Super bad: who is the greatest ever Marvel supervillain?

Who is the greatest Marvel supervillain? Taika Waititi went on record this week to suggest that Christian Bale’s Gorr the God Butcher will soon be the biggest baddie in the pantheon, but as we’re yet to get so much as a glimpse of this alien killer of deities in advance materials, that’s still something of a moot point.

“In my humble opinion, we have probably the best villain that Marvel’s ever had in Christian Bale,” the New Zealand film-maker told AP. Which got me thinking about some of the incredible antagonists the studio has given us. Who would you put in first place?

This is a question whose parameters need to be defined. Is the greatest Marvel supervillain the one who had the most impact on the MCU? Or the one who drew the greatest gasps from audiences because the actor delivered the most eye-popping performance?

If it’s the former then Thanos surely has to be up there with the worst of them. The nefarious Titan murdered half the universe’s population with the click of his fingers on the basis of what? Ill-conceived, wrong-headed binary statistics? It doesn’t get much more evil than that, and this alien invader’s machinations were terrible enough that they pretty much fuelled the MCU’s entire Phase Three. So our giant purple friend scores highly in terms of audience impact, too. It’s also probably one of the finest ever mo-cap performances, even if Josh Brolin ultimately got a little lost in the hi-tech architecture.

How about Ultron? The devious artificial intelligence robot (voiced by James Spader) was certainly the most powerful supervillain yet seen when he achieved self-awareness for the first time in 2015. He gave Tony Stark his first crisis of conscience and helped usher Scarlet Witch into the arms of the Avengers. And yet it’s hard to argue with a bad guy who points out all humanity’s faults and seems to long merely for a world in which wild animals run free in a human-less paradise. Spader’s was also a less showy performance than we’ve seen elsewhere, being limited to that cold, machine-like voice.

If scenery-chewing is your thing then Cate Blanchett’s Hela surely merits discussion. Despite being a “one and done” villain – so far she has only appeared in 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok – the slinky goddess of death tore the leather chaps out of Waititi’s movie with a performance of mascara-fuelled, rock-star splendour. It took the destruction of Asgard itself to stop her, otherwise she would probably be ruling over the nine realms to this day.

Another Asgardian, albeit an adoptive one, we may want to consider is Loki. Tom Hiddleston’s character has raged and whined his way through more than half a dozen Marvel movies thus far, and with his own TV series. Only an actor with charisma to burn could get away with inviting the hideous Chitauri to invade Earth, thereby destroying half of New York, and still emerge as a fan favourite. The God of Mischief may currently be stuck in an alternate timeline, and we’re not sure if he’ll appear in the forthcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Given Patrick Stewart’s Professor X is rumoured to be making a return, and we’ve just seen half of Sony’s bad-guy back catalogue turn up in Spider-Man: No Way Home, all bets are off.

Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Mad villain … Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Photograph: Sony Pictures/AP

Which brings us to Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Despite having first appeared in Sony’s Spider-Man movies from the early noughties, they are now firmly established as Marvel Cinematic Universe villains after the events of Jon Watts’ epic finale to the Home trilogy – aren’t they?

Does this mean those earlier films are also part of the MCU canon? If they were, these two would undoubtedly be in the top five. Molina was one of the first proper thespians to treat the role of supervillain seriously, his humanity always shining through the madness in 2004’s Spider-Man 2. Naturally he took his cue from Dafoe, whose ability to switch from horror-stricken victim to maniacal menace helped make 2000’s Spider-Man the greatest superhero movie of its time.

Without Dafoe’s emotionally dextrous performance in No Way Home, that film’s introduction of the Multiverse, and the arrival of several villains from a different superhero universe, would never have been received so joyfully by audiences. For that reason alone, and to some controversy no doubt, I’m giving the Green Goblin the mantle of Marvel’s greatest supervillain. Of course, there are probably many alternate realities in which a different bad guy got picked – which one are you living in?