We are really coming down to the wire here for 00 Saturdays. Last week, I took a look at the Top Ten Pre-Title Sequences. This week, lets look at the Top Ten James Bond Villains. Again, these are my takes. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me with each one. What’s great about Bond fandom is that we all have our favorite movies and favorite characters and girls and so on. I expect this to be no different.
What makes a great Bond villain? That’s a tough question to answer. Sometimes you get a great villain in a not so great movie. Sometimes you get a villain that uniquely tests Bond. Sometimes you get a villain that really hurts Bond – and not so much physically. A good villain should mirror Bond in some way, but also have a presence that is felt throughout a movie, and have their fingers dabbling in the plot from start to finish. Some will make you nervous, some could surprise you with how far they’d go to fulfill their plans. Maybe most importantly, they should help make the movie they appear in fun in some way.
I should point out before we get started that this is only the main villains of a movie, not so much the henchmen. With that, let’s get started with some honorable mentions before I get right into this meaty top ten.
I’ve got three villains here that will help prime the pumps, if you will. First up is Francisco Scaramanga, The Man with the Golden Gun. Scaramanga appears in one of my least favorite films in the series. It’s got not so great comedy beats. It’s a misstep from the generally pleasing Live and Let Die, and seemed to be rushed into production to solidify Roger Moore as the new Bond when it wasn’t so much necessary. All that said, Christopher Lee is brilliant as the antagonist. He’s got serious weight in the overarching plot and some of his scenes, one in particular with Maud Adams, is downright frightening. He’s also basically Bond without a real soul – twisted by money and has a somewhat over the top goofy plan to wreak havoc on the world as a third act surprise. Scaramanga is the powerful reminder that Lee was more than just Count Dracula.
Next up is Le Chiffre from Casino Royale. Le Chiffre was played by Mads Mikkelsen in a particularly chilling turn. The character acted as a financier of international terrorism. In the book that the movie is actually somewhat faithful to, Le Chiffre was the paymaster of Ian Fleming’s criminal organization SMERSH. This guy is a massive numbers dude. It’s what makes him a pretty great gambler. He stages high stakes games of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker and can tell you the exact odds you have of winning any hand by looking at the cards on the table. He’s cold, calculating, and, as the movie plays out, becomes quite desperate after Bond foils one plan to short sell stocks in airlines that gets the financier into some trouble with an African warlord. While Bond is there to outright stop Le Chiffre, Le Chiffre is willing to resort to poison, murder, and testicular torture to get his money. As with Scaramanga, Le Chiffre becomes an ever-present, chilling force that Bond and vixen Vesper Lynd have to contend with and constantly be looking over their shoulders to ultimately defeat – which only comes by luck.
Thirdly, I chose Rosa Klebb to get an honorable mention. In From Russia With Love, she plays a very fascinating role. Bond had just recently messed up criminal organization SPECTRE’s plans in Dr. No. The guy is now suddenly on the organization’s radar. Well, it’s time to call in some new people to try to mess with Bond, but with a twist. Klebb is both an official in the Russian intelligence community AND in SPECTRE. She’s a double agent who has a vast amount of resources at her disposal to deal with this nuisance. In the novel, she was portrayed outright as a lesbian, but gives it a little less obvious flavor in the movie. She’s button down, and all business, and knows how to deal with spies like Bond. She turns out to be part of a larger web of villains and one of two major bad guys in the movie. She becomes quite influential later for her appearance, her strict and professional manner of concise speaking, and her weapon of choice, a poisoned dagger hidden in her shoes. She’s neat to watch, makes the movie itself pretty fun, and one of the very few female villains in the entire Bond library.
Let’s now get to the top ten…
ARISTOTLE KRISTATOS, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
For Your Eyes Only is an interesting entry in the Bond series. In my review of it, I mentioned a couple things that I actually liked about the movie more than I think it gets credit for. First, after Moonraker, what the hell are you going to do with Bond? You have to bring him back down to Earth (literally). Second, Bond finds himself entangled in a plot that goes outside his normal big plan of the bad guy of the week. These are much more emotional issues he’s embroiled in. The people conspiring against each other have fiery Greek blood and really more in the criminal smuggling realm than international terrorists like Bond usually deals with. Finally, we have a fairly clever bad guy.
Kristatos (Julian Glover) is originally seen as a friend and ally to Bond. He’s smooth talking and very well connected. He’s also kind of grooming an Olympic figure skater (played by Lynn-Holly Johnson) in maybe more ways than one. Whatever the deal is with that, Kristatos is a war hero turned smuggler and someone Bond needs to connect with to find a stolen machine that needs to be kept out of Russian hands. Originally, everything was to be pinned on Kristatos’ rival smuggler Columbo (Topol), but it turns out to be a red herring. Kristatos is a little bit more turned than just being a smuggler. He’s killed the parents of our main Bond Girl, Melina (Carole Bouquet), to receive this tracking device that is the MacGuffin of the movie, and she’s talked out of taking what she feels is righteous vengeance for Columbo to ultimately save Bond’s life and kill Kristatos himself.
Kristatos is emblematic of a twisting and turning plot in For Your Eyes Only that hadn’t really been seen since the Connery films of the mid-60s. It also deals a tad more with the inner thoughts and feelings of a specific culture that is a touch more personal than the Roger Moore entries tended to be. Glover is so good at being this wolf in sheep’s clothing that I am willing to bet that most people don’t remember that he’s actually the bad guy until we actually get our first meaningful scene with Topol’s Columbo.
ELEKTRA KING, THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH
Well… Another Greek scenario here. Oh yeah, another bad-guy-who-was-thought-to-be-a-protagonist situation too! The World Is Not Enough is a movie that I don’t think has many down the middle opinions. I’m in the camp of actually loving this movie. Others tend to really dislike it for reasons I won’t go into or make guesses on. However, I will say my main point that I hang my hat on for this movie is that I believe this to be the truly final “classic” Bond film ever made. It was the last one of the 20th century, and beginning with the dreadful Die Another Day, the series went into a much more modernized direction.
The film uses lush scenery, a little more classic shot setups for the action, and generally feels much more like the films Albert Broccoli produced while he was still alive. And that’s a wonderful way to set up Sophie Marceau’s Elektra King. We spend most of the movie basically falling in love with the romanticized shots, locations in the southeast corner of Europe, and this damaged character who was kidnapped, ransomed, and eventually “freed herself” from the perceived main villain Renard (Robert Carlyle in a truly tragic performance). The movie is downright predatory on your emotions. King seems to just be a dirtied, but strong, woman who is picking up the pieces of being a victim and the assassination of her oil magnate father – who also happens to be a very old friend of Bond’s boss M.
However, King is the entire mastermind behind a horrific plot to utterly destroy Istanbul with a nuclear bomb that would derail a Russian oil pipeline and give King’s pipeline a strategic upperhand in the whole oil beeswax of the area. But it actually becomes more than that. Bond is injured throughout the entire film and she knows how to physically hurt him, and then begins emotionally twisting him while also having him in some sort of erotic torture chair that will eventually break his neck. She’s very cruel and has significant parental issues that she’s acting upon. It somehow ends up making her that much more seductive and sexy making her a really good villain that catches both Bond and M, and almost the entire world, off guard.
RAOUL SILVA, SKYFALL
In two weeks, I will be counting down and ranking all the James Bond films, and, spoiler alert, Skyfall will be crowned #1 in my list. What’s interesting is that Raoul Silva almost didn’t make this list when I started thinking about it. Javier Bardem’s Silva is a fantastic villain, but Skyfall has so many things to celebrate on the three-way triangle of plot, action, and emotion that I sometimes don’t even think about Silva.
But Silva is the antithesis to James Bond in every way during the course of the film. M (Judi Dench) often plays favorites with her agents. While she is hard on 007, clearly, she sees his potential and abilities and trusts his instincts. However, he isn’t her first agent she treated this way. When she ran Station H in Hong Kong, he claimed she treated Silva as her pet, until he hacked the Chinese government and she handed him over to them to avoid an international incident. He did not handle this well. Forget that he was, like Bond, willing to go against orders and try to trust his instincts, and therefore felt he was doing the right thing, he nearly started a huge war.
Now, upon getting out of being held captive by the Chinese government, he had the know-how, the tools, and the reason to get revenge. He kills many MI6 agents and plans to assassinate M, and, if we make this incredibly simplistic, does. However, on the other hand, he ultimately makes Daniel Craig’s young James Bond a much, much better agent in the long run. What’s more, Silva’s not just a turned agent. He’s hurt. He’s proud. He forces you to look at tough situations. He ends up being quite scary and quite capable as a villain looking for revenge.
KARL STROMBERG, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
Stromberg, played by Curd Jurgens, is one of those fun early Bond villains. He speaks in low tones, slowly, and sits in his weirdo underwater fortress like he’s some sort of comic book villain better suited for the Superfriends show. However, he’s far more interesting than that. Later on in the series, the villains became a little more real world. We had angry former agents, opportunistic former agents, a guy creating his own news to further his media empire, rich girls with daddy issues, and terrorists, but back in the 70s, we had guys like Stromberg.
Why do I say that? Well, first off, he’s got a bit of a fish and undersea fetish going for him coupled with a huge disdain for the human race. He plans to force a war between the super powers (hmmm… superfriends), and eradicate life on Earth. Stromberg then will have a new civilization kick in after the fallout while also hiding out in the sea. That lofty plan is enough to classify this guy as a classic Bond villain, but there’s more! This guy also, as is the case with a lot of Ian Fleming characters (though this is not a character from the novel this is “based” on), has a physical deformity. He’s got webbed fingers. Like penguins and whales. This also prevents him from wanting to shake hands. It could be to not reveal his hand, as it were, and it could also make him a germaphobe. Either way, it’s sauce for the goose. It’s a good way to make a fun villain for your fun little action romp.
What else works for him and places him on this list is because he’s well funded, and smart, and steely. He has no problem killing his assistant because she sold secrets. Oh and he did that by feeding her to sharks. He then killed his scientists to make sure they could never be leaned on and that he didn’t have to pay for their work. He did that by blowing up their helicopter and telling their families that he buried them at sea. He also had a real long tube at the end of his gun under his desk to kill people. Bond uses that to shoot him in the junk.
Okay, maybe that last part doesn’t make him a great villain, but all the rest of it, and a great performance by Jurgens, does have that real good aesthetic for a villain in one of the best films of the franchise.
RED GRANT, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
Now this one is a bit of a cheat on my part. Remember, I said I would not have henchmen in this list. Red Grant (played by Robert Shaw) is kind of a henchman. But he also kind of isn’t. In From Russia With Love, there were a trifecta of villains in the field. Naturally, the head of SPECTRE was maneuvering pieces on the gameboard, but Bond was being hunted by the aforementioned Rosa Klebb, SPECTRE heavy Kronsteen, and then Grant. Klebb was manipulating Tatiana Romanova as a honey pot for Bond and she was giving Grant his marching orders in the field. Grant, himself, was trained as an assassin to go out to kill SPECTRE enemies. So is he a goon for SPECTRE? Yes. But he’s also the primary, most direct villain that Bond must deal with throughout the film.
Either which way, I’m counting him for two reasons. The first, he’s following Bond through the majority of the film. Second, he is basically the evil James Bond. This isn’t a turned agent. This isn’t a vengeful agent. This is just a bad version of Bond himself. Also, he’s physically stronger than Bond too. It’s actually kind of lucky Bond is able to dispatch Grant. Their scene on the Orient Express is one of the very first examples I will point to if someone asks what a good scene with lots of tension in a Bond movie is.
ALEC TREVELYAN, GOLDENEYE
Sean Bean’s Trevelyan is the prototype to Bardem’s Silva in many respects, but there’s a bit more of a twist to Trevelyan. In the opening sequence to GoldenEye, 007 and 006 are dispatched to a Soviet chemical facility. However, 006 didn’t come back. He was caught and seemingly executed before Bond could finish blowing up the plant and escape. But it didn’t turn out that way.
Trevelyan must have seen the direction the USSR was about to take in that mid-80s mission because he worked with the head of that chemical facility, Ourumov, to fake his death, and allow for Trevelyan to become the head of a criminal organization calling himself Janus. They end up with a plan to steal a top secret satellite weapon codenamed GoldenEye to throw banks into turmoil and they can loot all the monies.
All of that is bad. But what makes it a little worse is that he was Bond’s best friend. Apparently, they shared everything. They also know how the other thinks. That should even the playing field, but Trevelyan’s betrayal and criminal actions causes Bond to be a little off giving the former 006 a slight tactical advantage. But why is Trevelyan so angry at Britain, besides Bond blowing up the facility before retrieving him (I’m not sure how that figures into this but he brings it up)? Well, Trevelyan is what’s called a Lienz Cossack. They were a group of of Russians who collaborated with the Nazis in World War II, but tried to defect to Great Britain who then turned around to turn them over to Stalin. Stalin then had them executed. So yeah, Trevelyan is an incredibly smart man with knowledge and reason and resources to disrupt the world. That’s a big time baddie.
FRANZ SANCHEZ, LICENCE TO KILL
Okay, I love the movie Licence to Kill. I am absolutely not ashamed of this fact and I will fight for its honor against anyone who wants to come at me for a debate on this. Trust me, you do not want to do this. I will win that debate. Solidly.
Licence to Kill was a bit of a stepchild in the franchise until more recently. It was very nearly rated R, and did receive an Adults Only certificate from the UK board of censors and what have you. It was hyper realistic for the series featuring a villain (played by the great Robert Davi) who was a drug lord and so overly powerful in his region that he could pretty much evade punishment EVERYWHERE. He could buy his way out of American prisons. He controlled the federal government in his country. Through his various drug deals and the empire he built that way, he had lots of friends and allies.
Bond had nothing going against Sanchez. Bond’s friend Felix Leiter and the new Mrs. Leiter were attacked by Sanchez’s goons, headed up by a very young Benecio Del Toro, and she was killed and Felix was left mutilated. Bond, feeling righteous vengeance over the attack on such a personal level, decided to buck his normal protocol and orders and leave MI6 to fight against Sanchez as a rogue spy. He first has to get into Sanchez’s good graces, then he begins to work on Sanchez’s natural paranoia to create a rot inside the system to finally defeat him. Before he can do that, though, he has to dodge the affections of Sanchez’s mistress Lupe (Talisa Soto), get some serious scars and injuries, and overcome his own paranoia without his usual network of resources at his disposal as an official government agent.
It should also be stated that Sanchez was brutal himself and could not just see through Bond’s plot but would have killed him immediately if Bond wasn’t at his very best at all times. It was the first real feasible villain in the series doing real world things. It wasn’t about a guy with a deformity trying to wipe out life on the planet, or running a clandestine global organization with limitless capability, or a guy who build a space station. It was a drug dealer who had everything he needed to manipulate and control.
AURIC GOLDFINGER, GOLDFINGER
I won’t actually deny that in that upcoming ranking of the Bond films, Goldfinger ranks very low – maybe lower than anyone else in their right mind would ever do. If you consider yourself a Bond fan, it’s almost sacrilege to not like Goldfinger that much. Well… I don’t particularly care for this entry like others do. I lay that out in my review. I have reasons for why I don’t like it as much as others, but I will always defend its importance on a grander scale. My personal opinion of a movie that is part of a larger series that I love more than just about any other 24 movies is small potatoes for that very reason.
That said… I like Auric Goldfinger as a villain and the performance put in by Gert Frobe. Frobe knew next to no English and had to be overdubbed, but his presence is fantastic. He’s this rotund older gentleman (in the novel he was younger), but he is someone so totally devoted to the acquisition of more and more gold that he decides to knock over the biggest bank in all the world – Fort Knox. Now, let’s forget that there is no possible way that Goldfinger would be able to pull this off. In the context of the movie, a hyper-realized fantasy action movie that many of the early Bond films were, it’s a wonderful scheme and this jolly old business man just kind of guffaws and chuckles his way through it.
He’s also one of these guys who seems like a big ol’ dummy. I mean he had Bond dead to rights, but he makes a gamble letting him go which ultimately leads to his downfall in the end. His advantage is his money. He can throw enough money around to bully people into doing what he wants. He also doesn’t like to lose. He has to hire escorts to make him look more virile and help him cheat at gin rummy. He constantly golfs… and cheats at that too. You know, if he didn’t have Operation Grand Slam to knock off Fort Knox, he could have run for President of the United States.
ERNST STAVRO BLOFELD, SPECIFICALLY FROM YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE AND ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE
Of course, Blofeld had to be somewhere in this list. The head of SPECTRE has never been played by the same actor twice (until next year). In From Russia With Love and Thunderball, he was just a voice giving out the orders to do some worldwide bad stuffs. Donald Pleasence was the first to play him and show his face on screen in You Only Live Twice. By this time, it seemed as though Blofeld was enough pissed off by Bond’s meddling that he was just done with the extortion bit and was planning war. He seemed almost unhinged but had a freakin’ volcano hideout and lots and lots of guys as an army. He also had a freakin’ spaceship too. Pleasance plays him as this giddy, and petty, bad guy who is so excited to watch Bond fail and/or die. He’s also the only one that has the bitchin’ scarred face and that messed up eye. It’s just classic villainy and everything from his bald head to this outfit became the long lasting inspiration for Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies. This should be the first villain anyone with extensive James Bond fandom should think of instantly.
One movie later, we had a different actor playing Bond (George Lazenby), and a different person playing Blofeld (Telly Savalas). Now Savalas is totally different than Pleasence. He’s calm, cool, collected. He’s freaking Kojak. He’s also kind of back to his old tricks with sewing troubles on an international level. He’s running a place for young women (who all happen to be extremely attractive) to, supposedly, help cure their various phobias. What it really is doing is brainwashing them into being international assassins. Now, the circumstances around why Bond and Blofield look and act so differently is actually cut out of the final film’s script as both of them underwent plastic surgery to fit into their separate undercover aliases. It’s silly, but c’mon… As I said before, this is a fantasy action series. I actually like Savalas’ performance a touch better because he does seem extra nefarious with his deeper voice and more velvety smooth demeanor. Pleasence had the look, but Savalas had everything else.
In Diamonds Are Forever, several people have undergone additional plastic surgery to look like Charles Gray – who is now playing Blofeld. He’s back to his grander, You Only Live Twice style space stuff. I like Gray, but not as Blofeld. It’s unfortunate that Savalas version isn’t around anymore, but at least they explain the plastic surgery. An anonymous bald guy with a cat is unceremoniously offed by Roger Moore’s Bond in For Your Eyes Only, and seemingly that would be the end of that character and his machinations.
Until it wasn’t. Spectre brought back Blofeld in this new “rebooted” continuity that began with Daniel Craig’s first adventure, Casino Royale. But this wasn’t what most fans wanted. We loved the idea of Christoph Waltz playing the giant figure in Bond lore, but we didn’t want his story to be so intertwined in Bond’s family lore. It was a massive misstep that undercut the casting and really came off as a dud.
Still, Pleasence in You Only Live Twice being so giddy to finally be face to face with Bond and Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service being smarmy and downright cool is where this character shines most.
HUGO DRAX, MOONRAKER
Yes, you are reading this right. Hugo Drax is my pick as the #1 James Bond villain. Why is this character my favorite? Well, first and foremost, I defend the hell out of Moonraker. When we have so many movie franchises eventually building and building and building to the point that the only place they can go is into space, Bond did it first. It was the natural progression of the plots of the Bond series to eventually get him to space. It was thanks to George Lucas and his Star Wars that got him there.
But Moonraker isn’t all about Bond in space. It’s about this guy, Hugo Drax. Drax is a supposed forward-thinking futurist who is expanding the limits of science through his Moonraker shuttles. They are the cutting edge in space craft, and he even loans them out to whole countries to mess about with. He’s got oodles of cash and lots of people to help get these things created. He seems to be one of those “for the good of humanity” kinds of guys, but he up to zero good. You see, he’s got a group of hippy-dippy followers that he plans to transport to his hidden space station, and eventually fire off these bombs from space to poison the atmosphere to kill off all the humans on the planet. Over time, he and his selected “master race” would return to a paradise where they would create a brand new human race that will be different from the old human race in some way.
It is important to note that “master race” business because while movie Drax is not explicitly a Nazi, Drax in Ian Fleming’s novel was. So it was a nice way to acknowledge that revelation in the novel.
Hugo Drax is a type of character that I think the real world should take note of. I am sort of kidding when I say stuff like this, but it is worth noting. When someone with unlimited resources and offers huge leaps in technological achievement and enhancement comes to you with these big ol’ ideas, maybe it should be worth a few minutes contemplation as to “why” someone is offering this to us. Maybe the whole concept of what someone is offering is a good thing. Maybe it will benefit us all that we can fly to space easily and with great deals of reasonable practicality. Maybe it’s a good idea to advance ourselves with technology so we can think faster and more clearly, etc. But all this stuff sounds great and could be a real boon for us all, but why is the person offering something that could seemingly be so good but could change us to our cores? If someone came and said they could plug our brains directly to the internet, would that be a good thing? Would the good of being able to think faster outweigh possible ways to hack our brains and fill us with nonsense and what not?
Drax offers these people this real nice idea that they could fly to space, and Drax will return them to a paradise. But in order to do so, everyone left behind must die. It’s this realization of what’s going on that causes fan fave henchman Jaws to turn on Drax and help Bond and Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) bring down Drax and his space station. Without that, Bond loses and we’d all be on a dead planet right now.
By the way, as a joke, I compare Elon Musk to Hugo Drax. Drax taught me to be skeptical of the genius in the room saying all the right things but clearly out after a buck. If I find out Musk has a bunch of pretty people at some compound somewhere and a whole bunch of spaceships, I plan to immediately call MI6 with some very well thought out suspicions about his goings on.
(Also, rest in peace to Drax actor Michael Lonsdale. His deadpan delivery of some of the greatest stingers against Bond ever helps elevate this character for me.)
Next week, things get expansive as I will countdown and rank each Bond theme song from worst to best before doing the same for all the films in the series the week after that! Hope you will join me for the final two weeks of 00 Saturdays!