The creative teams behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe have always faced a unique challenge. Because they are adapting beloved comic characters and stories into big screen tentpole events, they must strive to stay true to some aspects of the original characters and designs. At the same time, they must change things up enough to offer veteran readers a surprise or two while also making everything accessible to the general public. When it comes to MCU villains, it’s been something of a mixed bag. Some characters managed to look better than their comics counterparts ever did, while others have costume designs that fall somewhere between perplexing and downright lazy.
This represents the essential paradox for these designers: they must create designs that simultaneously look realistic enough for adults and yet are fanciful enough to be turned into toys, lunchboxes, and God knows what else. Are you curious where your favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe villain falls on the list? Fortunately, you won’t have to use the magical hex energies of the Scarlet Witch to rip the information out of our minds. Instead, just keep scrolling to see our awesome guide to 8 MCU villains that look worse on screen and 7 that look better.
15. LOOKS WORSE: BARON ZEMO
Baron Zemo is a character that doesn’t just look worse in the MCU — he looks completely different! In keeping with the toned-down and more realistic designs of this movie world, the character no longer has his colorful comic book attire, in all of its purple, masked glory. The actual arc and motivation of the cinematic Zemo is, admittedly, pretty fascinating: as a man who has lost his family in Sokovia, he serves as the poster child for the collateral damage that the Avengers cause with their worldwide battles.
However, from a design standpoint, the MCU Zemo is impossible bland. He is literally just a random guy with almost nothing to visually distinguish him. The bottom line? If the most memorable part of a character is his story, then you know his design was pretty bad.
14. LOOKS BETTER: EGO, THE LIVING PLANET
When the internet found out that Kurt Russell would be playing Ego, the Living Planet, in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, there was more than a bit of concern. What kind of CGI monstrosity was waiting for us that would turn a fan-favorite actor into a giant, talking planet? Fortunately, the MCU knew better than that.
With a few lines of dialogue, the movie explains that Ego wanted to live life like a humanoid, so he took a humanoid form. This let him get a taste of mortality while also letting him visit different worlds covertly. And, of course, it was the perfect excuse to have Kurt Russell be his deceptively-charming self (albeit within a generic sci-fi outfit) instead of a terrible CGI planet. This is one case where ditching the comic book look was a huge improvement.
13. LOOKS WORSE: MADAME HYDRA
At first, it seemed highly unlikely that we would ever get an MCU version of Madame Hydra. The Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Hydra got ever more serious, making it seem impossible we would get this colorful Hydra leader onscreen. However, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. unexpectedly gave us Madame Hydra in the form of the rogue AI Aida.
She started as an attempt to create the MCU version of the Life Model Decoys from the comics. However, she goes evil and traps several of our heroes in a virtual reality, Matrix-style world known as The Framework. In this universe, Hydra rules the world, and she rules them as Madame Hydra. The show makes a token effort at her comic appearance by putting a green coat on the character, but it is not nearly as flamboyant (or memorable) as the green and yellow tights worn by her comic book iteration.
12. LOOKS BETTER: KINGPIN
In many ways, the Kingpin was what first made people notice the Daredevil series on Netflix. Producers had managed to cast Vincent D’Onofrio in the role, and he brought an intensity and gravitas that we just weren’t expecting in a superhero show. Moreover, it was surprising how much better he looked than in the comics.
The Kingpin of the comics was also bald, but he was typically drawn as freakishly huge. Trying to recreate that look on the small screen would have required the Kingpin to be a total CGI creation. Additionally, the Kingpin of the comic almost exclusively wore white which, if we’re being honest, looked pretty goofy. The Kingpin of the show wears a variety of dark, tailored suits, helping him embody the persona of a cultured mafioso.
11. LOOKS WORSE: RONAN THE ACCUSER
Guardians of the Galaxy was an amazing movie. It ushered in fresh new heroes for the MCU and showed the world that there were entirely new ways of telling Marvel stories on the big screen. Unfortunately, the movie’s villain, Ronan the Accuser, continued the MCU tradition of having disappointing villains, and this disappointment started with his appearance.
First of all, the comics version has more definitive colors — a bright, bold green that stands out instead of the generic, black leather look. The comic version’s face also has distinctive lines like a domino mask, helping frame a strong face. The movie version replaces this with black face makeup that makes our heroes likelier to buy him a mirror than punch him out. All in all, it makes a lot of sense that this guy needed one of the most powerful objects in the universe for anyone to take him seriously!
10. LOOKS BETTER: THE PURPLE MAN
While the Netflix corner of the MCU hasn’t always had the highest levels of quality, most of the individual shows have succeeded where many MCU movies fail: providing a compelling villain. The best example of this was the Purple Man in Jessica Jones. Not only was he played to creepy, predatory perfection by David Tennant, but he manages to look much better than his comic incarnation!
In Marvel Comics, the Purple Man is (wait for it) actually purple. In live-action, this look would have been catastrophic: it would have made our primary antagonist look like a bad Star Trek alien, and we all know it’s a sin to cover Tennant’s pretty face up. Instead, the show wisely played up the “purple” in “Purple Man” with his wardrobe, which gave him just enough flair without seeming completely gaudy.
9. LOOKS WORSE: CROSSBONES
Crossbones suffers from the opposite problem that Zemo does. After his injury at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier, the MCU decided to give him a more comic-accurate appearance for his brief cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Unfortunately, the costume plan was about as well thought-out as Crossbones’ attempt to kill Captain America.
In the comics, Crossbones is an imposing figure. He looks a bit like Bane if Bane were dressing up for Halloween, complete with a black and white mask that makes his head look like an imposing skull. Unfortunately, Marvel’s attempt to create a live-action version of this just makes Crossbones look like the world’s most pissed-off soccer goalie. Unless we’re giving him points for an edgy-looking Casey Jones cosplay, we’ll have to swipe left on Crossbones’ costume.
8. LOOKS BETTER: BARON MORDO
At first, it looked like the MCU Baron Mordo might not end up as a villain. He spent most of the first Doctor Strange movie fighting alongside Strange and working with the Ancient One to stop the forces trying to unleash Dormammu. However, a post-credits sequence confirms he has gone fully to the dark side. Fortunately, going evil didn’t make him look as goofy as his comics version.
The Mordo of the comics has an outfit like Chipotle guacamole: it’s bright green and way too extra. He sports features like a cape and his face is framed like an anime villain by the curved black protrusions of his costume. It’s a striking look, but one that would have looked very weird on screen. Instead, the movie Mordo has a simple, multi-fabric tunic looks great and would be just as comfortable in a Jedi Temple as the streets of New York City.
7. LOOKS WORSE: BARON STRUCKER
For better or for worse, the MCU has managed to cram quite a few fan-favorite characters into their movies, right down to minor bad guys like Baron Strucker. He plays a very minor role in The Age of Ultron before being killed. However, one look at the Baron’s fashion choices confirms that he was already dead inside.
As befitting a high-ranking Hydra officer, the Baron Strucker of the comics sports a specialized green coat and belt, and his chest very prominently displays the Hydra symbol. And while producers made it clear that Hydra would be less flamboyant in the MCU, our onscreen Baron is just a regular-looking guy with an eyepiece. In fact, the actor may as well as wandered in from the street with his Google Glass on and gotten cast on the spot. A silly idea? Sure…but it’s no sillier than passing this disappointing dude off as Strucker.
6. LOOKS BETTER: NUKE/WILL SIMPSON
Before they got further into his storyline, it was difficult to tell that Jessica Jones was using this familiar Marvel Comics villain. This is because they changed his name to “Will Simpson” instead of the comics’ “Frank Simpson.” However, as the first season progressed, it was clear that he was the pill-popping, super-powered bad guy known better in the comics as Nuke.
Fortunately, he looks nothing like Nuke. The comics incarnation rocks a blonde buzzcut, disdains shirts, and has an American flag tattooed to his face! This is one instance where the MCU’s move towards subtler designs is a real benefit: Will Simpson is portrayed as a handsome, decent police officer before we find out the depths of his evil and madness. He ultimately helped underscore the ongoing MCU theme of heroes not being able to fully trust the authorities.
5. LOOKS WORSE: DORMAMMU
It was very satisfying to finally see Dormammu at the end of the Doctor Strange movie. His name and presence had been hovering ominously in the background of the narrative for a while, so it was pretty cool that the resolution of the entire plot revolved around Doctor Strange’s bold “bargain” with him. However, the truth is that Dormammu looks pretty damn weird.
The movie really nailed his larger-than-life nature, but there wasn’t a lot of attention-grabbing detail. He essentially came across like a random Guardians of the Galaxy alien mask that the production crew made into a giant face. By comparison, the comic Dormammu often has an entire, fiery body. This includes a more detailed face, memorable costume, and a fiery color scheme that helps go with his demonic nature. Next to this, the MCU Dormammu is nothing but glowing eyes and a scary voice.
4. LOOKS BETTER: VULTURE
When the Vulture was announced as the villain of Spider-Man: Homecoming, many fans were curious if he would retain his comic book look. Even by the standards of vintage comics characters, the comic Vulture looks odd — he’s an old, bald guy in a skintight bird outfit, complete with wings. If you showed him to a non-comics fan, they’d be much likelier to think he was a dancer (Green Swan, anyone?) rather than a supervillain.
Wisely, the MCU threw out almost everything about the comic costume but the theme. The frill on his jacket plays homage to the original Vulture, but everything else about the costume is high-tech, from the impressive wings to the intimidating mask. The MCU was a series launched by a technology-fetishizing Iron Man movie, so it only makes sense that a foe like the Vulture has enough technology to go toe-to-toe with our heroes.
3. LOOKS WORSE: MANDARIN
It’s pretty much impossible to have a list of villains that the MCU messed up without mentioning the Mandarin. In Iron Man 3, it’s revealed that the Mandarin that everyone fears is nothing more than a drug addict actor named Trevor Slattery. And while that plot twist was bad, this character redesign is even worse.
Over the years, people had criticized the comic design of the Mandarin as being racist, however he quickly established himself as Iron Man’s archenemy, and the comic character’s Chinese heritage meant that the stylish and colorful robes were suitable. In the movie, everything is a facade — a British actor puts on a southern American drawl and poses as a Middle Eastern terrorist. This extends to his wardrobe, which looks less like the robes of a magical powerhouse and more like actor Ben Kingsley refused to take off his sunglasses or bathrobe before filming!
2. LOOKS BETTER: ARNIM ZOLA
The Arnim Zola of the comics is one of the truly insane comic designs. There’s only one way to describe him: he’s a robot body with a face in his torso. Bringing this exact version to the MCU would have been a disaster: moviegoers would be scratching their heads and wondering if they were looking at a gritty remake of the Ninja Turtles Krang character instead of a Marvel villain.
Fortunately, the MCU has a light touch with this character. First, we see him as fully human in Captain America: The First Avenger. When we see him again in the sequel, he is a digitized face in a computer screen, having been kept alive by S.H.I.E.L.D. after his body would have naturally died. He looks very good compared to the comic version, and the existence of a digitized bad guy opens the door for future appearances.
1. LOOKS WORSE: BATROC THE LEAPER
Another character who surprisingly made the “leap” from Marvel Comics to the MCU is Batroc the Leaper. He makes an appearance as the commander of the hijackers that S.H.I.E.L.D. must stop at the beginning of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Unfortunately, the main hijacking victim was actually the character’s sense of fashion.
The comic Batroc had a look that, admittedly, it would be tough to pull off in live action. He wears a skintight spandex suit in garish purple and gold, and he has a mask that looks like it’s on loan from Wolverine. The movie version nods to the colors with his shirt, but otherwise, the character is wearing pretty generic military-looking apparel. This makes it look like he went to war while refusing to take off his colorful tracksuit, making it impossible to take him seriously.
Do you agree or disagree with any of these? Let us know in the comments!
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