Do you remember actress Karin Dor? She appeared in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Topaz and briefly in the James Bond film You Only live Twice. In that movie, Dor played Helga Brandt, a member of SPECTRE who hires hitmen to kill Bond. When they fail, Blofeld drops her in a piranha tank. She was barely in the film and is virtually unknown in the United States, but in Germany she hasn’t stopped acting, accumulating over 70 different roles in German cinema and television, most recently in the long-running German television anthology series featuring the stories of Rosamunde Pilcher. That makes her a more successful actress than many other women who have appeared in James Bond movies since Linda Christian first stepped into the high heels of Valerie Mathis, way back in the 1954 “Casino Royale” episode of Climax!
Many actresses have appeared in Bond films since, some becoming major players in the motion picture industry and some fading into obscurity. If we looked at every actress to perform in the Bond films, we would find a lot more actresses like Karin Dor who, while being successful in their craft, made very little impact in the world of James Bond. Looking at the major roles portrayed by females in these movies gives us a better picture of the women who shaped the James Bond universe and were also successful outside of Bond.
Major female roles include the “Bond girl,” cast as the main female protagonist of the film; the Femme Fatale who attempts but always fails to stop Bond in a most permanent way from foiling the villain’s evil scheme; and Miss Moneypenny, the secretary of M, always hoping for a love connection but never quite getting the kiss. Let’s look at the 10 most successful and hottest actresses that have graced the James Bond universe, in a major role, with their presence.
10. Famke Janssen – Xenia Onatopp From “Goldeneye”
When Goldeneye was released in 1995, Famke Janssen was relatively unknown. After moving to the United States from the Netherlands, Janssen did some modeling and a few small appearances on several American television shows, but playing Xenia Onatopp, the terrorist assassin, made her a star. Onatopp’s weird BDSM fetish and propensity to kill her victims during sex was, let’s say, memorable, but after Bond killed her, Janssen was left to make the rest of her career on her own.
Since then, Janssen has kept busy in dozens of other movies and the television show Hemlock Grove, but her role as Jean Gray in the X-Men movies guarantees her place in this list. The X-Men film franchise is the 14th highest grossing franchise in the world, with no signs of slowing down, and Janssen’s portrayal of the X-Men’s earliest female member served as one of the most important foundations for the series in its early going.
9. Halle Berry – Jinx From “Die Another Day”
Halle Berry is one of the more famous actors to portray a Bond girl. She played the super tough spy named Jinx, who teams with Bond to take down the evil Gustav Graves. Jinx wasn’t the first beautiful foreign agent Bond teamed up with, but Berry was wonderful in the role, actually injuring herself in the process of making the movie, which shows her dedication to the craft.
Sure she has chosen some poor film roles in the past, but not many Bond girls can brag they have won an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe like Berry can. Her role as Storm in the X-Men movies and other high profile roles have contributed to Berry being one of the most critically and financially successful actors to gift the James Bond universe.
8. Kim Basinger – Domino From “Never Say Never Again”
Okay, I know that Never Say Never Again is not a true, canonical Bond movie. This remake of Thunderball by Warner Brothers studios wasn’t as amazing as the original, but Kim Basinger was so sexy as Domino, the mistress-turned-mole who helps Bond topple the plans of SPECTRE.
Basinger transitioned from B-list actor in the 1970s to a major motion picture actor in the 1980s and early 1990s, with roles in Batman, Wayne’s World 2, and Cool World. When Basinger created an Oscar- and Golden Globe- winning turn in the movie L.A. Confidential, though, she cemented herself as one of the most capable actors in Hollywood. She hasn’t had a lot of high profile roles in recent years, but still adds more and more films to her resume with no end in sight.
7. Jane Seymour – Solitaire in “Live And Let Die”
Jane Seymour had the difficult task of being cast as one of the strangest Bond girls in the entire film series. Solitaire, the mysterious servant of Philip Kananga, is a precognitive virgin, who uses her supernatural powers to aid Kananga’s plans for a drug empire that will stretch to all of North America. Is she is a mutant? Does she draw her powers from black magic? Has any other Bond girl had to worry about this? The fact that Seymour is able to play it straight and realistic is indicative of her inherent star power.
She was relatively unknown when Live and Let Die was released in 1973, but has become one of the most reliable television actresses for the English-speaking world. Her role as Dr. Quinn in the long running and hugely popular American television series Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman is bookmarked with memorable runs in Battlestar Galactica, Smallville, and most recently, Jane the Virgin. Seymour is no stranger to movie roles either with her memorable performance in the 2005 film Wedding Crashers.
6. Mie Hama – Kissy Suzuki From “You Only Live Twice”
Mie Hama, when she won the role of Kissy Suzuki in 1967, was already one of the most important Japanese actors of her generation. The stunning thespian had starred in over 60 films, many of them monster movies like King Kong Vs. Godzilla (an all time classic in any country). Many of these Japanese movies are unfamiliar with English-speaking audiences, but for the Japanese, Mie Hama was the perfect choice for a Bond girl. Playing agent Kissy Suzuki, Hama goes deep undercover with Bond, pretending to be his wife, so they can get close enough to SPECTRE’s operations without being spotted.
While the film version of Kissy is not as dramatic as her counterpart in the You Only Live Twice novel, who begins to believe the cover and kidnaps Bond before he can “divorce” her, Hama does the role justice. She hasn’t acted in Japan for several decades, but is still revered by Japanese cinephiles and honored as one of their best.
5. Lois Maxwell – The Original Miss Moneypenny
Lois Maxwell was cast to play M’s ever-faithful secretary Miss Moneypenny in the original, official James Bond movie Dr. No in 1962 and stayed with the part until A View to Kill in 1985. Let that sink in for a second. Lois Maxwell played Miss Moneypenny for 23 years before retiring from the James Bond universe alongside Roger Moore. This, for a normal actress, could be a career in itself, but Lois Maxwell was certainly not on vacation when Eon’s cameras weren’t rolling. Maxwell boasted almost 90 acting credits on her resume when she passed away in 2007.
A child actor from Canada, Maxwell was well established as an actress when Dr. No began filming, and also made guest appearances on The Avengers and The Saint, placing her squarely in a hallowed spy actors pantheon. Even though fans in the United States had to wait between Bond movies to see Maxwell, she was a fixture on Canadian television for decades.
4. Dame Diana Rigg – Teresa Bond in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
Diana Rigg is easily my favorite Bond girl. The suicidal, bored socialite Teresa di Vicenzo serves as a perfect companion to the risk-taking, hard-hearted secret agent. Helping Bond battle SPECTRE with the help of her father’s criminal empire, Teresa wins Bond’s heart, actually marrying James Bond and prompting him to quit MI6. Her death later in the film still serves as a truly shocking, emotionally-devastating moment that has never been achieved again in the film series (even Eva Green‘s death scene in Casino Royale only manages to come close).
But casting Diana Rigg in the film was already a coup of major proportions. Rigg played Emma Peel in The Avengers, serving as the sexiest TV spy the world has even seen. After OHMSS, Rigg continued to work: with memorable turns on stage; in several BBC television programs (Mrs. Bradley Mysteries for example); and in plenty of movies (her role as Lady Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper is specially important for my kids). Currently, Rigg plays Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones, one of the most critically-lauded television programs in the world.
3. Claudine Auger – Domino From “Thunderball”
As sexy as Kim Basinger was, Auger had the benefit of starring in Thunderball, the better version of the plot also filmed for Never Say Never Again. Auger was Miss France in 1958, but didn’t rest on her looks alone, taking acting seriously and working to perfect her art. As Domino, she assisted James Bond against her own lover Emil Largo and his boss in SPECTRE when learning that her brother had been killed as part of Largo’s machinations. Auger is not well known in North America outside of Thunderball, but has made a career for herself as a very important actor in Europe.
She has steadily worked on television programs throughout Italy, France, and Spain, with around 80 credits to her resume. She is now semi-retired, but left a legacy of work any actor would be proud of.
2. Honor Blackman – Pussy Galore in “Goldfinger”
Honor Blackman brought a serious pedigree to the Bond universe when she crossed over from her previous role as Catherine Gale on The Avengers. She was sexy, strong, and handled her character’s moniker with a seriousness that must have taken a lot of patience. Even though she needed to tone down the lesbian characteristics of the novel’s version, Blackman was great as Pussy, Goldfinger’s evil pilot-turned-ally to James Bond.
Although Blackman didn’t really do a lot of other work in the Unites States, she never ever stopped working in England. Blackman has been a television fixture on the BBC for the last fifty years, with notable roles in Dr. Who and more recently a high profile role in Bridget Jones’ Diary. Blackman has never retired and recently appeared in the television program You, Me, & Them. Not bad for a 90-year-old woman.
1. Naomie Harris – The Current Miss Moneypenny
Naomie Harris is new to the James Bond universe, but her role as the newest incarnation of Miss Moneypenny guarantees that we will be seeing a lot more of her. She will be returning in the next Bond movie, SPECTRE, at the very least.
But Harris is not new to acting. She may not have the benefit of decades like some of the other women on this list, but her role as Tia Dalma in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and Winnie in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom indicate that Harris has an exceptionally promising career yet to come. Being part of two of the highest grossing film franchises in history must be so fulfilling to a young actor. I’m confident that Naomie Harris will have plenty of important performances in the next few years.
Dougall, Alastair. James Bond: The Secret World of 007. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2000. Print.
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