memorable Bond instalment.  Opening with the assassination of 009, Moore’s penultimate outing features a strong female lead, knife-throwing twins and Kamal Khan, the smooth Afghan prince plotting the West’s demise alongside a murderous Soviet General.  The finished film however – convoluted, poorly paced and bloated with camp innuendo – treats viewers to an ageing Bond dressed not only in a gorilla suit but a clown costume, and swinging through the jungle whilst perfecting his ‘Tarzan yell’.

As in ‘For Your Eyes Only’, the dull villains on offer here fail to sparkle, and a devilish turn by Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximilian Largo in ‘Never Say Never Again’, released the same year, highlights their shortcomings even more.

When the exiled Prince Kamal Khan tells Bond he has a ‘nasty habit of surviving’, Jourdan’s smug execution gifts the franchise one of its staple ‘trailer-lines’, but woefully let down by his Oddjob-lite henchman and surprisingly boring accomplice, this unremarkable villain is worlds away from an ‘All Time High’.

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20. Franz Oberhauser/ Ernst Stavro Blofeld*

(Christoph Waltz – ‘Spectre’)

The writing was always on the wall that repeating the success of ‘Skyfall’ would be a challenge, but through their insistence on probing Bond’s childhood once more to create a ‘revelatory’ villain, the returning writers not only failed to match their previous output, but laid the foundation for one of the biggest missteps in 007 history.

In a production plagued by rumour and indecision, the presence of Christoph Waltz was cause for elation; an Oscar-nominated actor with a flair for playing dastardly villains, perhaps he might even trump celebrated predecessor ‘Silva’.  And with a script leaked via the Sony cyber-attack, the resolution of a long-standing rights issue, and the film’s confirmed title, fans were sure: Waltz’s casting would mark the triumphant return of supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Stern denials followed.  Waltz isn’t Blofeld he’s Franz Oberhauser, James’ ‘foster brother’ who’s dead but who isn’t dead and who’s reinvented himself as…  Wait.  Waltz is Blofeld, and in a pointless twist that offers questions not answers, he orchestrated every event that ever happened to Craig’s Bond.  Cuckoo!

Despite its long tracking shot and tall budget, ‘Spectre’ lacks substance; proof that classic character plus talented actor doesn’t always equal glory.  Daniel Craig joked after filming wrapped that he’d rather slash his wrists than return as 007, and having experienced the tonal muddle of ‘Spectre’, it’s not hard to see why.

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21. Dominic Greene

(Mathieu Amalric – ‘Quantum of Solace’)

Daniel Craig’s blond Bond is back, and haunted by the raw events of his previous outing, he’s bruised, bitter and bloodthirsty.  Binding the vibrant ‘Quantum of Solace’ so closely to ‘Casino Royale’ does bolster a script that feels frequently under-cooked, but by positioning itself as a direct sequel, it’s easy to dismiss this as the ‘difficult second album’ of the reboot era, despite the visceral direction and snappy editing.

As with ‘Le Chiffre’ before him, the bad-guy of ‘Quantum’ is a sub-villain working for a higher power.  But unlike his predecessor, Dominic Greene never hints at being more than a one-dimensional pawn, leaving his character to feel like an afterthought in a film that reportedly suffered its share of production issues.

Perhaps with a run-time longer than its taut one hour forty-six, Amalric’s portrayal of Greene as a cold, oily yes-man would have had greater impact, but ultimately, as in his final first-fight with Bond, this villain lacks the punch to be remembered as anything other than a footnote.

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22. Aristotle Kristatos

(Julian Glover – ‘For Your Eyes Only’)

Stripped back and subdued, ‘For Your Eyes Only’ responds to the delirious excess of Moore’s previous few outings by returning to more grounded espionage thrills, but the results are disappointingly forgettable.

After a much-maligned opening that sees Bond casually dispose of a Blofeld ‘lookalike’, audiences are introduced to a villain who’s essentially the opposite of The Man with the White Cat: understated, under-powered, and unmemorable.  Greek smuggler Aristotle Kristatos has no mutilation, vendetta, or taste for terror; his simple aims are limited to working for the highest bidder and pursuing illicit relations with his young ward.

Although his rivalry with Milos Columbo – one of the most exciting Bond allies since Kerim Bay – adds interest, Kristatos lacks the traits to pass as a convincing antagonist.  He’s also left desperately wanting in the henchman department – a villain like Stromberg may have been short on magnetism, but he had an underwater lair, he had secret buttons that opened trap doors, and he had ‘Jaws’.  Julian Glover may have gone on to prove his worth in ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’, but here his character is a non-entity in an already unexceptional film.

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Want more SideWays Bond? Then what are you waiting for!? Check out our Henchmen rankings and Reboot proposal!

2 Replies to “RANKED: James Bond Villains”

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