- MCU villains often bring about their own downfall through hubris, ego, or flawed plans, rather than being defeated by superheroes. Only a few, like Thanos and Zemo, have succeeded in their goals.
- Some villains choose to sacrifice themselves for redemption or to correct their mistakes, showing that not all villains are irredeemable.
- Marvel Studios has displayed a trend of villains defeating themselves over the duration of the MCU, whether through their own actions or by underestimating their adversaries.
Many of the most terrifying villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have caused their own downfalls, rather than being directly defeated by Marvel Studios’ iconic superheroes. Since the MCU kicked off with 2008’s Iron Man, dozens of heroes have been adapted from Marvel Comics into live-action. However, no good superhero story would be able to unfold without the inclusion of threatening and formidable villains. Many of the strongest MCU villains have been brought down by the power, teamwork, and tactical minds of Marvel Studios’ heroes, but some managed to devise deadly plans for themselves, or sacrifice themselves in some brilliant redemption moments.
It’s rare that villains in the MCU actually succeed, with only the likes of the Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War and Zemo in Captain America: Civil War being able to achieve their goals. More often than not, the MCU’s superheroes manage to devise ways to bring their foes to their knees, though villains have also been defeated by their own hubris and ego. Some of the more redeemable villains have actually been shown to make the sacrifice play, choosing to end their journeys after growing weary or wanting to fix their mistakes. In fact, a surprising number of Marvel Studios’ villains have defeated themselves over the duration of the MCU.
10 Johann Schmidt, A.K.A. Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Hugo Weaving debuted as Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. the Red Skull, in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, though the role was assumed by Ross Marquand in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Back in the MCU’s Phase 1, the Red Skull sought to harness the power of the Tesseract, the MCU’s first Infinity Stone, yet after using it to power his weapons, Schmidt’s self-confidence marked his downfall. After battling Steve Rogers’ Captain America, the Red Skull held the Tesseract in his hand, believing himself to be powerful enough to withstand its power, but it cast him out to Vormir, where he was cursed to guard the Soul Stone for eternity.
9 Gorr The God Butcher (Christian Bale)
Thor: Love & Thunder (2022)
2022’s Thor: Love and Thunder introduced Christian Bale as the MCU’s Gorr the God Butcher, a villain who renounces the universe’s gods after the death of his daughter, Love. On his quest to exterminate the MCU’s gods, Gorr made his way to the altar of Eternity, an omnipotent cosmic being, as it had been claimed that Eternity would grant the wish of the first individual to approach it. After a spar with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Natalie Portman’s Mighty Thor, Gorr was convinced to forget his wish to kill the MCU’s gods, and instead chose to resurrect his daughter at the cost of his own life.
8 Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung)
Shang-Chi & The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021)
After years of teasing the enigmatic “Mandarin”, Iron Man’s archenemy in Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios finally introduced the real figure behind the title in 2021’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Tony Leung portrayed Xu Wenwu, the owner of the Ten Rings, and the leader of the global terrorist organization named after his otherworldly weapons, who also happened to be Shang-Chi’s father. After the death of Wenwu’s wife, the Dweller-in-Darkness tricked him into releasing it from its Ta Lo prison, allowing it to resume its soul-eating rampage, and take Wenwu as one of its victims. Luckily, Wenwu gifted Shang-Chi the Ten Rings in the moments before his demise.
7 Brock Rumlow, A.K.A. Crossbones (Frank Grillo)
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow debuted as a STRIKE soldier and HYDRA agent in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and became the villain Crossbones in Civil War, after being crushed inside the collapsing Triskelion. Unfortuantely, Marvel Studios wasted Crossbones, as he was killed-off in the opening moments of Civil War, detonating a bomb and committing suicide in an effort to take Steve Rogers’ Captain America down alongside him. While Wanda Maximoff used her ability to protect Rogers, this only caused more problems, so Rumlow, in a way, kick-started the events of the Avengers’ Civil War, perhaps giving his death more meaning than it seemed.
6 Gravik (Kingsley Ben-Adir)
Secret Invasion (2023)
Kingsley Ben-Adir’s Gravik was introduced in 2023’s Secret Invasion as the leader of a rebellious faction of shapeshifting Skrulls residing on Earth. Gravik had previously helped Nick Fury and SHIELD with many covert missions, but he had grown weary of Fury and Captain Marvel’s empty promises, and sought to take over Earth as the Skrulls’ new homeworld. In order to do this, he enhanced himself with the Harvest, collected DNA from many MCU characters, but stupidly and unknowingly enhanced Emilia Clarke’s G’iah, too. By doing this, Gravik created the perfect weapon to defeat himself, and defeat him she did by firing one of Captain Marvel’s energy blasts through his chest.
Secret Invasion’s Harvest included DNA collected from the participants of Avengers: Endgame’s Battle of Earth, including Captain Marvel, Thanos, Black Panther, the Winter Soldier, the Hulk, and members of the Guardians of the Galaxy Mantis, Groot, and Drax, among many others.
5 Wanda Maximoff, A.K.A. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)
Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (2022)
Since her introduction in the post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff has seen more character changes than most others. This has taken her from minor villain, to staunch Avenger, to full-on adversary in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Fueled by the need to reunite with her children, Maximoff wanted to assume the multiversal power of America Chavez. However, after getting a major reality check, the Scarlet Witch collapsed the castle on Mount Wundagore on top of herself, seemingly sacrificing herself and destroying the dangerous Darkhold that had corrupted her, though there is still speculation the Scarlet Witch will return to the MCU.
4 Dormammu (Benedict Cumberbatch)
Doctor Strange (2016)
As well as portraying Doctor Strange himself, Benedict Cumberbatch also provided the motion capture and voice of Dormammu in 2016’s Doctor Strange. Dormammu is the looming ruler of the MCU’s Dark Dimension – the being that Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius and his followers worship. Dormammu and his zealots threatened to invade the Earth, but Doctor Strange thwarted this plan, and then trapped himself and Dormammu in a time loop, hoping to bargain. While Dormammu shouldn’t have any real concept of time, he got bored of Strange’s time loop remarkably quickly, and seemed to give up without much hesitation, where perhaps the all-powerful being should have put up more of a fight.
3 Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan)
Black Panther (2018)
Widely regarded as one of the most poignant and powerful death scenes in the MCU was that of Erik “Killmonger” Stevens in 2018’s Black Panther. Michael B. Jordan portrayed T’Challa’s cousin in Black Panther, who journeyed to Wakanda, challenged for the throne, and became the new Black Panther, hoping to use Wakanda’s resources to weaponize minority communities around the globe. Killmonger was fatally stabbed during a battle with T’Challa in Wakanda’s vibranium mine, and chose to die and be buried at sea rather than having Wakanda’s doctors try and save him. By sacrificing himself and becoming a martyr to his cause, Killmonger’s actions actually caused T’Challa to change his views.
2 Agatha Harkness (Kathryn Hahn)
Phase 4 kicked off with WandaVision, the MCU’s first Disney+ series, that caught up with Wanda Maximoff and Paul Bettany’s Vision, and introduced Kathryn Hahn’s Salem witch Agatha Harkness to the MCU. Harkness wanted the Scarlet Witch’s power, but also acted as something of a mentor to the young witch in their short time together, teaching Wanda several spells. Unfortunately for her, these teachings would bite her, as the Scarlet Witch used runes to trap Agatha in a place only Wanda could use her magic. WandaVision ended with Agatha stuck in her nosy neighbor Agnes persona, but Marvel Studios’ upcoming Agatha: Darkhold Diaries is set to undo this.
1 Dar-Benn (Zawe Ashton)
The Marvels (2023)
Marvel Studios’ most recent villain is no exception to the idea that villains can defeat themselves, as The Marvels saw Zawe Ashton portray Kree adversary Dar-Benn. Formerly a Starforce soldier, Dar-Benn became the de facto leader of the Kree following Captain Marvel’s attack on the Supreme Intelligence, and wanted to bring life back to the Kree homeworld, Hala. To accomplish this, Dar-Benn sought the Quantum Bands, yet failed to realize that only specific beings are able to wield both simultaneously. While Iman Vellani’s Kamala Khan is one of these beings, Dar-Benn was not, culminating in her dramatic death that tore a hole in the fabric of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.