Whether you did or didn’t agree with our definitive ranking of James Bond actors, you’ve got to admit: the man’s a bloody good spy. MI6’s best agent has saved the world more times than any other action hero — balancing a Walther PPK in one hand and a dry martini in the other. And always, always wearing a dinner jacket.
But it takes a big personality to go toe-to-toe with such an iconic character. And, whether it’s a corrupt dictator, a shady business magnate or a North Korean military colonel-turned-upper-class British diamond dealer (don’t ask), the books and films of the 007 franchise have had a good crack at giving us some top tier villains — with memorable quirks, elaborate lairs and facial scarring aplenty.
And yet, some eyebrow-raisers have slipped through the cracks. And that got us to thinking: would it be possible to definitively rank every main villain from each of the 24 official Bond films? With muddled motives, incalculable body counts and different levels of success, probably not. But we’ve had a good go anyway. Below, see Bond’s big bads sorted into seven tiers of dishonesty, depravity and double-dealing — beginning with the least effective antagonists, and working our way up through the ranks of evil…
Tier #1: The Minor Inconveniences
That might be an understatement. But some of Bond’s opponents have laid indisputably weaker plans than others. Take Dr. Julius No, for example. The titular villain in the franchise’s first film, No is a former member of a Chinese crime syndicate whose hands were damaged by exposure to radiation. Now, with prosthetic paws and a SPECTRE membership card, he uses all of his wiles and resources to… disrupt an early Cape Canaveral space launch using a radio jammer? True, it could lead to World War III. But doesn’t it just seem a bit meh?
The same could be said for Mr Big. Live and Let Die’s villain is introduced as a ruthless gangster and drug lord, before we’re treated to the second-act reveal that he’s actually Dr. Kanaga, a corrupt Caribbean Prime Minister. It would be a great twist, but his evil plan turns out to just be about drugs again — distributing two tonnes of heroin for free to increase the number of users, then raising his prices when everyone becomes addicted. We want world-conquering, far-reaching megalomania from our Bond villains — not neighbourhood drug dealers.
And then we come to Francisco Scaramanga. Played in The Man with the Golden Gun by Christopher Lee — Ian Fleming’s step-cousin, don’t you know — the assassin is a brilliant match for Bond. But his plan — to use a solar power station component called a ‘Solex agitator’ to supercharge his personal solar energy cannon? Ridiculous. That being said — his tropical island is a standout lair in the series.
Tier #2: The Personal Vendettas
You’d think people would know better than crossing James Bond. The man is a trained assassin, after all. And hell hath no fury like a superspy scorned. But you don’t have to tell Alec Trevelyan — an agent himself, and one who thinks himself betrayed by the British government in Goldeneye. In turn, he pulls a fast one on 007 and tries to use a satellite weapon to steal billions of pounds, trigger a global financial meltdown and ruin the British economy. It’s not the sexiest plan, but he gets a memorable death — hanging from the antenna above the Cuban jungle, Trevelyan goads Bond. “For England, James?” he asks, to which 007 replies, “No, for me.”
Crossing Bond will land you in hot water, evidently. But, if you want to be in real trouble, cross his friends. Just ask Franz Sanchez, the drug lord who murdered CIA agent Felix Leiter’s wife during the couple’s honeymoon in Licence to Kill — and maimed Leiter himself with the help of an obliging tiger shark. In the end, after Bond catches Sanchez driving four tankers of cocaine petrol (it’s a whole thing, go watch it) through the desert, he crashes the convoy and burns the drug lord alive. Grim stuff.
But the villain with the most ill-judged personal attack on Bond? Skyfall’s Raoul Silva, who tries to discredit and kill M as revenge for abandoning him earlier in his career. M is the closest thing Bond has to a parent, so when Silva manages to mortally wound her, 007 kills the rogue ex-agent with a knife to the back. Silva’s a great, hammy, genuinely disturbing villain who should be higher up this list — if it wasn’t for the fact that his grand plan wasn’t actually that grand at all.
Tier #3: The Money Men
Money makes the world go round — and can make it come crashing down, too. One of the main motivations of Bond villains (second only to power), the green stuff has corrupted many a man. Auric Goldfinger, for example, the wealthy psychopath who becomes obsessed with gold. His plan? To detonate a dirty bomb in Fort Knox, irradiate the gold and make it worthless for 58 years. His own stash will skyrocket in value and the world will be plunged into economic chaos (much like Trevelyan’s scheme in Goldeneye). Again, a fine plan, but it lacks the theatre we’re looking for — except for that iconic laser-between-the-legs scene, of course.
Even Le Chiffre, another name we’d have loved to place higher up this list, isn’t directly linked to any real atrocities. He may be the banker and financier to many of the world’s worst terrorists, but he’s not pushing any big red buttons himself. The Casino Royale villain does cry blood, however — which bumps him up a few places. And who can forget that whole affair with the naked chair torture? We know it’s seared into our memories…
But it’s all just business at the end of the day. These men may kill, but they’re not evil for evil’s sake. Max Zorin, the bleached-blonde bad guy in 1985’s A View to a Kill, may be the psychopathic product of a Nazi genetic experiment (what a set-up!) but even his plan only amounts to destroying Silicon Valley so he can have a monopoly on the microchip manufacturing industry (what a disappointment!).
Tier #4: The Generals
The Bond franchise really seems to have it in for high-ranking military men. Always hiding something, the moment you see someone waltz in with stripes on their shoulders, you should already be reaching for your Walther. Even secondary villains, such as Goldeneye’s Colonel Arkady Ourumov or Colonel Tan-Sun Moon from Die Another Day aren’t to be trusted. But if there’s one rank 007 has problems with, it’s generals.
There’s General Orlov of Octopussy; the real villain of the piece, who works with Prince Kamala Khan to force disarmament in Western Europe. And General Georgi Koskov, the renegade Soviet general from The Living Daylights who spends most of the runtime up to his eyeballs in potent drugs, assassination plots and the embezzlement of government funds.
But perhaps the shadiest military man in the whole series is General Medrano. Easily the most evil person in Quantum of Solace (don’t even get us started on the drippy non-villain, Dominic Greene), Medrano is an exiled Bolivian general who murders as he pleases, obliterated Camille Montes’ family and is just a thoroughly nasty piece of work. This is where the Bond villains start getting genuinely, unapologetically dangerous — the high-ranking officials who seek power that could affect or kill millions, and the wield it with no pause or penitence.
Tier #5: The Nuclear Options
Now we’re getting somewhere. If a Bond villain doesn’t have a dangerous animal for a pet, a ludicrous lair or a distinguishing physical feature, you’d better hope they have explosive motivations. Thankfully, the threat of nuclear weapons has been the modus operandi of many a bad guy. Or, in the case of Elektra King, a bad girl. The World Is Not Enough shunted its obvious villain Renard — complete with bullet lodged in his head — into the secondary villain role to make space for King. She’s a femme fatale of the highest order, and planned to ramp up petroleum prices by triggering a nuclear meltdown in the waters of Istanbul. One of the most unexpected; one of the best.
Similarly, Aristotle Kristatos — a name you probably don’t even recognise, but the villain of one of our favourite films in the 007 franchise, For Your Eyes Only. A former war hero turned smuggler, Kristatos plans to sell the ‘Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator’ he stole from the Ministry of Defence to the Soviets, allowing them to control the Brit’s ballistic missiles. He’s a spin on both the military villain archetype and the money men above — and has plenty of havoc to wreak.
Just like Emilio Largo, as it happens. SPECTRE’s No.2, Largo should tick all the boxes. He has an eyepatch! He’s got a pool of sharks! He’s got a classic Bond villain plan — steal two NATO atomic bombs and hold the world to ransom for £100 million in diamonds! But he’s still one step away from peak villainy. That would see him forgo the jewels and set off the bombs anyway. Just like…
Tier #6: The World-Enders
Now we’re cooking. These guys are the real deal. The villains who, quite literally, want to see the world burn. Why? Because they’re evil. Evil, evil evil. And excellent characters to boot. Karl Stromberg, the reclusive megalomaniacal antagonist of The Spy Who Loved Me, has a truly bonkers idea. He wants to destroy Moscow and New York City simultaneously, trigger a global nuclear war and raze the world as we know it to the ground. Then, and this is the kicker, he wants to start civilisation anew underwater — from his preposterous aquatic lair, Atlantis.
It’s a wild ride, and one that is rivalled by only a few other entries in the franchise. Moonraker, two years later, gave it a good go. Introducing Hugo Drax, an industrialist and first-rate maniac, he gave us a plan to poison everyone on earth and start civilisation anew from space. Similar motivations to Stromberg above? Possibly. But hey, if it ain’t broke. And who doesn’t want to watch a bad guy with a goatee murder his double-crossing personal pilot with a pack of killer dogs?
Of course, there are those who want to end the world in more realistic ways. And Elliot Carver, the media baron Bond clashes with in Tomorrow Never Dies, is one of them. He wants exclusive broadcasting rights across the vast market of China — and is willing to start World War III to get them. A true psychopath, Carver’s villain is made all the more terrifying by how recognisable — and even inevitable — he seems.
Tier #7: Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Who else? The man’s in a league of his own — so he gets a tier of his own. Whether he’s stroking a cat, buttoning up his Nehru jacket or spectacularly dispatching indolent underlings, Ernst Stavro Blofeld is the true puppet-master of Bond’s continued troubles. He acts as the main antagonist of From Russia With Love, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever and SPECTRE — and pulls the strings in Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Thunderball.
And what have his myriad villainous plans entailed? Take a deep breath, because it’s a long list. He’s orchestrated the theft of an American space capsule by a Russian spaceship in an attempt to provoke global war for China. He’s smuggled diamonds to build a space-based laser weapon and attempted to destroy Washington D.C. He’s planned to hold the world to ransom by threatening to render all plants and livestock infertile. He’s tried to launch a national surveillance network to mastermind criminal activities across the globe. He’s extorted the world with nuclear supremacy multiple times. He’s even murdered Bond’s wife Tracy. He is the perennial, megalomaniacal thorn in Bond’s side.
In fact, he’s such an archetypal villain that he’s been rebooted, parodied, copied and imitated almost as much as Bond himself. And if that doesn’t give him the right to the top spot, we’re not sure what does…