All MCU villains, ranked from worst to least worst (part 1 of 2)

Hey there! You like the Marvel Comics movies? You do?! Awesome! I do too!

You like the colorful, inspiring heroes? Me too!

You like the frenetic action choreography? Me too!

You like the seat-rattling CGI spectacle? Me too!

You like the compelling antagonists? Uhh…

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That’s right, folks. For everything else this crowd-pleasing series does right, it’s famously bad at creating rounded, challenging villains for its heroes. Plenty of people have written about this problem before, including us. And Marvel has had ten years to get it right, to boot. Why do they so consistently have so much trouble with this one aspect of their movies? Are these villains’ backstories rushed in service of the overarching Marvel Cinematic Universe plotline? Is it a feature of the effort to adapt years-long comic storylines into an abbreviated two-hour format? Is it simply more difficult to set up truly compelling conflicts in the cut-and-dry, unsophisticated moral universe of superheroes and supervillians? Why are you asking me? What do I look like, some sort of critic?

In anticipation of the latest MCU entry Black Panther making its debut on February 16th, I’ve ranked the sixteen existing Marvel Cinematic Universe villains in order, from worst to best. Hopefully, through comparison and contrast, we can get some sort of sense of what works and what doesn’t in a villain, or at the very least, kill a few minutes reading about movies we love. Enjoy!


16. Malekith the Dark Elf (Christopher Eccleston), Thor: The Dark World

Malekith is the extremely sedate leader of a race of evil elves called, appropriately, the “Dark Elves”, who want to destroy the universe because they’re evil and that’s literally it. Taking advantage of a rare convergence of the Nine Realms, he sends his soldiers to steal the Red MacGuffin Stone so he can unleash it on all the planets at once. Never raises or puts any inflection in his voice for any reason.

Low point: Every single interminable minute of this somnolescent performance.

Mitigating factor: There’s lots of unintended comedy to be had out of his resemblance to an evil Teletubby.


15. Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), Iron Man

A senior executive at Stark Industries involved in shady arms deals with terrorists, Stane wants to kill Tony Stark and take full control of his company so he can… continue doing all that. Stane’s attempt to have Tony Stark kidnapped and killed backfires when Tony builds the first Iron Man suit, escapes, and stops all weapon sales by Stark Industries. Stane responds by building his own Iron Man suit and the two play Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots in the thrilling finale. Played with lacksadaisical dudeness by Jeff Bridges.

Lowest point: They had to distort the vocal feed in his suit’s microphone to try to make him sound scary (it failed).

Mitigating factor: It’s fun to imagine an alternate universe where Iron Man is a Coen Brothers movie.


14. Darren Cross/Yellow Jacket (Corey Stoll), Ant-Man

Pretty much Obadiah Stane’s character from Iron Man (they even both have shaved heads!), only younger, less stable, and with the Silicon Valley douchenozzle factor cranked up to 11. A senior executive at Stark Industries Pym Technologies, who wants to steal Tony Stark’s Hank Pym’s Iron Man shrinking suit technology to sell to terrorists HYDRA. Has a suit just like Ant-Man’s, except it can fly and has guns, not-so-gently raising the question of why Ant-Man’s suit doesn’t do any of that. Slowly being driven insane by prolonged exposure to Pym particles, which isn’t a problem for the good guys because reasons.

Lowest point: We’re meant to believe he shoots an individual bug (the one carrying Ant-Man) out of the air with a handgun. Then for the whole rest of the movie, he aims like a Stormtrooper on fentanyl.

Mitigating factor: Kills a dude in a bathroom, shrinks his body, and flushes it down the toilet. I’m sorry, that rules.


13. Aldrich Killian/The Mandarin (Guy Pearce), Iron Man 3

A nerdy scientist whom Tony Stark once cockblocked gets his revenge in a ridiculously circuitous plan that involves, in no particular order: gene therapy that regenerates injuries and gives people fire powers but also sometimes makes them blow up, hiring a junkie actor to be the fake leader of a terrorist organization, killing the President on TV, giving Tony Stark’s girlfriend superpowers, and so on. It’s not a particularly well put-together movie.

Low Point: Survives being trapped inside an exploding Iron Man suit, but is taken out with a baseball bat.

Mitigating factor: The Dr. Okun cosplay that is his 1999 look is legitimately awesome. 


12. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination (Tim Roth), The Incredible Hulk

Marmot-faced actor Tim Roth turns in one of his sweatiest performances as an elite soldier who agrees to be injected with a small amount of Hulk Juice to help him fight the Hulk. The serum drives him mad, and he ends up mainlining Hulk’s blood and transforming into a creature just like him but even less credible, if possible. Also, he Hulkifies Tim Blake Nelson in a maddeningly unresolved plot point.

Low point: Tim Roth resembles a bad-ass soldier about as much as I do.

Look at that: a model soldier’s physique.

Mitigating factor: Umm… he takes a spinal tap like a champ.

11. Ivan Vanko/Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), Iron Man 2

During America’s brief late-aughts flirtation with giving a fuck about Mickey Rourke again, he snuck in a role as the son of a brilliant Russian engineer who was run out of the country by Tony Stark’s dad. He builds his own Iron Man suit and joins up with Stark’s business rival to ruin him. Nothing about him makes any sense. Doesn’t have a plan, never seems to care about anything, and loses every fight quickly and handily while chuckling and declaring, “You lose!”

Lowest point: Rourke apparently insisted his character should have streaked hair, gold teeth, and a cockatoo, as most genius engineers do.

Mitigating factor: Vanko’s scenes with Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) rank among the MCU’s best comedy bits.


10. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Guardians of the Galaxy

Humorless, drama-queen leader of a fanatic Kree faction, bent on destroying the enemy Xandarians in defiance of a Kree-Xandar peace treaty. Sent on a gofer mission from Thanos to get the Purple MacGuffin Stone in return for help in destroying Xandar. Once he learns how powerful the purple thingy is, he reneges and keeps the stone for himself, and the Guardians of the Galaxy have to stop him.

Low point: On the cusp of the culmination of his life’s crowning ambition, he gets distracted for several minutes by a song-and-dance routine straight out of an eighth grade talent show.

Mitigating factor: Dude rocks that black metal getup.

9. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), Doctor Strange

An evil sorcerer who resents his own mortality, and wants to surrender Earth to an extradimensional demon named Dormammu who will keep the planet in a timeless stasis so as to live forever. This sounds like a good plan to him, because they don’t teach you about dramatic irony in Wizard School. Personality of a doorknob. Can’t get his eye shadow right.

Low point: That time he was trapped ignominiously in a magical restraint that was clearly developed for BDSM purposes.

Mitigating factor: Other actors have to exercise their full skill set to get that smoldering menace that is Mads Mikkelsen’s resting demeanor.

That’s it for now. Tune in next time for part 2!

Tag: Marvel Cinematic Universe

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  • My opinion is that Darren Cross/Yellow Jacket is ranked too far toward the Worst end. His level of hands-on malevolence and bloodthirstiness stands out (he makes everything personal), especially because he’s mostly able to hide it so well when he cares to. Then there’s his complicated relationship to his former idol Pym, which shifts between wanting to gain approval and wanting to surpass. I like that his goal isn’t world domination.

    • I think he would have been a good Lex Luthor. Certainly better than the one we got.

      He only suffers the same way they all do, the movies are not named after the villains, so they are ultimately just background elements. Which is to the benefit of the movies.

  • StarlightForPrincess

    I actually love Darren Cross and Aldrich Killian.

  • Derek Johns

    Personally I actually liked Obadiah Stane. I knew he was the villain going into the movie but up until about the end of the second act Jeff Bridges portrays him and affable and perfectly reasonable considering that Tony seemed to typically leave him to pick up the pieces for his antics.

    Also, I think this article perfectly pointed out why Whiplash is easily the worst villain in the MCU. I mean with other MCU villains they at least kick the heroes ass or outsmart them in the first half to justify themselves as a threat. Not Whiplash though. He gets the element of surprise on his side and Tony still beats him quite convincingly. Not only that but he seems to have a Charlie Sheen-like concept of losing. When he ripped off Predator at the end my two thoughts were “Why were we supposed to be afraid of this guy?” and “I guess he thought “You lose” sounded more badass than “Let’s call it a tie”

    • PhysUnknown

      I agree on Stane. He never wanted Stark kidnapped, that only happened when Raza realized that Stark was in the convoy and that’s who Stane’s real target was. Raza screws up by asking Stark to build anything (and then doing a piss-poor job monitoring him). Had Raza just left Tony in a cell with Shinzen keeping him alive but nothing else to do, Tony doesn’t build the original suit.

      I also think he was a great “entry-level” villain. I know that The incredible Hulk is technically the first MCU movie, but I feel like the success of Iron Man is what truly sparked the MCU. Stane was great as the first bad guy. I think one of the enjoyable things about the first Iron Man is that it is an origin story, but doesn’t try to cram in too much. Stane fits well in that movie, leaving us with the hopes that later bad guys would be bigger and badder.

    • Tyler Peterson

      The main reason I ranked Stane so low was because he wasn’t very distinctive as a villain. I barely remembered anything about him; he didn’t make a big impression on me. Not to the extent of Malekith, whom I had to Google to remember what he even looked like, but indistinct enough. To be fair, we are talking about a ten-year-old movie. Maybe a rewatch is in order.

  • John

    I enjoyed Stane as a villain, I would have ranked him higher.

  • Marsden

    I like your article and I’m looking forward to the next part, but I’ve never seen the villains as a problem in any of the movies. The movies are about the heroes, I really don’t care that they don’t spend too much on them, they get the heroes right. I much prefer this method than giving the villain equal time or even more, like the first Batman movie with Jack Nicholson, that movie was all about the Joker. I don’t want that.

    • PhysUnknown

      I’m not sure it’s fair to bring up the Netflix shows as a counter to this, but I’m going to anyway, and say that Killian in Season 1 of Jessica Jones is an example of an AMAZING villain that doesn’t detract from the Hero’s story. Maybe it kind of proves your point – with 10 hour-long episodes to work with, the writers can delve into both stories. With just 2+ hours, the story tends to focus on the heroes.

      • Engler Pascal

        Agree, see also Daredevil’s Kingpin. I also liked AoS’ Aida.

  • The_Shadow_Knows

    What annoyed me about Mads Mikkelsen’s performance in Doctor Strange (and also Rogue One) is that I now know he can speak English in a perfectly understandable way… which makes it twice as aggravating that he chose NOT to do so on the TV show Hannibal.