Who are the best Marvel villains? While heroes might have the spotlight most of the time, great baddies are often more memorable. So let’s celebrate the bad guys for once and look through the worst (by which we mean best) villains to terrorize the MCU.
Now, when it comes to nefarious characters, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has more than a few contenders for the title of ‘best villain.’ And with the Marvel movies in order ever-expanding and a whole new bevy of baddies introduced with each new Marvel series, the pool of contenders has grown and will continue to do so with all the upcoming Marvel movies, too. That said, we’re pretty firm on who’s the best at being bad, so here are our top picks.
22. Red Skull
Red Skull is doing double duty as a bad guy here because he’s both a power-driven Nazi and an ugly noseless red guy. Red Skull was one of the first villains we encountered, having been Steve Rogers’ adversary in Captain America: The First Avenger. He’s also the head of HYDRA, the evil organization that would come back time and time again over the course of the MCU.
His first interactions with the Tesseract set up what would go on to be the overarching story for future Marvel villains, and he does it all with the fist-shaking, monologue-ing flair that we’d expect from the best movie villains, comic book or not.
When Nebula first appeared, we all assumed she was a one-and-done villain. As the second, less-loved daughter of Thanos, Nebula has one goal: to usurp her sister, Gamora, and become the apple of Thanos’ eye. Since then, she’s grown from being a petty sibling to becoming one of the best Marvel characters of all time. She’s also got the sympathy vote, since being torn apart and put back together again countless times during her years isn’t exactly prime treatment.
From being Thanos’ slave to saving Tony Stark in Endgame and joining the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nebula’s journey has been a long and difficult one, but we’re proud of her. And even if she hadn’t turned herself around to become a hero, she still would have been a memorable villain. Why? Well, we love a vengeful sister.
Since slipping on Tony Stark’s cybernetic spandex, Peter Parker’s faced plenty of incredible villains, but few have been as moustache-twirlingly entertaining as the marvelous Mysterio. A master of illusions and craftier than an art supply store, the MCU version of the character pretended to be a superhero from across the multiverse sent to save Earth-616 from the destructive Elementals.
Unsurprisingly, considering the character’s comic book history, that turned out to be a lie, and Mysterio, aka Quentin Beck, was revealed to be a desperate narcissist who wanted to usurp Tony Stark’s place as Earth’s number one hero. We’re not quite sure what Beck’s end goal was, but it probably wasn’t good.
Played by the wonderful Jake Gyllenhaal (Fun fact: we met him, and he’s every bit as oddly charming as you’d expect.) and boasting what is the greatest adaptation of a supervillain costume to the big screen you just can’t help but love to hate Mysterio.
Age of Ultron gets a bit of a bad wrap. Is it the worst Avengers movie? Probably. Does it have a few things going for it? Definitely. Arguably, though, the biggest thing the second Avengers movie has going for it is the titular villain, the menacing mechanical malcontent Ultron.
While we enjoyed the fact that Ultron’s unique robotic physiology made him a threat the Avengers couldn’t just smash down (Until Vision stepped in, that is), that’s not what we love about him. No, what separates this robot rebel from his villainous colleagues, though, is his personality, specifically the fact that he’s basically Tony without the ethics.
Ultron’s got all the glib one-liners and charm of his creator but none of the morals. So when he sees a future where humanity is going to blow up the Earth, he doesn’t think, ‘Well, I’ll design a suit of armor and defuse the bomb.’ He thinks, ‘If I wipe out humanity, there’ll be no one to press the button that sets the bomb off.’ It’s a warped way of thinking, but be honest with us, can you say Tony wouldn’t have thought the same thing at least once?
18. Xu Wenwu
Shang-Chi was a bright spot in Marvel’s pretty tepid Phase 4, and a large part of why that film worked was Xu Wenwu. Honestly, putting Weneu on this list feels a little like cheating. Sure, he’s the antagonist of the film, but he’s not outright evil. He’s just a man blinded by grief who acts in a recklessly selfish way.
It’s quite relatable (No, I have never summoned a demon while trying to resurrect my dead wife.) in a weird way, and a lot of that comes down to Tony Leung’s magnificent performance.
Leung plays the character so straight, which is exactly what you want with a villain like Wenwu. If he’d been too arch or camp, you probably wouldn’t have sympathized with the character in the same way, and it would have undermined the entire film.
17. William Stryker
There are villains with understandable motives, a sympathetic backstory, or who have likable characteristics that make them fan favorites, and then there’s William Stryker.
As a Sargeant, Stryker tortured Wolverine, appearing throughout the X-Men movies in order, pumping adamantium into his frame. In X2, he also manipulated his disabled mutant son to try and take down the X-Men. Cold, unfeeling, and deeply cynical, he’s a genocidal man with an agenda that takes precedence over everything. Brian Cox? Perfect. And he’s been quoted saying he wouldn’t mind stepping into Stryker’s steel-capped boots again for new movies.
One of the reasons the MCU is having a hard time following up the Infinity Saga’s best movies is that the first chapter of the universe is bookended by Thanos, whose presence as a puppeteer has weighed heavily on the universe from the moment Infinity Gems were introduced.
It all came to a head in Infinity War, a movie that cold-opened with Thanos decimating an Asgardian ship and crushing Loki’s throat as Thor looked on. The combination of his physically imposing body and ruthless cure for what he perceives as the ultimate disease, overpopulation, made him a genuinely threatening adversary.
Thanos sharing the screen with our favorite Avengers was one of the few occasions in over a decade of storytelling where we felt there were desperate stakes, and that a character might not make it out alive after coming toe to toe with him.
When it comes to mutants, Marvel knows what they are doing. But while there have been plenty of baddies in the X-Men franchise, few stick out as much as the bright blue shapeshifter Mystique.
If you aren’t familiar with this iconic mutant, Mystique is a badass anti-hero who is an expert assassin and master manipulator. Often acting as the righthand of Magneto, she has killed, lied, and clawed her way to the top. But don’t lump her in with those other henchmen.
Mystique is a force to be reckoned with, has an intriguing origin story, and has made it clear on multiple occasions that without her, Magneto would only be half as deadly.
14. Ego the Living Planet
We here at The Digital Fix love a good twist, so what is better than a villain whose true villainous nature was a massive shock? Ego the Living Planet was the surprise main villain for the Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. That is right, Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha was just a red herring, and actually, Star-Lord’s lost father was the true baddie all along.
There is a double sense of betrayal when it comes to Ego. Not only is he evil, but he strips away any hope Star-Lord had about having a relationship with his dad. It is a sad and complex relationship and makes Ego stand out as a memorable antagonist. He also gives us your standard (but beloved) Marvel CGI battle, so you get a little bit of everything with this baddie.
13. Wilson Fisk
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.
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, but the sincerity in Jordan’s eyes also pushes one to consider that perhaps he really is entitled to more. Pure brilliance, and he is a standout in the Black Panther cast.
The moment Cate Blanchett, dressed in full goth Asgardian regalia, shattered Mjolnir in 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… Even deities need to be sent to their room once in a while.
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 movie villain you’d kind of like to win just to see what happens.
You get to see MODOK‘s butt in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Need we say any more? But in all seriousness, MODOK is an underrated MCU character who has proven time and time again that he can steal the spotlight. It’s time that his little villain gets all the baddie recognition that he deserves, and The Digital Fix is happy to give it to him.
Of course, like a few of the other antagonists on this list, he does get some redemption towards the end of his too-short appearance, so, in a way, he’s also the ugliest-looking good guy wandering around the Marvel universe. (Yes, we know it’s all very Sharkboy and Lavagirl, but we don’t care! We love this little freak!)
9. Wanda Maximoff
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 reason.
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.
In the first three X-Men movies, McKellen brings an embattled pathos to one of the best X-Men characters, Magneto. He is the mutant leader who knows all too well the cruelty wrought on marginalized 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’s 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.
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.
6. 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 new Thor cast member joined the MCU for the rocking adventure movie Thor: Love and Thunder and left his mark by killing a bunch of gods in the process.
Bale’s Gorr is a 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 color fears to tread. He suffers from the franchise’s penchant for treating villains as a one-and-done, but his one film thus far is a memorable one.
5. Green Goblin
You know, he’s something of a villain himself. There’s plenty to thank Sam Raimi for with his early Spider-Man iterations, but the most memorable part of the first movie is Willem Dafoe’s slimy millionaire turned supervillain. With a face that doesn’t seem bound by the laws of muscular gravity, Dafoe contorts himself into the flying menace known as Green Goblin.
But his ability to scare doesn’t stop there. Even when playing his human counterpart, Norman Osborn, Dafoe projects an eerie disconnect, perfectly articulating a man who is slowly being driven insane by his own creation. And, honestly, no villain has ever been so quotable. When he slipped back into the role years later in No Way Home, it was as if no time had passed at all.
4. High Evolutionary
High Evolutionary might have been obsessed with perfection, but he truly is a monster. Played brilliantly by Chukwudi Iwuji, this Guardians of the Galaxy 3 villain is truly rotten to the core.
What kind of sicko tortures animals? Is willing to let hundreds of children — whole nations — die? A lot of politicians, to be fair, but maybe that’s what makes the High Evolutionary such a terrifying villain. Unlike most of the villains on the list, he hasn’t got even the slightest bit of empathy or humanity. There’s nothing he won’t do to reach his goal, and that’s what makes him so dangerous.
The first season of the 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 epitomizes 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.
2. Baron Zemo
The man who tears the Avengers apart. It’s 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, Baron initially 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.
1. Doctor Octopus
Trying to answer which 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 whoever takes on Spidey’s iconic villain next.
In Spider-Man 2, he’s a biomechanical monster hellbent on realizing 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 guides on the best superhero movies to see how many appear. If you’re after more specific details on what’s to come, we’ve got guides breaking down everything you need to know about The Marvels, the Thunderbolts release date, and even the Avengers 5 release date.
And, while the villains may not agree, we have a feature on why Marvel needs to learn that killing characters isn’t everything.