SPECTRE Explained: All You Need to Know About James Bond's Big Bad

James Bond-Ernst Blofeld-Diamonds Are Forever
James Bond-Ernst Blofeld-Diamonds Are Forever

Sean Connery, as James Bond, demonstrates his disarming charms to Charles Gray’s SPECTRE chief Blofeld in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever

You know, for a supposedly clandestine criminal organization, SPECTRE isn’t exactly hiding in the shadows anymore. On Wednesday, it was revealed that SPECTRE will be front and center for James Bond’s 24th adventure, with its name serving as the movie’s title and new version of its famous octopus symbol adorning the teaser poster. And even though new cast member Christoph Waltz wasn’t introduced as SPECTRE’s cat-stroking, chrome-domed leader, Ernst Blofeld, speculation is high that his character, Oberhauser, will turn out to be Bond’s No. 1 nemesis before the credits roll. 

This marks the organization’s first appearance in the franchise’s rebooted continuity, which started over from scratch when Daniel Craig inherited 007’s license to kill in 2006’s Casino Royale. But SPECTRE’s tentacles reach far into Bond’s past. Here’s a quick primer on the many headaches it has caused for Her Majesty’s top secret service agent over the decades.

Related: James Bond 24 Title and Stars Announced, Teaser Poster Revealed

Bond mastermind (and real life ex-spy) Ian Fleming first introduced SPECTRE — which stands for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion — in his eighth 007 novel, Thunderball, published in 1961, a year before Dr. No kicked off the film series. It was intended to serve as an apolitical replacement for SMERSH, a Soviet Union-based espionage group that bedeviled Bond for much of ‘50s, when Cold War tensions were running high.

Spectre-poster
Spectre-poster

The shattered glass “octopus” in the Spectre poster (left) and the real SPECTRE logo

On the page, SMERSH supposedly disbanded after the events of Goldfinger, although they reappeared in later, post-Fleming books. (SMERSH has never been an official part of the Bond film canon, although it has been referenced in both 1963’s From Russia with Love and 1987’s The Living Daylights. In both cases, though, it’s revealed to be a fake-out.)

SPECTRE made its big-screen debut at the same time as James Bond himself in the franchise-launcher Dr. No, with the titular baddie working amongst its ranks. The sequel, From Russia With Love, introduced Blofeld into the mix, albeit under the nom-de-mystery name “Number 1.” (That bit of misdirection, by the way, lends credence to the “Waltz is Blofeld” theory.) In both cases, SPECTRE’s goal is to instigate a cataclysmic conflict between the East and West — and profit from the remains. It’s up to Bond to put out whatever fire they attempt to cause, before they escape back into the shadows to try again.

After being left out of the movie version of Goldfinger, SPECTRE served as Bond’s primary antagonist in the next four installments — Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever. Blofeld himself joins in the fun in Twice in the form of Donald Pleasance. He’s later played by Telly Savalas in Secret Service,and Charles Gray in Diamondswith the explanation that he regularly undergoes plastic surgery to remain a true international man of mystery.

Charles Gray-Blofeld-Diamonds Are Forever
Charles Gray-Blofeld-Diamonds Are Forever

Gray, in Diamonds, was one of four actors who played Blofeld in six different Bond films

SPECTRE delivers its most devastating blow to Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when Blofeld and henchwoman Irma Bunt kill the one female conquest that got the love-‘em and leave-‘em spy to the altar: Tracy di Vicenzo, played by the incomparable Diana Rigg.

Appropriately, SPECTRE retired from the Bond series along with original 007 Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever. But both Connery and Blofeld were both back in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, a remake of Thunderball that was famously — and controversially — produced thanks to a convoluted contract dispute with producer Kevin McClory and exists outside of the primary Bond movie canon. To tweak McClory’s claim to Blofeld, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only opens with Roger Moore’s Bond dropping an unnamed, but immediately identifiable bald baddie down a smokestack, writing the character out of continuity for good. At least…until now. Maybe.

Related: Daniel Craig: Blame ‘Austin Powers’ For the Super Serious James Bond Movies

Although SPECTRE was left out of the Royale reboot, Daniel Craig’s Bond adventures have previously introduced a potential replacement organization — Quantum, which had a hand in the events of both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Considering the title, there’s no mistaking who’s running the show in Bond 24, though. And if you’re wondering why it’s taken so long for the new Bond movies to get back to SPECTRE, maybe blame it on Mike Myers, who modeled his Austin Powers villain, Dr. Evil, after both Blofeld and his Saturday Night Live mentor Lorne Michaels.

Blofeld-Dr.Evil
Blofeld-Dr.Evil

Donald Pleasance (who played Blofeld in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, left) and Mike Myers as Dr. Evil

As Daniel Craig himself said in a recently unearthed interview from 2012, the Austin Powers series put the kibosh on the comedic elements of vintage Bond movies, including the notion of a bald criminal mastermind with plans for world domination and a soft spot for cats. 

Spectre will open in theaters on Nov. 6, 2015*

James Bond-Spectre-poster
James Bond-Spectre-poster

Photos: Everett, Columbia

*This post has been corrected since its original publication.