I decided to rank the Marvel villains.
It was kind of a dumb idea. There’s a lot of them and they are hard to separate sometimes. (What really sets about #12 from #13?) There are no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. villains on this list. There are Netflix Marvel villains. Why? Because I make the rules. Sorry.
Also no villains from the X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Punisher, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, or Elektra movies. Those may or may not have actually happened. Again, I make the rules.
Ranking the Marvel Villains (from Worst to Best)
23.) Malekith- Where to start here? Could’ve been played by anyone given how little it engages the Eccleston’s acting skills. Is nowhere near the trickster elf that could give Loki a run for his money in the manipulation department (and yes, I know comparing a character to the comic version can be reductive and nerdy and…etc etc. It still feels worth noting here). There’s more but those are the biggest two. I think Dark World is a measure better than its rep but the villain lives down to that opinion for certain.
22.) Abomination- Tim Roth as a soldier with an inferiority complex who refuses to accept that a giant green rage beast is out of his league is a good villain. Abomination is a boring computer effect who engages in a loud but ultimately uninteresting fight in Harlem.
21.) Whiplash- Some love Mickey Rouke’s odd rendering of this villain in Iron Man 2. I don’t. I don’t dislike it either, but he’s sort of a non-factor. Weird, sure, but he never really captures the attention of the audience, ongoing. Besides his first confrontation with Stark at the speedway, Whiplash is mostly a character of unrealized potential.
20.) Quicksilver- How his speed is depicted is a fun effect but he really never offers anything as dangerous or as interesting as a threat as his sister, Scarlet Witch, does. I do like that Aaron Taylor Johnson captured Pietro’s classic haughtiness, especially in the early going.
19.) Ronan- I like Lee Pace a lot. Ronan is Lee Pace under so much blue makeup, that is charisma and ability is almost unable to be seen. Beyond a defiant kid speech at Papa Thanos and his reactions to Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord dance-off suggestion in the finale, there’s little given to him to sink his teeth into.
18.) Aldrich Killian- He starts off like Val Kilmer’s nerd character in The Saint, he ends up like a human dragon, spewing fire all hither and dither. It’s an impressive evolution, to be sure.
The thing is, even though I am a big Iron Man 3 fan, Killian always comes across to me as an empty suit. He has power and a plan but he just never seems scary. I don’t know, his henchmen both come across as more dangerous and intimidating.
17.) Thunderbolt Ross- While not super powered and generally not trying to acquire power or wealth for himself, Ross (as played by William Hurt) is nonetheless reckless, selfish, and makes everything about a bad situation worse.
16.) Nebula- A little thin, character-wise, but I like that she’s a snarling baddie that is predominantly a physical threat as that is unusual for woman villains.
15.) Batroc- There’s no time for Batroc to get a personality in Winter Soldier but as purely physical threat, he makes a great opponent for Cap and provides the opposition needed for the movie’s best pure fight scene.
14.) Hawkeye- Mind controlled or not, Hawkeye’s a villain for much of Avengers’ running time. And he makes a pretty good one. Empty eyed and incredibly competent, Barton under the sway of Loki proves a scary operator who holds his own pretty well against his future teammates.
13.) Justin Hammer- Sam Rockwell’s Hammer isn’t exactly an intimidating villain but he is delightfully swarmy and cowardly.
12.) Arnim Zola- As both a Nazi scientist and a death dodging computer headed man reduced to computer program I think Toby Jones’ Zola is a nice demonstration of how the films can embrace a lot of the silliness of the comics without sacrificing the tone of the film.
11.) Ultron- It could be a matter of the comics corrupting me, but Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron feels too human to me. There are moment where James Spader finds the sweet spot of callous cruelty and frightening power, but, largely, Ultron feels too much like an angry child and not enough like a calculating machine.
I should stress again though, that my problem with Ultron is less with Spader’s performance and more with how the character was conceived/built around.
10.) The Mandarin/Travis- As the public face of Killian's plans, he gives great speeches and an excellent command of imagery. As Travis, the alcohol and drug addicted actor playing a terrorist swami, he's a delight. I know people hated this twist, but I adored it.
9.) Obidiah Stane- Jeff Bridges as the face of amoral greed is a great bit of casting. He uses his natural charisma and slow burn anger so well here, it is not difficult to understand how almost managed to outthink Tony Stark.
8.) Scarlet Witch- Again, you gotta take points off for being a pawn who doesn’t realize she’s a pawn (like her brother or Hawkeye or Winter Soldier). That said, she is a legitimately scary threat who seems to twist your dreams, nightmares, or memories against you without hesitation if you are in her way. Of all the threats in Age of Ultron, she’s the most competent and dangerous by far. Including that robot.
7.) Yellowjacket- Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, on the other hand, makes the only wounded child thing Ultron had going on work and make sense. That attribute, pasted on a giant robot, makes the robot less scary. In the mouths of an imbalanced human being with unlimited research funds, on the other hand? That makes that father-son grudge match pop. A great design on his shrinking exoskeleton and a film that continues to find fun ways to showcase the shrinking/growing abilities of the character put this guy a lot higher on the list than I would’ve initially anticipated.
6.) Alexander Pierce- Casting classic Hollywood liberal old guard type Robert Redford as a safety and power above all else two-faced bad seed in the S.H.I.E.L.D. apparatus is a great move of instant “oh, tricky.” But that only gets you so far. Redford’s genial til the last moments menace is what brings it together. He’s a monster in bureaucrat’s clothes that plays the game better than the superspies that surround him.
5.) Winter Soldier- Loses points because a brainwashed killing machine does not offer much to dig into. On the other hand, he makes a great brainwashed killing machines. Sebastian Stan nicely capture Soldier’s physicality while letting subtle shifts pass over his face to convey a trouble, shattered mind beneath.
4.) Red Skull- I wish Hugo Weaving’s distillation of all the evil of the Third Reich that is SO hardcore he is actually part of a group within the Nazis that feels Hitler is a little soft managed to make it to the present along with Captain America. It seems a shame Cap didn’t get a second chance to tangle with the monster every bit as wicked as he is virtuous.
3.) Killgrave (the Purple Man)- Killgrave could rule the world. Instead, he just wants to get whatever and whoever he wants with as little effort as possible. He is a story of unrealized potential and, somehow, that makes him all the scarier. Loki is super powered and wants to rule the world, that tracks. Killgrave can make anyone do anything and he just wants a Chinese restaurant to make him an Italian dish.
Worse, his favorite use of his powers is the subjugation of women, the utter ringing out of them until his desires are satiated and they are left with their minds and bodies violated and the bizarre memory that they wanted it even as all logic tells them otherwise.
The slow rollout of him in Jessica Jones helps, making him a terrifying boogeyman that his first full appearance in the show immediately deflates. Until we get to know him. And then he is so much worse.
2.) Wilson Fisk the Kingpin of Crime- As conceived of by Vincent D’onfrio, Fisk is like a wounded child with the strength of a championship sumo wrestler. It does not necessarily jive with the comics version of Kingpin—comics version is far more master planner, far less always on the edge of temper tantrum—but it is arresting. In some ways, his lack of master crimelord bearing makes him feel all the more dangerous. He is a time bomb guaranteed to detonate and it is impossible to predict when that will happen.
It also makes his romance with Vanessa all the sweeter. He is clumsy and awkward, clearly head over heels for her immediately. His moments of jealousy or woundedness feel honest but because of his somewhat stunted maturity, they do not feel like the acts of a possessive jerk but rather someone too unfamiliar with his feelings to properly express them.
1.) Loki- A wonderful mix of wounded, entitled, and delighted with his own abilities, Hiddlestone got Loki, in my opinion, from jump street. I know many (most?) argue that it is Avengers when he gets it together, but the Loki of the first Thor movie feels fully realized to me.
Yes, Loki does get more wicked with time, but Hiddleston nicely shows a villain in transition, a bad guy moving from ambivalence about his nature (he still clearly has affection for his brother, is at the least a friendly associate with Thor’s group of friends) to embracing it fully because of the lies he was told about his origins and his own somewhat sublimated selfish nature.
His appearance in Thor: The Dark World effectively builds on both sides of that persona as well, making him sympathetic and monstrous by turns. It stands as a great lesson in how Loki is both a member of the Asgardian royal family and, at the same time, utterly consumed by his own self interest.