With Spider-Man: Far From Home's arrival, and the advent of goofy Marvel villain Jake Gyllenhaal (or is he?) welcomed into the fold, we thought it's about time we take a look at the villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the past 11 years and take stock.
A major criticism of the MCU out of the gate was that its bad guys, with rare exceptions, were never that well-written or threatening. That's been improved over time, but who stands out as the best of the best? Here's a rundown of every major MCU baddie (sorry, Mordo fans, your time will come) and where they stand on the spectrum of brilliant to... really quite terrible.
26. Malekith, Thor: The Dark World
Poor Christopher Eccleston, a great actor who got saddled with the biggest wet blanket of a character we've seen so far. "Frankly, I think if we'd had the Elves speak English, that movie would be viewed much more kindly. I think you cut Christopher Eccleston off at the knees when it's just like, "Here, just speak some nonsense." Dark World and Endgame screenwriter Christopher Markus told me. It's hard to disagree
25. Whiplash, Iron Man 2
The worst film in the MCU gets the villain it deserves in a sleepwalking Mickey Rourke, just here for the paycheck. The dodgy Russian accent didn't help, either.
24. Aldrich Killian/The Mandarin, Iron Man 3
Iron Man 3 is the MCU's most underrated movie, but it's hamstrung by Guy Pearce's generic fire-breathing psycho. Ben Kingley's interpretation of The Mandarin, however, is one of the best twists the franchise has seen to date.
23. Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger
Hugo Weaving is another good actor done dirty by the early MCU's growing pains. Generic, dull, and again with the bad accent. I'm sensing a pattern.
22. Thaddeus Ross, The Incredible Hulk
Why do they keep bringing this guy back for cameos and not Tim Blake Nelson's The Master, who we were promised would appear MORE THAN A DECADE AGO?
21. Yellowjacket, Ant-Man
The coolest thing Yellowjacket does is shrink a government official down to a little flesh blob and then flush him down the toilet. A baller move, but Corey Stoll doesn't get much else to do here.
20. Helmut Zemo, Captain America: Civil War
You might have forgotten all about Zemo, who has the unenviable task of being the requisite bad guy in a movie where Iron Man and Captain America want to kill each other. Daniel Brühl is good and even ends things on a quite touching note, but his story is overshadowed by Cap and Tony's.
19. Ultron, Avengers: Age of Ultron
Joss Whedon just can't help himself and tries to make the quippy, bitchy robot too quippy and bitchy, to the degree that any real threat the character poses flies out the window like so many a bad steering wheel.
18. Ronan The Accuser, Guardians of the Galaxy
Big hammer, deep voice, face paint, that's about all I remember.
17. Kaecilius, Doctor Strange
Hannibal's Mads Mikkelsen brings a little more fun to the role than most would have, occasionally very confused by Doctor Strange's name and calling him "Mister Doctor."
16. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, The Incredible Hulk
Tim Roth can make even the dullest warhawk character fun, and turns (no, not Nikki) Blonsky's one-dimensional characterisation into a walking indictment of the male ego and a seriously inflated inferiority complex.
15. Alexander Pierce, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Never trust a blonde man, even if he's Robert Redford.
14. The Kree Leadership, Captain Marvel
I'm putting Jude Law's Yon-Rogg and Anette Bening's The Great Intelligence in the same spot, since their aims are often in concert and both are a little under-baked throughout Captain Marvel's arc, which has a much more interesting take on invading aliens elsewhere. More on that later.
13. Bucky Barnes, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Frankly, Sebastian Stan's greasy-haired brainwashed assassin would no doubt be higher up this list if a sharper actor were playing him, but we get what we're given, and Stan at least gives enough to the fucked-up psychosexual relationship between the pair that makes Winter Soldier one of the best MCU movies so far.
12. Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming
Michael Keaton has the time of his life playing Adrian Toomes, somehow both charming and sinister as the jaded super villain who, honestly, kind of has a point.
11. Ghost, Ant-Man and the Wasp
Equal parts sympathetic and frightening, Ghost's phasing ability/affliction is a really good take on superpowers being both a blessing and a curse. Hannah John-Kamen is brilliant, and I hope there's more for her in the MCU down the line.
10. Ego, The Living Planet, Guardians of the Galaxy 2
What if daddy issues but make it a literal planet-sized metaphor and also have Kurt Russell play it like a rich bachelor?
9. Ulysses Klaue, Black Panther
It's hard not to love anyone Andy Serkis plays, even if they're only onscreen for a handful of minutes. Klaue serves his purpose and then cedes the floor to an ever better villain, but not before plugging his SoundCloud. Major respect.
8. Hela, Thor: Ragnarok
I'll hold my hands up and say I don't think Cate Blanchett is brilliant in Ragnarok; she seems to be operating at around 50 percent, perhaps because there's just so much else packed into this movie. Nevertheless, this is fucking Cate Blanchett as the goddess of death, so it's still really good.
7. Sonny Burch, Ant-Man and the Wasp
Walton Goggins is one of the very best character actors working today, and uses his talents to turn Sonny Burch into a delightfully silly, yet ultimately important bad guy. Goggins is a coup for the MCU, and I hope he pops up again.
6. Thanos, The Avengers/Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame
The big purple guy who masterminded the battle of New York, tortured his own daughters for decades, and ended half of all life in the universe, Thanos is still a somewhat sympathetic and understandable being. That's a tribute to strong writing and a really thoughtful performance by Josh Brolin, who will now have to accept the many, many Thanos memes that now circulate in the Internet's ecosystem forevermore.
5. Justin Hammer, Iron Man 2
I'd like to give Justin Hammer a do-over, since he appeared in the stinky Iron Man 2 and was underutilised, despite the fact Sam Rockwell does "creepy, entitled rich guy" so, so well.
4. Obadiah Stane, Iron Man
Jeff Bridges gets the honor of being the Marvel Cinematic Universe's very first bad guy, as well as delivering one of its very best lines.
3. The Skrulls, Captain Marvel
Okay, so they're not bad guys by the end, but they sure do cause a lot of trouble. None more so than Talos, played by Ben Mendelsohn with every hammy fiber of his being. I don't care if they're not ultimately villains, I'm not going to deny a milkshake-drinking Australian alien a spot on this list on a technicality.
2. Loki, Thor, The Avengers
Everyone's favorite antihero, Loki's tireless tricks and Tom Hiddleston's charm go hand in hand and never made the admittedly repetitive schtick annoying. Gone but not forgotten, he'll have much more to offer in the Disney+ series, which will presumably follow him right after he steals the Space Stone and zaps himself away in Endgame.
1. Erik Killmonger, Black Panther
Who else? Michael B. Jordan is an incredible talent, and Killmonger is such a tragically damaged character who, heartbreakingly, is actually quite right to do what he does. Killmonger ideally won't return in the requisite Black Panther sequels; his story has been told, and it was perfect.
Words: Tom Philip