The “Bond Girl” Formula

In 1967, Roald Dahl, author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and The Witches and now screenwriter for YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE was interviewed in Playboy magazine and made a comment about the use of “Bond girls”. As quoted in SOME KIND OF HERO, the excellent book on the Bond films by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury:

So you put in three girls.  No more and no less. Girl number one is pro-Bond. She stays around roughly through the first reel of the picture. Then she is bumped off by the enemy, preferably in Bond’s arms…

Girl number two is anti-Bond. She works for the enemy and stays around throughout the middle third of the picture. She must capture Bond, and Bond must save himself by bowling her over with sheer sexual magnetism. This girl should also be bumped off, preferably in an original fashion.

Girl number three is violently pro-Bond. She occupies the final third of the picture and she must on no account be killed. Nor must she permit Bond to take any lecherous liberties with her until the very end of the story. We keep that for the fade-out.

Of course, these aren’t rules, and Dahl wasn’t suggesting that they had to stick rigidly to them, but EON Productions Bond films follow their own fomula – and if you are entrusted with guiding the new one to the cinemas, the weight of expectation would be huge.

Let’s take a tour through all of the Bond films so far to see if the female characters fit that early formula – and see how the films have adjusted with the times.

Slight spoiler warning if you haven’t seen all of the films.


DOCTOR NO

Sylvia Trench is the first Bond “girl”, and Miss Taro the first anti-Bond girl – yet you can see that they are still trying to find their way with the female characters. Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder gets an iconic introduction, and a decent backstory though.


FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Dr No nearly fits the formula, but FRWL totally bucks the trend – Sylvia Trench returns as Bond’s girlfriend. It almost looks as if Bond is monogamous. Doesn’t last long though, for soon he’s with Romanova who shifts allegiances throughout the film – which would happen with many future characters.


GOLDFINGER

Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson is the first Bond “girl” who was Pro-Bond AND was killed off relatively early in the film. Which does happen in the films, but not as often as you may think. Pussy Galore continues the concept of the anti-Bond character who converts during the film.


THUNDERBALL

Fiona Volpe is the first really substantial female villain in the Bond films. I’d argue she is one of the best villains overall and I’m still hurting at how she was despatched.


YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

Dahl’s film has the three characters he spoke about, albeit in a slight variant of the formula he was working towards. Aki’s death is unique and tragic (and gratuitous – and they all seem criminally unaffected by it). Helga Brandt is an underwritten clone of Fiona Volpe, and the only real contribution Kissy gets is near the end. At least they gave her something to cover up her incongruous bikini (they are undercover spies for goodness sake) during the finale.


ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE

While Bond does have a couple of visits to Ruby Bartlett (Angela Scoular) and Nancy (Catherina von Schell) at Piz Gloria, it is Tracy Vincenzo (Diana Rigg) who is Bond’s “girl”. She seems to start the film as Anti-Bond, then Pro-Bond, and then becomes the Survivor. Almost. He’s nearly a one woman guy – which is not quite the Bond persona touted through the films, but this movie is all the better for it.


DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER

While Tiffany Case is introduced as an antagonist, she is soon a vulnerable female, and spends most of the finale in a bikini. Plenty O’Toole has little screen time before her character is killed. From Tracy to this in one film, but perhaps theis was EON’s attempt to re-calibrate after OHMSS.


LIVE AND LET DIE

Miss Caruso is entirely dispensable, there to permit them to have some early seventies sex comedy. Rosie makes for a strong character who sadly isn’t as tough as she first appears. And then there is Solitaire, who is extremely vulnerable in many ways – and is even tricked into bedding down with Bond. By Bond.


THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN

The three “girl” rule of thumb is dispensed with again, for this film really only has Maud Adams who neatly fulfills the “Pro-Bond, killed off early” role, and Mary Goodnight being the female agent that helps Bond. Again though, she is given poor dialogue, displays few skills, and finishes the film in a bikini. It was the seventies, right?


THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

Looking for three females in this film requires a bit of a stretch, as Barbara Bach’s Agent XXX covers all three of the types – she is invariably Anti-Bond, Pro-Bond and then the Survivor. Sadly her revenge motivation is entirely jettisoned. Shame.


MOONRAKER

There is no Anti-Bond female character in this film, although a Pro-Bond character Corinne gets skilled in a beautifully horrific (and thankfully off-screen) way.  Instead though, the Pro-Bond/Survivor is Dr Holly Goodhead, a scientist and undercover CIA operative who seems to be an attempt to create a stronger character opposite Bond. It kind of works, especially when Bond makes chauvinistic jokes, and despite her name.  Good grief.


FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

In one of my favourite Bonds’ the main female character is driven by revenge and Melina Havelock makes for a good Pro-Bond/Survivor. The countess character is shoe-horned in, then killed in a nice callback to OHMSS but the story doesn’t really have much room for the Countess to make a significant mark.


OCTOPUSSY

Octopussy herself is positioned like a villain, but in a film with two major male villains and a brutal henchman, she does little until the end.  Shifting allegiances again with Magda and Octopussy.


A VIEW TO A KILL

For the first time in 20 years, a proper Anti-Bond female arrives in the form of the glorious Grace Jones. May Day is suitably evil. Bond (or perhaps Moore himself) looks genuinely worried for his safety when she gets him in bed. On the flip side, Stacey Sutton is given little to do but be the damsel in distress.


THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS

Dalton famously wanted his Bond to be closer to the novels. The hint of “realism” in both of his films makes them stand out from the excesses of Moonraker and the caricatures of Octopussy and A View to a Kill. Yet in both films Bond is a one-woman type of guy. Kara in TLD and Pam in LTK (Lupe never really had, or wanted a chance) are great characters.

Pro-Bond/Survivor: Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo)

LICENCE TO KILL

Pro-Bond/Survivor: Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell)

GOLDENEYE

The rebooted Bond franchise ticks a trope box – the Pro-Bond assessor Caroline in the car at the beginning for example, who vanishes after one scene.  The victory here is the writing and performances of both Onatopp and Natalya. Both are a shot in the arm for the franchise and give Bond a run for their money – which makes it a much stronger film overall.


TOMORROW NEVER DIES

Brosnan’s second film keeps the same dynamic as GoldenEye – a dispensible female at the start, a second character who seems to be Anti-Bond, and the Survivor. Paris Carver is a great character but this faced-paced film doesn’t give her much to do before her demise.

Wai Lin is a great addition too – an operative from China, who can hold her own and is as tough as 007.  Then they make them kiss in the closing beat of the movie, which sort of ruins it.  I know it’s not what Bond usually does, but is it possible that skipping an enforced kiss might be better than seeing it awkwardly pushed in as the credits roll?


THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

“Cigar Girl” makes an impact at the start, before she explodes. Bond uses his sexual awesomeness to get Doctor Molly Warmflash (!) to approve his fitness for duty.

Elektra King is a bold move for the film. Upon first watch, her motivations never really convinced me, but Marceau gets a lot of good moments in the film and her closing scenes are fabulous.  The character is great.

The much-maligned Christmas Jones is also a good character. Sure, the casting of Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist may or may not be to your taste, but at least they tried to give the female characters three-dimensions.


DIE ANOTHER DAY

This film tries to give all of the characters some strength, male and female.  Whether it succeeds or not is another matter, but Jinx is a capable CIA officer and Frost a confident MI6 operative, so there is potential there, so the film seems to be deviating away from the “formula”.  Sadly by the end, Brosnan’s tenure as Bond collapses with some crunchingly poor dialogue as he fishes a diamond out of Halle Berry’s belly button just before the climax.


CASINO ROYALE

Bond uses Solange to get to her husband, then heads off to Miami pursuing him. Solange is then found dead. There’s no Anti-Bond, but then Vesper is Pro-Bond, mostly, before the dark ending.


QUANTUM OF SOLACE

Bond beds Fields who is soon killed in a callback to Jill Masterson in Goldfinger. Yet while Camille is a survivor, she and Bond don’t sleep together, and I think her character, and the film are much more satisfying for it.


SKYFALL

Early in the film we see Bond with a female in the beach hut, but her face is deliberately obscured. There is also the heavy implication that something happened between Bond and Eve in the hotel in Macau, although that is unlikely.

The Bond woman in this film is M, and Skyfall is great at exploring the relationship between M and Bond. Her loss is yet another crucial step in Bond’s development.


SPECTRE

Bond’s hook up with Lucia Sciarra unusually ends with her survival. A pro-Bond survivor. There is no anti-Bond, and like OHMSS and Casino Royale, the main female character is the one Bond falls for. But this time, Madeleime is the survivor, and both drive off as the film ends.


NO TIME TO DIE

Put simply, we don’t yet know. but the three female characters look formidable.

The trailer reveals a break in Bond/Swann’s relationship, a rival in the shape of Nomi, and a skilled operative in Paloma.

There is nothing to suggest they will fall into the “formula” – which is a good thing.

In retrospect, the formula Dahl was working towards hasn’t always been consistently used. To be fair, the formula doesn’t strictly fit the film he wrote either.

Not all three “types” appear in each films, although these types of character are an essential part of the Bond movies, no matter which era they belong to.

There are some interesting patterns though: for example, Dalton’s Bond didn’t sleep around. Evil female antagonists are few and far between. The pro-Bond “Girl 1” isn’t routinely killed off as often as you’d suspect. Daniel Craig’s Bond doesn’t really have “femme fatales”.

And while spy thrillers may have traditionally been the domain of male characters, and the females falling into the stereotypes of femme fatale or damsel in distress, it is great to see that Bond is at it’s best when those stereotypes are subverted, or missing altogether.

The cinematic Bond reflects the changing times he appears in, the sly innuendo of the sixties, the saucy excess of the seventies and the one-woman Bond of the mid eighties.

The nineties Bond tried harder to develop female roles beyond the stereotypes or weaker scripts of previous films with characters who could hold their own. Yet those films also recalled the dispensible Pro-Bond dalliances.

Craig’s Bond has played with the formula and twisted it into part of the extended storyline. The one-off dalliances which led to the death of those women have now been fixed as deliberate killings to torture Bond. And the loss of the significant women even more so.

What is interesting, especially on my rewatch of all films, is that the perception we have of the sexist attitudes to female characters resides more in the marketing of the Bond films, rather than the content itself. Seldom have the films had completely passive or irrelevant female characters. In most cases they are trained agents, assassins, highly skilled or highly capable characters.

But look at the posters or the publicity shots for the films – particularly those from the seventies – and you get a different story.


Bond publicity is designed to sell the image, the reassuring familiarity of the globe trotting, spectacular and sexy secret agent.

And in that sense Dahl was right, give them a formula that works and the audiences will keep coming back.

But audiences change, and the Sacrifice/Femme Fatale/Survivor formula, if it ever really existed, has needed to adapt too.

No Time to Die should be a fascinating watch. And even more interesting will be what EON Productions do next.


The 25th Bond film NO TIME TO DIE is currently scheduled to debut in cinemas in the UK on 8 October 2021.


  • SOME KIND OF HERO by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury, The History Press 2015.
  • 007s Oriental Eyefuls” by Roald Dahl, Playboy, June 1967

Read all of my Bond Retrospectives for Reel Anarchy here, or check out my longer retrospectives on the blog here.


Film1: Pro-Bond2: Anti-Bond3: Survivor
Doctor NoSylvia Trench
(Eunice Gay)
Miss Taro
(Zena Marshall)
Honey Ryder
(Ursula Andress)
From Russia With LoveSylvia Trench
(Eunice Gay)
Tatiana Romanova
(Daniela Bianchi)
Tatiana Romanova
(Daniela Bianchi)
GoldfingerJill Masterson
(Shirley Eaton)
Bonita
(Nadja Regin)
Tilly Masterson?
(Tania Mallett)
Pussy Galore
(Honor Blackman)
ThunderballPatricia Fearing (Molly Peters)
Paula Caplan?
(Martine Beswick)
Fiona Volpe
(Luciana Paluzzi)
Domino
(Claudine Auger)
You Only Live TwiceAki
(Akiko Wakabayashi)
Helga Brandt
(Karin Dor)
Kissy Suzuki
(Mie Hama)
On Her Majesty’s Secret ServiceTracy?
(Diana Rigg)?
Ruby Bartlett
(Angela Scoular)
Nancy
(Catherina von Schell)
noneTracy (almost)
Diamonds are ForeverPlenty O’Toole
(Lana Wood)
noneTiffany Case
(Jill St.John)
Live and Let DieMiss Caruso
(Madeline Smith)
Rosie Carver
(Gloria Hendry)
Solitaire
(Jane Seymour)
The Man With The Golden GunAndrea Anders
(Maud Adams)
NoneMary Goodnight
(Britt Ekland)
The Spy Who Loved MeLog Cabin Girl?
(Sue Vanner)
Naomi?
(Caroline Munro)
Anya Amasova
(Barbara Bach)
Anya Amasova
(Barbara Bach)
MoonrakerCorinne Dufour
(Corinne Cléry)
noneHolly Goodhead
(Lois Chiles)
For Your Eyes OnlyCountess Lisl von Schlaf
(Cassandra Harris)
noneMelina Havelock
(Carole Bouquet)
OctopussyMagda?
(Kristina Wayborn)
Octopussy
(Maud Adams)
A View to A KillnoneMay Day
(Grace Jones)
Pola Ivanova
(Fiona Fullerton)
Stacey Sutton
(Tanya Roberts)
The Living DaylightsnonenoneKara Milovy
(Maryam d’Abo)
Licence to KillnonenonePam Bouvier
(Carey Lowell)
GoldeneyeCaroline
(Serena Gordon)
Xenia Onatopp
(Famke Janssen)
Natalya Simonova
(Izabella Scorupco)
Tomorrow Never DiesProfessor Inga Bergstrom
(Cecilie Thomsen)
Paris Carver
(Teri Hatcher)
Wai Lin
(Michelle Yeoh)
The World is Not EnoughDoctor Molly Warmflash
(Serena Scott Thomas)
Cigar Girl
(Maria Grazia Cucinotta)
Elektra King
(Sophie Marceau)
Christmas Jones
(Denise Richards)
Die Another DaynoneMiranda Frost
(Rosamund Pike)
Jinx
(Halle Berry)
Casino RoyaleSolange
(Caterina Murino)
noneVesper
(Eva Green)
Quantum of SolaceStrawberry Fields
(Gemma Arterton)
noneCamille Montes
(Olga Kurylenko)
SkyfallUnseen woman in beach hut?Sévérine
(Bérénice Marlohe)
Eve Moneypenny?
(Naomie Harris)
SpectreLucia Sciarra
(Monica Bellucci)
noneMadeleine Swann
(Léa Seydoux)

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