The MCU has been going strong for the better part of a decade now, and despite critical and commercial support, accusations have been heard loud and clear that the franchise is incapable of providing audiences with a villain just as good as their heroes. Yes, some of their rogues and scoundrels are lackluster, and others have been downright disappointing, but despite that, the MCU has certainly provided some memorable and even fantastic bad guys over the years.
From 2008’s Iron Man to this month’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, we’ve seen either villainous brilliance or bumbling incompetence. We’ve been introduced to the likes of super assassins, killer robots, and invading aliens, and while some of them shine in their roles as criminal ne'er-do-wells, others fall to the wayside as flat, boring caricatures of themselves.
For this list, we’re counting down the worst and best villains of the MCU so far. To qualify, they must be the main antagonists in their respective movie, so no henchmen allowed (sorry, Taserface). Baddies that have yet to make their full-blown appearance will also be skipped over for a nomination, so as much as Thanos looks like he’s going to tear it up in Infinity War, he doesn’t yet qualify.
Here are the 8 Best (And 7 Worst) MCU Villains Ever, Ranked.
15 Alexander Pierce (Best)
Kicking off our list is the big-bad pulling the strings behind 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Alexander Pierce. Played by veteran actor Robert Redford, Pierce is America’s worst nightmare: corrupt, evil, politically powerful, and hell-bent on world domination.
After finding out that Hydra has secretly infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., it’s revealed that Pierce is the mastermind behind the coup. Not only was he able to trick Nick Fury from right under his nose, but it is discovered that Pierce is also the handler of the Winter Soldier.
While he doesn’t have any laser-canons or heat vision, Alexander Pierce is still one of the MCU’s most intimidating baddies thanks to his icy demeanor and raw influence. He managed to bring down one of the most powerful agencies in the world, and was able to do it while hiding in plain sight.
Redford, known for playing seedy politicians, plays Pierce to a smirking, egotistical perfection, making him a surprise villain worthy of such an actor’s credentials.
14 Helmut Zemo (Worst)
Captain America: Civil War is all about the rift between the Avengers, most notably the feud between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, so Helmut Zemo, who is technically the film’s villain, falls incredibly short by comparison. Yes, he is responsible for setting the events of the movie in motion, but who really cares about the guy behind the curtain when you have superheroes punching one another in an epic throwdown?
Zemo is just your average soldier who wants revenge for his family, and even admits to himself that he’s not strong enough to take down any of the Avengers. Instead, he stirs the pot and makes them crumble from the inside. While we admire the Sokovia survivor’s underhanded plot, he’s just not threatening enough on his own to be considered as a truly imposing villain.
13 Ultron (Best)
Is Avengers: Age of Ultron the best superhero movie ever? No. In fact, it’s far from it-- overstuffed with too many characters, too many subplots, and too many sequel setups. However, what it has in spades (excuse the pun) is a wonderfully unchained James Spader performance in Ultron, a sentient computer program that decides to go postal on the whole human race.
As the brain-child of Tony Stark, Ultron decides that the Avengers need to be taught a lesson in humility, and with his new shiny body, creates a mass army to take on the superheroes. Spader provides a nice maniacal candor to the misunderstood robot monster, and despite being completely CGI, Ultron gives off far more charisma and emotion than most of the live-action villains in the Marvel Universe.
12 Iron Monger (Worst)
Nobody appreciates a good Jeff Bridges performance more than those of us at Screen Rant, but even we couldn’t buy his by-the-numbers routine in 2008’s Iron Man as Obadiah Stane. As Tony Stark’s business buddy turned megalomaniac rival, Stane’s motivation is the same as any power-hungry, mustache-twirling villain: he likes money and power. Yawn.
Bridges is known for his cool demeanor, so perhaps that’s why it was so jarring to see him suit up in a giant mechanical death-machine with a deranged smile and a psychotic twinkle in his eye. Despite being miscast, the character of Obadiah Stane is as flat as the pixilated foes in old video games.
His main power consists of ripping off Tony Stark’s Iron Man concept and making it bigger, heavier, dumber, and infinitely more awkward. Though Iron Man was a major success as a jumping off point for the MCU, it’s a shame they had to kick things off with a villain as bland as this.
11 Aldrich Killian (Best)
Iron Man 3 is about as divisive a movie as they come. For fans of director Shane Black, it hits all the notes it should, with quirky quips, break-neck action, and some refreshing story twists. For fans of the Iron Man comics, it comes off completely disrespectful, changing the Mandarin’s threatening persona to a sniveling, cowardly wimp.
While many thought Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin would be the star opposition, it turned out that the real villain was Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian-- the man behind the curtain pulling the strings. It seems like a slap in the face to comic readers, but on a cinematic level, Aldrich really is a nicely executed bad guy.
All of the bad guy boxes are checked off: he has a personal vendetta against our hero, his evil plan was a long time in the making, and he has some crazy superhuman powers to boot. Killian might just be the most underrated villain in the MCU, despite some rather jarring deviations from the source material.
10 Kaecilius (Worst)
This former pupil of the Ancient One seeks eternal life and revenge against his master, which is pretty much the playbook of “Villains 101.” You know a villain is bland when it makes Mads Mikkelsen look like he’s just going through the motions. Known for his deliciously evil roles in Hannibal and Casino Royale, Mikkelsen is exceptionally watchable, but even he can’t save Kaecilius from coming off as a one-note character.
There a bunch of great ideas to flesh out Kaecilius, but the movie does nothing but waste his potential. We don’t get enough of his tragic backstory to get a feel for his character, and the parallel between himself and Doctor Strange is only briefly touched upon. Aside from delivering some nefarious one-liners, Mikkelsen is completely wasted in this sorcerer role, with any hope of character development disappearing before your very eyes.
9 Ego (Best)
There’s nothing better than a villain hiding in plain sight, and nothing took us more by surprise when it was revealed in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that Starlord’s long lost father, Ego, was one of the most evil beings in the Universe.
As a master manipulator and a self-centered sociopath, his malicious plan to assimilate every planet in the galaxy is one of the most heinous in all the MCU movies, much to Peter Quill and the audience’s horror.
Kurt Russell, who seldom takes a bad guy role, is mostly to thank for how well Ego works as a villain. Russell chooses to lure the audience in first with a nice friendly demeanor, before ripping all of this down with a psychopathic attitude that would make Emperor Palpatine seem level headed. Cruel, evil, and immensely powerful, Ego is without a doubt one of the most threatening and effective villains that the MCU has offered yet.
8 Yellowjacket (Worst)
Though Ant-Man surprised audiences in the summer of 2015 as another fun MCU adventure, the same praise cannot be given to the film’s antagonist. The Yellowjacket, aka Darren Cross, is yet another mirroring villain that has the same powers as our hero, making him far more boring than interesting.
Cross is just another back-dealing, boardroom executive who only cares about one thing: money. He’s a one-note villain with weak motivation and even weaker charisma. He’s not given a whole lot of screen time as a result, and his lazy backstory concerning his troubled relationship with Hank Pym is as half-baked as his plot to sell shrinky-dink suits on the black market.
Though he has a cooler looking suit than Ant-Man-- which isn’t that hard to do-- the Yellowjacket is yet another remarkably unimpressive MCU villain. Hopefully, Scott Lang will be given a bigger challenge in next year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.
7 The Red Skull (Best)
Every superhero needs a rival, and for Captain America, that rival is the Red Skull. Making his debut in Captain America: The First Avenger, Johann Schmidt is the head of Hydra and a villain that just broadcasts pure evil. After a terrible reaction to the Super Soldier Serum, this dastardly Nazi transforms into a horrifying red freak that looks like the second cousin of Freddy Kruger.
Although he’s only appeared in one movie, the Red Skull has more than left his mark on the MCU. He’s offensive, strong, deranged, and the perfect yin to Captain America’s squeaky-clean yang. It helps that the character was played by Hugo “Agent Smith” Weaving, who has become one of the best bad guys for hire thanks to his commanding voice and nightmarish facial expressions.
Though the Red Skull was last seen disappearing into thin air after touching the Tesseract, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the MCU might bring back this infamous baddie for one last bout with Captain America.
6 Whiplash (Worst)
After realizing they had a bona fide hit on their hands, the MCU was quick to push out another Iron Man in 2010. Unfortunately, the much anticipated sequel paled in comparison to the original in every way, and that’s including its lackluster villain Ivan Vanko, aka Whiplash.
Despite Mickey Rourke doing his best to flesh out the character against studio wishes, Whiplash comes off as yet another villain of the week with not much to do. He’s benched through most of the movie, taking a back seat to Justin Hammer until the very end when he’s finally given something interesting to do. Despite setting him up as a formidable opponent, Vanko is killed off in disappointing fashion before audiences know what's happening.
Though Rourke tried his best, the script hindered any sort of development for his character, leading to an infamous feud between The Wrestler actor and Marvel Studios.
5 The Vulture (Best)
Spider-Man has one of the best rogues’ gallery in all of Marvel, and fans have been enthusiastically waiting for one of the most famous-- the Vulture-- to finally make his big screen debut. This debut finally came with this year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, which featured veteran actor Michael Keaton in the role of criminal mastermind Adrian Toomes.
Even before the movie was released, the trailers hinted that Toomes would be one of the MCU’s most effective villains, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. The Vulture is one of the franchise’s best bad guys, both for the fact that he’s a criminal genius, and that he’s a common man with a backstory that most can relate to. Best of all, he has a personal connection to Peter Parker, and while we won’t ruin anything here, we can say that it certainly pays off.
Thanks to a menacing performance by Keaton, and a very cool costume, the Vulture easily flies into the top tier of MCU villains we’ve seen so far.
4 Ronan the Accuser (Worst)
For a movie so imaginative and original, it’s ironic that Guardians of the Galaxy has one of the MCU’s most embarrassingly cliché villains. Ronan the Accuser seems like he walked off of a B-movie set and wandered onto Marvel’s hottest property without anyone noticing, hamming up every scene he’s in to awkward and cringe-worthy results.
Everything Ronan does is straight from an overblown villain’s playbook, whether it’s his bombastic shouting, his cocky strut, his single character trait of destroying stuff, or even his goofy name (who is he accusing, and of what?).
Perhaps it is because Guardians almost seems like a schlocky sci-fi movie with an A-list budget that Marvel wanted to keep the villain in tone with that. If their objective was to make Ronan come off as bland and boring as possible, then they certainly succeeded, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it.
3 Loki (Best)
It’s pretty much a given that when you mention MCU villains, Loki’s name is going to pop up somewhere near the top. As the brother of Thor, this neurotic tyrant has an infectious swagger that makes audiences want to stand up and cheer even though we know that he’s the bad guy. Part of this appeal can be attributed to Tom Hiddleston, who has so much fun playing the maniacal Asgardian that it’s almost impossible not to have fun with him.
Loki is one of the few returning villains that the MCU hasn’t killed off, and for good reasons. With his cheeky demeanor, he’s easily one of the most popular Marvel characters, able to fire off a snarky quip while he’s blasting apart a building with a laser gun. He’s challenged Asgard and even tried invading Earth, and with appearances in the Thor: Ragnorak trailer, it doesn’t seem like his bad streak has at all diminished.
With crackling dialog, a boisterous attitude, and some fun trickery, Loki is easily one of the MCU’s most entertaining villains, and one we hope they keep around for a while.
2 Malekith (Worst)
Thor: The Dark World is often considered one of the low points the MCU, so it would only make sense that it would have one of the series’ worst villains. Enter Malekith: a bland, unmemorable baddie that would be better off in a Flash Gordon serial from the 1950s.
Half-baked and obviously an afterthought when it came to the story, Malekith is about as forgettable a bad guy as they come. He is almost complete devoid of any motivation, personality, charm, or charisma to make him the least bit interesting. His evil scheme-- destroy and kill everything-- is as cliché as they come, and worst yet, we don't even get a good sense as to why he's doing any of it.
While Doctor Who and The Leftovers veteran Christopher Eccleston tries his best to make Malekith somewhat memorable, it isn’t enough to redeem a poorly written villain that is less charismatic than a bowl of wet noodles.
1 The Winter Soldier (Best)
Sure, he’s now considered a good guy after the events of Civil War, but for a while there, Bucky Barnes was one bad mama jama who could give Captain America and most of the Avengers a run for their money. Fueled by Super Soldier Serum and armed with a robotic arm, the Winter Soldier is a ruthless assassin, and one of the MCU’s most compelling villains.
This cold-blooded killer works both as a remorseless enemy and as a fallen compatriot. As Steve Roger's best friend, it's hard not to feel sorry for brainwashed Bucky Barnes. At the same time, we can't help but be afraid of this guy. He's able to take out entire convoys in the blink of an eye, go toe-to-toe with Cap in close combat, and he even managed to defeat S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Furry, all without breaking a sweat.
With an icy demeanor and deadly moves to back up that 1,000 yard stare, the Winter Soldier is mysterious, dangerous, and a total blast to watch on screen, getting our vote for the MCU’s best villain to date.
Do you disagree? Are there any other MCU villains that you love (or hate) more? Let us know in the comments section!