thanos infinity glove

Waiting on Thanos: Ranking MCU villains (part one)

Contributed by
Apr 26, 2018

With Avengers: Infinity War, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will finally give focus to the big purple baddie who has been hovering on the fringes of this franchise for years. We know Thanos is a cruel, gigantic conqueror who has got a squad, The Black Order, and a gauntlet he seeks to fill with Infinity Stones. But what we don't know is how he'll measure up to the rest of the MCU's villains.

In celebration and anticipation of Avengers: Infinity War, we look back on 10 years, 18 films, and 25 foes to see who is the best and worst of MCU's villains. In our ranking, we consider their motivations, powers, failings, character, and the sheer spectacle they brought to theaters. Below, we explore the bottom 15. 

 

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25. Malekith, Thor: The Dark World (2013)

"You think you can stop this? The Aether cannot be destroyed!"

As a Doctor Who devotee, this pains me to admit—but there's no question that Christopher Eccleston's Dark Elf, Malekith, is the lamest MCU villain. With pretty white braids paired with dark brooding gear, his look was Lord of the Rings goes goth, which should be cool! And yet, no, it was very not. Not intimidating. Not evocative. Just lame, and backed by mediocre minions whose masks made them look like pouting mannequins. But his was more than an aesthetic problem.

With all his highfalutin talk of realms, Convergence and Aether, Malekith's monologuing was muddied by the laborious lingo. His made-up language forced us to read subtitles of his threats, which further dulled their punch. Even when he did speak English, Eccelston's voice was altered by Evil Autotune, making him sound like he was calling through a wonky Skype signal. Spooooky!

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24. Justin Hammer, Iron Man 2 (2010)

"Anthony? Is that you?"

The villains in Iron Man movies began a regrettable MCU trend of uninspired evil versions of the hero. What if Tony Stark wasn't charismatic and hadn't come to regret mass-producing deadly weapons of war for profit? Enter Justin Hammer, weapons expert and rival industrialist.

Played by Sam Rockwell, Hammer was a wealthy, immoral tool dedicated only to snagging government contracts away from Stark Industries. With this basic motivation, no amount of eccentricities—be they lollipop licking, constant frenetic yammering, or serving salmon carpaccio to a known maniac—could make Hammer all that interesting. Then, the guy got sidelined ahead of Iron Man 2's final showdown because Pepper Potts called the cops. He was no supervillain; he was just a schmuck.

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23. Darren Cross / Yellowjacket, Ant-Man (2015)

"I'm going to destroy everything that you love."

The MCU adores an evil businessman. This time around it was Dr. Hank Pym's morally bankrupt protégé, who ran him out of his corporation then tried to recreate his Ant-Man suit to sell as a super soldier device. To stop Cross, Pym wrangled master thief Scott Lang. And to see Pym's treasured tech entrusted to someone else? That really stung.

Cross's motivations were personal and profit-driven. His moves were merciless, leading one baby lamb after another to a squishy shrinking slaughter, and murdering anyone who got in his way by turning them into a bit of flushable grossness. But despite the best efforts of celebrated character actor Corey Stoll, Yellowjacket never made much of a mark on the MCU. The coolest thing he did was a have a showdown amidst a little girl's toy sets. Imagine bragging about that at the MCU villains' annual BBQ.

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22. Emil Blonsky / The Abomination, The Incredible Hulk (2008)

"Is that all you got?"

Like Iron Man 2, the incredibly mediocre The Incredible Hulk gave us a villain who was a sinister twist on its hero. Bruce Banner struggled to keep his chill so he wouldn't unleash his Hulk, a big green beast who could chuck cannons and kick a guy so hard his bones would crumble "like crushed gravel." What was worse was Blonsky, a seething soldier obsessed with machismo, winning and weaponry—and always spoiling for a fight.

Blonsky wanted to be the biggest, baddest guy on the block, so he became the Abomination, who was meaner and uglier and naked (yet wangless for whatever reason). This made the finale of The Incredible Hulk a CGI eyesore as the two bulky beasts barreled about and brawled. To his credit, Tim Roth tried to bring hate-fueled heat to the role of Blonsky. But even his chaotic charisma couldn't make this murky monster exciting.

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21. Ronan the Accuser, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

"I don’t recall killing your family. I doubt I'll recall killing you either."

Kree fanatic. Genocidal maniac. Stern monologuer. Ronan was a lot of things, but mostly he was painfully one-note. Lee Pace's charm and beauty were drowned in dour dialogue and black and blue make-up to create an enemy who wasn't even the most interesting Marvel villain in the movie.

Pace brought a regal bearing to Ronan and tried to imbue the aspiring world annihilator with chilling fury. But the voice modifier that was meant to make him sound more menacing only made his words muddled. And while in theory, it makes sense to have a super severe and wildly humorless villain as a foil to the singing, dancing, pelvic sorcerer Star-Lord, there just wasn't anything about Ronan to make him any more than an ornate obstacle. Here's hoping his colleague Thanos fares better.

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20. Dormammu, Doctor Strange (2016)

"What is happening!?"

His zealots wildly overhyped this cosmic conqueror from the Dark Dimension. When it came down to it, this massive and malevolent foe only popped into the finale as a punchline for Doctor Strange's funniest bit. ("Dormammu, I've come to bargain!"

Looking like a bad trip come to life, Dormammu put a hurt on Doctor Strange. But no matter how many big glowy orbs, magic rays, or spikes he slung into Strange's mortal body, the time loop would reset. And all of Dormammu's ambitions for world-domination and touted powers lost out because Doctor Strange is irritating. Yeah. That's how badass this MCU villain is: He was defeated by being annoyed.

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19. Kaecilius, Doctor Strange (2016)

"Death is an insult. Doctor, We don't seek to rule this world... We seek to save it."

Remember how excited we were when it was announced Mads Mikkelsen would play the villain in Doctor Strange? This mesmerizing Dane made a captivating cannibal in the chilling series Hannibal. It seemed impossible to imagine his entry into the MCU would be forgettable. And yet when composing this list, I drew a total blank when trying to remember who Doctor Strange faced off against.

To his credit, Mikkelsen brought his grim gravitas to the role of this traitorous sorcerer. He looked pretty fierce in that next-level eyeliner, all cracks and DRAMA! And hey, his Mister/Doctor banter was funnier than any of Strange's one-liners. But this movie did him dirty. No matter that Kaecilius could convince others to follow his zeal for a destructive demi-god. No matter that he could bend reality like origami. No matter that he slayed The Ancient One. Kaecilius barely got more screentime that Stranger's capering cloak, and ultimately was undone because Dormammu got irked.

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18. Aldrich Killian, Iron Man 3 (2013)

"The early bird gets the worm, but it's the second mouse that gets the cheese."

Another uninspired spin on Evil Tony Stark came in the form of another tech mogul. Sure, when we first met him, Killian was a cringe-inducing dweeb with regrettable hair, crooked teeth, bad skin, and a bum leg. But thanks to Extremis, he swanned back into Tony's life as his double—smart, cocky, successful, enhanced by groundbreaking tech, and hitting hard on Pepper Potts. All he wanted was for Tony to fix the glitch that' was blowing up soldiers all across America, necessitating the creation of a fear-mongering scapegoat (more on him later). But Killian was also a madman, so when Pepper turned down his business proposal, he moved quickly to kidnapping and murder to get his way.

From the opening, it was too easy to spot Killian as the baddie—but then he was quickly overshadowed by The Mandarin's theatricality. To his credit, Guy Pierce played up the swagger and glower power of the role, but it wasn't enough to make Killian interesting. As it was, this baddie went from bland to absurd when he started breathing fire in between tedious monologues.

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17. Ivan Vanko / Whiplash, Iron Man 2 (2010)

"If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him. There will be blood in the water; the sharks will come. All I have to do is sit back and watch as the world consumes you."

Hammer was only one half of Iron Man 2's "Tony, but evil" gambit. Vanko, in essence, was an imagined "Tony, but poor, crazy, and Russian." The brilliant and bitter son of Howard Stark's abandoned inventing partner, Vanko came for Tony with his own battle suit. And it was equipped with electric whips that can cut through race cars with all the ease of a kinky Ginsu.

Vanko's powers were cool, his vengeance simple and pure. Embodied by Mickey Rourke's unique brand of over-the-top masculinity, complete with chunky jewelry, man bun, hulking muscles and a cockatoo sidekick, Whiplash was an intriguing enemy that could throw down explosive spectacle. Plus, it took a team up Iron Man and War Machine to conquer this burly baddie. Yet Whiplash is weirdly one of the MCU's more forgettable foes. I blame that largely on Hammer. Forced to share the spotlight with that tech twerp meant Vanko didn't get enough screentime to really make his mark. 

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16. Ayesha, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

"Don't screw with the Sovereign."

Golden High Priestess of the glamorous alien race the Sovereign, Ayesha was a vision in gold, making her every moment onscreen glisten—whether she was flirting with Star-Lord or commanding her drone fleet to bring about his destruction. A deeply vain and easily offended leader, Ayesha went to extreme lengths to seek vengeance for the Guardians' slight. And I'm not just talking about that loooooooooooong blue carpet her attendants rolled out at the Ravagers' party planet.

Sadly, Ayesha was more style than substance. She gave us looks, looks, looks — not only with her devotedly gold gear, hair, and skin, but with Elizabeth Debicki's performance full of pouts, scowls, and screams. Sure, she slowed the Guardians down, but she was far from their greatest threat. Still, there's hope Ayesha will up her game, as speculation suggests she'll return to Guardians of the Galaxy 3 with Adam Warlock in tow. 

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15. Johann Schmidt / Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

"Hail Hydra!"

The super-soldier serum that turned a scrawny Steve Rogers into the burly Captain America transformed a power-hungry Nazi into the nightmarish Red Skull, who twisted Hitler's "deep science division" into a cult dedicated to unlocking the secrets of the tesseract for world domination. Red Skull was the father of Hydra, a many-limbed and malevolent secret society that cropped up throughout the Cap movies to sow mayhem and wield political influence. But for all his importance, this furious Nazi was an ultimately underwhelming onscreen baddie.

Hugo Weaving strived to bring the same intensity to this role that he did as Agent Smith in The Matrix. But halfway through, Red Skull ripped away his human face and left this admired character actor working with a bulbous prosthetic that felt more The Mask than menacing. He was also a foolish fiend, literally shooting any messenger who brought bad news—which was no way to inspire loyalty. We do appreciate his dedication to drama, with his laser cannon and fighting Cap over an enflamed factory that glows like the pits of hell. But Red Skull was all pomp and violence, little of anything else.

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14. The Mandarin / Trevor Slattery, Iron Man 3 (2013)

"True story about fortune cookies: they look Chinese. They sound Chinese. But they are actually an American invention— full of lies and leave a bad taste in the mouth."

How do you bring a racist caricature like The Mandarin into a modern movie franchise? Iron Man 3 did it by playing into the comics' source in an unexpected way.  As he warned us early on, this Mandarin was a fortune cookie. In the movie, he was a mysterious boogieman created by a think tank to scare the American public and distract them from discovering Killian's explosive mistakes. It was fine that he was a lazy compilation of "foreign threat" because that was precisely his purpose, to play on an ambiguous but overwhelming fear that grew in the wake of 9/11. This bold move thrilled critics but infuriated many fans, spurring Marvel to backpedal with the One Shot "All Hail The King."

The Mandarin was a fake-out—and yet undeniably a compelling character. In his full guise, Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley incorporated a growling gravitas that had us quivering during The Mandarin's menacing addresses. Then, in the final act, Kingsley transforms into a capering clown—or more precisely the drug-fueled, down-on-his-luck actor who was eager to turn informant so you wouldn't bust his face or interrupt his downtime. This might be the MCU's most controversial villain, but whether you love or loathe this take on The Mandarin, you can never call it forgettable.

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13. Flash Thompson, Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

"Hey Peter, Where's your pal Spider-Man? Let me guess: in Canada with your imaginary girlfriend?"

Forget the thick-necked jocks who tried to pound Peter Parker in 2002's Spiderman. The MCU didn't just reboot that eponymous hero, but also re-imagined his bully as a smug rich kid with some deeply screwy priorities. The result was a high school villain who was familiar, frustrating, and fun, busting out zingers like the one above.

Flash (Tony Revolori) was that guy in high school who seems to have it all: money, popularity, good (enough) grades, and yet couldn't help himself from hassling those who made him feel inferior. And that meant Parker, who boasted a Stark Industries "internship" and a close personal friendship with Spider-Man. Therefore, Flash valued the trophy he won without Parker so much that he made the elevator rescue team pull it out before his peers. And when Spider-Man plummeted down the elevator shaft, Flash took the chance to debunk the rumor that this web-slinging superhero was friends with Parker. The kid was by no means a supervillain, but he was definitely a grade-A jerk. And when Peter got to steal and wreck his sweet ride in the finale, it was a suitably juvenile comeuppance we could all enjoy.

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12. Alexander Pierce, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

"I can bring order to the lives of seven billion people by sacrificing 20 million. It's the next step, Nick, if you have the courage to take it."

The Winter Soldier may have gotten his name in the title, but the big bad of this Captain America sequel was a shady politician with secret ties to Hydra. His father was rescued by Cap back in World War II. He was a long-time friend of Nick Fury. He was played by Robert Redford, one of America's most beloved movie stars. But at his core, Pierce was totally rotten.

Pierce didn't need superpowers to be one of the MCU's most harrowing villains. Through deception and charm, he fooled the whole of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the World Security Council into backing a drone monitoring system that nearly led to the genocide of 20 million people who could have posed a threat to the emergence of Hydra. And Redford made him positively chilling, leaning away from the theatrics of more outrageous MCU foes. Instead, he offered a grounded gravitas and ruthless rationalizing that made Pierce a kind of villain who seemed all too real.

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11. Ego, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

"I did what I had to do. But it broke my heart to put that tumor in her head."

After decades of dreaming of a father, Star-Lord learned his dad was a super cool spaceman who was a living planet, played by Kurt Russell. But Ego's reveals kept coming, and before long, Star-Lord had to face the hard truth that his father was a heartless egomaniac. Ego not only slaughtered an untold number of his children in his ruthless quest for expansion, but also Peter's beloved, music-loving mother. With a roguish warmth and an intoxicatingly thick head of hair, Ego made Star-Lord's dreams of a Hasselhoff-like dad to be true. And this hirsute Celestial had audiences swooning along as he extolled the glory of the Looking Glass jam, "Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)." But once the electrifying tentacles came out, the spell was broken. And while the finale was fun, full of music and action, Ego got lost amid CGI shenanigans.

Who made the MCU's top ten villains? Check back to find out.

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