Over the James Bond franchise, many of its villains have been somewhat mixed bags. Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin, for example, was wonderfully entertaining to watch—but also completely off the wall. (That may have been down to Walken’s natural Walken-ness.)
Several Bond villains made master plans to conquer the world—no matter how little sense some of them made—only for Bond to foil them. In the case of Die Another Day, there was a satellite that detonated nuclear weapons using the sun. Really?
In hindsight, the James Bond films have battled lots of moronic storytelling since Dr. No in 1962. But every once in a while, there have been some truly awesome bad guys against Bond.
Here are some of the best James Bond villains ever put to screen—and how close they came to sweet victory.
5. Alec Trevelyan
Pierce Brosnan’s first appearance as Bond in GoldenEye was the high point of his tenure as the spy, and while the movie is somewhat over-the-top, it’s a classic adventure.
Starting with the apparent death of Alec Trevelyan—an MI6 agent—Bond learns that Trevelyan is behind the scheme to steal GoldenEye and use it to cause a market crash.
Sean Bean’s performance as Trevelyan is fantastic, and he gives Bond a great fight, with both being evenly matched because of their similar training and backgrounds.
The plan to cause a market crash is a bit out there; however, compared to some other Bond villain schemes, it’s one of the better ones. Trevelyan comes so near to achieving his goal, stopped only by Bond’s sabotaging of the giant satellite dish.
4. Le Chiffre
Mads Mikkelsen’s villain wasn’t like the rest. He was a financial banker for terrorists who simply invested money on their behalf. They gave him all this money knowing that he could manipulate stocks and cause his investments to earn vast sums of profit.
Of course, when Daniel Craig’s Bond interfered with those plans and Le Chiffre lost a fortune of borrowed money, he set up a poker game at Casino Royale to win it all back.
There wasn’t no grand fistfight between the two—Le Chiffre was shot dead by Mr. White while torturing Bond. Instead, their battlefield was the poker table, playing a game that was as tense and brutal as any physical fight, where Bond ultimately prevailed.
Le Chiffre came within one hand of winning and inflicting a loss on Bond, which is as close as any villain has come to defeating the spy. An actor of Mikkelsen’s caliber was perfect in the role, and he earned his place in Bond villain history.
Goldfinger was the third-ever Bond movie, starring Sean Connery and his most memorable performance as the character. It introduced the Aston Martin DB5 as Bond’s car—with all the gadgets included—and the audience to one of Bond’s best villains: Auric Goldfinger.
His plan was a simple one: break into Fort Knox and set off a radioactive bomb, thus rendering its stored gold worthless and boosting the value of his own. It’s a classic Bond villain-style plan, and one that almost worked had Bond not disabled the bomb with 0:07 remaining on the timer.
As a villain, Goldfinger had it all, including the near-invincible henchman Oddjob who obeyed his every command and the feisty female pilot in Pussy Galore.
Gert Frobe’s performance is gripping and set the archetype for many cinematic villains to come. His final fight with Bond saw Goldfinger sucked out of an airplane window to his doom, with Bond quipping, “He’s playing his golden harp.”
2. Raoul Silva
Raoul Silva was a man who came as close to winning as any Bond villain has ever done in the end. He’d planned to hack into the MI6 intelligence servers to create discord within, but his real goal was to kill M for giving him up while he was still under her command.
Raoul Silva was successful on both counts: M died moments after he did, subsequently rocking the MI6 institution to its core.
By the end of the film, Raoul Silva wanted to die. He begged M to pull the trigger and kill them both, as the ruin of his body was too much to bear. But Bond arrives and throws a knife in his back instead.
Javier Bardem’s villainous performance as Silva is the series’ best. He played the role with the borderline insanity of Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin plus the brutality of Sean Bean’s Alec Trevelyan, all while making Silva his own character in the process.
Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of the evil organization SPECTRE, is the ultimate and much-imitated Bond villain.
Blofeld always has an escape plan and controls those around him like puppets. Many actors have played Blofeld, but we’re specifically highlighting Donald Pleasance’s defining iteration of the character.
He planned to hijack US spacecrafts and force America into war with the USSR (by making them believe the USSR was responsible). It might sound insane… but at the height of the Cold War? Plausible.
It’s also implied that Blofeld is working with an Asian nation that aims to benefit from the two global superpowers’ destruction.
As Blofeld was only seen from the neck down in From Russia With Love and Thunderball, his eventual reveal was a big deal. Donald Pleasance’s performance was everything it needed to be and more: cold, calculating, with a pool full of piranha that ate people.
His iteration of the character has become of the most famous cinematic villains of all time, and he is Bond’s greatest foe—which is why he is, without a doubt, the best James Bond villain ever.