There’s an age-old criticism that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a “villain problem,” which is to say that while its movies have fleshed-out, well-developed heroes whose stories are interesting to watch, the villains are less memorable. Their plans are vague, their motivations are vague, they’re pretty easily defeated in a third-act battle sequence, and they’re virtually indistinguishable from one another.
All the great comic book movie villains – from Heath Ledger’s Joker to Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock – have been in non-MCU movies. But the MCU still has some great villains. Here are 10 Great MCU Villains Who Defy The Franchise’s “Villain Problem.”
It was a relief when Loki disappeared into an alternate reality with the Space Stone in Avengers: Endgame, because MCU fans still weren’t ready to let him go. He’s been an ally of Asgard, an enemy of Asgard, an ally of Asgard again, an enemy of the Avengers – the trickster god changes allegiances at the drop of a hat, which makes him an intriguing, deceptive, and addictive character.
Loki has regained and broken Thor’s trust on countless occasions. He even joked about it in Ragnarok when he used a projection to scam his brother yet again: “How many more times are you going to fall for that?” But the great thing about him is that we as an audience always fall for it, too.
The plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron failed its titular villain. In the comics, this is a fearsome cyborg who is plugged into the whole world, making him unstoppable. But in the movie, he turns out to be disappointingly stoppable, with a flimsy plan and no defense against the Hulk. However, he is characterized perfectly.
Ultron is more memorable villain that most of the MCU’s bad guys. James Spader played the character’s voice as suitably creepy – that didn’t leave the audience’s mind any time soon – while the Frankenstein-esque tale of Tony Stark creating his own worst enemy makes Ultron a dramatically strong character.
8 Iron Monger
Iron Monger isn’t just a great villain; he was also the very first villain in the MCU. He set the template for all the villains to come. Obadiah Stane gains Tony Stark’s trust as his replacement father and mentor, and then screws him over by becoming the Iron Monger: a bigger, stronger version of Iron Man.
We’re led to believe that Stane cares about Stark and is looking out for him, but really, he just turns out to have his sights set on Stark’s money, business, and tech. His personal rivalry with Stark, in addition to their professional one, makes him a worthy villain.
We’ve seen the twist that an ally turns out to be a villain a few times in the MCU – and we might be seeing it again with Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home this summer – but Captain Marvel found a way to make it feel fresh.
Tying into the movie’s non-linear take on the familiar origin story narrative by having a character who doesn’t remember her own backstory, Yon-Rogg’s deceitfulness makes him an excellent villain. The whole movie, we’re led to believe he’s a mentor figure, leading Carol Danvers against a villain, and he turns out to be the villain himself.
On the whole, Thor: Ragnarok is a lighthearted, comedic movie with a focus on Thor’s transformation into a comical character. His long-lost sister Hela is more peripheral and could’ve been swept under the rug, since the movie was strong enough without her. However, Cate Blanchett and director Taika Waititi took what could’ve been a run-of-the-mill villain and turned her into something more memorable than that.
Hela destroys everything Thor has left after losing both his parents. She crushes Mjolnir with her bare hands and then decimates Asgard. Even after she’s gone, we can feel the impact of her actions in how Thor has been handling the aftermath.
The big twist that Peter Quill’s long-lost Celestial father doesn’t just want to have a catch with him and is actually working on an evil scheme to dominate the universe could be seen coming a mile off, but that doesn’t mean Ego wasn’t a great character. He doesn’t just present a physical obstacle to Quill; he presents an emotional obstacle, too.
He forces Quill to confront the death of his mother and who his real father is. Quill had spent his entire life searching for his father, and what Ego helped him realize, through a spectacularly rendered final battle, is that the dad he was seeking had killed his mom out of hubris and he actually knew his father all along: Yondu.
4 The Vulture
The best villains are the ones whose plans you don’t necessarily agree with, but can’t really disagree with either. Adrian Toomes is simply a blue-collar guy who’s irked that the government has a stranglehold on his industry – alien invasion clean-up – despite the fact that industry exists because of them.
Toomes also turns out to have a personal connection to Spider-Man with the reveal that he was Peter Parker’s homecoming date’s dad. The Vulture has a unique relationship with the hero and his motivations are clear and understandable; these are the two ingredients for a fantastic villain, and Michael Keaton plays him brilliantly.
3 The Winter Soldier
This villain was unique in that he was the hero’s brainwashed best friend. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we catch up with Steve Rogers as he tries to find his place in the modern world and come to terms with the idea that everyone he knew and loved in the 1940s is either really old or dead. And then a highly trained assassin comes after him who happens to be his old pal Bucky.
Not only did Steve think Bucky was dead; even if he was alive, he wouldn’t have expected him to be trying to kill him. So, this was the perfect villain for the Captain America character at this point in his story, which makes him a great villain, period, because a villain is only as strong as his relationship with the hero.
2 Erik Killmonger
Unlike most MCU villains, Erik Killmonger presents a real threat to the hero. He doesn’t just defeat T’Challa; he defeats him in a ceremonial battle that means he gets his Wakandan throne and the powers of the Black Panther. Michael B. Jordan played Killmonger brilliantly, with his anger against oppressors feeling both real and justified.
The twist that Killmonger is actually T’Challa’s cousin is comparable to the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, with a whole new perspective being given to the film’s prologue scene. All in all, Killmonger is a fantastic villain who presents the perfect obstacle to the hero, both physically and ideologically.
The Russo brothers’ intentions with the last two Avengers movies was to make Thanos as formidable a movie villain as Darth Vader, and to be fair to them, they came pretty close. Infinity War and Endgame gave us the full force of Thanos’ might, both as a warrior and as a tactician.
He’s always one step ahead of the Avengers and his finger-snap gave us something we’d never seen in the MCU before: the villain winning. As far as evil plans go, Thanos’ made a lot of sense. Overpopulation is stunting evolution, because there simply aren’t enough resources to go around. So, you can see where Thanos is coming from – but also why he’s known as “the Mad Titan.”