The Ten Spot: Best Bond Baddies!

Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.

This line, oh so typical of the James Bond villains, occurs early in MOONRAKER, far from one of the better Bonds, and spoken by a fairly tepid villain, Hugo Drax. What does this prove? Even at their most mediocre, Bond villains are still awesome.

To be sure- we’ve seen some great ones over the years, and now, with Javier Bardem as Silva in SKYFALL- opening next week (read my review HERE), we have another great one to add to a rogue’s galley like no other. I'm sure many of you will be marathoning the movies (I sure have) to gear up for the latest Bond adventure, making this a great time to examine the franchise's best baddies. And so, without further adieu, let me present my personal top ten Bond Baddies!

1- Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Ernst Stavro Blofeld is EASILY the best Bond baddie of them all. Having cast a dark shadow over five full Bond yarns (along with a nameless cameo in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), Blofeld dominated the franchise in the sixties. For reasons unknown, the producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman kept recasting the part- but to me, the best of the bunch is Donald Pleasance in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE.

Essentially, there would be no Dr. Evil without the Nehru-suited, scarred, cat-loving Pleasance incarnation of the role. A tiny fellow, with a totally shaved head, Pleasance should have played the part over and over. Watching it for the umpteenth time last weekend, I noticed that his Blofeld never, ever blinks- which makes him all the more disturbing. Afterwards, the role was taken over by Telly Savalas (way too American, suave, and sane), and then Charles Grey (way too fey- more like a closeted English politician that a memorable baddie). If it were up to me, in the next two John Logan-scripted Bond films, Blofeld would be reintroduced- as I’m sure the right actor, mixed with Daniel Craig’s gritty Bond, could make an iconic villain (my crazy choice would be Bryan Cranston, or- after digging into BOSS- Kelsey Grammar- a more classic-style Blofeld would be Toby Jones).

2- Red Grant

Of all the Bond baddies, none ever posed the physical threat that Robert Shaw’s Red Grant did. An evil doppelganger to Connery’s Bond, Shaw is amazing as the sadistic, cunning Grant. For the first two-thirds of the movie, he never utters a single word, until meeting Bond aboard the Orient Express, where he poses as a foppish fellow agent. This ruse gives way to the ice-cold killer we all know him to be, and his brutal battle with Connery’s Bond is probably, twenty-one films later, still the franchise’s best fight.

3- Auric Goldfinger

No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!

Without speaking a single word of English (he was dubbed) Gert Frobe created one of the all-time best Bond villains, and the prototypical megalomaniacal baddie. His Auric Goldfinger wants to irradiate the world’s gold supply, thus increasing the value of his own reserves 100 fold. If he happens to kill thousands of people along the way, so be it. Unlike Shaw’s Red Grant, or even Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No, Goldfinger, weighing a porty 300 pounds, in no match for Bond physically, but his cunning and power is what makes him a threat. Heck, if he hadn’t let Bond get inside his head, he could have ended the franchise, with Connery’s Bond almost losing his private parts when strapped underneath Goldfinger’s laser (possibly the franchise’s most iconic moment).

4- Silva

I know, I know- isn’t it a little soon to be declaring Javier Bardem’s Silva one of the best baddies of the fifty year-old series? Well, maybe- but the fact remains Bardem is excellent. Truth be told, there hasn’t been a really great villain since 006 in GOLDENEYE, and Silva makes up for crappy ones like Dominic Green or Robert Carlyle’s Renard (probably the worst baddie of the franchise). In many ways, he’s like Bond gone amuck- and the similarities between the two, especially in their respective relationships with Judi Dench’s M, makes SKYFALL one of the most riveting films in the franchise’s history- and for my money, Bardem seriously deserves some Oscar-love.

5- 006

Pierce Brosnan's era kicked off with one of the best Bond villains in years- courtesy of Sean Bean's Alec Trevelyan aka 006. Brosnan- who was probably in the prime of his life when he started playing Bond (not as boyish as he was on REMINGTON STEELE, but still relatively young) and Sean Bean, who could have probably played Bond himself (and apparently was screen-tested) was a good physical match. In fact, his high-ranking here doesn't have a heck of a lot to do with the characterization, which was only so-so, but rather the great mano-a-mano fight that caps the film off, with Bond evenly matched for probably the first time since Red Grant. Sadly, the rest of Brosnan's villains were terribly weak.

6- Jaws

OK- so Jaws isn't really a villain, and more of a henchman, but it can't be denied that Richard Kiel made a huge impression on audiences in 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. He was so popular that they brought him back for the next movie, but- in one of the franchise's dumbest moves, his popularity amongst kids led to him becoming a good guy in the climactic scenes. Sigh. Oh well, throughout SPY and much of MOONRAKER, he's pretty damn memorable.

7- Scaramanga

Great villain. Terrible movie (in my opinion- the worst). Too bad, as Christopher Lee's Scaramanga deserved a lot better. Throughout much of the film, he's actually a relatively sympathetic guy, at one point telling a heart-breaking story about how the only friend he ever had was a pet elephant that was killed by it's cruel master- who subsequently became Scaramanga's first victim. One of the things that annoys me about MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is Bond- as played by Roger Moore (who hadn't yet found his groove) and his sanctimonious treatment of Scaramanga, who he demonizes for killing for money (as opposed to killing for king and country as Bond does). All in all, one of the more interesting villains, brilliantly played by Lee- but, again, the movie is virtually unwatchable.

8- Sanchez

One of the few "real world" villains of the series, Robert Davi's smooth, sophisticated drug lord Sanchez, seems to be a thinly disguised version of Pablo Escobar. A cruel bastard, who in addition to regularly whipping his girlfriend, also feeds Bond's BFF Felix Leiter to the sharks (BIG mistake). Of course, Dalton's tough as nails Bond takes him down in one of the most gruesome kills of the franchise, but for a while there- Sanchez, as played by the cooler than cool Davi, seems pretty formidable.

9- Max Zorin

How could I not include the one Bond villain played by Christopher Walken on my list? While, as written, Zorin comes off as little more than an eighties-style Goldfinger on a diet (replace gold with microchips, and Oddjob with Grace Jones' May Day), Walken embellishes the character with enough of his own quirkiness to make the part memorable. The final axe-fight on the Golden-Gate bridge is pretty great, even if the film is only so-so (it's actually better than most people remember). I'd actually love to see Walken come back as another villain, as nearly thirty years later, he truly looks like a different man, and would be easy to accept in another part.

10- Dr. No

The baddie that started it all- Dr. Julius No, as played by Joseph Wiseman. While the Fu-Manchu make-up is dated, the larger-than-life scheme, his cool voice, and steel hands set the stage for much of what was to come. Despite only showing up two-thirds of the way into the movie, Wiseman makes a huge impact, and the final fight with Connery is a good one. Trivia- Wiseman actually voices the role of Blofeld in THUNDERBALL.

Honorable Mention: Elektra King

Forget Renard, Sophie Marceau's Elektra King was the true villain in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH. She uses her feminine wiles to not only seduce Bond, but- in a nicely played bit by Brosnan, actually makes him kinda fall for her, and feel sympathy for her in the end. The finale, where he coldly kills her as a disapproving, teary-eyed M looks on really drives home the differences between Brosnan's Bond, and Daniel Craig's. While Craig has a somewhat mother-son style relationship with the cold M, Brosnan barely tolerates her in his films, and his relationship with King is the key to their dynamic.

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