With the newest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” rapidly approaching in mid-November, now is the perfect time to look back at the top-10 villains in MCU films. Although they may never be the focus, a bad villain can ruin an otherwise good story and a truly great villain will ameliorate a film to new heights.
Honorable Mentions: Ego (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”), Ultron (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”), Doc Ock (“Spider-Man: No Way Home”)
10. Red Skull (“Captain America: The First Avenger”)
Red Skull is a strong antagonist for Captain America’s first MCU film, as his evil Nazi ideology perfectly contrasts with Captain America’s do-good attitude. He is chilling, capable and crazy — the perfect combination for a superhero-film villain. The only thing holding him back is that his motivations and backstory are glossed over, creating a relatively one-note character.
9. Gorr the God Butcher (“Thor: Love and Thunder”)
Played by Academy Award-winning actor Christian Bale, Gorr the God Butcher is the highlight of an otherwise mediocre film. Bale imbues Gorr with terrifying passion and vengeance for blood. Unlike Red Skull, Gorr has a tragic backstory that explains his actions throughout the film, and his redemption at the end feels earned because the audience can empathize with him.
8. Mysterio (“Spider-Man: Far from Home”)
Jake Gyllenhaal’s charismatic performance as Quentin Beck, a former Stark Industries researcher who was wronged by Tony Stark, makes Mysterio one of the greatest MCU villains. He comes into the movie as an almost father figure to Spider-Man, giving him advice and fighting alongside him, but his whole act is revealed to be a scheme to manipulate Spider-Man into giving him control over Stark’s empire. Furthermore, Mysterio cemented himself as an iconic villain by revealing Spider-Man’s identity to the world.
7. Vulture (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”)
Michael Keaton may be best known for his portrayal of Batman in “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” but he makes his mark on the MCU with his turn as the hardworking Adrian Toomes, a small-business owner who gets screwed over by Stark. This leads to him dealing with illegal weapons and gets him entangled with Spider-Man. The best moment for Vulture is when it is revealed that he is also the father of Spider-Man’s homecoming date, creating a terrifyingly hilarious moment as Spider-Man’s personal and professional lives collide.
6. Green Goblin (“Spider-Man: No Way Home”)
Although Willem Dafoe’s first film as the Green Goblin was in 2002’s “Spider-Man” and not a part of the MCU, he reprised his role in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Dafoe slid effortlessly back into the role, and he manipulates Spider-Man using his charm, a pattern for Spider-Man villains. The Green Goblin might be the creepiest MCU villain, as his mannerisms are genuinely unnerving in the best way. Although he is not in the film that much, the Green Goblin makes a lot of impact in a short amount of time.
5. Winter Soldier (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”)
Captain America’s former best friend turned HYDRA killing machine, the Winter Soldier is a chilling Soviet masterpiece. He is a great villain because of his unrelenting drive and efficiency as an assassin. Furthermore, the Winter Soldier conceals his identity for most of the film, creating a heartbreaking reveal when Captain America learns that the assassin chasing him is his childhood friend.
4. Xu Wenwu (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”)
Leader of the criminal organization the Ten Rings, Wenwu wields the literal Ten Rings as well, a set of rings that give him superpowers. He is also the father of the titular hero Shang-Chi, and the two have a great dynamic that adds an extra layer of familial depth lacking in most MCU films. Wenwu is played by Hong Kong legend Tony Leung, and his desire to keep his family together despite doing horrible things is terrifyingly relatable at points.
3. Erik Killmonger (“Black Panther”)
Perhaps the best one-off villain in the MCU is Killmonger from “Black Panther.” He does the impossible by stealing scenes from the main hero with his charisma and understandable motivations. However, what makes him a villain is his misguided view on violence, yet the audience can still empathize with him and even root for him at times. The only thing holding him back from the top of the list is his lack of a multi-film arc, but he is still undoubtedly one of the best superhero villains of all time.
2. Loki (“Thor” and “The Avengers”)
The devilishly charming Loki is one of the MCU’s longest-running villains, debuting in 2011’s “Thor” and getting his own show with 2021’s “Loki.” He often blurs the line between hero and villain, sometimes working with Thor and the Avengers while other times working against them. His best turn as a villain is in 2012’s “The Avengers,” where he almost manages to single-handedly take down the whole team in a chaotic fashion.
1. Thanos (“Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame”)
Snap. What else is there to say about one of cinema’s most iconic villains — a giant purple titan who wields a golden gauntlet of intergalactic stones. Put like that, he sounds like a silly parody of a Marvel villain, but in practice, he is a powerful and intimidating villain whose desire to save the universe is heartbreakingly misguided. A pattern in the pantheon of great MCU villains is those who have good intentions but horrific actions, and Thanos is a hauntingly beautiful example of this.