The Marvel Movie Villains, Ranked
Marvel movies have a villain problem. At least, that’s what occasionally bubbles up from the depths of internet think piece generator, which I think lies between the third and fourth levels of Hell, just behind people who don’t pay attention to where their cart is in the store and just above folks who call people without texting them first. Sometimes it’s an offhand comment when praising the villain of one of the movies (like I’ve seen a bunch with regards to Killmonger in Black Panther) or as entire droning essays about how the villains aren’t compelling or whatever. It was after reading the praise for Killmonger that I went onto Facebook, the homeworld of bad opinions, stupid memes, terrible discussions, and inane observations, as well as the second level of Hell, and offered up this little tidbit of bad opinion and inane observation:
It was a random and off-the-cuff statement tailor-made to troll the kind of people who take this kind of thing too seriously. But it did make me think about who I thought were the top-ten Marvel movie villains, which then turned into a rumination of who the worst were, and finally ended up as a spreadsheet-driven ranking of each and every Marvel movie villain based on various criteria. Which led to this article/think-piece bubbling up from my own place in the circles of Hell.
A couple of points first. One, I did not take into account any of the TV series, either network or Netflix or wherever. Those formats, especially Netflix, are to me the perfect place for superhero stories. Heroes and villains get actual arcs, have a chance to be recurring, the whole thing that makes comics a great medium. Wilson Fisk in the Daredevil Netflix series would easily be top-five at least, along with Killraven from the Jessica Jones series. But it’s not fair to compare them to the movies.
Second, I started ranking them from Blade forward, so nothing pre-1998. No Hulk TV movies, no terrible 70s Captain America, no Howard the fucking Duck.
Third, a couple of villains aren’t on the list because I haven’t seen their movies. No Killmonger from Black Panther (I should be rectifying this soon) or Donald Pierce from Logan, no Blackout from Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (I’ve tried watching this a few times, but it’s complete shit and I can’t do it).
Fourth, some movies, like Winter Soldier, have a combination of people as the villain. There’s the mastermind, then the powerhouse, who combine to be the threat. Additionally, for Doctor Doom and Magneto, I averaged their scores to make an overall ranking.
Lastly, honorable mention goes to the worst recurring villain: the run-times on these movies. Holy shit are these movies too long. The greatest of them carry you through the whole way and you barely notice, like the Avengers (143 minutes) or Winter Soldier (136 minutes). Others, like Iron Man 3 (130), Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2 (136 and 142 respectively), and Hulk (138), feel like they take roughly 2 full days to get through. Interestingly, the Fox movies started positively svelte – the three FF movies average 102 minutes, and X-Men 1 and 3 were a trim 104. After a while, though, they became the worst of all. Apocalypse weighed in at 143 bloated minutes, and Days of Future Past came in at a punishing 158. Two hours and forty fucking minutes! Christ. Of course, some of the shortest Marvel films are the worst: GR:SoV (96), Elektra (97), and FF: Rise of the Silver Surfer (92). Whoever edited those performed a mercy for us all.
Of course, talking about bloat is funny considering the length of my blog posts. Don’t care.
Anyway, time for the criteria, then the list.
Each movie was given a score in five categories:
Movie Quality: How good was the movie? A great movie can elevate an imperfect villain or really give them an opportunity to shine. A shitty one makes them somewhat beside the point.
Degree of Villainy: How evil were these people/gods/planets? The more cutthroat and uncaring about who they hurt, the better. A morally grey antagonist is all well and good, but they’re called the bad guys for a reason. They should be fucking bad. Folks that waffle between helping and hurting the heroes get a penalty on DoV. Sorry, Mags. Pick a fucking side.
Power/Threat Level: How much of a challenge do they present to the heroes? Are they a credible threat to the heroes, or are they much weaker, or much more powerful?
Charisma: How seductive is their evil? A villain that makes you want to be a bad guy right beside them is better than one that couldn’t pay to have a henchman linger around.
Plan: How good was their evil plot? Did they come close to achieving it? Was it a plan worth a single shit?
The scores were then averaged, and I made judgment calls for all ties. See? Super scientific and shit.
And now, the official ranking of all of the movie Marvel villains, except the ones I didn’t rank, in order of shittiest to best!
- David Banner, Hulk
This was a terribly boring movie that I tried really hard to like, but it gave me very little to hang on to. When the villain of your piece is Daddy Issues, you probably shouldn’t make a superhero movie. A bad movie with not much in the way of an Evil Plan and a villain with negative appeal deserves the worst spot.
- NüGoblin and Venom, Spider-Man 3
A movie that killed off what had been a great series, both of these villains sucked balls. Especially James Franco’s NüGoblin, which was so far below the Green Goblin from the first Spider-Man film and the Hobgoblin from the comics. What a waste.
- Ichiro Yashida, The Wolverine
Easily the worst plan a villain could concoct was in this movie. Yashida needed Wolverine’s bone marrow or some shit to steal his healing factor so Yashida could be forever young. His plan consisted of two parts: one, try to convince Wolverine he should just give up living by guilting him. If that fails, use a giant robot made out of adamantium to steal it. Now, that robot was made out of the rarest and most expensive substance in the world. It probably cost more money than exists in the world to build. I could come up with a more cost-effective plan in about 4 seconds. Or two dozen of them. Neither one of those ideas were even remotely credible or good, nor was the movie.
- Apocalypse, X-Men: Apocalypse
Apocalypse suffers from an interesting problem. See, most heroes and villains have a pretty well-defined range of abilities, which shows their strengths as well as providing an insight into how to defeat them. Apocalypse instead suffers from the Superman Syndrome, in which the character has whatever power the writers/directors want him to have, regardless of whether or not it’s been demonstrated or suggested before. Apocalypse can basically do whatever he wants, which is lazy and stupid. So despite the fact that his Power/Threat Level is essentially off the charts, he gets the lowest possible score in that category because it’s so contrived. Also this was a shitty overlong movie.
- Kingpin, Daredevil
This movie is really awful, but it’s not Michael Clarke Duncan’s fault.
- Kirigi, Elektra
This movie is so bad and forgettable that you didn’t even realize that I made up the villain because I couldn’t remember him. Or I did use the right villain but you have no idea without looking it up. The sole reason this villain escaped the bottom spot is the fact that I feel things about Jennifer Garner.
- Aldrich Killian, Iron Man 3
The movie teases the appearance of the Mandarin, an iconic Iron Man foe, and instead gives us a nobody because apparently the filmmakers didn’t like the idea of a female bad guy. I think this movie is absolute garbage and I am always flummoxed when people praise it in even the smallest fashion.
- Doctor Doom, 3 lousy Fantastic Four movies
Doctor Doom is possibly the most iconic and feared Marvel comic villain. A monarch with diplomatic immunity and a mystically-trained scientific and tactical genius, Victor von Doom is the greatest melodramatic figure of self-serving power in the stable. Of course, Fox had no idea what to do with him and completely changed his backstory every time, because the idea of a king with robot duplicates is too much of a stretch compared to a good guy whose powers consist of him stretching. Wasted potential, although his plot in Rise of the Silver Surfer raises him above the dregs.
- Electro, Amazing Spider-Man 2
Like NüGoblin, this villain presided over the death of a budding franchise. He wasn’t great, he wasn’t awful, but the long slog to get through this movie is not made any easier with his presence. This movie is as long as both Avengers movies, and somehow feels twelve times as long. Also, Andrew Garfield sucks as Peter Parker. But that’s neither here nor there.
- Lizard, Amazing Spider-Man
Essentially the same problem as above. No charisma, no plan, no point, and 136 minutes long to boot.
- Howard Saint, The Punisher
He’s a typical action movie druglord. There’s nothing wrong with that, since the Punisher isn’t even a superhero, but it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. This movie is fine, but the villain could have been basically anyone.
- Malekith, Thor: The Dark World
I love Christopher Eccleston, but he’s wasted here. The dark elf was hamstrung by Marvel’s odd decision to replace Asgardian magic with advanced technology, so he is reduced to be the leader of a knock-off brand of Chitauri from the Avengers. Malekith is no Loki.
- William Stryker, X2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine
He’s a guy. He has a plan. It’s a fine plan. Not great, not awful. It’s fine. He’s fine. Bryan Cox probably lifts him about ten spots.
- Kaecilius, Doctor Strange
He’s powerful, and a definite threat. He’s villainous, sure, and his plan even succeeded. His problem is more around who he is not. Baron Mordo and Dormammu are Doctor Strange’s archenemies, though, and while both are in the movie, somehow they aren’t Strange’s main opponents in the film. He’s a placeholder. You didn’t even realize that I made another name up. Or did I?
- Dracula, Blade: Trinity
Despite what you may think, this film was not actually a two-hour advertisement for Apple products, but was actually a continuation of the Blade movie series. Drac wasn’t awful, but the movie was a huge drop in quality. In fact, the lesser villains were pretty decent, which helps this rise to the middle of the pack. But it was Ryan Reynold’s first of four attempts to be part of a superhero franchise!
- Ivan Vanko, Iron Man 2
They should have just doubled down and let him be Whiplash, but Marvel is oddly reluctant to embrace their comic roots sometimes. His plan was fine, he was a menacing figure, but he’s essentially replacement-level villainy.
- Helmut Zemo, Captain America: Civil War
One of my favorite movies did not have a great villain. Despite the Marvel pedigree of his name, Zemo is just a catalyst for the action. He makes the plan that makes the heroes fight each other, but he himself is not a threat to any of them.
- Ronan, Guardians of the Galaxy
- Red Skull, Captain America: the First Avenger
- Ajax, Deadpool
- Jared Nomak, Blade II
All four of these guys are fine. They monologue, they power pose, they duke it out. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but they aren’t particularly interesting either. The shame of it all is Red Skull, who deserved a lot more, but I think Hugo Weaving wasn’t the right fit. He was a lousy Elrond, too.
- Jigsaw, Punisher: War Zone
Surprise! I bet you forgot about this one. I love this borderline comedic take on the usually super-serious Punisher productions. It’s over-the-top and batshit crazy, but Jigsaw is memorable and brings a lot more to the table than any of the people lower on this list.
- Ego, Guardians of the Galaxy 2
I want to like this movie more. I love Kurt Russell, and his ego as Ego is truly planet-sized. But, as with David Banner, Daddy Issues is not the most engaging villain. He is super-powerful, though, and charismatic as hell, so that puts him a little above the average.
- Magneto, the X-Men films
A bit of a victim of poor movies and too much waffling between good and bad, Magneto is nonetheless one of the best and most powerful villains in Marvel. His powers have a huge amount of implications but are much better defined than Apocalypse, and Ian McKellan gives great gravitas to his aura of power (Fassbender is fine, but not on the same level). Powerful, charismatic, and ruthless during his dark turns, Mags would be much higher if it wasn’t the shit they kept putting him in.
- Blackheart, Ghost Rider
If this surprises you, look back on the above entries. An average film (and that’s probably being generous), Blackheart rises above by being powerful with some great henchmen. He’s got an actual plan, he’s darkly charming, and is about as evil as they come. Don’t worry, I was just surprised he landed this high myself.
- Obadiah Stane, Iron Man
A classic Iron Man villain, the slight twist on Stane made him the perfect foil to Tony Stark, from boardroom to battleground. The Iron Monger armor was right out of the pages of the comics, all the way down to his iconic end.
10. The Abomination, The Incredible Hulk
Another iconic villain, the Abomination was made to go round for round with the Hulk, and the end battle lived up to the classic stories. Even as his pre-Bommy self, Emil Blonsky was a compelling figure in the movie, before and after his injection of the Super Soldier Serum. Seeing him fight the Hulk after getting juiced made me sit up in my seat as I realized that they could finally bring Captain America truly to life in movies.
9. Yellowjacket, Ant-Man
I think Yellowjacket was good in the surprisingly great Ant-Man movie. He had menace, swagger, a better suit than our hero, and an almost-good plan. I liked him a lot. But the fact that he’s in the top ten list of best villains may be an indicator that Marvel actually does have a problem.
8. Ultron, Avengers: Age of Ultron
Well-voiced by James Spader, Ultron wasn’t quite the screeching Dalek-sounding robot I always imagined, but still managed to have a degree of charm and humor. He’s powerful, a real challenge to the heroes, nearly succeeds with his plan, and was in a pretty good movie, so that’s good enough to make him solidly in the top ten.
7. Loki, Thor and Avengers
His average hurt him, as Thor isn’t in the same ballpark as Avengers in quality. He’s charming, villainous, and powerful, although without his magic abilities from the comics he’s more of a cipher with what he can and can’t do. Also knocking him down is the help he provides to the heroes in later movies, shaving points off his Evil Quotient. He’s a great villain, and without Thor he’d probably be #3 or 4 on the list.
6. Green Goblin, Spider-Man
Willem Dafoe doesn’t need a mask to convey the sense of insane menace of Norman Osborn. In fact, he gets a little easier to bear when he puts the mask on. But as one of the first major villains in the early Marvel films, he knocks it out of the park. He’s dark, tortured, and ultimately evil, and against the wall-crawler in his early days, he’s more than a match.
5. Alexander Pierce/Brock Rumlow, Captain America: Winter Soldier
I decided to combine the brains and the muscle of the Hydra organization as one villain, and it’s a good enough combo to crack the top 5. Alexander Pierce is convincing, smart, and ruthless, while maintaining a genteel demeanor as he prepares to eliminate every threat to Hydra while destroying SHIELD. Runlow (Crossbones without the name) is his brutal enforcer, nearly able to go blow for blow with Cap. Frank Grillo makes him a scary, scary man. These guys simultaneously elevate this film, probably the best Marvel movie to date, and benefit from how amazing the film is. Unfortunately, their only ding is the fact that they aren’t quite as powerful as their enemies.
4. Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming
This movie was a great reminder of just how brilliant Michael Keaton is as an actor. The scene with him and Parker in the car is one of the most chillingly menacing performances I’ve seen, and makes the shouted histrionics of lesser villains fade to hot Trumpian air. He is the best thing about this movie, hands down, and he’s the main reason I’d watch it again.
3. Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man 2
The top of this list is dominated by great actors, and this is no exception. Alfred Molina brings a grounded realism to Otto Octavius, and makes his sinister turn even more powerful. Ruthless enough to uncaringly hurl an old woman off a building, but motivated by his own dark love, he was the first, and still one of the few, complex villain to grace a Marvel movie. Only two people keep him from being the best.
2. Hela, Thor: Ragnarok
One of the main criteria I used for the ultimate villain was their charisma. Seeing Hela stalk down a long hallway made me realize that I’d kneecap Skurge to be first in line to serve my new dark mistress. Crazy powerful, completely evil, with a grand plan that she succeeds in filling, Hela could have been #1 on the list, but I didn’t like this movie as much as the next one, and the two characters were otherwise neck-and-neck. Appropriately enough, I suppose.
1. Deacon Frost, Blade
Was there really any doubt?
Deacon Frost is charming as hell, a rebel to the stuffy born-vampire elite, with an eye to becoming a god. He enjoys unlife, parties hard, cracks jokes, and is as ruthlessly evil as a being can be, and enjoys every second of it. If he offered me a spot on his team, I’d take it. He wants to become a god and actually succeeds in the attempt. He fucks with the hero by beating him with his own momma. He tosses the teeth of the former vampire lord on a boardroom table and no one has the guts to call him out on it. Based on the metrics and the spreadsheet, he is clearly the best Marvel movie supervillain.
Hey, numbers don’t lie.*
* numbers often lie
Updated: here is the spreadsheet I used for the rankings. For those that might enjoy that sort of thing.