One of the consistent knocks against the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been its lack of compelling villains. Across 20+ movies, the general wisdom goes, there just haven’t been that many memorable foes for the MCU’s superheroes to go up against. It’s true that Iron Man, Captain America, and company not only beat the villains they take on physically but often for general screen presence, but did those less-than-inspiring adversaries actually hurt the MCU’s many franchises? In the rip-roaring romps that are the MCU movies, there are really only a few villains that really hurt the movies in which they appeared. Plus, when all of Marvel’s television and movie properties are added into the mix, it becomes clear that questionable villains can turn up anywhere.
Yet, while Marvel TV and movies have had its share of ho-hum villains, when a villain is done right it’s a sight to behold. These characters are presented in ways that make them fascinating and even sympathetic. A perfect combination of acting and writing results in antagonists we can’t take our eyes off. These villains heighten every scene in which they appear, surprising us and thrilling us in the process. Sometimes we even root for them — at least a bit. These characters may be bad guys but they are very good for the franchises they appear in, becoming one of the biggest reasons to see their shows and films.
Here, we separate the best from the worst. The Marvel villains that fans revere and those they wish never appeared. The bad guys that audiences want to see again, no matter what fate they suffered, and the ones they hope have been vanquished for good.
These are 12 Marvel Villains That Hurt Franchises (and 13 That Saved Them)
25 SAVED: JUGGERNAUT
Prior to Deadpool 2, Juggernaut’s most famous live-action depiction was a source of ridicule. In X-Men: The Last Stand, the character indignantly shouted “I’m the Juggernaut," while running around looking less than unstoppable.
Yet, all that was forgotten when Juggernaut revealed himself in Deadpool 2. The character's kept hidden for several scenes, building anticipation for his inevitable appearance and making viewers wonder what they were going to witness. When he finally makes his rampaging entrance, it doesn’t disappoint. Juggernaut is a towering force who isn’t willing to stop and talk. Instead, he literally tears Deadpool apart. The character’s brief but essential appearance not only made for a great movie sequence, it also proved this Juggernaut was the big screen giant fans always knew he could be.
24 HURT: GHOST
Ghost may be one of the least essential villains in the history of the MCU. Ant-Man and the Wasp is stuffed with interesting characters and plot points, including the introduction of the Wasp, the mystery of what happened to Janet van Dyne, and plenty of action hinging on shrinking down and sizing up, and Ghost got lost in the shuffle.
To be fair, her story was sympathetic and her plight was sad, but it was also peripheral to the best parts of the movie. Ghost’s body had become unstable due to her powers, which let her phase through walls, but also left her hurtling towards her end. Her major objective was to save her own life. A goal anyone can understand, but that also isn’t nearly as compelling as the self-righteous fury that led to the crimes of villains like Thanos or Killmonger. Ultimately, if she hadn’t kept showing up to fight the movies' heroes, Ghost wouldn’t be a villain at all.
23 SAVED: GRANT WARD
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has had its ups and downs, but one of its most compelling storylines happened in its first couple of seasons. When fans are first introduced to Grant Ward he comes across as the perfect S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Charismatic, highly skilled, mission-oriented, he’s Phil Coulson’s right-hand man and becomes new team member Skye’s mentor.
Ward is so well integrated into the team, becoming intimately involved with Melinda May and harboring feelings for Skye, that it’s a genuine surprise when it’s revealed he’s actually a double agent for H.Y.D.R.A. Ward goes on to torment his former team, yet through it all there’s a constant push and pull between Ward’s connection with his former colleagues, and their (and the audience’s) hope that he really isn’t as bad as he seems. That, combined with a rich backstory helped Grant Ward make Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. compelling television.
22 HURT: DORMAMMU
Doctor Strange was a visually stunning film but its villains were far less memorable than the rest of it. First, audiences were introduced to Kaecilius and the zealots, sorcerers who learned the Ancient One wasn’t quite on the up and up and rejected her teachings. Dormammu came to Kaecilius and promised he’d be reunited with his late family if he helped bring the inter-dimensional being to earth.
Kaecilius helped to advance the plot of Doctor Strange but was never that interesting in his own right. And Dormammu was even more underwhelming. As the ruler of the Dark Dimension capable of threatening the whole planet, Dormammu was meant to be the embodiment of apocalyptic destruction. Instead, after being bested by Doctor Strange at the climax of the movie, Dormammu just came across as easily flummoxed.
21 SAVED: MADAME GAO
You would never know it to look at her but Madame Gao is a criminal mastermind. As one of the five founding members of The Hand and the head of the heroin trade in New York City, Gao is very comfortable doing very bad things.
Yet, Gao exudes a calm, philosophical demeanor that seems in stark contrast to the illegal enterprises she oversees. Gao is long-lived and wise, often sharing her knowledge with the characters who are trying to take her down, even if they don’t want to hear it. What's more, although she looks elderly and feeble, when she fights it quickly becomes clear she’s one of the most formidable martial artists around. That combination of traits makes her a thrill to watch in each of the Marvel-Netflix shows in which she's appeared.
20 HURT: WHIPLASH
Ivan Vanko became Whiplash in Iron Man 2 in order to tear down the Stark legacy, just like Tony Stark admitted he was Iron Man in the first movie in order to make that legacy grow. Ivan and Tony’s fathers used to be partners until Howard Stark accused Anton Vanko of spying and Vanko was deported. While Stark thrived and was able to give his son the best of everything, Vanko sank and was unable to give his son much of anything, except his hatred for the Starks. When his father passed away, Ivan turned his genius towards visiting the horrors on Tony that he believed Howard had visited on his father.
Vanko and Stark were supposed to be two sides of the same coin, displaying similar confidence in their abilities and faith in the causes they were fighting for. Yet, Whiplash wasn’t nearly as charismatic as Tony. He yelled a lot, sure. He even spouted some philosophical mumbo-jumbo that spoke to his plans. However, he never captured the same energetic intelligence that makes Iron Man such a great character, and Iron Man 2 suffered for it.
19 SAVED: VULTURE
The latest Spider-Man reboot, Spider-Man: Homecoming, featured a great new version of Spider-Man. Perhaps even more importantly though, it featured a fantastic villain in the form of Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture. When we first meet Toomes he’s just an average guy. The salvage company he owns is about to embark on a job cleaning up New York City after the Avengers demolished large parts of it in their battle with the Chitauri.
However, when the contract is pulled, Toomes takes matters into his own hands, using the Chitauri technology he’s salvaged to both gain powers and make a profit. Toomes' quandary is sympathetic, but his questionable response to it brings him right into conflict with Spider-Man, leading to one of the tensest conversations between a father and his teen daughter’s date ever. Ultimately, while Toomes goes down, he still shows he has something of a moral compass in the end. A quality that just made audiences want to spend more time with him.
18 HURT: COTTONMOUTH
Luke Cage’s first season had multiple villains, but the first was Cottonmouth. Cottonmouth owned a club in Harlem while also running a criminal enterprise behind the scenes, and he worked to embody a cool mobster persona that fit both vocations. He surrounded himself with girls and underlings while envisioning himself becoming the most powerful person in the city.
While Cottonmouth started out with promise, as the episodes continued, he became more unhinged. Eventually, he seemed to spend most of his time either blustering about his plans or condemning others for getting in his way. Even more perplexing, his drive to power was abruptly cut short when his cousin dispatched him in a fit of rage halfway through the show’s first season. Ultimately, the character’s whole arc ended up feeling like filler.
17 SAVED: HELA
Getting together with family after a long absence can be a challenge. There’s the loaded questions, the uncomfortable revelations, the fights where no one will give an inch. And that’s especially true when the reunion is with your long-lost older sister who your father had imprisoned for thousands of years after she showed too much enthusiasm for taking lives.
Upon Odin’s passing in Thor: Ragnorak, Hela was released from her prison and quickly set about reclaiming her power and becoming the ruler of Asgard. At the same time, she put her younger brother in his place over and over again — and seemed to genuinely enjoy doing so. From Hela’s point of view she was just putting things back the way they should have been all along, and her commitment to her cause and joy in her power was a thing to behold. And remember: no matter how bad things get when you see your family, at least it doesn’t end with the destruction of the planet.
16 HURT: RONAN THE ACCUSER
Guardians of the Galaxy is a fantastic film. It's funny and endearing and full of odd characters that shouldn’t work but miraculously do. In what other circumstances have movie fans emotionally invested in a talking raccoon and a sentient tree? Sadly, the movie’s villain, Ronan the Accuser, doesn’t live up to the rest of the movie.
The Kree radical lacked a sense of real danger. Although the movie is convinced Ronan is scary-bad, that concern didn’t translate to audiences. Ronan wants to destroy all Xandarians, and while he’s supposedly taken steps in that direction, viewers are told about it instead of seeing it for themselves. As a result, Ronan gets reduced to another scene-chewing, angry bad guy who audiences tolerate until the scene switches back to the far more interesting heroes.
15 SAVED: ELEKTRA
Elektra doesn’t show up on Marvel-Netflix’s Daredevil until season 2, but when she does, her presence changes the show’s dynamic. Elektra is an assassin and seems to fundamentally dismiss the value of human life. However, she also loves Matt Murdock and when the two reunite after a long time apart it quickly becomes clear that there is still an undeniable spark between them.
Elektra is prone to doing the wrong thing, and the thing that will benefit her the most, is an approach to life that quickly puts her in conflict with Murdock’s impulses toward heroism and self-sacrifice. Murdock becomes the angel on her shoulder and Elektra manages to do the right thing for a while. However, when she’s resurrected by The Hand, it brings out her worst instincts. She takes control of the organization and once again comes up against Murdock. Elektra and Murdock are people who can’t help loving each other no matter how much their paths diverge, making their entanglement fascinating to watch
14 HURT: ALDRICH KILLIAN
When fans learned that Mandarin would be the big bad of Iron Man 3, they were overjoyed. This was the archnemesis they’d been hoping to see since Iron Man first flew onto the screen. From his introduction in the film, Mandarin proved to be a fantastic antagonist — scary and menacing with a don’t-mess-with-me vibe that conveyed he meant business. Even Trevor Slattery, the bumbling actor behind Mandarin still managed to delight even as fans grappled with the bad guy bait-and-switch.
That’s why it was such a let down when the real villain of the film was revealed as Aldrich Killian. Why was Killian going after Tony Stark? Stark had slighted him in his pre-Iron Man days. Given who he is, Stark likely slighted many people in his life— most of them didn’t become terrorists. Outside of being immature and insufferable, Killian mostly lacked a personality. A severe disappointment after the threat of the Mandarin permeated the first half of the movie.
13 SAVED: VENOM
Venom came out of left field. While his first big-screen outing in Spider-Man 3 was less than inspired, the symbiote shined when he got a movie of his very own.
Venom merges with Eddie Brock more or less on a whim. He's angry and dark and has little regard for human life, but Brock makes an impact on him and against all odds the two start to bond. Sure, Venom wants to eat people, but he’s also articulate, thoughtful, and willing to work with Brock. This take on Venom could have been a disaster, just like in Spider-Man 3. In its irreverent way, though, Venom gave fans a version of the character they could finally get behind, no matter what slings and arrows the critics threw at the film.
12 HURT: THE GREEN GOBLIN
The Green Goblin has been done justice in other films, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 got him all wrong. The version of the character audiences discovered in this film is a resentful child whose warped anger is conveyed by his appearance, not his emotions.
The important thing viewers are supposed to understand is that Harry and Peter Parker used to be really good friends. They were so close that they would do anything for each other. Then Harry was sent away and they grew apart. So, when Harry comes back and asks for Peter’s help, it doesn’t seem especially surprising that Parker doesn’t drop everything to jump to his former friend’s aid. For Harry, however, this is an unbearable offense that leads to him dropping Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, from a clock tower. It seems clear to the audience though, that this Green Goblin needs to take a beat and get some perspective.
11 SAVED: MAGNETO
Magneto has been popping up on the big screen for almost 20 years now, and whether it’s his younger or older incarnation, he’s always a welcome addition to the X-Men films. Unlike many dime-a-dozen bad guys, Magneto feels like a fully formed individual. He hates humans and how they’ve oppressed mutants, but his history makes his anger understandable.
Furthermore, even though they see the world in fundamentally different ways, Magneto maintains begrudging respect, even a friendship, with Professor X. The relationship humanizes Magneto and makes fans root for him to find some sort of redemption. Plus, it keeps the audience guessing. In any movie, Magneto could be fighting the X-Men or teaming up with them.
10 HURT: DOCTOR DOOM
In his comic book form, Doctor Doom is one of the most beloved villains of all time. That adulation has not translated to his movie incarnations, however. Whether in the 2005 version of Fantastic Four or the failed reboot 10 years later, Victor Von Doom strikes fear into the heart of no one.
The films make it clear that he’s really annoyed at the Fantastic Four, especially Reed Richards. Audiences aren’t given too many details beyond that though. In fact, the movies barely let viewers get to know the character or learn anything about his backstory. As a result, it's hard to care about the character who becomes a forgettable villain with none of the qualities from the comics that fans have been hoping to see on the big screen for years.
9 SAVED: THANOS
For years, Thanos was the ultimate man behind the curtain. Audiences barely caught a glimpse of him in other MCU movies, but he was coming and he was seriously scary. When he finally showed up in full force at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, he successfully took on fan favorites Hulk and Loki, establishing that he really was going to be the Avengers' biggest threat to date.
Ultimately, Thanos has the distinction of being the only villain to ever beat the superhero team on screen. In addition, his unwavering faith in his plan to turn half of life in the universe to dust with a snap gives him a conviction that makes him one of the best — and most disturbing — villains in Marvel movie and TV history.
8 HURT: DIAMONDBACK
While his name is evoked before he’s ever seen, when Diamondback finally arrives, his only real quality seems to be a blunt-force desire for revenge. Sure, he and Cage have history and Diamondback was betrayed by their father. However, he also used to be friends with Cage, so how did his resentment turn into such blind, unrelenting fury?
This was a question viewers should have been asking themselves when Diamondback showed up in the middle of season 1. More importantly, they should have cared about the answer. However, fans were already reeling from the unanticipated passing of previous antagonist Cottonmouth, so it was hard to become invested in this new adversary. Plus, Diamondback proved to be so one-dimensional, his theatrical aggression was more eye-roll worthy than interesting.
7 SAVED: KILGRAVE
Jessica Jones' first season was the story of a damaged woman grappling with her trauma. And in this case, her trauma had a name: Kilgrave. Kilgrave had the power to control others’ minds, and he kept Jones in his thrall for several months until she somehow overcame him.
Even though she gets away, Kilgrave comes to believe that her power and ability to resist him make Jones his equal. As a result, he falls in love with her and does his best to win her over. Of course, his ability to control others has left him warped, selfish, and cruel, qualities that make him repellent. Kilgrave doesn’t see things that way though, and Jessica Jones does such a good job sharing Kilgrave’s despicable perspective, that he became a villain that fans loved to hate.
6 HURT: BAKUTO
There are many things that could be criticized about Marvel-Netflix’s Iron Fist. It was the least compelling of the Marvel-Netflix shows, and many pointed to Finn Jones’ less than inspiring portrayal of Danny Rand as the show’s biggest issue. However, the first season’s antagonist, Bakuto also left something to be desired.
Bakuto was initially introduced as Rand’s girlfriend Colleen Wing’s martial arts mentor. Bakuto was also one of the founding members of The Hand. Although he acted benevolent and kind, he soon showed his ruthless side. Bakuto’s goal was to bring Rand into The Hand and he was single-minded in pursuit of his objective. He did whatever it took to bring the Iron Fist around to his way of thinking. Ultimately, Bakuto was shown to be far more vindictive and hot-headed than the other Hand members. A quality that turned him into a grating, unwelcome presence.
5 SAVED: KILLMONGER
Black Panther is full to bursting with amazing characters, but the one that makes the movie come together is Erik Killmonger. Killmonger is of Wakandan descent but he grew up in Oakland, California so his perspective is quite different from that of the natives. Instead of seeing the value in protecting Wakanda's advanced technology through isolation, he sees the selfishness in refusing to help others.
His execution may be off, but his points are valid. Despite all the mayhem he causes, in the end, T’Challa takes what Killmonger says to heart and reveals Wakanda’s riches to the world. While fans recoiled at Killmonger’s actions, it was also impossible not to agree with him, making him a fascinating antagonist for the naïve and sheltered T’Challa.
4 HURT: MALEKITH
Malekith was the leader of the Dark Elves, a race who got tangled up with Thor and the Asgardians in Thor: The Dark World. Honestly, this villain was so uninspiring it was hard to take him seriously. While The Dark World provided lots of narration and exposition to explain the character's goals, it was barely worth listening because it was all just an excuse to make sure there was a Thor sequel.
The movie, however, took Malekith far too seriously, spending too many scenes with him as he commanded his troops, made his plans, and cursed his second in command. Yet, every time the character was the center of attention it sucked all the momentum from the movie, making the whole thing feel more like an exercise in endurance than entertainment.
3 SAVED: WILSON FISK
Kingpin has been seen onscreen before, but never quite like this. In Marvel-Netflix’s Daredevil, Wilson Fisk was the villain but he was also the one who got the girl. Throughout the series, Fisk walks a tightrope of calculated evil and genuine sympathy, and fans couldn’t get enough. Although the series showed Fisk was a dangerous criminal who could take out those who vexed him with his bare hands, he was also completely devoted to the love of his life.
This gave him a relatable quality that made him irresistible, even when fans were repulsed by his actions. Fisk was a bad guy with the heart of a romantic and his operatic speeches showcased that startling contradiction. While the character could have been hokey, he became a completely unique presence that elevated the series.
2 HURT: MAXIMUS
The series Inhumans was awful from start to finish, with limp storytelling, terrible pacing, and head-scratching effects. One of the biggest offenders in this nest of terrible, though, was the series’ villain, Maximus. He was responsible for the coup that forced his older brother off the throne and sent the Inhuman royal family and those loyal to them into exile.
Meanwhile, on the Inhumans’ cloaked city on the Moon, Maximus took what he believed to be his rightful place as king. On the surface, his stated reasons for opposing the royal order were noble. He was against the caste system that led Inhumans to rule and oppress those that don’t develop Inhuman powers. His real goal, however, was to figure out how to become Inhuman himself after his brother developed powers and he didn’t. In the process, he whined, manipulated, and pouted about how poorly he’d been treated, while engaging in all sorts of awful behavior to get his way. His sniveling delusions of grandeur were unbearable to watch.
1 SAVED: LOKI
Regardless of the negative things that have been said about Marvel villains, Loki has always been the exception to the rule. Initially introduced in the first Thor movie as the hammer-wielding hero’s deceitful adopted brother, Loki has grown into so much more over the course of the MCU.
The character has been an antagonist, and sometimes ally, whose penchant for trickery has often kept him one step ahead of everyone else. He’s always conniving, plotting, and planning to ensure things go his way. Yet, it’s his dynamic with his brother, Thor, that deepens and grounds the character. As he volleys between love and hate for his brother, fans are made privy to the character's nuances and internal contradictions. It’s this layered conflict that makes Loki fascinating. Audiences are never quite sure what he’ll do next, and the uncertainty gives his appearances an intensity that’s improved each Marvel film he’s been a part of.
What do you think about these Marvel villains? Let us know in the comments!