TV & Movies

The Evolution Of The Bond Girl

It’s been a long journey.

Ursula Andress in 'Dr. No' and Ana De Armas in 'No Time to Die.'
Nicola Dove © 2021 Danjaq, LLC and MGM/Courtesy of MGM

James Bond is part of our cultural DNA, and so too is the “Bond girl” — the woman who aids, fights, and loves the British super-spy. Historically, there are a few options for Bond girls: the enemy who’s wooed to Bond’s side, the accomplice, the competent “female James Bond.” And then there are a few that exist out of these categories entirely, though traditionally, they’ll either die, or they end the movie as Bond’s love interest.

Over the years, the Bond girl has at times been afflicted with the worst aspects of the franchise — specifically, its sexist, racist, classist, and generally stereotypical tendencies. (Some people don’t even like to use the term Bond girl, labeling it dismissive.) The benefit of the franchise’s longevity is that this archetype has been given time to evolve. But, as this list shows, for every empowered woman lead, there’s another who loses her agency and sometimes her life in service to the MI6 agent.

Recent films have fortunately fared better, and 2021’s No Time to Die seems like it’s no exception: The movie will see Nomi (Lashana Lynch) take up the mantle of 007, and a brilliant, lively performance from Ana de Armas, in addition to the return of Spectre Bond girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux).

While this list doesn’t include every single Bond girl ever, it provides a timeline of important, iconic, and influential characters who have helped shape the Bond universe. Each one has added something important to our understanding of the Bond girl, whether it be a crucial step forward, or several embarrassing steps back.

Sylvia Trench

Dr. No (1962)

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The first Bond girl ever! Eunice Gayson (voiced by Nikki van der Zyl) as Sylvia Trench stuns in an orange-red ballgown and flirts with Bond at a London club. She was initially going to be a recurring character and, in fact, she did make a cameo in the later Bond film From Russia With Love. She’s also one half of what would become an iconic exchange:

Bond: “I admire your courage, Miss, er... ?”

Trench: “Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr... ?”

Bond: “Bond, James Bond.”

Honey Ryder

Dr. No (1962)

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Of course, when you think Bond girl, you probably think about the second woman who appears in Dr. No: shell diver Honey Ryder (played by Ursula Andress, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl and Diana Coupland). Her introduction, in which she rises from the sea in a white bikini, is iconic. She gets drawn into the plot somewhat by accident, and isn’t given a lot of actual agency and, but the fact that she’s suspicious of Bond and brandishes a knife at him augurs things to come — even if she does end the movie, like so many Bond girls, in a passionate embrace with the spy.

Tatiana Romanova

From Russia with Love (1963)

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Even this early in the franchise, fans did catch glimpses of “the competent Bond girl.” Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi, voiced by Barbara Jefford) is a fervently patriotic Russian agent and former ballerina, who’s forced to reevaluate her devotion to duty and country when she meets Bond. After starting out as a naive SPECTRE pawn, she reclaims some of her agency over the course of the film.

Rosa Klebb

From Russia with Love (1963)

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Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), while not a Bond girl in the typical sense — she’s a SPECTRE agent with a knack for torture — absolutely merits a mention on this list. An efficient killer with a devilishly smart assassination technique (specifically, sticking someone to death with a knife concealed in her shoe), Klebb falls into the unfortunate stereotype of the “evil/psychotic lesbian” (it’s made even more explicit in Ian Fleming’s book of the same name, on which the film is based). But she’s still notable for as an early female villain who has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Bond.

Jill Masterson

Goldfinger (1964)

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If you’re unfamiliar, this is the Bond girl who’s best known for her cause of death: gold paint, slathered all over her body. She’s not in many scenes, and she follows a typical trajectory: woman works for the bad guy; woman is swayed over to Bond’s side; woman is immediately murdered. The death was creative and spawned a (false) urban legend that the actor Shirley Eaton actually died from being painted gold, but it’s also a depressing plot device that’s solely added for shock value.

Pussy Galore

Goldfinger (1964)

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Aside from the patently ridiculous name, Pussy was a queer-coded, feisty nemesis with fighting skills, who showed an initial disinterest in Bond. Her fight-turned-love scene with Bond is interpreted by many as an assault, and Fleming’s portrayal of the character in the book on which the film is based is now seen as offensive. Honor Blackman, then 39, was the oldest Bond girl at the time; she also did her own stunts, and took issue with the term “Bond girl.”

Fiona Volpe

Thunderball (1965)

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To call Fiona “formidable” would be an understatement. She’s a SPECTRE assassin who has no issue killing anyone who gets in her way or screws up the mission. The femme fatale beds Bond and then immediately turns on him, getting in a few insults before engaging in a chase that (sigh) leads to Bond using her as a human shield for a bullet meant for him.

Domino Derval

Thunderball (1965)

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Domino (played by Claudine Auger, voiced by Nikki van der Zyl) is initially the mistress of SPECTRE leader Emilio Largo, but her allegiances chance when she learns Largo killed her brother. She joins forces with Bond and — unlike some of the women before her — does not die. She actually manages to kill Largo herself, and she’s glad she did it. For a character dragged into the action, she really holds her own.

Aki

You Only Live Twice (1967)

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You Only Live Twice is now known as the immensely racist film where Bond dons yellowface, but Japanese actor Akiko Wakabayashi gives a great performance, and is a bright spot in the otherwise less-than-great movie. Her character actively assists Bond as an agent — but then is murdered midway through the film with poison meant for Bond. Also, she’s forced to say this line when Bond takes her to bed: “I think I will enjoy very much serving under you.” Yikes.

Kissy Suzuki

You Only Live Twice (1967)

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Kissy (Mie Hama, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl) plays Bond’s “wife” as part of his bid to remain undercover. She doesn’t have as large of a role, but the part made the actor a celebrity in her native Japan. She subsequently distanced herself from acting and from being a Bond girl, saying, “I didn’t want that image to stick with me.”

Tracy, Teresa Draco di Vicenzo

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

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Tracy (Diana Rigg, in a typically stellar performance) doesn’t just match Bond — she exceeds him in every way with her energy and talent. Largely considered one of the best Bond girls ever, in part due to her rich backstory as a grieving heiress, she’s also the only woman to marry Bond. Spoiler alert: she is immediately murdered. I guess that’s one way to preserve Bond’s single status, but it’s still a tragedy.

Tiffany Case

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

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Known as the Bond film with the annoying, strangely named women, Diamonds Are Forever sees “Plenty O’Toole” (Lana Wood) replaced by “Tiffany Case” (Jill St. John) as the true lead of the movie. Like with a lot of Ian Fleming’s characters, including Pussy Galore before her, Tiffany’s hatred of men is chalked up to an early rape in the book; the movie erases this aspect and softens her character but still makes her flaky and incompetent. The first major American Bond girl didn’t get a very fair shake.

Rosie Carver

Live and Let Die (1973)

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Bond’s first Black love interest dies depressingly quickly. The additional choice to make her hysterical and bad at her job hasn’t aged well; it’s very much a missed opportunity. Actor Gloria Hendry has spoken out about the need to have more women involved in the franchise, and said she even suggested Halle Berry be cast as the next (female) Bond.

Solitaire

Live and Let Die (1973)

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Jane Seymour, who plays tarot reader Solitaire, was 20 at the time of filming, and has said that her doe-eyed character was meant to look like a virgin. So it’s not a great look that she not only sleeps with Bond, but does so despite knowing it’ll cause her to lose her psychic talents. Also not great? The fact that Bond stacks a deck of tarot cards to trick her into pulling the “Lovers” card and sleeping with him. Ew.

Andrea Anders

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

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Maud Adams has the distinction of having played two Bond girls in the franchise. The first one, as the mistress of an assassin, is the less fun role. She enlists Bond’s help because she feels trapped. Bond surprises her in the shower, threatens her, and then smacks her in the face. Then she still decides to sleep with him later — and is immediately murdered by her assassin boyfriend.

Mary Goodnight

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

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Played by Britt Ekland, Mary Goodnight is portrayed as “airhead” operative constantly trying (and failing) to help with the mission — a foil for Bond’s competence. But the poor thing has a tough time; her character arc includes being kidnapped by the aforementioned assassin, being constantly forced to wear a bikini, Princess Leia-style, and having to hide in a closet while Bond romances Andrea.

Major Anya Amasova

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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Agent XXX (sigh), aka Anya, is a nice return to the “competent” Bond girl. She’s a Russian spy who resolves to kill Bond for murdering her lover, a fellow Russian agent. During their attempts to out-spy each other, she and Bond develop some pretty amazing chemistry. Played by Barbara Bach, Anya was supposed to become a recurring character in the franchise, but that never materialized.

Holly Goodhead

Moonraker (1979)

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One of the more competent and integral-to-the-plot Bond girls is also saddled with the objectively terrible name of Holly... Goodhead. Some Bond fans say she’s boring, but Holly (Lois Chiles) gets to actively contribute to the mission, steering the two out of danger and saving the planet in the process. But then the film ends with Holly and Bond sleeping together in orbit.

Melina Havelock

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

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This Bond girl is also a bit progressive: She doesn’t say much, but she’s driven by revenge and gets her own signature weapon (a crossbow). She’s also capable and strong, like Bond — and she actually gets to kill the assassin who murdered her parents. Unsurprisingly, she and Bond end the film together, but never has an actor done so much with so little. Hilariously, Carole Bouquet gave an interview at the time in which she said Bond star Roger Moore was old enough to be her dad, not her lover (she was 23, and Moore was 53). Truth!

Octopussy

Octopussy (1983)

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The second time Adams stars in a Bond film, she’s given a much meatier role in the form of... Octopussy! Yes, that is the character’s real nickname, but she’s also the owner of multiple criminal enterprises with several loyal henchwomen. She’s just as feisty as Bond, and the two get to match wits before ultimately choosing to be allies.

May Day

A View to a Kill (1985)

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A huge, huge improvement in casting and character development, May Day (Grace Jones) as is smart, strong, and capable as all of her male counterparts. I mean, she literally lifts a man over her head! Jones famously did not get along with Roger Moore and pranked him during their love scene with a sex toy, which is hilarious. Her character still ends up dying heartbroken over her villainous lover’s betrayal, but at least she gets to foil his plans first.

Stacey Sutton

A View to a Kill (1985)

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After May Day’s demise, Bond ends up with the more prototypical Bond girl: Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts), an oil heiress who works with the spy. Her breathy performance is sometimes criticized, but she’s also not given a ton to work with. Also, the reason Roger Moore finally decided to stop playing Bond was reportedly because he was older than Roberts’... mom.

Kara Milovy

The Living Daylights (1987)

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The franchise was revamped after Moore’s departure, resulting in seemingly grittier take on Bond, with Timothy Dalton in the title role. The love interest in The Living Daylights, however, shares some unfortunate DNA with Tanya Roberts in A View to a Kill. The character is depicted as fairly incompetent, but the most bizarre choice is saddling her with a cello that the characters have to lug around for a chunk of the movie.

Pam Bouvier

License to Kill (1989)

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Former Army pilot and government informant Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) doesn’t just look stylish in a ballgown; she’s allowed to be both smart and charismatic. There’s a reason she was named after Jackie Kennedy Onassis (whose maiden name was Bouvier): She gives just as good as she gets, and she’s actively interested in Bond, so it’s not a bummer when she ends up with him in the end.

Xenia Onatopp

GoldenEye (1995)

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This character basically sexes people to death! I’m not kidding: The aptly named Xenia Onatopp can cut off a man’s air supply by wrapping her legs around him and gleefully... you know... (it’s theorized she’s the first Bond Girl shown having an orgasm!). Famke Janssen is having the best time in this, and I love every second she’s on screen. She dies, of course, but she’s also a pilot and a ruthlessly efficient agent to boot.

Natalya Simonova

GoldenEye (1995)

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Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) is one of those “really good at her job” Bond girls. She successfully evades a mass execution alongside her fellow programmers, then helps Bond as his impromptu IT guru. Of course, she gets menaced by the bad guy, and also turns from being critical of Bond — because he dared the villain to kill her, of course — to being totally persuaded by his “charms.”

Paris Carver

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

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A pre-Desperate Housewives Teri Hatcher plays the girl who gets too close to Bond, causing him to run away, before meeting up with him again as the wife of the movie’s villain. She throws caution to the wind, sleeps with Bond, gives him information... and is immediately murdered by her husband. As with a number of deaths on this list, this instance of fridging drives Bond to seek revenge.

Wai Lin

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

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Michelle Yeoh was “the female James Bond,” according to Bond actor Pierce Brosnan himself. A Chinese agent, Wai Lin demonstrates impressive fighting skills that actually exceed Bond’s, and she doesn’t need his help getting things done — until the plot demands her to, and she ends the movie romantically with him. She almost became a recurring character with a spinoff, and it’s devastating that we didn’t get to see her kick more butt.

Elektra King

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

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Elektra (Sophie Marceau) is a nice counterpoint to the traditional Bond girl. She makes Bond (and the audience) believe that she’s the potential victim of a terrorist, but as it turns out, she’s with the terrorist, and is the mastermind behind an evil plot. (She totally killed her dad!) She gets Bond to trust her before happily revealing her true nature. Does she die? She sure does, but she instigates a ton of enjoyable mayhem beforehand.

Christmas Jones

The World Is Not Enough (1999)

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Casting a Bond girl as a nuclear physicist and then naming her Christmas Jones is one of those decisions that will live in Bond girl infamy. These days, Denise Richards is absolutely in on the joke, and even referenced her role in an epic 30 Rock cameo. But in The World Is Not Enough, she does her best in a role that seems designed to make fun of her. Case in point, the terrible pun that’s saved for the love scene at the end of the movie: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”

Miranda Frost

Die Another Day (2002)

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Rosamund Pike’s early performance as an icy Bond girl (literally, her name’s Miranda Frost) was impressive, and it also introduced the actor to a wider audience. Miranda shares some characteristics with Pike’s most famous role, Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne, in that the two are both gleefully, remorselessly evil. In real life, Pike has spoken about the sexism in the hiring process for the Bond film, and how she fought to keep her clothes on during auditions.

Jinx Johnson

Die Another Day (2002)

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The first Black Bond girl since Grace Jones’ May Day, Jinx (Halle Berry) is a... quirky person, but also a skilled NSA operative (although more people probably remember her from that scene where she emerges from the beach in a bikini). In a movie filled with some racist plot points, Jinx emerges pretty unscathed, and even gets an unintentionally hilarious line in when she fights — and kills — Miranda: “Read this, bitch!” Jinx was another character who was considered for a spinoff, but ultimately didn’t get one.

Vesper Lynd

Casino Royale (2006)

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Vesper (Eva Green) is one of the big reasons why Casino Royale — Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond —was so good. She’s cast as the spy’s first love, and goes toe-to-toe with him before betraying him — but not before falling in love. She has a complete character arc, but (of course) it all ends with her dying and Bond calling her a “bitch”; he spends most of the next movie moping about it. She deserved better. However, Green fought for the character to keep her clothes on and stay empowered, which totally paid off: She’s considered one of the best Bond girls.

Strawberry Fields

Quantum of Solace (2008)

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Speaking of deserving better... MI6 agent Strawberry (Gemma Arterton) tries to prevent Bond from going on an unsanctioned mission, immediately sleeps with him, and then immediately gets smothered in crude oil. That is, if you’re curious, a throwback to the gold paint death in Goldfinger — and critics noted it was backward-looking in the wrong way. Even Arterton herself has spoken about the character’s depressing arc.

Camille Montes

Quantum of Solace (2008)

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In the same movie, we also get a character who teams up with Bond — but, critically, doesn’t sleep with him — and plays a proper role in her quest for revenge. Camille (Olga Korylenko) is an intelligence officer seeking to kill the general who slaughtered her family. Bond, as per usual, gets in the way, but gives her the chance to fulfill her mission. The character is not without controversy, and the scene in which she is nearly assaulted by the general is upsetting. Still, it’s a step.

Eve Moneypenny

Skyfall (2012)

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Audiences don’t realize that Naomie Harris has taken over the mantle of Moneypenny until the very end of the movie. In previous films, Bond’s relationship with Moneypenny had flirtatious, semi-professional, will-they-won’t-they vibe, but it gets a major upgrade here. Harris trains as a field officer alongside Bond before giving it up to sit behind her historic desk. Plus, she, uh, accidentally shoots Bond in the shoulder and assumes she killed him for the first part of the movie.

Sévérine

Skyfall (2012)

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On the other hand, Skyfall introduces Sévérine (Berenice Marlohe), a former sex-trafficking victim working for Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva. She gets the most bummer ending of them all: Terrified and fearing for her life, she turns to Bond to save her, but when the two are captured, she’s tortured and forced to play a “game” where the two men try to shoot a glass of whiskey off her head. Silva wins by shooting her in the head. Like I said, a bummer.

M

Skyfall (2012)

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Skyfall is also the last film for Judi Dench as M, James Bond’s boss and ally over the course of several years (Dench actually made her debut in GoldenEye, which means her character has overseen multiple Bonds). While not a traditional Bond girl type, M has snappier banter with 007 than anyone else does. To see him take direction from someone so smart and powerful is a joy to watch.

Lucia Sciarra

Spectre (2015)

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The franchise’s oldest Bond girl to date, Bellucci (then 51) made headlines for the “groundbreaking” casting — even though she’s only four years older than Craig. Depressingly, she doesn’t get much time onscreen, and her trajectory’s pretty standard: She’s saved by Bond, sleeps with him, imparts information, and exits stage left. Still, she imbues a ton of life into her few scenes.

Madeleine Swann

Spectre (2015)

The psychiatrist daughter of an international criminal , Madeleine (Léa Seydoux) starts the movie wary of Bond: As she correctly points out, by coming to find her, Bond’s led SPECTRE agents right to her. She gets drawn into the plot to take down the organization, and has the distinct honor of becoming Bond’s girlfriend at the end of the film. She’s also a major character in 2021’s No Time to Die.

Nomi

No Time to Die (2021)

Lashana Lynch plays the first Black woman 007. She sat down to discuss the character with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who worked on the script, in an effort to ensure the role would feel authentic. Even though trolls protested her casting online, she’s happy to be in the revolutionary role. "I feel very grateful that I get to challenge those narratives ... We’re moving away from toxic masculinity, and that’s happening because women are being open, demanding and vocal, and calling out misbehavior as soon as we see it," she told Harper’s Bazaar UK.

Paloma

No Time to Die (2021)

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Ana de Armas’ role has been hailed as one of the best parts of the movie. Calling Paloma a “complete character,” de Armas said, “She's definitely something else that I don't think we've seen in other Bond girls in previous movies. She's a lot of fun — very active, very badass!"