Everyone loves a good supervillain. They can make or break any comic book movie, and while the Marvel Cinematic Universe is totally a series run by heroes, let’s not forget all these grand, charismatic villains we’ve been given over the years.
For this list, I decided to only focus on the main antagonists of the 11 films and the Daredevil series, so none of those cannon fodder villains like Laufey or Raza. Also, no lackeys (James Wesley, the Other) or villains who still have more to offer (Nebula, Crossbones). And sorry, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, but I won’t be including any of your villains.
From monsters to rich businessmen, terrorists to disfigured faces, genocidal maniacs to… more genocidal maniacs, let’s rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe villains.
*SPOILERS FOR AGE OF ULTRON AHEAD.
16.) Malekith – Thor: The Dark World
Truth be told, Malekith was at a real disadvantage. He’s the unlucky baddie who had to share a movie with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. That aside, he’s a pretty lousy villain. He’s just another villain who wants plunge the universe into darkness because… plot, I guess. True, Marvel has had villains who functioned just as those types, but Malekith doesn’t have any personality of any kind. He’s just punch-shout-Elvish dialogue.
15.) Baron Wolfgang von Strucker – Avengers: Age of Ultron
Pros are he’s the main focus of my favorite Marvel end credits scene and he created Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. His cons are that’s literally about all he does. After being teased in a couple episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he’s taken out in the Bond-esque opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron. At least, Whedon was able to give him a few good lines before he was taken out.
14.) Dr. Arnim Zola – Captain America duology
Dr. Exposition should be his name. I’m kidding. I actually like Zola. Toby Jones is fun to watch on-screen, and his interactions with the Red Skull are cute. He does get a few minus points for that exposition dump in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but kudos to the team on making that scene a treat for comic book fans by making him resemble his comic book counterpart.
13.) Ronan the Accuser – Guardians of the Galaxy
The blue meanie serves his purpose as the antagonist in the film. He’s pretty menacing, but there’s really nothing to him other than his politics, and I agree with Thanos; his politics do bore me. Had he accepted that dance battle with Quill, however, he’d probably be much higher on this list.
12.) Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane) – Iron Man
Jon Favreau nailed it with the MCU’s first villain. Power-hungry, cruel, and full of personality, his back-and-forth with Tony Stark is pretty fun to watch, and he’s not even acting as a villain most of the time. Him turning into Iron Monger at the end really comes out nowhere and all of a sudden, he’s a total whackjob, but I’m willing to let that slide.
11.) Whiplash (Ivan Vanko) – Iron Man 2
Typical revenge story villain, but Mickey Rourke made him enjoyable. He goes through with his revenge plan with arrogance and rage, but he carries himself with so much swagger. That’s the real common trait behind Iron Man’s film villains – even Loki & Ultron. They really do need that bravado to face-off against Downey, Jr., and in this case, it works.
10.) Justin Hammer – Iron Man 2
Probably Iron Man 2‘s most redeeming factor, Sam Rockwell brought some fun and levity to the sequel with the aforementioned swagger aspect of Iron Man villains. He isn’t really menacing or a real threat to Iron Man, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy his scenes amidst all the multiple pointless plot threads.
09.) Alexander Pierce – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Nothing scarier than a villain who thinks he/she’s doing the right thing, espescially when he/she thinks that killing millions of people is “the right thing”. Robert Redford tackles a genre he’s well-versed in, and proves himself a pretty decent threat to Captain America and his allies. Hail Hydra.
08. & 07.) The Mandarin (Trevor Slattery) & Aldrich Killian – Iron Man 3
This is combined, because I feel one wouldn’t work without the other, and their rankings are interchangeable anyway.
Yup, I’m a Trevor Slattery fan. I thought the Mandarin twist was brilliant. Firstly, director Shane Black took the roots of the character and was able to turn them into something fruitful for the film. The comics Mandarin was created during a time when tensions were high between the US and China, so he was created as a Fu Manchu stereotype villain to feed into that fear/hate. The film iteration of the character is able to play on that by having Aldrich Killian create the Mandarin as a Middle Eastern stereotype villain to feed into the fear/hate in-movie. It’s satirical, you believed into it, and no one saw it coming.
I also like the play on the previous Iron Man villain formula of how the rich business rival of Stark hires a terrorist to do his bidding, by having the one person embody both.
06.) Abomination (Emil Blonsky) – The Incredible Hulk
I went on about why I think Abomination is an underrated villain in my Incredible Hulk defense, so I’ll try to keep it short here. Blonsky’s downfall from dedicated soldier to a monster with a lust for power plays out like a rock star getting addicted to drugs, it’s tragic. Or maybe it’s another prime example of what Dr. Abaraham Erskine said in The First Avenger, “good becomes great, bad becomes worse”. Maybe it was in Blonsky’s heart all along to turn to the dark side. Oh, and speaking of The First Avenger…
05.) Red Skull (Johann Schmidt) – Captain America: The First Avenger
This is Marvel’s best example of a villain who just wants to rule the world. I love how they made Red Skull the anti-Captain America, he’s the power-hungry dictator who rules with fear, and he believes he’s doing the right thing. Everything you love about Captain America is why you feel hatred for the Red Skull, it’s great villain vs hero material. Plus, Hugo Weaving kills it.
04.) Winter Soldier (Bucky Barnes) – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Winter Soldier kicked ass for the first half of Captain America 2. The action sequences featuring him were really intense and he quickly became Cap’s most dangerous threat, but it turned out that the killing machine hired to assassinate him was his closest friend. Bucky died when he fell of that train and the Winter Soldier was born. Sebastian Stan greatly portrayed this physically dangerous character full of rage, but he also managed to make us feel for him when we discovered his loss. Also, I love the final moments of the finale of the film was hinging on Steve trying to save Bucky.
03.) Wilson Fisk – Daredevil
Fisk is probably Marvel’s most fleshed out villain, getting a little under 10 hours to develop him as a character. His origin story episode still gives me chills. It’s quite clear that his childhood traumas have prevented him from maturing, and there’s something very intimidating about this unpredictable child running organized crime. He’s even convinced himself that he’s there to save his city and that he’s not a monster being cruel just to be cruel, which is somewhat partly true. He’d be considered a villain, but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. He’s almost exactly like Matt Murdock, only he has a pretty different moral standpoint and takes steps to achieve his goals very differently, which makes his interactions with Daredevil all the more fascinating to watch.
02.) Loki – Thor duology, The Avengers
There was no doubt that Loki was going to end up in either of the Top 2 slots. Tom Hiddleston just oozes charisma. I love the first Thor film mainly because of Loki’s (literal) fall from grace. The neglected, jealous, immature yet intelligent son, who sought power only to have it denied to his face. True, he does possess the qualities of a child on a tantrum, but we understand and sympathize for Loki. Even Thor gets it, but he still can’t trust him. Loki’s popularity just blew up all of a sudden after The Avengers because he was the charming bad guy that we already dove into in the film prior. In many ways, he’s the most “Marvel Studios” out of all these villains, but there’s just one that beats him.
01.) Ultron – Avengers: Age of Ultron
One of my first reactions to the film was “Ultron is the perfect Marvel villain,” and that’s because I felt he captured the personality and spirit of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while also proving himself as the foil for our heroes, the Avengers. James Spader really captured all of that with just his voice. He tears the Avengers apart, beats them, and then laughs in their faces. He’s the maniacal villain that actually made it feel like there was failure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His goal is to exterminate the world, and you actually kind of get it (or was that just me? I’m not genocidal, I promise). There are no strings on this villain, because he proved himself to be the baddest of the bad.
Now that you know my rankings, be sure to rank yours as well, and check out Audiences Everywhere’s rankings of the MCU Heroes as well.
Featured Image: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures