"World domination, the same old dream," taunts James Bond in Dr. No, 007's first big-screen adventure. It’s a line as pointed as Rosa Klebb’s poison-tipped shoes, aimed at the film’s black-gloved villain and echoing through the Bond franchise for nearly 60 years.
From Joseph Wiseman’s Julius No to Rami Malek’s Lyutsifer Safin, villains are as crucial a part of Bond’s cinematic DNA as femme fatales, gadget-laden cars, and the Pinewood Studios tea trolley. It’s their outrageous schemes that drive the plots, their cold indifference to human life that justifies 007’s license to kill. They have the coolest choice in real estate, from private islands to undersea bases, and frequently nab the juiciest lines ("Look after Mister Bond. Make sure some harm comes to him."). Some of them are even cat lovers.
But it’s not all diabolical masterminds in Bond’s pantheon of evil. Equally unforgettable are the heavies and henches, the hired muscle that go fist-to-fist with 007 while their masters threaten the globe from the comfort of their swivel chairs.
This countdown salutes them all. So join us in our volcanic lair as we rank the twenty greatest Bond villains of all time. Do mind the piranha pool, won’t you? They’re such hungry little things…
20. Stromberg – The Spy Who Loved Me
You can’t fault this web-fingered entrepreneur for ambition: shipping magnate Karl Stromberg deploys a supersized tanker to snaffle nuclear subs while scheming to engineer World War III, eradicate the world’s surface-dwelling population and command a new, sub-aquatic civilisation. Frankly, he makes Jeff Bezos look like a start-up. Stromberg also has immaculate taste when it comes to diabolical lairs, lurking in an oceanic bolthole that rises from the depths like some eerie hi-tech tarantula. Bavarian-born actor Curt Jürgens brings a cold-eyed menace to the role even if he’s ultimately eclipsed by the screen-stealing charisma of his own henchman, Jaws.
19. Hinx - SPECTRE
Ex-grappler Dave Bautista found big-screen fame as lovable lunk Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. 2015’s Spectre recruits him as a classic Bond heavy, a silent, dapper thug in the Jaws and Oddjob mould. He even has a lethal gimmick: reinforced thumbnails, ever so useful for spooning out his victims’ eyeballs. Spectre doesn’t make the most of Bautista’s considerable charm but he earns his place in this list for a staggeringly brutal tussle with 007 aboard a Morocco-bound train, a scrap so authentically badass it had real life consequences. Craig broke Bautista’s nose while Bautista gifted Craig with a knee injury that shuttered production.
18. Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd – Diamonds Are Forever
It’s fitting that this pair of offbeat assassins share a place in this countdown – they are, after all, as inseparable as sex and violence in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. True, their unspoken but obvious homosexuality is played with a dated sense of camp but Bruce Glover – father of Crispin Glover – and Putter Smith, a West Coast jazz musician, taking a rare acting gig, imbue the duo with a compelling weirdness that suits the film’s off-kilter tone. Wint is creepily malevolent, forever dousing himself with cologne, while Kidd’s hippy hair and ‘tache conceal a fellow psychopath, able to turn even flaming kebabs into Bond-menacing weapons.
17. Elliot Carver – Tomorrow Never Dies
"I’m having fun with my headlines!" declares megalomaniac media mogul Elliot Carver in Brosnan era entry Tomorrow Never Dies. Like some unholy offspring of Mama Blofeld and Rupert Murdoch, able to topple governments with a single broadcast, Carver reflects the unstoppable rise of 24/7 news channels in the ‘90s. "Words are the new weapons, satellites the new artillery," he boasts, attempting to trigger a war between Britain and China that will win him exclusive broadcasting rights – which, as crackpot ambitions go, is certainly unique. Anticipating the ever-connected, media-saturated world of today, Carver is one of the more prophetic Big Bads in the Bond hall of infamy.
16. Alec Trevelyan – GoldenEye
Some of the most memorable Bond villains are twisted mirrors of 007 himself. That’s especially true of Alec Trevelyan given Sean Bean, who won the role, was also in the frame for Bond before Pierce Brosnan was awarded the license to kill (it’s easy to imagine Bean as a rough-edged, Craig-style bruiser compared to Brosnan’s turbo-charged smoothie). Scarred and vengeful, Trevelyan is a former 00 agent who betrayed Bond in a long-game plot against the British government. Now head of the Janus crime syndicate, he knows how to push 007’s buttons: "I might as well ask you if all those vodka martinis ever silence the screams of the men you’ve killed," he taunts, like Bond’s own conscience made flesh.
15. Kanaga – Live and Let Die
Roger Moore’s voodoo-drenched debut saw the Bond franchise hijack the so-called Blaxploitation craze, the wave of low-budget but enviably profitable movies that targeted Black audiences in the early ‘70s. Acting powerhouse Yaphet Kotto had starred in 1972’s Across 110th Street and brings a smoldering conviction to Kananga, ruler of a Caribbean island who also leads a double-life as Harlem crime lord Mr. Big. Kananga’s heroin plot packs a more real-world punch than the usual Bond villain antics but he’s not above aspiring to the Blofeld lifestyle: his subterranean crib comes complete with monorail and shark pool.
14. Le Chiffre – Casino Royale
Le Chiffre has the honor of being the primal Bond villain. Created by Ian Fleming in his first novel, 1953’s Casino Royale, he’s been embodied by some stellar screen presences: uber-creep Peter Lorre in a 1954 TV adaptation and the mighty Orson Welles in 1967’s big-screen spoof. It proved a star-making role for the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen, who brings an icy, lizardlike vibe to this "private banker to the world’s terrorists", an Albanian with a taste for thrashing a length of rope against Bond’s most essential gadgetry. As his eye weeps a trickle of blood he assures us it’s "Nothing sinister…" We’ll need a little more convincing, mate.
13. Max Zorin – A View to a Kill
They wanted David Bowie for Nazi-engineered, KGB-trained technocrat Max Zorin but he turned them down flat, insisting he "didn’t want to spend five months watching my double fall off mountains." Christopher Walken ultimately won the role but Zorin’s look shamelessly cosplays Bowie in his ‘80s pomp, from the peroxide quiff to the sharp suits. He’s certainly the only Bond villain you can imagine breaking into "Let’s Dance" while plotting the imminent destruction of Silicon Valley. Walken convinces as a genuine psycho – that demented giggle! – and with his private zeppelin and microchip obsession, he’s the ultimate corporate villain. He also title-bombs like a true pro. "What a view…" "To a kill!"
12. Red Grant – From Russia with Love
Played with a simmering sense of threat by future Jaws star Robert Shaw, Donald "Red" Grant is the first of Bond’s dark reflections. Both men are professional killers, both have Savile Row style, right down to matching pocket-square handkerchiefs. Grant, though, is a convicted murderer, a "homicidal paranoiac – superb material" as SPECTRE enthusiastically attest. He shadows Bond for much of the film, a cool, silent, watchful presence, before a stunning hand-to-hand fight sequence erupts in a carriage on the Orient Express. Shaw’s elegant, snarling brute is such a perfect match for Connery you’re almost persuaded he’ll win…
11. Franz Sanchez – Licence to Kill
Playing catch-up with the hard-edged likes of Die Hard and Commando, Timothy Dalton’s encore is a tougher, grimier take on Bond, an exercise in late ‘80s machismo complete with a personal mission of vengeance. Its villain, Sanchez, is a very contemporary antagonist too, clearly modelled on Panamanian drug baron Manuel Noriega. Sanchez means business: he has the heart of his moll’s lover cut out, feeds Felix Leiter to a shark and kills Felix’s new bride, an old flame of 007’s. No wonder Bond’s out for his hide. Given the general brutality and drug-pushing scumbaggery of the character, it’s impressive how Robert Davi makes him quite such charming company… Scores bonus points for pet lizard.
10. Rosa Klebb – From Russia With Love
Lotte Lenya first found fame as a glamorous German cabaret star in the '30s but it was the role of sadistic frump Rosa Klebb in the second Bond movie that gave her screen immortality. Armed with a fashionable pair of poison-spiked shoes, Colonel Klebb’s a Russian defector pretending to work for SMERSH while secretly in the employ of SPECTRE as Blofeld’s right-hand woman. She’s a formidable old dragon, not above slipping on a pair of knuckle-dusters to test the resilience of a bare-chested Red Grant. In the film’s tense final moments it’s actually Bond girl Tatiana Romanova who slays her. Whatever happened to sisterhood?
9. Oddjob – Goldfinger
The first of the legendary Bond henchmen, Goldfinger’s faithful manservant is all silent, sinister muscle, initially glimpsed as a bowler-hatted silhouette on a wall. That hat is actually razor-rimmed – it decapitates a statue at Goldfinger’s golf club and kills Bond girl Tilly Masterson – but Oddjob doesn’t need to rely on gimmickry; he’s hard enough to crush a golfball and bars of gold bullion simply bounce off him as he smiles. This fearsome butler was brought to screen life by Hawaiian wrestler Harold Sakata, whose dedication to the art of the hench saw him badly burned in the electrocution scene as he waited for the director to yell “Cut!”
8. Dr. No – Dr. No
The first big-screen Bond villain – and the template for every evil mastermind that follows. Dr. No has a private island, just like Safin in No Time to Die, and rocks a high-collared jacket that would prove a staple of the Blofeld wardrobe. He also has some physical schtick: his hands have been replaced after what he intriguingly refers to as "a misfortune"; wrapped in gleaming black gloves, whatever’s replaced them – and we never do see – can crush a statuette… New York stage actor Joseph Wiseman establishes the urbane, soft-spoken style of the archetypal Bond baddie but Ian Fleming wanted his friend Noel Coward for the role. Coward sniffily replied: "Dr. No? No! No! No!"
7. Raoul Silva – Skyfall
The fiftieth anniversary Bond film required some heavyweight villainy and it came in the form of Javier Bardem, who’d bagged an Oscar for his turn as the psychopathic antagonist of 2007’s No Country For Old Men. With his hair bleached an alarming shade of Butlins D.J., Bardem brings a welcome touch of old school flamboyance to Silva, a cyber-terrorist and former MI6 agent out to exact revenge on Judi Dench’s M. Given she expires in Bond’s arms, he’s the one Bond villain who actually succeeds in his dastardly aims, even if he doesn’t live to savor the moment. He’s also bold enough to try and put the moves on Bond himself.
6. Xenia Onatopp – GoldenEye
Sure, the pun-loaded name is pure Austin Powers but Ms. Onatopp follows the long and ignoble tradition of Bond femme fatales, from Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe to Never Say Never Again’s Fatima Blush. In fact, she perfects the trope. First seen playing girl racer, chasing Bond around the hairpin bends of Monaco in a scarlet Ferrari, she clearly gets her kicks from killing: a crazed machine-gun spree leaves her almost orgasmic; elsewhere she weaponizes her own thighs to squeeze people to death like some oversexed boa constrictor. Future X-Men star Famke Janssen relished the chance to take on 007: "I can’t play housewives or girlfriend parts because of the way I look," she confessed. "So I’ve become the ultimate villainess instead."
5. Scaramanga – The Man with The Golden Gun
Definitive screen Dracula Christopher Lee was up for Dr. No, but it took until 1974 to get James Bond in his cross-hairs. As high-end assassin Francisco Scaramanga – he doesn’t squeeze that golden trigger for anything less than a cool million – he’s a suave match for the equally unflappable Roger Moore and another fascinating shadow-Bond ("We have so much in common…"). Maybe that third nipple isn’t the most sinister touch – "There are cults where it is considered a mark of invulnerability and great sexual prowess" – but Lee’s commanding screen presence makes this gentleman hitman one of the Bond greats.
4. Jaws – The Spy Who Loved Me/Moonraker
Named with a cheeky wink to the Spielberg film, Jaws is the ultimate hench: an outsized, indestructible ogre boasting some deadly dentalwork (he even beats a Great White in a fight, which feels like a flex from one movie blockbuster to another). In fact, he’s the only heavy to earn an encore, so popular in The Spy Who Loved Me that he was brought back for Moonraker, even if he’s more clown than bogeyman in that one. Towering Richard Kiel – first choice to play the Hulk in the ‘70s TV show – could only wear the glittering gnashers for so long before gagging, which makes his scary, hilarious turn all the more impressive.
3. Auric Goldfinger – Goldfinger
"Auric Goldfinger? Sounds like a French nail varnish," snarks 007. But the bullion-craving antagonist of the third Bond film deserves his place on the podium of villainy (though he’ll be furious at only winning the bronze…). He’s the first foe to earn his own title song – “He’s the man with the Midas touch,” warns a never-more-bombastic Shirley Bassey – and the first to suffer a memorably macabre death, slurped out of a shattered plane window. His cunning scheme to irradiate Fort Knox and be crowned king of gold is also top tier, improving on the plot in Fleming’s original novel. And, in “No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die!” he delivers pure dialogue gold.
2. Ernst Stavro Blofeld – Various
“Extortion is my business!” First glimpsed as a faceless, cat-fondling presence in From Russia With Love, last seen as a banged-up Christoph Waltz in No Time To Die, arch-scoundrel Blofeld has the distinction of being the longest-serving Bond villain. He’s also the most chameleonic, mutating from Donald Pleasence’s bald goblin in You Only Live Twice to Telly Savalas’s smooth thug in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to a foppish Charles Gray in Diamonds Are Forever. Remarkably, counting voiceovers and nameless cameos, more people have played Blofeld than Bond himself. Even merciless spoofing by Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies can’t kill this bastard.
1. Hugo Drax – Moonraker
How has Hugo Drax, space shuttle-snatching madman of the much-maligned Moonraker, toppled the opposition to claim his place as Bond’s number one nemesis? Maybe it’s Michael Lonsdale’s immaculate performance, dripping with French disdain ("James Bond… you appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.") Or perhaps it’s the fact his scheme to wipe out all life on Earth and repopulate the planet with supermodels is one of the grandest, deadliest plots 007 ever had to foil. It could be the cool space station base. Or simply the cucumber sandwiches. But ultimately it’s that he’s grasping for the stars, launching the franchise into Earth orbit. He’s the only villain to make good on the promise of Bond’s own family motto: the world is not enough…
Now you're caught up with all the best Bond villains, check out our ranking of all the best Bond movies – no doubt we will all be arguing in the comments section.