This article contains spoilers
Bring on the bad guys! That’s been the battle cry of the Marvel Universe since before it was even called the Marvel Universe. The first few issues of Fantastic Four in the early 60s gave the world some of the best villains of all time, including the Mole Man and Doctor Doom.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, didn’t start out so well. For a long time, the big knock against the MCU was that it had great heroes and lousy villains. Sure, everyone likes Loki, but no one thought Malekith or Red Skull upstaged Thor and Captain America.
Over the years, fans and detractors have added other points to their list of complaints about the MCU. But the “bad bad guys” critique sticks around, even as the universe expands to thirty-two films and nine (official) tv series. But if you take a look at the franchise’s rogues gallery, you’d find a ton of compelling antagonists. Here are all forty-one major bad guys in the MCU ranked, proving once and for all that the franchise has some pretty great villains …and also some pretty terrible villains!
41. Malekith the Accursed (Thor: The Dark World)
Thor: The Dark World gets a bad rap, with too many people acting like the perfectly acceptable sci-fi fantasy is a B-movie travesty. Overstated as these complaints might be, detractors do have a point when it comes to baddie Malekith the Accursed. Despite casting the fantastic Christopher Eccleston in the role, The Dark World reduces the maniacal Dark Elf to a glowering stoic, a wet blanket on the otherwise fantastic proceedings.
40. Dreykov (Black Widow)
Dreykov is an insidious man whose background was sewn by Loki and Black Widow all the way back in 2012’s The Avengers, so when the Black Widow film set its prequel tale about taking him down for good, we expected him to be a compelling villain. Unfortunately, as played by a hammy Ray Winstone and his hilarious attempt at a Russian accent, he wasn’t nearly as much of a believable, controlling, misogynistic bastard as he needed to be, acting more like the guy behind the guy behind the guy in a room where he simply pressed buttons to be a shit, a bit like Dr. Claw in Inspector Gadget without even the Bond villain eccentricity about him to liven things up a bit.
39. Titania (She-Hulk: Attorney at Law)
In theory, Titania is a perfect MCU villain. In a world filled with superheroes, but one that otherwise mirrors our own, a super influencer feels inevitable, complete with all the moral laxity of real-world influencers. Furthermore, Jameela Jamil puts in a cheeky performance as a villain whose plans are as shallow as she is. Unfortunately, despite several teases, Titania ends up being secondary at best to the plot of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, never really capitalizing on the character’s potential.
38. Kaecilius (Doctor Strange)
Casino Royale villain Mads Mikkelsen is an absolute treasure. Anyone who’s seen Hannibal, Another Round, or any of the other wonderful projects the actor has been involved with over the years can tell you that. But when Hollywood comes calling, they often fail him by throwing him into underwritten villain roles that don’t showcase what a stellar actor he is. Mads didn’t deserve to just slide into lacklustre disciple of the Dark Dimension Kaecilius, just as he didn’t deserve the little he had to work with in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, or the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Like many Marvel villains, Kaecilius decided it was worth being immortal even if it doomed the rest of us to eternal torment. The real eternal torment is knowing Mads will probably continue to be underserved by blockbusters until morale improves.
37. Najma (Ms. Marvel)
Namja (Nimra Bucha) isn’t so much a bad villain as she was underutilized. Leader of the Clandestines, Namja boasted a connection to Kamala Khan’s bangle, which always makes for a compelling dynamic. But despite her relationship to Kamala’s grandmother, Namja always feels separate from Ms. Marvel, never rising to the threat level posed by secondary antagonists the Department of Damage Control.
36. Whiplash (Iron Man 2)
Whiplash could only happen in 2009. Riding off of the successes of the first Iron Man and Darren Aronofsky movie The Wrestler, producers thought they had performed quite a coup by booking redeemed star Mickey Rourke. And then they immediately regretted it, as Rourke gave a truly unhinged performance, complete with a “boid.” Whiplash is a lot of fun to watch, but he never feels like a proper threat.
35. Gravik (Secret Invasion)
Like the Flag Smashers before them, Skrull resistance leader Gravik and his rebels represent a real issue about the plight of immigrants. But unlike the Flag Smashers, Gravik never gets to be anything more than a basic bad guy, despite the best efforts of Kingsley Ben-Adir to flesh him out. All Gravik’s rage at being left behind by Nick Fury overshadows the very real plight of his people, and in the end he morphs into just another MCU OP CGI science experiment who is quickly thwarted in battle, proving that She-Hulk’s meta callout of Marvel’s penchant for doing this with their villains was all for nought.
34. The Flag Smashers (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier)
In their best moments, the Flag Smashers present a real challenge to the political status quo of the MCU. Led by Karli Morgenthau, the Flag Smashers fought for the rights of refugees displaced by the reversal of the Blip, using a fantastic premise to engage with real-world issues. Unfortunately, the producers of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier can’t stick the landing, and too quickly turn into run-of-the-mill terrorists.
33. Aldrich Killian/The Mandarin (Iron Man 3)
For all the many provocations that do land in Iron Man 3, the final Mandarin reveal certainly does not. In fact, it almost feels silly when Nice Guy Aldrich Killian strips off his shirt to reveal an embarrassing tattoo and declares “I am the Mandarin.” And that’s because it is. Writer/director Shane Black originally intended Maya Hansen to be the real villain of the movie. But that idea was nixed by the first villain of the MCU, then-Marvel president Ike Perlmutter, who insisted that no one wanted to buy a girl toy. And so Killian was shuffled forward, making for an unexciting final threat in an otherwise surprising movie.
32. Abomination (The Incredible Hulk)
When he was introduced in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, the Abomination had just one job: be a big monster and punch the Hulk. Emil Blonsky got a bit more characterization with his unlikely return in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law. Unfortunately, that characterization rarely exceeds lame self-help jokes, so maybe “green punch monster” was better.
31. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket/MODOK (Ant-Man)
Even at the height of his popularity in the mid-60s, Ant-Man never had the greatest rogues gallery. So it makes sense that the team crafting Ant-Man would have to do some reworking, taking the antagonist in Scott Lang’s first comic book story and combining him with Hank Pym’s jerky alter-ego. The result is a fun evil businessman who makes for a serviceable, if unremarkable, supervillain. Corey Stoll has fun as Darren Cross commits some truly heinous acts with his shrinking tech, but he loses a lot of his menace when he dons the Yellowjacket suit in the final act. Still, Cross’s return as MODOK in Quantumania does earn him a few extra points, only for how bizarre he looks.
30. Ghost (Ant-Man and the Wasp)
Ghost has the ability to phase out of sight and tangibility, a power so great that she basically disappears from the screen. The Ant-Man movies work for their low stakes and the wacky shenanigans of Paul Rudd and his co-stars, making the villains mostly unnecessary. And that’s certainly the case for Ghost, despite Hannah John-Kamen’s perfectly fine performance. Some of her phase attacks look cool, and she does have a compelling backstory. But in her one appearance thus far, Ghost feels more perfunctory than exciting. Here’s hoping she’ll get more to do as a member of the Thunderbolts.
29. Kingpin (Hawkeye)
Okay, to be clear, we’re talking about Wilson Fisk as seen in the MCU, not every time that Vincent D’Onofrio played the Kingpin of Crime. While D’Onofrio brought new levels to the long-time criminal in the Netflix series Daredevil, his reveal as the big bad of Hawkeye constituted little more than a cameo. Still, the arrival of the Kingpin in the MCU is a reason for celebration, even if we’re still waiting to see what he can really do in the shared universe.
28. Justin Hammer (Iron Man 2)
Look, Tony Stark is a jerk, especially in Iron Man 2. The follow-up to the MCU-launching Iron Man takes everything great about Tony and dials it up to 100, rendering him completely insufferable. Fortunately, the movie also has Justin Hammer on hand to take some of the heat off of Stark, thanks to a wonderfully slimy performance from Sam Rockwell. With his obvious spray tan and unearned swagger, Hammer reminds us that real-world tech bros are self-satisfied buffoons, a point reinforced by the film’s Elon Musk cameo.
27. Alexander Pierce (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
In the hands of a lesser actor, Alexander Pierce would be nothing but stunt casting. Robert Redford comes to the MCU as a representative of the paranoid thrillers The Winter Soldier wants to invoke, movies like All the President’s Men and Three Days of the Condor. But Redford puts on a full charm offensive as Secretary Pierce, making audiences believe that he’s a likable guy who just happens to have killer aerial gunships.
26. Ikaris (Eternals, 2021)
Some may take issue with Eternals villain Ikaris being so high on this list, but we have a soft spot for Richard Madden’s immortal synthazoid, and believe he was one of the highlights of the divisive Marvel movie. Not only is Ikaris’ reveal as the rot at the heart of the humanity-embracing Eternals genuinely surprising, it’s arguably executed much better than all the live-action “evil Superman” stuff attempted by the DCEU. Powerful specimen Ikaris also really believes he’s doing the right thing when he kills his leader Ajax to keep the Eternals’ mission on track, and he trusts in the importance of a Celestial birth over the fate of the Earth. His artificial heart is broken by defeat when he becomes the target of his friends’ wrath, ultimately making him one of the most human among them.
25. Yon-Rogg (Captain Marvel)
In a better world, Yon-Rogg would feel like a bland joke, an unnecessary bit of social commentary that feels too obvious to be effective. After all, Kree warrior Yon-Rogg spends the entirety of Captain Marvel gaslighting Carol Danvers, convincing her that she’s an unwanted refugee called Vers who only has value when following his rules. After Carol becomes Captain Marvel, Yon-Rogg changes tactics, becoming the superhero equivalent of the “debate me!” reply guy. But then a bunch of dummies review-bombed the unremarkable but fine Captain Marvel, effectively making Yon-Rogg one of the most realistic and incisive bad guys in the MCU.
24. Arthur Harrow (Moon Knight)
Moon Knight’s Arthur Harrow was a really intriguing villain from the get-go. The mere knowledge that none other than Ethan Hawke had been convinced to take on the role without even having seen a script for the Disney+ show raised expectations about what it intended to deliver. Hawke doesn’t know how to give a bad performance, so he threw himself into Harrow, a former Moon Knight-turned-cult leader, with passion and enthusiasm. And Harrow is a pretty good villain! It’s just that everything going on around him is so friggin tonally unhinged and goofy that it feels like Hawke’s in a different show, thoughtfully debating Egyptian theology and his own twisted logic while Oscar Isaac’s Moon Knight does British panto, or a CGI kaiju bird skeleton goes ham on the pyramids.
23. Verussa (Werewolf by Night)
Monster hunter Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) only made one brief appearance in Marvel’s standalone Halloween special Werewolf By Night, but she represented the villains we meet every day in our lives, and so for many, her heartless portrayal felt like more than theatrics. “There are people like that in our own lovely world who think it’s all about them and what they believe, and everyone else can go stuff it,” director Michael Giacchino told us. “People that have afflictions, any number of true human issues that any one of us could have, whether it be mental illness, whether it be alcoholism, whether it be depression. Anything that makes you feel alienated or less than – that’s what monsters represent.” And for Verussa, those people were nothing more than ants to be stepped on, which makes her one of the most unsympathetic villains in the MCU to date.
22. Ronan the Accuser (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Sometimes, a bad guy just needs to be a bad guy. Such is the case for Kree zealot Ronan the Accuser, played as a roaring maniac by Lee Pace. Some have complained that there’s little depth in Pace’s performance, flattening a character who has been further explored in the comics. But Pace goes in a different direction, making Ronan into an over-the-top lunatic, and giving more space for the Guardians to be fully-developed oddballs.
21. Scarlet Witch (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness)
It’s kismet that Scarlet Witch should land in the middle section of this ranking. Some people absolutely loved her villainous heel turn in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and some people downright loathed it. They’re both correct! It’s delicious to see Wanda break bad in the movie and become the violent, dark witch that has so often had such an impact on the Marvel Universe of the comics, especially when keyed into the wild visuals of director Sam Raimi. But let’s be real: those comic book stories were insanely problematic, and so is her arc in the MCU here, playing like tropey female hysteria and womb madness after her spinoff Disney+ show WandaVision finally fleshed Wanda out and turned her into a layered, flawed protagonist; probably the best the MCU has done in terms of creating a nuanced female superhero. It just doesn’t feel right to many fans that the people who made Doctor Strange 2 can just wave away those concerns by blaming a MacGuffin for her quick march into darkness. And that glum disappointment is just as valid as “yes, mother! Pop their heads! Ahahah!”
20. He Who Remains (Loki, 2021)
It’s hard to think of He Who Remains as a stand-alone character, unburdened by plans for his variant Kang the Conqueror or his performer Jonathan Majors. But even without those grand and possibly abandoned ambitions, He Who Remains makes for a compelling antagonist in the first season of Loki. Majors plays the secret leader of the TVA as something of a survivor with PTSD, exploding with energy when Loki and Sylvie finally make their way to his chamber. Intended to be a hint of things to come, He Who Remains works fine as an all-powerful oddball with megalomaniacal control issues.
19. Iron Monger (Iron Man)
In its earliest days, the MCU gained a reputation for having exciting heroes and unremarkable villains. That claim seems unfair when we look at the first baddie of the franchise, Obadiah Stane aka the Iron Monger, played by the incomparable Jeff Bridges. Sure, he’s just an evil businessman who dons a clunky suit of armor in the climax, but Bridges deserves all the praise for his reading of the line, “Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave! With a box of scraps!”
18. The Sinister Five (Spider-Man: No Way Home)
Some might argue that the multiversal villains from Spider-Man: No Way Home deserve a much lower ranking. After all, not only do they all fit badly into the Stark-centric world of the MCU Spider-Man, but all of the characters here were done better in their original incarnations (especially Jamie Foxx as Electro). But even if Willem Dafoe and Alfred Molina repeat character beats from their previous outings, they still rank among the best supervillains in cinema history.
17. Kang the Conqueror (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania)
It’s hard to know what to make of Kang the Conqueror. The longtime antagonist of the Avengers comics came to the MCU not as a time-traveling warlord, but as a master of the multiverse, a crucial change that really bet on the culture not getting sick of alternate realities. Worse, he debuts in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which radically breaks from the previous, low-stakes Ant-Man movies and climaxes with Kang getting beaten by ants. Still, there’s no denying the potential in Kang, especially when portrayed by Jonathan Majors, an actor whose sins seem to be uncovered every day. Even if he never appears again, Kang certainly leaves an impression on viewers, an echo of another, more terrifying, reality.
16. Gorr the God-Killer (Thor: Love and Thunder)
Created by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribić for their fantastic run on the Thor comics, Gorr the God-Butcher represented one of the most relatable human impulses, the desire to wrestle with the powers above us. But when Gorr came to live action, he arrived in the relentlessly goofy Thor: Love and Thunder, a movie more interested in winking at the audience than basically anything else. Despite the odds stacked against him, Gorr still managed to be foreboding, thanks to a committed performance from Christian Bale. Channeling his former co-star Heath Ledger, Bale made Gorr a serious threat in a deeply unserious movie.
15. Mysterio (Spider-Man: Far From Home)
While it’s easy to understand the frustration among Spider-Man fans that the Web-Head’s wonderful rogues gallery become a bunch of tech wizards with grudges against Tony Stark in the MCU, the change makes the most sense for Mysterio. Quentin Beck remains a special effects wizard, but the Stark connections allow him to make his skills a believable antagonist for Spidey and a confusing figure for audiences, one who initially claims to be a multiversal hero. And as nice as it is to see the fishbowl head realized on the big screen, no one can complain about Jake Gyllenhaal’s absolutely unhinged performance.
14. Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger)
The Red Skull is a Nazi. And like all Nazis, real or imagined, he deserves to be punched. So it’s to the great Hugo Weaving’s credit that he doesn’t look for notes of humanity or sympathy in his leader of Hydra, a military group who (according to Captain America: The First Avenger) is so evil not even Hitler can stand them. Weaving’s Red Skull has left humanity behind and thus becomes the perfect enemy for Steve Rogers, a good man who just doesn’t like bullies.
13. Namor (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever)
Marvel’s first mutant was a long time coming to the MCU, which only intensified expectations for the arrogant sea king’s arrival. Tenoch Huerta brought a unique Mesoamerican flair to Namor’s debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever while retaining his haughty attitude and, crucially, his tiny ankle wings. Namor proved to be a worthy successor to Killmonger, not only challenging Wakanda as it mourns the loss of its hero T’Challa, but also reflecting the cost of real-world colonization. At this point, it’s too early to say if Namor of the MCU will become the roguish anti-hero of the comics, but there’s no denying the indelible impression he left in his one appearance.
12. High Evolutionary (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3)
Certainly, aspects of the High Evolutionary echo his predecessor from the previous Guardians film, as both he and Ego want to remake reality according to their ideas of perfection. But thanks to Chukwudi Iwuji’s gloriously hammy performance, High Evolutionary has a god-like ego that not even Ego can match. Plus, his mistreatment of animals makes him among the more easily hateable characters on this list.
11. Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Yes, the MCU version of Ultron only bears a passing resemblance to his comic book counterpart. And yes, he has lips for some reason. But he’s the perfect antagonist for the Tony Stark-centric cinematic universe, embodying Iron Man’s worst impulses, including his snarky repartee. Voiced by fellow Brat Packer James Spader, Ultron takes the desire for armor-suited security to its logical, and most terrifying, end.
10. Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Most of the time, comic book readers have some inside information on the MCU, as Kevin Feige and his team regularly pull plots from the movies’ four-color forebears. But every once in a while, the MCU uses comic book knowledge against the viewer, as was the case with the fantastic twist in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Everyone assumed that Peter’s crush Liz was longtime comic character, Liz Allen, so we all gasped together when Peter realized that he was dating the daughter of Adrian Toomes. The situation leads to a truly chilling monologue from Michael Keaton, who quickly establishes the one-time lesser Spidey rogue into a compelling threat to the young wall-crawler.
9. Bucky Barnes (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War)
In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers finds out that not only is his childhood best friend Bucky Barnes somehow alive, but he’s been turned into a killing machine by the despicable Hydra. Sebastian Stan has played the sweet, supportive and traumatized versions of Bucky Barnes well over the years, but there’s no denying that the colder, more unreasonable, and laser-focused Winter Soldier is a terrifying man to encounter.
8. Agatha (WandaVision)
It was Agatha all along! Well, we probably knew this deep down, despite the fan theoriness of it all at the time, but WandaVision managed to make the reveal tasty anyway with an unforgettable song and a tremendous performance by Kathryn Hahn. Yes, it all devolved into a typical MCU CGI battle in the finale, but up until that point Agatha was really fantastic, and although she was painted as an evil witch, the fact is that she saw an opportunity to take advantage of someone else’s evil spell and went for it. Was Agatha really any more villainous than Wanda? Okay, okay! Maybe a little.
7. Zemo (Captain America: Civil War)
Zemo didn’t need magic or superpowers to break up the Avengers in Age of Ultron. All he needed was a VHS tape from December 16, 1991 – a mission report that proved to anyone who watched it that Bucky Barnes categorically killed Tony Stark’s parents in order to obtain a batch of super soldier serum. That Steve Rogers helped keep said information from Tony became the icing on the cake. Zemo methodically researched his targets and objectives after Tony created Ultron, who destroyed Sokovia and killed his family in the process. He tore the Avengers apart with no emotion, and his empty vengeance was captivating. Zemo would probably be higher on this list, but when Marvel brought him back in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier he was a bit silly, and they stripped some of his villainous mystique away with added backstory and jokes.
6. Ego the Living Planet (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
Honestly, Ego the Living Planet would rank high on this list, just by virtue of the fact that he’s a sentient planet played by Kurt Russell. But he earns a spot in the top ten because he’s perfectly deployed in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Ego represents the threat posed to not just his son Peter Quill, but anyone who comes into too much power. When Quill and his friends defeat Ego, they demonstrate the need to overcome one’s selfish desires and insecurities in order to form a new family.
5. Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)
Cate Blanchett ate as pissed off big sister Hela in Thor: Ragnarok, quashing the opinions of the old Marvel guard that proper female villains weren’t good enough for the MCU, and leading the way for the likes of Agatha Harkness, another veritable smash hit with Marvel fans. In fact, Blanchett was so delicious as Hela that she managed to match fellow Asgardian Loki as the best Thor villain, and became one of the best MCU villains to boot.
4. Wenwu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings)
“Names are very important.” With that statement, Hong Kong legend Tony Leung transforms a bit of exposition into a thoughtful, almost spiritual, meditation on identity. A necessary meditation as well, as Wenwu combines Shang-Chi’s canonical father Fu Manchu and Iron Man villain the Mandarin, two of the worst examples of Yellow Peril racism. Thanks to Leung and director Destin Daniel Cretton, along with his co-writers Dave Callaham and Andrew Latham, he is a well-formed villain with dignity, even as he battles our hero.
3. Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame)
Honestly, most superhero fans would have been happy if all we ever got was the mid-credit scene in The Avengers when Thanos flashed a sinister grin at the idea of courting death. No one expected a deep cut like that in a big-budget movie, at least not in 2012. But Avengers: Infinity War made the Mad Titan into a genuinely sympathetic character, someone whose misguided beliefs came from a sincere desire to help. Driven by Josh Brolin’s remarkable performance, Thanos was the anchor that held together the guest-star-studded Infinity War, making him one of the rare villains in pop culture: a bad guy who succeeds.
2. Loki (Thor, The Avengers)
Loki Laufeyson. Born of a Frost Giant, adopted son of an Allfather, and a really, really annoying brother. Feeling like he was never as good a son as Thor to his dear old dad, Loki took it upon himself to prove he was the better man for the throne, but when that inevitably failed, he started working for Thanos and invaded Earth. This was about as bad as Loki got, but when he was at his most villainous he was also at his most delicious, and that’s in no small part thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s feisty portrayal of the God of Mischief. So popular and enduring was the naughty Loki that even Marvel couldn’t kill him off forever – and they really tried!
1. Killmonger (Black Panther)
At the end of the day, the best villain isn’t the one with the coolest power set or the most devious laugh. It’s the guy who challenges the hero on a personal level, and that’s exactly what Erik Stevens aka N’Jadaka did to his cousin T’Challa. Played with magnetic fire by Michael B. Jordan, Killmonger’s very existence rebukes Wakanda’s isolationist nature. Every scar cut onto his skin reminds T’Challa of his predecessor’s failure, ultimately driving him to let his country participate on the world stage.