Friday, August 28, 2015

Top Ten - James Bond Villains

Is Sanchez's pet iguana an evil iguana bought
from an evil pet store?
I’ve heard it argued that the better the villain in a James Bond movie is, the better that movie is all the way around. Now I’m not sure I believe that. Skyfall is one of the best James Bond films (in my opinion) and the villain doesn’t particularly stand out in that one. Personally I think it takes a well shaken cocktail of ingredients to make a James Bond movie fire on all cylinders.

I will concede that a great villain doesn’t hurt the films’ chances. So here are my top ten James Bond villains (plus one). This is all in good fun, and maybe pointing out a few you may have forgotten.

Runner Up Max Zoren A View to a Kill (1985)
OK, I admit I have a weak spot for this movie. It was the first James Bond film I saw in theaters. I know, poor unfortunate me. But even though this film is pretty unimpressive all the way around, Christopher Walken as Max Zoren is one of the most memorable villains in the franchise. I mean he is Christopher Walken-ing all over the place in this move. Over the top? Sure, but he’s supposed to be a Nazi created superhuman, so really can you blame him?

Walken is blonde, pops his eyes out threateningly and comes at Bond with an axe at one point. I love that he says the word “schedule” with a full on British pronunciation in one scene and then says the word “power” with a full on New York accent in another scene. It is a pure Walken performance and in this goofy movie, it just adds to the surreal value. So yeah, honorable mention for sure.

10. Xenia Onatopp Goldeneye 1995
Famke Jannsen steams up the screen any time she’s on it – even dressed in a jumpsuit as a helicopter pilot… Ok, maybe not in that scene. She’s sex crazed and psycho and I love her for it.

She can kill people by crushing their ribs with her thighs, and she gets off on it. She mows down people with machine guns, smokes cigars and just generally is one of the best over-the-top henchmen in the series. She’s having a blast in the role, and it really comes across. She is actually a bit intimidating, because you just don’t know what she’s gonna do next. A fun performance and certainly one of my favorite baddies in the series.

9. Ernst Stavro Blofeld On Her Majesty’s Secret Service 1969
When it comes to the 1960s James Bond films, the main villain is the bald, cat owning Blofeld. And while most folks feel Donald Pleasence gave the definitive performance of the role in You Only Live Twice, I have to go with Telly Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Yes, he uses his bald cranium to come up with devious schemes, but he is also a physical match for James Bond. The two actually face each other in this film, and Lazenby and Savalas make for a good opposing pair. Savalas is intimidating when he needs to be, but also this air of sophistication and urbane confidence. No film in the original 20 ever really captured the character from the novels quite right, but Savalas is the best of the bunch.

8. Red Grant From Russia With Love 1963
But the first real threat to Bond came in the second film, when Robert Shaw first kills 007 in front of our eyes in the pre-credit sequence. Red Grant then spends the rest of the movie as a well-muscled and dangerous shadow. He lurks in the background of scenes like a tiger stalking the kill.

This combination of fine suspenseful directing and editing (guided by director Terence Young) combined with Shaw’s intimidating stature and confidence really works. Red Grant is a frightening character, and when he makes his move and pretty much overpowers Bond, you really think, this is it, James is a goner. Rarely were the following films able to capture that sense of danger with a single character.

7. Le Chifre Casino Royale 2006
The Daniel Craig films went out of their way to humanize and ground their villains. It fit the tone these films were going for, but also made the villains less entertaining. In a way that is fine, because the focus of the movies became James Bond and not the baddies. But Le Chifre as performed by Mads Mikkelsen, is one of the best villains of the series.

Part of it is the desperation in the character. As Le Chifre’s plan begins to unravel, we can see him losing control and willing to do just about anything to win the high stakes game. This fear in his eyes makes him a much more compelling villain than someone like Gustav Graves from DieAnother Day. It’s a great performance and one that makes the torture scene even more riveting, because you know Le Chifre has nothing to lose.

6. Oddjob Goldfinger 1964
How can I not have a space for one of the most iconic henchmen in film movie history. Everything works here. Harold Sakata’s silent performance, with that deadly smile. His debonair outfit and bowler hat. Even the tinkling chimes that John Barry adds to the film score whenever he is on screen. Oddjob is much like Red Grant in that we see him in action early on, but he lurks in the background for a good portion of the movie, and we just wait for him to strike.

His final battle with Bond inside Fort Knox is a classic. We know Bond is physically overmatched. But 007 is fighting for his life, and the only way he can take down Oddjob is with his brains. Really a classic villain and personally I think he is more effective than his much-lauded master.

5. Jaws The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979)
As good as Oddjob is, I just like Jaws a little bit more. For me it is Richard Kiel’s performance that makes the whole thing work. When he is in full killer mode in The Spy Who Loved Me, he is terrifying. His immense stature, and those brutal teeth are nightmare fuel. He makes short work of several folks early on, and we really start to worry about Bond.

But unlike Oddjob and Red Grant, Bond and Jaws face off several times in the film. As before, Bond is not able to battle this man with strength alone, it takes quick thinking to escape from Jaws. But what makes it all work is Kiel’s reactions when he is thwarted, it’s a kinda of annoyed “oh well, I’ll get him next time” sequence. It makes Jaws more human and relatable. We get a good laugh after the thrill and that works perfect. The creators over egg the pudding in Moonraker and it hurts the character, but in The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws is one of the best.

4.  Fiona Volpe Thunderball 1965
But my favorite henchman (hench woman… is that a word?) has to be Fiona. She’s sexy as all hell, confident, deadly and for the bulk of Thunderball’s running time, the most effective minion SPECTRE has. When she blows away a useless minion using a motorcycle that launches rockets, its hard not to fall for this bad girl. I love that she target shoots as well as Largo, our main villain.

After several failed attempts on Bond’s life, Fiona decides to show these jokers how it is done, and she gets damn close to pulling it off. Thunderball is one of my favorite 60s 007 flicks, and Fiona Volpe as performed by Luciana Paluzzi is one of the main reasons.

3. Electra King The World is Not Enough 1999
Most of my readers have figured out by now that I like tough dangerous women in my fiction. So it should be no surprise to see Electra on this list and this high up on it. She is one of the most manipulative and charismatic villains James Bond ever faced. The way she uses 007 and Renard to get what she wants is really remarkable, and never seen again in the franchise.

Sophie Marceau’s magnificent performance is what makes it work. She’s seductive, dark and intense. In her final confrontation with Bond she really gets the better of him, and it is a tense sequence. It is such a shame that her character and performance were attached to a confused script and the fact that the only thing anyone remembers about this movie is Denise Richards.

2. Franz Sanchez License to Kill 1989
The final two villains were really neck and neck, and it was nearly impossible for me to pick one over the other. But in the end I had to. Sanchez is probably the best of the grounded villains in the franchise. He’s not after world domination, or hatching crazy schemes. He’s all about maintaining his drug empire and keeping anyone stupid enough to mess with him out of his way. He is ruthless, but has his own code that we understand and can even respect. He’s a cunning guy, and it becomes obvious how he managed to maintain and control his operation.

Robert Davi’s performance as Sanchez is perfect. I love the relaxed arrogant way he talks to Bond. And he holds his own with Dalton in the scenes they share together. It is hard to tell who is more cold blooded, Sanchez or his pet iguana. Once Bond’s plan to destroy Sanchez’s operation from within kicks into high gear, Davi lets us see the Sanchez lose more and more control until we get to the insane truck chase and the fiery conclusion. Another example where the main villain is a perfect match for Bond and it creates tension and thrills when they face off.

1. 006 Goldeneye 1995
That is why it should come as no surprise that I pick Alec Trevelyan as my favorite James Bond antagonist. He literally is 006, the dark and distorted mirror of James Bond. He has all the same training, the same knowledge and worked closely with Bond on previous missions. When he goes rogue, it raises all kinds of problems, because 006 can literally anticipate 007s every move.

Sean Bean’s performance is what sells the whole thing for me. He’s great in the role of the tarnished superspy. His scenes in the pre-credit sequence we see his camaraderie with James, but also show he is much colder than Bond. His later scenes with Brosnan are great, and the final hand-to-hand battle on top of the radar dish is brutal and intense. Sadly the writing doesn’t really give Bean too much to work with plot wise, but his performance as this most dangerous of characters makes him my favorite.

Who are your favorite Bond villains? Did I leave anyone off the list that should be on? (I know there are some serious Goldfinger fans out there).


  1. Been watching some Bond lately. I really enjoyed On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Savalas was a good villain, and I love the location. I think location plays a large part for me on whether or not I'll get drawn into the story. That's one of the things about the Bond franchise there are several things that make them work: the sexy women, the villains, location, story, gadgets, stunts, etc.

    I saw Goldeye, and I know it's a lot of people's favorite films, but I didn't get into it quite as much as they did, bearing in mind I'm a huge Connery fan. It did come on too late, and I need to rewatch it. It did seem to have a bit more humor in it aside from the one liners. I also got to see Moore's Live & Let Die, and like most Bond films, there's something to like, however I didn't care for the location as much. Fun stuff though.

    Good call on the villains.

    1. Yeah, the Swiss location for "On Her Majesty's..." is amazing. The camerawork in that film is really impressive, especially some of the work done during the ski chases. If you see some behind the scenes of how they filmed that stuff, your jaw will drop.

      "Goldeneye" has a ton of nostalgia related to it. So it ends up being a favorite in spite of some of its short comings. I still think it is the best of the Brosnan films, but as I've said before, I really see the Brosnan era as a missed opportunity. So much potential and the lack of a focused direction for the series ends up with a bunch of disjointed films.

      The Brosnan films did have a lot more humor in them. Keep in mind he came after Dalton. Lots of folks criticized Dalton's take on 007 as being too serious and intense (because he came right after Moore). So they attempted to bring more humor and fun to the Brosnan films. It was really a mixed bag with how they approached it. I think "Goldeneye" more a less got the mix right. "Die another Day" got way too jokey and silly. Brosnan does humor well, so it seemed like a good fit. He really was more in the Roger Moore vein of 007, more serious, but still able to turn on the charm when needed. More like Moore from "For Your Eyes Only".

      "Live and Let Die" is not high on my list. Moore is really the best part of the film. And as you said, the location, while very different from any other Bond film, isn't as exotic or visually impressive.

  2. Walken always manages to be riveting even when the role isn’t very good. OHMSS is my favorite Bond film – partly because of Diana Rigg, partly because I was 16, and partly because of the script – and Telly makes an interesting Blofeld. Since Goldfinger was the first Bond movie I ever saw, I have some affection for it, and I agree about Odd Job. He is rather like the Green Hornet’s right hand man Kato – outperforming his boss in every way, but by preference keeping the #2 spot. I like Javier Bardem’s performance in Skyfall, but I would have liked to see his character have grander plans than just revenge – revenge as a lagniappe is one thing, but as primary motive it is petty. In general, I like villains who seem to be enjoying themselves. I mean, if you’re not having fun being the bad guy, what’s the point?

    1. Yay! I'm glad more folks are rewatching OHMSS and giving it the appreciation it deserves. It's been in the shadows too long. Rigg is excellent in the film. I've seen some folks criticize the fact that she looks nothing like Tracey as described in the book (who is younger and blonder). But that doesn't matter at all to me. The performance nails the key aspects of the character. She's awesome in it.

      I know a lot of folks who really like Bardem. He just didn't click for me. "Skyfall" as a whole is really excellent. But to me, he was the weakest part. His performance seemed a bit too quirky to me. But he did seem to be having a lot of fun. When it comes to gleefully maniacal villains in the Bond franchise my favorites are Walken as Zoren, Jonathan Pryce as Elliot Carver. Pryce nearly made it to my list. He is just so jolly about his wicked idea. But Walken just edged him out.

  3. Quite surprised Christopher Lee's Scaramanga doesn't appear on this list. He single handily makes perhaps the worst Bond film watchable.

    1. You know, I really considered it. He plays the role so straight and you really wish that he had been put into a good Bond film, because the character is actually really good and Lee's performance really clicks. As good as he is, the fact that I didn't remember him until after I published this list says something. I think it says more about the movie than anything else, actually.

      I really should add him as a runner up at least, but he may actually push his way to the top ten and force Xenia down a peg. Need to ponder that.

      Thanks for commenting!