The 24th film in the Bond movie franchise (50-something years old and running) will be released in the United States this weekend after shattering records in the United Kingdom despite its somewhat tepid critical reviews. I will leave the box office prognosticating to those who know what they’re talking about, but it seems to me that the smashing success of Skyfall three years ago (complete with five Oscar nominations, and two wins - the first ever in the franchise) means that audiences are excited for this one. I sure am.
A-List: Best Bond Movie Villains
By J. Don Birnam
November 5, 2015
So, in the spirit of Bond, let’s look today at some of the best movie villains. What defines a good villain? Well, a number of things. Memorability, a good (aka, really evil but smart) plan to conquer the world or destroy Bond, a solid performance, bone-chilling actions, and hopefully many murders to his or her name. The list is long and wide, but I have narrowed it down to these memorable five.
Note that, as usual, this list will necessarily spoil some key plot points in the movies I discuss.
5. Skyfall’s Raoul Silva, played by Javier Bardem
What could be more evil than a dastardly plan to murder M herself? Bardem has proven himself quite adept at portraying evil (Anton Chigurh is iconic, of course), and here he provided the right blend of the sardonic with the flamboyant, of the comical with the bone-chilling, to earn a spot on this list.
Sure, Bardem’s character succumbs before he can see M perish, but the fatal blow was cast. In the meantime, Silva wreaked havoc on MI6 with a terrorist attack, turned to cyberterrorism after being an MI6 agent himself, and killed one of his own beautiful hench-women. While he lacked a maniacal laugh, his pale-color hair was sufficient to remind us of the No Country killer, and enough to make this one of the most memorable Bond villains.
4. The World is Not Enough’s Elektra King, played by Sophie Marceau
A plot to kill the head of MI6 is one thing, but a plan to off one’s own father to take over his oil business is a whole new level of evil. Elektra’s evil plot to do so is successful, although she ultimately fails in her ultimate scheme of developing a larger oil pipeline when Bond thwarts her efforts.
Elektra is memorable not only because of the cruelness of her ambitions, she is also one of the sexiest and toughest fighters in a long list of female Bond villains. Nothing against Pussy Galore, of course, but many if not most of these evil temptresses either succumb to Bond or turn to the good side, but not Elektra. Elektra remains evil through and through until she is shot square in the chest by Bond himself. Ouch.
3. Dr. No’s Julius No, played by Joseph Wiseman
The original villain in the original Bond film, No is as evil and crazy as they come.
When it comes to background, No has it all: infiltrations with the mob (in this case, the Chinese mob), absent parents that cause him grief and lunacy, larceny (he absconded with $10 million in mob gold), and troubled physicality (his exposure to nuclear radiation cost him both his hands, which have been replaced with metal artifices).
When it comes to evil, No is also not lacking. Rather than a personal vendetta like Silva, or a greedy enterprise like King, No wants to destroy the world by interfering with the launch of nuclear missiles. No also has a long and seemingly interminable list of henchmen, including one who tries to kill Bond with a venomous spider.
As if that were not enough, No even has the temerity of inviting Bond to join in his evil enterprises, and then tries to boil him to death in a nuclear reactor. No’s plans are eventually foiled and he meets his maker when he is unable to climb out of the reactor with those clumsy metal hands, but not before putting Sean Connery as close to death as you will ever see him in his Bond movies.
But it is really the baseness of his motivations that make No so fearful: he’s not driven by revenge or a lust for power of money. He’s simply bat-sh!t crazy.
Oh, and, by the way, at some point No cut his teeth with the evil criminal organization SPECTRE, which is obviously the title of the upcoming Bond film. This is, of course, not a coincidence.
2. GoldenEye’s Alec Trevelyan, played by Sean Bean
For a while there, Sean Bean had a run of truly villainous movie characters, but it was his turn as a Bond villain in the first Pierce Brosnan turn as 007 that really set him apart.
Trevelyan has all the traits of the previous three villains combined and then some. He’s greedy beyond belief like Elektra (his plot involves stealing a fortune from the Bank of England), he has a troubled family past like No (he’s the descendant of Russian Nazi collaborators, which by definition makes him insane), and he is motivated by revenge like Silva (he seeks to destroy England for its role in the death of his parents during the war).
On top of this, he has also infiltrated MI6, beginning the movie as 006, and has plotted to use high-powered weapons to carry out his evil schemes, including a deadly electromagnetic pulse that is supposed to wipeout Britain’s economy.
His list of henchmen and women is also long, and his confrontations with Bond plentiful, although none as memorable as the finale, staged on top of the destructive satellite and ending with his fall to the bottom (only to be crushed by the antenna a few moments later). As Bond overpowers him, Bean captures the sadness of Trevelyan’s evil is captured brilliantly when he forlornly asks Bond, “For England, James?” (a throwback to British soldier motivations during the war), to which 007 simply responds, “No, for me.”
Trevelyan is overall thus memorable for being the most human, in a way. He certainly was one of the least cartoonish of all Bond villains, and the chilling portrayal but villain-extraordinaire Bean helped seal him as one of the most memorable in the Bond franchise.
1. Ernst Stavro Blofeld
But everyone has to move over for the dastardliest of all madmen, the lifetime nemesis, the ultimate villain to end all Bond villains. Blofeld first made his appearance in the second Bond film, From Russia with Love, and has since shown up in four more, although not since 1971. Until now, that is, but more on that in a second.
Blofeld is the most recognizable and memorable of Bond villains, and his signature traits have inspired parodies and villains the world over. The stroking of the white cat, comedic as it may be, is of course used by Inspector Gadget’s Dr. Claw, and the entire persona is parodied well in the Austin Powers series by Dr. Evil himself.
Blofeld does indeed wear the weird little suit that Mike Myers uses in the Austin Powers movies, has the weird scar across his eye, and features a comedic egg-shaped baldness. But, unlike Dr. Evil, Blofeld’s villainy is no laughing matter. His goals are world domination, pure and simple, and his persistence uncanny.
Blofeld is, of course, the head of the criminal organization SPECTRE, and he is therefore also known as Number 1. In the first film he is in, his motivation is simple enough: revenge the death of Dr. No. But his motivations become grander, from using nuclear warheads to extort the governments of the world (in Thunderball) to triggering a war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (in You Only Live Twice), to controlling nuclear stockpiles with space weapons (in Diamonds are Forever). Blofeld was thus the quintessential Cold War villain, cementing his place in the lore of movie history, and providing inspiration to other evil plots throughout film.
The character has been played by screen legends from Telly Savalas to Max von Sydow, but it is arguably Donald Pleasence’s turn in You Only Live Twice (where the signature white cat is most prominent) that is the best remembered.
Bond, of course, was not able to kill Blofeld in several films, despite wounding him. But, at the end of Diamonds, he is presumed dead after Bond smashes his mini-sub several times. So he was finally killed. Or, was he?
Rumor has it that Blofeld, or a variation of the character, makes an appearance in the latest film, portrayed by no other than the two-time Oscar winner and kitschy-villain expert Christopher Waltz.
Watch this weekend to find out for sure…