bond villainsWhy does "Goldfinger" remain so thoroughly entertaining, 50 years after its release (on September 18, 1964)? The third James Bond film, and the breakthrough in the franchise's worldwide popularity, "Goldfinger" has plenty going for it -- that slinky Shirley Bassey theme song, the great gadgetry (including the most iconic Bondmobile, the Aston-Martin DB5), the Bond girls (three of them this time, not just the usual two, including the can't-believe-they-got-away-with-this-name Pussy Galore), and the alternately brutal and jocular performance by Sean Connery, still the definitive Agent 007. But most of all, there's the colorful villain of the title, played with grand peevishness by Gert Frobe.

Indeed, you can argue that Bond movies are only as good as their villains. The world's greatest spy needs an adversary worthy of his talents and effort and frequent-flyer miles. For the most part, in two dozen films over the past half-century, Bond has fought some world-class foes, supervillains who have not just cool secret lairs, sadistic henchmen, and schemes for world domination, but also a certain panache, a style to match their volatility, a gleam in the eye that suggests that, not only will upending civilization for personal gain be a perfectly appropriate thing to do, but it will also be fun.

Some Bond villains, of course, are more fun than others, and some are scarier than others, and some represent more credible and realistic threats than others. We've taken all that into account in the gallery below, which ranks the 007 movie villains from worst to best, from the blandly forgettable to the memorably indispensible. Read on (see slideshow below), as if the fate of the free world depended on it.