Let's just come out and say it: the MCU has a villain problem. While the heroes of the stories are charismatic and eclectic enough to be interesting, their villains can often end up feeling a bit lacking. Compare this to the Batman films, where the villains often outshine the Dark Knight due to their idiosyncrasies and more complex characterizations. The MCU has had its struggles trying to bring many of the classic Marvel villains to the screen and make them feel familiar yet new. Many times they will hire a well-known actor to play the part, and then give them nothing to do with it, leaving them sort of one-note and lacking in any of the actor's signature traits or style.
That being said, there have been a few standout performances in MCU films. Sometimes the villain rises above what is written and delivers a performance that is on par with the hero of the film. The frequency of this happening is about the same as when the villain feels a bit flat. It would be nice if, after Avengers 4, the MCU maybe put a little more focus on making its villains as compelling as its heroes in every film. After all, Marvel has no shortage of great villains, and it would be a real treat to see them get as much attention as Captain America or Iron Man. We'll just have to wait and see, though. For now, these are 10 MCU villains who overachieved on-screen and 10 who disappointed audiences.
20 OVERACHIEVED: RED SKULL
It would be impossible to make a Captain America origin film without featuring his most recognizable foe, the Red Skull. There might have been fears that a new Red Skull would be nearly as bad or as campy as the one that appeared in the 1990 Captain America film, but they were quickly put to rest by Hugo Weaving's menacing portrayal of the classic villain.
This version of the Red Skull benefited from a bigger budget and some special effects that allowed for a more skull-like appearance. What also made him great was Weaving's portrayal, where he perfectly matched the tone of the film without making Red Skull cartoonish or silly. The Red Skull appeared again in Avengers: Infinity War, finally answering the question of what happened to him.
19 DISAPPOINTED: HELMUT ZEMO
In Marvel comics, Baron Zemo is often seen wearing a purple mask and plotting to get revenge on Captain America. Helmut Zemo, the 13th Baron, was featured as the main antagonist in Captain America: Civil War, and boy was he a disappointment. Daniel Brühl is a fine actor, but there was not much he could do with such a small role.
In the film, Zemo is merely a man who is playing the long game in pitting the Avengers against one another. While there happens to be a fairly good twist near the end involving the creation of other super soldiers, this version of Zemo just has no staying power. He is given a tragic backstory, but other than that, the characterization is weak. Maybe it would have been too much in a story where the superheroes are fighting each other instead of the villain.
18 OVERACHIEVED: GHOST
Ant-Man and the Wasp delivered a fun, zippy antidote of a film to the heavy, epic, soul-crushing experience of Avengers: Infinity War. After watching Spider-Man turn to dust and blow away, it was kind of nice to see Scott Lang and Hank Pym riffing, as well as Walton Goggins doing his best businessman schtick.
The film also delivered on its other antagonist: Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen. Ghost puts up a tough challenge to the heroes, due to her ability to phase through matter. However, the fact that she cannot fully control this power and that it may end her life make her a sympathetic character, one who would be a welcome returning character in future films.
17 DISAPPOINTED: YELLOWJACKET
Unlike its sequel, which made its villains feel more lived-in and human, the original Ant-Man featured Corey Stoll as Darren Cross, also known as Yellowjacket. While Stoll did what he could in the role of the villain, taking every opportunity to appear as smarmy and evil as possible, his performance overall was unmemorable.
That's mostly due to the fact that Ant-Man suffered from the same issue that has plagued some of Marvel's other films, in that their villains are often underwritten and undersold. Yellowjacket was no exception. while the final fight with Ant-Man is interesting enough (having it take place on a model train set was inspired), there was never any reason to connect with the villain on any level.
16 OVERACHIEVED: VULTURE
Spider-Man: Homecoming saw the world of Spider-Man change once again. After his introduction in Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland's young Peter Parker appeared in his own film, where he faced off against one of Spider-Man's most iconic villains, the Vulture. However, this version of Vulture differed in many ways form his comic book inspiration.
Played with great working-man attitude and just the right amount of malice by Michael Keaton, this version of Adrian Toomes was a more relatable supervillain than most. He is just an average guy who resorts to crime after having his livelihood taken away by guys like Tony Stark. He may be the bad guy, but he's not a "bad guy," and that's what makes him a great villain.
15 DISAPPOINTED: KAECILIUS
Doctor Strange is a bit of an outlier in the MCU canon. It was one of the first films that connected the Earthly parts of the MCU to the cosmic ones, and yet it hasn't developed a fanbase like its contemporaries in the film universe. That might be due to it being a slightly underwhelming film, or it could have something to do with the main antagonist, Kaecilius.
Mads Mikkelson is made to play villains, but in the role of Kaecilius, he is given very little to do to show his incredible range. He basically moves through the film, hitting each plot point with machine-like efficiency, while never getting the chance to imbue his character with any depth or meaning. It also means that fans will probably never get to see Mikkelson portray Doctor Doom, even if that was a longshot in the first place.
14 OVERACHIEVED: HELA
There might be nothing better than when a celebrated and accomplished actor decides to have a little bit of fun in a certain role. That's certainly the case with Cate Blanchett, who clearly relished the opportunity to ham it up a little as the evil Hela, Thor and Loki's older sister with designs on taking over Asgard and ruling it with an iron fist.
Blanchett's version of Hela is strong, tough, and commands respect form her minions (particularly Karl Urban's bumbling Skurge), and yet at the same time, she seems to be having a lot of fun being the bad guy. She makes no bones about her intentions. She never tries to frame herself as someone who is doing the right thing, just a woman who loves to be bad.
13 DISAPPOINTED: MALEKITH
Thor: The Dark World always felt like the one MCU film that viewers could feel free to skip. Other then revealing one of the Infinity Gems as the Aether, the film really didn't do much to build on Thor's character or add to the overall story of the MCU. That also had something to do with its utterly forgettable villain.
Malekith, the Elf King, is totally irrelevant to everything that has come after Dark World. He's almost like a footnote in the MCU, never ranking among the greatest villains, and not even being memorable enough to be called one of the worst.
12 OVERACHIEVED: ULTRON
Avengers: Age of Ultron was not exactly a great follow up to a movie that was one of the most defining moments in modern film history. While it managed to introduce some long-lasting characters like Scarlet Witch and Vision, it failed to meet the kind of storytelling and thematic standards set by its predecessor.
That being said, the portrayal of Ultron, voiced and motion performed by James Spader, gave the film an indelible villain, one who was almost pure evil but operated on a logical level. Some people didn't think Spader's voice fit the character, but it was the perfect amount of playful and menacing.
11 DISAPPOINTED: WHIPLASH
Iron Man 2 was definitely not a perfect film. Other than introducing Black Widow and War Machine to the MCU, it didn't resonate in the same way as the first film and it also had its own villain problems. While Sam Rockwell clearly had a lot of fun playing Justin Hammer, he ended up getting less screen time than Mickey Rourke's ill-conceived version of Whiplash.
Sporting one of the worst Russian accents ever put to film ("I want my bord!") and having almost no motivation besides getting revenge on the Starks, Whiplash (who was also combined with the Crimson Dynamo) ended up being one of the most embarrassing villains ever to appear in the MCU.
10 OVERACHIEVED: EGO
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 was a great follow up to the first film, building on a lot of information that was introduced at the end of Guardians and adding a new character to the team, who quickly fit in with the rest of the galactic misfits. The film also managed to introduce one of the better MCU villains in Ego, played with rakish charm and the perfect amount of old-school grit by Kurt Russell.
Ego is one of the most powerful villains to appear in the MCU, but Russell never played him as an over the top celestial being, instead opting to give him the sort of down-to-earth portrayal that he is known for. This version of Ego was less like Thanos and more like Jack Burton from Big Trouble in Little China. However, in the end, he still posed a great threat to the heroes, and Russell knew how to play that part of a practically omnipotent being as well.
9 DISAPPOINTED: RONAN
Guardians of the Galaxy did something that many people thought was impossible: it took an obscure team of cosmic Marvel heroes and made them A-Listers. Suddenly, everyone knew who Rocket Raccoon and Yondu were. The film was a hit and showed that Marvel films can hit all the right emotional, action, and comedic tones in one film.
However, despite great performances from the heroes and some of the other supporting characters, the main villain of the film, Ronan the Accuser (played by Lee Pace), was completely one-note. There was no nuance, humor, or emotion in this character other than a desire for power. That might have been intentional, to offset the goofy tone from the rest of the film, but it resulted in one the MCU's more disposable villains.
8 OVERACHIEVED: WINTER SOLDIER
Even before Captain America: The Winter Soldier was released, fans already knew the identity of the mysterious assassin known only as the Winter Soldier to be Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan). However, that didn't stop him from being a formidable foe to the Captain or Black Widow. He demonstrated strength, resolve, and a total commitment to finishing any of his jobs.
What made the Winter Soldier a great villain was that he didn't have to be bad. Captain America knew that if he could get through to Bucky, he could bring him back to the right side. He did, eventually, but it would take some time for Bucky to fully join in the ranks of the other Marvel heroes.
7 DISAPPOINTED: ALDRICH KILLIAN
Iron Man 3 was a sharp departure from the previous two films, due to a shift behind the scenes which saw directing and writing duties being handed over to Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black. This resulted in a film which has divided critics and audiences. While it received a lukewarm reception upon release, it has since been re-appraised and given slightly more credit for what it wanted to do.
Unfortunately, the main villain of the film, Aldrich Killian (played by Guy Pearce) hasn't earned the same kind of praise. While he was a formidable foe to Iron Man, due to the powers granted by Extremis, he was otherwise completely forgettable. That may not be entirely Pearce's fault, but Killian will never go down as one of the great MCU villains.
6 OVERACHIEVED: KILLMONGER
Erik "Killmonger" Stevens, played with retainer-cracking stature by Michael B. Jordan, was a refreshing change of pace from some of the more power-hungry villains of the MCU. While many of his predecessors had intentions of holding power for their own sake, Killmonger wanted to hold power to right injustices all over the world. Unfortunately, he was just going about it the wrong way.
Killmonger was complicated but relatable. His connection to T'Chala made their fight against each other more rooted in emotional turmoil rather than just a good force against a bad one. Finally, Killmonger's last lines, as he looks out on the sun setting over Wakanda, hit hard, reflecting his beliefs, and showing that sometimes it's impossible to change someone's mind.
5 DISAPPOINTED: ULYSSES KLAUE
Black Panther may have given the MCU its next great villain, but it also fleshed out one of its more underwhelming ones as well. While Andy Serkis gives a spirited performance as Ulysses Klaue, he ultimately ends up being inconsequential to the plot, serving only as a purely bad guy to balance out Michael B. Jordan's more nuanced Killmonger.
This version of Ulysses Klaue differs entirely from his comic book origin but still manages to get a line in about his album being on Soundcloud in there to make reference to it. Serkis is totally game for the role, but he ends up doing very little in the film besides helping Killmonger get where he needs to be in the plot.
4 OVERACHIEVED: LOKI
Is there any other villain in the MCU that has been more lasting or endearing than Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston? It's hard to say. Loki was the first of the MCU villains to really have his own personality, tragic backstory, and motivation toward world-conquering beyond the need for power. Loki has shown that he can be evil, or he can be an ally, as he was in Thor: Ragnarok.
Hiddleston plays the god of mischief with an actual sense of, well, mischief. He has ranged everywhere from egotistical, to purely malevolent to light-hearted, to put-upon by his brother, Thor. Unfortunately, it seems that Loki will be no more in the MCU, after a fateful interaction with Thanos.
3 DISAPPOINTED: ABOMINATION
The Incredible Hulk is the forgotten MCU film. The only part of it that continues on in the newer films is William Hurt's performance as Thunderbolt Ross. Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo (a casting change that was almost universally accepted upon announcement), and the events of the film are rarely, if ever, mentioned again.
One of the more disappointing aspects of a film that was full of them was the main villain, Emil Blonsky, aka the Abomination (played by Tim Roth). In his human form, Blonsky is a fairly forgettable soldier. In his more monstrous incarnation, Abomination is just a mess of CGI that was almost indistinguishable from the Hulk. The final fight in Harlem left much to be desired.
2 OVERACHIEVED: THANOS
From the moment he reared his head in the post-credits scene of The Avengers, fans knew that Thanos was coming. He appeared again briefly in Guardians of the Galaxy but made his proper debut in Avengers: Infinity War, where he showed the world that he was not just going to be a one-and-done villain like the rest of them. He did, after all, throw a moon at Iron Man.
Josh Brolin played the Mad Titan with menace, but also pathos. He imbued the performance with moral ambiguity, showing that what Thanos wanted to do was unthinkable, but that his troubled past had informed his decisions. It remains to be seen what will become of Thanos in Avengers 4, but he has made his mark as the greatest for the Avengers have ever faced.
1 DISAPPOINTED: IRONMONGER
Obadiah Stane, who became the Iron Monger in the comics, was the very first villain in the MCU. However, first isn't always best, and despite a perfectly hammy performance from Jeff Bridges (remember when he just straight up yells at that guy about how Tony built his arc reactor in a cave from a box of scraps?), this Iron Monger feels rusty.
For one thing, Obadiah Stane spends most of the movie just trying to keep Stark Industries on its feet, only revealing that he's actually been trying to take Stark out of the picture in the final third of the film. Then, in a battle of who has the better suit of armor, Stane continuously reveals his tiny head in the giant armored body, giving him a comical, truly non-threatening appearance.