Historically, the biggest problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been its villains.
“Black Panther” was praised back in February for having one of the best villains in the universe (and in movie history).
Loki, who fluctuates loyalty so often it’s hard to keep up, is another great example.
Thanos – who many people were unsure about – was recognised for being a well-written, menacing villain in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He’s played excellently by Josh Brolin despite motion-capture limitations that made villains like Ultron underwhelming and cheesy.
But most of the other villains aren’t compelling, such as the ones featured in Marvel’s latest release, “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” In fact, the main villain isn’t really even a villain.
There’s not much there in terms of the motives, goals, and overall, a lot of them don’t feel like a genuine threat to our heroes. But that doesn’t mean that all of these MCU villains are bad: they’re just forgettable, even in some of the best movies to date including “Iron Man 3,” “Ant-Man,” and “Captain America: Civil War.”
Still, there are a few gems in there, and we took a look at the top 22 to give you a sense of which were the best.
This list doesn’t include all villains in the MCU: just major ones with some very special exceptions (Jeff Goldblum). It also excludes Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes and Nebula, who are good now and it was kind of obvious they would be eventually.
Here’s our ranking of the MCU villains, from worst to best:
22. Emil Blonsky/Abomination, “The Incredible Hulk”
Remember when Ed Norton was the Hulk? Tim Roth played the Abomination, and it wasn’t bad, but he was pretty much only there to help Hulk destroy as many buildings as possible.
21. Whiplash, “Iron Man 2”
Mickey Rourke was having quite the moment when “Iron Man 2” came out, being nominated for a best actor Oscar for his role in “The Wrestler.” In the marketing and trailers, his character, Whiplash, seemed menacing, creepy, and a major threat. But he was just kind of there. The movie is bad, his character is lame, and Rourke’s lack of enthusiasm didn’t help – especially compared to Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer.
20. Malekith, “Thor: The Dark World”
Who is Malekith? Good question. He was the leader of the Dark Elves and the central villain in the second “Thor” movie. His whole thing was bringing “eternal darkness” to the world, so that’s why the movie was called “The Dark World.” Malekith’s backstory and motivation is pretty much that he likes night? Thanks to Thor, the world never actually went dark. Honestly, the entire movie – which is fine, but forgettable – could have been avoided if somebody suggested Malekith just move to Alaska.
19. Sonny Burch, “Ant-man and the Wasp”
Walton Goggins is one of the greatest character actors, so it was disappointing that his character was so underwritten. While he had some funny moments including the truth serum gag, his character felt like a rushed, last-minute addition when people realised that the main villain, Ghost, wasn’t actually a villain. Like many villains in the MCU, this was just a waste of an actor who could’ve done something great with more thoughtful character development.
18. Ronan the Accuser, “Guardians of the Galaxy”
Ronan was a mass-murdering racist, played by Lee Pace, a great actor whose performance was lost in pounds of blue make-up. Ronan is menacing thanks to Pace delivering his many, many monologues well, but other than that there’s not much characterization.
17. Alexander Pierce, “Captain America: Winter Soldier”
“Winter Soldier” is a pretty good movie, but Alexander Pierce, played by Robert Redford, is so forgettable that I forgot Redford (one of the most iconic actors of all time) was even in the movie. Pierce is a top HYDRA operative working undercover for SHIELD and the government. I’m sure Robert Redford fell asleep reading the screenplay.
16. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket, “Ant-Man”
“Ant-Man” was surprisingly good. It’s funny, silly, and a successful tonal shift from the other MCU movies that paved the way for a great movie like “Thor Ragnarok.” But its villain, Yellowjacket was taken a little too seriously, and like most on this list, wasn’t memorable. The good movie could’ve been a great one if the sense of humour that defined the movie was applied to its villain. Instead, Yellowjacket applies the same personality, choices, and motivations as Obadiah Stane from “Iron Man.”
15. Ghost, “Ant-Man and the Wasp”
Ghost wasn’t a terrible villain, but she also wasn’t exactly a villain at all. Scott, Hope, Hank, and Janet help save her life and continue to help her out, as seen in the devastating post-credits scene. Like Killmonger, she had a reasonable motivation, but was a bit more understanding and didn’t murder anybody.
14. Dormammu, “Doctor Strange”
Dormammu has one thing going for him: of all the MCU villains, he definitely has the biggest face. Dormammu isn’t necessarily a bad bad guy, but his methods, motives, and goals are repetitive, especially within the MCU. He wants to take over the universe and to do that he must destroy Earth! Zero points for originality, a lot of points for being really big and looking awesome.
13. Justin Hammer, “Iron Man 2”
“Iron Man 2” is a pointless bore. But its saving grace (besides Don Cheadle’s first appearance in the MCU) is Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer. Hammer was a bit lazily written: He’s jealous of Tony Stark and will do anything to damage Stark’s reputation, and attempted to build a bigger, better version of Stark’s Iron Man suit. Rockwell had so much fun with role that his scenes are the only memorable ones – he brings charisma and joy to a lifeless movie and villain.
12. Ultron, “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Ultron (voiced by 80s heartthrob James Spader) was an interesting concept: a monster created by Tony Stark himself. Stark’s intentions, of course, were to save the world with Ultron’s artificial intelligence capabilities, but Ultron gained a conscience and along with that came a hatred for humanity. Ultron’s goal was to wipe humans out, leaving only metal. Ultron was fine, but his goals intentions were a stretch. The best thing about Ultron is that his origins paved the way for Stark and the heroes in the MCU to face serious consequences for their actions, starting with “Captain America: Civil War.”
11. Helmut Zemo, “Captain America: Civil War”
Helmut Zemo blurs the lines between a desperate tie-in and a successful one. It works, but by a small margin. Zemo hates the Avengers – and plots to pit Captain America and Iron Man against each other – because his family was crushed by a building in Slovakia during the Avengers’ battle with Ultron in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” It’s refreshing to see some consequences for the damage superheroes cause. Their heroic actions result in damaged cities and dozens of deaths that create vengeful villains.
10. Tony Stark/Iron Man, “Captain America: Civil War”
Tony Stark isn’t an outright villain here, but his selfish vendetta to make himself look good to people who hate him got his friends locked up in an underground prison. Stark’s motives made “Captain America: Civil War” a better movie: choosing sides was a huge conflict for fans, and added a lot more depth to the MCU and the Avengers as individuals.
9. The Grandmaster, “Thor Ragnarok”
Jeff Goldblum’s The Grandmaster wasn’t a primary villain, but it’s Jeff Goldblum, so we had to include him here. Although his role is very minor and not directly related to the overall story the MCU is telling – or even the story within “Ragnarok,” Goldblum’s appearance made the movie wild and weird in the best way. It would not have been the same movie without him.
8. Ego the Living Planet, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”
Ego (Kurt Russell) was so darn likeable that while it was a bit expected that he turned out to be a villain, it was also shocking and a little difficult to take in. He was such a likable guy before we find out he’s actually a really evil mass murderer! Being Starlord/Peter Quill’s dad helped build some emotional attachment to Ego, which made the twist that he was bad even better than if he had been just some guy.
7. Obadiah Stane/Iron-Monger, “Iron Man”
As the first villain in the first MCU movie ever, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) defined what these villains could and should be. First appearing as a mentor to our hero, Tony Stark, the twist is that Obadiah has been planning to take over the company, and is pissed when Stark decides to stop manufacturing weapons. His motivations, while not relatable, make sense, and he has the intelligence, resources, and talent to be believably threatening.
6. Hela, “Thor: Ragnarok”
Hela (Cate Blanchett) brought the royal family of Asgard some drama that beats anything you’ll see on “The Crown.” In “Ragnarok,” Thor and Loki find out they have a long-lost sister who is the goddess of death. And also she’s super evil! How did they not know about this? Because Odin erased her existence from Asgardian history. Hela (very) easily destroys Thor’s hammer then takes over Asgard, posing a very real threat to a kingdom that’s about to meet its prophesized demise.
5. Johann Schmidt/Red Skull, “Captain America: The First Avenger”
Red Skull is pure evil – there’s not even a bit of humanity left in him. He’s a Nazi that became a confidant of Adolf Hitler. But he turned his back on the Nazis in his search for the coveted Tesseract, and his mission to take over the world for himself. He’s a one-note villain, but Hugo Weaving’s performance makes him more terrifying than what was on the page.
4. Vulture, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”
Vulture, or Adrian Toomes, played by a very well-cast Michael Keaton – who probably got this role for appearing as another man with wings in “Birdman” – is one of the rare villains in the MCU that has a personal vendetta against the superheroes who doesn’t feel like a desperate tie-in. The battle in 2012’s “The Avengers” affected his livelihood: He ran a company that cleaned up damage from superhero battles. But the Department of Damage Control, put together by the federal government with the help of Tony Stark, caused the company to fold. In their final battle, Spider-Man saves Vulture’s life. In prison, Vulture refuses to reveal Spider-Man’s real identity, proving that his arc throughout the movie is worth investing in.
3. Thanos, “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and end credit scenes in “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
Going into “Infinity War,” Thanos was pretty lame, and was formerly number 20 on this list. But Josh Brolin brings Thanos to life. Thanos is menacing and brings real stakes to the heroes and the world they live in. His motivations are a combination of Loki’s and Killmonger’s – two of the absolute best villains in the MCU. His intentions, like Killmonger’s, are well-meaning but flawed: Thanos believes that overpopulation is causing pain all over the universe, and wiping out half of the population will fix it. But like Loki, he has some family-related obstacles that add some more compelling elements to his personality and mission.
2. Loki, “Thor,” “The Avengers,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Thor: Ragnarok”
The MCU wouldn’t be the same without Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Loki is the, for lack of a better word, emo adopted son of Odin and Thor’s brother. He’s always felt second best, and tries to give himself something to live for by being bad. He loves his brother – and no matter how much they hate each other, they’d actually do anything for each other when their lives depend on it. Loki is complicated and has more emotional depth than most villains in any movie.
1. Erik Killmonger, “Black Panther”
Killmonger, played by the wonderful Michel B. Jordan, is one of the MCU’s best Marvel villains because he’s fighting for a cause that is actually quite reasonable. It’s not just one pure evil guy (or woman) versus the heroes. A lot of thought and backstory was put into Killmonger, and it didn’t start with what makes him evil. By prioritising his motivations and personality, director and screenwriter Ryan Coogler made one of the MCU’s best villains, and one of the best villains in movie history.
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