I’m far from the first to bang on this particular gong, but I’ve had a chance now to see Ant-Man and the Wasp, and since I’ve seen every other MCU film at least twice, so I feel like it’s time to do a ranking of the films’ villains.
I don’t subscribe to the common wisdom that the MCU has a “villain problem”. But there is definitely a differentiation of quality out there. So, let us begin at the bottom:
20) Yellowjacket; Corey Stoll (Ant-Man) — This is an exceedingly pointless villain. I feel like there was some shifting of the story, so his descent into madness was supposed to have been caused by his cut-rate shrinking tech, even though he doesn’t use it until the very end of the film. Messy.
19) Kaecillius; Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange) — “I am evil. I want evil to win.” Yeah, I guess he’s supposed desire “peace”. Whatever. He’s just there.
18) Ghost; Hannah John-Kamen (Ant-Man and the Wasp) — She gets surprisingly little screen time, but since she’s pretty boring, that’s okay. At least we get a rare villain who survives the film.
17) Ronan the Accuser; Lee Pace (Guardians of the Galaxy) — The only scene of his that was interesting was watching his incredulity when Star-Lord started dancing at the end.
16) Malekith; Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World) — Most people put him at the bottom. I’ll give him a little credit for having an audacious plan: he want’s to turn off all light in the entire universe. I mean, come on. That’s…dark, I guess.
15) Loki; Tom Hiddleston (Thor) — Yes, he will be back, and yes, he will be better. But in this one he is a whiny a-hole. A charming one, though.
14) Iron Monger; Jeff Bridges (Iron Man) — A late-in-the-film villain reveal saps some of the power of this one. And it was somewhat random for him to just start fighting Tony with his own suit at the end.
13) Hela; Cate Blanchett (Thor: Ragnarok) — She’s all slithery menace, but not much personality. She didn’t have a plan so much as a desire for chaos. And she was kind of laughably overpowered.
12) Ultron; James Spader (Avengers: Age of Ultron) — He’s the only AI on the list, so there’s no physical performance. It’s all in the voice and in the plan. And it’s a crazy plan. I’ll give him that.
11) Killmonger; Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) — I’m bucking the trend here. Most people think he’s top-tier. I didn’t find him particularly menacing. He was overshadowed by Ulysses Klaue for much of the film, and his “black power” ideology was maybe a little too on the nose in the current political climate.
10) Aldrich Killian; Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3) — We know from a One Shot that Killian was not actually “The Mandarin”. Which is fine. His fire-breathing army was pretty cool, and he was a great foil for Tony.
9) Abomination; Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk) — I think people dismiss this one too quickly. I enjoyed Emil Blonsky as a soldier, and also as a guy who desired Hulk-like power a little too much.
8) Ego; Kurt Russell (The Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) — This is a film where the reveal of the villain later in the story works, partly because he’s so instantly mysterious. And he’s clearly the most evil villain on the list: he impregnated thousands of aliens and then killed all (but one) of his kids. That deserves points for insanity alone.
7) Whiplash; Mickey Rourke (Iron Man 2) — This villain underscores, for the first time, that Tony’s dad wasn’t a saint. And he’s the best Tony Stark foil. His fate is tied to his dad, and he creates his initial suit from scratch, just like Tony did in the first film.
6) Alexander Pierce; Robert Redford (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) — It’s arguable that the villain of this film is really Bucky, but I choose to put the mantle on Pierce. There’s no redemption for him. He’s Hydra until the end. And it’s really enjoyable to watch him lose.
5) Vulture; Michael Keaton (Spider-Man: Homecoming) — This is one of the villains who is better than the film he’s in. He’s relatable though still merciless. And the reveal that he is whatshername’s father is ridiculous…and awesome. Kudos for not killing him at the end, MCU.
4) Thanos; Josh Brolin (Avengers: Infinity War) — Now we’re in the rarified atmosphere of villains who are all pretty great. I put Thanos down at number 4 because he’s a CG character, and is therefore at an emotional remove. That he’s so impactful anyway is the amazing part.
3) Helmut Zemo; Daniel Bruhl (Captain America: Civil War) — I love the fact that there’s a guy on this list who has no super powers, no money, no connections, no family heritage, nothing. All he has is smarts, patience and rage. And what he does with that is astounding.
2) Loki; Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) — It was a difficult call, who to put in which of the top two spots. Loki is the glue that holds The Avengers together. Every character has a notable moment with him on screen, and they are all the better for it. I think up until this film, the MCU still felt like a lucky streak. Afterward, it started to feel like it was all inevitable.
1) Red Skull; Hugo Weaving (Captain America: The First Avenger) — He’s the ur-villain of the series, historically speaking. He started Hydra (other subplots from the TV show notwithstanding). He introduces us to the Infinity Stones. And he may be the best example of an MCU villain as a dark mirror of the hero. He’s a joy to watch in every scene in this film.