Who are the best Marvel villains? While heroes might have the spotlight in the MCU and its precursors, great baddies are often more memorable. In fact, the best superhero movies and TV series would be significantly lesser if it weren’t for the nuanced antagonists that give our protagonists a strong foil.
Occasionally, that means a tragic arc that makes us empathise with their mission. Not all villains are truly evil, you know, and it’s the complicated ones that can leave the strongest impression. Sometimes it’s the exact opposite, with someone who’s just the absolute worst, well performed by actors that understand there’s just no arguing with their bloodlust.
So, we’ve decided to go through the best Marvel villains to reveal who gave us the most feelings in their antagonistic mission. Our choices are based on a mix of story, performance, and other factors that contribute to them being memorable and worthwhile. We should note, this is all based on Marvel series and Marvel movies, not the comics – sorry to any Lady Deathstrike and Mole Man fans out there, but we’d be here all day otherwise!
Who are the best Marvel villains?
- Wilson Fisk
- Wanda Maximoff
- Gorr, the God Butcher
- Baron Zemo
- Doctor Octopus
Otherwise known as Kingpin, Wilson Fisk has permeated the New York City of Marvel Comics since the late-60s. A bruising crime lord, his broad physique gives him a foreboding nature even before his reputation as a cutthroat, manipulative part of the underworld.
Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Punisher are just three heroes who’ve been brought to the brink by Wilson, each learning the hard way exactly why few even dare whisper his name. His recurring role in the Marvel Netflix series, exquisitely portrayed by Vincent D’Onofrio, has cemented him as one of the great antagonists in the MCU.
It was a real coup for Marvel Studios to court Ryan Coogler as director and Michael B Jordan as Killmonger, the main villain, for 2016’s Black Panther off the back of their collaboration on 2015’s Creed. Throw in Chadwick Boseman as the eponymous hero, and it was always going to be a strong point in the franchise.
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Even with just one film, Jordan brings so much emotion and physicality to Killmonger, a man of Wakandan heritage who grew up on the streets of California and feels cheated for it. Not only is his deep-seated anger and frustration understandable, the sincerity in Jordan’s eyes pushes one to consider perhaps he really is entitled to more. Pure brilliance.
The moment Cate Blanchett dressed in full goth Asgardian regalia shattered Mjolnir in the Thor movie Thor: Ragnarok, we knew shit was going down. Thor and Loki’s long-lost sibling, she was imprisoned by Odin for enjoying the power of Asgard’s armies a tad too much, because even deities need sending to their room once in a while.
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Once free, she goes on a conquest to take over Asgard and resume her plan of cosmic domination. It isn’t just her lust for power and positioning as an evil version of Thor, but how she shakes Asgard right down to its foundations that makes her captivating. A villain you’d kind of like to win, just to see what happens.
This one’s cheating a little bit, because Wanda’s never truly evil in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, WandaVision, or Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but she does pose an existential threat to those around her. In bouts of grief and resentment, she brings Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to their knees, imprisons an entire town to indulge her familial fantasies, and breaks time and space for the same.
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In MCU power rankings, she’s comfortably top-tier. Her empathy makes her a great hero, but her rage hints at an even better baddie that could shatter and reform the whole universe on a whim. Every time she lashes out, she gets closer and closer to doing so, and it’s a thrill each time.
Whether Magneto’s part of the MCU depends on how much water the multiverse holds for you in terms of canon. That said, Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen’s performances as Professor X’s opposite cannot be overlooked. They brought one of Marvel’s most enduring and complex villains to life in a way that encapsulates decades of comic history, with turns that’ll be hard to follow for any performer.
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In the first three X-Men movies, McKellen brings an embattled pathos to Magneto, as the mutant leader who knows all too well the cruelty wrought on marginalised groups. Fassbender, then, plays the younger, more idealistic version who gives peace a chance alongside Charles Xavier. Magneto is many things, but wrong isn’t necessarily one of them, and that’s been maintained in his on-screen depictions.
At this point, the adopted prince of Asgard has had no shorter than three full redemption arcs. But when he is a full-scale evil-doer, he’s one of the best – a duplicitous snake with more lives than a cat and multiple layers of deception at work.
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His desires are simple: an empire. He’s never getting a throne on Asgard, so he’s going to take over somewhere else. In concert with Thanos, he causes the invasion of New York City that brings together the Avengers. Little has ever worked out for Loki, which makes his bubbling fury relatable. Not to mention Tom Hiddleston can deliver a monologue like nobody’s business.
The first season of Netflix series Jessica Jones is up there in the pantheon of great comic book adaptations, thanks in no small part to slimy, narcissistic chauvinist Kilgrave. Wielding the power to control people using his mind, Jessica suffers the full wrath of his desires during their brief relationship.
Kilgrave is a classic archetype, an abused child who becomes a worse bully later in life. But when presented with the chance to do better, he chooses not to, making clear who he really is. His abuse towards Jessica epitomises many complexities around sexual assault and trauma, and David Tennant’s performance goes a long way in demonstrating just how slippery people like him are.
Gorr, the God Butcher
Christian Bale, oozing black goo from his mouth against ghost white skin, holding a symbiotic blade called the Necrosword – that’s a striking image. The former Batman actor joined the MCU for rocking adventure movie Thor: Love and Thunder, and left his mark by killing a bunch of gods in the process.
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Bale’s Gorr is pure menace, controlling shadows and moving at lightspeed. He seems plucked straight out of a horror movie and into the franchise, taking our heroes right to the brink of existence, where even colour fears to tread. He suffers from the franchise’s penchant for treating villains as one-and-done, but his one film thus far is a memorable one.
The man who tears the Avengers apart. Not the hardest job, really, considering tensions between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, but still. Baron demonstrates that someone with enough dedication and ingenuity can still bring a lot of upset even with metal suits and super-soldier serum doing the rounds.
Driven by the loss of his family in Sokovia, initially Baron seeks vengeance. That eventually shifts to simply being an agent of chaos, someone who lives to disrupt the power balance around him. A headache for whatever superhero’s around is merely an added bonus.
What Spider-Man movies are canon post-No Way Home is, frankly, a mess. One thing is for sure, though: Alfred Molina’s take on Doctor Octopus is one tough act to follow for whomever takes on Spidey’s iconic villain next.
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In Spider-Man 2, he’s a biomechanical monster hellbent on realising his scientific exploits, no matter the cost. Yet below that murderous exterior lies a man who shoulders the death of his wife, and just wants to be normal again. Some of No Way Home’s best moments stem from Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire and Molina sharing a candid reunion. It’s short-lived, and just part of why Doctor Octopus is an all-time great for Marvel.
If you need more Marvel, check out our guide to the MCU’s Phase 5 for everything that’s still to come from the cinematic behemoth. Or for more villains, check out our guide to the best Batman villains.