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What is SPECTRE? The long history of the evil organization behind James Bond’s latest adventure

by Jacob Kleinman | November 7, 2015

Spoiler Warning: This article reveals a few key details from “Spectre,” along with the plots of several older James Bond movies.

In my Spectre review I argued that the film’s big reveal of a many-armed evil organization pulling all the strings behind the scenes felt tacked on to Daniel Craig’s four-movie run as James Bond. That still rings true, but it turns out that SPECTRE has a long history in the world of 007, dating back to some of the earliest films and the original novels by Ian Fleming.

The Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (or SPECTRE for short), has been causing havoc since 1961, when the organization stole two nuclear warheads in the ninth book of the Bond series, Thunderball. A year later the movie-going public was introduced to the evil cabal in the first Bond film, Dr No, a SPECTRE member plotting to disrupt an upcoming space launch with an atomic radio beam.

SPECTRE went on to appear in five more films before they were finally defeated a decade later in Diamonds Are Forever. The film featured Sean Connery (the original James Bond) infiltrating a diamond smuggling ring only to discover plans to build a giant diamond laser to destroy Washington, D.C.

In the movie, Bond faces off with SPECTRE’s leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, best known for his white cat and the scar across his eye. (Blofeld’s face actually changes drastically from film to film to reflect his status as a shadowy criminal and master of disguise). Still, that unique combination of cat and scar went on to inspire countless pop culture references, including Dr. Evil in the James Bond parody franchise Austin Powers.

Diamonds Are Forever marked the end of Connery’s run as James Bond and the end of SPECTRE, or so we thought. The organization makes a dramatic return in the latest film, with Christopher Waltz taking on the role of Blofeld. At one point he compares the group to a meteor quietly gathering speed until it’s ready to crash down to Earth.

This new version of SPECTRE, now simply Spectre without the acronym, isn’t just stealing nuclear weapons and threatening governments. It’s selling fake pharmaceuticals and trafficking in human slaves. Waltz’s Blofeld is just as modern in his villainy. He builds a massive data collection facility in the desert capable of monitoring any camera on the planet.

The white cat even gets a quick cameo, and by the end of the film an explosion has left Blofeld with a very familiar (and gruesome) scar across the side of his face. If anything, Spectre is the origin story of SPECTRE, which makes sense since Daniel Craig is supposed to be playing the earliest incarnation of James Bond.

It’s worth noting that Waltz’s character doesn’t die at the end of the film. Instead he’s arrested by British intelligence, leaving him the possibility for further villainy. That leaves the door open for a new era of Bond films with Spectre as the main enemy once again, though with a rumored reboot on the horizon this could also be the last we see of Blofeld and his cat for a long time.


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Jacob Kleinman

Jacob Kleinman has been working as a journalist online and in print since he arrived at Wesleyan University in 2007. After graduating, he took a...Jacob Kleinman has been working as a journalist online and in print since he arrived at Wesleyan University in 2007. After graduating, he took a...


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