The 43 Best James Bond Characters Of All Time
Throughout the 23 Bond films made to this day, there has been an incredibly fascinating array of characters. Some of them are compelling, some of them are boring, some of them are accidentally cast as John Cleese. But of the hundreds of characters, many are memorable, be it because they are hilarious, terrifying, bizarre, or profound. These are the best characters in the entire series — 43, to be exact:
43. Vargas (Thunderball)
Vargas is an archetype of the evil henchman in James Bond films. He is cold, ruthless, and entirely stoic. The writers of the script for Thunderball (Vargas was barely mentioned in the novel) made the conscious decision to give Vargas no distinguishing characteristics. Not a single one. There’s even a scene where Emilio Largo says to Bond, “Vargas does not drink. Vargas does not smoke. Vargas does not make love. What do you do, Vargas?” Vargas does not answer, maintaining a piercing glare. Why they didn’t choose to cast Jean Claude van Damme as Vargas remains a mystery to this day.
42. Three Blind Mice (Dr. No)
With Dr. No, you have to grant certain leniencies. It was the first film in the Bond franchise and had yet to develop many signature elements of the movies. The Three Blind Mice are one of the strongest assets of a film that lacks an overarching identity. They are a trio of blind beggars, except they aren’t actually blind or poor, they just kill people. It’s a pretty creative and entertaining addition to the ensemble. Incidentally, there’s also a trio of blind men who occasionally sing Motown hits in the train station near my house, and sometimes I can’t help but wonder if they murdered John Strangways and his secretary.
41. Dr. Carl Mortner (A View to a Kill)
I hope that, as a society, we never forget that the James Bond franchise very transparently modeled a character after Josef Mengele. Mortner (his real name was Hans Glaub) was a Nazi scientist who did ethically questionable human experiments, then went undercover after World War II and helped Max Zorin hatch some more fucked up plans. He is the mad scientist stock character on steroids — or maybe just adrenaline, which he injects into horses in his spare time to help Zorin win money gambling. Overall, Dr. Mortner is one of the most over-the-top crazy characters in the entire James Bond canon, which is not a light claim.
40. Ladislav Kutze (Thunderball)
Ladislav Kutze is a Polish nuclear scientist who villain Emilio Largo employs to help handle the stolen nuclear weapons. He’s meek and awkward, like real life nuclear physicists. For most of the movie, he follows Largo’s orders, but in the end, he realizes Largo is a dick1 and rescues smangin’ heroine Domino Derval, who in turn kills Largo with a harpoon as he’s about to shoot Bond. Despite his limited screen time, Kutze makes the list because A) he was an accomplice in a fatal harpooning, a badass feat regardless of the victim, and B) he was a fairly realistic character. Unfortunately, he is presumed to have died when Largo’s yacht hit a piece of land and exploded. By the way, yachts explode when they run aground.
39. Naomi (The Spy Who Loved Me)
While Naomi is certainly not the first femme fatale in the Bond franchise, she takes the trope to a new level. Previous temptresses, like Fiona Volpe and Helga Brandt, exemplified classic beauty and graceful seduction. Naomi, on the other hand, is one layer of make-up away from Braveheart and has chestiness equivalent to Iggy Azalea’s assiness. She looks like she was plucked from an MTV reality show rather than brought up in the English countryside. Her tactics are also far from genteel — she chases down Bond in a helicopter2 before he shoots her down with underwater-to-air missiles, which every iota of science education I’ve had would tell me are completely implausible.
38. Tee Hee Johnson (Live and Let Die)
I suppose we have to start with the above photo. That still-frame alone puts Tee Hee Johnson on the list. Look at that suit! Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the 1970s were a real time period that happened. Tee Hee, the villain Mr. Big’s right-hand man who, in an ironic twist of fate, does not himself possess a right hand, gets his name from his tendency to chuckle for no apparent reason. This guy loves laughing almost as much as he loves trying to kill James Bond. And that arm-hook! Tee Hee Johnson is basically Captain Hook with a more flamboyant sense of fashion and a deeper love for crocodiles.
37. General Georgi Koskov (The Living Daylights)
Most Bond villains hatch outrageous plans. Hijack spaceships, destroy the world, start a nuclear war — you get the idea. Koskov’s aspirations, on the other hand, seem almost plausible. Play the Soviet Union and Britain against each other while stealing Soviet funds to purchase opium, which will in turn be traded for advanced weapons. In the single most bipolar political environment in human history, Koskov has the cojones to be a non-state actor, lying to the brass on both sides. He’s an actual mastermind.
36. Erich Kriegler (For Your Eyes Only)
Kriegler is an East German Olympic biathlete who also works for the KGB. First of all, that’s brilliant. I don’t believe anyone has ever watched the biathlon during the Olympics and not assumed at least a couple of the competitors have, at some point, killed people professionally. I certainly haven’t. Moreover, Kriegler adheres to that delightful stereotype of assassins modeled around Red Grant in From Russia With Love — blonde hair, blue eyes, sharp jawline, cold demeanor. In fact, if you watch enough Bond movies, you start conflating a Northern European Aryan appearance with a stoic pleasure in killing. Walking out of a high school swim meet alive feels like cheating death.
35. Nick Nack (The Man With the Golden Gun)
Midgets are fucking awesome. It’s honestly surprising that Nick Nack was the only midget featured in a Bond film, but his exclusive ownership of the James Bond Midget category makes it all the better. Nick Nack is the personal assistant to Francisco Scaramanga, the villain in The Man With the Golden Gun, although their dynamic is complicated by Nick Nack’s known desire to have Scaramanga killed in order to inherit his estate, which Scaramanga sees as an enjoyable challenge. At the end of the movie, Nick Nack angrily accuses Bond of being a “big bully” when Bond shoves him in a suitcase. Oh boy, Salon thinkpieces would fly like stray bullets if this movie were released today.
34. Pussy Galore (Goldfinger)
In the expansive history of reckless heavy-handedness, nothing — no James Cameron blockbuster, no Lisa Lampanelli zinger, no Macklemore social commentary — will ever dwarf Pussy Galore.3 Even compared to other Bond characters like Octopussy, Plenty O’Toole, and Dr. Goodhead, Pussy Galore is the unassailable empress of unapologetically flagrant sexualization. As a character, she’s also a certifiable badass. She’s the first girl in all the Bond movies to actively deflect Bond’s immodest sexual advances, and when she does ultimately give in, it’s because 1) Bond uses a level of physical force that even Roger Goodell would acknowledge, and 2) she has decided to defect to Bond’s side. Did I mention that she’s a world-class pilot who leads a troupe of ladypilots known as “Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus”?
33. Dr. Kaufman (Tomorrow Never Dies)
The late 90s and early 2000s were essentially the Dark Ages of forced comic relief in action movies. In this particular Dark Ages analogy, the death of Justinian in 476 AD marking the beginning of the period is probably equivalent to this unspeakably awful scene in The Rock (1996):
The Comic Relief Dark Ages continue for several years, accelerating with Con-Air and reaching a high watermark with the ruthless tenure of Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars franchise and every scene featuring Gimli in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. But in this era characterized by a dearth of good comic relief, there lies a hidden gem: Dr. Kaufman, who adds a perfect touch of goofy-but-still-dark humor and an unusual amount of comedic nuance for a Bond film.
32. Mischka and Grischka (Octopussy)
Mischka and Grishcka are twins who throw knives and assassinate people, the latter usually accomplished through the former. They’re an act at the circus and they wear matching scarlet turtlenecks with leather vests. It’s all very confusing, but also quite entertaining. Sadly, a gratuitous Coors Light campaign in the early 2000s dethroned Mischka and Grischka from their spot atop the list of “America’s Favorite Twins.”
31. Vijay (Octopussy)
Vijay’s character is not only an affable ally of Bond’s, but also one of the best in-jokes in the whole franchise. Vijay is played by Vijay Amritraj, a professional tennis player in the 1980s, and the movie is unabashedly self-referential about this fact. In one scene, Vijay actually kills an enemy henchman with a tennis racket in a scene that has onlookers twisting their heads back-and-forth like spectators at a tennis match. Vijay also wins us over in his first appearance in the movie, during which he plays the lute to a snake for no discernible reason. Vijay’s death in the middle of the movie ranks among the saddest deaths in the series.
30. Valentin Zukovsky (GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough)
Valentin Zukovsky is one of Bond’s many acquaintances who walks a fine line between friend and foe. The two have a patchy history (read: Bond shot Zukovsky in the leg a while back), but they also tend to have the same enemies. Zukovsky is a stellar character because he fulfills basically every single stereotype about post-Cold War Russia: he is an ex-KGB agent who is now a mafia boss, thanks to the fortune he made opening a bar, casino, and Beluga caviar factory. Sadly, Zukovsky dies at the end of The World Is Not Enough (because we clearly needed more reasons to dislike that film) in his attempts to avenge his nephew’s death.
29. Boris Grishenko (GoldenEye)
Let’s momentarily set aside the fact that this actor also plays Floop in Spy Kids; that’s something that takes a fair amount of spiritual reflection to reconcile. Boris is a prodigiously talented computer hacker (mind you, this is the mid-1990s, when the notion of computer warfare was only in its infancy) in the employ of Alec Trevelyan, the MI6 agent-turned-villain. Boris is a terrific character because, even 20 years later, his computer nerd personality is totally discernable. He’s a little perverted, very arrogant, and only cognizant of issues as they relate to him (which is why he’s easily recruited by an evil mastermind). It’s no stretch to imagine Boris Grishenko today, making patently misogynistic remarks on Reddit threads and stridently decrying federal encroachments on net neutrality while ignoring social injustices against marginalized groups.
28. May Day (A View to a Kill)
If this list were an exploration of “Bond Characters I Would Least Want to Fight One-On-One” or “Bond Characters I Would Be Most Nervous to Hit on at a Bar,” May Day would be a shoo-in for #1. She’s the most physically intimidating person — man or woman — I’ve probably ever seen. Obviously, Bond movies have a tendency to spare the explicit details of his sexual encounters, but one must wonder: What the hell was it like for Bond sleeping with May Day? There’s no way it was even remotely typical. Alas, some wonders must go untold. At the end of the day, May Day makes the list because she’s distinctive, badass, and defects to aid Bond in his attempts to foil Max Zorin’s evil scheme. And, of course, because she effortlessly lifted that poor guy over her head.
27. Kronsteen (From Russia With Love)
It’s a shame that Kronsteen only gets a couple minutes of screen time in the Bond movies. He’s a fascinating character — when he isn’t busy being the greatest chess player in the world (a slightly heavy-handed but always fitting idiosyncrasy of an evil genius), his job title is something to the end of “Architect of Evil Mastermind Plans.” Can you imagine how goddamn smart you have to be to have that job? SPECTRE, the Justice League of Evil Masterminds, hand-picked Kronsteen, from the population of the entire world, as the best guy to devise evil plans for them. In a perfect universe, Kronsteen would be a fixture of every Bond film, consulting with the best villains and showing the ropes to aspiring villains. He could be like a Karl Rove who doesn’t make any efforts to veil his raw malice. Instead, though, he got kicked in the shin with a poisonous spiked boot, as do most great minds, eventually.
26. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, and For Your Eyes Only)
No list of great Bond characters is complete without Blofeld, the granddaddy of Bond villains. Where to even begin? I suppose with his cat, right? Blofeld’s cat has become an icon of eccentric malevolence. If you’re playing Charades and you have to act out “evil genius,” what’s the first thing you do? That’s right, you stroke a fake cat.
Yep. Every time. Always with the cat. Are there any other “Blofeld stroking cat” gifs? Goddamn right there are.
The cat alone would put Blofeld on the list. But Blofeld is so much more than his pussy. He’s also comically indestructible, lasting through six movies before Bond is finally able to destroy him. Most importantly, he’s the leader of SPECTRE, and even to this date, probably the highest profile criminal Bond has defeated. Blofeld is the essence of classic Bond.
25. Emilio Largo (Thunderball)
Emilio Largo is not the most colorful Bond villain, nor is he the most memorable, but I think he’s one of the best of all time. This is why: his personality is, to a tee, how you would expect a real-life extortionist to be. He’s not a singularly brilliant or gifted man, but he possesses ambition, means, and a talent for making people believe he has their best interests at heart, even when he doesn’t. Bond defeats Largo not through his abilities as a spy, but by simply leading two of Largo’s allies — Domino Derval and Ladislav Kutze — to realize that Largo doesn’t actually value their lives. In addition, Largo may have had the most ironclad plan of any Bond villain. It took a remarkable amount of luck on Bond’s part to foil Largo’s plot, and realistically, Largo’s plan to steal nuclear weapons and use them for extortion would work 99 times out of 100.
24. Lieutenant Hip’s Nieces (The Man with the Golden Gun)
For someone whose occupation is founded on the necessity of human intelligence, James Bond has an astonishingly small number of friends. Thus, when he actually does have allies, we like them a lot more. Lieutenant Hip is a solid ally throughout The Man with the Golden Gun, but is a pile of shit compared to his nieces (whose names we do not know), who are really fucking good at martial arts and save Bond’s ass. They’re only in the movie for about a minute, but they make those boys from the Muay Thai school look like a bunch of white-belt pussies who are only doing martial arts because their parents told them they had to take a self-defense class after hearing that an older boy got mugged three towns over. All hail Hip’s nieces, fierce Queens of Muay Thai. Slaaaaaaaay.
23. Necros (The Living Daylights)
Necros is another enemy henchman akin to Red Grant, Erich Kriegler, and the like: tall, blonde, down to business. I am particularly fond of Necros because he has to use some rather unbecoming disguises, including “milkman,” “jogger,” and “balloon man,” and shows not an iota of shame about them. He just does his job, listening to his headphones and occasionally using them to strangle people. If you have any more doubt that Necros is among the best henchmen in the Bond series, behold the saintly work of YouTube user “Flexxo,” who made a supercut of Necros’ best moments and set it to the most appropriate music imaginable.
22. Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger)
Auric Goldfinger is another classic centerpiece of Bond lore. He’s a modern spin on King Midas, boasting an obsession with gold4 that ultimately leads him to try to infiltrate Fort Knox. However, Goldfinger is a timeless character for more than just his aurulent fixation. When he captured Bond, he nearly followed through with a plan to subject Bond to Laser Dick Removal™, and famously retorted, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” Goldfinger is arguably the most iconic Bond film, and Goldfinger himself is a large part of that.
21. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd (Diamonds Are Forever)
I’ll level with you: Diamonds Are Forever is a pitiful movie. It really is. It has an aging Sean Connery who fails to exude the energy he did in previous films; it has Tiffany Case, arguably the worst Bond girl; it stretches Ernst Stavro Blofeld into his third film, using a less compelling actor; and it has one of the less interesting plots. There’s nothing remarkable. But hidden in this shitty movie is a — please, please forgive me — diamond in the rough in the team of Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. The duo carries out dirty work for Blofeld, mostly assassinations, and in a film franchise centered around characters who push the limits of reasonable weirdness, these guys are stand-out freaks. They are so inexplicably creepy. If we’re being honest, they’re only a couple of bathrobes and unibrows away from being the McPoyles in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They talk only in soft, affectionate voices, like the type of voices you use when you want to make your friends uncomfortable. They say kitchy things to each other and it feels unnatural. You want to shiver every time they’re on screen. To be fair, most of the discomfort is likely caused by Mr. Kidd’s mustache-mullet combo, but regardless, Wint and Kidd deserve a decent spot on this list for how memorably weird they are amid a forgettable installment in the series.
20. Brad Whitaker (The Living Daylights)
In The Living Daylights, Whitaker is one of two central villains — an American general who is dealing arms to General Koskov in exchange for opium. Even for a Bond villain, Whitaker is prone to incredible delusions of grandeur, fueled by his obsession with military history and its most famous figures. In the iconic climax of the movie, Bond tracks Whitaker to his home in Tangiers, where Whitaker has an elaborate series of figurines set up to reenact famous battles. A fight ensues, resulting in Whitaker getting crushed to death under a bust of the Duke of Wellington, because the British would never think of missing an opportunity to remind the world that they defeated Napoleon.
19. Oddjob (Goldfinger)
I like to think that when Ian Fleming sat down and created Oddjob, it went something like this: He wrote down about 30 normal traits of evil sidekicks on individual slips of paper, and put them in one pile. Then he wrote down about 30 fucking outrageous traits of evil sidekicks on individual slips of paper, and put them in another pile. Then, with little fanfare, he drew two slips from each pile. From the first pile, he pulled “super human strength” and “always wears a tuxedo.” From the second pile, he pulled “mute” and “only weapon is a top hat with a blade in the brim.”5 These traits — mostly the last two — make Oddjob one of the most comically fantastic characters in the entire series.
18. Le Chiffre (Casino Royale)
First of all, *snaps* to Le Chiffre for not letting his irrepressible penchant for weeping blood prevent him from funding the world’s most powerful terrorist organizations. That alone is inspiring. Le Chiffre is Bond’s villain in Casino Royale, and a worthy opponent at that; his prodigious mental abilities allow him an advanced understanding of statistics and probabilities (among other things), making him a very talented investor and poker player. Le Chiffre could outwit almost anybody in the world. He’s arguably the most intelligent Bond villain of all time, and if not, he certainly cracks the top three. It’s simply his misfortune that he has to go toe-to-toe with the one man who can apparently outmaneuver him.
Doesn’t help that he’s a big nerd, though:
17. Honey Ryder (Dr. No)
Okay, I’ll just go ahead and acknowledge the sexually aroused elephant in the corner: Yes. Of course Honey Ryder’s ranking on the list is boosted by the dwindling remains of my hormone-addled adolescence. I could go on a ten-year sabbatical and live amongst Buddhist monks, abandoning all earthly pleasures and focusing only on my spiritual self, and my rankings would still fall victim to Honey Ryder’s unimaginable hotness, even within a field of contestants characterized by unimaginable hotness. Half-chubs aside, Honey Ryder is a terrific character. She walks around a strictly prohibited area wearing only a bikini and a hunting knife, because she wants to collect seashells to sell illegally in Miami. More importantly, Honey Ryder is the first Bond girl, and forever the most classic one.
16. Colonel Wai Lin (Tomorrow Never Dies)
In the taxonomy of Bond girls, there are varying levels of field capability. Many Bond girls lack any useful skills, serving only as an easy-on-the-eyes accessory to Bond’s mission and style. Some are actively counterproductive to his objectives, even when they’re supposed to be trained agents (looking at you, Mary Goodnight). At the very top of this hierarchy is Colonel Wai Lin, who is almost indisputably the most skilled Bond girl. For the first segment of the movie, Wai Lin actually appears to be Bond’s competitor, until they realize they’re working to unearth the same information. When they do start working together, Wai Lin puts up with absolutely none of his shit. It’s not a stretch to imagine Bond being Wai Lin’s sidekick, and not the other way around.
15. Kamran Shah (The Living Daylights)
Kamran Shah is the Oxford-educated leader of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan who aids Bond and his paramour Kara Milovy toward the end of The Living Daylights. On one hand, that’s awesome, if for no other reason than James Bond somehow enlisting the help of a religious revolutionary group. On the other hand, Kamran Shah would probably have gone on to be a ranking member of the Taliban, which is sort of uncool. But let’s just look at Shah in the particular historical moment of The Living Daylights. He’s one of Bond’s most unexpected allies in the series. He also hijacks a bulldozer and uses it to trash buildings in a Russian camp, which is pretty awesome. He laughs hysterically and makes obscene hand gestures when his captors are subdued by Bond. Above all, though, Shah befriends Bond and Milovy, even maintaining a relationship with them after the enemy is defeated, resulting in this chilling moment that proves the timeless nature of racial profiling:
14. Kincade (Skyfall)
Kincade is the groundskeeper at Skyfall, where he helps Bond and M defend the estate against Raoul Silva and his men. The crew at first leaves something to be desired, until you realize that Kincade is a fucking badass who uses mirrors to confuse his enemies, blows them through the wall with a sawed-off shotgun, then calmly says, “Welcome to Scotland.”6 He also looks after M (or “Emma,” as he calls her) and, to the best of our knowledge, doesn’t try any funny business with her. Although when they’re that old, it’s not really funny business, it’s just gross business.
13. Major Anya Amasova, or Agent XXX (The Spy Who Loved Me)
Triple X is a KGB agent forced to cooperate with Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me to foil plans that are adversely affecting Brits and Soviets alike. Triple X is the first Bond girl who rivals him in wit and skill, outmaneuvering him on a couple of occasions. Of course, that doesn’t stop Bond from being an asshole and making off-color comments about her driving skills. Triple X becomes even more of a wildcard when she discovers that Bond killed her husband on a previous mission in the Alps, and vows to kill him when the mission is over. She obviously doesn’t kill him, because she can’t resist Roger Moore’s dad-like allure.
12. Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale)
As widespread perceptions of gender roles evolved, it was only a matter of time until the Bond movies realized the importance of having a heroine who was actually meaningful. Enter Vesper Lynd. Vesper is an associate of Bond’s in Casino Royale who matches, and sometimes bests, him in wit and style. Bond falls in love with Vesper — not just as a momentary slampiece like most Bond girls, but as someone he loves enough to resign from MI6 toward the end of the movie. In all fairness, it’s not the first time Bond has “fallen in love.” In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond falls in love with and marries Tracy di Vicenzo, but it was a love story so half-assed you’d expect to find it in a Taylor Swift song; their “love” develops mostly through a brief montage of them riding horses together. Bond and Vesper actually love one another, which is why Vesper maintains secrecy about the threats on her life to save Bond’s. Her death sends Bond into a self-destructive spiral that results in a series of vengeance killings. Long story short, Vesper Lynd — besides being intelligent and very capable — adds an entire new dimensionality to Bond’s emotional vulnerability and volatility.
11. Alec Trevelyan (GoldenEye)
For a franchise about espionage, there’s surprisingly little betrayal throughout the Bond films. There are people with an unclear allegiance who end up becoming enemies, but few characters defect from friend to foe. Trevelyan, formerly Bond’s partner, 006, breaks this trend in GoldenEye. Bond leaves Trevelyan to die after a botched mission in the beginning of the film, but Trevelyan survives and conspires with Soviet General Ourumov to hatch a plan for world destruction. Upon encountering Bond, Trevelyan raises questions about the morality and value of espionage, becoming arguably the first character in the films to suggest some systemic problems with MI6. And on top of all that, it’s Sean Bean. Who doesn’t like Sean Bean, besides all the people who kill him in every single movie he’s in?
10. Xenia Onatopp (GoldenEye)
Essentially every single element of the Bond films reaches — and then unapologetically violates — its logical limit at some point during the Pierce Brosnan era. In GoldenEye, the first Bond film starring Brosnan, no time is wasted jumping the shark with the femme fatale trope, thanks to our lovely Xenia. We first meet Xenia when she and Bond race sports cars down a mountain road in a sequence that’s just one tire swing away from being a Cialis advertisement. We then see a few scenes of her taking pleasure in killing people. And it’s not a malicious pleasure, it’s a lustful, intensely sexual pleasure. Don’t believe me? Here’s what she looks like when she mows down a room full of computer programmers:
Then there’s another scene in which she strangles a man to death during sex. He dies sporting an O-face of mythological proportions, a once-in-a-generation sort of O-face that makes the earth tremble and the skies open:
No female villain, not even Mayday, will ever be as intense or terrifying or ridiculous as Xenia Onatopp. Talk about BONDage, am I right?
9. Raoul Silva (Skyfall)
Along with Alec Trevelyan, Silva is the only other former MI6 agent who turned against them to become a villain.7 But Silva is more colorful even than Trevelyan. He has a flamboyant personality. He makes unambiguous sexual advances on Bond, while Bond is his hostage.8 He wears a retainer that makes his face look fucking terrifying when he removes it — so terrifying that I’m not going to put it in this article because that means I would have to look at it again. The most impressive thing about Raoul Silva is that he is probably the only Bond villain that really, truly strikes fear into the audience’s heart. He has played the long game against MI6, and is able to outmaneuver them at every turn. He’s hacked into their computer system and might have even come close to turning 007 against the organization. A combination of his silly personality, Javier Bardem’s stupendous acting, and his character’s talent for staying one step ahead of his opponents makes Silva one of the best Bond villains of all time.
8. M (Every movie except For Your Eyes Only)
There’s a little bit of grey area here, because I’m really only talking about Judi Dench’s interpretation of M. Before Judi Dench, the actors who played M — even the iconic Bernard Lee — made him a predictable, one-dimensional character. Judi Dench takes M in a whole new direction, giving M a clear-cut set of values and priorities that are often at odds with 007, which creates an exciting, evolving dynamic between the two. She isn’t afraid to leave Bond out to dry from time to time or express her hesitance to place faith in him. She calls him out for being “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and still manages to garner his respect. It will be very exciting to see how Ralph Fiennes continues to build M and his strained professional relationship with Bond moving forward in the series.
7. Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye)
007 typically encounters two types of heroines: the skilled spies, like Wai Lin and Triple X, and the useless bimbos, like Stacey Sutton and Tiffany Case. Natalya is a unique breed of the two: she is very smart and capable, but has never done any espionage work before. She’s something that wasn’t really seen in the Bond films before her debut: a woman who is very intelligent in a way that’s totally independent of Bond’s line of work.9 Natalya is able to be of some use to Bond as well, which makes her all the more impressive as a female heroine. She’s indispensable to the plot, which is also rare for a Bond girl. Beyond that, she questions Bond’s ethics and style on numerous occasions. She distinguishes herself as one of the first (and only) truly independent and empowered heroines.
6. Felix Leiter
(Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, Licence to Kill, The Living Daylights, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace)
If you are a close friend and accomplice of James Bond’s who isn’t a beautiful woman, you are usually dead by the end of the movie.10 Felix Leiter has, much to his credit, made it through the entire Bond series thus far. He’s had near misses, sure, but they only make him more impressive. For example, the man survived a shark attack. Who the hell survives a shark attaack? Felix fucking Leiter. And what came of that shark attack? Bond quit MI6 so he could personally avenge his friend. And what came of that mission for vengeance? The best scene in all 23 movies, when James Bondstradamus casually invents the Greatest Spring Break Beverage Ever twenty years before its time, like a fratty Nicola Tesla:
But I digress. Felix Leiter is the only man in the world who Bond cares about enough that he would risk his life and his mission to save him. There are many women (really any woman who is an 8 or higher) for whom he would risk everything, but Leiter is the only man.
The issue with Leiter is that in nine film appearances, he is played by seven different actors, so he struggles to build the rapport with the audience like other recurring characters. Fortunately, the most recent Leiter — esteemed actor Jeffrey Wright — is far and away the best, and hopefully around for the long haul. I’d even be okay if he only had one line in each movie, as long as it were this line:
5. Donald “Red” Grant (From Russia With Love)
Let’s get this out of the way: Is there even a sliver of a chance that Red Grant was not the inspiration for Barry from Archer?
No way, right? Okay, good. Just making sure. If it is true, Barry would be far from the only evil assassin built around Red Grant. As I mentioned earlier, Red Grant is remembered as the ultimate Bond assassin; a cold-blooded killer who doesn’t think twice about why he’s killing Bond, only how he’s killing him. In fact, the opening scene of the movie isn’t even about 007, it’s about Grant killing a fake Bond in some sort of assassin scrimmage. Grant laid the foundation for many assassins and henchmen to come, including Erich Kriegler, Necros, Richard Stamper, Hans, and others.
4. Francisco Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun)
First off, casting Christopher Lee as the villain has never, ever gone wrong and never will.11 Hell, even Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones couldn’t fuck up his acting, and they fucked up almost everything they possibly could. Lee plays Francisco Scaramanga, who is in the upper echelon of Bond villains for a number of reasons. For one thing, Scaramanga is uniquely interesting in that he doesn’t personally have any desire to destroy the world or bring harm to mankind; he’s just an excellent assassin and businessman. He kills for sport — not out of any animalistic instinct, but because he enjoys the challenge.12 His backstory is interesting, too: growing up, he worked as a trick shooter in a circus, and acquired a taste for killing when he avenged the euthanization of a circus elephant for whom he cared greatly. Bond wants to stop him from selling the Solex Agitator, a crucial component of an advanced weapon, and Scaramanga wants to kill Bond as the magnum opus of his career as an assassin.
Scaramanga is one of the most exciting and multi-dimensional villains in the series, to the point at which you feel almost disappointed when Bond kills him.
3. Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker)
There have been a myriad of goofy villains on Bond, some of them quite memorable and compelling. None of them come within a mile of Jaws. Spanning two films, Jaws is a henchman of Karl Stromberg and subsequently Hugo Drax. He is, first and foremost, indestructible. Seriously. He falls from hundreds of feet without a parachute, gets crushed under scaffolding, and drives a car off a cliff, and every time, just dusts himself off and gets back to business. In one especially memorable scene, he gets thrown in a shark tank and defeats the shark. Toward the end of Moonraker, though, Jaws decides to defect to 007’s side when he realizes villain Hugo Drax means not to spare him and his surprisingly busty girlfriend Dolly when he destroys the world. That’s when Jaws — stranded in an exploding space station and facing certain death — delivers his only line:
Jaws is hands down the best henchman in the entire Bond canon.
2. Q (Every movie except Live and Let Die, Casino Royale, and Quantum of Solace)
Q is one of the only hallmarks of the classic 1960s Bond style that — with a few minor exceptions, such as maybe the above screenshot — does not assail our evolved definition of what is politically correct today. He’s simply a jolly old man who likes making ridiculous weapons. What could even be objectionable about that? His ongoing dynamic with Bond is also a lovable mainstay of the films, as he always insists on Bond using the weapons properly and not recklessly destroying them (which Bond, being kind of a dick, always does). There’s something sadly soothing about watching Q’s face turn to despair every time Bond starts using one of his gadgets. Just watch:
1. Max Zorin (A View To A Kill)
There are a lot of things that, as a society, we don’t spend enough time discussing. Few items on that list rank higher than the fact that Christopher Walken played a Bond villain who was the product of Nazi experimentation on a pregnant Jewish woman in a concentration camp. Max Zorin, who has grand plans to use high-powered explosives to trigger an earthquake in the San Andreas fault that would destroy Silicon Valley (an unnervingly achievable goal), is impeccably portrayed by Walken. He’s wealthy, ambitious, cool, and completely crazy. The craziness takes some time to become clear, naturally, but when it does — hoo boy, it becomes very clear.
The image of him laughing maniacally while going full John Chivington on his own employees puts him in the hall of fame. Zorin alone makes the movie, despite Tanya Roberts flatly portraying a boring character and Roger Moore limping through his last uninspired performance as Bond, entirely worth watching.