Every great hero needs an equally great villain. One of the reasons Batman is so popular is because of The Joker. Would The Dark Knight be considered a classic without Heath Ledger’s all-encompassing Joker? Isn’t Zod’s ability to equally match Superman’s strength what makes Superman II the best of the franchise? The yin/yang balance is crucial to good storytelling. We always know the hero will save the world, but the journey of how they get there is what keeps fans reading the same stories time and again.
Despite the massive success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one area where the franchise is weak is in its consistent portrayal of villains. Fans have complained that only a few of the films’ bad guys actually pose any real threat to the heroes. There also seems to be a tendency to make ordinary human antagonists overpowered to add to their mystique. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all the series’ big bads are weak, some are stronger than the heroes and offer a more appealing rooting interest. Over the course of 10 years and 19 movies the MCU has showcased a list of immensely talented actors as its villains and we have ranked them from weakest to most powerful.
Ant-Man was a tall order for the MCU to attempt, but Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd made it work in a surprising way. Like most superhero movies it was mainly focused on the hero. A strong cast of supporting characters really helped establish Scott’s life. However, where it really lacked was in highlighting the villain Darren Cross/Yellowjacket.
Darren was Hank Pym’s first protege and resented that he hid his Pym Particle and Ant-Man suit from him.
Darren became obsessed with beating Hank and inventing a better suit. Hank and Hope hired Scott to stop Darren’s plan. As the movie went on, he became increasingly one note and less threatening. As good as Corey Stoll usually is, he was one step above mustache twirling here, and had no actual backstory of his own. He’s very forgettable and was easily defeated by a plot point that was foreshadowed with a spotlight.
19 OBADIAH STANE/IRON MONGER
So many comic book villains are based on greedy businessmen who want to take over and make more money. This is the story of Obadiah Stane. Following Howard Stark’s death, he spends his life running Stark Industries. Then one day, he gets fed up and decides it’s time to really take over and arranges to have Tony killed. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize this would become Iron Man’s origin story.
Obadiah starts out as one of Tony’s greatest advisers, one of the few people who knows just how bad Tony’s injuries are and how important the reactor is to his life expectancy. Since most fans knew the betrayal was coming it wasn’t a surprise. Obadiah is not as smart as Tony so he needs others to build his suit and isn’t as good at operating it. Even with Jeff Bridges giving another good performance, his only motivation was money.
18 THE GRANDMASTER
Thor: Ragnarok signaled a comeback of sorts for Thor. The movie finally gave audiences their first look at the Thor they know from the comic books. It had a completely different tone and visual from the first two. One of the best aspects of the film was Jeff Goldblum’ Grandmaster. He runs the gladiatorial contests of Sakaar and rules with an eccentric iron fist.
As entertaining and hilarious as Goldblum is, his character is easily defeated when the people start a revolution.
He doesn’t have any powers, his henchwoman does all the real killing and it seems as though his regime is built on a carefully constructed house of cards. He’s able to stay interesting because of the Goldblum of it all, but he actually isn’t that powerful.
Thor: The Dark World gets a lot of flack from fans, but it’s got some good points. Mostly those revolve around Thor and his funny group of friends. Every single character in the movie is more important than the main bad guy Malekith. It doesn’t help that once Loki enters the adventure, he becomes the most interesting person on screen.
Malekith has been waiting years for the realms to align so he can gain special powers. It seems like he should have had a better plan if he had a lifetime to think about it. Plus, in the end the fate of the universe comes down to a fist fight between Thor and Malekith. It’s just nonsense and at no time are viewers worried or even care about what he’s doing. It’s a waste of Christopher Eccleston.
Since she showed up in the first episode, fans already assumed Skye was going to become Daisy “Quake” Johnson. They were right and her reveal served as an intro to Inhumans. Daisy’s mother Jiaying was an Inhuman leader, who after horrible experiments were performed on her, decided humans weren’t worth saving.
With an Inhuman army loyally following her every command, she had a solid plan, but the execution was sloppy and fueled by revenge.
Through most of season two she manipulated Daisy, Cal, Reina and even S.H.I.E.L.D. to do exactly what she needed them to do to turn things in her favor. Ultimately, her anger got in the way of what was really important to her people. Though her extinction of humanity didn’t work out, she did inadvertently led to more Inhumans being created.
In the great tradition of the majority of comic book heroes and villains, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture is just an angry guy in a suit. He’s a blue collar construction foreman who is shut down by the government and must break the law to support his family. Honestly, if he weren’t selling dangerous weapons to criminals, we would probably be rooting for him.
His construction experience has given him knowledge about how certain materials work together. He’s a charismatic leader, who got a mixed bag of personalities to work for him and he loves his family. The only difference between him and Tony Stark is the pedigree. Sadly, without his suit he couldn’t compete against the superpowered Spider-Man. He didn’t die, so there’s every chance we could see Michael Keaton show up in the future.
Season five of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. opened with the team stuck in a future where the Earth has been destroyed and the last of humanity lives on a rundown space station called the Lighthouse. It is run by Kree noble Kasius.
His father has sent him here as a punishment and he takes out his unhappy surroundings on the lower decks.
He gives them meager amounts of food and has them live in squalor while routinely making children go through Terrigenesis. While most Kree are great warriors, Kasius is clearly the disappointment of his family. He has a squadron of Kree fighters to do his bidding and only does battle when all is lost and he has nothing to lose. His control of humanity makes him very powerful, but his pride and ambition prove to be his undoing.
13 RED SKULL
Captain America has literally been fighting Red Skull forever. No matter what story he’s involved in, Red Skull always ends up being behind everything, so it made sense that he would be the villain of the hero’s first standalone movie. Red Skull is the leader of HYDRA and, as usual, wants to take over the world.
With the power of the Tesseract, he and scientist Arnim Zola built weapons that were far too advanced for World War II armies to fight against. He actually almost succeeded in completing his plan, but Cap sacrificed himself to save the world. While he has all the strength and ability of Cap, Red Skull’s power comes in his belief that he’s meant to rule the world, no matter the cost. He was killed before Cap crashed in the ocean, but we all know Red Skull never really dies for good.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the MCU, it’s that robots can’t be trusted. After Ultron, there was a rule against certain experiments. Radcliffe and Fitz broke that rule and created Life Model Decoy Aida. She was a completely realistic looking android who was meant to help and protect the agents. Unfortunately, the Darkhold corrupted Radcliffe, who in turn corrupted his creation. She used his Framework to enact her own plan of becoming human and making Fitz fall in love with her.
She trapped the team inside the twisted HYDRA controlled Framework, playing puppetmaster with their lives.
She just didn’t count on Daisy and Jemma being able to reach the true selves of their friends inside her made up world. She was beaten by Coulson as Ghost Rider when she made the mistake of letting her new human emotions drive her. As Mack pointed out “didn’t anyone remember Ultron?”
11 GRANT WARD
Over five seasons the S.H.I.E.L.D. team has defeated everything from evil robots to alien warlords to HYDRA. Through every difficult problem, they’ve figured out a solution. The one enemy who’s come closest to taking them down is former agent Grant Ward. As it turns out, Ward was secretly allied with HYDRA.
He killed Eric Koenig, almost killed FitzSimmons, shot Coulson’s girlfriend Rosalind Price and kidnapped Bobbi. He was able to continually get to the agents because he used to be one of them and knew all their secrets. He was intimately acquainted with all their weaknesses and excelled at finding the best ways to exploit them. Coulson had to track him down to another planet to kill him, but even then he came back as the host for Hive, still able to use the team’s secrets against them.
10 WILSON FISK
Nearly all of Wilson Fisk’s power comes from Vincent D’Onofrio’s captivating performance. He makes what would normally be a run of the mill greedy businessman/mobster role into a brilliant, scary and sympathetic character. Sometimes all in the same scene.
Fisk and his partners are taking advantage of the damage left by the Chitauri in the Battle of New York to tear down the ruined portions of Hell’s Kitchen so they can build a new one.
Matt Murdock makes it his mission as a lawyer and superhero to protect his neighborhood. For most of the first season Fisk is always a few steps ahead of Matt. He also has an intimidating physical presence. Showcased in his first moments when we see him taking off someone’s head with a car door. D’Onofrio was so spectacular, we kind of wanted him to win instead of Daredevil.
9 ERIK KILLMONGER
One of the many reasons Black Panther has become such a phenomenon is Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger. Jordan is a charming leading man, so seeing him use all those same skills as psychopath Erik Killmonger was so good we couldn’t look away.
Killmonger is T’Challa’s cousin, left behind after his father’s murder. He grows into a bitter, angry man, who uses revenge to become a highly trained soldier and killer. Once he becomes king, he plans to use Wakanda’s considerable power to take over the world and tear down the systems that have kept black people down. While his execution and methods are completely crazy, his motivation and ideals aren’t. If he weren’t such a murderous criminal, he would actually make a good Black Panther, meaning he’s a perfect match for T’Challa. The best villains are the evil mirror image of the hero and that’s exactly who Killmonger is.
8 RONAN THE ACCUSER
When we are originally introduced to the cosmic universe of the Guardians of the Galaxy, one of the first things we learned was how dangerous Ronan was. He’s furious about the state of the Kree empire and wants revenge on Xandar.
He makes a deal with Thanos to acquire the Orb so the Mad Titan will destroy his enemies.
With a Sakaaran army and Nebula at his command, Ronan doesn’t necessarily need the power of the Orb to become more efficient at killing, but once he gets it he becomes almost unstoppable. He defeats Drax without breaking a sweat, then he single handedly takes down the entire Nova Corps air force. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the power of Star-Lord’s dancing he would’ve gotten away with destroying Xandar.
In the comic book world, it’s always telepaths who are the most powerful. Sure Superman is the strongest being in the universe, but the guy who can control him is even stronger. Jessica Jones’ Kilgrave might be the scariest villain in the MCU, because a man who can make you do anything is a nightmare waiting to happen. Kilgrave is particularly awful as he has no qualms about forcing people to do terrible things just because he wants to. Since they’re psychological, his attacks are more traumatic and stay with the victims longer.
As The Doctor, David Tennant has long been a fan favorite with his good looks and gentlemanly British charm. It was disturbingly fascinating to see him bring all of those traits to someone as despicable as Kilgrave. Though Jessica killed him, his presence still weighs heavily on her, affecting everything she still feels.
6 ALEXANDER PIERCE
Most villains want to attain a position that will give them the power to take over the world. HYDRA brilliantly put their operatives in place to naturally get promoted into those positions. Alexander Pierce worked his way up the ranks, never letting on that he was loyal to HYDRA. He even became one of Nick Fury’s best friends. Though he has no problem getting his hands dirty, evidenced by how he gunned down his poor maid, he has the full power of the US government behind him, giving him an unlimited, legal ability to make heroes’ lives miserable.
Honestly, if he hadn’t overreached and tried to take out Cap, HYDRA’s plan may have succeeded.
It was only when they killed Nick Fury, did Steve and Natasha get curious and start asking questions. This movie cut the closest to home, because everyone believes in a government conspiracy.
5 MADAME GAO
Even through the appearances of Bakuto, Alexandra and Elektra, Madame Gao has always been the viewers’ entrance into The Hand. She first appeared in Daredevil as one of Wilson Fisk’s mysterious business partners. She then shows up in Iron Fist as one of The Hand’s leaders. Though she is clearly the villain, there’s something about her that never feels that bad. Perhaps it’s Wai Ching Ho’s portrayal that makes her seem like a trusted friend.
In The Defenders we find out that she’s actually one of the five fingers of The Hand and is immortal. She is an expert martial artist and has intimate knowledge of K’un-Lun. She knows just the right way to use this to her advantage at all times. Though it appeared she died at the end of The Defenders, there’s no way she didn’t have an escape plan just in case.
Artificial intelligence never leads to anything good. In Age of Ultron, Tony decides to use untested alien technology to create robot protector Ultron. Obviously, that’s a bad idea, as Ultron quickly evolves his programming into killing humans and starting Earth over.
Ultron has all the powers of an Iron Man suit, as well as all the knowledge and access he gains from the internet.
He also takes over the Iron Legion, so he has his own army of robots to fight The Avengers. In the end, it takes good A.I. The Vision to defeat him, but honestly, creating Vision was a hail mary that they weren’t sure would work. The frightening thing about robot villains is they’re never really beaten. There’s always a way out before they’re truly gone forever.
Loki is the MCU’s most famous bad guy. He made his debut in Thor and became an instant hit. Yes, a big part of that is because of the popularity of Tom Hiddleston, but it’s also about the well-rounded, full performance he gives. Loki is the younger brother trapped in the shadow of an obnoxious older brother, a feeling most of the population can understand. Once he’s beaten by Thor, it doesn’t take long for us to find out that he has an even bigger plan in the works.
He reappears in The Avengers with plans to take over the world. He steals the Tesseract to open a door and let in the Chitauri. We also learn he’s working for Thanos, which means he has very powerful connections. Loki seemed to redeem himself in Thor: Ragnarok, but he’s a trickster, so we can never really be certain of anything.
A living planet who is an all-powerful celestial being is a shocking choice to be your long lost dad. Of course, things get even trickier when it becomes evident he’s actually evil. Peter Quill found himself in the worst episode of Maury ever in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. At first it was all sunshines and rainbows with happy family reunions, until everyone discovered that he was really just using Peter’s power to take over the galaxy.
Peter was so drawn in by having superpowers and the idea of being immortal that he was ready to join Ego.
It was only when he was reminded of his mother, that he became himself again and joined his friends to save the galaxy again. The Guardians blew up Ego’s planet to destroy him and Peter lost his new abilities, but it’s a comic book movie so they probably aren’t completely gone.
Yes, we haven’t seen Infinity War yet, but Thanos has been building up to it since The Avengers. Comic book readers all know how powerful and deadly Thanos is. There’s no hero that can go one on one with him. The Avengers alone can’t even handle him. They’ve barely been able to defeat his minions, so it’s obvious that all the heroes of the MCU will need to team up to take him on, and there will still be losses.
Thanos has been secretly collecting all the Infinity Stones. We’ve seen him use Loki, Ronan and possibly The Collector to do his bidding, but after all the failures he announced at the end of Age of Ultron that he was doing it himself. The Infinity War trailer has shown him easily beating up heroes and literally pulling a moon out of orbit, so yeah no one is ready for Thanos.