All Of The Marvel Studios Movie Villains, Ranked From Worst To Best

Being boring is bad, and not in a good way.

Warning: The following contains SPOILERS for every movie released by Marvel Studios.

Adam B. Vary for BuzzFeed / Marvel

With Guardians of the Galaxy en route to becoming the biggest movie of the summer — and the biggest Marvel Studios movie since Iron Man 3 — it seemed fitting to celebrate the dark side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: its villains. And, let’s be honest here, several of them are pretty weak. It’s not that they’re not evil; it’s just that they’re not all that interesting, or they’re ill-conceived, or they’re flat-out boring. So with that criteria in mind — and excluding the brainwashed Selvig and Hawkeye in The Avengers, who didn’t choose their own villainy, and therefore don’t really count as villains — here is a ranking of all the significant antagonists in the Marvel Studios movies, from worst to best.

33. Malekith (Christopher Eccleston)

Marvel

Thor: The Dark World

Yeah, he wants to transform the entire universe into absolute darkness, but that and his freaky blue eyes are pretty much the dude’s only defining features. I guess when you’re in the same movie as Loki, there is just no competing. But, really, Malekith could not be more boring, and, I repeat, he wants to destroy the universe. When you are The Big Bad for an entire superhero feature film, the sin of total boredom is unforgivable. There is nothing worse.

32. Vice President Rodriguez (Miguel Ferrer)

Marvel

Iron Man 3

He conspires with the Mandarin and sells out the president — and, worse, Tony Stark. So he’s definitely a bad guy. But, to be honest, I totally forgot he was even in the movie. Because he’s on screen for less time, though, he evokes less boredom than Malekith, so he’s not quite as terrible. But only barely.

31. Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre)

Marvel

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

His one parkour-y fight with Cap is kind of cool? But that’s all he does, and Cap wipes the floor with him. Next!

30. Ivan Vanko / Whiplash (Mickey Rourke)

Marvel

Iron Man 2

Mickey Rourke plays Whiplash with a kooky dreadlocked-ponytail-bun thing, a penchant for showing off his over-the-top tattooed physique, and what seems like only a vague grasp on his lines. Granted, that is the opposite of boring, but it isn’t exactly interesting, either — it’s just weird for weirdness’ sake. Half the time, Rourke seems to be performing in his own movie, and the character’s ultimate aim — killing Tony Stark with, uh, whips? — is weak sauce when compared to the grander designs of the other villains on this list. He is one of the major reasons why Iron Man 2 is so irretrievably terrible.

29. Algrim / Kurse (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agabje)

Marvel

Marvel

 

Thor: The Dark World

As Algrim, he’s as dull as his leader Malekith, but when he transforms into Kurse, he’s a menacing, virtually indestructible thug, who is… still pretty dull.

28. Korath (Djimon Hounsou)

Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy

At least Korath gets a couple funny moments surrounding Peter Quill’s desire to be called Star Lord. But he’s ultimately just kind of… there. Also, apparently, if you’re a black alien in a Marvel Studios movie, you must have electric blue eyes.

27. King Laufey (Colm Feore)

Marvel

Thor

Good grief, Thor has seriously lame non-Loki villainy. Colm Feore at least brings a twinkle of personality to the leader of the Frost Giants, but now that I’ve typed the term “Frost Giants,” I pretty much cannot take him or his intimidating abs seriously.

26. Raza (Faran Tahir)

Marvel

Iron Man

Marvel Studios’ very first villain is essentially a standard Middle Eastern terrorist proxy for Osama bin Laden — he’s like bad guy training wheels for the far more outlandish malefactors to come.

25. Brandt (Stephanie Szostak)

Marvel

Iron Man 3

As a visual, Extremis is creepy-cool to look at. As a character trait, it makes people into amoral jerks who get off on violence. Which is a decent attribute for a lackey, but it doesn’t make that lackey all that memorable.

24. Savin (James Badge Dale)

Marvel

Iron Man 3

Savin gets more screen time than his Extremis-y counterpart Brandt, and he likes to chew gum a lot, a telltale sign of cinematic villainy. Therefore, he is slightly more evil. It’s math.

23. Emil Blonsky / The Abomination (Tim Roth)

Marvel

Marvel

 

The Incredible Hulk

Blonsky is a non-character. We gather he used to be a hot shit solider, but he’s basically leaping at the chance to be injected with super-soldier serum before we barely even know the guy. So, when he transforms into the Abomination, it’s like, Uh, sure, why not? And frankly, the Abomination has more personality, though not by much. At least his name is well-earned — that thing looks terrifying.

22. Jasper Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández)

Marvel

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Until Cap 2, we thought Sitwell was one of the good guys, a stalwart S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and compatriot of Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson. So discovering he’s been a Hydra weasel all along feels like a bracing slap in the face (in a good way!) — but Sitwell was only alive long enough to drop some exposition and tease the Doctor Strange movie before getting hit by a truck. Oh well.

21. Heinz Kruger (Richard Armitage)

Marvel

Captain America: The First Avenger

This Hydra weasel has even less total screen time than Sitwell, but at least he actually does something villainous — i.e. kill Stanley Tucci’s Dr. Abraham Erskine — before taking his own life with a cyanide capsule. Also, a double-breasted suit and a vest? Even in the 1940s, that’s evil.

20. General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt)

Marvel

The Incredible Hulk

William Hurt knows how to give an interesting performance, and he takes to the comic book atmosphere with (perhaps surprising) gusto. Gen. Ross, however, is far from a richly drawn character, and his motives are kind of fuzzy — at times he wants to capture Banner because he’s a threat, at other times because Banner’s hot for his daughter, and at others still because Banner represents the future of super soldiers. Make up your damn mind, man!

19. Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace)

Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy

His appearance certainly makes a strong impression, and he fits in perfectly with the rest of the movie (unlike, say, Whiplash). Thanks to Lee Pace’s keen sense of theatricality, Ronan also holds our attention far more than those Dark Elves and Frost Giants pestering Asgard. But he is once again a one-note bad guy, all explosive genocidal rage with zero sense as to what makes him tick.

18. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall)

Marvel

Iron Man 3

One of the very few female villains on this list, Hansen falls into bad behavior that is also the most human — she desperately wants to advance in her field, and just loses her way in the process. In the end, she feebly tries to redeem herself, and is gunned down for her troubles.

17. Thanos (Josh Brolin)

Marvel

The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy

On one hand, he’s apparently the most powerful person in the galaxy — nay, the universe — he’s the scheming puppet master of the calamitous events in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy; and he has a penchant for kidnapping young girls and torturing them into his weaponized “daughters.”

On the other hand, we’ve not actually seen him do anything yet. This list will evolve as subsequent Marvel Studios movies are released, and it’s certainly possible that Thanos will rise in our estimation of his villainy. As it stands now, though, he’s all evil potential, no real follow through.

16. Senator Stern (Garry Shandling)

Marvel

Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Garry Shandling’s cameo as a weasel-y U.S. senator hounding Tony Stark was one of the few bright spots of Iron Man 2 (the other is coming up shortly), but it was a small masterstroke to make him into an actual Hydra weasel. And the sight of Shandling whispering “Hail Hydra” is one of the many bright spots of Cap 2.

15. Dr. Arnim Zola, human version (Toby Jones)

Marvel

Captain America: The First Avenger

Zola’s vigor for serving Hydra’s aims of world domination, even as those aims terrify him, make for a welcome murky presence in the otherwise morally cut-and-dried first Captain America movie. And Toby Jones, bless him, was born to play the scientist lackey of a super villain.

14. The Other (Alexis Denisof)

Marvel

The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy

With barely any screen time, an unrecognizable Alexis Denisof imbues Thanos’ underling with a sinister, spider-y malevolence — and unlike Thanos himself, he actually carries out some evildoing before Ronan breaks his neck. Plus, that extra thumb is damn creepy.

13. Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson)

Marvel

The Incredible Hulk

Even more than Arnim Zola and Maya Hansen, Dr. Samuel Sterns is Marvel Studios’ most insidiously amoral “scientist.” Even as he strives to help “cure” Bruce Banner of his Hulk-itude, he thinks nothing of synthesizing Banner’s blood to harness its potential. And when he gives Banner’s blood to Emil Blonsky, Tim Blake Nelson knows how to barely contain Sterns’ excitement at creating the Abomination. In that moment, Sterns also appeared to be transforming into the giant-brained Leader, the scientist’s ultimate fate in the comics. But since The Incredible Hulk never spawned a sequel, he’ll forever be caught in comic book movie limbo.

12. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges)

Marvel

Iron Man

A father figure to Tony, Stane betrays him twice — first by selling him out to Ten Rings (Reza’s terrorist group), and then by stealing the arc reactor straight out of Tony’s chest to create his own Iron Monger. That’s cold. And maybe a bit small fry compared to so many other villains here. What really elevates the character, however, is the fact that Jeff Bridges is playing him, bringing a wry playfulness to the man’s very bad deeds. That, and a pretty wicked beard.

11. Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo)

Marvel

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Unlike so many other Marvel henchmen, Brock feels like a fully realized character, due mostly to Frank Grillo’s decision to play him not as a “Henchman,” but as just a man who, in most normal circumstances, would be a decent guy — until his weasel-y allegiance to Hydra is revealed. Even then, Grillo’s Brock behaves as if he’s doing the right thing, not the evil thing — and that is far more sinister.

10. Aldrich Killian / The Real Mandarin (Guy Pearce)

Marvel

Marvel / Via gilgalads.tumblr.com

 

Iron Man 3

He transforms from a loser-nerd with bad teeth and worse hair into a suave, stacked, fire-breathing sociopath who thinks nothing of exploiting the accidental death of his veteran soldier guinea pigs to gin up demand for his Extremis super-soldier serum. Killian is so slick, in fact, that he risks coming off as a generic evil d-bag. But Pearce adds a disturbing sexual entitlement with regard to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts that is quite rare among Marvel Studios’ villains — and, for a bad guy, quite effective.

9. Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker)

Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy

There is an argument to be made that Yondu isn’t quite a villain — he does join the fight against Ronan, after all. But he’s also constantly threatening to kill Peter Quill for not much more than pride and a payday — greed is his one and only north star. One expects his antagonism to only grow in the Guardians sequel, and thank goodness, because Michael Rooker is fantastic in this role.

8. Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell)

Marvel

Marvel

 

Iron Man 2

On paper, as a rival defense contractor, Hammer was only meant to be the smooth-talking, morally empty yang to Tony Stark’s yin, and the secondary villain who gets Whiplash from point A to point Evil. In Sam Rockwell’s spray-on-tan-stained hands, however, Hammer proved to be an oddball riot, and one of the only unambiguously good things about this bloated, unlikable movie.

7. Nebula (Karen Gillan)

Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy

There is something just so coolly lethal about Nebula, from her sharp gait to her slightly mechanized voice to her cyborg-enhanced body. And Karen Gillan also brings something treacherously desperate to the role — you get the feeling that if she wasn’t always on the razor’s edge of violence, she would be even more dangerous. Her vendetta against Thanos might ultimately bring her back around to the good guys’ side, but hopefully not for a long time.

6. The Mandarin / Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley)

Marvel

Marvel / Via harrihito.tumblr.com

 

Iron Man 3

Some people hate that Marvel made the Mandarin into a joke, and I feel sorry for those people, because A) The Mandarin as conceived in the comics is kind of racist, and B) This is an amazing joke. This version of the Mandarin is supposed to be a kind of racist pastiche of America’s biggest boogeymen — he’s conceived as propaganda meant to provoke our most base fears, one of the most deliciously trenchant ideas that has ever worked its way into a Marvel Studios movie. Best of all, Ben Kingsley has a total blast playing both the pastiche, and the washed-out actor hired to perform him.

5. The Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)

Marvel

Marvel

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Bucky Barnes’ transformation into the Winter Soldier — and subsequent confrontation with his old buddy Steve Rogers — makes him one of the only Marvel bad guys with skin in the game beyond mere wicked behavior. Between his mechanical arm, preference for wearing ominous masks, and ruthless-if-conflicted drive to complete his mission, Barnes’ abilities also make for fabulously kinetic cinema. Hopefully in Cap 3, Sebastian Stan will get to do even more than being put through the action movie paces.

Update: To be clear, Barnes is certainly a sympathetic villain — our understanding of the brainwashing and torture he underwent over multiple decades is indeed what helps make him so compelling. But he is still a villain. He’s spent those decades as a lethal and merciless assassin — killing multitudes, and shaping history. And unlike the mystically controlled Hawkeye in The Avengers, a simple bonk on the head isn’t nearly enough to change him back into the Bucky Barnes of the 1940s. Some villains do evil because they are themselves evil; others are driven to villainy, caught up in circumstances beyond their control, but still active and relentless antagonists to the greater good.

4. Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford)

Marvel

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Pierce could have been a deliberately anonymous government bureaucrat gone catastrophically to seed, which would have been effective enough for a movie about the perils of runaway military expansion. Convincing Robert Redford to play him, however, was a masterstroke of movie star casting. Who would have thought seeing the Sundance Kid whisper “Hail Hydra” as his dying breath would be so damn fun?

3. Dr. Arnim Zola, computer version (Toby Jones)

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

When he was a man, Dr. Zola was a wee bit… meh. But when he transferred his consciousness into a vast, aging database buried deep underneath an abandoned army base so he could conspire to stretch Hydra’s tentacles deep within S.H.I.E.L.D., Dr. Zola was magnificent. (He’s also a fun, winking nod to the character’s more outlandish computerized iteration in the comics.)

2. Johann Schmidt / Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)

Marvel

Marvel

 

Captain America: The First Avenger

As Schmidt, he’s cruel and conniving. When unmasked as Red Skull, he looks both convincingly frightening and like he stepped straight out of a comic book. As performed by the great Hugo Weaving, the founding leader of Hydra had a combination of commanding presence, dark intent, and baleful panache that so many of Marvel Studios’ main villains have oddly lacked. It’s a shame, really, that he was killed off. (Or was he?!)

1. Loki (Tom Hiddleston)

Thor

Marvel

The Avengers

Marvel

Thor: The Dark World

Marvel

 

Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World

Was there ever any doubt who would be No. 1? Thor’s adopted younger brother could have been a sniveling brat pining for the throne. But Tom Hiddleston brought such rich pathos to the character — and Joss Whedon wrote him to be such a dramatic, dynamic villain in The Avengers — that Loki has quickly and deservedly become one of the great movie villains of the last 25 years, period. The only question is: When is he going to get his own movie, already?

update

This post has been updated to clarify that yes, Bucky Barnes as The Winter Soldier is indeed a villain.

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