Written By Michael Collins
Marvel has received a little bit of criticism over the years for its failure to design cinematic villains on par with the heroes they go up against. It’s an interesting situation, actually, for superhero cinema. Marvel seems to have the biggest and best heroes, while DC, despite failing to put together anything close to being on par with the MCU, seems to have the most noteworthy villains. Indeed, DC will even put out the first villain-centric superhero film later this summer when Suicide Squad hits theaters.
But really, it’s easy to let the idea that Marvel struggles creating compelling villains get out of hand. When you look back on nearly two decades’ worth of modern superhero movies – not just by Marvel Studios, but including any films using Marvel comics properties – there are actually some pretty solid bad guys sprinkled in throughout.
To illustrate that point, here are my top 10.
10. Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll)
Ant-Man may be the least serious Marvel movie to date, so one wouldn’t really expect it to have a noteworthy villain. And in fact the actual character of Darren Cross/Yellowjacket wasn’t particularly noteworthy. He was pretty much a business rival who got a little power hungry. But he makes the list because the Yellowjacket suit is effectively a much cooler version of the Ant-Man suit. Incidentally, both characters were introduced to Marvel mobile games’ Contest Of Champions app when the film came out, and there, too, Yellowjacket is a cooler and more powerful version of Ant-Man.
9. Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges)
Marvel has tossed out a lot of different versions of a similar character: the wealthy and powerful businessman in a suit who tries to sneakily create a better version of a superhero’s power. Obadiah Stane was among the first, however, and Jeff Bridges was wonderfully creepy in his depiction of the archetype.
8. Yondu (Michael Rooker)
Yondu (he was the smaller blue guy in Guardians Of The Galaxy) might wind up being more of a space pirate/antihero than an outright villain. But in Guardians Of The Galaxy he was a far sight more compelling than either Ronan the Accuser or Nebula. Plus, his little needle-like weapon, which he controls with his own whistle, is unspeakably sinister.
7. Dr. Arnim Zola (Toby Jones)
Arnim Zola was pretty unremarkable as a human being in Captain America: The First Avenger. But he made an incredibly chilling comeback in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Indeed he was so compelling as a preserved consciousness in a computer system that Buzzfeed’s ranked list of the Marvel Studios villains included “Computer Version” Zola as a separate character (and their pick for the third best bad guy in the MCU).
6. Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe)
Though X-Men and a few lesser projects came out before 2002’s Spider-Man, many might still think of Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin as the original Marvel villain. Incredibly, Spider-Man actually already feels a little bit dated just 14 years later and as such there’s now a slightly cheesy quality to all the action when you watch it again. However, Dafoe played this part perfectly and the Goblin’s suit and glider made for a pretty awesome villain ensemble.
5. Whiplash (Mickey Rourke)
It’s a shame that Whiplash seems all but forgotten amidst a slew of Internet rankings placing Iron Man 2 near the bottom of the Marvel totem pole. Betfair’s slot games include an Iron Man 2-themed title in which Rourke’s likeness appears alongside Black Widow, Iron Man, and War Machine. You can still get a feel there for Rourke’s wild man look, as his image (complete with power core and “whips” is used as part of the slot reel’s background. But elsewhere it’s as if this character never happened. The movie may not be perfect, but give it another look if you doubt Marvel’s villains. This toothpick-chewing, Russian-speaking, tattooed mad genius was a lot cooler than most of the others.
4. Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
One specific criticism that’s been leveled at the Marvel villains is that too often they’re basically evil versions of good characters. In that regard the Winter Soldier isn’t particularly creative; he’s essentially Captain America minus the shield, plus a metal arm and bad attitude. But the depth of the character proved compelling. The Winter Soldier was portrayed as a brainwashed assassin with traces of his old self and equal potential to murder a civilian or join the Avengers.
3. Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina)
Doctor Octopus made the number three spot on Moviefone’s ranking of Marvel villains, and you may actually notice my top three is identical to theirs. This is a character that could easily have been somewhat ridiculous in the wrong hands, but as with the Winter Soldier there was a certain depth and conflicted nature that made him a success. Alfred Molina was simply brilliant battling the intelligent chip built into his suit for control of the immense power he gave himself.
2. Magneto (Michael Fassbender/Ian McKellen)
Both McKellen and Fassbender have portrayed Magneto on different timelines within the X-Men films, but with this ranking I’m specifically referring to the Fassbender version in X-Men: First Class and in X-Men: Days Of Future Past. In both films he’s more of a conflicted hero than a true villain, but he’s pretty sensational nonetheless.
1. Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
And finally, there’s Loki, who, aside from Magneto, is pretty much the only Marvel villain who’s exhibited any kind of staying power. Effectively Marvel’s Joker, he’s been equal parts bad guy and comic relief thanks to a gleefully wicked performance by Tom Hiddleston. He may not be the most evil or powerful of the bunch, but he’s the most
All images courtesy of Marvel