In 2008, Marvel Entertainment looked to provide a jolt on the big screen for its beloved characters and given recent successes of franchises like X-Men and Blade, the next step was put in place. With little knowledge being leaked out to the public, Marvel unleashed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a series of phases that would tie together an Avengers story and incorporate some of the company’s most recognizable figures.
There has been a variety moments over the course of the last 10 years, ones that have sent audiences into complete shock, while other that have disappointed or thrilled. But, let’s be honest here, superheroes are only as good as their adversary and, with 20 films thus far, there have been plenty of villains in the MCU. With all of these villains, we thought it was time to rank them and choose the ones that have been our favorite – though we didn’t see Ant-Man and the Wasp yet, so we’re one short.
25: Malekith – Thor: The Dark World
Portrayed by former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston, Malekith is without a doubt the worst villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – a forgettable character in a somewhat forgettable film. Malekith is the maniacal leader of the Dark Elves, a race believed to be older than Earth itself, who want to rule the universe. Other than that, we’re given little insight as to the character’s pathos, instead using Malekith more as a way to develop the ongoing story between Thor and Jane. Blame it on poor writing, or the fact that Loki dazzled as the villain in the first film, but Malekith was vanilla and pretty worthless – and a terrible way to waste the talents of an established, yet under the radar actor like Eccleston.
24: Whiplash – Iron Man 2
The late 2000s saw a complete resurgence of Mickey Rourke’s career and the actor seemed to be everywhere, including the sequel to the widely successful Iron Man. Perhaps the biggest problem with Rourke wasn’t that his wardrobe appeared to be from his own personal collection, it was that he mumbled through a healthy portion of the film and had a stupid and uncomfortable relationship with a bird. Rourke’s Ivan Vanko character appeared to be able to give Tony Stark a run for his money, however it came off high on the cheese factor scale and proved to be a huge whiff in the process. The film, while directed by Jon Favreau, is somewhat of a dud by MCU standards and Whiplash is the reason.
23: Abomination – The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is a weird film in the MCU, because it’s kind of a part of it but kind of not – and very easily forgotten by the casual fan. In the comic books, Abomination was arguably Hulk’s biggest foe, yet in this film, we’re given a macho man, portrayed by Tim Roth, with a military background whose only real motivation is to possess strength similar to our purple pants-wearing, green hero. Abomination really only shows up in the third act, however it does lead to a wicked fight in the city between the two monsters. But you can’t fool us, we all know Roth’s character was just there for the CGI slam fest, because clearly his story really didn’t have any legs to stand on – and he wasn’t even really the main villain.
22: Laufey – Thor
We give Laufey a little more of a pass here than maybe we should. In a film that’s so incredibly focused on the origin of the protagonist, we’re immediately introduced to Laufey in the first act but, quickly, he takes a back seat to S.H.I.E.L.D., who want to get their hands on Thor and figure out his powers. Not to mention, Thor’s brother Loki steals much of the story and proves to be a perfect antagonist for the film. Laufey, who is portrayed adequately by Colm Feore, isn’t the worst villain ever and was actually designed to be a fringe secondary character – which is perfect because, as we saw in The Dark World, a weak villain can be a negative impact. That also better explains the weaknesses of those already on the list.
21: Darren Cross/Yellowjacket – Ant-Man
Incorporating one of Ant-Man’s most recognizable villains in the character’s first standalone film was a wise choice and Corey Stoll really wasn’t a bad decision to play Yellowjacket – he just didn’t wow. Darren Cross has money and power but lacks the superpowers to really prove his dominance, until he learns of the suit. But it was just way too serious of a role. Ant-Man was arguably the most fun film the MCU has produced but in a film filled with humor, the villain was over the top serious, seeming more like an out-of-place piece that couldn’t quite fit the rest of the puzzle. Imagine if the writers took that same humor of Scott Lang and his cohorts. Having said all of that, we certainly didn’t hate the character – or Stoll’s portrayal – but there’s nothing that stands out as we reminisce about the role.
20: General Ross – The Incredible Hulk
Besides Edward Norton’s portrayal of the Hulk, the only other real redeeming quality about The Incredible Hulk is William Hurt’s ability to play General Ross. Looking an awful lot like his comic book counterpart, Hurt was overshadowed by the magnitude of the Hulk’s story, though he did a great job in allowing us all the ability to forget what had happened several years prior, in Ang Lee’s mess of a film. Ross was grouchy and grumpy, though the relationship he shared with his daughter really helped to make for a well-balanced villain. After seeing him in Avengers: Infinity War, hopefully we get a little more of the character, to see what exactly he’s capable of becoming – like Red Hulk.
19: Kaecilius – Doctor Strange
Perhaps the most complex of the origin stories, Doctor Strange needed two acts to explain the character’s background and because of that, there needed to be a more under the radar villain. Mads Mikkelsen did a solid job as Kaecilius but the character just simply didn’t bring a ton to the table. While he might have a sort of one-dimensional personality, Kaecilius does have some pretty mind-bending fight scenes, among the best in the MCU to date, as a matter of fact. The character kind of pops in and out throughout the story, acting more like a pain in the ass than a true nemesis, but we get it.
18: Alexander Pierce – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
We’re going to come clean here on this one: this specific character made it this high on the list for one reason – it’s played by Robert Redford. Pierce is kind of the odd duck on this list. Why? Because he doesn’t have any superpowers and he’s really not looking to obtain any superpowers. Essentially, he’s a Hydra Nazi that managed to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. and he’s trying to keep the groups involvement a secret. While his major scene consists of explaining how his group intends to make the world a greater place, his death happens rather quickly, though quite dramatically, at the hands of Nick Fury. He was a decent add-on villain though, to be honest, nothing really stands out to make the character a memorable one – especially when compared with his much more badass comic book version.
17: Dormammu – Doctor Strange
Sure, Dormammu might be in Doctor Strange for just a small, 15-minute portion but he had one of the most memorable scenes of the entire film – besides, he’s the one pulling all of the strings. Just as enormous a presence as his comic book counterpart, Dormammu is more of a psychedelic floating face than an actual being. Being trapped in basically a nightmarish loop of constantly killing Doctor Strange in some alternate universe provided laughs while showing off the capability of our newfound superhero. And if we had to bet, we’ve probably not seen the last of this character.
16: Trevor Slattery/The Mandarin – Iron Man 3
While The Mandarin might have been Iron Man’s most famous villain, executing the character on the big screen left a little something to be desired. Some of that might have been due to the fact that the comic book counterpart is racist and that simply wasn’t going to fly in a Marvel film in 2013. The whole basis for the character, as portrayed by Sir Ben Kingsley, was a theatrical façade of the Mandarin as a drunk, classically trained actor – which not even the audience is able to decipher at one point. The Mandarin was complex much like its comics counterpart but just kind of missed the mark, creating a confusing and, at times, boring storyline that not even Kingsley’s amazing acting chops were able to save. Any chance we can get a re-do?
15: Ronan – Guardians of the Galaxy
In the grand scheme of Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan just doesn’t quite sizzle as much as the other characters, which makes complete sense as the film focuses on the superheroes’ origin. Portrayed by Lee Pace, best known for his work in The Hobbit franchise, Ronan is a religious nutjob looking to start an intergalactic war, though we never really learn the entirety behind it. For a film with plenty of jokes, Ronan is perfect, in that his seriousness and psychotic tendencies make him the perfect set up for the humor. He’s menacing, he’s pretty evil and he looks pretty cool but he just seemed to be missing a little something. We haven’t seen the last of him, either – he’ll be in the upcoming Captain Marvel film.
14: Aldrich Killian – Iron Man 3
Portrayed by Guy Pearce, Aldrich Killian is definitely one of Marvel’s most perplexing characters, one that leaves you thinking. A Mandarin purist might suggest that he’s the “real” Mandarin but no matter what your opinion might be, Pearce was a solid selection as a man ignored by Tony Stark who decided to rebuild his brand – and, of course, become a global terrorist in the process. Killian enjoyed the theatrics of terrorism, though he felt maybe a little more like a Bond villain than a character from a comic book – and it hurt the role. Not even Marlon Brando in his prime could’ve made this character exquisite, as it was just poor writing. Killian really is what he is – a weird person in kind of a weird film.
13: Brock Rumlow/Crossbones – Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War
As far as the comic books are concerned, Crossbones is one of the coolest villains. The same was building for Frank Grillo’s Crossbones onscreen – a former Hydra agent ordered to assassinate Captain America who has since taken on the role of freelance terrorist. Grillo looked straight out of the comic book pages and embodied the character but, unfortunately, we just didn’t see enough of Crossbones, because of his death at the beginning of Civil War. We’re still not convinced that was the last of him, however.
12: Hela – Thor: Ragnarok
Portrayed by Cate Blanchett, Hela might have been the worst part of Thor: Ragnarok but don’t take that the wrong way, because the other supporting cast was just that amazing. Blanchett was sassy and bitchy as Hela and really offered little sympathy throughout the film, as she was willing to kill and ruin lives with little reason needed. The back story of Hela wasn’t really there, though it wasn’t needed because we know she’s Thor’s sister. She’s the Goddess of Death and lives up to that nickname, for sure, especially when she easily kills Mjolnir. Blanchett was pretty perfect for this role but the overall character really did little to stand out as a memorable villain in the MCU.
11: Justin Hammer – Iron Man 2
Although he might have been somewhat of an average character, Justin Hammer was really propelled by Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of the opportunist who wants the fame and glory that comes with the Iron Man suit. As the CEO of Hammer Industries, the rivalry between he and Stark is immediately apparent and an underlying theme throughout the film. Rockwell brought comedy to the role and while some think it was a miscue, we tend to disagree, thanks to the flair and momentary seriousness Rockwell brings to the character. Much like Hela, Hammer is really not memorable, but the saving grace for a film that had the second worst villain on this list.
10: Helmut Zemo – Captain America: Civil War
There’s a lot going on in Captain America: Civil War and while Cap and Iron Man are looking to take each other out, it’s the diabolical plan of Helmut Zemo that nearly brings down the Avengers. Daniel Bruhl is great as the revengeful Slovakian who goes to great lengths to create chaos, due to a grudge he held with the Avengers after the group had largely destroyed his home when taking out Ultron. The character is meticulous and careful, really flipping the story to show how it’s not all sunshine and rainbows when the superhero group is called into action. He might not have been a sexy villain but Bruhl was a great choice for this justifiable character that was abundantly important to the entirety of this film.
9: Ego – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Ego was actually an awesome story arc when you stop and think about it. The man, played by Kurt Russell, was a living planet and while Ayesha was the red herring to hint at the creation of Adam Warlock, Ego was busy attempting to wrap his long-lost son, Star-Lord, around his finger in the hopes of ruling the universe. Director James Gunn really delved into that emotional aspect and it proved that Ego had layers to him, which just so happened to include the fact that he’s a complete deadbeat. Russell exuberated a power and a stoic manner you’d expect a planet to have in the form of a person, though he’s still very relatable. Maybe just a little less CGI involved with the character, perhaps?
8: Red Skull – Captain America: The First Avenger
Want to know the biggest issue we had with Red Skull? It was the fact that he really only got about 30 minutes of screen time – and that’s really underwhelming since he’s Captain America’s greatest foe. We get it, he was needed to provide the groundwork for Cap’s back story and the whole Hydra situation, but it came at a cost. That’s why we were excited to see his return in Infinity War, although played by a different actor. In the first Captain America film, the character was almost flawless. Hugo Weaving was great as the Nazi leader who eventually becomes even too crazy for the Hitler-led army, bringing an amped-up level of terror that has a certain level of cold-bloodedness to it. If there’s more of Weaving’s Red Skull in the future, he will undoubtedly crack the Top 5 – you can count on that.
7: Killmonger – Black Panther
We really enjoyed Killmonger a lot more than we anticipated. Michael B. Jordan continues to prove that he can be a major contributor in Hollywood and just as Black Panther is one of Marvel’s most substantial films, so is the villain. Believing he’s the rightful heir to the Wakandan throne, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens is an outsider who just wants to know his roots, a quality that makes the audience empathetic to the character, making him feel a little less like the bad guy. But he’s a total badass ass from his fighting to the way he carries himself – an irreverent swagger that Wakanda cannot stand. By the end of the film, it felt a little like The Karate Kid, in not knowing how exactly to categorize the protagonist and the antagonist. He enters halfway through the film and could’ve used a little more screen time, given his awesomeness.
6: Vulture – Spider-Man: Homecoming
Let’s be honest here, sometimes Marvel has a tendency of wasting talent on its films, whether it’s poorly translated comic book counterparts or throwaway characters – see Benicio del Toro as The Collector – but they did a spectacular job with Vulture and Michael Keaton’s portrayal took it to another level. Don’t believe us? Just go back and re-watch the scene with Keaton’s character, Adrian Toomes, and Peter Parker when the two are in the car together and Toomes is driving Parker and his daughter to prom. Toomes is slowly piecing together Parker’s secret identity before giving him “the talk” and for a teenager, it’s hard enough talking to your date’s father, so imagine if he was a madman like Toomes. It’s really one of the best dramatic scenes in the MCU and only escalates the story for the third act. Keaton was perfect for this role and it oozes through the screen over the course of this film.
5: Ultron – Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ultron carried one of the most overhyped films to date, though the character emulated the comic book version pretty well. The tone of this Avengers sequel was slightly darker than we’re used to and Ultron simply played into that aspect. And while the character was good, it was James Spader’s voice that put him well over the top. Spader’s voice only adds to the complex nature of Ultron, evident by his back and forth with Jarvis as well as when he meets the Avengers and explains his purpose – basically it’s a robot form of Tony Stark, when you think about it. Plus, it’s pretty creepy that Ultron can find existence through a number of different machines, almost like a respawn. He might not have looked quite as awesome as we anticipated, but that final scene with Vision made it worth putting him at No. 5.
4: Obadiah Stone/Iron Monger – Iron Man
You have to go pretty far back to remember Iron Monger, who appeared in the MCU’s very first film – Iron Man. Jeff Bridges properly executed this maniacal character that was hell-bent on stealing the technology Tony Stark had created to make Iron Man – and kicking it up a notch. It was the first look at a villain and since the back story took up much of the film, Bridges was slightly under-utilized. We would have loved to see him in an additional film. He had a menacing way about him, one that was calm, cool and helpful but once he flies off the rails, his facial expressions and attitude was fierce. The best example of that comes in a tension-filled scene when Pepper Pots is almost caught stealing computer files. Don’t underestimate the greatness of a short-lived, sophisticated menace.
3: The Winter Soldier – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
From purely a villainous standpoint, Bucky Barnes –The Winter Soldier – is one of the toughest antagonists in the MCU, not to mention he’s certainly one of the most badass. Some of Bucky’s combat scenes are the best throughout the entire scope of Marvel’s catalog and Sebastian Stan, who was somewhat unknown at the time, turned out to be a stellar choice to portray Captain America’s on-again-off-again friend. Brainwashed to carry out the work of Hydra, Bucky’s motivation was clearly the work of a higher power, but watching as he became the embodiment of evil was fun, especially when Cap was looking to help snap him out of it. There’s a reason Captain America: The Winter Soldier is arguably the best Marvel film ever made and Bucky has a lot to do with that.
2: Thanos – Avengers: Infinity War
Now that Thanos has a film under his belt, it’s clear just how amazing this super-villain is – and Josh Brolin hit a home run with his portrayal. In fact, Thanos might possibly even surpass the next villain on this list when all is said and done, since he’s slated to star in at least one more film. Thanos is both menacing and formidable and one of the strongest characters we’ve seen in the MCU, no matter whether it’s a superhero or a villain. For a majority of the decade, Thanos had appeared in small snippets throughout various films but to finally get a lengthy introduction to the character was special – and Marvel nailed it. Brolin managed to give the villain a ton of emotion – so much so that at times the audience actually felt sorry for him and the strained relationship he had with Gamora, his adopted daughter. His overpopulation reasoning behind eliminating half the universe might have been a little questionable, but his ability to steal the screen and wreak complete havoc with the infinity stones more than made up for it.
1: Loki – Thor and The Avengers
As it stands right now, no villain comes close to touching Loki – though that could change. Loki might have made his bones in the original Thor film but he has since grown and prospered into a complex – and at some times perplexing – villain. The best example of that would be Thor: Ragnarok, where Loki was good but at the same time evil, which left audiences guessing just what the character would do over the course of two hours. And Tom Hiddleston is Loki, bringing out his evil tendencies while sometimes being jovial and cracking jokes at others’ expense. We really couldn’t have asked for a better representation of this comic book character. And while some people have grown tired of the character, we can’t wait to see more of him in the near future.