What’s a James Bond movie without an outlandish villain and matching plot? The franchise with the frequently smoldering gun wouldn’t be the same if James Bond had nothing to do. Perhaps a high-budget tour of the world’s restaurants, bars, and casinos.
Bond movies have to serve up satisfyingly overblown enemies, but few have directly threatened global destruction. Over 25 films, some of the plots faced by Britain’s finest spy have been peculiarly personal. There have been some underplayed moments and even one or two movies where it’s difficult to recall the plot or villain.
Fortunately, those moments are balanced with some outrageously overblown schemes. Even when the franchise seems desperate to ground itself in realism, the plots soon veer into the reassuringly preposterous territory. The five movies featuring Daniel Craig proved that.
The good news is that the quality of a Bond film doesn’t rely on the villain’s plans. When it comes to megalomania, global threat, and genius-level planning, this is our ranking of villainous plots from every Bond movie.
25. Franz Sanchez — Licence to Kill (1989)
A sneaky plot where a master drug dealer used the front of a televangelist to cover his drug operation. Concealing cocaine in petrol was a cunning scheme, if only he hadn’t triggered Bond’s arbitrary involvement. After Sanchez’s vengeful takedown of Felix Leiter, revenge led to revenge.
24. Raoul Silva — Skyfall (2012)
Silva’s plot remains the easiest to explain in one sentence. Despite the later retcons that brought him under the umbrella of SPECTRE, the former operative was intent on getting revenge on M.
23. Francisco Scaramanga — The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
For a while, we were all convinced that Scaramanga’s plot was just to take out the world’s most effective state-sponsored assassin. If so, it would be higher on this list. Which villain here wouldn’t pay the Golden Gunned one to eliminate Bond? But Scaramanga was covering the complicated construction of a special solar-powered energy beam weapon he intended to sell to the highest bidder. A great lesson in sticking to your day job.
22. Le Chiffre — Casino Royale (2006)
The most faithful book-to-movie adaptation was all about personal survival. Le Chiffre is just a private banker trying to recoup the money he lost for his terrorist clients, and young Bond’s poker skills were just about enough to stop him. Yes, it required a significant investment from the CIA, but it would always be a game of chance.
21. General Georgi Koskov and Brad Whitaker — The Living Daylights (1987)
A cold war double-cross, which had at its heart diamond-smuggling, drug trades, and an overall aim to reassert Soviet supremacy in Afghanistan. Indirectly it would land some incredible profits in arms dealer Whitaker’s arms.
20. Rosa Klebb — From Russia With Love (1963)
The political machinations in this top-rate Cold War thriller were laid out in the pre-credit sequence: to kill Bond as revenge for foiling Dr. No. Working under the guise of a Soviet operation was a masterstroke befitting of a SPECTRE chess Grandmaster. But SPECTRE hadn’t taken long to realize what a threat 007 was, and Klebb kept her backup plan concealed in her shoe.
19. Dr. No — Dr. No (1962)
Let’s be honest, Julius No perfected a stylish piece of sabotage. Using radio signals to delay the U.S. space program was only going to niggle. It’s a wonder No’s death caused SPECTRE such irritation.
18. Dr. Kananga — Live and Let Die (1973)
SPECTRE had been destroyed, and Blofeld defeated twice. The arrival of Roger Moore’s Bond meant it was time for a new type of villain. Kananga’s plot to hook America on heroin was bold, superbly convoluted, but refreshingly non-nuclear.
17. Kristatos — For Your Eyes Only (1981)
This low-key, Cold War slow burner responded to Moonraker’s excess. After its predecessor’s out-of-this-world antics, it fittingly revolved around a small device, the ATAC, that could reveal the entire Naval fleet of nuclear submarines between world powers. The promise of a threat.
16. Dominic Greene — Quantum of Solace (2008)
Quantum was the early Craig films’ proto-SPECTRE, and so were their plots. Still, they were horrifying in their specifics. Greene’s plan directly infringed on human rights as he helped General Medrano to power in return for holding Bolivia’s entire supply of drinking water to ransom.
15. Ernst Stavro Blofeld — SPECTRE (2015)
Blofeld’s grand return to the franchise revealed a criminal mastermind motivated by revenge, particularly and coincidentally one specific secret agent. There’s the idea that the criminal committee is close to seizing control of the Nine Eyes surveillance program, which is handy for any master extortionists, but mainly it’s about causing Bond immeasurable agony.
14. Ernst Stavro Blofeld — Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Not the best last hurrah for the Connery-facing Blofeld. The idea of stealing a billionaire recluse’s empire was brilliant. But in using it to launch a powerful space laser, he’d lost his sense for a delicate plot. The villain’s plan that nations would be forced to abandon or sell their nuclear arsenals was as convoluted as his choice of an oil rig base was terrible.
13. Alec Trevelyan — GoldenEye (1995)
Another attempt to hit the West where it hurts — the stock markets. Damaged former Double-O Trevelyan combined vengeance with a heist when he set out to steal the Bank of England’s money while frying the UK’s economic system with the EMP generated by the titular weapon.
12. Auric Goldfinger — Goldfinger (1964)
Relatively small-scale on the face of it and undoubtedly driven by greed, but probably the most influential Bond plot. The inspired script directly tackled a plot hole in Fleming’s novel. By not removing an impossible amount of gold from Fort Knox but irradiating it, Goldfinger would have done wonders for his fortune, not the global markets.
11. Elektra King — The World Is Not Enough (1999)
One of the twistiest Bond movies boils down to a simple plot: Elektra King planned to permanently sabotage Russia’s oil pipeline in the Bosphorus by destroying Istanbul with a nuclear submarine. The reason? It would dramatically increase the value of her rival pipeline. Another plot adapted from the Goldfinger playbook.
10. Max Zorin — A View to a Kill (1985)
Zorin took great inspiration from Auric Goldfinger, adding a massive dose of eugenically manufactured psychosis. His plot to trigger an earthquake that would destroy Silicon Valley was intended to leave the world’s supply of microchips in his possession.
9. Ernst Stavro Blofeld — On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
In his difficult mid-period, the former head of SPECTRE was determined to get a title. Under the guise of an allergy clinic, his global “Angels of Death” were intended to cause mass sterility across flora and fauna. The world almost made him a count until Bond went rogue.
8. Emilio Largo — Thunderball (1964)
SPECTRE at its arguable best, with a fiendishly simple and on-brand plot that was unofficially remade in Never Say Never Again. Here, the criminal group hijacked two warheads from NATO, extorting £100 million from the international community in return for not detonating them.
7. Colonel Tan-Sun Moon — Die Another Day (2002)
This plot was epic because it involved a gigantic solar laser launched from orbit, but the immediate focus was destroying the Korean demilitarized zone. The unification of North and South Korea would have had global ramifications, but it was a hugely specific start for a super weapon.
6. Elliot Carver — Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
A difficult plot to pin down. Carver sought to grow his multimedia empire by igniting conflict between China and the West. He wanted unlimited viewers, well, those that survived the nuclear holocaust of World War III. It had been a while since Bond stopped a conflict between nuclear powers.
5. General Orlov — Octopussy (1983)
Chilling ideas from the close of the Cold War as Orlov plotted a nuclear detonation in a U.S. base in West Germany. He bargained that would leave the West with no choice but to disarm and declare the Soviet Union the victor in the Cold War. Another attempt to twist around a plot like Goldfinger.
4. Ernst Stavro Blofeld — You Only Live Twice (1967)
Finally, getting his hands dirty when the organization exceeded the scope of its name and, presumably, building budget. This time there’s no ransom, but the real potential of nuclear war between the USSR and USA on behalf of their paymasters, presumably to be China.
3. Lyutsifer Safin — No Time to Die (2021)
Safin takes inspiration from Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — but his high-tech is a nanotech virus that can kill by genealogy. The villain’s tragic backstory is just a gateway to the scheme to destroy swathes of the population that, ironically, kills the character who inspired it in another incarnation.
2. Karl Stromberg — The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Stromberg laid the megalomaniac plot so Hugo Drax could run on it. Stromberg’s classical music-backed scheme was impressively unhinged. The web-handed maniac chose a permanent existence under the waves while relying on conventional nuclear extermination above.
1. Hugo Drax — Moonraker (1979)
Drax didn’t mess around. His hugely expensive master plan was to exterminate all life on Earth with a specially concocted poison, leaving humanity populated with specimens he had personally chosen. No other villain shaped such a deadly plot with such a personal touch. He might have succeeded if it wasn’t for the Special Relationship working outside the Earth’s atmosphere.