Even the most hardened hater of the superhero genre probably likes, at least, one Marvel film. For a decade, the Marvel Cinematic Universe worked hard to undo the horrible reputations that superhero movies received in the 90's. In fact, Marvel worked for years pre-MCU to undo the reputation with some success and some failures. The Blade and X-Men films of the late 90's and early 00's created a lot of good will for the genre.
One thing, however, that continuously plague all Marvel movies, no matter the studio, are the villains. The "villain" problem plagues across studios and across brands, as while the heroes are developed and interesting...the villains are not. They usually just exist as a problem for the hero to overcome. Once the hero defeats the villain, then that's it. End of movie, see you next film.
Sometimes, however, movie villains are made that are even more popular than the heroes. While Marvel has it share of terrible villains, some of them withstand the test of the time and critics. These villains remain just as a popular with fans of the big screen as they do on the pages of the comic books. If anyone can convince fans that it's good to be bad, then it's these bad guys.
Here are the 1o Worst Marvel Movie Villains (And 10 Villains That Are Pretty Great).
20 Worst: Doctor Doom (Fantastic Four & Fan4stic)
Out of most of the Marvel characters, the Fantastic Four tend to get the shaft when it comes to live-action projects. Poorly reviewed and poorly rated, these films tend to be forgotten fast, unless it is for camp value. Part of the many reasons why these movies fail is the portrayal of the group’s best-known adversary: Doctor Doom.
The well-known Latverian dictator is, well, not that in the movies. Instead Doom is a colleague of the Four who gains powers the same time they do and uses it for evil. Needless to say, he’s not that bland in the comics. Doom is a master planner and strategist with an ego to match. He is one of the smartest people in Marvel Comics, who is not easily defeated. Rather bringing the brilliant ruler to the big screen, fans get cheap copies. Doom would not be pleased.
19 Best: Magneto (X-Men Franchise)
Whether played by Michael Fassbender or Sir Ian McKellen, Magneto is one of the best Marvel movie villains ever. Part of the reason stems from the fact that audiences understand where he is coming. Sure, his want for mutants to rule the world is extreme, but his views come from a place of society's prejudices beating them down so much that he feels it's his only option. Watching how the world beat him down, it’s no wonder why he despises humans so much. Understandable motives or not, it’s still amazing to watch him plot and plan.
When he does join to help the X-Men, there’s always the thought that he’ll somehow betray them.
He’s a mutant that walks a thin line and can easily fall into his dark urges. Good thing actors with some Shakespeare under their belt play him.
18 Worst: Red Skull (Captain America 1990 & The First Avenger)
In comics, Red Skull is a constant threat. It doesn’t matter if he’s dead or alive, as he has ways to get around that. In the movies? It’s a different story. In the two movies the character has been in, Captain America (1990) and Captain America: The First Avenger, he is a threat but not a very interesting one. Plus, the make-up in the 1990 movie is just…it’s bad. It definitely takes audiences out of it.
After a building up to how bad the Red Skull is, the films tend to do away with him rather easily. In The First Avenger, he’s absorbed by the Tesseract rather than actually being dealt with by Steve Rogers. While Steve delivers the final blow in 1990, it’s because the Red Skull was distracted and fell over a cliff. These are both really dumb ways to die when you take a moment to really consider it.
17 Best: Nebula (Guardians of the Galaxy movies)
Technically, she ended the second movie as a new member of the Guardians. Until she made her peace with Gamora, however, Nebula was an antagonist to the team. It’s a gray area, but it counts. What makes her so compelling is the conflicted nature of her character. Nebula desires a favored place with Thanos, but she loves her sister. She wants to be better than Gamora, but only because she feels betrayed by her. Even though she hunts down those who wronged her, she will also help others.
Nebula’s contradictory nature makes her one of the more compelling characters of the MCU.
She’s not nice in any sense of the word. She does, however, seem to operate under some kind of twisted code. Even if it boils down to ‘kill Thanos’. It’s interesting to imagine how the inevitable confrontation with Thanos will affect her.
16 Worst: Apocalypse (X-Men: Apocalypse)
Whenever Apocalypse pops up in either comics or cartoons, his appearance means it’s an event. Meaning it takes a season or a slew of issues to deal with him, which makes his movie appearance so…disappointing. The movie itself has some great moments especially with the younger classic X-Men, the 80s fun, and that Quicksilver scene. When audiences want more of that than the bad guy, it’s a problem.
Apocalypse, simply put, is kind of a boring villain in the wrong hands. He’s the first mutant. Apocalypse wields some terrifying powers, but nothing was really learned about him. Oscar Isaac, while playing the character admirably, could have imbued a lot more charm to the role. Instead, he’s just a typical ultra-powerful villain who the heroes need to Deus ex Machina at the end (Deus ex Phoenix?). His defeat just felt like a set up for the next movie rather than finishing the one they were in.
15 Best: Mystique (X-Men Franchise)
Much like Nebula, Mystique is more of an antagonist than a pure villain. In the original trilogy of films, she straight up was a villain. Played by Rebecca Romijn, Mystique embodied the controlled assassin, making her a perfect right-hand for Magneto. That alone made her a fascinating villain in her devotion to him and his cause. His betrayal of her when she turned human in The Last Stand was a metaphorical knife in everyone’s chest.
While some don’t prefer Jennifer Lawrence as the younger version of the character in the new films, she brings a startling vulnerability to the role.
Mystique demystifies in the films going from a vulnerable young girl aching to belong to a badass mutant savior. She straddles the shades of gray, knowing the damage humans can do, but also respects her adopted brother’s ideals. Conflicted villains make the best villains.
14 Worst: The Mandarin (Iron Man 3)
This villain is pretty fascinating, if only from a fan perspective. Those unaware of the comic lore of the character tend not to mind the twist regarding him. Those aware of who The Mandarin is in comics hate this twist with everything in their souls. It does feel pretty weak to have The Mandarin be an actor with a substance addiction. Actually, it kind of feels like Marvel was maybe showing their hand regarding the much better executed HYDRA twist a little too soon.
If another villain was involved with the actor twist, then maybe it would have been less hated. Adrian Killan, unfortunately, is just not interesting to survive the success of the twist. It hurts even more if you’ve seen the Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King. That implies that The Mandarin is real, which is what fans wanted in the first place.
13 Best: Doctor Octopus (Spider-Man 2)
Widely considered to be one of the best superhero movies, it’s only natural that Spider-Man 2 brings us one of the best villains. Doctor Octopus cuts a self-made tragic figure. His hubris over his intellect and experiment leads to his wife’s death and the permanent fusing of robotic tentacles to his body. This leads to him being driven to insanity by the A.I. within the tentacles. Ultimately, he regains his sanity and sacrifices himself in order to save the city.
Spider-Man 2 is, primarily, about Peter Parker’s journey as a hero. Functioning in parallel, however, is the arc of Doctor Octopus from prideful scientist to a man who would sacrifice himself to save the day.
His arc in the film, his story, makes him one of the great villains because the audiences sees him devolve and sees him regain control.
Doctor Octopus makes a good case for the adage: “show, don’t tell”
12 Worst: All The Villains In Amazing Spider-Man 2
Amazing Spider-Man 2 had a lot of flaws as a movie in general. It’s a shame because Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone did excellent work. They deserved better than what they got. The problem, essentially, boils down to the villains and the studio.
Sony so desperately wanted to make a Spider-Man universe that they forgot to actually develop their characters. Out of the three villains of the movie, only one (Electro) had anything resembling an arc in the film from mild-mannered geek to betrayed villain. The Rhino only got like five minutes of screentime and Harry Osborn/Green Goblin felt crammed in there for the now defunct Sinister Six. Ultimately, one of the villains should have been the focus of this over-stuffed, meandering fiasco of a movie.
Well, at least we got Sony sharing Spidey with Marvel out of this mess.
11 Best: Green Goblin (Spider-Man)
It all comes down to the first two of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, huh? Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin remains one of those strokes of perfect Marvel casting. Dafoe plays the two conflicting sides of Osborn’s personality chillingly well: the distant father and the insane Green Goblin.
The scenes where Osborn talks with the mask are equal parts disturbing and fascinating to watch.
One thing the acting definitely compensates for is the CGI in the film. Dafoe’s chemistry with Maguire’s Spider-Man is pitch perfect and it only adds to the atmosphere. That can forgive a lot of CGI sins. Again, Norman cuts a tragic figure as he is responsible for his own demise. Not in the noble way of Doctor Octopus either, but because the Goblin was trying to trick Peter. Tragic.
10 Worst: Phoenix (X-Men: The Last Stand)
Like Apocalypse, The Phoenix rates as a villain that should be a centerpiece of the film. Instead, she got lost in the shuffle that was the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand. Why? Well outside of the fact that no one seems to know what to do with her, the Phoenix story butted against the “mutant cure” story. Both would have made great single movie plots on their own. The two in one movie led to something that wasn’t satisfying to anyone.
Phoenix, in comics, is an extra-dimensional force that possesses the body of Jean Grey after she sacrifices herself to save the X-Men. Having it be a destructive alternate personality is an odd choice. Like some of the good villains on this list, Jean did sacrifice herself. It just ends up feeling hollow because the sacrifice comes after a big fight about the mutant “cure.”
9 Best: The Grandmaster (Thor: Ragnarok)
Let’s be real for a moment. Jeff Goldblum was being his absolute best Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster. It was pretty fantastic. Yes, okay, he was a slave-owner who forced people into gladiatorial combat. The Grandmaster kept a pretty strict caste-system on Sakaar. But…he was just such a fun bad guy. He was witty, charming, and just had fun doing what he was doing. Even though they were, in actuality, some pretty despicable things.
Audiences tend to forgive a lot for a bad guy for being fun and it’s actually a pretty tricky balance to reach.
They need to not be annoyingly bad (lookin’ at you Batman & Robin Mister Freeze). The Grandmaster has a zest, a passion. He’s not afraid to lie, cheat, oppress, and suppress to keep things to his liking. He’s bad, terrible really, but he’s such fun to watch that we don’t mind one bit.
8 Worst: Ronan (Guardians of the Galaxy)
What a tragic waste of a perfectly good Lee Pace. In a movie as fun and vibrant as Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s a shame that their villain was so bland. Ronan the Accuser wants to destroy the Xandarian Empire and commit genocide on a mass scale with the Power Stone. He’s kind of a damper on the whole movie. One does have to wonder if this was meant to be part of the joke. Ronan is clearly so serious, so part of another movie that the Guardians are a curveball he never planned for. He was distracted by Peter Quill’s dancing.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really land. He’s just kind of dull for all of his grand ambitions. It would have been way more interesting if the Guardians went against The Collector or someone else. Instead, the team ends up stuck with Ronan.
7 Best: Loki (Avengers)
Is it really a Marvel villain list without the inclusion of Loki on it? Easily one of the most popular movie villains ever, Loki’s allegiances are only to himself and can change at a moment’s notice. What, exactly, makes him such a fascinating villain? Well have you seen Tom Hiddleston lately? Shallow answer aside, Loki’s story is a journey followed throughout the films. He struggles and rages against his heritage in Thor. He becomes consumed by a need to rule and control in The Avengers. Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok are his journey to redemption. Or, well, something resembling it.
In Ragnarok, Thor wants his brother to be on his side and not against. He gives Loki a chance to truly prove himself. That’s why it feels so triumphant when Loki appears to help the Revengers against Hela. After all, who doesn’t love a good redemption story? He then seems to turn again by helping Thanos, so who knows where he'll end up...
6 Worst: Shaw (X-Men: First Class)
Sebastian Shaw was not meant to be a bad guy that you rooted for as a thoroughly loathsome man who worked for his own gains and sided with the worst of humanity to get them. It’s clear that the filmmakers wanted audiences to cheer when Erik Lehnsherr put that quarter through his skull. Make no mistake, audiences did cheer.
Shaw was a plot device more than an actual character.
Finding Shaw pushed Erik into exploring his powers and joining Charles, Shaw made an opposing force for the team. Ultimately, Erik’s decision to kill Sebastian Shaw drove a wedge in between Charles and Erik. He was a thoroughly loathsome person, but he was a person in theory over practice. No one needs sympathy to work, but a character needs to be more than a plot device to be memorable.
5 Best: Alexander Pierce (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Alexander Pierce is the type of villain that could, very easily, have been one note. In the hands of master actor Robert Redford, however, the character is just excellent. He’s elegant, devoted to the belief of HYDRA, and will snap at a moment’s notice. One of the most chilling moments of the MCU is his casual cruelty to the Winter Soldier. Even more horrifying, he’s the type of politician that exists today.
Alexander Pierce is a villain that very well exists in the real world. He’s the politician with false promises who works against the people rather than for them. Maybe, it’s how close he is to the real world that makes him so unsettlingly as a villain. Either way, his calm and genial manner mixed with his willingness to do whatever it takes makes him one heck of a villain.
4 Worst: Doctor David Banner/The Father (Hulk 2003)
Hulk is an example of terrible pacing in a superhero movie. While director Ang Lee had some great ideas for the movie, it was slow, boring, and had some weird acting choices. One that did, technically, make sense was Nick Nolte as the villain Doctor David Banner/The Father. Mainly because Nick Nolte makes such a good villain. The film, however, didn’t do anyone any favors. He hurt his wife in front of their child, so everyone in the audience will want him dead, regardless of his reasons now.
Much like the more boring villains on the list, he serves as a means to an end rather than an actual character.
He, essentially, helped create The Hulk. His appearance in Bruce’s life also awakens his son’s other half. David Banner destroys the life of the son for what? To prove he’s right? Then he essentially dies by his own hand, and we’re glad for it.
3 Best: Zemo (Captain America: Civil War)
Zemo may not be the most memorable villain Marvel has ever produced, but he is one of the most fascinating. He doesn’t have the fanatical devotion or powers that drove him insane. Zemo is just a man, who had a family that he adored and a particular skill set. With that skill set and the desire for revenge for his family’s death, he brings down the Avengers. He does more than that, he tears them apart. They’re divided enough that you have to wonder how they will be brought together in Infinity War.
With chilling efficiency, Zemo destroyed the team by using their conflicting personalities and desires against them. In hindsight, it is a beautiful and masterful plan. The fact that it was pulled off by someone with the right training and motivation, makes it even more chilling.
2 Worst: Venom (Spider-Man 3)
Venom is perhaps one of the greatest-known villains of all-time. In fact, the character is so beloved that he swaps between villain and anti-hero, depending on the writer. Needless to say, many fans were so excited for the live-action debut of the character in Spider-Man 3. In equal number, they were crushed when Venom failed their expectations. Spider-Man 3 gets roasted on the regular for its nonsensical, overstuffed plot.
What it gets roasted the most for her, however, is how they failed with Venom.
The Venom storyline in the Spider-Man comics is one of the best storylines ever. Watching as Peter Parker internally battles the symbiont’s control of his body makes for some tense storytelling. No silly dancing or emo hair allowed. Here’s hoping the Tom Hardy movie restores some of the character’s lost dignity.
1 Best: Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
It seems only natural that a former hero will play one of the best villains. Much like Zemo or Pierce, Adrian Toomes’ character is so terrifying because he’s so ordinary. He’s a guy just trying to pay his bills and give his family what they deserve. Feeling like he’s been cheated by the government and by guys like Tony Stark, he turns to weapons dealing in order to provide a life for his crew and those at home.
Honestly, it’s what makes him such a good foe for Peter Parker. At heart, Peter Parker is an ordinary, geeky teenager thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Toomes is the same, as an ordinary family man who decides to get into extraordinary weapons dealing. They both pick their paths and it’s only natural that their paths will cross. When they cross, it leads to some explosively memorable results.
What good or bad villains are we missing from the list? Let us know!
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