Fifty years before Thanos first appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE went up against Sean Connery's James Bond. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been heralded as a watershed moment for the potential of cinematic storytelling. Though certainly not without its faults and plotholes, the 11-year, 22-film journey from Iron Man through Avengers: Endgame told a massive story from beginning to end, with Spider-Man: Far From Home serving as a final epilogue before the launch of Phase 4.
Thanos himself was first introduced in the post-credits scene of 2012's The Avengers before re-appearing in a minor role in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. Following a (dubiously canon) cameo in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the villain finally made his presence known in the two-part epic, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel Studios has found incredible success with its ever-expanding slate of superhero movies, but the MCU wasn't the first film franchise to include a deep continuity with serialized storytelling focused on a single villain. Back in 1962, the James Bond film series formally began with Dr. No. The film introduced audiences to secret agent 007 and the villainous organization, SPECTRE. While there are definitely some differences between the storytelling approach of James Bond compared to the MCU, there are also some striking similarities in the roles that Blofeld and Thanos played in their respective franchises.
SPECTRE & Blofeld Were James Bond's Big Bads For The Connery Era
The James Bond movies mean differing things to generations of fans. Some enjoy the gritty drama of the Daniel Craig movies, others prefer the suave charm of Roger Moore. There's a different shade of 007 for every type of fan, and the movies thrive on being totally different from one to the next. From their origin, though, James Bond's enemies were nearly all led by a single Big Bad: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Back in the old days, the Sean Connery films featured a big arch-villain to tie the adventures together, something that was largely unheard of back then, and that movies still struggle to pull off today. Six of the first seven movies in the franchise, from Dr. No through Diamonds are Forever, and with the sole exception of Goldfinger, follow a single storyline involving Blofeld and his criminal empire, SPECTRE.
Many of the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming featured 007 taking on SPECTRE and Blofeld, its evil and enigmatic leader. When it came time to adapt the series to film, producers "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose to make SPECTRE the lead villains of the series. In the novel of Dr. No, the title villain operates with aid from the Soviet Union. For the film version, however, they decided to change him into an agent of SPECTRE. Though Blofeld himself did not appear in the movie, the stage had been set, and literary fans were prepared for the proper debut of the iconic villain in the inevitable sequels.
How James Bond Set Up Blofeld
Much like how the MCU would introduce Thanos in 2012, as an intimidating figure sitting in an imposing chair, Blofeld made his first appearance as a background character, the unseen force behind SPECTRE. In the second 007 film, From Russia with Love, Blofeld's face is not seen; instead, the mysterious "Number One," as he's known, is only shown from behind, keeping his true identity secret. In fact, the closing credits only display a question mark to denote Blofeld's actor.
The next film, Goldfinger, did not feature Blofeld or SPECTRE. This was an early indication that the James Bond series wouldn't necessarily rely on the key villain at every instance, that Bond was a flexible character capable of dealing with any manner of global threat. Next, Thunderball echoed the approach seen in From Russia with Love, abstaining from revealing Blofeld's face while having 007 do battle with his minions, rather than the man himself. It wasn't until 1967's You Only Live Twice that Bond and Blofeld finally meet face-to-face. In the film, Blofeld is played by Donald Pleasence (Halloween, The Great Escape), who became instantly iconic for his portrayal of the eccentric villain - to say nothing of his scene-stealing facial scar, which was co-opted by the version of the character played by Christoph Waltz in 2015's Spectre.
James Bond Did Serialized Storytelling 50 Years Before Marvel
Once Bond and Blofeld finally encountered one another in the field, all bets were off. The following two movies after You Only Live Twice – On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever – would focus on the conflict between these two men. However, it was a different time, and EON Productions weren't planning ahead the way Marvel Studios does today; they handled things one film at a time. For each of Blofeld's three onscreen appearances between 1967 and 1971, the character was played by three different actors, each of whom provided unique takes on the character. While this meant each film was privy to the intent of their creative teams, it also meant the continuity between them was looser than what audiences would expect in today's landscape of shared cinematic universes.
For example, On Her Majesty's Secret Service features Blofeld and Bond having an in-person meeting, but Blofeld doesn't recognize his arch-enemy, despite having met him in the previous film, You Only Live Twice. There are several reasons for this oddity; On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a rather direct adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel, which depicts the first meeting between the two characters. Thus, it conflicts with their earlier meeting in You Only Live Twice. Secondly, both Blofeld and Bond are played by different actors in both films (Sean Connery and Donald Pleasence to George Lazenby and Telly Savalas). The legend goes that they had initially planned on suggesting 007 had plastic surgery to change his appearance and elude his enemies, but the filmmakers ultimately decided not to explain the casting change, ensuring they wouldn't have to deal with addressing continuity every time they swapped out 007 actors.
After Diamonds are Forever saw Blofeld defeated yet again, Sean Connery retired from the role and was replaced with Roger Moore, who would play the character for a record seven consecutive films. Due to several reasons (including a protracted legal battle with Thunderball producer Kevin McClory), Blofeld would not appear again in until an uncredited cameo appearance in For Your Eyes Only, in which the character is unceremoniously – but righteously – killed off in the pre-titles sequence. This ended the "Blofeld era" of 007 films until the character was brought back in the rebooted Daniel Craig era.
Every James Bond adventure has a different style, and every 007 film ends with the message, "James Bond Will Return." Back in the 1960s, though, audiences weren't just waiting for 007 to come back; they were waiting for his next battle with the villainous forces of SPECTRE and their leader: Ernst Stavro Blofeld.