Ever since Thanos first appeared during The Avengers’ mid-credits sting, Marvel Studios has positioned the Mad Titan as the overarching villain of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This effort paid off when Avengers: Infinity War hit theaters earlier this year, with fans and critics alike praising Thanos’ depiction as a credible threat to the combined might of the MCU’s biggest heroes.
With actor Josh Brolin set to reprise the role of Thanos in next year’s Infinity War sequel, Marvel will get even more mileage out of this imposing baddie. That said, Avengers 4 is expected to conclude with Thanos’ ultimate defeat, which will leave the MCU without a franchise-wide antagonist going forward.
Given how far ahead Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige and his team like to plan, we’ve taken to speculating over who their short-list of replacements for the Mad Titan contains.
Obviously, whoever the next major MCU villain is needs to be someone with considerable power at their disposal (either directly or indirectly). After all, you need a lot of firepower to take on one superhero, let alone the entire Avengers roster plus their wider cast of allies!
It’s also not a bad idea for this chief adversary to be a diabolical mastermind as well – this allows Marvel to keep them largely in the background during lead-in films, until they’re finally ready to hatch their world-conquering scheme.
With these criteria in mind, here’s a round-up of 13 Villains Who Can Replace Thanos In The MCU (And 12 Who Definitely Can’t).
25 Can – Dormammu
The most obvious choice to succeed Thanos as the franchise-wide big bad, Dormammu is one of the most powerful beings in the MCU. Not only does he have a penchant for operating in the shadows – manipulating lesser beings, like Kaecilius, to do his dirty work for him – but his mystical powers are far greater than Thanos’ natural, non-Infinity Stone-derived abilities.
Dormammu has only appeared briefly on-screen in the MCU, in 2016’s Doctor Strange – and Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme managed to defeat him single-handled, which undermines his intimidating aura, somewhat.
Make no mistake: if Dormmamu were to unleash his full might against the MCU, it would be an “all heroes on deck” scenario.
24 Can’t – Doctor Doom
Presuming Disney’s acquisition of Fox succeeds, fans will be eager to see Marvel Studios’ take on Doctor Doom, arguably the greatest supervillain in comics. Although Doom is predominantly a Fantastic Four foe – and would almost certainly debut in the MCU in a film headlined by the FF – he also has considerable pedigree as a planetary-level menace.
It’s hard to imagine Doom being positioned as a threat big enough to shake the entire MCU.
Sure, he’s a master tactician, and his suit of armor and magical abilities make him a force to be reckoned with, but Doom is still not quite a big enough deal to convincingly supplant Thanos as the MCU’s lead villain.
23 Can – Galactus
If the Disney/Fox deal comes through, Marvel Studios will have the Fantastic Four and their wider cast of characters at its disposal. Should this happen, the studio will be free to use the planet-munching Galactus – who could easily be established as the MCU’s newest big bad.
Not only is there a precedent for this in the comics – Galactus has been confronted by the likes of the Avengers and Doctor Strange, as well as the FF themselves – but it would work on the big screen, as well.
After all, there isn’t a hero in the MCU who would be prepared to sit back and let the Devourer of Worlds chow down on the Earth!
22 Can’t – Dark Phoenix
Dark Phoenix – the corrupted form of the crazy-powerful, cosmic Phoenix Force – is a certifiable heavy-hitter. Even so, should Marvel Studios gain control of the X-Men franchise (following a successful Disney-Fox deal), it’s still extremely unlikely that Thanos will pass the baton on to Dark Phoenix.
Why? Two reasons, really. First, given the character’s close association with the X-Men – team member Jean Grey is the most famous host of the Phoenix Force – she’s less suited to functioning as a more general, MCU-wide enemy.
Second, Dark Phoenix is the primary antagonist of next year’s X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which means that audiences will have already seen her defeated by the X-Men – without any outside help – and won’t accept her as top-tier threat.
21 Can – Ultron
Sure, Ultron was seemingly destroyed forever during the finale of Avengers: Age of Ultron. But he could theoretically have escaped his demise in true supervillain fashion – there’s always a chance he transported his consciousness to another robotic body.
If so, that spells bad news for the MCU, as Ultron has already proven himself nearly a match for the Avengers. Indeed, with a better evil scheme under his belt – formulated in the shadows, natch – this deranged AI could definitely cause headaches for the entire MCU going forward.
20 Can’t – Namor
Several online commentators have suggested that Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner could work as a replacement for Thanos – provided Disney acquires Fox, of course. Frankly, we just don’t see it, though.
Gifted warrior and military leader though he is, Namor is nowhere near powerful enough to withstand the combined might of the MCU’s stable of heroes.
Namor’s chances improve if you put him at the head of an Atlantean army bent on conquering the surface world, but even factoring in these raised stakes, this feels like more of a Fantastic Four story than an MCU-wide event.
19 Can – Apocalypse
Yet another villain Marvel Studios is hoping to get its mitts on (pending Disney’s deal with Fox), Apocalypse has subjugated the Marvel Universe before, in the “Age of Apocalypse” storyline. He could pull off a similar feat in the MCU, if integrated into the franchise canon.
If this does come to pass, here’s hoping that Marvel Studios could work its magic to rehabilitate the character after his underwhelming portrayal in X-Men: Apocalypse.
That said, even the watered-down version of Apocalypse who appeared in that film still caused large-scale global damage – so imagine what a fully-realized version could do!
18 Can’t – The Mandarin
Marvel Studios has backtracked slightly since revealing in Iron Man 3 that the Mandarin was merely a fabricated persona played by British actor Trevor Slattery. All Hail the King implies that a “real” Mandarin might be out there somewhere, which leaves the door open for the supervillain to feature as the MCU’s big bad.
All the same, we wouldn’t count on it actually happening. Marvel might have been willing to appease fans disappointed by the Mandarin fake-out in Iron Man 3, but the studio reasonably seems uncomfortable with the idea of a “Yellow Peril”-style villain appearing in any of its films. For that reason alone, a comics-accurate version of the Mandarin isn’t likely to replace Thanos.
17 Can – Norman Osborne
On the face of it, Spider-Man villain Norman Osborne – better known as the first Green Goblin – might seem far too puny power-wise to pose a challenge to the entire MCU. After all, he’s been beaten by the wallcrawler all on his lonesome multiple times over the years, so he’s clearly not a sufficient physical threat.
If Marvel Studios received permission from Sony to integrate Norman into its franchise canon, the studio could reinvent him in line with his portrayal in the comics over the past decade or so.
In the comics, Osborne is a Government-backed figure who wreaks havoc on our heroes’ lives and very nearly ends up running the planet itself from behind the scenes.
16 Can’t – Helmut Zemo
By his own admission, Helmut Zemo – the main antagonist of Captain America: Civil War – is not a physical match for the Avengers, even in a one-on-one scenario. Sure, he’s a capable soldier (he reached the rank of Colonel), but that hardly counts for much up against the likes of Hulk or Thor.
Admittedly, Zemo is an unqualified evil mastermind, and he successfully caused a rift between the Avengers by manipulating Captain America and Iron Man into taking sides against each other. Even so, there’s a limit to how much he can achieve on his own, so we just don’t seem him subbing in for Thanos – at least, not alone.
15 Can – Onslaught
If the Disney/Fox deal goes ahead, Marvel Studios will finally be able to incorporate the X-Men into the MCU. Should this happen, Marvel will have plenty of new, monumentally dangerous baddies to choose from when it comes time to replace Thanos.
Of these, perhaps the strongest candidate is Onslaught, the psychic offspring of the worst parts of the X-Men’s mentor Professor Xavier, and their greatest villain, Magneto.
In the comics, Onslaught – an evil genius with near limitless psionic powers – proved too great a threat for the X-Men, with the Avengers and Fantastic Four stepping in to lend a hand.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch for this baddie to fill a similar role on the big screen.
14 Can’t – The Red Skull
The last time we saw the Red Skull in Avengers: Infinity War, he was cursed to guard the location of the Soul Stone – a curse that has presumably been lifted now that Thanos has the Stone. If the one-time head of HYDRA really has been unshackled from his caretaker responsibilities, he’s now at large in the MCU once more.
Does this mean the Red Skull could fill the void left by Thanos after Avengers 4? Not really, no.
Even taking into account his new, vaguely-defined supernatural powers, there’s nothing to suggest the Red Skull is anywhere near powerful enough to adequately challenge arch enemy Captain America, let alone the wider MCU!
13 Can – The Beyonder
The Beyonder is one of the most impressive figures in the Marvel Universe. Possessing god-like reality bending abilities, the Beyonder is a borderline-omnipotent, manipulative character capable of re-shaping (or even eradicating) the entire MCU. Surely that’s enough to qualify him for a shot at being the franchise’s main baddie?
Marvel Studios could choose to adapt the epic “Secret Wars” storyline (or one of its sequels) to establish the Beyonder in the MCU.
Regardless, the Beyonder would make a worthy addition to the canon – and his morally-ambiguous nature echoes Thanos’ own nuanced characterization, as well.
12 Can’t – Magneto
Pending Disney’s acquisition of Fox receiving the green-light, master of magnetism Magneto could find himself part of the MCU. While this would be an exciting development for the X-Men’s greatest enemy, that doesn’t mean he should go getting ideas about replacing Thanos.
True, Magneto is a gifted strategist and a very powerful mutant – and his anti-human agenda is undeniably global in scope. Nevertheless, seeing him stand up to the combined might of the X-Men, the Avengers, and their other powerful friends just doesn’t seem plausible.
11 Can – Mephisto
Marvel Studios has already gone in a cosmic direction by employing Thanos and the Infinity Stones as the driving force of the MCU – so why not go down the biblical route next? If the studio does opt to introduce a religious bent to the franchise, the logical choice of villain would be Mephisto, Marvel’s answer to the Devil!
It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to introduce a character like Mephisto to the MCU.
After all, demonically-possessed hero Ghost Rider already stars in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series, so there’s room for another resident of Hell in the canon.
Moreover, Mephisto’s scheming nature and near-limitless magical abilities would serve him well as Thanos’ replacement.
10 Can’t – Ronan the Accuser
Ronan the Accuser has the ambition and – when super-charged by a cosmic power source – the might to battle the entire MCU, but it’s unlikely he ever will. Not only did we see him lose in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, we’ll presumably see him fail in the upcoming Captain Marvel outing as well – seriously diminishing his villainous stature.
Then there’s the matter of his downfall in Guardians of the Galaxy, where he was apparently totally obliterated by the Power Stone. This would seem to rule out any further, contemporary appearances by Ronan (Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s). Although, as the Red Skull has proven, there’s always a way to come back from an Infinity Stone-related exit!
9 Can – The Magus
Cosmic superhero Adam Warlock is poised to debut in the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, after director James Gunn teased his introduction in Vol. 2’s end-credits sting. This in turn potentially sets the stage for the arrival of his evil counterpart, the Magus, a cosmic-level threat easily capable of terrorizing the entire MCU.
The Magus has the added bonus of being a pathos-laden opponent for our heroes, as he is a corrupted incarnation of the valiant Warlock.
This makes fighting him an unpleasant experience for his fellow do-gooders, raising the emotional stakes and making the ultimate showdown more than just an excuse for pretty pyrotechnics.
8 Can’t – The Leader
Hulk villain The Leader was set-up in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, where Doctor Samuel Sterns was seen mutating into his villainous alter-ego. We haven’t heard from Sterns since then, but if he does show up in the MCU again, fans probably shouldn’t expect it to be as the franchise’s overriding villain.
Admittedly, the Leader is more than capable of intellectually outmanoeuvring the superheroes of the MCU, and his scientific acumen means he could whip up some goons powerful enough to combat them physically, too. All the same, the Leader is just not “big time” enough to inherit central antagonist duties from Thanos, no matter how clever he is.
7 Can – The Supreme Intelligence
Not every villain has to be the kind the Avengers and their allies can punch. Take the Supreme Intelligence, the giant floating head who commands the Kree Empire, for example. Here is a hissable villain (seriously: dude is infuriatingly smug) backed by the military might of an advanced alien race.
Boasting a staggering intellect comprised of the Kree’s greatest minds, as well as energy/matter manipulation powers and the ability to enter the Astral Plane, Supremor doesn’t let his lack of a body hold him back.
Toss in his use of surrogate bodies – just in case audiences really do need to see the Avengers sock him one – and we think Marvel Studios could be looking at its next MCU-wide baddie.
6 Can’t – MODOK
Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely – the screenwriters behind the Captain America movies – are on the record as being keen to bring bizarre villain Modok to the big screen, citing his inherent creepiness. However, should MODOK ever find himself part of the MCU, he’s hardly going to be in the running to take Thanos’ old spot in the canon.
Essentially an oversized head on a tiny body supported by a hovering weapons platform, MODOK is a brainy opponent who sports considerable psionic firepower.
That said, there’s just no way this guy is powerful enough – or to be brutally honest, cool enough – to be used as an MCU-spanning threat.
5 Can – The Maestro
The Maestro is a malevolent version of the Hulk from the far-flung future. He's not only stronger than his contemporary counterpart, but also possesses his alter-ego Bruce Banner’s smarts. This makes the Maestro a rather formidable customer – which explains why he rules the apocalyptic, post-nuclear war reality he calls home.
The Maestro is tremendously powerful, brilliantly intelligent and rotten to the core – in short, perfect “big bad” material for the MCU.
What’s more, pitting the Avengers against a twisted version of their long-time ally would have huge emotional repercussions for the team, and actor Mark Ruffalo would no doubt relish the chance to put a new spin on his character.
4 Can’t – The Void
Ostensibly, the Void ticks all the boxes Thanos’ substitute needs to have covered: he’s an insanely powerful, malignant entity with designs on dominating – if not outright destroying – the entire universe.
The Void is also a visually dynamic character, manifesting himself as either a trench coat-clad figure emanating tendrils or a monstrous, living hurricane. He could clearly make the jump to a live-action movie no trouble.
The problem here is that the Void is inextricably linked to the Sentry, Marvel Comics’ equivalent of Superman – indeed, he’s the Sentry’s evil doppelgänger. As Marvel Studios appears to have zero plans to include the Sentry in the MCU, the Void’s prospects of replacing Thanos seem equally non-existent.
3 Can – The Masters of Evil
Remember when we said that Helmut Zemo couldn’t possibly stand in for Thanos on his own? Well, that doesn’t mean we don’t think he could replace the Mad Titan with the help from some dastardly friends.
Indeed, rather than trying to fill the Thanos-sized whole in its villainous roster with a lone baddie, Marvel Studios might want to consider relying on a whole team of baddies, instead!
Who better than the Masters of Evil, a team helmed by Zemo is the comics. In stories like “Avengers Under Siege" they have nearly defeated their heroic rivals before.
Sure, the group’s name is too cheesy for the MCU, but that’s hardly enough to discount these guys as contenders.
2 Can’t – Count Nefaria
Don’t get us wrong: Count Nefaria is without a doubt powerful enough to take on the entire Avengers line-up, and – depending on how he’s portrayed – the entire wider MCU by himself. The thing is, as presented in the comics, Nefaria is just a bit too inherently goofy to work as a replacement for Thanos.
His name, his costume (a Dracula cape and initialled belt buckle), and his overall shtick just screams “retro comic book villain.”
Unless Marvel Studios gives him a major overhaul, Nefaria isn’t going to become the studios’ new big bad anytime soon.
1 Can – The Serpent
Cul Borson – also known by his self-proclaimed title, “The Serpent” – is the uncle of Thor, and is even mightier than his famed nephew. Unfortunately, the Serpent possesses none of the God of Thunder’s scruples, and as the “Fear Itself” storyline illustrated, he isn’t above causing global mayhem to further his own ends.
Thanks to his impressive Asgardian physical traits, the Serpent could convincingly go toe-to-toe with the Avengers and their allies.
Better still, Borson’s heritage as the Norse God of Fear means he’s cool enough to be an MCU-wide baddie, too.
Who are some other villains who could (or definitely couldn’t) replace Thanos in the MCU? Let us know in the comments!