Marvel has a lot of villains in its cinematic universe, but which ones stand above the rest when it comes to menacing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes?
To answer that increasingly complicated question, we’ve watched every MCU movie and ranked all of their many bad guys, from Loki to Batroc to Justin Hammer, Iron Monger, Hela, Thanos, and everyone in between. This list only focuses on tried-and-true villains, so you won’t find reformed hero Scarlet Witch (who’s since become a bona fide Avenger), her late brother Quicksilver (who died a hero), Nebula, or the Winter Soldier. We’re talking 100 percent baddies, evil (or mostly evil) through and through.
Looking over the MCU’s blockbuster history, it’s pretty clear that despite the widespread belief that the franchise has a “villain problem,” we’ve actually seen some fairly compelling criminals cause trouble for our heroes over the years. Without further ado, here are all the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ranked from worst to best.
Kurse (Thor: The Dark World)
Kurse, also known as Algrim, was one of Malekith’s top men and sacrificed himself to take on the power of Kurse in The Dark World. He allows Asgardian forces to capture him to get inside Odin’s kingdom, and once he makes it to the Asgardian dungeon posing as a regular prisoner, Algrim activates the Kurse stone and turns into the hulking beast we know and love from the comics.
Kurse leads a straight-up prison riot in Asgard (with a bit of help from a locked-up Loki providing directions), helps Malekith sack Asgard, and actually kills Thor’s mother, Frigga. He also leads the battle against Thor in the film’s climax, beating the God of Thunder positively senseless with his brute strength before Loki manages to take Kurse out with some black hole grenades. Despite all that, Kurse is nothing more than a forgettable force of nature with no personality. He’s just big and violent, and ultimately an obstacle cleared out of the way for the big finale between Thor and Malekith.
Laufey is a powerful force in Thor’s corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but we never get to see a lot of him in action. King of the Frost Giants and biological father to Loki, he has super-strength and ice powers, but it turns out he’s still no match for the sneakiness of his own son. Loki manipulates events to get Laufey to attack Asgard in Thor, but just as Laufey is about to kill Odin, Loki takes out Laufey instead—simultaneously killing the Frost Giant king and making himself look like a hero. Certainly an unceremonious end.
Brandt and Savin (Iron Man 3)
Aldrich Killian turned out to be the A-list bad guy in Iron Man 3, with Brandt and Savin shaping up as little more than B-list versions with the same power set. Both Brandt and Savin are given their super-heating and healing powers by the Extremis virus, and they both attack Tony Stark throughout the film, but neither is a match for Iron Man, even when he doesn’t have his suit. Brandt is best known for jumping Stark in a dive bar, where he outmaneuvered her and managed to blow her up with a gas leak. Savin hung around a little longer, even stealing the Iron Patriot armor at one point, but he was still outsmarted by Iron Man and defeated with an energy blast.
Batroc the Leaper (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
It’s easy to forget, but yes, Batroc the Leaper is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We meet the French mercenary during the action sequence that opens Captain America: The Winter Soldier, during the hijacking of the ship the Lemurian Star. We get a breathless fight scene between Batroc and Cap, with the First Avenger accepting the challenge for a hand to hand fight without his shield. Batroc manages to hold his own—he’s a beast when it comes to parkour—though Cap eventually knocks him out.
The Shocker(s) (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
The recent Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t just give us our first solo Spidey flick in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it also dug into the wall-crawler’s deep bench of rogues, including not just one, but two Shockers. We first meet Jackson Brice (Logan Marshall-Green) wielding a Shocker gauntlet, but after the Vulture kills him, the trademark weapon is passed down to Herman Schultz (Bokeem Woodbine).
Schultz looks to be our “main” Shocker in the MCU, and he gets one epic fight against Spidey before being sidelined. The Shocker jumps Peter as he leaves the school dance attempting to follow the Vulture, and sends him flying through a school bus (and he loses his web-shooters, to boot). So why does Shocker rank so low? Because it wasn’t even Spidey who took him out—it was Pete’s pal Ned, who grabs the web-shooter and hits Shocker, distracting him long enough for Spidey to web him to a school bus, gift-wrapping him for the cops. Maybe next time, Shocker. Maybe next time.
Baron Von Strucker (Avengers: Age Of Ultron)
Strucker’s lasting legacy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is leading the experiments on Loki’s scepter that created Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, so he’s definitely an important player, but all anyone really remembers is his immediate surrender to the Avengers during the opening of Age of Ultron. It’s a funny gag, as Strucker gives a pep talk to his Hydra soldiers urging them to never give up—then he immediately surrenders, though he admittedly does so in a failed a attempt to hide his research. He also gets a few callouts on the companion series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. during that show’s Hydra arc, but nothing much of substance. In the end, Strucker was just another upper-level Hydra goon. Cut off his head, and nobody really noticed.
The Destroyer (Thor)
It doesn’t get a ton of screen time in Thor, but when the Destroyer shows up, it sure makes full use of every moment. Basically an enchanted Asgardian automaton you can point at an enemy, its giant, powerful arms and legs can crush or stomp just about any opponent—and if they don’t kill you, its laser blasts probably will. In Thor, we saw the Destroyer kill a few Frost Giants, then lay waste to a small town in New Mexico when Loki sent it to Earth hunting Thor. Still, it was finally no match for Thor: the God of Thunder regained his power and overcharged the Destroyer, ending the attack.
Justin Hammer (Iron Man 2)
Credit Sam Rockwell’s unending charisma for Justin Hammer not showing up at the very bottom of this list—or even further down, if we could find a way to put him there. As far as credible villains are concerned, Justin Hammer is an absolute joke—he runs an arms manufacturer that’s a rival to Stark Industries, except literally everything Hammer builds falls apart. The first version of the War Machine armor is basically a bare-bones Iron Man suit outfitted with a ton of Hammer weapons, which works about as well as gluing and duct taping accessories to a car.
In Iron Man 2, Hammer cuts a deal with Ivan Vanko that lands him in jail, and that’s pretty much the last we see of him until the Marvel One-Shot “All Hail the King,” in which Hammer gets a brief cameo in prison, showing some resentment for the fame Trevor Slattery (a.k.a. the fake Mandarin from Iron Man 3) has garnered at Seagate Prison.
General Ross (The Incredible Hulk)
General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, father of Bruce Banner’s love interest Betty Ross, is put in charge of trying to capture the Hulk after he goes rogue in The Incredible Hulk. Ross’ project originally started as an attempt to recreate the Super Soldier Serum that created Captain America, but it went sideways and turned poor Bruce Banner into an unstoppable anger machine. Ross has a vendetta against the Hulk because Betty was injured during the Hulk’s creation, so he blames Banner for putting her in a coma (though she eventually came out of it unscathed). Ross was also the catalyst in creating the Abomination, one of the more boring one-note villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ross spends the entire film chasing Banner, and tries and fails to kill him a few times along the way (though those sonic cannons were admittedly pretty cool). For much of the film, he’s a relatively one-dimensional “Military Bad Guy,” and falls into most of the attendant clichés.
Interestingly enough, Ross is one of the few characters from The Incredible Hulk to resurface onscreen later in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, he remains a major player in the MCU: he becomes the U.S. Secretary of State in Captain America: Civil War, pushes for the adoption of the Sokovia Accords, and was actually in charge of the secret prison where Captain America’s rogue team was being held in Civil War before Cap freed them.
Abomination (The Incredible Hulk)
The early Marvel Studios films tended to lean into the old cliché of a hero facing an evil version of their own power set (Iron Man vs. Iron Monger, etc.), and former soldier Emil Blonsky pretty much fits the bill. In an effort to capture the Hulk after Banner’s alter ego punches him through a tree, he hits himself with an experimental version of the same gamma McGuffin … except it doesn’t turn him into a burly green guy. Instead, he becomes the Abomination, a monstrous creature that looks like a rotting troll.
Sure, he’s formidable, but he’s also relatively one-note. He’s mean because he’s mean and his only real character trait is that he loves to be a soldier. He was a forgettable baddie in an even more forgettable movie. He lived through the end of The Incredible Hulk and is apparently rotting away in a jail cell somewhere—and the fact that Marvel hasn’t bothered to mention him since tells you everything you need to know.
Malekith (Thor: The Dark World)
Signing Doctor Who alum Christopher Eccleston to play the Dark Elf Malekith looked like a match made in casting heaven, what with Eccleston’s intensity and unique facial features, but it sadly ended up producing one of the least memorable baddies in the MCU. Malekith had virtually no personality, and basically existed as a freaky-looking dude trying to get an Infinity Stone—nothing more, nothing less.
It’s a shame, because on the surface, Malekith is extremely formidable. He’s been around for millennia, and seeks to harness the power of the Infinity Stone known as the Aether. He even stages a surprise assault on Asgard itself, managing to breach the city’s defenses, and later sets his sights on Earth. He put up a heck of a fight against Thor in the final act of The Dark World, though the God of Thunder still prevails.
Taserface: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
As Rocket points out more than a few times, Taserface’s name is pretty dumb—but he still has enough wits to lead a mutiny among Yondu’s crew of Ravagers. He’s big, mean, ruthless, and conniving, and brokers an uneasy alliance with Nebula to take Yondu’s ship. He isn’t all that bright, but hey, those other four traits go a long way—for awhile, anyway.
Whiplash (Iron Man 2)
Mickey Rourke rocking an Iron Man-style outfit with Arc Reactor-powered super-whips? How could it go wrong? Sadly, in a lot of ways. Rourke’s Whiplash was one of many problems in the bloated, messy Iron Man 2, despite some admittedly awesome action scenes along the way. (Seriously, most of his body is exposed while fighting. How is he so hard to defeat?) Whiplash never feels all that intimidating, at least after that epic attack at the Monaco Grand Prix. He’s motivated by a backstory involving the invention of the arc reactor technology (his father assisted the elder Stark in its creation), and teams up with the silly Justin Hammer, which only works to make him less terrifying. Not to mention his odd obsession with that bird.
Raza (Iron Man)
When Obadiah Stane decides to take out Tony Stark while Stark’s on an overseas tour, he contracts with the terrorist organization the Ten Rings, led by Faran Tahir’s Raza, to make it happen. Raza keeps Stark captive and proves to be an intimidating villain—at least until Stark secretly builds his first version of the Iron Man suit and manages to make short work of Raza’s soldiers.
Raza was savvy enough to survive—even if his face did get burned in the process—and he tracked down stray bits of Stark’s armor and tried to cut another deal with Stane. The only problem? Stane was a bit more tech-savvy than Raza, and used a sonic taser to paralyze him and kill his men. Despite his unceremonious ending, Raza is still technically the first villain we met in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and a throwback to the simple days of regular ol’ terrorists in the MCU.
Korath the Pursuer (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Djimon Hounsou has popped up in everything from Gladiator to Wayward Pines, but for Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, he’ll always be the guy who had no idea who “Star-Lord” is, or why he should care.
Hounsou’s Korath has a small but memorable role in Guardians of the Galaxy that finds him tracking Star-Lord as he pursues the Infinity Stone. Though Star-Lord does get the better of him in the end, Korath still puts up a heck of a fight. He also manages to reacquire the Infinity Stone along with Nebula, which sets up Ronan the Accuser’s near-world-ending attack on Xandar. Without Korath, Ronan would’ve never had the Infinity Stone to begin with for the assault, so he certainly served a purpose. He even holds his own against Drax the Destroyer for awhile—at least until Drax rips out the cybernetic implant in his head, killing him. Hey, at least he went out fighting.
Ulysses Klaue (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther)
The weirdest thing about Klaue is that the vast majority of his most important character moments happen offscreen. We get to see his introduction in Age of Ultron, where he loses his arm to a killer robot, and he’s a pretty strong presence in the first half of Black Panther, but beyond that, we don’t get much. His history with Wakanda, his acquisition of the piece of mining equipment that becomes his Vibranium arm-cannon, and even his death at the hands of Killmonger are completely absent from films.
On the bright side, Andy Serkis actually does an extremely entertaining job with him, which might be surprising considering that he’s mostly known as the mo-cap actor for CGI characters that tend to stray a little further from human. That gives us the a nicely believable version of the Klaw we know from the comics, who still has the potential to come back after his “death” as a dude made of hot-pink sound waves. Plus, that sonic cannon was rad.
It’s just weird that so many major events in his life happen while we’re watching something else that’s more interesting. Unless they happened during the events of Thor: The Dark World, that is. There’s not much that’s less interesting than that.
Ayesha (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
She might not have been the big bad in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but the golden goddess Ayesha (played by Elizabeth Debicki) was able to cause more than enough trouble for Star-Lord and his team. The leader of the powerful Sovereign, she commands a fleet of remote-controlled warships which come within one shot of taking out the Milano following an extensive chase. As if all that wasn’t enough, the post-credit scene revealed Ayesha is actually the person responsible for birthing Adam Warlock, a major player in Marvel’s cosmic universe and someone we expect to meet in Guardians Vol. 3. If nothing else, that portion of her legacy makes her more than worthy of a slot on this list.
The Chitauri (The Avengers)
They basically served as cannon fodder for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the final hour of The Avengers, but they’re still a massive alien army, led by those positively terrifying gigantic dragon-like ships that tore through downtown Manhattan. Their eventual humiliation notwithstanding, the Chitauri were more than formidable enough to push the Avengers to the brink in their first big screen team-up.
Arnim Zola (Captain America: The First Avenger)
In The First Avenger, Arnim Zola’s appearance is basically just an Easter egg for fans in a movie that’s full of them. He’s a Nazi scientist that’s seen through a weird lens for a moment, a callback to what is unquestionably one of Jack Kirby’s weirdest designs. Beyond the nudge and wink, though, he could have honestly had any name without changing the plot at all.
When we pick back up in Winter Soldier, though, the setup of having Zola around for the first movie pays off in a pretty cool way. He might not be a robot with a camera for a head and his face on a giant TV screen built into his torso like the Bio-Fanatic of the comics, but what Winter Soldier’s big reveal lacks in robot bodies, it more than makes up for by making him genuinely creepy.
Recasting Zola as the architect of Hydra’s secret survival instantly makes him one of the most sinister enemies that Captain America has ever faced. On top of that, his synthesized voice and the way the camera tracks Cap and Black Widow’s movements when they find the computer mainframe that he uploaded his consciousness into is the closest the MCU has ever gotten to a horror movie. Admittedly, both movies treat Zola as less of a villain and more of a plot device, but who’s to say that there’s not a backup of his programming somewhere just waiting to come back and make more trouble — and maybe next time, they’ll upload it into a weird robot body.
The Scorpion (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
In the comics, Mac Gargan has a long villainous history, including tenures as the Scorpion, Venom, and even an brief period where he was the official Spider-Man of the United States government. In Homecoming, on the other hand, not so much.
His most notable actions in that movie are complete failures, first when an arms deal is interrupted by Spider-Man, and then later when he tries to get the Sinister Six going in prison before being shut down by the Vulture. Basically, he’s just there to make Adrian Toomes look cooler by comparison, and when you’re not as cool as the Vulture, it’s safe to say that you screwed up pretty bad somewhere along the way.
The Black Order (Avengers: Infinity War)
Before we go any further, can we all just take a deep breath and bask in the joy that we are living in a time when the biggest movie of the year featured characters with names like Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive? Those are weird names even for superhero comics, and to get them in a film franchise that ten years ago only referred to Obadiah Stane as “Iron Monger” in the vaguest possible terms is a pretty incredible sign of progress.
Delightful names aside, the Black Order are perfectly serviceable henchmen. They manage to hit that Jaws-from-the-Bond-movies sweet spot of being threatening enough to present the heroes with a challenge and provide additional room for the action so that it’s not just 40 people trying to punch Thanos at the same time, but not so threatening that they overshadow the actual villain of the piece. Each of them is distinct and visually menacing, and while Cull Obsidian doesn’t do much beyond throwing his giant anchor around like a Guilty Gear character, Ebony Maw manages to come off as truly sinister and frightening.
Unfortunately, there’s just not much for them to do. They’re necessary for the plot, but we’re never actually told anything about them — including most of those great names. They’re visually striking and they serve a necessary purpose, but that’s about it.
Ronan the Accuser (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Ronan was a religious zealot who co-opted a full-fledged Infinity Stone to continue his crusade to wipe out Xandar, but even without one of those awesomely powerful baubles, he’s still one heck of a warrior; after all, he laid waste to Drax the Destroyer without even breaking a sweat. He also had the guts to stick it to Thanos, and actually walked away from the Mad Titan without much consequence.
The Guardians were no match for Ronan—Rocket Raccoon’s super-gun left him unscathed, and the team’s battle against Ronan’s forces ended with the entire Xandarian fleet destroyed and Ronan reaching the planet’s surface. Luckily, Star-Lord was able to actually control that Infinity Stone with the help of his team (and those sweet, sweet dance moves), and they used its immense power to blast the bad guy into oblivion.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a habit of introducing world-changing technology, then kind of ignoring it later on, and Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, a.k.a. Yellowjacket, played a key role in one of its biggest breakthroughs to date. Cross spent his entire career trying to follow in the footsteps of Hank Pym, finally cracking the code to duplicate the Pym Particles that allow the Ant-Man suit to shrink—though he doesn’t realize it also messed with his brain chemistry in the process.
Cross used the tech to murder indiscriminately, taking out an official who doubts his capabilities by shrinking him into a pile of goo and flushing him down the toilet, and to build his Yellowjacket battle suit, which he wore while duking it out with Scott Lang’s Ant-Man in an epic battle that almost entirely takes place inside a briefcase and on a play table in Scott’s daughter’s bedroom. The Yellowjacket suit is an insanely dangerous piece of tech, and the man pulling the trigger was truly unhinged; thankfully, Ant-Man managed to short it out and shrink Cross into oblivion.
Surtur (Thor: Ragnarok)
There’s nothing like a fiery demon hellbent (pun intended) on destroying everything and everyone in his path to bond Thor and friends towards a common goal. The addition of Surtur in Thor: Ragnarok helped to not only bring the team together, but literally leveled the playing field.
Diehard comics fans know Surtur is a major villain in Thor’s world. In Thor: Ragnarok, however, he’s almost an ancillary one—appearing only in the opening act and destructive finale. That’s not to say he’s not important to the story. In Norse mythology, the word “Ragnarok” points to the apocalyptic battle between gods that results in a world destroyed by fire.
While Surtur is indeed the monster all Asgardians fear, Thor and Loki summon him to invoke the Ragnarok prophecy. This defeats Hela, but at a price: his attack absolutely decimates Asgard—crumbling the city in the sky to dust.
Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger)
There was every chance it would come off as silly, but Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull easily stands out as one of the most original and terrifying baddies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In The First Avenger, he commands his own Hydra-fied Nazi division, complete with insanely dangerous weapons powered by the Tesseract. He also has super-strength, thanks to a tainted attempt to recreate the Super Soldier serum that gave Captain America his powers, putting him at a comparable strength level. He was one of the first characters to see the potential of the Tesseract, and managed to weaponize it more than 60 years before S.H.I.E.L.D. started trying to figure it out in The Avengers. He was Captain America’s first big bad, and served as a red-skulled baptism by fire to get Cap ready to face the challenges of the modern era.
Kaecilius (Doctor Strange)
He might’ve just been a disciple of Dormammu in the end, but Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius was plenty intimidating his own right—a highly-trained sorcerer who went rogue, left the Ancient One’s order to try and take out the Masters of the Mystic Arts, and nearly succeeded. In Doctor Strange, Kaecilius manages to destroy two of the Sanctums and put the Ancient One’s forces on the ropes, and shows his prowess with magic in a few excellent fights against Doctor Strange. Luckily, a quick-thinking Strange managed to briefly trap him in magical straightjacket (thanks to a few assists from the Cloak of Levitation). Even if he was technically the B-list baddie in Doctor Strange, he’ll always be an A-lister to us.
The Tinkerer (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
The Tinkerer is exactly the kind of character that the MCU needed, for the same reason that he was exactly the kind of character that the comics needed.
When the movies were starting out, characters like Whiplash and Justin Hammer made a lot of sense — self-made evil geniuses who could use their own villainous technology to threaten the heroes. As they went on and expanded to bring in more and more heroes and villains, though, it makes sense that we’d get to someone who wasn’t quite on their level, but who could still learn from and reverse engineer that sci-fi super-tech and make it more accessible to street-level bad guys.
He’s certainly not the focus, but Phineas Mason’s work alongside the Vulture and the Shockers is the subtle embodiment of the change that’s gone on in those movies for the past decade, from a universe with superheroes in it.
The Prowler (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Of all the impressive things about Spider-Man: Homecoming, one of the most notable is just how many characters the filmmakers pulled in from the Marvel Universe. Beyond the main players like Spider-Man and the Vulture, this was a movie that had the Shocker, the Scorpion, Damage Control, the Tinkerer — even Jason Ionello, the kid who does the morning announcements at Midtown High, is pulled from Untold Tales of Spider-Man.
The best minor villain appearance by far is absolutely Aaron Davis, known in the comics as the Prowler. In the film, he’s played by Donald Glover, who acts as the thoroughly unimpressed straight man to Peter Parker’s “enhanced interrogation.” It’s one of the best comedic scenes in the entire MCU, but what really makes it special is Davis’s mention of his nephew. As comics readers know, Davis’s nephew is Miles Morales, the second Spider-Man.
As far as villainy goes, Davis doesn’t accomplish much beyond a failed arms deal. Hinting at a future of the MCU that includes Miles, though? That’s pretty cool.
Crossbones (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War)
Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow started out as a member of Captain America’s strike team in Winter Soldier, eventually revealing himself as a Hydra agent when the attempted takeover began. He was a part of that epic elevator fight with Cap in that film, but wound up on the wrong side of the shield—after getting the edge on Sam Wilson during their one-on-one fight, he failed to notice a crashing helicarrier coming right for him, which resulted in Rumlow’s burned, broken body being hauled out of the wreckage once the battle was over.
It seemed like that could be the end for Crossbones, but he survived to take one last shot at Cap in Civil War. Rocking his own homemade-looking battle suit, he got a fantastic extended action set piece fighting Captain America and Black Widow, and even laid some bone-crunching punches on Cap thanks to his suit’s capabilities. So filled with hate that he literally blew himself up with Cap beside him, his final attack was foiled when Scarlet Witch managed to relocate the blast—taking out a group of Wakandan diplomats and kicking off the events of Civil War in earnest.
Dormammu (Doctor Strange)
He’s one of the biggest villains in Doctor Strange lore—and the MCU actually kept the extremely powerful ruler of the Dark Dimension relatively close to his comics counterpart, as Doctor Strange’s trip to the Dark Dimension was practically a Steve Ditko panel brought to life. Dormammu is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, loaded with universe-destroying power and on a mission to fuse our world with the Dark Dimension. He’s so powerful that Doctor Strange had to simply outsmart him to save the world, trapping Dormammu in a time loop with him (where Dormammu killed him over and over) until he was forced to bargain for his freedom. It makes for one of the most clever finales in all of the MCU, and lands Dormammu high on our list of favorites.
Alexander Pierce (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
When Marvel signed Robert Redford for a superhero movie, you knew it’d be an interesting role—and his turn as Alexander Pierce certainly delivered. He’s introduced as the well-meaning Secretary of the World Security Council and old friend of Nick Fury, a hero who literally declined a Nobel Peace Prize…though it’s eventually revealed Pierce has been pulling a lot of the strings in regards to Hydra’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D.
It was Pierce who shepherded Project Insight, the program designed to create the networked helicarrier system everyone is fighting over in The Winter Soldier (and which Hydra planned to use to take over the country). He also planted bombs in the name tags of the other Security Council members, which he uses to brutally murder them when they challenge his takeover. He stayed evil to the end, too, uttering “hail Hydra” with his dying breath after Nick Fury put two rounds into his chest. Now that’s hardcore.
The Mandarin (Iron Man 3)
Ben Kingsley’s character in Iron Man 3 wasn’t actually the real Mandarin—and the “All Hail the King” one-shot short suggested the bona fide bad guy could still be out there, waiting to make his move—but that “fake” Mandarin still gave us the chills, at least until it was revealed that he’s really just an out of work actor named Trevor Slattery who can barely be trusted with a six-pack of beer, much less a gun.
Kingsley embodied much of the look and feel of what comics fans expected to see from the Mandarin, and his haunting delivery of lines like “You’ll never see me coming” is a masterstroke in fear. It loses some luster by the end, but the Mandarin presented in the front half of that film is one of the scariest baddies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It might’ve all been a ruse, but it was effective.
The Grandmaster (Thor: Ragnarok)
When Thor is suddenly marooned on the junk planet Sakaar, he comes in contact with the larger-than-life character known as the Grandmaster. Aside from his comic-book origins, which make the dude 14 million years old (he’s also the Collector’s brother), the Grandmaster’s introduction in Thor: Ragnarok adds some much-needed levity to Thor and Loki’s dire situation.
Jeff Goldblum’s addition to the MCU adds some Caesar Flickman-style antics amid the chaos, which finds Thor thrown into an event known as the Contest of Champions. While it’s clear the Grandmaster acts as a power-hungry tyrant over the citizens of Sakaar, there’s something that draws them all to this gladiator battle. And while Thor eventually teams up with Hulk—who’s been stuck on the planet for quite some time—the Grandmaster does everything he can to keep the battle going no matter what. Obviously, he gets his comeuppance in the end. But something tells us this won’t be the last we see of him.
Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger (Iron Man)
You have to respect where it all began, and Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane, a.k.a. Iron Monger, set the tone for the villains of the MCU in the first Iron Man film. Bridges’ Stane is positively slimy, betraying Tony Stark and actually setting his entire hero’s journey in action—so really, we can thank Stane for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. When his assassination attempt on Stark in the desert failed, Stane eventually donned the massive Iron Monger suit to try and finish the job himself. A lot has changed since Iron Monger stalked the skies, but his final fight with Iron Man had a brutal, messy feel that really let you feel the hate Stane had for Stark—and it still resonates, even in a world with heavy hitters like Thanos prowling around.
Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Look, Age of Ultron was great, but there’s no doubt the film was hampered by the strain between director Joss Whedon and Marvel, as well as the fact that it was basically a stopgap story on the way to Infinity War. Despite all that, James Spader brought absolute terror to the metal menace that was Ultron, with a near-endless supply of robot bodies and a design that had comics fans geeking out.
He’s basically a big budget Black Mirror story brought to life, exemplifying how technology can be our greatest scourge, though Ultron does it with a wit that only Spader can provide, verbally sparring with Tony Stark better than most non-robot baddies. Like any great villain, Ultron also has a real point of view to his plan and motives. There’s no doubt humans do cause a lot of problems, and looking at the facts, Ultron’s final determination that humans and superheroes are what makes the world such a dangerous place makes its own twisted kind of sense.
Helmut Zemo (Captain America: Civil War)
The big-screen version of Captain America comics baddie Helmut Zemo in Civil War was a stark departure from what readers might’ve expected—including the absence of his distinctive purple outfit—but they gave the character more than enough added nuance to compensate. The most amazing thing about Zemo in Civil War is he’s just an average guy—a smart guy, sure, but still a regular dude.
No superpowers. No gigantic master plan to take over the world. Just a man who wants revenge for the death of his family, and wise enough to realize the best way to take out the Avengers is to set them against one another. Sure, his plan does require a few leaps in logic, but it was refreshing to see a villain like Zemo brought to life in the MCU. He’s a great reminder that it doesn’t take world-smashing superpowers to give Earth’s Mightiest Heroes a run for their money.
Aldrich Killian (Iron Man 3)
Iron Man 3 is one of the most polarizing movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, featuring an epic fakeout that reveals Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is actually the big bad behind a mysterious rash of bombings and terrorist attacks sweeping the globe. His secret weapon? Extremis, a versatile technology that first showed up in the Iron Man comics and is reimagined here as a way to super-heat one’s body and literally regrow limbs.
Killian uses it to turn himself into a living weapon, capable of slashing through the most advanced Iron Man suits with his bare hands like they’re made of nothing more than hot butter. His particular skillset makes for one of the most technically ambitious fight scenes in the MCU, with dozens of armored suits flying around and getting sliced to pieces by Killian. It’s sometimes hard to believe any villain can truly go toe-to-toe with Tony Stark, but Killian made one heck of a run.
Ego (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Peter Quill’s search for his father was a key part of the story in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a journey that brought him face to face with Kurt Russell’s Ego. It takes awhile for Ego to reveal that he’s actually the villain of the film, but when the reveal comes, it’s cosmic (literally).
As far as sheer abilities, Ego is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, right up there alongside the Mad Titan Thanos himself. Ego is essentially a god, encompassing an entire planet and capable of manifesting himself however he wishes. His master plan aims to expand his reach across most of the known universe, wiping out pretty much all other life in the process. The best part? Russell sells it so well that you really do understand where Ego’s coming from, even if he is a psychopath who’s killed hundreds of his own children in his quest for power. Ego redefined the concept of daddy issues—a tall order in a universe that already included Tony Stark.
The Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. the Vulture, is one of the newer additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but there’s no doubt he’s also one of the best. In rebooting Spider-Man for the third time in a decade, Marvel decided to dig a bit deeper into the Spidey canon to find a villain who hadn’t already been done to death on the big screen (how many Goblins do we really need?), and landed on the Vulture for Spider-Man: Homecoming, and thanks to Keaton’s menacing, blue-collar take on the character, he quickly became a fan favorite.
In a universe of world-destroying monsters, the Vulture is decidedly street-level in his approach, but that’s exactly what makes him work. The writers tweaked his backstory to make Toomes the father of Peter Parker’s teenage crush, and he takes the “girlfriend’s angry dad” trope to a whole new level. The effects team also did an amazing job with his armor and look, with the Vulture looking positively terrifying and inhuman when he’s under that mask, stalking his prey.
Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)
Since her first appearance in the trailers for Thor: Ragnarok, it was pretty obvious that Cate Blanchett’s Hela was going to leave an impression. We’ve never seen Thor face a villain like this one. Heck, we’ve never really seen a baddie such as Hela, the Goddess of Death in any of Marvel’s offerings, or in Blanchett’s varied career. Much like Loki before her, this Asgardian villain is someone audiences will immediately love to hate.
When Loki and Thor are faced with the death of Odin, a spell is broken that unleashes Hela back to the place she once ruled: Asgard. The concept of a secret sister takes Thor and Loki off guard, naturally. As soon as Odin passes, she appears to the brothers and presents her plan to take her rightful place on Asgard’s throne. To prove her point, she easily crushes Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer.
The truth is eventually revealed that Hela once acted as Odin’s executioner, leading the Asgardian army to victory over all Nine Realms. This secret history helps to elevate Hela to epic villain status. Not only is she extremely powerful, prompting Thor to assemble his “Revengers” to take her out, her motivations to rule come from a very real, justifiable place. Honestly, viewers may find it a bit tough—even for just a moment—not to root for her.
Erik Killmonger (Black Panther)
With the exception of outright Nazi monsters like the Red Skull, the Marvel movies tend to be pretty good about telling stories of villains with complicated, and even relatable motivations. Characters like Loki, the Vulture, even Hela, the literal goddess of death, have some pretty legitimate reasons for what they’re doing, even if those reasons have led them down exactly the wrong path. None of them, however, come close to being as sympathetic as Erik Killmonger.
He essentially has a superhero’s origin: his father is killed in front of him, his royal heritage is denied to him, and he uses those tragedies to motivate a relentless dedication, training himself to the peak of his abilities before seeking vengeance. That setup is a whole lot closer to Batman than it is to, say, Crossbones or Ultron. When you add in the fact that Killmonger specifically wants to address the continuing history of racism, it’s hard not to admit that he makes some pretty good points.
But the key word there is “vengeance.” For all of Killmonger’s justifications, his major personal motivation is built around inflicting the same kind of pain that he experienced onto the world around him. Even if he’s right, his goal is dominance rather than leadership, which makes him a true ideological opponent for T’Challa. It’s one of the things that makes their final battle, in which they’re both in nearly identical Black Panther costumes, so good: they’re reflections of each other, both committed to fight to the death (and beyond) for their ideals without compromising who they are.
Loki (The Avengers)
Who else could it be? There’s a reason Marvel Studios chose to use Loki as the main villain for The Avengers—he’s one of the most compelling, calculated and charismatic villains ever brought to the big screen. There are some good reasons he’s so formidable, too—before he went bad, Loki fought alongside Thor, so he has plenty of experience, and he has some mad trickster skills thanks to his cunning wit and mastery of the dark arts. He can also be positively ruthless, and will live in infamy as the man who pulled a fast one on Coulson and murdered everyone’s favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (he’s since been resurrected on ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but still). Tom Hiddleston is so good at being bad that Marvel opted to keep him around long after his bid for supremacy was foiled at the hands of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. He’s still no match for the Hulk—but who is?
Thanos is the villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Sure, Loki may have been the immediate threat back in Avengers, but Thanos was the one behind him, whose arrival on the screen was foreshadowed for the better part of the decade before he finally stepped into the spotlight, with devastating results.
The thing is, he’s not just a mindlessly powerful threat. There’s been a lot of character work put into the cinematic version of Thanos, which is especially impressive considering that most of it is shown to the audience in a movie that’s also juggling story arcs for dozens of other characters at the same time. Through it all, though, he’s shown to have the same quality that all the greatest villains share: he thinks he’s right. He’s the hero of his own story, the only one who can step up and save the universe from itself, and is willing to sacrifice whatever he needs to in pursuit of that goal. And after he accomplishes, true to his word, he retires to a quiet life, happy in the knowledge that he’s done what no one else could to make the universe a better place.
There’s just one problem. His “heroic solution” is genocide on a galactic scale that’s all but unimaginable. The sacrifices he makes aren’t his own, they’re simply more murders that simply don’t matter when they’re stacked up against what he intends to do with the Infinity Stones. In the comics, Thanos has often been referred to as “the ultimate nihilist,” but the MCU’s version is the exact opposite. He believes very much in what he’s doing, which makes him even more compelling… and more dangerous.