There is no underestimating the importance of the ‘Bond villain’. They’re a staple of every Bond film, and perhaps the most critical element of a memorable instalment. ‘For Your Eyes Only’? Forgettable villain, disappointing Bond. ‘Goldfinger’? Instantly familiar name, hugely respected film – its success resting largely on the shoulders of its titular villain.
But what is it that makes Auric Goldfinger such an enduring character? The evil schemes and pompous arrogance make the man, but it’s the presence of henchman Oddjob at his side that makes Goldfinger that bit more interesting, more dangerous, and vitally, more fun.
Though it’s not always the case that beside every great Bond villain stands a great right-hand-man or woman, it is fair to say that nearly all henchmen add something to the films they appear in. That’s not necessarily a positive statement. The ‘sparkling personality’ of Zao in ‘Die Another Die’ only adds more madness to an already ridiculous film, and whilst knife-throwing circus twins doubling as assassins sound epic, ‘Octopussy’ and its primary antagonists are no more notable due to their presence.
Clearly, henchmen are not pivotal factors to the success or failure of a Bond feature, but they do absolutely complement – and in some cases complete – a villain, and in turn a film.
Here, whilst the top ten Bond henchmen are judged on their own merits, it’s natural that the villain they work for and film they appear in will affect his or her ranking. For the purposes of this list we’re looking solely at the ‘official’ EON films, Pussy Galore (‘Goldfinger’) and Vesper Lynd (‘Casino Royale’) are not considered owing to their dual-roles as ‘Bond girl’ and characters like Dominic Greene (‘Quantum of Solace’) and Rosa Klebb (‘From Russia With Love’) remain primary antagonists despite working for a higher villain.
Ultimately, like the henchmen themselves, this list will encourage dispute, invoke anger, and show stubborn loyalty to the wrong characters. With only ten spaces available, many fan favorites will inevitably be overlooked. Irma Bunt kills Bond’s wife – an action that should arguably throw her straight into the mixer – but consider for a moment her whole role in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. Does she massively complement Blofeld? Does she complete him? Does she add extra magic to an already special film and deserve to shunt a cult hero like Baron Samedi (‘Live and Let Die’) or a strong figure like Mayday (‘A View to a Kill’) off the list? It’s time to find out…
(The Living Daylights’)
Necros stands out in the middle of a long line of toned, blond right hands somewhere between boring Richard Stamper (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’) and dull Erich Kriegler (‘For Your Eyes Only’).
Not only does his name mean ‘death’ in Greek, (slightly less obvious than, say, Mr. Kil of ‘Die Another Day’) but he also has his own theme. A slick John Barry cue would have been kudos enough, but Necros goes one better and has a signature song. If the Pretenders’ ‘Where Has Everybody Gone’ starts blaring out from tinny headphones, run and hide. After all, this is a master of disguise who infiltrates an MI6 safe house with ease and who kills with precision – murdering key ally Saunders and still finding time to leave Bond a taunting note in his wake.
For all its memorable characters, the primary villains of ‘The Living Daylights’ lack bite, and it’s down to Necros to deliver the fear factor as well as the exploding milk
9. Xenia Onatopp
‘Straight up, with a twist’, Xenia is one of an elite group of women who play Bond at his own game – female counterparts that provide an alternate reflection of 007’s carnal traits. When ‘Goldeneye’ landed in the mid-nineties, a lot had changed since the early installments, yet the franchise’s treatment of sex remained practically untouched. ‘Goldeneye’ addressed this, and alongside Judi Dench’s ‘M’, Onatopp proved the driving force in an era that would finally see the Bond films start treating women as equals.
Credit Famke Janssen on a finely balanced performance – any more expressive and it’s verging on puerile, any less crazed and the impact is dampened. A true ‘femme fatale’, the character runs away with the first half of the film – a match for Bond on road and in casino who quickly showcases her unique lust for murder. Her influence does fade as Janus emerges from the shadows, but trust Xenia to ‘squeeze’ into the top ten regardless.
8. May Day
(‘A View to a Kill’)
Despite its deserved reputation as one of the weaker films in the series, there are still things to admire about ‘A View to a Kill’, Christopher Walken’s deliciously evil Max Zorin chief among them. But it was henchwoman May Day, played by Grace Jones, who dominated the marketing for the movie, one poster asking, ‘has James Bond finally met his match?’ as a suave Moore and smoking Jones stand back to back.
May Day is a lean and sensual presence, and as pilot Naomi in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ never spent enough time with Moore’s 007, her presence marks the first (and last) time he faces a strong female threat. Killing Bond’s contact in Paris with a poisonous butterfly is a neat trick, and the only thing more daring than jumping from the Eiffel tower is her range of eccentric outfits.
The murder of Sir Godfrey Tibbett at May Day’s hands is effectively savage, but her bedding of Bond feels a little tacked on, the mere fact she’s female making it a pointless necessity for Bond to sleep with her. It would have perhaps made better sense to see a more thorough exploration of May Day’s relationship with Zorin. Her unwavering loyalty to him is quickly forgotten following his heartless betrayal (‘I thought that creep loved me!’), and Bond’s immediate acceptance of her switched allegiance feels weak. Dalton wouldn’t show the same kindness to an enemy, no matter the circumstance.
But for all the issues in ‘A View to a Kill’, May Day’s presence stands out as a positive, and along with Zorin and Tibbett, she almost succeeds in making it a memorable instalment.
7. Tee Hee Johnson
(‘Live and Let Die’)
One of the strengths of ‘Live and Let Die’ is its wealth of striking baddies, Mr. Big/Kananga is first-rate, and his henchmen don’t disappoint either.
First up there’s softly-spoken Whisper; this big boy’s pimpmobile fires poisonous darts, and when he’s not popping the champers (‘Shall I open it?’) he’s letting snakes loose in James’ hotel room. Then there’s Tee Hee; metal hand, killer suits, and better chat than some of the main Bond villains. Yes, unlike many of his contemporaries Tee Hee loves to talk, and it makes his crocodile farm scene with Moore’s 007 quintessential Bond. He’s no Captain Hook rip-off either – losing his hand to a croc led him to respect rather than fear the creatures.
As well as Whisper and Tee-Hee, ‘Live and Let Die’ introduces audiences to perhaps the most enigmatic villain of the whole franchise. Baron Samedi is a genuine one-off; a terrifying, immortal voodoo God who answers to no-one. The Baron – last seen cackling uncontrollably from a runaway train – is undoubtedly a classic character, but he’s less henchman more legend, and any debate around Tee-Hee trumping him is side-stepped by discounting Samedi from consideration altogether. After all, one does not compare Gods to men.
6. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd
(‘Diamonds Are Forever’)
Following the horrific slaying of his wife in ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, audiences may have expected a dark-mirror world where a vengeful Bond exorcises Tracy’s ghost by crushing his mortal enemy. Instead, we enter the tonal chaos of ‘Diamonds are Forever’. Not so much a ‘dark-mirror’ world as a ‘funny-mirror’ one where the ludicrous aspects – the ‘Goldfinger on steroids’ elements that would inform much of Moore’s tenure – overshadow the good stuff. The elevator fist fight with Peter Franks is close to perfect, the mind-numbing moon buggy chase… Not so much.
Then there’s Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, a couple of henchmen who perfectly showcase both the sublime and ridiculous of the film. They work for Blofeld but don’t share a single scene with him. It almost feels like they’ve staggered in from another plot, the dry ‘banter’ they share after each callous kill at least punctuating an installment that frustrates more than it thrills.
Dead-pan, wise-cracking assassins with a passion for killing and for each other, the pair divide popular opinion. Some fans hold them in high regard for the above reasons, calling their relationship ‘brave’ and ‘implied’. Others reject the pair for the very same reasons, deriding the film’s portrayal of a homosexual couple as ‘shallow’ and ‘offensive’. There’s no doubt that today, it’s a kindness to call some of the franchises past handling of sexuality, race and gender ‘dated’. ‘Disgraceful’ is perhaps a more accurate term.
But away from the nature of their personal relationship, Wint and Kidd remain skilled professionals, never more enjoyable than when wryly toasting a successful execution. ‘Mrs. Whistler did want some pictures of the canals for the children’ says Kidd, snapping away with his camera as her dead body is pulled from the Amstel, ‘how kind of you Mr. Kidd’ replies Wint, ‘the children will be, so thrilled’.
5. Nick Nack
(‘The Man With The Golden Gun’)
2016’s ‘Why Him’ saw James Franco’s tech-millionaire randomly attacked by his butler-cum-confidant to ‘keep him sharp’ – a tactic Bryan Cranston immediately associates with the ‘Pink Panther’ movies. The pair aren’t familiar with the films, but would have perhaps more readily acknowledged a reference to ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, Roger Moore’s part-muddled, part-marvelous second Bond adventure in which Christopher Lee’s iconic Scaramanga is nearly upstaged by his butler-cum-confidant, Nick Nack.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of this unexpected double-act is that not only is it fair game for Nick Nack to hire rival assassins to take out his mega-rich boss, but should he succeed, he’ll inherit everything. This twists an already neat story feature into a revealing insight into both characters and sets up some of the most engaging dialogue of the film.
As a henchman, Nick Nack was probably envisaged as a pocket-sized Oddjob – a suited personal assistant happy to kill for his boss and the obvious inspiration behind Austin Powers’ ‘Mini-Me’ – but the performance of Hervé Villechaize made him something much more: equal parts charming and unpredictable. In an installment that didn’t need any more comic relief (it’s already Pepper-ed with returning Sheriffs and Karate Kids), Nick Nack could easily have sunk ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, instead his appearances lift the film.
Uniquely for a villain, Nick Nack is captured not killed, and the film closes with him locked up and sailing to fates unknown. Speaking of fates, whilst the man who played Nick Nack went on to achieve great success in TV’s ‘Fantasy Island’, his own roller coaster story would end in tragedy, and a Villechaize biopic has long been in development with ‘Game of Thrones’’ Peter Dinklage attached to star.
(‘The Spy Who Loved Me’; ‘Moonraker’)
Along with Oddjob, Jaws has transcended the role of henchman to become one of the most recognizable characters in 007 history, synonymous not just with the height of the Moore era but with James Bond lore. The villain checklist is full of ticks with this one – so much so that he’s the only henchman to return for a second outing, and many would argue he’s the obvious number one because of it.
But the overbearing, sinister grin of ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ – never more menacing than at the Egyptian pyramids – is replaced by the overdone, silly gurn of ‘Moonraker’ – summed up by a random appearance that shatters an otherwise great opening sequence. The qualities that initially make Jaws a formidable henchman – the teeth, the smile, the inability to die – are the same qualities that lead to him becoming a comic foe, and in truth Jaws’ transition from monstrous enemy to loveable fiend is complete after his first few appearances.
Towards the end of his tenure as a henchman, Jaws has outstayed his welcome, and despite his defection to Team Bond alongside his tiny new girlfriend, his re-entry must go down as a mistake. Despite (or perhaps even because of) this, he stands as an iconic Bond character, and either way, his first few appearances in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ are enough to solidify his henchman ranking.
3. Fiona Volpe
If, ‘Xenia is one of an elite group of women who play Bond at his own game’, then Fiona Volpe is that group’s leader – beautiful, deadly and blowing the villains around her out of the water. Luciana Paluzzi had originally auditioned for the role of Domino, the vengeful, enigmatic Bond girl of ‘Thunderball’, but the part went to Claudine Auger, allowing Paluzzi to play one of the great, albeit often forgotten, Bond henchmen.
As main villain Largo points out, cannon-fodder Vargas, ‘does not drink, does not smoke, does not make love’, and this leaves Fiona to have a little fun whilst carrying out her evil deeds. She’s more than happy to frolic with Major François Derval to aid SPECTRE’s plans, doesn’t flinch at killing Count Lippe with her missile-shooting motorbike, and when Bond finds her naked in the bathtub and gets his ‘flirt’ on, it’s really her calling the shots.
Volpe’s loyalty to SPECTRE is certainly genuine but her fleeting affection for Connery’s 007 is not as clear-cut, and once the inevitable deed is done she invites her fellow henchmen to the party, telling Bond he, ‘only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing… But not this one!’ As she straightens his tie, it’s hard not to view the scene as a reversal of Connery slamming the door shut on a freshly-bedded Miss Taro in ‘Dr. No’, telling the superintendent to ‘be careful of her nail varnish’.
Her death is the climax of a truly wonderful scene. Bond escapes his captors and is chased through the streets, unavoidably leaving a trail of blood for his enemies to follow. He winds up at the Kiss Kiss Club, dancing with Fiona as concealed shooters take aim… The drums swell and Bond swivels; Volpe taking a bullet to the spine courtesy of her own men.
Fiona is forced to sit the rest of ‘Thunderball’ out (she’s just dead), and in doing so the film loses perhaps its finest quality. Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) is an acceptable replacement in ‘You Only Live Twice’, but her finest moments only serve as a reminder of Volpe’s dominance two years earlier – a dominance that stood strong until 1983 when ‘unofficial’ henchwoman Fatima Blush crashed onto screens in ‘Never Say Never Again’. Blush (Babara Carrera) is a crazy re-imagining of Fiona and the highlight of a curious film notable for its wonderful villains. ‘You’re quite a man, Mr. James Bond’, remarks Fatima, ‘but I am a superior woman!’
Whilst a character in his own right, Oddjob is essentially an extension of Goldfinger – the literal ‘muscle’ of the villain – and the same can be said for many of his finest pre-reboot counterparts. Even now, as the series embraces many of the trappings it shed at the start of the Craig era, the Oddjob-type henchman (strong, loyal, not-too-talkative) is making a comeback, exemplified most recently by Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx in ‘Spectre’.
Like so many things in ‘Goldfinger’, Oddjob stands as an archetype for all who follow, his attributes forming a checklist of henchman-musts. The suit and metal-rimmed hat are enough to make Oddjob memorable, but actor/wrestler Harold Sakata lends the character a cryptic and silent charm that makes him unforgettable. It’s for this reason many would argue Oddjob is the perfect henchman, destined for the number one slot in any reasonable list.
1. Red Grant
(‘From Russia With Love’)
Barely two minutes into ‘From Russia With Love’ and assassin Red Grant has already strangled James Bond to death… OK, so it turns out to be some guy in a Sean Connery mask but still, the threat he poses is conveyed with genuine impact. Here is a man who is cold and dangerous and who’s entire training is focussed on one key moment: assassinating 007.
Rosa Klebb is a fantastic villain, but for all her spikiness she is essentially Red Grant’s and Romanova’s handler, and it’s Grant who steals ‘From Russia With Love’ along with Kerim Bay and James Bond himself, the film a real contender for Sean Connery’s best. He’s devilishly charming alongside infatuated Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), never more at ease than with charismatic Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz), and never more on-point as a secret agent than with lethal Red Grant (Robert Shaw), a man with whom Connery’s 007 is at his most cool, his most fierce, and his most exposed.
The Orient Express sequence is Bond as a character at his finest and Bond as a film series at its absolute best. Red Grant – blond, focused and ruthless – has boarded the train and is under the guise of Captain Nash before stabbing fan-favorite Kerim Bey to death.
When dining with the couple ‘Nash’ drugs Romanova’s wine. Helping 007 carry her back to their carriage he knocks Bond out and takes his weapon. In classic villain style, he then lets Bond know SPECTRE’s evil plan, telling him, ‘my orders are to kill you… How I do it is my business’. Grant enjoys having a helpless Bond in front of him. ‘The first bullet won’t kill you, nor the second, not even the third,’ he tells 007, ‘not til you crawl over here and you kiss my foot’. Bond’s last request to pay for a cigarette ultimately turns the tables, and perhaps the most believable use of a Q gadget leads to a rightly celebrated brawl. It’s brutal, it’s brilliant, and it ultimately leads to Grant’s death.
Red Grant’s standing as a henchman is simply indisputable. Any reasonable ranking will never fail to place him among the top three Bond henchmen, but his final placing perhaps rests more with individuals views of the 007 films and eras than of the man or the woman. Jaws represents fun, thrills and humor. But does he also epitomise folly, excess and pastiche? Oddjob is the embodiment of a ‘henchman’ – lethal and sinister yet original and quirky – he appears in ‘Goldfinger’, a rule-setting blockbuster, whilst Red Grant appears in ‘From Russia With Love’, an intense Cold War thriller in which Bond is the central hero and Grant the dominant threat.
Perhaps the biggest threat Grant poses is that in one of the more ‘realistic’ Bond films, he stands as perhaps the most ‘realistic’ henchman. He’s a hitman, an assassin, closer to the assets of the Bourne films than to Tee Hee or Nick Nack. A modern day version of Grant could be out there right now… Waiting to board a train, ready to kill when the call comes.
Maybe that’s the real beauty of Bond. As well as being treated to a truly iconic character, audiences are ushered into a world in which Grant and Jaws can co-exist, a world where Necros and Odd Job are able to stand side-by-side. The ‘real’ can be unusual and the ‘out-there’ familiar. Good and bad blend seamlessly and good and evil clash constantly.
The cinematic world of James Bond is one that is tantalizing, flummoxing and thunderous all at once. But above all, it’s absolutely thrilling.