Every Marvel Cinematic Universe Villain Ranked, From Worst to Best
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is packed with heroes. Each one occupies a unique corner of the expansive saga, bringing a unique touch to the larger story. That all being so, a comic book movie (or TV show) is only as strong as its villain.
The MCU has a handful of truly great bad guys as a result, but also some that aren’t quite up to snuff. If there’s one weakness the lucrative franchise has had throughout its history, it’s in the relative weakness of a large swathe of villains across the series. That leaves us wondering: Which villains are the best, which ones were just good enough, and which baddies were better left out of the MCU as a whole? Let’s start from the bottom.
15. Whiplash, Iron Man 2
Checking in at the bottom of our list is Whiplash, played by Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2. The second installment in the Iron Man saga was riddled with issues, chief among them the decision to have yet another villain try and copy Tony Stark’s super-suit to use it for nefarious means. Beyond that, we get the same old revenge plot that’s all too common in comic book stories, giving us a big bad that barely registers in terms of character depth.
14. Malekith, Thor: The Dark World
It’s no coincidence that the two villains occupying the bottom spots on our list also just so happen to be in the two weakest films in the MCU. Malekith manages to waste the considerable charisma and talent of Christopher Eccleston, which really is a sin in and of itself. The Dark Elf’s motivation revolves around your run-of-the-mill “wants to destroy the universe” stuff. The end result is a character who might as well be made of cardboard. The villain was never seen or heard from again after his ill-fated Dark World appearance.
13. Yellowjacket, Ant-Man
Yellowjacket follows in the long, proud tradition of Marvel villains who are just evil equivalents of our main hero. He possesses the same shrinking suit technology as Ant-Man, minus a backstory or any semblance of logical motivation. His general air of insanity is briefly explained by his overuse of the shrinking technology, but is never really given much in the way of a better explanation. More than anything, Yellowjacket is your classic megalomaniac, intent on the destruction of the world. He could have been copy-pasted into any superhero movie.
12. Abomination, The Incredible Hulk
Nobody would blame you for not remembering much about Abomination, a villain that surfaced once in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, and was subsequently shuffled out of the MCU entirely. Even so, he was still a formidable opponent for Bruce Banner, beginning as a soldier looking to enhance his physical abilities, before going full Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde and becoming a big grey ball of destruction. Having Tim Roth fill the role certainly didn’t hurt the character, but ultimately there’s a reason that the Hulk hasn’t gotten his own standalone movie in almost a decade.
11. Kaecilius, Doctor Strange
Mads Mikkelsen is always a treat to watch no matter who he’s playing, but unfortunately, he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with as Kaecilius in Doctor Strange. The evil sorcerer’s primary goal is (surprise!) universal destruction. After spending years under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), he becomes obsessed with unleashing a Cthulhu-esque dimensional monster on Earth. We spend all of a handful of minutes getting to know him before he’s unceremoniously (and literally) jettisoned into the void of the Dark Dimension.
10. Ronan the Accuser, Guardians of the Galaxy
Ronan (Lee Pace) is easily the most interesting of the bottom tier of Marvel villains, even if he too is a tad one-dimensional. The Kree war criminal is tasked by Thanos to acquire one of the Infinity Stones, before turning on his master and taking its power for himself. Any bad guy with the courage to tell off the Mad Titan is not to be trifled with, and we see that firsthand as he straight up snaps the neck of Thanos’s emissary. Factor in his ongoing feud with Drax the Destroyer and we have a fairly well fleshed-out character worthy of the MCU.
9. Obadiah Stane, Iron Man
Jeff Bridges’s performance as Obadiah Stane is part of what helped launch the fledging MCU way back in 2008. Although most credit is rightfully given to Robert Downey Jr., it’s worth pointing out that Stane was a stellar character in his own right. For much of Iron Man, he’s painted as Tony Stark’s affable, oft-dopey ally. In the third act though, we see Bridges flip that affable performance on its head. What we ended up getting was a smart, well-acted villain who helped carry much of the narrative weight of Iron Man behind Downey Jr.
8. Helmut Zemo, Captain America: Civil War
We’ll say this for Helmut Zemo: The dude knows how to execute a plan. And while his evil scheme is about the most overly complicated thing in existence, what matters is that he was largely successful in tearing the Avengers apart piece by piece. What made him a truly formidable foe was that he accomplished all of this using his intellect, not brute force, something we rarely get to see in the MCU. Sure, he could have eliminated about 20 steps from his plan and still have been just as successful, but Civil War had a runtime to fill.
7. Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger
The most disappointing thing about the first Captain America film is that it didn’t leave the door open for more Red Skull in future installments. Hugo Weaving played the role of Cap’s most iconic villain to sinister perfection, all while holding the distinct honor of being the first baddie to use an Infinity Stone. More than that, he’s the figurehead of HYDRA, who goes on to terrorize the world for half a century before the Avengers finally manage to extinguish them for good. In terms of big bads who had a impressive impact on the rest of the MCU based on a single appearance, Red Skull is virtually unchallenged.
6. The Mandarin, Iron Man 3
Given Hollywood’s systemic issues with race, tackling the character of the Mandarin was always going to be tough. What Marvel ended up doing with him though was a stroke of sheer genius. For much of Iron Man 3, Ben Kingsley plays the villain off as a terrorist mastermind. The final act flips the script though, when Tony Stark discovers that the man is actually a hired actor named Trevor, who’s being paid by someone else to pretend to be the Mandarin. It ended up being a clever workaround given the racially offensive implications of the character, while providing Iron Man 3 with a hilariously entertaining twist.
5. Ultron, Avengers: Age of Ultron
While the second Avengers movie didn’t achieve the same level of greatness as its predecessor, it was still a perfectly entertaining story with some intriguing story beats. Enter Ultron, the evil A.I. consciousness created by Tony Stark himself, who eventually turns on his master and concocts a scheme to plunge a giant vibranium asteroid into the Earth. Even though his plan to destroy the planet was patently bonkers, James Spader’s performance pretty much made the role what it was, infusing equal parts menace and humor into a surprisingly complex character.
4. Bucky Barnes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Just as the lower-tier Marvel villains reside in the lower-tier films, the upper-echelon villains appear in the best ones. Captain America: The Winter Soldier gifted us with perhaps the most well-rounded bad guy the MCU has to offer, revealing him to be none other than a brainwashed Bucky Barnes.
Before his Winter Soldier appearance, Barnes was last seen falling out of a moving train in the first Captain America movie. We later learn that he was captured by HYDRA, and brainwashed into becoming a world-class assassin. This of course lent some massive emotional weight to his climactic showdown with Cap, all while Bucky tries to fight his HYDRA brainwashing to remember his past life.
3. Kilgrave, Jessica Jones
Interestingly enough, it’s on Netflix where Marvel’s villains have truly stood out. Kilgrave is one such bad guy, appearing in the first season of Jessica Jones as a walking consent metaphor. His ability to mind control any person into doing whatever his twisted mind wants made him a terrifying adversary for our titular private eye. And that’s without even diving into the profoundly unsettling parallel drawn between him and the prevalent culture of sexual abuse. However you shake it, Kilgrave numbers himself among the greatest (and most horrifying) villains Marvel has ever created on-screen.
2. Loki, Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World
Loki is pretty much the gold standard for Marvel movie villains, and it’s not all that close. Few (if any) others have even approached the brilliance of Thor’s emotionally tortured brother. Loki is only second on our list because of the master stroke that was Daredevil‘s first season. That said, there’s a reason he’s continued to pop up throughout the MCU, first in Thor, next as the primary adversary for the Avengers, and most recently in Thor: The Dark World. Tom Hiddleston will be around for the foreseeable future, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far better off for it.
1. Wilson Fisk, Daredevil
There’s something to be said for getting a whole 13 episodes to get to know a villain, but Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as Wilson Fisk is gripping from the second he walks on-screen in Daredevil. His balance of thinly veiled rage and quiet authority made him the highlight of Daredevil‘s debut season.
As a result, he occupies the top spot on our list, as close as it was between him and Loki. What it came down to in the end was the fact that with Fisk, we get a chance to see his truly human side, and when he eventually does get defeated, it’s hard not to sympathize with him on some level. Daredevil‘s future seasons will likely hinge on D’Onofrio’s continued inclusion in the MCU, and it’s not hard to see just how important he is on a large scale.
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