There have been six actors who’ve played James Bond, but seven — nine, if we’re being sticklers — who’ve played supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld…and that’s only including the official Bond films from Eon Productions. Though it was kept a secret until its release, the new “Spectre” does in fact include the return of Blofeld, embodied by a reliably hammy Christoph Waltz. The head of the shadowy criminal organization SPECTRE, Blofeld was gone from the film franchise since 1971’s “Diamonds are Forever” — though he makes a wink-wink appearance in “For Your Eyes Only” — thanks to a convoluted legal dispute. (We tried to explain it here.)
So how does Waltz’s iteration stack up against the rest? Behold our ranking of the movies’ various Blofelds.
1. Donald Pleasance, ‘You Only Live Twice’ (1967)
Blofeld had been in the films since the second one, 1963’s “From Russia with Love,” but we never got a good look at him. His face was obscured, and he was only represented onscreen as a body in a chair, usually ominously stroking a white-haired kitty. He finally showed his face in “You Only Live Twice,” but not till the spectacular volcano fortress-set climax. It’s a great reveal: Not only is he played b reliable character actor Donald Pleasance but he has a cool scar running down the right side of his face. In the novel version of “Twice,” Bond killed him. In the film, he gets away with a knife to the hand.
2. Telly Savalas, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1969)
Blofeld may have been in seven Bond films (so far), but he’s only in three of Ian Fleming’s books. The “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” book came before “You Only Live Twice,” which ends with 007 killing Blofeld out of vengeance for the murder of his wife. But the films, which jumped around the chronology, wound up doing “Service” after “Twice.” What’s more, “Service”’s plot has Bond worming his way into Blofeld’s compound, meaning Blofeld mysteriously doesn’t remember the guy who he tried to kill in the last adventure. Then again, both characters are played by different actors: Bond by George Lazenby and Blofeld by Telly Savalas, who makes the character his own, with a very Savalas-y breed of psycho-cackling menace and a fondness for turtlenecks.
3. Charles Gray, ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971)
After bailing the franchise after “You Only Live Twice,” Sean Connery was offered enough money to return, if just once more. But they went for an entirely new actor for Blofeld. Gray, perhaps best known as the snooty English narrator from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” came on for the third time in a row with the crime lord was the head baddie, and his version is the most camp — all sneers and quips, a far cry from the quietly menacing Blofeld of Donald Pleasance. He fits right into “Diamonds are Forever,” which was up till that point the silliest of the Bond films, and one that would fit glazed ham Roger Moore better than it did an almost comatose Connery.
4. Christoph Waltz, ‘Spectre’ (2015)
What was plainly obvious from the trailers turned out to be, naturally, true: Waltz’s mysterious Franz Oberhauser, who runs a shadowy criminal organization and sometimes dresses in collar-less gray jackets, was indeed Blofeld. He’s really just Christoph Waltz, which is to say he’s a peppy psycho, smiling and polite even as he’s talking about drilling holes in Daniel Craig’s Bond’s head. He’s fine, though the characterization is wack: he’s been saddled with a backstory that’s the equivalent of when George Lucas had young Anakin Skywalker be the creator of C-3PO in “The Phantom Menace.”
5. Anthony Dawson (body) and Eric Pohlmann (voice), ‘From Russia with Love’ (1963) and “Thunderball’ (1965)
He was just a body with his head obscured stroking a cat, but that was enough: Blofeld was not only the head of a powerful crime syndicate with tentacles all over the globe, but someone you saw just enough of to never want to see him at all. It would have been a disappointment, in “You Only Live Twice,” to see his face at all if he hadn’t been played by Donald Pleasance and had a cool scar.
6. John Hollisas (body) and Robert Rietty (voice), ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (1981)
The franchise lost the rights to Blofeld in the 1970s, meaning when he popped up for one final goodbye (until “Spectre”) his face had to be once again obscured and he had to be credited as “bad villain in wheelchair.” Here he tries to kill Bond and only winds up dropped into tall chimney stack, presumably dying. But with Bond you never know.
Bonus technically non-canonical Blofeld:Max von Sydow, ‘Never Say Never Again’ (1983)
Thanks to the same legal dispute that barred Blofeld from re-entering the Bond franchise, audiences of 1983 received two Bond films in one year. The official one was “Octopussy.” To make things less miserable, they also got an unofficial 007 movie, which happened to be a remake of “Thunderball,” which also happened to star a pretty old Sean Connery (who was — and, well, still is — not as old as then-current-Bond Roger Moore). That meant Blofeld was back, and he was even played by Max von Sydow, looking less like Donald Pleasance and more like V.I. Lenin.
Bonus bonus not-at-all-canonical parody Blofeld:Mike Myers as Dr. Evil, the ‘Austin Powers’ franchise (1997-2003)
The official Bond films wouldn’t be able to touch him for nearly two more decades when Mike Myers’ introduced his loving ode to the Donald Pleasance Blofeld in his first “Austin Powers.” He even wound up upstaging Austin Powers himself, being not just an impersonation but a fascinating character: mildly confused, loopily nuts but still demanding world domination and sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to his face. He also says his father claimed he invented the question mark.