Who doesn’t love to watch a great comic book movie villain being bad? Put your hand down, Captain America!
Over 14 years and 30 films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has thrown countless seemingly insurmountable obstacles and more than a few apocalyptic events at their line-up of superheroes trying to save the world, the universe and reality itself. Their villains are at the head of all of this; crazed scientists, treacherous government agents, brutal alien warlords, amoral industrialists, gods and monsters and everything in between, an MCU villain can be so many things. Some were unfortunately the weakest elements in the movies they appeared in, being either generic, poorly served by the script or misjudged in their performances, while others ended up being memorable highlights even above the title costumed characters.
There are often multiple antagonists in these superhero stories so we’ve tried to stick to one villain per MCU film. This is except where it’s the same antagonist carried over into a sequel film, and in cases where there’s more than one threat to our heroes. In these instances, we’ve focussed on the most active baddies or the masterminds of the various diabolical plots.
This ranking will be based on the level of threat the various bad guys pose to our supremely skilled and miraculously superpowered heroes, the diabolical creativity of their respective master plans and the sheer evilness of their actions. Spoilers ahead!
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28. Malekith – Thor: The Dark World (2013)
“Look upon my legacy, Algrim. I can barely remember a time before the light.”
A dark elf conqueror with a vendetta against Asgard for a defeat in ancient times, Malekith is reawakened and plots to snuff out the light across the universe (because his kind really like the darkness of the void).
A hugely distinct and memorable villain from the comics became one of the most boring to ever antagonise a superhero movie. Whatever Christopher Eccleston was trying to do with his performance after undergoing many uncomfortable hours in the makeup chair was lost in a brutally hacked film edit and an all-round po-faced determination to live up to the “dark” of the title.
Note: dark is not the same as interesting.
27. Ivan Vanko/Whiplash – Iron Man 2 (2010)
“You come from a family of thieves and butchers, and like all guilty men, you try to rewrite your history.”
Whiplash is a Stark-hating, parrot-loving nuclear physicist/inventor with arc reactor-powered whips and an army of drones to carry out his revenge.
Mickey Rourke got a lot of jobs in quick succession as various shades of tough guy in this period. The Wrestler this is not, and he doesn’t exactly stretch himself as Ivan, offering a barely passable Russian accent and playing with a toothpick as a poor substitute for a more intricate characterisation as he plots vaguely defined Cold War-fuelled vengeance on Tony Stark and the American Military Industrial Complex.
26. Emil Blonsky/Abomination – The Incredible Hulk (2008)
“If I took what I had now, and put it in a body that I had ten years ago, that would be someone I wouldn’t want to fight.”
Abomination is an unstable British Black Ops asset who volunteers for a series of dangerous experimental super soldier treatments in order to capture the Hulk.
The Incredible Hulk worked best when it was Marvel’s answer to a Universal Monster movie, but one of its weakest elements was having Blonsky as its villain. Roth is fine, but he just wasn’t all that threatening, the character thinly sketched as a violent jerk with a superiority complex. When he finally transforms into his bony green alter ego Abomination for a CG smashathon in Harlem, it becomes almost impossible to care.
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25. Ava Starr/Ghost – Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
“It hurts. It always hurts.”
A scientist’s daughter with an unnatural condition that causes her to painfully phase in and out of the physical realm, Ghost resorts to stealing Pymtech to survive.
Ghost is an admirable attempt to make something interesting out of a gimmicky physics-based villain. The character is let down not by Hannah John-Kamen’s engaging and tortured performance but by her essential irrelevance to the film’s main plot and lack of enough meaningful screen time. It’s almost like they only decided late in the day that Ant-Man and the Wasp should have an antagonist at all, and that may have been the wrong decision for this particular movie.
24. Ronan – Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
“I don’t recall killing your family. I doubt I’ll remember killing you either.”
Ronan is a Kree fanatic who courts war and is gathering enough power to wipe the planet Xandar from the galaxy.
Ronan, with his war paint, samurai helmet and big hammer has a strong look, and thanks to Lee Pace he is given an imposing presence and a rumbling voice. But you’d struggle to claim he had much in the way of depth as a character. He wants a weapon to destroy a planet because because he’s from a war-like race and that’s about it, though Pace’s affronted expression and confused “what are you doing?” as Star-Lord dances in front of him as he’s trying to trigger an apocalypse is pretty memorable.
23. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket – Ant-Man (2015)
“Did you think you could stop the future with a heist?”
Hank Pym’s protégé, ouster and successor at his company, Yellowjacket seeks to weaponise and sell Pym’s shrinking technology to the highest bidder.
Marvel has a lot of evil CEOs in its rogues gallery and Corey Stoll brings plenty of punchable arrogance to his performance as Darren Cross. He murders rivals and exterminates animal test subjects without second thought, seemingly motivated by Pym not trusting him with the secrets of his technology (though really it’s because he enjoys doing it).
Cross does have probably the most gruesome villain death in the MCU so far, and it’s no more than he deserves.
22. Johann Schmidt/Red Skull – Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
“I have seen the future, Captain! There are no flags!”
Red Skull is the head of Hydra, the Nazi science division, plotting to end the war and conquer the world with weapons powered by the Tesseract.
Captain America’s greatest adversary from the comics became a somewhat generic evil-doer on the big screen. The explanation for his appearance – the super soldier serum that made good great in Steve Rogers made bad worse in Johann Schmidt – works well thematically, and Hugo Weaving’s drawling, superior delivery hits the mark too, but otherwise Red Skull is just a stronger-than-usual would-be-world-conqueror who makes a more interesting, not-quite villainous re-appearance in Infinity War.
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