Problems with Superhero movies generally occur when the laws of the world aren’t clearly defined. In a totally made up world, what makes one being more powerful than the next? The rules. The laws of the world. Or the laws of the universe, as Marvel’s case may be.
Seven years after Iron Man, Ant-Man wraps up Marvel’s Phase 2. And in that time, the universe has expanded mightily. One of the nice things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that when viewers speak of the 12 films that currently make up the MCU, we’re dealing with a very big world. Big enough to house evildoers from different galaxies. But are these villains bound together under one universal law?
Perhaps not. Do we really know how Thanos would fare against Ultron? Not from the big screen we don’t. But isn’t it fun to think about?
So, in an effort to make the MCU a little bit smaller, to more clearly understand the rules of the land, let’s theoretically combine every movie in the MCU, by finding the most powerful villain among them.
The villain can’t be a henchman or a creature, like Leviathan or Destroyer, who is thoughtlessly doing someone else’s bidding -since that inherently makes their commander more powerful. Each villain must be from the 12 MCU movies, and what we know of that villain must come from the movies. To be more powerful than another, each villain must possess not just amazing abilities, but also diabolical ambition, and smarts enough to pull off such schemes.
So, without further ado, here are Screen Rant’s The 13 Most Powerful Villains in Marvel's Cinematic Universe.
13 Obadiah Stane / Iron Monger
It’s hard to think of 'The Dude' as being one of the most powerful... anythings, but that’s the range of the great Jeff Bridges (plus, when playing a supervillain, it helps to be bald). It also helps to have an Arc Reactor-powered suit of armor, even if it is a little less refined when compared to Tony Stark's. If fans really stopped to think about it, Obadiah’s relationship with the Ten Rings terrorist group is the reason Tony Stark wound up in a cave with shrapnel threatening to kill him in the first place.
Without Obadiah, we would have no Iron Man, which is power in its own right: the power to create an opposing power. While threatening and clearly willing to be brutal to succeed, Stane’s more of a ruthless businessman than a powerful supervillain. He had the means to immortalize his reign of weapons supremacy, but it takes more than a powerful suit to get far in the villainy business.
12 Ivan Vanko / Whiplash
Thanks to a storied feud with the Stark family and plenty of time in prison, Ivan Vanko’s (Mickey Rourke) got all the requisite motivation to commit despicable acts of villainy. As a clearly accomplished engineer, he displays smarts enough to create Arc Reactor powered whips that can challenge even Iron Man himself - especially after he attaches them to a Whiplash Mark II suit.
He’s resourceful enough to forge an alliance with Justin Hammer, and cunning enough to take advantage of that alliance to create and take control of an entire armored drone team - including War Machine. But Vanko’s passion is clouded by vengeance just as much as its fueled by it: he can’t see past Tony Stark. Though he’s got electric arm extensions, his reach is too short to climb any higher on this list.
11 The Winter Soldier
Poor Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Such a sweet kid, and then those Cosmic-Cube-obsessed Nazis went and turned him into one of the most feared assassins in the history of war. And peace for that matter. With an arm that can stop a freight train, and singularity of purpose, he’s a powerful foe. But the aggressive abuse and reprogramming he has undergone to become HYDRA's lapdog means he's just not diabolical enough to be the most powerful villain; his ambition is too low.
The Winter Soldier doesn't seek to take over the world. He demands only a mission, wants only to kill who he’s told to kill (to be clear, he is really, really good at that). Plus, he gets bonus evil points for cybernetic body parts and spending long periods of time in a cryogenic state.
10 Darren Cross / Yellowjacket
Like many on this list, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is one smart cookie, a brilliant whiz kid scooped up by Hank Pym - to be mentored and nurtured in his own image. He’s also a ruthless businessman, who squeezed out his old boss to become the (wondrously unethical) new one. A serious lack of business ethics can be helpful in the villainy game.
Obsessiveness can be a good thing, driving innovation - and obsession has a lot to do with why and how Cross developed the Yellowjacket suit. It’s an impressive suit, no doubt, which could change the way war is waged around the globe. But that obsessiveness doesn’t leave enough room for other worldly desires; his craving for affirmation seem relatively minuscule, at least compared to the villains ahead.
9 Johann Schmidt / Red Skull
In a film that feels more realistic than any other Marvel movie (until the release of Cap 2), Schmidt’s (Hugo Weaving) disturbing abnormality is even scarier. The scientist was powerful before he flew too close to the sun and dosed himself with Super Soldier Serum. Red Skull's got the ambition to take over the world - and the charisma to draw thousands of soldiers to his cause - and with the power of HYDRA and the Tesseract behind him, he comes closer than most.
Granted, he’s not trying to rule the galaxy, but during Schmidt’s time no one had even flown to space yet, so galaxy ruling may have been dreaming a little big, even for a nefarious supervillain.
8 Aldrich Killian
Unlike the Biblical hero Samson, Aldrich (Guy Pearce) had to ditch his locks in order to harness true power. But once he did, the would-be Mandarin masterminded his own form of strength, fueled by alienation and resentment. A brilliant business-minded scientist able to harness the power of Extremis (after blowing up some of his test subjects), Killian is obviously well represented in the smarts department.
Not only does he wield the explosive power of Extremis, but he commands a squad of soldiers who are also Extremis-enhanced. We mustn't forget the ability to regenerate body parts and breathe fire - tricks every supervillain would wish for. And with a goal of owning the War on Terror, his ambitions are certainly up there, though not as high as they could be; financial gain and revenge aren’t nearly as villainous as ruling and enslaving.
In comic books and in nature, weak beings don’t become powerful. Above all else, one must be tough to reach the top. And budding villains don’t get much tougher than the deadly assassin daughter of Thanos. Nebula (Karen Gillan) even goes so far as cutting off her own arm - that’s 127 Hours tough. It isn't as painful a task, obviously, given her cybernetically-replaced and tweaked body parts (which, as you’ll recall from the Winter Soldier, are worth evil bonus points). She’s ruthless in nature, with perhaps no better example than her willingness to kill her own adoptive sister, Gamora.
Beyond ruthless, tough, and regenerative, Nebula can also fight with the best of Marvel's martial artists. She’s opportunistic too, willing to give up her life-long ties to Thanos in order to serve Ronan, who appears to be the right horse to back at the time. But in such subservience to power lies her weakness, and the reason she’s not higher on this list.
6 Malekith the Accursed
If we were basing this list solely on how scary a villain looks, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) would probably take top honors. Still, the leader of the Dark Elves is scary in plenty of other ways as well. Having an army of Dark Elves helps, and though his ambition stems from revenge, it goes well beyond that of avenging just one man, or one people. No, Malekith wants to plunge the entire universe back into eternal darkness.
Experience counts in the power rankings too, and Malekith has been around since before there was light. But what really sets Malekith apart is the weapon he wields: the Aether, which, as Odin says, can achieve, “infinite destruction.” And were it not for his own ship - and Thor, of course - Malekith could easily have seen the darkness of such destruction.
Odin’s least favorite son has plenty of abilities, and his fiendish ambition is greater than the Nine Realms. Unfortunately, Marvel's reliance on his villainous plotting makes it hard to take him seriously at this point. Does anyone really believe Loki (Tom Hiddleston) will come close to succeeding in taking over whichever world he’s intent upon taking over? Won’t he always just be a puny god? Perhaps, but it’s still good to be a god. Especially one who - according to Thor: The Dark World - is currently sitting on the throne of Asgard, even if he’s doing so in the shape of his own father.
There’s no denying his power, stemming both from the royal Frost Giant blood that flows through his veins, and the fact that he’s been reared by gods - a serious boost in power rankings. Plus, Loki’s got powerful friends who give him alien armies and Infinity Stones to play with... which seems a bit reckless, in hindsight.
In The Incredible Hulk, General “Thunderbolt” Ross has all the taking-over-the-world ambition you could ask for, but he doesn’t have Super Serum flowing through him, so his powers are limited.That rules him out as a heavyweight villain in the MCU, but Ross’s main goon, Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), has ambition enough to self-medicate with gamma radiation for the purposes of greater evil.
While Abomination has plenty of power, he’s seriously lacking in when it comes to strategy or methodical planning. Still, he holds his own with the Hulk - and not many villains in the MCU can brag about doing that. Since Hulk beat the snot out of Loki in The Avengers, and since Abomination much went toe-to-toe with the big green juggernaut, it’s easy to see that Abomination is one of the MCU's most underappreciated villains.
3 Ronan the Accuser
First of all, Ronan’s (Lee Pace) harboring enough hate and resentment to make even planetary Xandarian genocide seem like justice. Genocidal tendencies are necessary in a first class supervillain, but gumption is just as important. And what could be more gumptious than picking a fight with Thanos the Mad Titan? His betrayal of Thanos may have simply been opportunistic, but even if that's a questionable moral trait, it's a useful skill in the villain game.
For a measure of his fighting abilities, look no further than the licking he puts on Drax the Destroyer, even before he puts an infinity stone in his Warhammer. Really, nothing says powerful supervillain quite like a Warhammer, does it?
No supervillain on this list can deliver a soliloquy quite as menacing as Ultron (James Spader), which can be a benefit in keeping power, since it takes a special breed of hero to mess with such an evil-sounding supervillain. Of course, Ultron doesn’t just battle one such hero, but an entire Avenging team of them. Since his power stems from within the Infinity Stone-laden Scepter gifted to Loki by Thanos, he almost destroys the mighty Avengers just like he promised he would in the aforementioned soliloquy (and humanity along with them).
Mankind’s eradication is exactly the kind of ambition we’re looking for on this list. Plus, having an army of robot drones doing your bidding, helping you to that cause, spikes the power numbers significantly. And a sense of humor shouldn't be under-appreciated, either.
Though his powers aren't fully on display just yet, Thanos' (Josh Brolin) reach extends to nearly every movie. The Dark Lord ranks high in the ambition department, considering his goal is to control existence. He already oversees a big chunk of prime galactic real estate, fortified by his dominion over the Chitauri. You know what’s better than controlling an army of robots or Dark Elves? Controlling an army of cybernetic aliens. Not only are the Chitauri a powerful force, but they allow Thanos to dangle their allegiance as bargaining power for Infinity Stones.
Thanos’ hunger for the Stones creates the need for two of the most powerful superhero teams around; if your moves lead directly to the creation of both the Guardians of the Galaxy AND the Avengers, then you are obviously making powerful moves. So with bonus points for being in love with Death, Thanos takes the top spot in this MCU power ranking.
In the end, you wouldn’t want to meet any of these supervillains in a dark alley (unless you’re at Comic-Con cosplay party). But while all are powerful, there’s a pecking order to villainous supremacy. Still, power is fleeting, capricious, and up for debate. So let us know if this is indeed your order of the Marvel villainous universe.