A Definitive Ranking of Marvel Villains, Based on How Much We Sympathized With Them
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is definitely known for its well-rounded character development.
Chilling backstories and heartwarming relationships are just part of the territory in the MCU, and even the villains aren't exempt from the intricate plot building we've come to know and love. This makes for quite a complicated viewing experience, as we often find ourselves sympathizing with the villain's plight, even if we don't agree with their actions.
Of course, some backstories are better than others. Keep scrolling for a definitive ranking of Marvel villains, based on how much we sympathized with them.
18. Ego the Living Planet
There is undoubtedly no villain we hate more than Ego the Living Planet. This dude (planet?) was so obsessed with himself that he decided he needed to exist everywhere, even though that meant wiping out the population of the entire universe. He had massive power and an entire planet to himself, but that just wasn't enough for him. His plan was illogical, horrifying and totally motivated by a massively overblown sense of self-worth. I guess when your name is Ego, you can't help but think that you're the only thing that matters in the world, but that doesn't mean we can sympathize with this ridiculous motivation.
(Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 via Marvel Studios)
Okay, obviously Hela ranks near the bottom of our list. She's literally the Goddess of Death—her job is to kill and plunder anywhere and everywhere that isn't Asgard. A Goddess of Death isn't known for their tough childhood or traumatic roots—she was born to kill, and kill she does. Considering she's completely driven by power and has a shocking penchant for murder, we obviously don't have much sympathy for Hela.
(Thor: Ragnarok via Marvel Studios)
16. Red Skull
There is absolutely nothing redeeming or even remotely human in Johann Schmidt's story. As if being a Nazi wasn't bad enough, he also allowed his quest for power corrupt him even further, eventually turning him into the horrifying Red Skull. His ambition was to rule the world without any consideration for those he might hurt in the process. We can't sympathize with this villain at all, and we fully believe he got what he deserved when the Tesseract banished him to Vormir.
(Captain America: The First Avenger via Marvel Studios)
Much like Red Skull, we fully believe that there's nothing redeemable in Malekith's story. However, he ranks slightly lower on our list, simply because his motives are almost comically ridiculous. He's the villain in Thor: The Dark World due to his desire to plunge the world into eternal darkness. For some reason, all of the Dark Elves blindly follow Malekith in his quest, even though investing in blackout curtains would be much less time consuming and deadly. Malekith basically just wants to murder people because he can, and obviously because it will give him complete control of the universe, which is a pretty overused motive at this point.
(Thor: The Dark World via Marvel Studios)
Since he was technically a computer, Ultron was a pretty complicated villain to understand. He was created by Tony Stark as a peacekeeping program to protect the human population against any domestic or extraterrestrial threats. Considering the difficult times the Avengers had gone through up to this point, Ultron was definitely created from a good place. Of course, however, the computer became too smart for its own good and decided that humans were the biggest threat to peace on earth, therefore determining that wiping out the entire population would fix the problem.
Considering we are human, we have some pretty understandable problems with this line of thinking. But beyond our own biases, we also have a big problem with anyone who thinks genocide is a proper way to approach your problems. Beyond that, if Ultron wiped out the planet, he wouldn't have anyone to he was trying to protect, which seems to go against his entire programming. Point being, we can't find much sympathy for this line of thinking, which explains Ultron's pretty low ranking on the list.
(The Avengers: Age of Ultron via Marvel Studios)
13. Ronan the Accuser
The primary villain of Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Accuser was primarily motivated by a deep and irrational prejudice against the Xandarian culture. A prominent member of the Kree military, Ronan allowed his hatred to fester and grow, refusing to accept a treaty signed during the Kree-Nova War that brought peace to both Kree and Xandar. If there's one thing we can't understand, it's blind hatred that has no basis in fact, making our sympathy levels for Ronan a resounding zero and our levels of loathing a solid 12 on a scale of 1-10.
(Guardians of the Galaxy via Marvel Studios)
Before the days of Mark Ruffalo, there was Edward Norton, who took on the role of the rage-driven green monster in The Incredible Hulk. Norton's Hulk fought against Emil Blonsky, aka Abomination. It seemed that Blonsky's only driving force to become a villain was his desire to remain a soldier, despite his advancing age, as well as his envy of the Hulk's power.
Not only can we not sympathize with this feeling, we actually find it downright irrational. Transforming into a monster who can't control themselves doesn't seem like "power" to us—it actually seems pretty darn inconvenient. We can't imagine wanting any amount of military status enough to alter your physical form into a totally non-human entity, making it hard for us to find any sympathy for this villain.
(The Incredible Hulk via Marvel Studios)
Remember how we stated that we couldn't get on board with wiping out an entire group of people to fix your problem? Is it any surprise, then, that Thanos ranks so low on our list? Thanos' plan is literally to wipe out half the population of the universe in order to balance resources and create an overall better life for everyone. Now, we have to admit that this plan works on paper, but in practice it's the result of a madman who places no value on human life. Genuinely only a psychopath would carry out this crazy idea, and we do no associate, nor sympathize with, psychopaths.
(Avengers: Infinity War via Marvel Studios)
10. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket
Ugh, yet another villain driven by an irresistible desire for money and power. Beyond the fact that Darren Cross pushed his mentor out of Pym Technologies, therefore betraying the person who taught him everything, we primarily hate him because he was willing to sell dangerous technologies to known terrorist groups. He was ready to sacrifice the lives of millions of innocent people to make a buck, without any qualms about his actions. We feel sorry for anyone who has this little compassion, but that's about all we can feel for Darren Cross.
(Ant-Man via Marvel Studios)
9. Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger
As human and relatable as his search for power and prestige might be, we have no sympathy for Obadiah Stane's story. While we can understand Stane's frustration with Tony's irresponsible and reckless ways, we just can't justify his plan to kill Tony simply to gain control of Stark Industries.
Obadiah had been a trusted friend and confidant for years, not to mention he was still second-in-command of one of the most powerful companies on earth. Somehow that still wasn't enough for him and he chose to betray his good friend's son, a man who had looked up to him and relied on him for years, in order to push himself that tiny step to the very top. Honestly, it turns our stomach a little that someone could be this corrupted by power. While we know it's totally realistic, we also can't find it in our hearts to conjure up anything but a confused pity for Obadiah's actions.
(Iron Man via Marvel Studios)
While we totally understand sticking up for your family, we also wholeheartedly believe that Ivan Vanko takes things way too far. We do sympathize with him in the sense that he was abused by his father and must have internalized a lot of that negative behavior as he grew up. However, we also believe the anger he should have been feeling towards his father was misplaced onto the Stark family, resulting in his pledge to ruin Tony's life.
Despite not having a particularly amazing plan, he also destroyed his own life in his search for revenge, instead of understanding that his father wasn't the greatest dude and subsequently using his own mental prowess to create a better life for himself. He fell into the age-old story of misplaced vengeance, making it very difficult to truly understand his motives and sympathize with his obsessive need to destroy Iron Man.
(Iron Man 2 via Marvel Studios)
Vulture is a bit of a complicated character for us. At the beginning of Spider-Man: Homecoming, we're shown that he lost his livelihood running a successful salvage company after Tony Stark and the federal government created Damage Control, an organization basically dedicated to cleaning up the Avengers' messes. Not only is Toomes worried about supporting his own family, he also feels responsible for the families of his workers, all of whom will suffer if his business goes under. Shown from that perspective, we have a ton of sympathy for him. After all, he's a struggling businessman with few skills who's been completely ruined by the powerful Tony Stark.
However, by the time Spider-Man comes into the picture, it's clear Adrian Toomes has fully embraced his new role as a villain. What started as a way to keep his family afloat has become a thriving opportunity, and the money and power has clearly gone to Toomes' head. For that version of the Vulture—who's ruthless and murderous—we have no sympathy. However, he would never have become that character if his business hadn't gone under in the first place. Overall, it's a complicated storyline that places this character firmly in the middle of our list.
(Spider-Man: Homecoming via Marvel Studios)
6. Aldrich Killian
Aldrich Killian was the real persona behind the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, though he paid Trevor Slattery to be the face of his attacks. While Killian had an incredible capacity for good with Extremis, he instead chose to injure his subjects with his technology, eventually using those unsuccessful tests to profit from a "war on terror" that he himself fabricated. While he was definitely corrupted by power, we do have a bit of sympathy for Killian, who grew up with a number of physical disabilities. He was seen as obnoxious and overbearing in his quest to cure himself, resulting in many situations where he was rejected or totally blown off, even by Tony himself.
While we don't think any of this justifies Killian's horrific actions, we can't imagine how frustrating it must have been to live with life-altering disabilities, and then to subsequently be judged for trying to change your situation by people who could never understand what you're going through. We genuinely believe all those little moments had a profound impact on Killian, eventually turning him into the psychotic killer we see in Iron Man 3. Looking at his story from that perspective, we can't help but sympathize with him just a little bit.
(Iron Man 3 via Marvel Studios)
While Kaecilius was definitely misguided in his thinking, we do have to empathize with his villainous plight. Unfortunately, he joined the Masters of the Mystic Arts without really understanding what he was getting into, and his frustration at not being able to use his powers to orchestrate a reunion with his deceased wife and son ultimately led to his betrayal.
Unfortunately, his decision to align himself with Dormammu only led to death and destruction, turning him into a ruthless murderer who eventually had to face the gravity of his actions. At his core, he was a deeply unhappy man who couldn't find an effective way to move on from the death of the people closest to him. Although his sadness doesn't justify his spiral into a villain, we are able to find it in our hearts to have a little sympathy for him.
(Doctor Strange via Marvel Studios)
4. Erik Killmonger
Erik Killmonger is an absolutely heartbreaking character for us to consider. He lost his father at a young age and grew up surrounded by systematic oppression while also believing that his family had abandoned him to a life of poverty. His desire to help his own people on Earth was heartbreakingly realistic, but we also can't ignore his obvious penchant for murder. His body is covered in scars to mark every life he's taken, and his plan to wipe out anyone who opposes him definitely isn't the right way to go about things. He's obviously a deeply disturbed man with a dangerous bloodthirsty streak, but we have to feel sympathy for the abandoned little boy the man used to be.
(Black Panther via Marvel Studios)
In all honesty, we love Loki so much it's hard to think of him as a villain. However, despite his redeeming qualities, he undoubtedly has his villainous moments, and they're not always a product of the most sensible reasoning. We understand that he's struggling with his place as an adopted member of Thor's family, but he also has a desperate need for power and control. He has very little value for human life and his mischievous and suspicious ways often lead to a lot of death and destruction. He always seems to pull through in the end, only to prove once more that we can never fully trust him. We sympathize with him because he proves his goodness so often, but we can't always understand his unquenchable need for power.
(Thor: Ragnarok via Marvel Studios)
2. Helmut Zemo
We have to be honest—we can totally sympathize with Helmut Zemo's heartbreaking story. Although we don't appreciate his plan to destroy the Avengers from the inside out—especially because it worked—we do have a deep empathy for the pain and suffering that drove him to the dark place he was in during Captain America: Civil War. After all, he lost his family in the Battle of Sokovia, the fight against Ultron that had its roots entirely in the Avengers' initiatives.
It was one of the first times that the death and destruction the Avengers caused in the process of saving the universe was truly addressed, and facing the negative backlash of their actions ultimately led to their demise. It's a heartbreaking tale overall and we obviously wish Zemo hadn't turned to his villainous ways, but we do have quite a bit of sympathy for him once we consider the root of his actions.
(Captain America: Civil War via Marvel Studios)
1. Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier
We have all the sympathy for our beloved Bucky Barnes, particularly because he has no idea that he's a villain. He was literally brainwashed by HYDRA and used as a super soldier weapon, even though Bucky's own consciousness was completely unaware of what he was doing, much less why he was doing it. In a way, Bucky himself was a victim, both of HYDRA and of his alternate person, the Winter Soldier. Bucky is undeniably on the good side, meaning all his bad actions while under HYDRA's control aren't really his fault. We can't imagine his frustration and sadness at learning what he was transformed into, easily making him the villain we're most sympathetic to.
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier via Marvel Studios)
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