Once upon a time, Marvel had a villain problem, but those days may be far behind us.
To be fair, there are still a lot of duds in the growing history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but recent additions like Vulture, Wenwu, and the Mad Titan Thanos himself are almost enough to make us forget the dark days of Justin Hammer.
We’ve put together a comprehensive ranking of all the MCU’s major supervillains — that’s “major” as in the really big bads, no low-level henchmen or children of Thanos. We also left out villains from Marvel’s Disney+ shows for now — though at least one of those will be on the big screen soon.
Read on for our ranking of supervillains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
37. Malekith (Thor: The Dark World)
“Accursed” is right.
Credit: screenshot / marvel
Literally who? —Angie Han, Deputy Entertainment Editor*
36. Dormammu (Doctor Strange)
I still don’t entirely understand what Dormammu is and I don’t care. And if you’re about to launch into an explanation based on the comics, my point is that the movie doesn’t do a good job of explaining what he is or why I should care. —A.H.*
35. Ivan Vanko (Iron Man 2)
With his gold teeth, thick Russian accent, and pet cockatoo, Vanko is basically a latter-day Johnny Depp character – and as with most latter-day Johnny Depp characters, there doesn’t seem to anything like an actual person underneath all those tiresome affectations. —A.H.*
34. The Dweller in Darkness (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings)
The Dweller-In-Darkness is the CGI manifestation of studio executives flipping through the screenplay of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and realizing that there’s nothing in there that would make a cool Lego set. It’s not on the very bottom of the list because all it wants to do is eat snacks (relatable) and everyone after this entry is in Marvel’s clown car of really bad villain ideas.— Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
33. Aldrich Killian (Iron Man 3)
The reveal that the Mandarin was really a role being played by Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery was a jaw-dropper, but the truth about who was really pulling the strings was far more disappointing. Not even Killian’s embittered-nerd backstory can make him a compelling foil to Tony Stark. —A.H.*
32. Ronan the Accuser (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Marvel really wasted Lee Pace.
Credit: Marvel Studios / Kobal / Shutterstock
Ronan gets more laughs than most of the other villains on this list, which could push him up a couple slots. But that’s mostly because he’s just in a funnier movie than most of the other villains on this list, not because he himself is all that funny. So he moves back down toward the bottom. —A.H.*
31. Justin Hammer (Iron Man 2)
Justin Hammer is essentially another Tony Stark, only inferior in every possible way. Which shouldn’t be that interesting, except that Sam Rockwell makes him kind of an odious oddball. It’s fun to watch him try to take down Stark, and even more satisfying to watch him fail again and again. —A.H.*
30. Abomination (The Incredible Hulk)
There’s the germ of something interesting in Emil Blonsky, an aging soldier who agrees to undergo a painful experimental procedure in order to achieve Hulk-like power. Unfortunately, The Incredible Hulk never gets there, and by the end has reduced him to a mindless CGI monster. —A.H.*
29. Ayesha (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Ayesha is essentially just a superiority complex dipped in gold, but so much of the fun of her character comes in seeing her haughty grandeur rub up against the goofy, grimy world of the Guardians. Here’s hoping she’ll get more to do once Adam emerges. —A.H.*
28. Yon-Rogg (Captain Marvel)
Anyone surprised to learn that this dude sucks?
Credit: chuck zlotnick
Carol Danvers’ fragile masculine captor isn’t particularly interesting, but not for the first time Marvel gets by on some inspired casting — and in this case, a few well-placed twists. When Carol is about to blast him to Kree-Kingdom-Come during their final showdown, Yon-Rogg encourages her to strike him, to defeat him. It’s so hubristic and patronizing (what’s the Kree word for “mansplain?”) that Carol decides she’d rather just dip. —Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter
27. Obadiah Stane (Iron Man)
Obadiah Stane fits so many of the MCU villain tropes we’ve become familiar with: He’s a greedy businessman and a false father figure, and he’s vastly less interesting than the superhero he’s out to get. What makes him first among equals is that he was literally the first, setting the mold for years to come. —A.H.*
26. Goliath and Ghost (Ant-Man and the Wasp)
Sharing a spot on the list because they share so many villainous goals, the foes of Ant-Man and the Wasp are pretty textbook. Goliath a.k.a. Ben Foster has beef with Hank Pym (a man who specializes in beef) and wants revenge, while Ghost a.k.a. Ava just wants to stop phasing and not die. They team up to harness the energy of the Quantum Realm, which interferes with Hank and Hope’s plan to interfere Janet, but by the end of the movie everyone realizes what a viewer probably caught early on: There’s a version of this plan where everyone wins. —P.K.
25. Kaecilius (Doctor Strange)
The MCU also somehow wastest Mads Mikkelsen!
Credit: film frame / marvel
Now we’re really getting down to the dregs. Kaecilius is yet another MCU antagonist who lusts after some abstract notion of power. However, he wins a couple points for that flawless eye look and that hilarious who’s-on-first routine. —A.H.*
24. Arishem the Judge (Eternals)
The Eternals’ Celestial space-robot daddy is one of the most powerful beings on this list, but fails to make a proportionate impression because he is in fact a CGI space robot with no face. Arishem is the reason the Eternals even exist. He makes villains of them and their Deviant foes by basically using everyone as chess pieces — if a game of chess ended with the Earth being destroyed to create a cosmic superbeing. Arishem isn’t evil in the way of someone like Thanos; Celestials operate on ancient universal laws, while Thanos acted out of hubris — but what they all have in common is the view that most mortal life is unremarkable and therefore unessential. Hopefully Sersi, Kingo, and Phastos can convince him otherwise.
23. Thunderbolt Ross (The Incredible Hulk)
General Ross doesn’t get the big showdown with Hulk (that dubious honor goes to Abomination), but for the first two-thirds of the movie, he’s a rather chilling portrayal of a man so obsessed with revenge that he’s blind to the fact that he’s become a monster in his own right. —A.H.
22. Dreykov (Black Widow)
While far from the most charismatic or memorable villain on this list, Dreykov is pretty damn sinister when you think about what he’s done. He kidnapped orphans to turn them into soldiers, and he made a point to pick children with uteruses so he could forcibly sterilize them. He turned his own daughter into a barely-sentient killing machine and seemed pleased as punch — incidentally Natasha (and the rest of us) really want to punch him. Eff this guy. —P.K.
21. Yellowjacket (Ant-Man)
He’s essentially Obadiah Stane Redux, minus the shock of realizing that, holy shit, it’s Jeff Bridges under that chrome dome. Yellowjacket was just one too many wounded male egos plotting against the MCU’s heroes, which perhaps mercifully led to the new era that followed. Sorry, Corey Stoll – we love you, just not this role for you. —A.H.
20. Trevor/The Mandarin (Iron Man 3)
To this day, the reveal of the Mandarin’s true identity is one of the most shocking twists that the MCU has ever pulled off – and Ben Kingsley plays both sides beautifully. He’s chilling as the Mandarin but delightfully daft as Trevor, the party-bro actor who has no idea what’s really going on. —A.H.*
19. Taskmaster (Black Widow)
Taskmaster is Black Widow’s main antagonist for most of the movie, and while they doesn’t do much beyond showing up and kicking ass, that ass-kicking is some of the best in the MCU. Tasky’s fight scenes are a highlight reel of every Avenger’s coolest moves, and half the fun of watching Black Widow is seeing how Natasha would actually fare if she squared up against Captain America, Bucky (again), Black Panther, and herself. Also, points awarded for having a cool third act reveal. Best wishes to you, Taskmaster. — A.N.
18. Alexander Pierce (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Like Vulture and Zemo, Alexander Pierce is a relatively understated villain. But he’s got gravitas, because he’s played by Robert Freakin’ Redford, and he raises some genuinely complicated questions about security versus freedom. Well, at least until it’s revealed that he’s been a Hydra agent all along, and therefore unambiguously evil. Oh well. —A.H.*
17. Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger)
Red Skull is a really good representation of another annoying MCU villain trend: squandered promise. He’s played by Hugo Weaving and based on a popular comic book character, so he seems like he should be amazing. But onscreen, he comes across as just another generic nemesis. —A.H.*
16. Ulysses Klaue (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther)
Ulysses Klaue is a villain who died before he really got to live. Mostly in the sense that it would’ve been wild to see Andy Serkis’s take on the comics, but Klaue served his purpose in the MCU’s ongoing story. It’s Klaue who smuggled Vibranium out of Wakanda, a singular act that directly leads to Killmonger’s plot to establish Wakanda as a fearsome ruling superpower. Without that Vibranium, where would Ultron’s consciousness end up after he escaped Tony’s computer system? It’s impossible to know what the MCU would look like without Klaue’s impact, and that’s what makes him one of the saga’s essential villains. —Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter & Weekend Editor
15. Ego (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Talk about villains grounded in painful reality. Kurt Russell is perfect as Ego, the personification of every dashing deadbeat who’s ever refused to let minor details like “a child” stand in the way of his grand ambitions. It’s just that his grand ambitions involve remaking the entire galaxy. —A.H.*
14. Winter Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Before we saved our poor boy Bucky, he was a hell of a foe for Captain America.
Credit: zade rosenthal / Marvel studios
Bucky is only a true villain in Winter Soldier, and then just because he’s been brainwashed by Hydra. Maybe that’s a shame, because it turns out he’s pretty good at being bad. He’s all ruthless efficiency and controlled intensity, but his real secret weapon as a supervillain is his tragic backstory. —A.H.*
13. Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
A sort of sentient robot son to Tony Stark, Ultron sounds cooler in theory than he actually is in execution. But he is voiced by James Spader in mustache-twirling villain mode, and he’s the kind of unapologetic drama queen who insists on having his own throne. That’s not nothing. —A.H.*
12. Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)
Odin’s firstborn and the goddess of death, Hela is a formidable foe for Thor. She breaks Mjolnir! She kills the Warriors Three with her knife-y powers! She’s played by Cate Blanchett! Even though Hela is sidelined for much of Thor: Ragnarok, Blanchett imbues her with delightfully chilling villainy. Also, her outfit is among the best villain outfits in the MCU – talk about being dressed to kill. — Belen Edwards, Entertainment Reporter
11. Gorr the God Butcher (Thor: Love and Thunder)
Say what you will about Thor: Love and Thunder, but there’s no denying that Christian Bale makes for an amazing villain. Drape that man in a sinister cloak, put the Necrosword in his hand, and give him a tragic backstory, and you’re looking at MCU villain gold. Gorr’s grief-fueled quest to kill all gods in the universe is Love and Thunder‘s most compelling storyline. While the film doesn’t examine it quite as much as I wish it would, it still gives us Gorr being the world’s most terrifying babysitter. Absolutely immaculate villain vibes. — B.E.
10. Mysterio (Spider-Man: Far From Home)
On paper, Mysterio looks like a pedestrian amalgam of Vulture, Justin Hammer, and Aldrich Killian — but the formula doesn’t account for Jake Gyllenhaal chewing the absolute heck out of this role. In Mysterio, Gyllenhaal finds layers of sincerity (with Peter), egomania (with his team) and outright unhinged madness that is nothing short of delightful to behold. How did Tony Stark ever overlook this guy? —P.K.
9. The Grandmaster (Thor: Ragnarok)
The Grandmaster is charming as hell, but he has SO many slaves.
Credit: marvel studios
Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) may not be Thor: Ragnarok’s main villain, but the hedonistic leader of Sakaar more than steals the show. Everything from his sparkly blue makeup to his funky piano jam sessions oozes funky, offbeat charisma – even when he’s forcing unwilling fighters to battle his champion to the death. Arguably the most fun Marvel villain, thanks in no small part to Goldblum doing what he does best, Grandmaster is just a blast to watch. —B.E.
8. Helmut Zemo (Captain America: Civil War)
In contrast to the colorful, power-mad personalities we’ve come to expect from comic book movies, Zemo is a quiet, unassuming man driven by grief. Best of all, the guy’s kind of got a point when he points out that the Avengers are responsible for a lot of collateral damage. —A.H.*
7. Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Vulture is a basically normal dude grappling with the fact that he lives in a superpowered world — but unlike our heroes, Adrian Toomes isn’t inspired by example to become one of the good guys. He channels that rage into a successful black-market enterprise selling alien weaponry, but what’s fascinating about Adrian is there’s much more to him than supervillainy. He doesn’t seem to be playing a role in the way that, say, Obadiah Stane was only pretending to be Tony’s friend so he could stab him in the back later. Adrian really is a family man and he really is an illegal arms dealer. He contains multitudes, and Homecoming doesn’t shy away from it. —A.H.*
6. Wanda Maximoff (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness)
Wanda certainly went out with a bang.
Credit: Jay Maidment
We can discuss at length how Wanda Maximoff deserved better throughout her time in the MCU, but we can also give her major props for being an exceptional villain in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Elizabeth Olsen is clearly having the time of her life as the film’s Big Bad, channeling horror film legends like Samara from The Ring and Carrie White from Carrie. She also annihilates years’ worth of fan service in the film’s most diabolical sequence. On top of all that, Wanda’s villainy comes after several movies and an entire TV show’s worth of character development. So, our attachment makes her turn to the dark side both engrossing and painful to watch. Hats off to Olsen for a killer performance, and here’s hoping Wanda is having a better time somewhere else in the multiverse. — B.E.
5. Green Goblin (Spider-Man: No Way Home)
No Way Home may have brought back every notable Spider-Man villain since 2002 (sorry, Hobgoblin), but Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin is a magnificent standout as he urges them all to go rogue. This character once laid the groundwork for the misguided-scientist-who-turns-into-a-bad-experiment that every Spidey villain followed until Vulture, and his performance is as unhinged and spectacular as it was 20 years ago. Sliding back into Goblin’s armor, madness, and signature cackle, Dafoe reminds us that he all but invented the modern comic book movie villain, that everyone else here is in the house that Goblin built. It’s a hell of a legacy to leave behind in the first place, and even mightier to live up to it yourself.
4. Loki (Thor / The Avengers)
There’s a reason Loki is the rare baddie to stick around for more than one movie (and a whole TV show). He’s the only MCU supervillain who’s as fully developed as the MCU superheroes – and with his sad tale of familial angst, he’s almost as sympathetic. Plus, Tom Hiddleston gives Loki a slippery, smirky charisma that’s hard to resist. You listen to one of his faux-Shakespearean monologues and tell me you’re not tempted to cross over to the dark side. —A.H.*
3. Wenwu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings)
Over at thousand years of pure swag.
Credit: Courtesy of Marvel Studios
Leave it to Hong Kong cinema icon Tony Leung to show up twenty-five movies into the MCU and proceed to wipe the floor with almost every other villain the franchise has come up with. Wenwu is a fascinating villain because he’s a bad guy who isn’t always a bad person, and the real tragedy of Shang-Chi is knowing Wenwu is mourning more than the loss of his wife — he’s mourning the lost possibility of his own redemption. Also, he’s a Marvel villain who keeps another Marvel villain as a human pet. That’s god-tier villainy right there. —A.N.
2. Eric Killmonger (Black Panther)
Hot off the heels of Vulture revolutionizing MCU villainy came Michael B. Jordan’s legendary turn in Black Panther. Eric is everything T’Challa isn’t; Vengeful, embittered, and deeply isolated. His methods might be villainous, but his message is compelling. Growing up in Oakland, far from the promise of Wakanda, he mourns generations of injustice Black people have experienced around the world, seething with envy at T’Challa and his supposedly charmed life. Killmonger’s pain stays with us long after the credits roll on Black Panther, as does his chilling final line. —P.K.
1. Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame)
Thinkin’ bout what Star Lord said about his chin.
Credit: marvel studios
Here we go. The big bad. The biggest bad. In one *snap*, Thanos erased half of the known universe from existence — but it’s more than that. The build-up to Thanos pretty much defined the entire pace of the MCU’s first truly sprawling story arc, from Iron Man to Endgame. Marvel spent 10 entire years teasing and setting up this massive villain before 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War gave him an outwardly significant role to play. It was a hell of a trick, and it wouldn’t have worked without the decade of build-up making it clear that a larger, more malevolent puppet-master was always pulling the strings just out of view. There are more exciting villains in the MCU, but Thanos is, as ever, inevitable. —A.R.
*This blurb appeared on a previous list.