Marvel has been killing it for over a decade now, and each phase has had its own series of ups and downs. Nobody can deny that Marvel’s heroes are amazing—who knew a talking tree and a raccoon packing heat could become household staples? But it’s in their villains where they have slightly faltered. Whether it was the crummy Iron Monger in the first Iron Man during Phase 1, or that lame dark elf in Thor: The Dark World in Phase 2, some of the villains have been pretty weak when compared to their heroic counterparts. But Phase 3 changed that in a lot of ways.
For some reason, Phase 3 was when the villains started getting interesting. And it might be because they seemed to have much stronger motivations. Now, when it comes to this list, just keep in mind that I won’t be going through EVERY villain in phase 3 (Like, I’m not going through every member of Thanos’s Black Order, because that would be silly). But I will be going through all the major ones that deeply impacted the plots of each respective movie.
Just a heads up, MAJOR SPOILERS below.
12. Supreme Intelligence (Captain Marvel)
Played by Annette Bening, Supreme Intelligence is so forgettable that I almost forgot this character was even in the MCU. Usually portrayed as a giant green head in the comics, the movie version of Supreme Intelligence is meant to appear as a person someone most admires, so she/he/it, of course, resembles Wendy Lawson, the woman who inspired Carol Danvers, as well as being the MCU’s version of Mar-Vell.
Mar-Vell being a female was a cool twist, but Mar-Vell being the representation of Supreme Intelligence was kind of lame. Again, I forgot this character was even in the MCU, which is saying quite a bit since I enjoyed Captain Marvel. But of the Phase 3 villains, this one falls short.
11. Dormammu (Doctor Strange)
You know the only thing interesting about Dormammu in the MCU? The fact that he was voiced by Doctor Strange himself, Benedict Cumberbatch. Otherwise, the “Cosmic Conqueror, the Destroyer of Worlds” as Wong refers to him, is a pretty forgettable antagonist who could have been a lot more interesting if he was actually the main antagonist.
That’s right, sort of like how Iron Man 3 took one of Marvel’s most famous villains in The Mandarin and made him into a much lesser character, Doctor Strange took one of those most powerful characters in the Marvel universe and relegated him to being a big angry face. Dormammu may have introduced the world to the Dark Dimension, and the whole “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain,” catchphrase became one of the most memorable scenes in Phase 3. But still, he was pretty one dimensional, which is weird for a character that is actually inter-dimensional.
10. Ulysses Klaue (Black Panther)
Making his first appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron, you would think Ulysses Klaue, played by Andy Serkis, would be much more important to the MCU given his two appearances, but his motivations are that of a video game character. An arms dealer who wants vibranium to sell on the black market, Klaue (Or Klaw) is one of Black Panther’s most formidable foes in the comics, but he’s played for more as comic relief in the movies.
And that's fine. There’s nothing wrong with comic relief. But when compared with Killmonger, who appears much later on this list, you wouldn’t be wrong for forgetting that Klaue is even in Black Panther, let alone the MCU. Thankfully, he won’t be coming back.
9. Yon-Rogg (Captain Marvel)
Yon-Rogg is really only interesting because of the many twists in Captain Marvel. Played by Jude Law, you at first think that Yon-Rogg is trying to help Carol Danvers, only to find out that his allegiance is to Supreme Intelligence, and that the Skrulls in the MCU are the good guys, and the Kree are the villains.
But that is only really interesting if you know how villainous the Skrulls are in the comics. Otherwise, Yon-Rogg comes off as arrogant and petty, but not much else. Plus, his defeat, while satisfying given the anti-chauvinistic tone of the movie, was over before you knew it. Not a terrible antagonist, but somebody more befitting of Phase 2 rather than the mostly excellent Phase 3.
8. Kaecilius (Doctor Strange)
Kaecilius could have been a lot more interesting since he’s a sorcerer and former member of the Mystic Arts who finds death and time to be an affront to magic. But he’s overshadowed by Dormammu, and as you’ve already seen on this list, Dormammu kind of sucks in the MCU.
After losing his wife and son, he wants to see them again by connecting with other dimensions, which is super cool and all (And it doesn’t hurt that he’s played by Mads Mikkelsen), but Doctor Strange is such a busy movie already, what with the origin story, the Time Stone, and the death of the Ancient One, that he kind of gets lost in the plot. Not a bad villain, but not entirely memorable, either.
7. Ghost (Ant-Man and The Wasp)
Okay, now we’re getting to the really good villains. Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen has a reasonable motivation. She doesn’t want to die. Plus, she’s pissed at S.H.I.E.L.D., who she feels used her for her powers and left her to die. So in every way, once you realize why she’s doing what she’s doing, you understand where she’s coming from, which is a similar trait of all the best MCU baddies. Plus, her ability to phase in and out looks spectacular.
The only thing holding Ghost back is the fact that we learn about the Quantum Realm in Ant-Man and The Wasp, and the Quantum Realm is the most interesting part of that movie, so again, she kind of gets lost because of something even cooler going on in the plot. Still, she’s not dead, so she will probably return, which is a good thing.
6. Helmut Zemo (Captain America: Civil War)
Ooh, now this is a good one. There is so much going on in Captain America: Civil War (with the introduction of Spider-Man AND Black Panther in the MCU), that you almost don’t even need a main antagonist. The film already works as a pseudo sequel to Age of Ultron as it is.
But Helmut Zemo (played by Daniel Bruhl) being the mastermind that set up the whole “civil war” between Iron Man and Captain America in the first place is what truly made the film genius. Pissed off after losing his family in the Battle of Sokovia, Zemo rationalizes that the only way to take on superpowered beings is to have them kill each other, and he almost succeeds, if not for his plot being uncovered. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing him return on The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. His days of scheming are far from over.
5. Ego (Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2)
Kurt Russell is Ego, and I couldn’t be happier. Acting as a living planet and also Star Lord’s father (but not his “daddy”) Ego’s main objective is to… plant his seed… in as many creatures as possible so that the whole universe has a part of him in it. Pretty gross, but also befitting of his name.
Ego is a fantastic villain since he doesn’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing. And like every great villain, in his own twisted way, he sees himself as the hero. This puts Star Lord at odds since he finally realizes that he has powers, but that he ultimately doesn’t want them if it means he’ll be like his father. In every way, it makes the villain that much more compelling knowing that he has such a connection to our hero. And did I mention Kurt Russell? You can’t go wrong with Captain Ron.
4. Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)
Thor: Ragnarok is a silly movie, and Hela, played by Cate Blanchett, is the no-nonsense villain this film needed. It doesn’t hurt that she vamps it up in every scene she’s in. The daughter of Odin, Hela wants to regain power as Asgard’s executioner and rule over every realm. And throughout the movie, you wonder how she could possibly lose given how handedly she defeats both her brothers, Thor and Loki.
Hela is fascinating since she has such a clear objective. Kill anybody that gets in her way. This could have been decidedly one-note like Dormammu. But what makes her unique is her connection to Odin, and how Thor has to wrestle with his own feelings of inadequacy when juxtaposed with his tough as nails sister. Every great villain is tethered to the hero in their respective fates, and Hela fills that role and then some.
3. The Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
I’m calling it. The best twist in the entire MCU is when Michael Keaton revealed himself to be the father of the daughter Peter Parker is crushing on. But that scene is just one of the many reasons why the Vulture is one of the most compelling villains in any phase of the MCU. The fact that he’s not wrong to be mad at Tony Stark for his business being closed down by him is another. He’s completely human, and he might even be a good person if he wasn’t pushed to the edge.
The Vulture has always been one of the weaker Spider-Man villains in the comics, but Michael Keaton brought menacing life to him on the big screen. Unfortunately, he didn’t make an appearance in Spider-Man: From Far Home, but we hopefully haven’t seen the last of him. Especially if Morbius is an indication of things to come.
2. Eric Killmonger (Black Panther)
Killmonger was not wrong in his ideas, only his methods in acquiring said ideas. That’s what made Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger the bad guy to end all bad guys in the blockbuster hit, Black Panther. His father being killed by T’Challa’s father would have sufficed as reason enough for Killmonger to be Black Panther’s nemesis. After all, who doesn’t love a good revenge story? But the fact that he believed that all the oppression of black people around the world could have been prevented if the Vibranium in Wakanda was actually used as a weapon is what elevates Black Panther to legendary status.
Killmonger is fascinating since even the audience can understand where he’s coming from. And in a lot of ways, because of his vision, he manages to convince the hero of the movie to actually open up the borders of Wakanda. Any bad guy that can be a catalyst for change in the good guy has got to be at the top of the list. But not the very top. You already know who number one has to be.
1. Thanos (Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame)
It just had to be Thanos, didn’t it? Thanos single-handily guided both Phase 2 and Phase 3 to its startling conclusion. Ever since he showed up in the first Avengers movie, Thanos has been sort of a boogie man behind the scenes, always looming and always menacing. And when he finally arrived in Infinity War, the first thing he did was manhandle the Hulk. Now that’s an entrance.
Thanos is arguably a lot more interesting in Infinity War than he is in Endgame. Played by Josh Brolin, Thanos is the “hero” of Infinity War, and you see things from his warped viewpoint of reality. But it actually makes sense when you see it from his eyes. Wouldn’t the universe be better if half the people in it were gone? It would mean people wouldn’t starve, and that there would be more space for the survivors.
Of course this is a load of crap since it would mean that countless people would just cease to exist, but it actually seems reasonable in Infinity War. It only seems like the genocide it is when we get the heroes’ perspective in Endgame. But the fact that we all went along with what Thanos was saying is evidence that he was super convincing, and for that reason (and the fact that two whole phases were built up to him) Thanos is the number one villain in not only phase 3, but the entire MCU.