They say a hero is only as good as his villain. If that's the case, James Bond has certainly created a name for himself battling the many, many memorable villains he's faced off against over the years.
There are so many strong tropes associated with James Bond that earned the franchise such an iconic place in mainstream pop culture. There’s the now-famous James Bond theme song, the several incarnations of the character played by multiple different actors, and the numerous best-selling songs performed by some of the greatest artists of all time, including Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger,” Tina Turner’s “GoldenEye,” and Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die.”
However, perhaps the biggest contribution the James Bond franchise has ever made to pop culture is 007’s famous villains, all of whom are nearly popular as the international super-spy himself — if not more so.
The Absolute Best James Bond Villains of All Time
Like most James Bond fans, we’re very excited to see what Rami Malek’s still very mysterious villain, Safin, will bring to the franchise in No Time to Die. In honor of that upcoming movie, we decided to look back at 007’s unique list of villains and rank them. For this list, rather than rank the villains from worst to best, we specifically looked at villains who were the absolute highlights of the franchise today, starting the list with great antagonists and ending it with absolutely iconic ones.
GoldenEye was a deeply important movie in Bond's history. After audience favor with the super spy soured a bit during Timothy Dalton's run as the character, the film's producers tried to make a more updated, modern movie that still paid homage to the nature of the original 007 movies. It also featured Bond's best adversary during Pierce Brosnan's time as 007 in the form of Alec Trevelyan.
A former 00 agent and one of Bond's best friends, Trevelyan faked his death and formed the Janus crime syndicate, an international organization of arms dealers. As part of his plot, Trevelyan attempts to hijack a large weaponized Soviet satellite and destroy London to avenge his Cossack parents who were handed over to the USSR by the British army and promptly killed. By introducing a personal friend of Bond as an enemy, Trevelyan was unlike most villains in the Bond canon, making it a personal mission while also deeply messing with Bond's psyche.
The backstory is that he was seeking revenge against Britain for some injustice from 1945 was a bit much — they could've just gone with the fact that he's angry that MI6 left him to die on a failed mission or something, much like Skyfall’s Raoul Silva. Regardless, Sean Bean's Trevelyan was a welcome addition to Bond's rogue's gallery of villains, earning him a distinguished place as one of the most formidable frenemies that Bond ever went up against.
Like fellow entrants on this list, Francisco Scaramanga, Elliot Carver, Dr. No, Renard, and Elektra King, Max Zorin is a key example of a great villain who unfortunately finds himself in an otherwise underwhelming Bond film. Similar to Alec Trevelyan, as well, Zorin finds himself with a bit too much backstory than is really necessary. A Nazi scientific experiment to breed the perfect human specimen, Zorin became a successful American entrepreneur after defecting from the KGB.
Either backstory would’ve been fine, but regardless, Zorin — along with his henchman, May Day — were the true highlights of this so-so Bond flick, with Walken stealing practically every scene he was in. Devious, manipulative, deranged, and extremely intelligent, Zorin was one of the best main Bond villains to ever cross paths with Roger Moore's 007. It's just a shame he wasn't featured in a better movie.
Tomorrow Never Die‘s Elliot Carver is an interesting character on this list — namely because his plan is so ridiculous and over the top, even by Bond movie standards. Carver is the head of a larger news broadcast who wants to stage the news by inciting a war between China and England and be the first to provide coverage of the entire thing. It's a plan that literally doesn't make any sense, and is so mind-numbingly dumb that it's still baffling they decided to make a movie out of it.
However, Jonathan Pryce's interpretation of the character brought Carver completely to life, making him easily one of the most despicable villains in any movie ever. He's a total narcissistic, smug, self-satisfied egomaniac that Pryce plays so well, you don't even care that his plan is stupid, allowing you to spend the whole time waiting for Bond to finally beat this guy. If any other actor but Pryce played him, we don't know if Carver would've made this list — Pryce just throws in that much energy into the character, he becomes someone who you actively root against throughout the entire movie.
From Russia With Love, the second Bond film in the franchise was surprisingly progressive for its 1963 release. Rosa Klebb, thus far the only female main antagonist Bond has ever faced, seemed a breath of fresh air for a genre dominated by male actors. A former Russian spy turned double agent for SPECTRE, Colonel Klebb is one of the most intelligent, manipulative villains the franchise has ever seen. She nearly succeeds in her plan to kill Bond, at one point almost killing him with a poisoned knife coming out of her shoe, only failing because her agent falls for Bond, totally disrupting her plans.
Klebb seemed to signify the start of something really fresh and unseen before in an otherwise not very inclusive 1960s' spy thriller genre — an ingenious female villain who is smarter than many of the men around her. It's just a shame that so few female villains have played vital roles in subsequent Bond films since.
Henchperson: Xenia Onatopp
As mentioned above, the Bond franchise, unfortunately, has far too few female villains, and up to 1995's GoldenEye, it had been an incredibly long time since 007 had crossed paths with a formidable female antagonist, the last example being On Her Majesty's Secret Service‘s Irma Bunt in 1969.
Xenia Onatopp, though in possession of a fairly sophomoric, risqué double name, represents the best of both Bond worlds — though in possession of a silly name and gimmick (she's a henchperson who derives literal sadistic pleasure from inflicting pain on others) that would be commonly found in the Connery or Moore Bond movies, she also represented the much more serious type of villain that Brosnan and later Daniel Craig would routinely face off against.
Not just one of the best henchpeople in all of Bond, she also remains one of the best villains in the entire franchise — one of the few secondary villains who actually stole from the show from the main antagonist.
Dr. Julius No
Dr. No not might be the first Bond villain written by Ian Fleming (that title goes to Le Chiffre), but as the first cinematic villain ever adapted from the original novels, Joseph Wiseman's portrayal of the titular Dr. No set the standard for what audiences would come to expect from traditional Bond antagonists.
He demonstrates the distinct physical appearance and “gimmick” of a Bond villain (in this case, he's a mad scientist with robotic hands), has a unique hideout (a hidden fortress in the Caribbean), and has an elaborate plan to sew chaos in the world (disrupt an American rocket launch) — all traits that future Bond villains would share.
More a supervillain than a realistic spymaster, Dr. No is one of the top agents at SPECTRE, a secret organization that would serve as one of Bond's most dangerous enemies, as well as the first operative Bond encounters from the syndicate in the films.
In a world of kitschy megalomaniacs with plans for conquering the world or holding it hostage, License to Kill‘s Franz Sanchez was a welcome change of pace for the Bond films. He's not someone who plans on triggering a nuclear meltdown or blowing up a country or anything like that — he's just a cold-blooded, sadistic drug lord who wants to continue running his illegal operation. That is until he gets in Bond's way, of course. After escaping from DEA confinement and targeting Bond's best friend — force-feeding him to sharks and killing his wife — Sanchez escapes to South America, with Bond chasing him on a revenge mission.
Few villains have really managed to make things personal with Bond or draw out the kind of anger and emotion that Dalton's Bond displays throughout License to Kill as well as Robert Davi's Sanchez. He's a much more realistic villain than many others on this list, which perhaps is one of the reasons that he's also one of the most terrifying. Davi's sudden burst of emotion, going from calm and collected to homicidal lunacy, spelled a very grounded take on the traditional Bond villain.
It's hard to know exactly what to classify The World Is Not Enough‘s Renard as. He starts off the film firmly in the role of main antagonist, and even when it's revealed that Elektra King, Bond's love interest in the movie, has secretly been partnering with Renard the entire time, elevating her into the main villainous spotlight, Robert Carlyle's tough-as-nails Renard refuses to fade into the role of secondary antagonist. He's just that great a villain. In the context of the film, Renard is a rogue KGB agent turned terrorist, who, years ago, was nearly killed in an assassination attempt that left a bullet lodged in his head, rendering him unable to feel any physical sensations whatsoever, including pain.
The only drawback is that, when the bullet, which has slowly been passing through his skull, finally reaches his brain, he'll be killed. Honestly, it's an awesome concept, and Carlyle portrays the villain extremely well, playing him with a sense of a man literally on the clock who has a mission to complete. He's a dangerous physical and mental threat to Brosnan's Bond, and is one of the few remarkable features in an otherwise subpar Bond flick.
Renard shares the spotlight in The World Is Not Enough with Sophie Marceau's Elektra King, a wealthy oil heiress who was kidnapped and held for ransom by Renard, though her father (on the advice of M [Judi Dench]) refused to pay for her safe return. Enraged, King partners with Renard in a plot to gain a monopoly on petroleum oil by triggering a nuclear meltdown in Istanbul.
As previously mentioned, female villains are kind of a rarity in the James Bond movies — especially one who begins initially as a romantic interest for 007, and then turns out to be in league with the villain the whole time. It's a brilliant plot twist in an otherwise underwhelming movie, making King a distinct antagonist who is able to get in Bond's head and make him genuinely conflicted on how he should feel about her, earning her a distinguished place among Bond’s lengthy list of enemies.
Easily the best villain Daniel Craig's Bond has ever faced — no disrespect to Le Chiffre, a close runner-up and brilliantly played by Mads Mikkelsen —Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva is a former British MI6 agent turned cyberterrorist seeking revenge against his former employer, M (Judi Dench). His simple, elegant plan (kill M) is symbolic of the new age Daniel Craig era, showcasing everything a modern villain should be and that they don't have to have some sort of over-the-top plan for world domination.
Bardem managed to infuse so much personality into Silva yet still left plenty of room for the mystery behind the character's past. What's more, Bardem's character wasn't even taken or modeled after any villain from the Fleming novels — he's a completely original character, and is easily able to beat out classic literary Bond villains like Blofeld and Le Chiffre, proving that, in this day and age, filmmakers might not have to rely too closely on the books (which are either extremely dated or have been already made into movies).
The quintessential Bond henchman, Oddjob may be just as popular as Goldfinger‘s titular main antagonist, if not more so. The series' previous henchman, Red Grant, played by the great Robert Shaw, may have introduced the idea of a villainous goon that provides a physical threat to Bond in From Russia With Love, but it's Goldfinger's now-iconic second-in-command, Oddjob, that established so many tropes that would become associated with secondary Bond antagonists.
Hardol Sakata's silent, well-dressed, hulking henchman has a distinct appearance in Goldfinger, playing an unstoppable, bowler-hat throwing henchman who will go to extreme lengths to follow his employer's orders and eliminate Connery's Bond once and for all. The entire franchise owes the character a significant debt of gratitude for establishing the standard Bond archetypal villains, and he manages to do it all without even uttering a word.
Just as iconic as his theme song, Goldfinger directly rivals Blofeld as the most well-known Bond villain out there. The first Bond villain had in years that wasn't directly related to the villainous organization, SPECTRE, Goldfinger offered a fantastic one-off adventure for Bond which is arguably the most beloved movie in the franchise, largely due to its eponymous villain and his equally awesome henchman, Oddjob.
We don't know what it is about Goldfinger that makes him so iconic — it could be his off-kilter obsession with gold, his over-the-top plan to nuke Fort Knox and thereby increase the value of his own gold supply, his now-famous quip (Bond: “You expect me to talk?” Goldfinger: [surprised] “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!) — but whatever it is, this dastardly little maniac has proved to be one of the most recognizable villains in all of Bond's numerous movies.
A fan-favorite Bond villain, Jaws might also be one of the most recognizable villains in all of pop culture, rivaling fellow Bond favorites like Oddjob and Blofeld's in terms of sheer popularity. One of the few Bond villains to be featured in more than one film, Jaws — played by the late, great Richard Kiel —is a hulking giant of an assassin who uses his razor-sharp metallic teeth and powerful jaws both as a weapon and a tool to bite through pretty much anything.
A henchman that refuses to die, even when seemingly being killed time and time again by Bond, Jaws is a man on a mission whose job brings him face to face with Moore's Bond in repeated fight scenes. Though Jaws first appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, totally stealing the spotlight from the otherwise weak antagonist Karl Stromberg, his reappearance in Moonraker severely watered down the character, turning him into a bumbling henchman providing comic relief, complete with a completely out-of-character change of heart that seems him aiding Bond and defeating the main baddy, Hugo Drax.
It's unfortunate that one of the best villains in all of Bond had to be featured in one of the absolute worst 007 movies. Still, Francisco Scaramanga, the titular “man with the golden gun,” was a welcome addition to Bond's rogue's gallery of villains, brilliantly played by the always-entertaining screen legend, Christopher Lee. In many ways, Scaramanga was the best villain Roger Moore's Bond ever faced during Moore's run as the character, serving as the one redeeming quality in an otherwise pointless, campy, boring mess of a movie.
Cold, suave, and efficient, Scaramanga is supposedly the most dangerous man in the world, and perhaps the most infamous hitman that money can buy. The Bond equivalent to Kraven the Hunter from the Spider-Man comics, when Scaramanga sets his eyes on a target, he needs only one bullet from his signature golden gun to finish the job. How in the world the filmmakers screwed up such a promising villain from that description alone, we will never know.
Henchperson: Red Grant
Perhaps the most underrated Bond villain of them all (We know you're probably thinking, “Who the hell's this guy?” right now), Red Grant is easily the best henchman in all of Bond, beating out fan-favorites like Oddjob and Jaws. From Russia With Love cemented the standard format for 007's villains — with the main antagonist usually being the “brains,” and the secondary antagonist being “the brawn,” something that would be seen time and time again in subsequent James Bond films.
Few henchmen, however, can truly compete with the original secondary antagonist, Red Grant, played by the equally underrated, always enjoyable Robert Shaw. Grant was the complete antithesis of Bond's character, serving basically as SPECTRE's evil version of 007. Aloof, professional, effective, and completely sadistic, Shaw's white-haired assassin posed the first real physical threat to Connery's Bond, resulting in one of the best fight scenes of Connery's tenure, and the first that left the audience wondering “How in God's name is Bond going to beat this guy?”
Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Were there any doubts about who would be Number One? It may be cliché to name Blofeld as the absolute best Bond villain, but with how iconic and closely associated the character has become to 007, it's impossible not to name Blofeld as the series' ultimate villain and most notorious Bond's arch-enemy.
Whether he's played by Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, Christoph Waltz, or Charles Gray (yes, we even like Diamonds Are Forever‘s campier version of the character), or directly parodied by Mike Myers' Dr. Evil, Blofeld is easily one of the most recognizable villains in all of pop culture. With a rivalry as famous as the battles between Joker and Batman or Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty, Blofeld remains one of Bond's consistently most dangerous enemies, and also one of his most popular.
Since his on-screen debut nearly 60 years ago, James Bond has faced some of the most notorious cinematic villains of all time. Regardless of the decade or the actor portraying 007, we believe this list best represents the ultimate James Bond villains thus far in the franchise. Additionally, we also really liked Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Grace Jones’s May Day in A View to a Kill, and Julian Glover’s underrated Aristotle Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only, all of whom very nearly earned a place on this list.
Will Rami Malek’s Safin earn a spot among these legendary villains? Be sure to check out No Time to Die in theaters this October to find out.