Debates about which Marvel villains are the best and worst have been going on for decades and it’s highly unlikely that a consensus will be reached anytime soon. The translation of these characters from comic books and graphic novels to live-action media only makes this matter more complex.
What works on the page often doesn’t translate well when it comes to bringing characters to life in movies or on television. There are issues such as miscasting a role or poor character design that can often factor into how a villain is represented. Additionally, an evil character may be tweaked for unknown reasons, further baffling those who are familiar with their backgrounds.
Hardcore comic fans can be hard to please and even the slightest tweaks by filmmakers and studios can make moviegoers bristle with anger. Casual fans who only know the characters from their movie and TV portrayals will assume that they are properly portrayed. One thing is for certain, some Marvel villains get shortchanged when translated from the comic page to the screen, while others are given a bit of a bump up the evil ladder.
Here are the 6 Marvel Villains Weaker Than You Think (And 10 That Are Stronger).
16 Stronger — Kingpin
The Kingpin, AKA Wilson Fisk, may not possess any super powers, but he should not be taken lightly. Kingpin had the intelligence, street smarts, physical power, and hand-to-hand combat skills to become not only the crime boss of New York City, but one of the most feared and respected crime overlords in the Marvel Universe.
Tipping the scales at more than 400 pounds, many people mistake his rotundness for being overweight, but he is actually mostly solid muscle. His fisticuffs with Daredevil on the Netflix series didn’t do justice to the violent brawls and battles with which he has been involved with not only DD, but Spider-Man and The Punisher, as well.
Kingpin’s many years of street education may not have involved formal martial arts training, but they helped him develop a brutal, unsympathetic attitude toward fighting that perfectly compliments his brilliance as a tactician and manipulator.
15 Weaker — Ultron
In Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), the titular robot with a god complex looks to wipe out humanity. His big plan is to drop a city from the sky. Surely such a powerful robotic being can do better than that.
Why not manipulate governments, devastate financial systems, or bring on the real equivalent of the feared Y2K? The comic book version of Ultron isn’t much brainier than his movie version. Ultron repeatedly tries to disassemble various Avengers teams, always being foiled in the end. One iteration of Ultron was single-handedly destroyed by Wonder Man -- not exactly a superhero who springs to mind when asked to name the mightiest Avengers.
Ultron may be the first Marvel character to sport the metal alloy adamantium, but he doesn’t have a whole lot else going for him in the long run.
14 Stronger — Juggernaut
It’s hard to say which is more of an injustice: the fact that Juggernaut was written out of two revised scripts, the minimal screen time that he received in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), or the travesty that was the version of the character presented in that movie.
One of Marvel’s all-time most popular villains, he is unstoppable once moving and has incredible strength and durability. Juggernaut is capable of destroying mountains and using buildings to do battle. However, the team behind X-Men: The Last Stand chose to reimagine him as a random mutant.
Juggernaut has faced the cream of the Marvel Comics crop and has endured for decades as one of the company’s strongest supervillains. He’s far stronger in both power and character strength than his lone cinematic appearance would have viewers believe.
13 Weaker — Doctor Octopus
Otto Octavius, better known by his alter ego Doctor Octopus, was portrayed in a rather sympathetic manner in the 2004 movie Spider-Man 2. Octavius was driven to villainy by the death of his wife.
The comic book version of Doctor Octopus is a much-loved character, often considered the greatest opponent of Spider-Man. However, he is better known for his repeated unsuccessful attempts at trying to vanquish the web-slinger than any small victories he may have amassed. Doc Ock’s harnesses are both his strong point and his Achilles heel; he’s a constant pain in the neck for Spidey, but usually not so much for other superheroes.
Octavius needed to be treated for arachnophobia for his repeated clashes with Spider-Man, was diagnosed by Mister Fantastic as having multiple personality disorder, and temporarily gave up his life of crime for an engineering career.
12 Stronger — Red Skull
Red Skull has actually had two big-screen appearances: in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger and in 1990’s Captain America. Alas, in both films, he seemingly dies. This iconic Marvel villain is too intelligent, clever, and formidable to be relegated to these two appearances.
Though he doesn’t have any superpowers — with the exception of the time that his mind inhabited a cloned body of Captain America — Red Skull more than makes do with his high level of intellect. and the intrigue and deception that he can spin because of it. He is a skilled martial artist and is known to carry a deadly arsenal that includes his infamous Dust of Death powder.
If Red Skull’s career of evil in comics is any indicator, he will be back to wreak havoc on Captain America and the free world in the future.
11 Stronger — Whiplash
One of the biggest cinematic travesties regarding villains was the mistreatment of Whiplash in Iron Man 2 (2010). Though not referred to by that name in the film, the character Ivan Vanko is based on Whiplash with an added dose of Crimson Dynamo for good measure.
What the studio did with Whiplash in Iron Man 2 was inexcusable, relegating him to B-villain status as Justin Hammer received more emphasis. Whiplash has a far stronger legacy in Marvel Comics. The original Whiplash, Mark Scarlotti, even upgrades his costume and weapons to become Blacklash in the comics.
Although Mickey Rourke did as much as he could with the Ivan Vanko character, it is interesting to consider how things might have turned out if Whiplash was allowed to be a full-fledged character.
10 Weaker — Baron Karl Mordo
At the end of Doctor Strange (2016), the set-up for the sequel sees Karl Mordo planning on stopping all sorcerers from using their magic — quite a tall order. However, unless the film version of this supervillain has more success than his comic book counterpart, don’t expect much of a fight.
Baron Karl Mordo’s track record is none too magical. His powers may be presented as just about equal to those of Doctor Strange, with an upper hand in the black magic and demon summoning departments. Unfortunately, his best-laid plans rarely seem to work. Mordo can’t control the demons he summons, was exiled to the Dimension of Demons, and was eventually banished from Earth. He then sold his soul to Mephisto and Satannish for power, which ultimately backfired.
Mordo’s magic skills simply don’t match up to his visions of grandeur. Hopefully he’ll have better luck in the next Doctor Strange movie.
9 Stronger — Nightshade
It remains to be seen how the character of Nightshade (alter ego: Tilda Johnson) will be handled in the upcoming Black Panther film. However, her brief appearance in the first trailer implies that she'll be playing second fiddle to another villain.
This Ph.D.-level genius has shown the ability to transform men into either werewolves or women, earning the nickname “Queen of the Werewolves” along the way. She has turned Captain America into a werewolf, set Cap up to fight against his ally The Falcon, and used robots to make herself leader of the Harlem protection rackets.
Hopefully the trailer is misleading (it wouldn’t be the first time that happened) and Nightshade is given a juicy role in the movie. At the very least, she may be set-up as the villain in the inevitable sequel.
8 Stronger — Yellowjacket
Yellowjacket was a formidable opponent for the titular hero in Ant-Man (2015). However, Darren Cross’ journey from “regular” human to costumed cad was much longer and less successful than the movie would have you think.
The Yellowjacket character has had several different versions over the years. The first version was actually a superhero as he was one of Hank Pym’s alter egos. The second Yellowjacket was the supervillainess Rita DeMara, who later turned good before being killed. Darren Cross was the third version of Yellowjacket, but he was simply referred to as Cross. The villain didn't have a costume before the one he dons in the film.
Cross wore a pacemaker that gave him superhuman powers, but the device burned out each heart replacement he underwent, he couldn’t control his size-shifting abilities, and he also died early on. Considering these factors, Yellowjacket got a pretty lucky gig in the Marvel cinematic universe.
7 Stronger — The Vulture
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) is a good example of taking a well-known supervillain from the pages of Marvel Comics and giving him a satisfying update. Occasionally treated like a joke in the comics, the cinematic version of Adrian Toomes and his winged alter ego was a torn man who was trying to protect and provide for his family.
Toomes would do anything — even turning to major league crime — to do right for his family and he was ruthless when Spider-Man threatened to bring down his crime dynasty. This is far stronger motivation than the comics version of Toomes, with that version of the character being enraged by the loss of his job.
Few Marvel fans could imagine that a supervillain known for his frilled costume and who was easily captured thanks to a lasso web would be beefed up so well for the movies.
6 Stronger — Crossbones
Crossbones is an accomplished military technician who's a much more difficult foe to defeat than is portrayed cinematically. Anyone who kills innocent civilians, and seemingly himself, in a failed attempt at killing Captain America doesn’t seem like a very formidable opponent.
However, before that comeuppance in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Crossbones had a reputation as one of Marvel’s best non-superpowered combatants.
An accomplished military tactician highly trained in warfare, marksmanship, and many forms of hand-to-hand combat, Crossbones has the smarts to match his arsenal of weapons, which include his gauntlets.
Crossbones also had the ability to manifest energy beams that burned his targets and had a thing for brainwashing and torture as well. He’s an intriguing character who deserves more screen time.
5 Stronger — Electro
Electro got arguably the worst costume redesign in Marvel history for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) and was basically portrayed as a guy whose inferiority complex turns him into an egomaniac. This was an unfair turn for a supervillain as storied as Electro.
Electro is a dynamo. He can cause instant myocardial infarction by putting his hand on your chest, and Spider-Man almost died the first time they tangled by merely touching him. How many supervillains can say they almost knocked off Spidey in their initial clash?
Having also tangled with Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and the New Avengers in comic books, it’s obvious that Marvel has respect for Electro. He is a supervillain to be taken seriously and hopefully he will get some sort of much-deserved reboot on the big or small screen.
4 Weaker — Howard Saint
A polar opposite crime lord to The Kingpin, Howard Saint from The Punisher (2004) was not an epic villain, especially in a film about the iconic Frank Castle. Unfortunately, stronger bosses than Saint can be found in almost any post-Godfather gangster movie.
Saint may have had a good head for money laundering and similar business ventures, but he let his emotions get the better of him far too easily. Not only did he create a monster when he had Castle’s family murdered, as revenge for his own son’s death, but he is easily manipulated into killing his own wife. Castle and a small-time criminal achieve this by planting the suspicion in Saint’s mind that she is having an affair.
Saint’s character was created specifically for the movie. Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t shown up in any Marvel media since.
3 Weaker — Malekith
When some critics and fans try to make the case for Marvel films having weak villains, many point straight at Malekith. The ruler of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim was the big baddie from Thor: The Dark World (2013).
Malekith's greatest attributes include his superhuman strength and speed. While the latter is useful for escapes, running away to fight another day only goes so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Intelligence is not his high point either, as he wages war on Asgard in a conflict where, you guessed it, he chose to flee right afterward. Add to that the fact that iron disrupts and cancels his magic spells and you have a villain who needs to avoid pretty much any post-Iron Age weapon — not to mention a certain superhero’s hammer.
After a clash with Odin’s father, Bor, eons ago, Malekith and some of his dark elves escaped into suspended animation. Marvel fans wish the dark elves would have stayed there.
2 Stronger — Baron Helmut Zemo
Here’s a case where the cinematic reimagining of a Marvel supervillain is handled fairly well, but the comic book character has even more going for them. In Captain America: Civil War (2016), Helmut Zemo possesses no superpowers, but has the intelligence and strategic skills to manipulate governments and superheroes. The comic book version of the leader of The Masters of Evil is even more of a menacing force.
There have actually been 12 Baron Zemos so far in Marvel’s comics, a barony that started in Germany in 1480. One of the Zemos developed weapons for Hitler’s army, along with the dreaded Adhesive X - a sticky substance that, for a long while, could not be dissolved or removed. Aside from forming the Masters of Evil, Zemo also put together another band of supervillains, the Thunderbolts.
Zemo was turned over to the authorities in the film, so hopefully he will be as resilient as the ancestry of his comic equivalent.
1 Weaker — Bakuto
A founding member and leader of The Hand (a centuries-old group of criminals originally formed in Japan) in Netflix's Iron Fist (2017) and The Defenders (2017) series. Bakuto was met with “Who is this guy?” questions from viewers when he first appeared on the show. For good reason, too: he didn’t have a long shelf life in Marvel comics and he lived up to that reputation, so to speak, on television.
Bakuto, which means “gambler” in Japanese, was introduced as the South American Daimyo for the Hand when he first appeared in Daredevil comics. He lasted all of three consecutive issues before being killed by the character White Tiger. He was also killed off in the Iron Fist series before being briefly resurrected in The Defenders.
Bakuto wasn’t meant to be a long-term character when first developed and he was lucky to be brought back for as long as he was on Netflix.
Did we miss any Marvel villains that are stronger or weaker than they appear?