Another day, another blog post. That’s just how it is during Bond month which, I need not remind you, I made up and which is not a real thing. Today, we’re counting down the best Bond villains in the franchise. You know the drill: top 5, main series only (sorry Max Largo and Woody Allen [look it up]), and this time a special rule. I have only allowed myself to choose one portrayal of arch-nemesis and head of SPECTRE Ernst Stavro Blofeld to include on this list. The character of Blofeld appears in (by my count) no fewer than four Bond movies in the role of the main antagonist, and always portrayed by a different actor. Therefore, I have only allowed myself to choose the best one of these performances for inclusion on this list. More about that later. For now, let’s get to the list.
5- Dr. No
Portrayed by Joseph Wiseman
There are few things harder than portraying a Bond villain. For one thing, you know you’ll never survive longer than two hours. For another, you usually are given some hideous physical deformity in order to more accurately convince the audience that you’re evil. Now, the trope of physical deformity denoting spiritual/psychological evil is an incredibly harmful one and one that we honestly don’t have enough time to go into right now, but I will say that on the outside, Julius No appears normal (almost). His metal hands which in the book are described as little more than rudimentary claws are portrayed in the movie as fully functional anatomically correct appendages, even imbuing their wearer with a type of super-strength. This is a welcome break from the usual Bond trope of bleeding eyes or having three nipples or being able to pull out the top half of your jaw (don’t worry, we’re coming to that one). Dr. No also originated another trait which all of the best Bond villains have, namely that he’s no pushover. Dr. No may be basically a rich nerd, but he is able to hold his own against James Bond. There’s nothing worse in a Bond movie than a villain who gets built up through the whole first act, only to immediately be bested by Bond. It’s not interesting. Dr. No is not that villain.
4- Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Portrayed by Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice
I told you he’d be here. If you’re not familiar with the overarching Bond universe, here is a brief primer: Bond’s main adversary for the majority of the early Bond movies is a private organization called SPECTRE. This organization is headed by one Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Until You Only Live Twice, Blofeld had been seen from the back, from the torso (replete with Persian cat) down, and his voice had been heard, but his face was a mystery. When it came to finally putting a face to that menacing name, Broccoli & Saltzman did an excellent job. Donald Pleasence with an imposing scar across his eye manages to live up to the imposing character which had been built over the past few years and films. The fact that Pleasence never again portrayed the shadowy megalomaniac is cinema’s loss. Again, we highlight the fact that this villain was actually menacing and his threat was genuine. If you’re unfamiliar, this film sees Bond investigating the mysterious disappearances of multiple manned satellite orbiting vehicles of both American and Soviet creation. He manages to track these disappearances to the head of SPECTRE who has been contracted by the heads of an unknown Asian government (speculated to be China) to provoke a nuclear war between America and the USSR. He has decided to achieve this goal by stealing each nation’s space vehicles and blaming the other country. That kind of vision doesn’t come along every day.
3- Francisco Scaramanga
Portrayed by Christopher Lee in The Man with the Golden Gun
Let’s briefly address the elephant in the room. Or perhaps I should say, the third nipple in the room. One of Scaramanga’s distinguishing characteristics (and I feel I should remind you that this is supposed to be the deadliest man in the world, needing only one bullet from his Golden Gun to kill his target) is that he has three nipples. No, really. Not only does this continue that cycle of physical deformity for evil characters, it also results in a bunch of old British men saying ‘nipple’ a lot. Also, there’s a part where Bond (Sean Connery) fakes a third nipple in order to impersonate Scaramanga. With that out of the way, let’s talk about what went right. Christopher Lee, I think it’s fair to say, owned this role. He is able to be so imposing and menacing while at the same time remaining reserved and seeming the perfect gentleman. Perhaps it’s because Lee had actual experience in the British secret service, or perhaps he was just that talented of an actor. Either way, if you haven’t seen this film it’s worth the watch for Lee’s performance alone. Also, fun trivia fact: Christopher Lee was actually related to Bond creator Ian Fleming.
2- Raoul Silva
Portrayed by Javier Bardem in Skyfall
Talk about menacing. From the moment Bardem enters our screen (in a beautifully shot minute long monologue delivered to camera), he is magnetic. He keeps you listening. And that’s the idea, this is a man who is so confident is his ability, he doesn’t need to bother with cheap tricks. Also he pulls his jaw out of his face at one point. If Casino Royale pulled Bond into the modern era, Skyfall made it seem like it had never been anywhere else and a large part of that is due to the menacing, mercurial, murderous ex-MI6 agent Raoul Silva. The one thing that really captivated me about this character upon first viewing was how he is at his core driven by nothing but hate. He so hates the organization which he views as having betrayed him that he is willing (and able, mind you) to blow up the MI6 buildings in the heart of London just to get one person’s attention. If you were to look into his eyes, past the façade of gentlemanliness, you would see nothing but hate. And that’s scary. If any one character can be credited with doing the most to revitalize the modern series of James Bond, I think it would have to be Raoul Silva as portrayed by Javier Bardem. Just watch this movie folks. You won’t be disappointed.
Rosa Klebb, From Russia with Love
Mr. Big/Kananga, Live and Let Die
Le Chiffre, Casino Royale
1- Auric Goldfinger
Portrayed by Gert Fröbe in Goldfinger
Look, I tried to find a villain other than Goldfinger to put at the top of this list, I really did. The simple truth is, he’s the best. I think that while menacing will get you far, the best Bond villains, the really memorable ones, are the ones who possess an unimpeachable sense of style. And boy, does Goldfinger ever have style. He is so committed to his aesthetic that he doesn’t make a laser out of anything other than gold. Some might call that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but I call that commitment to a theme. Goldfinger manages to toe a very narrow line between camp 60’s over the top villainy and genuine evil, and he looks great while he does it. Where Dr. No is reserved and cautious, Goldfinger is brash and loud. He can afford to be. He has, frankly, a genius plan. I don’t really know what else to say, other than this: when it comes to Bond villains, this truly is the gold standard. I’m not sorry.
That’s it for this week! If you have been reading along, thank you so much. I know I often write filtered through a thick lens of sarcasm, but to be genuine, this blog is giving me an opportunity to write seriously and I’m really enjoying it. So thank you for reading, it really does mean a lot to me.
In other news, it’s 1 am and I have work tomorrow. This month is going to kill me, probably.
Tomorrow is going to be Best Opening Title Sequence. Unless I think of something else between then and now.