The Marvel movies are beloved the world over, and they are consistent box office and critical hits. But if there’s an Achilles heel to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s its villains. They’re not particular good or even interesting. And given how many films they’ve made now, it’s become a bit of a running joke that Marvel’s villains are lackluster. Of course, they make up for it in the protagonist department, but that doesn’t mean creating a fascinating Marvel movie villain is impossible. In fact, they’ve come close a few times and there is one indisputable great Marvel movie villain.
So as we await the release of the latest film in the MCU, let’s look back on every major Marvel movie villain to date ranked from worst to best. Be aware there are spoilers discussed.
Note: I only included major villains in this piece, or characters who at one point in the story served as a primary/major antagonistic force to our hero. So while Kursed and Crossbones are in the MCU, it’s unfair to compare their character-lite screentime with other major villains, and thus they’ve been left off the list.
Whiplash – Iron Man 2
You really can’t blame Jon Favreau and Marvel for wanting Mickey Rourke to play Whiplash in Iron Man 2. At the time, Rourke was in the midst of what would ultimately be an incredibly brief resurgence thanks to his terrific performance in The Wrestler. But when he showed up for Iron Man 2, he basically wore his same clothes off the street, demanded the character have a pet bird and mumbled his way through the film. Ivan Vanko was supposed to be a formidable foil for Tony Stark that brought up all of Tony’s daddy issues, but Rourke’s performance is so stilted and odd that Vanko/Whiplash just comes off as one big joke. While Iron Man 2 certainly is one of the MCU’s worst films, a lot of the film’s stink is due to this complete dud of an antagonist and Rourke’s unwillingness to give Favreau and Co. anything resembling an actual performance. — Adam Chitwood
Kro – Eternals
Bill Skarsgård seems like he would be the perfect person to play a Marvel villain after he brought the terrifying Pennywise the Dancing Clown in the recent It films. This makes his completely bland and pointless villain in Eternals even more crushing. You can tell how bad a villain Kro is when I couldn’t remember his name and had to Google it, and there’s a reason why his name is hard to remember. For starters, Kro is overshadowed by Ikaris (Richard Madden), who becomes the real main villain in the third act. Secondly, Kro appears about halfway through the movie, becoming the first intelligent Deviant after absorbing the abilities of some of the other Eternals. Having a character that can mimic the abilities of those it’s killed might sound interesting, but ultimately Kro doesn’t get to do anything in the story besides show up out of nowhere for the final fight. A complete waste of a talented actor in an already convoluted plot. — Aidan Kelley
Emil Blonsky/Abomination – The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is an outlier in the MCU for many reasons—it was produced at the same time as Iron Man, and yet only two characters from Hulk have appeared in any other MCU films. It’s a weird movie that’s kinda-sorta part of the MCU mythology, but as a film itself, it’s pretty forgettable. That extends to its main villain Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), who in the film is basically just portrayed as a macho military dude who wants to get Hulk-sized ripped. He becomes Abomination because, reasons, to fight Hulk, and is beaten to a pulp. The end. He really only exists in the film to justify a big third-act fist fight between Hulk and a formidable challenger, and as a character is as paper-thin as they come. — Adam Chitwood
Malekith – Thor: The Dark World
In the long line of pointless villain roles in the MCU, Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith in Thor: The Dark World ranks as one of the most pointless. Case in point: I bet you forgot/didn’t know Christopher Eccleston was even in a Marvel movie! Malekith is a mean Dark Elf who wants to rule the universe. That’s the beginning and end of his story, and the film makes no efforts to inject any sort of pathos or emotion into the character at all, just using him to get in the way of Thor and Jane. It’s all the more glaring when coming off of Loki in Thor, who was chock-full of pathos. But Eccleston’s not alone in the MCU legion of wasted talents. — Adam Chitwood
Dormammu – Doctor Strange
I debated even putting Dormammu on this list, but seeing as how he’s the one pulling the strings in Doctor Strange, it felt appropriate. He can’t rank very high because the character only has a teensy bit of screen time, during which he’s seen only as a floating psychedelic face. The character is only made interesting by the fact that he worked alongside Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One, and his visual design is admittedly pretty cool, but beyond that, he doesn’t make much of an impression. Of course, that’s certainly not the last we’ve seen of the character, so To Be Continued… — Adam Chitwood
Laufey – Thor
Thor is a weird movie in regard to antagonists because yeah, the film starts out by setting up the Frost Giant Laufey (Colm Feore) as the main villain, but he’s really just a misdirect. There’s also S.H.I.E.L.D. that gets in Thor and Jane’s way, but in the third act, it’s Loki that emerges as the biggest threat to our hero. So Laufey’s a bit of a patsy, and that’s not really his fault. He ranks low on this list by design. — Adam Chitwood
Ronan – Guardians of the Galaxy
It’s a marvel that Guardians of the Galaxy works as well as it does with a villain as lame as Ronan, but that’s kind of become the modus operandi of the MCU. Lee Pace’s villain is a religious zealot who is angry that his people, the Kree, have signed a peace treaty and thus decides to basically start a galactic war over racial superiority. That could be interesting, but the movie doesn’t spend near enough time on Ronan to flesh out his motivations beyond “A crazy dude who wants to do bad stuff.” He’s basically just there to get in the way and set up jokes and set pieces, and by that metric he serves his purpose well. But as an antagonist who’s even mildly interesting, Ronan fails miserably. — Adam Chitwood
Taskmaster – Black Widow
While Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) is a fairly solid physical antagonist for Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow, the character’s true identity is a twist you see coming a mile away, and even then we get very little payoff or resolution to who’s really under the mask. So in the end, Taskmaster serves as a secondary villain in the film, purely there to drive action sequences. Taskmaster is fine. — Adam Chitwood
Todd Phelps/HulkKing/Intelligencia – She-Hulk
Intelligencia is surely the source of Jennifer Walters’ (Tatiana Maslany) problems, but Todd Phelps (Jon Bass) is hardly the worst of the worst. A verified incel, Todd spends most of the season working in the shadows while being Jen’s client at work. Although he’s got more personality and his transformation to whatever the HulkKing was means he’s more interesting and funnier than some other villains on this list, She-Hulk isn’t really a show about the villain. Intelligencia is simply the vehicle for angry men and their misogyny. What Josh (Trevor Salter) does to Jennifer is awful, but is it comparable to snapping away half the universe? No, it’s not. — Therese Lacson
Infinity Ultron – What If…?
The psychotic murder robot returns in What…If?, kinda. This is a variant of Ultron who comes from a universe where he succeeded in transferring his consciousness to Vision, killed most of the Avengers, and even obtained all six Infinity Stones. Dubbed Infinity Ultron, the machine grows so powerful that he is able to discover the Watcher, thus learning that there are an infinite number of universes out there for him to conquer. Infinity Ultron is ultimately held back by the lack of power he seems to have despite having every Infinity Stone and the noticeable lack of James Spader not returning to voice the character makes him feel like your average Saturday Morning cartoon baddie. Still, it’s a fun callback to a classic MCU foe and it’s cool to see him interact with alternate versions of popular characters.
Najma – Ms. Marvel
One of many examples of Marvel’s latest trend of giving their villains a bit more sympathy, and Ms. Marvel is a good example of that. Najma’s (Nimra Bucha) early motivations simply stem from her wanting to return home. She and the other Clandestines want to return to their own dimension, and they’ve reached a point where they will do anything to do that. In terms of evil acts, Najma has quite a few. She murders Kamala’s great-grandmother, abandons her son Kamran in a prison, and was still willing to create a gateway to her home dimension with the full knowledge that it would destroy Earth. These are all terrible acts, sure, but Najma’s screen presence is somewhat lacking and unmemorable, and her last-minute redemption doesn’t feel earned or satisfying given her actions curse Kamran with powers and cause even more havoc after her death.
Kaecilius – Doctor Strange
Mads Mikkelsen dodged a bullet when he passed on the Malekith role in Thor: The Dark World, but he didn’t fare much better by taking on Kaecilius in Doctor Strange instead. Co-writer/director Scott Derrickson admits he chose a simplistic villain given the complexity of the protagonist and mysticism he already had to deal with, and indeed Kaecilius is something of a blank slate. He does get in some great fight sequences, and Mikkelsen looks tremendous when going toe-to-toe with Strange and other characters, but at the end of the film we don’t much care what happens to Kaecilius. He’s more of a pest than a dastardly antagonist, which again given that the script also had to deal with the Ancient One stuff and Strange’s arc is semi-forgivable, but he’s certainly not a memorable entry into the MCU. — Adam Chitwood
Arthur Harrow – Moon Knight
Arthur Harrow brings cultism to the MCU, leading worshippers of the Egyptian god Ammit in Moon Knight. Despite leading an army of mercenaries and having a staff that can summon invisible jackal monsters, Harrow’s intentions seem to be pure, as he and Ammit want to “judge” people to decide if their hearts are good or evil. The problem arises when you realize that Ammit’s judgment takes a page out of Minority Report and will judge you harshly even if you haven’t done anything. Harrow uses his wits and charisma to not only manipulate his followers but also Moon Knight against Khonshu and even his own wife. The mind games he plays are fun, and Ethan Hawke gives an incredible performance, but the finale has him and Moon Knight in a big CG fight where they punch each other a lot. Harrow’s history with Khonshu as his former avatar also felt like a missed opportunity that deserved a deeper look. — Aidan Kelley
Wanda Maximoff – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) ranks as one of Marvel Comics’ best creations. Infinitely powerful, with so many interesting stories and plot arcs. But when it comes to Wanda as a villain? The MCU dropped the ball. After devoting all of WandaVision to developing Wanda’s character and devoting it to the story of her grief, Doctor Strange into the Multiverse of Madness erases it with a simple Macguffin. The Darkhold not only corrupts Wanda, but it flattens her characterization, she has none of the sass that Kathryn Hahn‘s Agatha had under the control of the Darkhold (and quite frankly her character didn’t change much when the Darkhold was taken from her). Wanda gets points for being genuinely scary but aside from that, her character feels forced into the position of villain and that places her low on this list. – Therese Lacson
Alexander Pierce – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Captain America: The Winter Soldier is somewhat unique in that it’s one of the more grounded films in the MCU, and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce is very much a “suit-and-tie” villain. He has no superpowers or plans to gain superpowers. Instead, he’s just an evil Nazi dude who’s trying to keep Hydra’s infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. a secret. And he’s…fine. The character is kind of a waste of Redford’s talents and indeed, the film seems to let Redford’s mere presence do a lot of the heavy lifting. But there’s nothing particularly memorable about Alexander Pierce, and he hasn’t really made a lasting impact on the MCU, so he’s very much one of the franchise’s middle-of-the-road baddies. — Adam Chitwood
Ghost – Ant-Man and the Wasp
It’s a little unfair to even include Ghost on this list because Hannah John-Kamen‘s character is more of an antagonist than a true villain. But she is indeed the main “baddie” of Ant-Man and the Wasp, and while she gets some refreshing moral complexity, it still feels a bit like John-Kamen’s talents were underutilized here. The Midnight Run approach to the story dictates that there are various obstacles in our heroes’ way, and so while Ghost is the most formidable, there are times when she takes a backseat to Walton Goggins‘ shady dealings or the federal authorities. When we get to the Ghost “twist” it provides some understanding for her character, and we see she’s really not all that “bad”, but the film doesn’t spend enough time on Ghost to fully develop her as a scary or threatening force. So when it comes time for the big third-act battle, Ghost is, again, more of an annoying obstacle than a serious threat to the well-being of our heroes. Ghost is, much like Ant-Man and the Wasp, just fine. — Adam Chitwood
Darren Cross/Yellowjacket – Ant-Man
Speaking of forgettable villains, enter Darren Cross. Admittedly Ant-Man is a weird movie in the MCU since it had to be kind of hobbled together in a rush after director Edgar Wright left the project. The finished film is still working on the backbone of Wright and Joe Cornish’s script, but something’s a little off. That extends to Cross, whose motivation is interesting—stealing a company from his mentor, whom he resents for not telling him his Ant-Man secrets—but the execution in terms of story is a bit underwhelming. Corey Stoll does a nice job with what he’s given, and he brings an excitable edge to Cross that’s refreshingly off-kilter, but ultimately it doesn’t really coalesce into much. — Adam Chitwood
General Ross – The Incredible Hulk
William Hurt’s General Ross is actually one of the best things about The Incredible Hulk, and yet it’s still a case of the hero overshadowing the character development of the villain. The baggage that audiences brought to the film with Ang Lee’s Hulk still fresh in their minds does a lot of the heavy lifting as far as Ross’ backstory is concerned, but Hurt’s performance is delightfully steely, especially in relation to his daughter. — Adam Chitwood
Yon-Rogg – Captain Marvel
There’s a recurring theme in the MCU of “good guys who turn out to be the bad guys,” and while Jude Law‘s Yon-Rogg in Captain Marvel isn’t as forgettable as Yellowjacket, he’s nowhere near as substantial as someone like Ego the Living Planet. Part of that is due to a miscalculation on the part of the Captain Marvel‘s filmmakers and Law’s performance—it’s abundantly clear that he’s a bad dude early on in the film, but the movie wants you to believe he’s an ally to Carol until the third act. Much of Law’s screentime is spent merely talking to Carol via Space Phone and trying to steer her clear of answers, and while one could maybe make the argument that he’s a stand-in for “Man Who Gaslights Woman Then Thinks She Owes Him for Helping Her,” there’s simply not enough for Law to do for the film to really dig into anything of substance.
That’s kind of the give and take of a villain reveal like this, and for his part, Ben Mendelsohn is fairly compelling when we’re under the impression that his character Talos is the film’s Big Bad. I will say the larger twist that the entire race of the Kree turn out to be the bad guys while the Skrulls are actually the good guys is an interesting one, as the film examines how meeting and getting to know someone markedly different from you can allow you to see the world from an entirely different point of view (empathy, amirite?). But for the purposes of this list, since Yon-Rogg is technically Captain Marvel‘s villain, he lands towards the back half of the pack. — Adam Chitwood
Ikaris – Eternals
The real villain of Eternals, Ikaris is yet another evil Superman archetype to join the surprisingly popular character genre with Homelander and Omni-Man. Seriously, he flies, has super-strength, and laser eyes, but perhaps we misspoke when we called him “evil”. See, Ikaris isn’t motivated by personal greed or a desire for bloodlust, he’s just following orders. He’s become so indoctrinated by Arishem that he views killing Ajak and betraying his now enlightened friends are things that are necessary to preserve the Celestial vision of the universe. He has no problem manipulating his friends from the very beginning, and even though he does redeem himself by fulfilling his namesake and flying into the sun, he’s still the most devious person in the whole movie. — Aidan Kelley