MCU Villains Ranked Part 2

Welcome to Part Two of my Countdown of Best Villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe! If you haven’t yet, read Part One found HERE!!

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15. Ronan the Accuser- Guardians of the Galaxy has the team pitted against a singlular main enemy, which is ridiculous when you weigh in how varied and unique they are. Who can go up against a master assassin, a destroyer, a tree monster, a talking, blaster-happy raccoon, and the son of a planet? Enter Ronan, a Kree radical with amazing power due to his physiology, his armor, and the hammer-like Universal Weapon he wields. Hired by Thanos, Ronan is tasked with retrieving an orb containing an Infinity Gem in return for his help destroying Ronan’s enemies. He becomes power hungry, deciding to use the stone himself and betray Thanos. This backfires pretty hard for him. Drax is a force to be reckoned with and has a real reason to hate this guy, yet gets knocked on his ass more than once by Ronan. Now I love Oscar Isaac, but I think part of reason fans were so upset with Apocalypse was that Lee Pace set the bar so high for an imposing, larger-than-life blue tyrant. His design was creative, his fury was apparent, and his motives were truly villainous. [Note: I am NOT including Thanos on my list because he hasn’t really done anything yet, despite being a key player moving the chess pieces of the MCU. Infinity Wars is where he is gonna shine.]

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14. Shocker and The Tinkerer- I knew about the main villain when I entered the theater for Spider-Man Homecoming, but I was in for a real treat with the array of supporting villains throughout the film. We get Shocker played by Logan-Marshall Green in a classic sense, who is unfortunately disposed of and replaced by Bokeem Woodbine. He takes the weapon and the moniker, delivering a powerful punch against Spidey in several scenes but is ultimately no match for him. Then we’ve got the Tinkerer. Even though he is not actually called that name in the movie, Michael Chernus’ character is true to his nature of creating the technology for the various team members to achieve their no-good deeds. We even get the first hint of a Scorpion character and Donald Glover plays a low-level criminal who in the comics becomes Prowler. By my count, that is FIVE secondary villains not including the faux-vengers featured in all the commercials. Really impressive to cram that many into a movie and NOT create a disaster like some previous Spider-Man films. AND they are all exceptionally fleshed out and relatable. See Sony? Aren’t you glad you played nice with Marvel Studios?

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13. Whiplash- I really do like Iron Man, but his foes overall have been a bit of a disappointment considering my favorite doesn’t even break the top ten. That being said, Anton Vanko has to be one of the most believable villains on my list. A man who could easily be Tony Stark’s contemporary, Russian-born Vanko draws the short straw when his father gets screwed out of a partnership with Tony’s father. Upon learning he is Iron Man, Anton creates a weapon that can defeat the armored Avenger as retribution and calls himself Whiplash. He has no costume to speak of, just a tattered jumpsuit, his own tattooed, scarred body and the electrified whips of energy he developed. Justin Hammer then uses Vanko’s genius to develop the technology needed to overpower him, but we all know that backfires too. I like Whiplash because his tragic plight is one of a man who could have everything, given the right opportunities, yet has to watch a cocky, rich a-hole get all the glory. Plus Mickey Rourke delivers some of the best lines when confronted by Hammer about his bird, that he will stop at nothing to retrieve which shows he is not entirely a monster. He just has a vendetta, and rightfully so.

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12. Kaecilius- If circumstance created our last villain, then hubris created our next entry. Seeking eternal life, Kaecilius and his fellow zealots steal the page from an ancient text and abandon Kamar-Taj in favor of darker options. Time manipulation and agelessness are two recurring themes in Doctor Strange, so it is only fitting that the villain bends the laws of physics to suit his needs. He is powerful enough to rival the mystics of Nepal like Mordo and the Ancient One, but the use of the dark arts takes its toll on his body like the cracking and darkening of his skin. The design and execution of the character is not why he scored so high, because honestly there are much better choices in this article. What I really got out of this story is that Kaecilius IS Stephen Strange, in a way. Think about it- the Ancient One was incredibly hesitant to accept Strange as a pupil because of how much he reminded her of Kaecilius: headstrong, intelligent, persistant, selfish, and inconsiderate. Strange even sneaks around the library and picks out the same book and meddles with the same terrible spells that led Kaecilius down his dark path. It is not at all unreasonable for Strange to join him and succeed in becoming immortal, yet his heroism leads him in a more noble direction. This identity reflection between Strange and Kaecilius makes for an amazing plot device and makes you appreciate the hero for making the right decisions when they count.

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11. Abomination (and Leader)- While I did enjoy some of the cinematic elements of Ang Lee’s “Hulk” from 2003, I was extremely disappointed in the villain choice. Worst part of the film for me. So, when Incredible Hulk debuted after the smash hit that was Iron Man, I had high hopes that were definitely met. What better classic enemy can match the brute strength of Bruce Banner’s monster than the Abomination? Tim Roth plays seasoned military veteran Emil Blonsky who will do anything to achieve his greatest potential, including a super soldier serum similar to the one given to Steve Rogers. Unfortunately, it is an imperfect blend that has very dangerous side effects. Blonsky fights the Hulk midway through the film and gets it handed to him despite the increased strength and speed, yet still mocks him and further endangers himself. It’s only after he recieves a transfusion of Banner’s blood that he mutates into a giant, gnarly looking monstrosity that rampages across New York. He truly stands toe to toe with the Incredible Hulk, only losing when the fury of Banner is unleashed. To date, he is the only villain to physically gain the upper hand on the Hulk without resorting to mental, chemical, or technological methods. I really enjoyed the design although many slammed it for departing the source material too much. I say it was terrifying and huge and lived up to the reputation of Abomination.

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Also, big honorable mention for “Mr. Blue” a.k.a. Dr. Samuel Sterns who is Bruce Banner’s ally throughout the film, only to betray him in his intentions for the irradiated blood samples. A cut on his head and a spilled test tube causes his head to swell and is the beginning of the villain as The Leader, another Hulk villain with supergenius intellect. Tim Blake Nelson plays the role so well and I am very disappointed we never got that sequel. He’s still out there somewhere, so you never know…

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10. Hydra and Arnim Zola- I’m lumping Zola and several other less prominent villains under the Hydra umbrella because it is just such a big organization that, were I to rate them individually, I’d have way more entries than I could handle. Hydra first emerged in Captain America: The First Avenger as the scientific sister of the Nazi Party during World War II, but we’ll talk about that later. No, I’m more concerned with their impact since then under the guidance of Arnim Zola, played by Toby Jones. Originally a sidekick type, he soon becomes an integral part of the sustained might of Hydra by subtly infiltrating S.H.I.E.L.D. and embedding his intelligence into a computer program without S.H.I.E.L.D. even detecting it. Hydra has had their tentacles within the government division since its inception and finally overpowers them in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They dismantle every good thing about S.H.I.E.L.D. and discredit all those who work there, regardless of their true allegience. This turned the MCU on it’s head and totally changed the course of future movies, no small feat. Zola is characterized so well as a brilliant and faithful scientist in the first film that I didn’t even mind that the classic comic design was ignored. The pay off was that much better when we got it in Winter Soldier, although slightly changed for the narrative. Then, Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) appears in the mid-credits scene of Winter Soldier and in the beginning of Avengers Age of Ultron in charge of a Hydra outpost. Strucker is very true to the source material even if he was underutilized overall. Just like the Empire in Star Wars or Cobra in G.I. Joe, Hydra is the big evil constant in the shared Marvel universe that has proven to penetrate every political facet and threaten world domination at every turn.

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By the way, Captain America: Winter Soldier gives us Batroc the Leaper (Georges St-Pierre) briefly. Although not a Hydra operative, I appreciate Marvel including him on film.

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9. Nebula- Daughter of the Mad Titan and sister of Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy (alliteration win!), Nebula is another example of a tragic villain only doing her best to survive and impress her father. Not only is this the highest female villain on my list, but one of the only females on my list due to the lack of lady antagonists in the Marvel Universe. Other than Scarlet Witch (who turns good) and a handful of flunkies, the only real feminine villains are featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. I’m glad Nebula tops this category because she is truly a deep and broken character who is not a villain in her own mind, but rather the victim. Her role is somewhat minimal in the first film but expands nicely in Volume 2. Tasked with eliminating her sister by Thanos, Nebula’s mission holds personal meaning because throughout their childhood, Gamora never lost in combat. This caused her to be robotically modified after each defeat to even the odds. Both sisters are victims of Thanos’ tyranny, but Nebula never had his favor until now. She fails time and time again to subdue her sibling, and even though Gamora extends her hand in forgiveness and apology, Nebula is too jaded to be anything but hateful. Even if she is second best in battle, Nebula is still a formidable fighter and a scary, unhinged killer. The second film humanizes her even more than the first to the point of making me feel nothing but sympathy for her. Even though she is classified as a villain here, I almost see her as a victim of brainwashing and abuse like the canines used in illegal dog fights. The actress who plays Nebula is beautiful, yet the make-up artists do a number on Karen Gillan to create a striking, almost Frankenstein-esque character that is pretty despite all the damage. I feel Nebula is just as strong a female character as Gamora, and were the tables turned, their roles could easily be reversed. Note to Marvel: make more female villains at this complexity!

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8. Dormammu- Now there are some aspects of Fox’s earlier Fantastic Four movies that I really enjoyed, but their treatment of Galactus is not one of them. Giant space cloud? Hard pass. Dormammu is what the world eater could have been if executed properly. Doctor Strange is one the most visually stunning movies in the MCU and Dormammu’s design only increases my love for this film. Throughout his journey, Stephen Strange is warned of the destruction that Dormammu will bring and the entire conflict revolves around preventing his release, so it has the same vibe as Thanos or Galactus, but my expectations were just shattered. We get to see Doctor Strange murdered by this psychedelic monstrosity over and over in unique ways until his will is finally broken. He is awesome because he is just so powerful, Strange never stood a chance in battle. Dormammu concedes. He is still out there and as dangerous as ever, which I love in my villains: a ever-present threat. His entitled composure reminded me of Smaug, coincidentally voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, and much like that character, Dormammu only appears briefly but makes a major impact on the fans. Voiced by Jonathan Adams and created entirely by CGI, this literal big bad guy is one that would require a team to realistically combat, and even then the chances are slim. Monsters are not really the focus of the MCU, but if we can’t get Fin Fang Foom then at least we have been treated to the might of Dormammu!

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7. Ultron- If there was ever a threat that has endlessly dogged the Avengers, it is Ultron. He is not some ruthless criminal or alien threat or super-powered psycho from out of no where. No, Ultron is the direct product of the Avengers’ own misguided actions, and with the help of an infinity stone, a monster is born. Now in the comics, it is Hank Pym (original Ant-Man) who develops the technology that creates Ultron, but since he is already past his prime in the MCU and Tony Stark is cocky tech-head of the group, there was a role switch-up for the sake of convenience to the story. Yet, the change feels organic. Against the wishes of some fellow Avengers, Tony develops an AI to anticipate world threats and achieve peace, but becomes sentient and is driven to cleanse the Earth of the plague of mankind. He rebuilds himself to become stronger, tougher, and badder while also exploiting the miraculous Maximoff twins and shaking down Wakandan arms dealer Klaue for vibranium, a uniquely resilient metal. He creates an army of Ultrons and develops a plot to lift a city miles into the air and drop it like a meteor causing a worldwide extinction, which is some downright sinister sh…tuff right there. A stroke of luck for the Avengers occurs when the synthetic body Ultron prepared for himself is actually used by Stark to create a new team member called the Vision who is just the edge they need to defeat him. He still gives them a run for their money, fighting all the major players one-on-one and swarming the Avengers as a hive-minded robot horde. Now, I may draw criticism for saying this, but while Ultron is completely unhinged and hellbent on destroying the human race, he has a valid argument. Just like the Agents in the Matrix, he believes people do more harm than good and justifies it is just better to start fresh than try and fix something that is so damaged. He even uses science and religion to support his claims. He is a villain through and through, from the excellent monologues delivered by actor James Spader to the personal connection with our heroes. And as far as adapting a comic book design to the big screen without looking too cheesy, Ultron was treated better than expected.

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6. Ego the Living Planet- I laughed out loud when I heard James Gunn was actually making Ego the major villain in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, partly because I was not terribly well versed in his character history and mostly because I had no clue how they might pull off such a strange concept. From the first film, we get plenty of indications that this sequel will address Star-Lord’s paternal heritage and a quick web search verifies who that is and why that falls perfectly into a space opera super flick. Not only was I entirely impressed by the treatment of Ego the Living Planet as a villain, but as a character overall. The movie opens with Kurt Russell driving along with Peter Quill’s mother, de-aged a good 25 to 30 years thanks to cinema magic and I got Jack Burton flashbacks of his confident younger self. Later, he seeks out Star-Lord and takes him to the planet he has created in hopes of beginning a new relationship as father and son. This is only really a ploy to exploit him, as Peter is the first success of many failed offspring to harness the reality warping power of Ego. The Guardians must literally fight inside a living planet and destroy it before it compromises their leader and Earth as a byproduct. There are many reasons this character ranks so highly on the list, but Kurt Russell is probably the biggest factor for me. Sure, the special effects were awesome, the costuming felt right, and his character arch was strong, but Kurt made me feel things I have rarely experienced in a movie theater. I cried when he played catch with his son for the first time. I sensed how he truly loved Quill’s mother. And I was betrayed when he revealed it was his fault she got cancer because he could not stand to forfeit his cause for the sake of a woman. His interpretation of the song “Brandy” was perfect for this story to explain Ego’s personality and because of his performance, I listen to that song and “Father and Son” on my soundtrack almost as much as Mr. Blue Sky. Now, when I hear a character announced out of left field for a movie in the MCU, I give them the benefit of the doubt thanks to Ego.

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5. The Winter Soldier- New and casual fans who went to Captain America: The First Avenger saw Jame Buchanan Barnes as a solid sidekick/best friend for Steve Rogers, fighting alongside him in the Howling Commandos to take down the Germans in World War II. But when Bucky falls to his death in a pivotal train scene, it acts as more of a character building moment for the star than something that could be useful in future films. Long time comic fans knew better. Sebastian Stan returned in the next film as the title villain, The Winter Soldier, a brainwashed operative of Hydra. Enhanced by a super serum (similar to Captain America) and a cybernetic arm, he was put on ice by the Russians until he would be needed as an assassin under their complete control. Bucky goes up against his former compatriot more than once and wins. Seriously. He matches Steve blow for blow, but because the Winter Soldier is not weighed down by the sanctity of human life or friendship, he did not hold back. The spark of humanity left in Bucky is what saves Steve in the end and the next film, Civil War, explores this conflict. Black Panther fights him for his actions as Winter Soldier, despite his compromised mindset. He may not be an Avenger, but Bucky Barnes is every bit as important to the story of Captain America as any other character, from Nick Fury to Iron Man, if not more so. A huge fan favorite, the Winter Soldier is ultimately a good man who has been melted down and reshaped in the image of Hydra.

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4. Vulture- The latest villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is from a Spider-Man movie, which up until recently would have not been attached to Marvel Studios in the slightest, if not for the deal brokered with Sony. Personally, I have always enjoyed Vulture for his flamboyant costume, lack of superpowers, and small time crime, but collectively the fandom was skeptical at choosing such a “lame” villain to kick off a new era of Spidey films. He’s corny in the comics. And old. And goes against the notion of a fresh young take. Well, I do believe those of us who had doubts are eating our words. Michael Keaton plays Adrian Toomes, a foreman of a clean up crew for superhero battles that gets bought out by Damage Control. Out of spite and necessity, he sets up shop with the aforementioned support staff to use discarded alien tech for personal gain, either by repurposing them or selling them to the highest bidder. Toomes builds himself a pair of wings that balances hover technology and bird structure to pull off aerial and mobile heists. Peter Parker tries to thwart him from putting dangerous weapons into his neighborhood, which just opens a can of worms. Then, to make matters worse, it is revealed that Toomes is the father of Parker’s love interest in the film. Now, there is the added element of a compromised identity and wanting to protect the relationship Peter is trying to create. The costume holds more realism, with only on old bomber jacket with a feathered collar to define the character as “vulture”. An eerie facial apparatus with green eyes is used for practical flying purposes. However, it is the work of Michael Keaton that makes this role so good. I joked that it was only natural for a former Batman and Birdman to become Vulture, but Keaton plays him beautifully. Intimidating, ruthless, smart, and always putting family first. He feels wronged and bitter and goes down a terrible path to support his family, but his story is completely relatable for the viewer. I genuinely feel bad for Adrian, but he is still the bad guy so Spidey has to stop him. Now, when I say I love the Vulture, people don’t laugh at me. I wonder what B-list villain they’ll popularize next… Chameleon? Hydro-Man? (I’m rooting for Mysterio, real talk.)

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3. Yondu- Who saw this coming? I mean, I enjoyed Yondu in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, but only as a supporting secondary villain/ reluctant caretaker for young Star-Lord. In the comics, Yondu is quite different so I thought Marvel just threw him in as a nod to fans of the classic team. They severly downsized his classic red fin and took away the bow for his whistle-controlled arrow entirely. However, he was still a solid bad guy with depth. Then Volume Two came out and HOOOOOLYYYYY COOOOOOW! This movie made me absolutely adore Yondu; not for being a villain but for being a hero. It may be blasphemous to have a questionable antagonist in my top three, but I don’t care. He is still a villain in that he kills plenty of people and has ravaged the galaxy of it’s resources hoping to make a few hundred Units, but he is not heartless. Around all his belittling and abusing of Peter Quill, Yondu did the best he could to raise him and be a father figure. And he even gets a full fin! I would have never expected to be this in love with a blue character outside of the X-Men but this one takes the cake. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume Two centers a lot around fathers, and Yondu proves that dads come in all shapes and sizes. In the end he displays his love by putting Star-Lord’s life before his own. Michael Rooker has always been a phenomenal actor in a variety of good and bad roles, even becoming the monster in James Gunn’s 2006 horror comedy “Slither”, but his Yondu outdoes them all. From delivering the instant classic line “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” and some incredibly three dimensional action sequences to the heartfelt moments with Rocket and Peter, Rooker proves himself to be one of the greatest members of this cast. And to think, I thought they were making him a throwaway in the first one…

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Also, special shout out to his first mate Kraglin Obfonteri played by Sean Gunn. Although he has a much smaller role to play overall, he has good intentions just like Yondu and is a reliable sidekick in a pinch. He even provides some comic relief.

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2. Loki- The mischievous adopted son of Odin the All-Father gets the number two spot on this list, although many will argue his deserves the gold medal in villainy in the MCU instead of silver. While I can totally understand that viewpoint and respect it, I could not undersell my first choice and unlike many of these lists, I want mine to take personal opinion into account as well as overall reception and interpretation. Loki is quite possibly the greatest villain to hit the big screen, next to only a few others that are not Marvel Studios properties like Magneto, Doc Ock, and Ledger’s Joker. Loki has been in a WHOPPING four films if you include Thor Ragnarok, more than any other villain and for very good reason. He is a Marvel god, literally and figuratively, so his recurring role is well deserved. From fighting against Thor to fighting with Thor to battling the Avengers to creating alliances with Thanos, Loki is all over the place as far as motivations go. He is as complex as villains get. He wants power. Respect. Chaos. Love. Acceptance. Revenge. In the end, his character still sways toward the selfish motivations and villainy, which is great for the franchise because we need strong adversaries to justify the need to such strong heroes. Loki is a fan favorite due to Tom Hiddleston’s incredible performance and personification of what will prove to be his legacy. Perfectly cast and portrayed, Hiddleston sports a comic accurate costume and cape, complete with an impressively horned helmet that puts most to shame. His attitude is just right, balancing sarcasm, anger, pain, and delight in being himself. What else can I say? Loki is truly a treasure and remains the only villain to upstage the hero. I like Chris Hemsworth well enough, but anyone who says Tom Hiddleston is not just leaps and bounds ahead of the competition is kidding themselves. If Thor’s movies suffered, it was in no way the fault of Loki, because if anything he saved those movies. But who could rank higher than he in a list of bad guys? I can only think of one.

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1. Red Skull- Before the modern Marvel era created by Stan Lee, there was Timely Comics. The Sub-Mariner. The original Human Torch. And Captain America, the symbol for justice and good against the Nazis in World War II. Having Steve Rogers punch Hitler in the face is all fine and good, but he needed a lasting villain to represent the antithesis of the American Way. Control over freedom. Tyranny against democracy. Evil versus good. Enter Johann Schmidt, the German leader of Hydra who worked in cahoots with the Nazi Party to rule the world. Even long after the war ends, Hydra holds strong and terrorizes America with dreams of domination, all thanks to the Red Skull. I did not know about most of the villains on this list before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born, but I knew about the Red Skull. He takes what the world hated about Adolf Hitler and amplified it to terrifying proportions, with a design that has stood the test of time. It is so simple yet striking that it had to work. So, Captain America: The First Avenger came out in 2011 and I have probably seen it more than any other film in the MCU, partly because my wife has heart eyes for Chris Evans and partly for the fantastic story centering around the Red Skull using the Tesseract to win the war. Hugo Weaving did the character as he was meant to be done. German? Check. Commanding? Totally. I mean you remember Agent Smith in The Matrix? Hugo Weaving was inspired casting for this role and emerges slowly through the film until his true form is revealed. Red Skull is perfectly designed. An amazing performance, back story, motivation, all of it. I only wish he was in more films because he is the quintessential villain to me. He might not be the strongest or most powerful but he is the baddest of the bad in my opinion. There is no redeeming him. I mean, he’s a freaking Nazi! What is more detestable than that? A true masterpiece, ahead of it’s time and gone too soon, Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is at the pinnacle of what I expect from comic book villains. Hail Hydra!

And that’s not even the end of it! Although this is the end of the current run down of villains, we have many BIG things happening soon in the Marvel Universe. Next up, we have Thor Ragnarok which will feature Loki (again), Cate Blanchett as Hela, Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, and Surtur the Fire Demon. All look fantastic from what I’ve seen. Then, in Black Panther we are given the reprisal of Klaw (Andy Serkis) from Age of Ultron as well as Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), Nightshade (Tilda Johnson), and Man-Ape (Winston Duke). Then we see the big debut of Josh Brolin’s Thanos and his Black Order in Avengers: Infinity War which will include Proxima Midnight and Corvus Grave. And that’s not to mention the Skrulls in Captain Marvel or the villains of Ant-Man and the Wasp, which should include Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and possibly Goliath (Lawrence Fishburne). I predict at least two of these will break my top ten list and the best may be yet to come, but for now this is the greatest Marvel has to offer.

Thank you for reading and be sure to share!

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