A lot of people say that Marvel has a villain problem, and depending on how you look at that statement, the answer is varied. What Marvel doesn’t have a problem with is providing some rather memorable villains, and picking the right actors to play them. It’s because of both of those factors that this list of ten stands out in the scrum of all of the villains that have inhabited the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. Prepare to get cozy with evil, as we’re about to rank the best of the baddest the MCU has to offer.
10. Obadiah Stane
While it’s widely known that Iron Man was filmed with a rapidly evolving script, you wouldn’t be able to tell by how cool Jeff Bridges kept himself in the role of Tony Stark’s mentor turned heel. In fact, for a good two thirds of the film, you wouldn’t be blamed for just coasting along with the movie and believing that he’s a stern, yet accepting, leadership figure. Though when he does finally reveal himself, it’s some of the most chilling work we’ve seen Bridges do in some time.
9. Justin Hammer
What is it about Stark Industries that brings out the worst in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Besides their near stranglehold on the business world, Tony’s smart-assed demeanor, and his status as a founding Avenger, what does the world reallyhave to hold against the man and his kingdom? Ok, so that’s pretty much everything, but in the case of Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, we’d safely assume his grudge against Tony is merely for existing. If Tony wasn’t around, he’d have the run of the world, and be free to do what he wants; and it’s that sort of character that Rockwell excels at injecting equal levels of charm, and sleaze, into.
Don’t let Ultron’s lackluster plan in Avengers: Age of Ultron fool you, as his introduction in the first couple acts of that summer blockbuster are still some of the most effective villain building in the MCU. James Spader’s erudite, yet vicious voiceover work brought life to a sentient machine that seemed poised to conquer humanity with ruthless efficiency. Had he come up with a better plan than crashing a village into the Earth itself, he might have rose higher on this list. But the fact that he showed so much promise guaranteed him a spot on this list, nonetheless.
7. Red Skull
There is nothing wrong with a classic, and Captain America: The First Avenger’sRed Skull is the definition of a classic villain. Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt is a pure comic book depiction of a Nazi mad man, and in the context of the film he’s living in, it’s pitch perfection. But even looking at Weaving’s performance, you can really feel the conviction of a man who believes in a master race, but isn’t afraid to tell Der Fuhrer that he’s wrong about who the best specimen is. It’s a performance we still love, and a character we’re still hoping to see return to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
6. Aldrich Killian
Ok, this is the last Iron Man villain, we swear. That’s not only because we ran out of people to pluck from Tony Stark’s heroic efforts, but also because Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian is the best villain from the Stark trilogy of solo films. Iron Man 3 saw Killian go from a handicapped admirer of Tony’s success into a perverted mirror image of who he could have become, had he continued down the path of excess and ego that lead him to that village in Afghanistan. Killian is a Shane Black villain through and through, and using Pearce to bring him to firey life is a masterful stroke. Sometimes, the best villain is the one that’s not too far off from your hero.
5. Ego the Living Planet
We’re still trying to deal with this one ourselves, as Kurt Russell’s betrayal in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2. is still fresh in our minds. Seriously, the man who played countless childhood heroes and Disney good guys gave Star-Lord’s mom cancer as Ego, the Living Planet. On purpose! Not to mention, he planned to wipe out the universe, with a temporarily compliant Star-Lord by his side! The whole thing is a delicious sneak attack that was well hidden in the marketing campaign for the film, leaving its reveal to slam the brakes on the film’s plot in a suitable, yet effective way. Not to mention, it totally reminded us of the last time a cinematic icon was used as a force for evil via Marvel Studios.
4. Alexander Pierce
Over the top villains are a dime a dozen in the comic book realm. They’re easy to spot, even simpler to thwart, and usually have plans that are just a bit nonsensical. Yet Alexander Pierce, Robert Redford’s surprise villain from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is none of those things. With Operation Insight under his jurisdiction, Pierce and HYDRA could nail down any threats to their endgame, and destroy them before they have a chance to become powerful. What’s more, Alexander is a true blue American, corrupted by HYDRA’s decades long infiltration of the free world, so he feels he’s doing the right thing, and looking as his influences you can’t blame him. It’s a perfect subversion of Redford’s typically subversive hero image, and his was the plot that really kicked the MCU into overdrive.
3. Helmut Zemo
Personal revenge is certainly a motivation as old as time. Yet in the case of Captain America: Civil War, Helmut Zemo’s brand of retribution is as traditional as it is totally comic book. To spark a conflict that will eventually split The Avengers apart, as well as help ratify the Sokovia Accords that will govern their careers, is arguably something any organization could do. But Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo is a one-man army, as he has the military strategy and knowhow to involve Bucky “The Winter Soldier” Barnes in a battle that pitted Cap and Tony Stark against each other. It only took one really crafty guy to throw them all in turmoil, and Zemo was the man for the job.
2. Adrian Toomes / Vulture
For someone that has no powers, except some pretty shrewd business skills, Adrian “The Vulture” Toomes makes Spider-Man: Homecoming one of the most grounded Marvel Studios pictures ever. The man never over-extends himself, until he’s pushed to the limit; and he’s ultimately doing this for his family. Toomes isn’t a traditional baddie, as he’s basically a self-made, under-the-radar Tony Stark. Also, he’s not that bad of a guy. Michael Keaton’s casting only helps solidify this quickly rising bad guy as someone to keep an eye out for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large.
If you thought there was a chance that Tom Hiddleston’s Loki wasn’t going to top this list, you’re probably a little Thor right about now. But the egomaniacal villain with a softer, more tragic side is still tops on our list, and can you really blame us? The charm and sheer pomposity that Hiddleston demonstrates in his part of the Thortrilogy is just a tough act to beat. And what’s more, his ambitions and planning are actually a gold standard for others to judge their villainy by. Ever burdened by glorious purpose, he’s someone we’re looking forward to seeing in Thor: Ragnarok.