Most fans will agree that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a villain problem. This is particularly true of the Marvel Studios films, which tends to rely on single-serving villains that usually die by before the end credits role.
However, there have been a few exceptions to this rule. The Marvel Cinematic Universe may struggle to put out respectable villains on a consistent basis, but that are some noteworthy cinematic bad guys. True, most of them come from the Marvel Television side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but just they didn’t appear on the big screen doesn’t mean they’re not worthy of applause.
And some of the greats are from the Marvel Studios films. After all, not every single villain Marvel Studios puts on screen is a waste of the talents of the actor playing them (I’m looking at you Malekith. Poor Christopher Eccleston).
So, without further ado, ComicBook.com presents the five best villains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Some of them are, admittedly, controversial choices, so make sure to let us know who you would have chosen in their stead in the comments.
Keep reading to see our picks for the five best supervillains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
5. The Mandarin
Ben Kingsley played Iron Man’s arch-nemesis the Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Or, at least that’s who he was advertised to be playing.
It turns out Kingsley was actually playing Trevor Slattery, a British actor paid by maniacal science terrorist Aldrich Killian to impersonate dreaded terrorist known as the Mandarin as a kind of smokescreen for a convoluted plan involving dangerous Extremis technology.
The twist was not well received by fans, and that general disappointment is why the Mandarin is only number five on this list. That said, the fact that fans are still angry about that twist is why the Mandarin is on this list at all.
There’s a meta-textual beauty to the Mandarin twist in that the trick that Trevor Slattery and Aldrich Killian plays on Iron Man is the very same trick that they play on the audience. Viewers have never been so firmly placed in Tony Stark’s iron shoes.
Fans may loathe to admit it, but director Shane Black and Marvel Studios executed the Iron Man 3 twist beautifully. Very few, if anyone, saw it coming, and boy did it burn. Sure, it would be nice to see the actual Mandarin on screen – and that’s still a possibility, thanks to “All Hail the King” - but you’ve got to respect how bold that twist is.
4. WIlson Fisk
Vincent D’Onofrio stepped into the role of Wilson Fisk, Marvel’s Kingpin of crime, in the first season of Daredevil and instantly became a fan favorite.
What makes Daredevil’s version of the Kingpin so fascinating is how the series puts its own unique spin on the character. For much of his existence, the Kingpin has been a remorseless and merciless crime lord and little else. The introduction of Wilson Fisk’s wife, Vanessa, revealed a new layer to the character in the comics, and Daredevil seized on that for the Marvel Cinematic Universe version of the character.
Daredevil took Fisk’s character even further by flashing back to his childhood and showing how Wilson Fisk grew up to become the Kingpin. At heart, the Kingpin is a man who never matured out of his childish rages and never fully developed emotionally, but manages to keep together enough to make the threat of his losing control that much more frightening. And, like most great villains, the Kingpin truly believes he is the hero of the story, as he works to make New York City a better place, at least in his eyes.
If you need further proof of how great the Kingpin is a villain, just ask any fan their reaction to his sudden and unexpected appearance in Daredevil Season 2.
3. Grant Ward
No villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been arched so thoroughly and so completely as Grant Ward on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD.
Played by the criminally underrated Brett Dalton, Ward became life as the boring, square-jawed hero of Phil Coulson’s SHIELD squad. That didn’t even last an entire season. Captain America: The Winter Soldier revealed that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD and Agents of SHIELD quickly revealed that Ward was one of their sleeper agents.
Even after Hydra was defeated, Ward hung around. First, he played Hannibal Lecter to Skye’s Clarice while a captive of SHIELD. Skye eventually tried to kill him and left for dead, but Ward survived and began working as a free agent before taking over as the head of a reborn Hydra.
Ward was one of the most unpredictable characters to ever appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He always just seemed to be looking for somewhere to belong. He’s a character with a tragic past, but it was frequently unclear how much of that tragedy he himself was responsible for. All of this made him an incredibly dynamic threat who could always add tension to a scene simply by being on screen.
Ward had his swan song in Agents of SHIELD Season 3 when Coulson finally killed him. Like a specter, Ward became possessed by the Inhuman demigod worshipped by Hydra, called Hive, and returned to haunt Coulson and SHIELD once more. Lincoln Campbell sacrificed himself to put an end to that threat once and for all.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe may be a safer place without Grant Ward, but we almost feel like that’s a bad thing.
Fans of Doctor Who dealt with some conflicting emotions when David Tennant made his debut as Marvel’s Purple Man, Kilgrave, in Jessica Jones Season 1 on Netflix. Suddenly the adorable tenth doctor was the vilest creature ever to appear in a Marvel Cinematic Universe story. And, to Tennant's absolute credit, he nailed the Kilgrave role just as perfectly as he played the Doctor.
Kilgrave is the subject of some strange childhood experience that gave him the ability to control people’s minds by mere suggestion. Like a spoiled child, Kilgrave used these powers to get whatever he wanted from whoever he would come into contact with.
Jessica Jones was one of Kilgrave’s victims, and he forced her to use her superhuman strength to act as his bodyguard and enforcer while at the same time stripping her strength away with his sexual and psychological abuse. Jessica managed to break free of his control eventually, but Kilgrave found her again and insisted that she was his.
Kilgrave is perhaps the most powerful representation of male privilege and entitlement ever produced by televised fiction. He is utterly irredeemable but is convincing enough to appear sympathetic when it suits him. That Kilgrave is so utterly slimy is what makes Jessica’s eventual victory, bittersweet as it is, so cathartic.
That combination of pure evil and real world relevance makes Tennant’s Kilgrave such a memorable performance.
As should likely surprise no one, Loki tops our list of Marvel Cinematic Universe villains.
Since his first appearance in Thor, Tom Hiddleston has been absolutely charming as the Asgardian God of Mischief. So much so that, even when he is working towards purely malevolent ends, it is easy for fans to find themselves rooting for Loki’s success. If nothing else, they want him to live just so he can appear again in another movie.
And that he has. From the villain of Thor to the common enemy in The Avengers to his turn as Thor’s tenuous ally against the Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World, Loki elevates any scene he is in. Tom Hiddleston’s performance has been so strong that Marvel Comics has even gently nudged their version of Loki into a more heroic role, one that fans can feel no shame in sympathizing with.
No villain in the Marvel Universe has served such glorious purpose as Loki. We expect he’ll be true to form when Hiddleston reprises his role for Thor: Ragnarok.