With every hero comes a great villain and although Marvel is not known for its great development of evildoers there are still plenty that have shined through over the course of the studio’s run. Marvel comics have brought about some of the greatest villains in history and many of them made their way to the big screen in Marvel-based films. To continue Marvel Month I took a look at some of the best baddies to hit the big screen in Marvel properties. Seeing as Marvel is bringing the granddaddy of all their evildoers to life next week with Thanos it’s the perfect time to shine light on the best of the best who came before him. If you’re more interested in heroes you can read by Top 10 Iconic Big Screen Marvel Superheroes list here. Otherwise this is my list of the Top 10 Marvel Villains in Film.
For this list I looked at every major bad guy in all of Marvel’s big screen features and chose those I felt were the best of them all. These villains were graded based on their popularity, personality, character development, memorability and legacy with the extent of their powers and their evil schemes considered for some spice as well as my own personal preference.
The only rules here are only one villain per series within a franchise, so any of the individual series in the MCU or the X-Men films can have their own representatives on this list. Also no antagonists who aren’t actually villains, so Iron Man, who was an antagonist in “Captain America: Civil War” but wasn’t actually evil, won’t be found here. Also villains featured in multiple series or franchises can only make this list for one series to keep things fair. So for example Loki would only represent the “Thor” films OR the “Avenger” films if he makes this list. Also Thanos himself won’t be here because, well, “Infinity War” hasn’t happened yet and he has yet to receive enough development to count.
Alright, I think that covers it. Let’s get started!
10. Sebastian Shaw
A powerful mutant with the ability to absorb kinetic energy and redirect it, Sebastian Shaw leads the mutant superiority group known as the Hellfire Club who happen to be the first opponents of the X-Men in the series’ continuity in “X-Men: First Class” during the franchises reboot series. A cunning and diabolical mutant who hides his mutation to blend in with the political elite and gain information and social status, Shaw hides in the shadows and waits for his time to strike as he puts a plot in place to turn the factions of the Cold War against each other and cause the annihilation of humans. He drinks with politicians and uses his social skills first which proves to be surprisingly effective, but when the need arises he breaks out his devastating and threatening abilities to strike fear into whoever he needs to in order to gain the upper hand. He’s so charming and charismatic that he’s even formed a club of mutants like himself and leads them in an underground cold war of his own. Shaw also plays a massive role in the formation of Magneto’s anti-human agenda, but more on him later. Sebastian Shaw is by far the most formidable and memorable villain in all of the prequel films to date and the incredible performance by Kevin Bacon didn’t hurt either.
9. Iron Monger
In the first “Iron Man” movie that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe we got an underrated villain in the form of Obadiah Stane played by Jeff Bridges. The long-time second-in-command at Stark Industries, Stane is a talented businessman and charming personality who provides comfort and support for Tony Stark on the outside but inside he is as evil as they come. The film exposes Stane as a power hungry war monger who organized the kidnapping and attempted murder of Stark. Stane is so heartless that he not only kills the members of the Ten Rings, the terrorist group that he hired, he also tries to end Stark himself by stealing the arc reactor from Stark’s chest to make his own larger and more powerful version of the Iron Man suit dubbed the Iron Monger. The Monger is more than a match for Stark in the final fight being a superior and more powerful machine of war in every way. It’s the first instance in the MCU of the villain using the hero’s own powers against them and to this day Stane has done it better than most. The Monger suit is so powerful in fact Stark has to resort to risky and desperate measures to defeat it. Stane set the standard for the MCU’s line of villains showing that the bad guys would be closer to the heroes in many ways. His cunning nature and ruthless push for power make him a villain worthy of more appreciation than he tends to get.
8. The Red Skull
The most iconic of Captain America’s villains was his first foe in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Captain America: The First Avenger”. A Nazi extremist with an appreciation of mythology Johann Schmidt, played by Hugo Weaving, leads the deep science division Hydra and seeks out the power of the Tesseract, an ancient Asgardian weapon and energy source with the power to obliterate anyone and open portals to other worlds. Schmidt was the first test subject of Professor Abraham Erskine who administered a super soldier serum that amplifies the good, or in Schmidt’s case the bad, within the subject. It’s the same formula that turns Steve Rogers into the Star Spangled Avenger Captain America. The side effects leave Schmidt with great strength and endurance, but also an exposed blood-red skull that makes him the symbolic and feared leader of Hydra as he seeks to supersede the Nazi regime. The Red Skull is as iconic as he is formidable and serves as a true equal to Captain America in terms of power and capability and an opposite in terms of ideals. The Red Skull symbolizes everything wrong with humanity whereas his opponent stands for the best humanity could be. He’s smart and religiously devoted to his cause making him dangerous in more ways than one which has helped him become one of the most iconic of villains in the first phase of the MCU.
7. The Vulture
Considered one of the best villains to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Adrian Toomes is a far cry from the character depicted in the Spider-Man comics but the character is better for it. In “Spider-Man: Homecoming” Toomes is a businessman who feels wronged by Tony Stark creating his own company to clean up the mess left by the Avengers, putting Toomes and others out of business in the process. Toomes resorts to underground dealings of weapons and materials after salvaging alien technology much the same way a vulture salvages food from a carcass. Utilizing his own flight suit that he uses to steal material in heists, Toomes is a unique kind of villain who is trying to do right by his family and comes to view Spider-Man as a worthy foe, but a pain in his side nonetheless. Once he discovers that Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker is dating his daughter he even has a Godfather-like talk with Parker threatening him to stay out of his way. In the end Spidey foils Vultures plans, but not without also saving his life and helping Toomes earn respect for the hero and what he stands for. The Vulture is a fun and well developed evildoer backed by a memorable and fun performance by Michael Keaton that represents a man who feels cornered in his life and has to turn to villainy to give his family what they deserve. He’s not inherently evil, but instead sees it as his only option and that makes him desperate, focused and gives him purpose beyond causing mayhem. This makes Adrian Toomes one of the more sympathetic bad guys on this list.
The first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie offered an okay villain in the form of Ronan the Accuser, but the second film brought us an even more powerful being with a personal connection to Star Lord that made his villainy all the more surprising and dramatic. Ego, played by a perfectly cast Kurt Russell, is a celestial, an immensely powerful being that created his own planet from his own existence making him a literal living planet. He also happens to be Star Lord’s father who sought out the Guardian and made an attempt to bond with his long lost kin. Despite initially seeming to be a sincere and likable guy Ego turns out to be a diabolical and layered villain who sought out his many children to find one who had properly inherited his powers and use them in a scheme to shape the universe in his own image. Ego’s name fits the character well as he has plenty of his own ego to go around and once Star Lord and the other Guardians get wind of his plan they try everything to stop him leading to Star Lord fully embracing his epic new powers while his friends implant a bomb in Ego’s brain. Ego remains one of the most dastardly, cunning, charming and powerful beings in all of the MCU and his introduction and twist villainy made him a memorable part of the second “Guardians” film. Besides all that he’s a living planet! How could someone like that not make this list?
5. Erik Killmonger
The latest villain to join the MCU, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, played impeccably by Michael B. Jordan, is a mercenary related by blood to T’Challa, the Black Panther and new king of the African nation of Wakanda. After learning that his father was killed by his own brother, T’Challa’s father, Killmonger spends much of his life waiting for his moment to strike and challenges T’Challa for the thrown, succeeding and taking the mask of the Golden Jaguar. He then sets out to use Wakanda’s arsenal to make the world pay for what he sees as generations of racial injustice with only the Black Panther standing in his way. Killmonger is one of the few MCU villains with a fully fleshed out and developed story and while we see him as a villain he believes he is justified. His thirst for revenge leads him to embrace a dark side that defeats his own cause. What makes him even more special however is that he is motivated not by greed or envy, but by emotion and pain after learning that he was stripped of a chance at the thrown at a young age. It’s not hard to imagine that given a chance to be part of Wakanda Killmonger would have been a very different person, but he feels the world left him behind. Killmonger is among the best the MCU has ever offered and it’s a testament to Marvel that even 18 films later they can still provide interesting antagonists like this in their films.
A creation of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, Ultron is a robotic being that is the second antagonist of the Avengers as a team. Voiced by James Spader, Ultron was designed to replace the Avengers and act, as Tony Stark puts it, as a bouncer for intergalactic beings meaning to do harm to the world. When he finally comes to life with the help of Loki’s scepter however he becomes completely sentient, thinking on his own and deciding that to protect the world he has to destroy it. With a complete data on the personalities and abilities of each of the Avengers and Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver by his side Ultron proves to be more than a match for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Unable to see the error in his own logic, Ultron justifies his perspective with biblical analogies and pretentious one-liners and sports a few personality traits and the same wit as his creator, Stark. In the end it’s his own ego that betrays him as he underestimates the capabilities of the Avengers, but even then Ultron maintains a confidence and poise few human character could even muster in the face of defeat. Fans may be divided on “Age of Ultron” as a whole or even Ultron as a character, but it’s hard to deny him his right among the greats in Marvel villainy especially considering he almost blew up the earth with his very own meteor. How badass is that?
3. Doctor Octopus
While the Green Goblin served as a fun antagonist for the first live-action “Spider-Man” movie the second film upped the ante, giving us an even more complex villain that stole the show. Dr. Otto Octavius starts out “Spider-Man 2” as a friend and mentor to Peter Parker, but after performing a dangerous experiment involving a set of mechanical arms controlled by his brain disaster strikes, killing his wife and destroying the chip that keeps the arms from influencing his mind. As a result he takes on the identity of Doctor Octopus and becomes obsessed with successfully recreating his experiment, stealing money from banks and putting lives on the line in the process. Spider-Man makes several attempts to stop him leading to some of the most epic confrontations in superhero movie history including the famed battle on the train scene. What makes the cinematic version of Doctor Octopus so memorable is that he’s far from the mad scientist many have come to know him as. He’s a redeemable villain consumed with an obsession that cost him the love of his life He’s destructive, but relatable and despite all the harm he causes we can’t help but route for him to find closure and redemption, which he eventually does. Alfred Malina was a perfect choice to bring this character to life and he was a big part of “Spider-Man 2’s” success as one of the most celebrated superhero films of all time.
No villain has been featured in more MCU films that Loki, although there is one that has been in more films overall but we’ll get to that in a moment. As Thor’s brother, Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston, is first an ally of Thor’s but soon becomes a rival after he learns of his true linage as a Frost Giant and tries to take the thrown of Asgard for himself. Despite being defeated by Thor Loki returns as the first opponent of The Avenger, but it’s his turn in the “Thor” franchise that puts him here as that’s where most of his development takes place. Even after being defeated by his brother and the superhero team Loki retains his wit and silver tongue. He does eventually earn a bit of redemption after helping Thor take on Malekith in “Thor: The Dark World” but even after seemingly sacrificing himself he still deceives his brother and takes the thrown again. “Thor: Ragnarok” presents Loki as a changed man now more an antihero than a villain, but it doesn’t change the destruction and chaos he caused in his first few appearances on the big screen. His reputation and extensive character development is probably why he has become the most loved and appreciated villain in all of the MCU. He’s a cunning, sympathetic, wicked, and in some ways even relatable villain who appears to feel misunderstood and the product of a bad hand he was dealt in life. Loki remains just as charming as ever even four films deep in his own story.
No Marvel villain has been in as many movies as Magneto with a staggering six appearances, seven if you count the fact that there are TWO Magneto’s in “Days of Future Past”. Magneto is probably the easiest character to sympathize with on this list and is more a villain due to his extremism than anything else. A mutant who can control metal and manipulate magnetic fields to achieve flight, Magneto isn’t necessarily always a villain in the prequel series so for this list I chose to focus on the Ian McKellen version, one I personally see as superior. McKellen plays an aged Magento in the first three “X-Men” films and while he actually allies with the X-Men in the second movie he remains an antagonist throughout the series as his ideals against humanity in favor of mutant kind clash with Charles Xavier’s, a man he once considered his best friend. Of all the Marvel villains Magneto is probably the most developed as a Jewish man who experienced the terrors of the Holocaust as a child only to experience the same prejudice against mutant kind as an adult and become a revolutionary by leading the Brotherhood of Mutants. What’s more he doesn’t actually want to hurt the X-Men. He sees them as equals standing in his way. He has a respect for his enemy and even wants them to understand his intentions are pure, at least in his mind. Magneto may not be truly evil at heart, but he is a villain that represents the best and worst of humanity simultaneously and symbolically pays tribute to the many people in history who might have been seen as antagonists but had the best of intentions at heart. There have been many cool and charming villains in Marvel lore, but few as iconic and relatable as Magneto which lands him my top spot on this list of best cinematic Marvel villains.