For the love of entertainment
One of the most iconic and enduring legacies of the Bond franchise would have to be the Bond Girls. Gorgeous women who get tangled up in 007’s missions for various reasons and usually (but not always) sleep with him. Dude’s got a raging sex addiction to keep up. It’s kind of a problem. But not all Bond Girls are created equal. Some can transcend the inherent sexism to become characters of worth, and some are, well, just ridiculous.
Full disclosure: there are a lot of Bond Girls if you include all the women who show up in the movies, and many people do. To keep things simple, I’m only going to focus on the Bond girls who have an impact on the plots. No plot filler or sex objects. So if you are a fan of any of those random gypsies or that naked linguistics professor from Tomorrow Never Dies, don’t get your hopes up. Also, you should probably increase your standards.
Be warned, there will be spoilers.
Please note: this post was originally published on July 3, 2015. It has been updated to include Spectre.
Ladies and gentlemen, future Academy Award-winner Kim Basinger. She’s lucky Never Say Never Again is an unofficial Bond movie and therefore exempt from official ranking. Because let’s face it: Basinger is beyond bland. Remember Thunderball? Due to legal complications, this movie could only exist if it was an adaptation of Thunderball, which means Domino Petachi is a poor man’s version of Thunderball‘s Domino Derval. On paper the stories are the same: increasingly dissatisfied mistress comes to defy the supervillain man in her life with a little push from 007. With Domino Derval it was compelling. With Domino Petachi it’s annoying. Her struggle to decide whether or not to defy Maximilian Largo has no drama because she’s utterly lacking anything approaching depth. If she counted for the official ranking, Ms. Petachi would score very low. Par for the course when it comes to Never Say Never Again.
The worst Bond Girl of all time. How did she get here? Because Mary Goodnight is the only Bond Girl so dumb she not only almost kills 007 with her own stupidity, but she gets trapped in a closet while 007 beds the movie’s other Bond Girl. From the moment she arrives onscreen she starts screwing things up. I suppose she’s intended to be comic relief, but it isn’t funny so much as mind-blowingly annoying. Even Bond is clearly irritated by her incompetence. And why not? This woman almost kills James by activating Scaramanga’s doomsday machine and aiming its solar-powered lasers at him. With her butt. Twice. Again: with her butt (twice!). Let’s face it: she’s a ditz, and a ditz has no place in a Bond film. She’s like an inept agent from a comedy about spies, except this is supposed to be serious. The best you could say about her is that she looks good in a bikini. And let’s face it: we’ve had too many Bond Girls who looked good in a bikini and actually added something to the movie to award points for that.
You have to wonder if producers knew how ridiculous casting Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist was and thought it might work in some bizarre porn-fantasy way. The only alternative is that they were idiots. Or maybe they just hate people. Whatever the reason, Christmas Jones was foisted upon the world, and the world was just going to have to take it. Richards has never been known for her acting, but casting her as a nuclear scientist was a definite bridge too far. Her ability to say dialogue convincingly was strained enough without asking her to talk about plutonium like an expert. Basically, when producers decided to ‘modernize’ Bond Girls, the go-to solution was to make them scientists. Virtually all were awful and Christmas is no exception. The problem is there’s no character to speak of. Christmas is all surface: hot body, hardcore job, and a touch of surliness. That’s meant to show you she’s a woman of substance, except producers forgot to give her actual substance. They just threw in a Bond Girl who hit all the tired cliches so they could have 007 get laid at the end of the movie. Making matters worse, someone had a serious hard-on for Tomb Raider, because they dolled Christmas up in some serious Lara Croft drag. It just comes across as desperate. Did I mention sad? It’s sad.
Determining the worst Bond Girl was tougher than you might think. It was an extremely tight race to the bottom. I still waffle back and forth between Christmas Jones and Mary Goodnight in my head. What usually settles it is that at least Christmas Jones never almost killed James Bond with her butt.
There are usually two or three Bond Girls in any given Bond movie, but somehow Kara Milovy got the distinction of being the only Bond Girl in The Living Daylights. Even Pussy Galore and Tracy Di Vicenzo had to share the spotlight, but somehow this waste of space got an entire movie to herself. After the first half hour, it doesn’t even make sense for her to be in the movie anymore. If not for the way she gets tricked into drugging 007 for the bad guy, she’d serve literally no purpose to the plot at all. She’s just an object for 007 to save. And the “acting,” oh dear, the “acting.” Miss d’Abo can’t fake a Russian accent to save her life, to say nothing of the incredible, vast nothing that is her chemistry with Timothy Dalton. I mean, this is a Bond Girl that attempts to fly a plane completely unaware that she’s steering them into a giant-ass mountain directly in front of her with clear visibility. What even is that?!
It’s probably no surprise that Tanya Roberts, everyone’s fifth-favorite Charlie’s Angel, wasn’t a convincing scientist. The main problem with Stacey Sutton is that she’s just irritating. I mean really annoying. She’s an oil heiress who lost her family oil rig to Max Zorin, and now she’s out to prove that his business harms the environment for revenge. Are we supposed to feel bad for her? It’s an oil rig. It’s not like he killed her family. It’s a natural resource used to exploit millions of people. Are we supposed to believe her family would have used that oil rig for good? Anyway, now she lives with a cat in a giant mansion that looks like it was decorated by someone’s wealthy grandmother, which I suppose is meant to make her look wholesome. Lady, you’re clearly rich. Stop complaining. Melina Havelock’s parents were murdered right in front of her.
Not helping matters? Tanya Roberts has the most annoying scream in the history of cinema. It might make your eardrums explode. Stacey Sutton is also one of those useless Bond Girls who constantly needs 007 to save her. It kind of makes you wonder how she manages to get dressed in the morning without burning the house down. The only thing she can do when danger comes is squeal, and we already covered how annoying that is.
Any Bond Girl who could have gotten 007 a starring role on To Catch a Predator probably should have been rethought. Bibi Dahl is a teenage ice skating prodigy overseen by villainous Aristotle Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only, which is creepy enough. The way she desperately pines for James Bond’s penis despite the incredibly inappropriate age difference? Just eww. Gross. Disgusting. To his credit, even 007 proved to have standards and refused to sleep with her. That doesn’t mean the whole concept of a severely underage girl lusting after 007 didn’t make your skin crawl. Even her name, Bibi Dahl, is too on the nose. Producers, this is one idea that should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Can you believe they originally wanted Jinx to have a spin-off?! That would have been terrible. Undoubtedly, producers were over the moon to have Halle Berry, a recent Academy Award-winner at the time, on board. They got a little ahead of themselves when they started making spin-off plans. In fairness, they didn’t know what Halle Berry’s career was going to look like post-Oscar, but they were also unreasonably optimistic about how good Die Another Day was going to be. To be clear: it was awful. Everything about it was over-the-top, including Berry’s portrayal of Jinx. Jinx is supposed to be a secret agent who is 007’s equal, like Wai Lin from Tomorrow Never Dies. Swing and a miss. Unlike Lin, Jinx is a cartoon character. She can’t even walk like a normal person–she wildly swishes her hips like an overzealous stripper on a runway. And the puns. Oh, good Lord, the puns. They are excruciating! Beyond that, Jinx is far from Bond’s equal because she keeps getting kidnapped and put in mortal danger that 007 has to save her from. And we’re supposed to believe that she has sex with 007 while lying on a bed of diamonds at the end of the movie. Because absolutely nothing about that would be painful. Just go away, Jinx. I can’t even with you.
People want to like Jinx because she’s played by the most high-profile actress to ever take on a Bond Girl role. But if we’re being realistic, everything about Jinx is a hot mess.
My hatred for Plenty O’Toole is totally out of proportion with the amount of screentime she has in Diamonds Are Forever. But you see, Plenty somehow managed to secure a legacy in the Bond Girl canon that is also wildly disproportionate to what she adds to the movie, which is exactly nothing. Seriously: nothing. A ludicrous name, but that’s all. She shows up next to 007 at a craps table, presses her cleavage together seductively while attempting to act (it should be noted that she fails). They retire to 007’s hotel room, where Plenty is unceremoniously thrown out a window and into the pool below by a jealous Tiffany Case’s goons. Later, Plenty’s body turns up in Tiffany Case’s pool for reasons that are never explained. Lame, lame, lame. Plus terrible acting. Apparently poor Lana Wood didn’t inherit her sister Natalie’s acting gene. My guess is that the name and the cleavage secured Plenty O’Toole pop culture immortality, but that doesn’t mean she deserved it. At least she serves as my go-to argument when people say that Bond Girls need to sleep with 007, because Plenty and Bond never do the deed but most accept Plenty into the club without question.
Speaking of terrible acting, Lois Chiles turned down the role of Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me to respond to criticism of her acting ability by taking some time off for acting classes. It seems they didn’t take. Not only is Holly Goodhead not believable as a scientist, she’s not credible as an undercover agent or as a love interest, either. She has zero chemistry with Roger Moore and appears to be smelling something awful every time she’s onscreen. Maybe she caught a whiff of the script (zing!). It would appear they were going for a lovably tough Bond Girl in the Pussy Galore tradition, but they just landed on sour. That’s never fun.
But cheer up, Goodhead, because you’ll always have that zero-gravity sex scene. For whatever that’s worth. Okay, that probably didn’t help your dignity. But then you agreed to star in Moonraker, so I’m guessing that ship had already sailed.
Dear God. A Bond Girl who thought she was starring in a romantic comedy. There seemed to be an idea that Pam Bouvier was going to be a badass pilot at the outset of Licence to Kill, but she just kept getting more and more ridiculous as the plot progressed. Sure, she can handle a gun. But Carey Lowell plays every scene as if she’s in a romance and the incessant pratfalls… well, let’s just say there’s precious little dignity left for Pam Bouvier by the end. The love triangle she forms with Lupe Lamora grinds the action to a halt, which is a shame because Licence to Kill has the makings of a good Bond adventure. If only it focused on the revenge plotline. Which girl will Bond choose? Will Pam recover from the pain if he doesn’t choose her? WHO CARES? Everyone knows Bond will move on to another girl in the next movie, so why would we invest so much energy into whether or not these crazy kids work things out? This is James Bond, not Romancing the Stone, and for the record: Carey Lowell is no Kathleen Turner.
In the endless groan-inducing pun factory that was Die Another Day, you better believe a name like Miranda Frost indicates a stereotypically frosty woman who will inevitably warm to Bond’s charms and double cross him. After all, aren’t frigid women evil? In a lazily written Bond movie like this, cliches pass as character development. Anyway, Frost is an undercover agent working as the publicist of sinister playboy Gustav Graves. Someone in Graves’ inner circle is a mole responsible for 007’s capture and torture in North Korea. Naturally, Graves is a total villain (ranked among the worst-ever Bond villains), and since Frost is the only MI6 operative in the vicinity she’s the mole. Somehow Bond is surprised. Did I mention the lazy script? Frost is supposed to be no-nonsense, but let’s face it: everything is nonsense in a movie as ludicrous as Die Another Day. It’s just pun after relentless pun. None of it is surprising and none of it is funny. Luckily for Miranda, no one remembers her anyway. That saves her from the higher levels of hated Bond Girls, which already claimed her costar Jinx.
What do you know? A field agent who’s terrible at her job. There are a lot of those in the Bond series. Filmmakers behind Quantum of Solace say Strawberry was inspired by 60s-era Bond Girls like Jill Masterson, another completely frivolous Bond Girl who not coincidentally met her untimely end smothered in a precious resource. Instead of feeling like a fun throwback, Strawberry Fields feels like an attempt to set Bond Girls back by about fifty years. Bond Girls are supposed to be forever. Strawberry Fields is a tired retread no one needed–not to mention one who has already been forgotten.
But props on the fierce bangs, girl. You’ll always have that.
There’s a type of Bond Girl who shows up to look hot, sleep with James, give him information, then die horribly. It’s meant to provide some sex and make the villain seem dangerous. Whatever vicious display he uses to off these ladies is meant to make him seem relentless enough to be the one to take down 007. Except we’ve seen this before. Besides, the characters are paper-thin sex objects who aren’t afforded a shred of respect by the script. It’s pretty insulting. Let’s break down four of them. Corrine Dufour‘s gruesome end, chased down by Hugo Drax’s hunting dogs, is the only even slightly memorable thing about her in Moonraker. I bet no one remembers her anyway. You aren’t even reading this. You’re just looking at her cleavage in her space dress. Tilly Masterson might as well never have showed up for all the good she does in Goldfinger. Tilly is Jill Masterson’s sister and wants revenge for Jill’s death. She almost kills 007 while attempting to assassinate Goldfinger, then gets killed by Oddjob’s hat. I’m not kidding. It was a rough Christmas for the Mastersons that year. In For Your Eyes Only, Countess Lisl Von Schlaf is the mistress of Milos Columbo, who sends her to sleep with Bond to get information. She might as well be property. In the morning, Lisl is violently mowed down by a car. No one seems to care. And while she’s beautiful, it’s disarming that the camera lens seems to have been smeared with Vaseline every time she appears. The oddity is Casino Royale‘s Solange. Producers used Solange’s violent death to remind 007 that there are consequences to his devil-may-care investigation style. She isn’t a tool to show how dangerous the villain is so much as a plot device to show how cold and unfeeling 007 is. Twist! Besides, poor Solange got perhaps the worst case of blue balls on record when Bond seduced her to get information, then ditched her to follow her husband to Miami without finishing the deed. That’s cold.
If the Bond universe is anything like real life, field agents are either terrible at their jobs or double agents. If they’re Rosie Carver they get to be both. Rosie could have fallen into the Disposable Girl category in that she sleeps with 007 before getting killed to show how dangerous Kananga is. Instead, she’s secretly working for Kananga, who wants her to get close to 007 to get rid of him. Carver is shockingly inept. A big part of that comes down to confidence. She just doesn’t have any. Which makes it hard to believe she managed to get hired in either role: field agent or double agent. Anyway, lips trembling in terror she beds Bond, attempts to lure him into a trap to have him killed, and gets herself gunned down by one of Kananga’s voodoo doll security devices. She gets snaps for being an exceptionally rare black Bond Girl, but it would have been nice if she could have been good at her job. Or good at anything for that matter.
Bond producers periodically try to make ‘fetch’ happen by telling you a girl is the love of Bond’s life. Such is the case with Paris Carver, who has a vaguely-alluded-to history with 007 that the filmmakers behind Tomorrow Never Dies think puts her in the same league as Tracy di Vicenzo. Producers, we have met Tracy di Vicenzo, and this is no Tracy di Vicenzo. Characters don’t get depth by association. In fact, trying to make a character interesting simply by drawing comparisons to another, more beloved character from Bond lore actually only does this one a disservice. If you want a character’s death to be tragic you have to earn that right. You can’t just tell us ‘this is the one that got away and the love of 007’s life,’ improbably pair them up in bed, then kill her off. None of that works. It’s extremely lazy script-writing, and it doesn’t get around the fact that this character has as much depth as a piece of cardboard. It probably doesn’t help that Teri Hatcher seems incredibly bored in every scene she’s in.
Also: yet another mistress/wife of the villain who gets killed after sleeping with 007. I cannot yawn hard enough.
Considering that she’s the mistress of one of the most ruthless Bond villains on record, it’s alarming that Lupe Lamora has a confounding tendency to sleep around on that man. Seriously, Lupe, honey, if you’re a serial cheater and the mistress of the most violent drug lord in the world? There’s a Darwin Award with your name on it. Lupe also has all the appeal of stacked firewood next to a gas fireplace: pretty, but useless. She’s also the victim of some truly leaden acting from Talisa Soto, whose biggest acting achievement later in her career is the Mortal Kombat movies.
I won’t even talk about the stupid love triangle with Pam Bouvier. I already went there and I can’t do it again.
The problem with Tiffany Case is that Diamonds Are Forever can’t decide what to do with her. She’s supposed to be a tough-as-nails diamond smuggler, except she’s more of an opportunistic overseer. She swans about in a series of improbable outfits while others do her dirty work. When 007 comes calling and she gets mixed up in one of Blofeld’s convoluted schemes, she ends up working with Bond for inexplicable reasons (I think she wants a plea deal?). She might as well not be, though, since she isn’t exactly helpful. I mean, what is Bond getting out of their collaboration? To be fair, Diamonds is so convoluted that I may have missed a plot point, but she spends most of the movie hiding in their hotel room, so it doesn’t seem like she’s helping. So who is this character supposed to be, anyway? Is she a tough smuggler? Comic relief in weird Harley Quinn get-up? At the end of the day, if the movie can’t be bothered to care, why should we?
Magda: the forgotten Bond Girl. She starts out a mysterious and acrobatic figure of danger, but gets completely forgotten by the script once Octopussy shows up. Seriously, she completely fades into the background. Girl sleeps with 007, reveals her ‘little octopussy’ tattoo to him, makes a wild gymnastic leap out of his window after stealing a Faberge egg, and then disappears into a gaping plot hole. Once Octopussy makes her appearance, Magda only shows up in the background of fight scenes or to take orders from her boss lady. I really don’t think she has lines anymore. I guess technically we could write her off as Octopussy’s henchman and relegate her to the “Lame Bond Girl Wannabes” category in the Bond Henchmen Ranking, but for the first half of Octopussy Magda has too much to do to be passed off like that. Talk about disappointing.
…usually with very silly names. Molly Warmflash. Chew Mee. Seriously, those are character names. And I use the term ‘character’ exceptionally loosely, since all these ladies exist to do is give up their lady parts to 007–usually in the opening credit sequence without ever being heard from again. Some come later in the movie (so to speak). Some actually have relatively normal names: Pat Fearing, Ruby Bartlett, etc. Sometimes they resist, putting on a thin veneer of respectability before throwing it away. They always give in. And no one respects them in the morning. They don’t inspire much rage since by their very nature they’re here-and-gone, but damn if they aren’t a tired trope that gives the Bond series a bad name.
Other names you can file here: Nancy (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Mademoiselle La Porte (Thunderball), Miss Caruso (Live and Let Die), Log Cabin Girl (yes, really–The Spy Who Loved Me), Manuela (Moonraker), Bianca (Octopussy), Kimberly Jones (A View to a Kill), Caroline (GoldenEye), and Professor Inga Bergrstrom (Tomorrow Never Dies).
Aki is a wasted promise. She toys with 007 for a hot minute, acting mysterious and coy until she abruptly sneaks into his massage session to give him a happy ending. Nothing stereotypical about that, right? It doesn’t help that she has a bland, paper-thin personality defined only by ooey-gooey adoration for 007. She works with spies, but apparently all she wants is a husband to spend every waking hour catering to. How inconsequential is this Bond Girl? They kill her off about 70% of the way through the movie, causing 007 to … shrug and go about his business. The assassin might as well have broken a tea kettle when he tried to kill Bond.
Lucia gets props in one respect: at age 50, Monica Bellucci became the oldest Bond Girl, besting Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore by 12 years–and causing Bellucci to request the title of ‘Bond Lady’ instead. Go girl. Bellucci had been in the running for Bond roles dating back to the Brosnan days. In both cases the role went to an actress with a bigger name. In the end, Bellucci probably lucked out. Those movies were terrible. But while it’s admirable that producers claim they wrote a stronger female character for Bellucci, the pity is that Lucia is basically Solange 2.0. She’s a plot device. She’s a woman Bond needs to seduce in order to get information. The only difference is that Bond doesn’t leave her to die when he’s done with her. He takes her to bed, then gives her Felix Leiter’s phone number to save her life. So maybe he learned something? Personal growth for 007? Call it what you will, but with only roughly ten minutes of screen time there still isn’t a whole lot more Bellucci could have done with Lucia Sciarra. Pity, because given more material she could have burned down the screen.
Miss Taro has the distinction of being the first duplicitous Bond Girl. Taro worked as a secretary at the MI6 office in Kingston, all the while acting as a mole for the villainous Dr. No and concealing details of Crab Key to avoid unwanted attention. Of course, once 007 arrived on the scene he fingered her pretty quickly–metaphorically and literally. Taro attempts to lay a trap for 007 but it doesn’t work. She sleeps with him waiting for plan B, but ends up in jail instead. Considering the bad ends most duplicitous Bond Girls meet, she gets off easy (no pun intended), and given the canon of Bond Girls there isn’t much to her, but the scenes where she attempts to entrap Bond are genuinely suspenseful, which helps her land relatively high on this list. She also establishes 007 as a man not only willing to flirt with danger, but take it to bed.
To be fair to Kissy, she had some spunk. She faked a marriage to 007 to sneak him into a remote fishing village in Japan (don’t think too hard about that one), but made him sleep on the floor at a respectable distance–so she’s a tougher sell in the bedroom than Aki, even on her “wedding night.” She’s a good swimmer and can run for help like a champ when asked. Then she sleeps with 007 as the credits roll. That’s basically all she’s asked to do in You Only Live Twice. I guess you can’t expect much since she only appears in the last quarter of the movie. You never even get to hear that awesome name in the film itself–it only appears during the credits. Not exactly groundbreaking stuff, here. But spunk is always appreciated. Spunk is at least memorable. Because let’s face it: there are far too many bland Bond Girls with nothing to distinguish them.
Sylvia Trench’s second appearance isn’t usually counted in the official register, which keeps Eunice Gayson from challenging Maud Adams’ claim to fame of being the only two-time Bond Girl. Why doesn’t it count? Because producers clearly lost interest in pursuing Trench’s storyline, where she would have been 007’s girlfriend at home while he went off on his missions. In Dr. No she’s a cool character, but in her single scene in From Russia With Love she got reduced to Fatal Attraction levels of neediness. Giving Bond a steady girlfriend was a terrible idea, and producers clearly realized that–dropping the storyline like a hot electrical wire. Unfortunately it was too late for Sylvia Trench’s dignity. But hold your head high, girl. He didn’t deserve you anyway. You also get the distinction of being the very first woman 007 seduces on film. And there’s no denying that in Dr. No you were a worthy sparring partner at the card table. For that reason, and for the way you made golf look sexy, you get to keep your dignity. We’ll agree to forget that From Russia With Love cameo.
I love that Natalya Simonova seamlessly blends with GoldenEye‘s meta-Bond concept. That is, she embodies the cliched ideal of what a Bond movie should be while subtly mocking that very expectation. It’s the Scream of the Bond universe. There are two weaknesses with Simonova. First, while it is admirable that she rolls her eyes at the concept of a Bond Girl, in the end she becomes the very thing she’s mocking. She doesn’t pervert the Bond Girl concept enough to become something more. She’s basically just saying “yeah, I know this is lame but…” The second weakness is that she totally lets her thunder get stolen by Xenia Onatopp–who blew virtually all other henchmen in the Bond universe out of the water. I’m willing to bet most people don’t even remember that Onatopp wasn’t the main Bond Girl in GoldenEye–let alone that Simonova existed.
All hail the queen of disposable Bond Girls! It’s surprising that Jill Masterson has the enduring legacy she enjoys in the Bond universe considering she only really has one scene. 007 breaks into Goldfinger‘s hotel room, discovers Jill helping him cheat at cards with a telescope and radio, sleeps with her, and gets knocked out. When he wakes up, poor Jill has been left naked and dead on the bed, covered in gold. She may not have anything to speak of in terms of character, but that moment alone secured her pop culture immortality. I like my Bond Girls to have more substance, but in this case you have to respect a legacy.
Jill is a disposable Bond Girl all the way, but she’s become such an iconic part of the series that you’re obligated to separate her from the pack.
I guess you’re meant to wonder if Tatiana is playing Bond and MI6 for fools, faking them out by pretending to defect in order to get close to them. The thing is, Romanova is so blandly earnest and Snow-White sincere that you never once doubt that she’s playing for the good guys. A sinister reveal would have made her so much more interesting. The movie just refuses to toy with the idea that she could be a good guy or a bad guy, which drains her most interesting quality. All she really seems to care about is coming away with a husband. This Bond Girl would be right at home as a contestant on The Bachelor. She and Aki would have made for a crazy season of that show.
Madeleine is a doctor trained in self-defense by her father (Mr. White from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace). But unlike, say, Camille, she doesn’t seem helpless when shit hits the fan. She’s tough without becoming a soldier like Wai Lin or adopting menswear like Pussy Galore. Madeleine doesn’t need to become a tomboy to fight. This is not to say that she’s badass–she’s not–but it’s refreshing to have a Bond Girl who isn’t useless in a fight or, alternately, forced to adhere to ‘male’ sensibility. Madeleine is unexpectedly layered and modern in that regard.
If only she were more interesting. The rest of her personality relies on familiar tropes. The whole business with the allergy clinic and her rejection of her criminal father’s lifestyle recall Tracy di Vicenzo. We’re also treated to a lot of Vesper Lynd call-backs. Madeleine unnerves 007 the same way Vesper did. They even have a big scene on a train, where Madeleine pokes at James’ profession. Where did James first meet Vesper? On a train. Where she poked him about his profession.
With so much reliance on the familiar, they forget to spend time on Madeleine herself. She’s fine, but too smooth to have the same appeal as Vesper and Tracy. She relies on their memories without building an identity of her own.
Paula Caplan deserves better than the minimal role and sudden dismissal she gets in Thunderball. She’s a field agent in Nassau who knows what she’s doing–and you cannot believe how rare competent field agents are in the Bond universe. Not only is she good at her job, she’s gorgeous, immune to Bond’s charms, and not above rolling her eyes at him when he gets to flirting with Domino. Unfortunately, Paula was unceremoniously dispatched by swallowing a cyanide pill after Emilio Largo’s goons took her prisoner. Loyal to the end. I like to think that in the modern era Paula would have at least been given the dignity of a fight sequence with Fiona Volpe before going out.
The minds behind Skyfall decided to re-introduce Moneypenny in the most audacious way possible: by making her a Bond Girl. But they screwed it up by playing it safe. They hedged their bets because they knew they were going to want Moneypenny to return, and then stay within the confines of her more traditional role in the Bond universe. When Naomie Harris was introduced as the Bond Girl before production began on Skyfall, her character was only referred to as Eve, which is how we know her for 99% of the movie. It is only in the film’s final scene, when Eve has decided that she doesn’t want to be a field agent like 007 and wants to work with M in his office instead, that we learn her true identity. Retroactively, many have tried to take the title of Bond Girl away from Harris, acting like the title was only given to her to hide Moneypenny’s return from audiences. That’s silly. The bigger shame is that they handled Eve with kid gloves in anticipation of the reveal. Hot shaving scene aside, she’s basically a sidekick. She doesn’t even get to appear in the final showdown like all Bond Girls do. Eve is all about the reveal in Skyfall. And the shaving scene. Definitely the shaving scene. Think about it, producers: Moneypenny didn’t need to sleep with 007. Plenty of Bond Girls haven’t. Camille in Quantum of Solace. Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever. No matter what people try to say, it’s not actually a requirement. You could have beefed up Eve’s role and put the kid gloves away.
Go with me on this. I’m aware that The World is Not Enough is a terrible movie, but there was a germ of a good idea there. They just piled a ton of shit on top of it. Producers were having fun experimenting with what a Bond Girl could be when Pierce Brosnan debuted as 007. Natalya Simonova was a meta-Bond Girl. Wai Lin was a Bond Girl who could be 007’s equal, and the intention behind Elektra King seemed to be to give us a Bond Girl who could be his nemesis. That would have been bold, if they had committed to the idea. Instead, Elektra hides her villainy behind Renard, who has all the personality of lumber, for the bulk of the movie. Even after her big reveal, she doesn’t get any of the glory of a true Bond villain. She gets dispatched on the way to the showdown with Renard. What a waste of a good idea. Sophie Marceau is the best thing about the movie., but keep in mind the bar is incredibly low. She makes an excellent standard Bond Girl in the first half: beautiful and strong-willed yet vulnerable. The villainous reveal makes her interesting enough to catapult her a few spots, but since they didn’t stick the landing she’ll always be in 007 purgatory. At least until we get a true female Bond villain.
I know she has fans, but I’ve never gotten the fuss about Anya Amasova. The most interesting thing about Russian agent Triple X (get it?) is that she swore to kill the man who murdered her lover. Well, it just so happens that 007 did the dirty deed when her lover came after him in the mountains during the pre-title sequence. Which means she’s sworn to kill James Bond. Except that her dedication to her job means she has to work with him to finish saving the world first (and continue sleeping with Bond while they’re at it). But seriously, once the world is saved 007 is dead meat. Except no one really ever believes that’s going to happen. It’s a MacGuffin, and one no one even bothers to take it very seriously. People call her Bond’s equal. Pish posh. During the course of the film Anya Amasova is occasionally allowed to get the better of 007 in order to keep things interesting, but in the end she’s just another girl in need of saving who can’t help but sleep with 007 even though she’s sworn to kill him. It undermines everything she’s supposed to stand for. How are you supposed to take her seriously?
The mistress Bond Girl is one of the more problematic types, but Domino is one of the best of that bunch. A lot of time and energy is spent making Bond Girls scientists when all it really takes to have a woman of substance is a good character. Besides, when this mistress gets it on with 007, they do it underwater with SCUBA equipment. To think some find her dull. She’s basically a kept woman growing dissatisfied with her life–not to mention the sinister dealings of her man, Emilio Largo. What really makes Domino for me, though, is the way she steps up when she finds out what’s been going on. It’s one thing to be willingly naive about what your lover does for a living, but to find out he murdered your brother in cold blood to steal nuclear devices? Domino doesn’t just get mad, she gets even. And Domino will have her revenge on the edge of a harpoon, thank you very much.
Some Bond Girls are tragic figures stuck in a bad situation. That’s Andrea Anders, mistress of Scaramanga, the world’s deadliest assassin. The entire plot is set in motion when MI6 receives a golden bullet engraved with ‘007,’ the calling card that Scaramanga is after you. Bond goes on the offensive and tracks down Scaramanga–exactly what Anders knew he would do. You see, she sent the golden bullet, desperately hoping 007 would kill Scaramanga and set her free. Being a tragic Bond Girl, it doesn’t go well. She ends up dead and carefully posed in the audience of a sumo match as bait to lure Bond into a trap. It’s an ignominious end to a woman who deserved better. If only she had been the main Bond Girl in The Man With the Golden Gun. Instead, she gets relegated to sidekick status in favor of the execrable Mary Goodnight.
Maud Adams has the distinction of being the only officially recognized two-time Bond Girl (returning in 1983’s Octopussy). Technically Naomie Harris and Eunice Gayson could qualify but aren’t officially recognized as Bond Girls in other appearances. Additionally, while producers planned to bring Anya Amasova back in various capacities during the 70s and 80s, none ever worked out. So hats off to you and your stunning cheekbones, Maud. You may not play the same Bond Girl in both movies, but you achieved something no one else can touch … so far.
Severine is a Bond Girl in the Andrea Anders mode: tragic all the way. She really only exists to show how dangerous the villain is, yet in a few short scenes she makes quite an impression. We first see Severine through a window while an assassination is being set up. After the shooting has gone down, she stares out at 007 and immediately chills go down your spine. When she meets him at her casino, she hints at Severine’s tortured backstory with precious few actual facts. Mostly just expressions as 007 speculates what her life to this point has been like. Then she gets 007 to Silva’s island, where both are taken prisoner. Then she is murdered by Silva in one of the most shocking displays of cold-blooded violence in a series that attempts such moments on a regular basis. A big part of why the moment is so emotional is that in her brief screentime, you got attached to Severine. You could argue that Severine’s only purpose in the plot is to get 007 from point A to point B (and sleep with him while he gets there), then die. We already labeled Bond Girls who fit that description: Disposable Girls. But make no mistake: Severine is no throwaway. The plot actually has more respect for her than that.
Camille mimics the emotional journey Bond is on in Quantum of Solace. Reeling from the betrayal and death of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, 007 spends Quantum of Solace brooding and looking for revenge. His quest to find the people who blackmailed Vesper into betraying MI6 (and him) brings him into contact with Camille, who is out to kill the dictator responsible for murdering her family in front of her when she was a child. Her story makes no sense if you stop to think about it (she gets trained by Bolivian secret service, then leaves that plan behind to become the mistress of the man who runs Quantum on the off chance he might want to do business with the dictator she wants to kill. Of course that million-to-one shot is bound to pay off better than the secret service idea). Gaping plot holes aside, Camille is a pleasant departure from the typical Bond Girl types. Her careful consideration of what revenge will mean deepens her character and forces Bond to stop and consider his own actions as well. She’s the rare Bond Girl who actually has a meaningful impact on 007. That she never sleeps with him only deepens that connection. If only the movie hadn’t been a boring, overly serious slog. And if only Camille’s background weren’t so full of plot holes. And if only they didn’t undermine her supposed secret agent training by making her helpless all the time.
Helga Brandt may pose as a secretary for a company that fronts for SPECTRE, but make no mistake: she will cut you up if you turn your back on her. This is a woman who will try to kill you with a plane after carefully applying salmon-colored lipstick from an applicator that doubles as a smoke bomb (seriously, that’s a thing that happened). Helga seems like a worthy heir to Fiona Volpe in the league of red-headed henchmen, but for all her menace the diabolical Ms. Brandt just can’t seal the deal. She threatens 007 with torture, but sleeps with him instead. She tries to kill him with a plane and misses. To repay her for these failures, Blofeld feeds her to his pet piranha. As henchmen go, Helga Brandt was sadly ineffective. As Bond Girls go, there’s no denying she had presence. And her untimely date with piranha is one of my earliest Bond memories.
I’m sure a lot of people are rolling their eyes. Grace Jones’ May Day is probably the campiest Bond Girl, which is not to everyone’s liking. But so many Bond Girls are boring and forgettable. That’s an accusation you could never lob at androgynous assassin May Day. Dig this androgynous beauty with the insanely lavish 80s wardrobe. Just don’t cross her. Because this henchman will fuck your shit up if you cross her. Don’t believe me? Ask her boss/lover Max Zorin. When he abandons her to die in an explosion intended to destroy Silicon Valley, she didn’t just get mad. She got even. She helped 007 remove the bomb from its underground location, then she rode that bomb straight to hell just so Zorin would know she fucked him over. Revenge. Oh, and she parachutes off of the Eiffel Tower after assassinating a dude with a blow dart. While wearing a headdress and cape. Eat it, haters. How’s that for a memorable Bond Girl?
Octopussy was Maud Adams’ second appearance as a Bond Girl and a promotion to female lead for her and her stunning cheekbones. It’s the only time a Bond movie has been named for a Bond Girl. Octopussy is a Bond Girl in the Pussy Galore tradition: steely, no-nonsense, and doesn’t need a man in her life. She even has her own posse of female henchmen to back her up, just like Ms. Galore. But unlike Galore, Octopussy doesn’t suddenly, inexplicably yield to 007 once she sleeps with him. Octopussy doesn’t turn to the side of good until she finds out her allies have double crossed her. Even then, she doesn’t team up with Bond, she gets her army of oddly dressed women and goes after Kamal Khan. And she has to be surrounded by ten men before she can be subdued, necessitating a rescue from 007. That’s a big mark in her favor, but the comparisons to Pussy Galore can’t help but hurt Octopussy. She just feels like a retread.
Melina Havelock’s intensity turns some people off but it’s what I like about her. It sets her apart from the bland Bond Girls who sleep with 007 and disappear forever. Someone killed Melina’s parents right in front of her and she is going to have revenge. Whether or not Bond helps her or tries to get in the way is incidental. Unlike most Bond Girls, Melina is not distracted by 007’s penis. She only sleeps with him once she’s completed her goal and is ready to move on with her life. She’s a proto-Camille, except in 1981 it would have been unthinkable for a Bond Girl not to sleep with Bond. Also, Melina Havelock is the victim of some terrible dubbing. I don’t know why they didn’t just write the character as French and let Carole Bouquet alone. Even so, Melina Havelock was an essential predecessor to Wai Lin, who is unfortunately the only modern example of a butt-kicking Bond Girl. Even more unfortunate, it was sixteen painful years of lame Bond Girls before Havelock’s legacy came to fruition with Wai Lin.
Fiona Volpe is far and away one of the series’ most charismatic, devilish vixens. She’s basically the dictionary definition of ‘bad girl.’ She’s fiery. She’s gorgeous. She’s just plain mean. This woman will break into your hotel room, have her goons haul off your assistant (see Paula Caplan above), then lie in wait in your bathtub for hours until you get back. She’ll make your bathtub her own personal spiderweb. And her skin won’t prune. It would never even think of displeasing her like that. Then when you get back to your room, she’ll rock your world in the bedroom. Then she’ll try to kill you. Oh, and she has missiles in her motorcycle. This is one SPECTRE agent you don’t want to mess with. Not unless you want to get messed.
Solitaire is as cliche and misogynist as Bond Girls come. She’s a gifted psychic who can only possess her powers as long as she remains a virgin. COME ON. She’s also spectacularly naive, so when 007 shows up it doesn’t take much for him to use card trickery to fool her into thinking they are destined to be lovers. And if it’s destined, there isn’t much point resisting, is there? Goodbye powers, hello certain doom from displeasing Kananga (except that James will, of course, save her and the day). So yeah. Naive good girl whose powers depend on her virginity meets a suave secret agent with a sex addiction who tricks her into sexy times for no good reason except that she’s a hottie with serious cleavage. It’s actually pretty rapey. For her part, Jane Seymour plays the part of Solitaire with remarkable earnestness and dedication. She makes it believable, if such a thing is possible. Not only that, she makes Solitaire’s plight a compelling storyline. She’s also far and away one of the most memorable characters in the series. You can fault her for being one of the most traditional (read: feminist-backwards) characters, but odds are you remember her. That’s more than you can say about a lot of other Bond girls.
Xenia Onatopp is Fiona Volpe with the dial turned up to 11. First, Onatopp has some seriously kinky tastes when it comes to murder. She squeezes a man to death during sex and still finishes. Then she gets a sexual charge when she realizes the train she’s on is about to crash. The series had toyed with sexually dangerous women countless times before, but Xenia Onatopp is quite literally dangerous sexually. Luckily, actress Famke Janssen knew how far to push it, achieving the right level of camp in her performance. After all, there’s no call for subtlety when you’re squeezing a man to death with your thighs and simultaneously having an orgasm. How good is Onatopp? Name the main Bond Girl in GoldenEye. I dare you. You can’t, can you? You probably think it’s a trick question. You’re wrong. Onatopp is so good that she made everyone forget poor Natalya Simonova existed, and we already talked about her. You forgot about Natalya Simonova all over again, didn’t you? Bet you can’t name the villain in GoldenEye either. And that’s the ultimate burn. Onatopp steals all the thunder.
Despite her placement on this list, I have issues with Pussy Galore. When she shows up in Goldfinger she’s awesome. She’s smart, she’s feisty. She’s a bad girl on Goldfinger’s payroll, but she’s only in it for the money. Her real love is Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus: a troop of flying femme fatale’s. This Bond Girl has her own Bond Girls. Only Octopussy can match that, and Octopussy sullied the honor by having hers dress like rejects from The Greatest American Hero. Galore also has zero tolerance for James Bond’s bullshit. It’s awesome. Then there’s a rapey scene where Pussy keeps saying no, 007 keeps pushing, and suddenly 007 gets the glory of Miss Galore. The reversal makes no sense except that back then such things weren’t considered rapey (to be clear: they are). Not only does the heretofore uninterested Pussy Galore sleep with Bond, she takes a sudden interest in doing the right thing and undoes Goldfinger’s entire scheme. It makes no sense. It also makes Pussy Galore confounding and less interesting. Fun fact though: Fiona Volpe was a direct response to criticism of Pussy Galore’s sudden turn for good. Volpe was meant to show that not all bad girls who experience 007’s penis become awakened to the righteous path.
Hear me out. This seems crazy, but think about it. We already established a precedent for Bond Girls that don’t sleep with 007 with Plenty O’Toole in Diamonds Are Forever, Camille in Quantum of Solace, and, well, Moneypenny in Skyfall. We also talked about how even though Moneypenny is ostensibly the main Bond Girl in Skyfall, she’s mostly sidelined from the action and doesn’t get to participate in the finale the way every other main Bond Girl does. You know what Girl in Skyfall is completely integral to the plot? You know what Girl in Skyfall figures prominently in the final showdown? M. It actually makes sense that in Judi Dench’s final outing in the role they would make M the Bond Girl in every sense but officially giving her the title. Dench’s M was the most meaningful relationship 007 had with a woman. You couldn’t call it love–more of a parental respect, I suppose, but they definitely cared for each other. Losing M was just as traumatic as losing Vesper or Tracy. Which really makes her the perfect Bond Girl. Take that, haters.
It’s also a tremendous turn from Judi Dench. She isn’t ranking this high just because making M a Bond Girl was an audacious move. She’s ranking this high because it was a beautiful, elegiac performance.
There are two Bond Girls you could call the love of Bond’s life and chronologically, this is the first. From the moment she arrives and trades flirtatious insults with Bond on his first mission as 007, the chemistry is electric. Bond Girls have gotten Bond’s number before, but never quite like this. Vesper is steely, sarcastic, and full of resolve–all an act to cover up deep hurts from her past. Essentially, she’s a less lethal version of Bond himself. It’s easy to see why he would fall for her–and vice versa. There’s a vulnerability to Vesper that makes her much more interesting than the cardboard-deep Bond Girls we’d gotten for decades. The scene where she breaks down after witnessing Bond kill two goons is beyond anything the series had done with a Bond girl since Tracy di Vicenzo. When Bond kisses her fingertips and comforts her, there’s genuine tenderness. In Bond lore,Vesper is the ultimate Bond Girl: the one who made him the cynical, unfeeling man we know. Why? Because she stole his heart and betrayed him.
It’s the betrayal that makes Vesper problematic. Turns out she had a secret lover who was kidnapped, and was being blackmailed into handing over 007’s poker winnings to the mysterious organization behind the kidnapping. 007 uncovers her betrayal and shows up as she is delivering the money. When he attempts to save her, Vesper refuses and drowns. The problem is that the twist doesn’t really make sense. Why would she have this secret boyfriend? Why would she be blackmailed? Why then fall for 007? All the unanswerable questions undermine an otherwise stellar character. Even after we find out in Quantum of Solace that she basically traded her own life for Bond’s, meaning that she really did love him.
Not a lot of Bond Girls have promised to be Bond’s equal, but there have been attempts: Anya Amasova, Melina Havelock, Jinx. Let’s try to forget that Mary Goodnight, Pam Bouvier, and Tatiana Romanov were either agents or spies (no one ever pretended they were anyone’s equal anyway). Only Wai Lin can truly be called Bond’s equal, although Havelock deserves credit. Played by Michelle Yeoh, who is no stranger to action, Wai Lin is perhaps even more dynamic and exciting to watch in Tomorrow Never Dies‘ than Bond himself–and that says a lot. Watching them fight over steering the motorcycle while being chased by a helicopter through a marketplace is a pitch-perfect blend of action and humor. The movie might have been better if it had dispensed with that whole silly Paris Carver subplot so Wai Lin could unleash the full force of her talents. Lin would be number one with a bullet if the final showdown hadn’t unfortunately tied her up and almost drowned her–meaning that even this badass chick needed to be saved by 007 in the final hour. Still: more of this please, Bond producers. Pretty please.
The first Bond Girl didn’t just make the mold: she broke it. Every subsequent incarnation has lived in the shadow of Honey Ryder and for the most part been found lacking one way or another. Ursula Andress set a virtually impossible standard. Honey Ryder is beautiful, tough, and sensual. Andress seemed to have a preternatural understanding of what a Bond Girl should be. Anyone who wants to know really need look no further than the scene where Bond first meets Honey on the beach. Even with her voice dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl (who went on to dub several other Bond Girls), there is nothing that hits a false note. Yes, there have been tougher Bond Girls. Yes, there have been deeper characters. And yes, there have been Bond Girls who got under Bond’s skin. But Ursula Andress–and Honey Ryder–will forever and always be the standard they are compared to. There’s power in that which cannot be ignored.
Both Vesper and Tracy di Vicenzo can be described as the only Bond Girl’s who stole his heart, but Tracy had the most lasting impact. Tracy isn’t complicated. She’s pretty much a normal girl–if you can call a woman suffering from depression because her father heads an Italian crime syndicate normal. She’s basically a good-hearted girl with emotional baggage. Like James (well, minus the good-hearted thing). She’s smart, funny, and tender–qualities that unnerve James, as they did when Vesper presented them. But unlike Vesper, Tracy is emotionally volatile. She’s easily hurt, which brings out 007’s protective instincts. Most importantly, their love story is more believable because they spend time together. We know that months pass before 007 gets a clue to Blofeld’s whereabouts and has to leave to follow the trail. Diana Rigg made Tracy a Bond Girl you believe he would fall for and give up his secret agent life for–a feat all the more impressive given rumors that Rigg despised George Lazenby, who acted out on set and was never asked to return as 007. You like her so much you forgive her for the hideous wedding outfit she wears. And when Tracy is gunned down by Blofeld and Irma Bunt after leaving the reception, it’s the most tender and heartbreaking moment in the entire series. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a Bond Girl.
Turns out she doesn’t have to be badass. She just has to be a well-written, emotionally complex character worth spending time with. Is that too much to ask?