I welcome a challenge. Marvel has been dogged for years with the claim that they have a problem with their villains. DC after all has given us a wall of great bad guys, mostly Batman villains, but ones who’ve made a greater dent than Marvel. I’m a bit mixed here. So just for fun, I’m looking at all the major villains in the universe (save for the yet unseen Captain Marvel). I’m building to the best but before I do, a necessary caveat: defining who the villain is isn’t always clear. Some films have multiple antagonists. I’m going with who the biggest bad guy is. So sadly Klaue and Thunderbolt Ross, awesome as they are, are out. But let’s begin at the bottom.
Dishonorable Mention: The villain situation in Ant-Man and the Wasp. I’m cheating at the very start because I have trouble nailing down who exactly counts as the villain here. Is it Ghost? She’s sympathetic and well meaning. Is it Sonny Burch (a beyond wasted Walton Goggins)? He’s barely a presence in the film. Not a bad film but the most focused on its heroes to the point the villains are a wisp.
18. Kaecilius (Doctor Strange). How is a character played by Mads Mikkelsen the bottom of the MCU barrel? It was a coin flip between him and the next guy but he wins for one key reason. Doctor Strange is flooded with great, fascinating villains. This guy doesn’t cut it.
17. Malekith (Thor: The Dark World). Generic. No personality. Just take over the universe. I actually think is is a much better film than credited as but it’s because the Asgardian world is so fascinating. The threat is just a bad guy.
16. Abomination (The Incredible Hulk). The worst translation of a bad guy yet in the universe. As I noted, Thunderbolt Ross was great in this with William Hurt kicking ass in a role he’s reprised. But Emil Blonsky? Even as played by Tim Roth, he’s just a guy fighting the Hulk until he becomes a monster himself. He’s a stand in for a better villain. And he should be great. Hideous design too.
15. Aldrich Killian (Iron Man 3). The central villain of Iron Man 3 is PTSD. So it’s ok that the relatively generic Killian is our outward antagonist. He just gives an obstacle. I love this film but Guy Pearce’s charisma does not make for anything beyond a functionary.
14. Ronan the Accuser (Guardians of the Galaxy). I really like Lee Pace’s work here. I like his makeup. But I can’t say anything about why Ronan is chasing the heroes beyond he’s the bad guy after the MacGuffin. Not bad but not notable.
13. Hydra (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Fittingly the one mass antagonist, because really who was the big bad in TWS, is an organization with the motto “cut off one head, two more shall take its place.” If you want to draw a line at where I think the villains get good, it’s starting here. This is only this low because the power is divided.
12. Yellowjacket (Ant-Man). Yes, I’m actually putting this one in the plus column. Credit Corey Stoll’s gleefully scenery chewing work along with him being a dangerous threat. He’s one of the man in a suit villains we’ve got but a good one.
11. Whiplash (Iron Man 2). Mickey Rourke is a bit bitter about this one but he should be pleased with his work here. There’s some nice scenery chewing as he plays a man whose life was ruined by the Stark empire.
10. The Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming). Hey look, the same plot got reused for this one! Why does the Vulture nudge Whiplash despite basically being the same character? Because Michael Keaton got the scene in the car where he got to crank up the intimidation.
9. The Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger). If there is a case on this list of the biggest mismatch in terms of where a character is vs where they should be, it’s here. While I think Hugo Weaving is a solidly intimidating version of the character with a mountain of presence, he’s oddly underpowered as a threat. This should be a world conqueror and he’s just not that scary. A weaker third act wounds him. Still good. Should reach great.
8. Helmut Zemo (Captain America: Civil War). Given that everything about his background is changed, I should find this a prime example of Marvel’s villain issue. Nah. This is still the Zemo of the comics. Vengeful and scheming. Daniel Bruhl’s work here is a great slow burn.
7. Ego (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2). It’s really impressive that James Gunn made Ego the Living Planet a threat when the comics have just been stuck with him as an unworkable concept. Of course they cheat by mostly having Ego appear in an avatar but it’s a Kurt Russell avatar so no wonder it worked. Russell killed here.
6. Obadiah Stane (Iron Man). It’s funny because as an end battle boss he’s just ok. The final fight is good but not incredible. However that doesn’t make a villain. What makes a villain is what they do to make the hero suffer. And wow does Stane make Stark suffer. Jeff Bridges tears into the scenery with utter fury and glee.
5. Ultron (Avengers: Age of Ultron). Man I love Ultron. I love him in the comics. I love him here. He’s perfectly adapted in a story that is just a perfect Ultron story. Only a slight ding for sketchy motivations. But a really great villain here.
4. Hela (Thor Ragnarok). I could really solidly argue for Hela going lower due to relatively limited screen time. But at the end of the day Cate Blanchett made Hela everything a comic book villain is supposed to be. She’s over the top, vamping her way through the film in the way only a true legend who knows her status is safe can. Furthermore she’s given great motivation and poses a real threat. Solid.
3. Killmonger (Black Panther). Where to start? Great motivation to the point the film doesn’t completely toss his views aside (though please remember the same points were made by Nakia). A genuine threat. And Michael B. Jordan just utterly on fire. How great a threat is he? He’s not even the main villain until a bit later in the film. But when he steps up, oh he steps up.
2. Loki (Thor/The Avengers). Tom Hiddleston’s work as Loki has become iconic for a reason. This is a guy who utterly loves being a bad guy even if two of his four appearances have him working for the heroes. For the first Avengers film you needed a threat you truly believed would take over the world and Loki was that. Comical, sneering, subtle as Mjolnir upside your head. A truly great villain. But not the best.
1. Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War). This is how it should be. The biggest threat is the best. Thanos is such a giant presence he looms over Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and he’s not even in it. Josh Brolin completely sells a man with complete conviction in the absolute worst beliefs. That’s what makes him terrifying. He means his omnicide. A perfect villain.
So that’s my ranking. If you disagree, again it’s my ranking!