A decade's worth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has transported a huge array of comic book heroes from page to screen, and with them, an almost equally massive cavalcade of villains all gunning for their downfall. In a sprawling universe such as this, where the forces of good and evil do battle from the alleys of New York to the edges of the galaxy, villainy comes in all shapes and sizes.
Non-superpowered antagonists are usually empowered by the collective might of power-hungry organizations such as the Ten Rings and HYDRA. Others strap on advanced technology or seek sources of supernatural power to enhance themselves, like Yellowjacket and Killmonger.
Villains on these tiers may put up one hell of a fight, but when it comes down to the biggest and baddest of them all, there's a world of difference between, say, Whiplash and Ebony Maw. Following the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War, an Infinity Gauntlet-wearing Thanos appears to be top dog in the MCU villains' pen. Even Gauntlet-free, he's still not be trifled with.
We're talking about a maniac who spent thousands of years amassing armies and followers loyal enough to kill and die for him. Korath the Pursuer claimed he was "most powerful being in the universe," which might not have been factual, but who would dare challenge someone with that reputation?
As we see in Guardians of the Galaxy, possessing just one Infinity Stone is a feat few beings can manage. Thanos had the strength to not only wield all of them, but also the skill to use them with frightening proficiency. With all six stones embedded in his chosen golden receptacle, Doctor Strange warned that the warlord could "destroy all life on a scale hitherto undreamt of," and we know he's being serious because, as Tony Stark points out, he uses the word "hitherto."
Even without a full Gauntlet, the Titan proves the Doctor right by brushing off every single attack thrown at him, including a near-lethal one from Thor at his peak with the mightiest weapon ever forged -- Stormbreaker -- and he still has the energy left to eradicate half of all life in the universe when he finally gets the full set. Becoming able to manipulate time, space, the soul, minds across existence, the accumulated power of the universe and reality itself, combined with nigh-omnipotence, makes Thanos so powerful that we're told the odds of beating him are exactly 14 million-to-one.
But, once the glove comes off, there's nothing to say that an especially vengeful Hulk or a second round with Thor and Stormbreaker couldn't draw some more Titan blood. Remember, Thanos is only playing god. And there are a couple of other entities in the MCU who could give him a run for the title.
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There are a couple of heavy-ish hitters that are worth mentioning before we get to the real contenders. We should also add at this point that on-screen evidence -- not comic book lore -- is our only criteria here. This means that characters like Grandmaster and the Collector, who showed little of the cosmic power they possess in the comics, won't make the cut.
More viable options are the always-forgotten baddies of Thor: The Dark World's Malekith and Guardians of the Galaxy's Ronan the Accuser -- two of the only villains we've seen successfully weaponize Infinity Stones besides Thanos. The Kree warrior easily knocked out Drax the Destroyer in a one-on-one brawl and, armed with the Power Stone, blasted the entire Nova Corps fleet out of the sky.
The Dark Elf survived war with Odin's father to battle his grandson thousands of years later, where he blocked Mjolnir with his bare hands and absorbed the Reality Stone's essence into his own body.
As Odin's first (secret) daughter, Hela was able to draw strength from Asgard itself, meaning her power was potentially limitless; its only restriction was a particular source. Once banished to Hel by her guilt-ridden father, she became the Goddess of Death, re-emerging once the All-Father passed on to show both of her younger brothers who's boss, shattering Thor's precious Mjolnir in the process.
Hela embodied the best of Thor and Loki: Thor's warrior-ship and Loki's spell-casting. She can magically raise weapons, armor and even the deceased to her defense, making her a threat that armies of Asgard's finest can't contend with. Luckily for Asgard's remaining inhabitants, a certain Fire Demon firing on all cylinders made short work of her...
When we first met the ruler of Muspelheim at the start of Thor: Ragnarok, slumped on his throne, he didn't look like he was up to much Ragnarok-ing. His chatty prisoner, Thor, also managed to easily escape his clutches, taking his crown -- the demon's power source -- with him, neutralizing one of the most feared beings in the Nine Realms.
However, when Surtur made his grand comeback later in the film, equipped with both the crown and the Eternal Flame that Odin had confiscated from him, he gleefully enacted his prophecized apocalypse on Asgard -- and its first daughter. In Infinity War, we also learn that Loki was so concerned about Surtur's power level that he swiped the Space Stone from his path of destruction.
The controller of the Dark Dimension is one of the MCU's oldest world-eaters. In Marvel comics, he's been known to kick back for a game of cosmic chess with Odin, a pastime his MCU counterpart would struggle with given that he doesn't have any hands. Dormammu's bodiless form is as broadly drawn as his capabilities are in Doctor Strange.
All we really know is that he's able to consume planets by fusing his dimension with them, and manipulate his followers by imbuing them with a fraction of his power. What we don't know is how killable he is because Strange's time loop plan simply propelled the infuriated being away. Either the Doctor was keeping up his Hippocratic oath or he knew fighting Dormammu would be a fool's errand, even for the Sorcerer Supreme.
Star-Lord's father is the only Celestial we've been introduced to in the MCU so far. Celestials are, in Ego's own words, gods with a "small 'g'," and suitably, Ego was able to pull off tricks Thanos could only achieve with the Infinity Stones. He could manipulate energy any way he wanted, take over minds, control matter on a molecular level and change his form to anything from a planet to David Hasselhoff. His ambitious "Expansion" aimed to terraform planets to become part of his own consciousness.
In the end, only his son -- who was part-Celestial -- was able to rival him in strength. In terms of the scope and intricacy of his abilities, Ego would be a Gauntlet-ed Thanos' biggest competition in a villain vs. villain smack-down. But, what with his current R.I.P status, he won't be lending our heroes his support in Avengers: Endgame.
Who do you think is the MCU's most powerful foe? Let us know in the comments!