What Makes a Great James Bond Villain?

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From left, Daniel Craig as James Bond and Jesper Christensen in a scene from the movie "Spectre." Susie Allnutt/Columbia Pictures

In a franchise where seven actors have played the protagonist, the thing that makes each James Bond film truly memorable is the antagonist. As the main villain in Spectre, which opens in U.S. theaters Friday, Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz enters an elite fraternity of weirdos. When it comes to Bond's enemies, it's not so much actors portraying characters as characters forged according to a type.

Related: Fleming Is Forever: Why You Should Read the James Bond Books

There are a few criteria that make up the archetype of the Bond villain. Using these as an informal guide (except when ignoring them entirely), it's possible to determine the greatest villains of them all.

1. Appearance/Physical Deformity

Physical malformations and odd body modifications emphasize the distance between Bond villains and the rest of humanity. If it's not a deformity, it's some sort of style or costume that sets them apart.

2. Evil Plan

Ideally, the plot should be both plausible and legitimately threatening to global security. Dr. Kananga's plan to put heroin in restaurant food from Live and Let Die sounds more like a trip to the Golden Corral than something that would make the front page of the newspaper.

3. Poor Record With Women

The films are riddled with cringeworthy implied behaviors, often involving the villain holding the heroine hostage. 007 often seduces the villain's mistress or female ally.

4. Tragic Errors

Bond villains tend to come within seconds of fulfilling their goals, only to make crucial mistakes in the end. The more memorable the error, the better they played the part.

5. Accessories and Extras

Bond has his cars, fancy watches and suits. Villains need their lasers, lairs and shark pools. Bond has his Bond girls and Felix Leiter. Villains have their henchmen.

6. Menace

It's simple: Were you actually terrified of this person? Would they give you nightmares? At any point during the film, did they induce in you the feeling that James Bond could actually get killed?

Caveat: Stupid does not mean memorable

There have been some Bond villains that were memorable for all the wrong reasons. For example, the guy who got killed by being inflated like a balloon. Newsweek will not reward points for camp.

Honorable Mention: Maximillian Largo (Never Say Never Again, 1983)

Before proceeding to the main list, we have to give credit to this man for devising the oh-so-memorable plan of beating James Bond in a video game. He rigs an '80s-style arcade setup so that Bond feels an electric shock if he loses. This is somehow supposed to impress his girlfriend, whom 007 has already seduced. Max, you're doing it wrong.

Elliot Carver (Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997)

A media mogul, he tries to provoke a Chinese-British war in order to improve his newspaper sales, which is an implausibly dumb idea even for 1997. His most tragic error is being involved in the newspaper business just before the dawn of Internet media. He gets points for bearing an uncanny resemblance to Steve Jobs.

Max Zorin (A View to a Kill, 1985)

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The U.S. theatrical poster for the James Bond film "A View To A Kill." United Artists

Christopher Walken already looks like a Bond villain in real life. In A View to a Kill, he's dressed up to look like Donald Trump, whose hair is way weirder than any gadget in the 007 universe. Zorin's evil plan (flooding Silicon Valley in order to secure a monopoly on the microchip market) would actually be altruistic today if it rid the world of obnoxious apps.

Alec Trevelyan, aka 006 (GoldenEye, 1995)

Faking his death and betraying 007 was a great start to an evil plan, but he didn't stick the landing, deciding to use the GoldenEye satellite weapon to commit a robbery on the Bank of England. A message to Bond villains: making it about money lowers the stakes. As does being played by the death-prone Sean Bean.

Emilio Largo (Thunderball, 1965)

He's best known for his iconic eye patch and pool full of man-eating sharks, both of which fit with the maritime theme of the film. He commits a memorable tragic error by letting a Bond girl shoot him in the back with a speargun after killing her brother and holding her hostage for most of the movie.

Auric Goldfinger (Goldfinger, 1964)

Comes off as a bumbling fool but hits a home run on the third criterion by getting betrayed by Pussy Galore, his personal pilot (Bond asks the "Just how personal?" question on everyone's mind), and killing a blonde woman in a bikini by drowning her in liquid gold. He's both the grossest villain and one of the most memorable. His giant industrial laser is the best gadget from the series.

Le Chiffre (Casino Royale, 2006)

One of the best-acted Bond villains, he's also one of the few to be in a stable, monogamous relationship. He gets major points for torturing James Bond by whipping him in the groin, which is just downright unpleasant to watch.

Oddjob (Goldfinger, 1964)

The hat-throwing Korean giant's strange physique is also his best fighting attribute. Unfortunately, henchmen can't be real villains because they don't think for themselves. He makes the list because he throws his hat to kill people, which would have been pretty menacing back in the '60s, when hats were in style.

Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me, 1977, and Moonraker, 1979)

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The U.S. theatrical poster for the James Bond film "Moonraker." United Artists

The henchman rule still applies, but take pause: This is a man who actually bit through a steel cable with his bionic mandible. Jaws is so scary that I don't even want to think about him. He makes the list because he has an entire tribute video on YouTube.

Red Grant (From Russia With Love, 1963)

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The U.S. theatrical poster for the James Bond film "From Russia With Love." United Artists

A Soviet spy, the menacing Grant was the Joker to Bond's Batman. He was brutally efficient and would have killed 007 if he hadn't accidentally opened a briefcase full of knockout gas. Unlike most villains, he looks like a male model and has an asexual, robotic demeanor, which was pretty much the Cold War stereotype of Russians.

Dr. Julius No (Dr. No, 1962)

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The U.S. theatrical poster for the James Bond film "Dr. No." United Artists

Holed up in an island lair that bears an uncanny resemblance to a Glendale Hilton, Dr. No passes nearly every test. His plan to use a nuclear-powered energy beam to disrupt the Project Mercury Space Launch plays into the collective fears of 1962, the height of the Cold War and the space race. His menacing bionic limbs and memorable death by boiling are almost as memorable as his interior decorating skills.

As the first Bond villain, No could be at the top of the list if not for the fact that he often comes across as more comical than frightening.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld (multiple films)

What a guy. The head of the SPECTRE organization (rebooted in this year's film), he appears stroking his cat in six different Bond installments, and was originally such a mystery that his face was never shown. He inspired Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers series, which is either a tremendous compliment or an indictment of his character. His face scar makes Le Chiffre's look like a stray eyelash.

Francisco Scaramanga (The Man With the Golden Gun, 1974)

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The U.S. theatrical poster for the James Bond film "The Man With The Golden Gun." United Artists

You can't say "villain" without thinking of Christopher Lee. Scaramanga is a deadly hit man, so he's definitely menacing. At one point, he actually whips out his golden gun in the bedroom, which certainly sets the bar for the bizarre desires of supervillains. Bond impersonates Scaramanga by mimicking his supernumerary nipple with a prosthetic. He's almost the best.

Raoul Silva (Skyfall, 2012)

Playing supervillains is Javier Bardem's specialty. He tops this list with an extremely creepy Julian Assange impression in Skyfall.

Silva aces all the categories. His island lair is 10 times creepier than Dr. No's. He can pull off cyberattacks in England whenever he wants (at times his plots are even ahead of the screenwriters). He runs an appalling sex slavery ring in Hong Kong. At one point, he actually pulls out his own mouth.

Silva is the most effective, believable and creepy of the villains. He would have succeeded in killing M if he hadn't tried to kill himself in the process. He's the best. Or the worst.

Christoph Waltz, your move.

What Makes a Great James Bond Villain? | Culture