Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing series by Walter Hudson exploring the James Bond series. Also check out the previous installments: “The 10 Most Memorable James Bond Henchmen” and “The Top 10 Most Worthy Bond Villains.”
We recently learned that French actress Léa Seydoux will join Daniel Craig and much of the cast from Skyfall as a femme fatale in the 24th James Bond film. Seydoux played a similar role in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. She joins a sisterhood of glamorous and seductive women who have led Bond astray or succumbed to his charms over five decades of film.
When tasked with ranking Bond’s female companions, the criteria I chose were more than just beauty or sex appeal. Every Bond girl has those. These are the women who most impacted the course of the franchise, who marked key moments, set strong precedents, or played a profound role in shaping Bond’s character. Here are the 10 most remarkable Bond girls of all time.
Die Another Day marked a significant moment in the franchise’s history. The film was released on the 40th anniversary of Dr. No, the first Bond adventure. It was the 20th film in the series. It also served as the swan song for actor Pierce Brosnan, who had successfully reinvigorated the character after the longest lull in the series’ history.
Such a moment calls for a Bond girl of remarkable stature, a known quantity whose beauty and talent separate her from the pack of interchangeable consorts. Halle Berry fit the bill, lending the perfect balance of snark and sexy to end the Brosnan era.
9. Xenia Onatopp
When Bond returned from a six-year absence following Timothy Dalton’s License to Kill, he found a post-Cold War world in the mid-’90s. This was the Clinton era, during which womanizing and sexual harassment had lost their historical luster. Such a world required a different kind of Bond girl, and GoldenEye provided them.
Having appeared in a handful of minor television and film roles, Dutch actress Famke Janssen broke out when cast as Xenia Onatopp, a fiendish underworld operative who derived sadistic pleasure from crushing men between her legs. In terms of ying and yang, there may be no more apt an antagonist for James Bond.
8. Sylvia Trench
The first Bond girl. While Ursula Andress stands out more in fans’ collective consciousness as the bikini- clad Honey Ryder, chronologically Sylvia Trench was Bond’s first on-screen conquest. Trench also holds the distinction of being the only Bond girl to appear in multiple films, warranting a second date with 007 at the beginning of From Russia with Love.
It was Trench who set the tone for Bond’s now classic introduction, revealing herself as “Trench. Sylvia Trench.” He answered in kind, and kept the cadence for decades to come.
7. Jill Masterson
No listing of Bond girls would be complete without reference to the ill-fated Jill Masterson, the golden girl. When Bond first crosses the scheming smuggler Auric Goldfinger, the villain sends a message care of Korean henchman Oddjob. Knocked unconscious, Bond awakens to discover Jill dead, covered in gold paint.
Masterson claims the least amount of screen time of any Bond girl on this list, but remains indelibly impressed upon our psyche on account of her curious demise.
Bond later encounters Tilly Masterson, Jill’s sister embarked on a quest for revenge. She, too, dies at the hands of Oddjob.
Decades before Famke Janssen tempted us in GoldenEye, another actress catapulted to fame and enjoyed a long subsequent career after Roger Moore’s Live and Let Die. Jane Seymour commanded the screen as the tarot card-reading Voodoo priestess Solitaire.
Live and Let Die proved unique among Bond films in suggesting a mystic reality. Henchman Baron Samedi appeared immortal, turning up again and again after apparent demise. Likewise, Solitaire seemed genuinely capable of predicting the future, and lost the ability when a certain British agent took her virginity.
5. Tatiana Romanova
A prototype of the turncoat love interest, so disarmed by Bond’s charisma that she switches allegiances, Tatiana Romanova bungled her mission to seduce Bond by getting seduced instead. Fortunate for her, and without her knowledge, her Soviet handler was actually a SPECTRE double agent. So her defection ended up as an odd sort of patriotism.
For my money, actress Daniela Bianchi remains among the franchise’s top tier of beautiful women, even these four decades later. Were looks the only factor in ranking this list, she’d land closer to the top. Given her status as a former Miss Rome and a runner-up for Miss World, that judgment seems valid.
4. Honey Ryder
If the decades-long fuss over it proves an indication, you might think actress Ursula Andress was the first woman ever filmed emerging from the water in a bikini. Certainly, she seems to have defined that experience for her generation, much like Phoebe Cates did in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Halle Berry paid homage in Die Another Day, sporting the same hunting knife which Honey wore in Dr. No. Indeed, the Swedish Bikini Team may count Ms. Ryder as their patron saint.
3. Pussy Galore
Pussy may not be the most glamorous, seductive, or warm-blooded of Bond’s female companions. But that name. It set the bar for suggestive monikers to come, like Holly Goodhead, Kissy Suzuki, or Xenia Onatopp. The name was memorably spoofed in Mike Myers’ send-up, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, by the amply endowed Alotta Fagina.
Like Tatiana Romanova before her, Pussy Galore switched sides after succumbing to Bond’s incorrigible advances. Notably, it is her switch in allegiance which enables Bond to escape Goldfinger’s grasp and prevent a global economic catastrophe. Put another way, Bond gives sex so good that it saves the world.
2. Vesper Lynd
When the time came to officially reboot the Bond franchise, the creators of Casino Royale were presented with a daunting challenge. Whom do you cast as the definitive female lead for a new generation?
They could have taken the lazy approach, and simply written a paint-by-numbers Bond dalliance seen countless times before. Instead, they opted to craft a three-dimensional character in the form of Vesper Lynd. More than a sexual diversion, Vesper proved Bond’s equal, both in brains and beauty. Rather than a “disposable pleasure,” Vesper commands something higher from Bond, a “meaningful pursuit.” Her tragic end serves as a defining moment for Bond’s character, providing cause for the measured distance maintained in his future relationships.
Oh, and Eva Green. Holy moly.
1. Mrs. James Bond
The queen of all Bond girls appeared in the only film to star George Lazenby as 007, the first recasting from Sean Connery. Played with timeless grace by the scene-stealing Diana Rigg, Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo appears at the film’s start, attracting Bond’s attention long enough for him to prevent her attempt at suicide. While a sudden bout with mysterious henchmen distracts him, Tracy steals Bond’s car to escape his reach. Lazenby breaks the fourth wall, looking at the camera to quip, “This never happened to the other fella.”
Indeed, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service deviated remarkably from the Connery films in both substance and style. No previous girl affected Bond like Tracy, and no future one would until the appearance of Vesper Lynd.
Daughter to the head of a European crime syndicate, Tracy begins the film with no interest in Bond, offering herself early on as “a girl who pays her debts.” Seeking to rouse his daughter from her spiral of self-destruction, Tracy’s father reaches out to Bond and offers a peculiar trade, information on the whereabouts of long-time nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld in exchange for Bond’s marriage to Tracy. It’s hoped that the love of “a strong man” who can “dominate her” might divert her from a dark path.
The courtship which follows breaks Bond’s relational mold. Tracy proves to be the one woman who actually conquers him. Bond falls in love, and asks her to be his wife.
But Bond must be Bond. So the writers cut his happily-ever-after short in a hail of gunfire, leaving him a widow mere miles from the altar.