Judge Nerdd: Grading the Marvel Cinematic Villains

We have a break in the Marvel Movie slate which will consist of nerds everywhere routinely hitting play on Guardians of the Galaxy and sitting anxiously waiting for Avengers: Age of Ultron to arrive in theaters. With James Spaders’ already creepy portrayal of the scheming robot come-to-life beginning to take center-stage, I thought it would be interesting to go back and critique and/or laud the past baddies from Marvel’s series, which is now a whopping ten films long.

I judged this collection of scum and villainy on this general set of criteria:

Impact: Did they leave a mark (physical or emotional) on our heroes or their world? Are their actions going to be brought up in movies to come? Or are they easily forgotten?

Success Rate: If they had any sort of devious scheme or mission, did they actually get to pull it off? If not, how far did they get? Was the death-dealing device at least assembled? Or did not they not even have a blueprint?

Cool Factor: Were they a blue-faced, badass space commander with a giant war-hammer? Or were they 12 lines of dialogue away from “HYDRA foot-soldier?” And if so, were they at least a cool HYDRA foot-soldier?


Loki When do we start

Slow your roll Loki. You’ll get your turn.

Exclusions from this list:

-I am not including villains from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for two reasons. First, they don’t have the kind of impact on the film world that would gain them entry to this list. Second, the entire season-plus is sitting on my DVR, unwatched. #SorryMyGirlfriendNeedsMeToCatchUpOnSupernatural

-No grunts or generic army villains. This means Hydra goons, the Chitauri, Dark Elves, and the like aren’t going to be discussed unless they have specific named  members of their association.

-I also didn’t include nameless baddies with minimal dialogue, like the weirdo test subjects in Iron Man 3.

Okay, are you ready? Just a warning, there may be some spoilers below, especially when determining a villain’s success rate. Now, let’s whip out the red ink and start grading some baddies!

(The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy)


Despite Thanos “appearing” in two Marvel flicks and being the mastermind behind the Infinity Stone collection effort, he just hasn’t done enough to warrant a grade yet. At best he’s entrusted “lower” lifeforms with the task of retrieving these artifacts, only to see them consistently FAIL. See me seven movies from now and I’ll let you know what I think of the gold-spangled Titan. So far? All hype, no action.

thanos guardians


The Mandarin
(Iron Man 3)


This is a bit of a toughie. Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin may have just been a pawn in Aldrich Killian’s massive political game, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t entertaining as hell. He certainly distracted the world long enough for Killian to make his master move. All that said, he didn’t really do much of anything or have any real goals. If you watched the “All Hail the King” one-shot on the Thor: The Dark World blu-ray, you’ll know that we haven’t seen the last of the Mandarin.

(Thor: The Dark World)

Grade: F

Man, this was such a waste of Christopher Eccleston’s talents. Malekith’s comic book incarnation is exponentially cooler than the copy-paste villain that “headlined” Thor 2: Electric Boogaloo. He’s maniacal, bloodthirsty, and is a freaking magical Dark Elf straight out of a D&D fantasy game. Movie Malekith slept a lot, was narrow-minded, and too sci-fi heavy. His main achievement is curing Natalie Portman of her terminal Aether-caused illness, with killing Rene Russo a distant second in terms of importance. Bang-up job knife-ears.



Batroc the Leaper
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Grade: F+

Okay, his nickname is “The Leaper.” He’s not allowed a passing grade almost exclusively based on that moniker alone. I also can’t look past that he evaded capture from the Captain (essentially because Steve and Natasha had a spat during the mission) only to be apprehended later by normal old SHIELD. Dude. Weak-sauce. He only gets points for being half of that cool fight scene when Cap takes his mask off and is all manly and stuff. I couldn’t decide if the fact that he’s played by MMA dude-bro Georges St-Pierre should help or hurt his cool factor score.

(Thor: The Dark World)

Grade: D-

Juiced-up Dark Elf without decent back-story who punches things. There, I’ve described Kurse. He doesn’t sit at the very bottom because he kinda/sorta killed Loki. Kinda.

Alexander Pierce
(Captain America:  The Winter Soldier)

Grade: D

If this wasn’t Robert Redford, Pierce would score way lower. As it stands, he’s a generic old dude that is just politically opposed to our heroes, not physically. Sometimes the “genius mastermind who doesn’t get his hands dirty” thing works, but not here. He’s not cool at all, except when he shoots his housekeeper. That was maniacal behavior at its finest. Do you know how long it takes to find a good housekeeper? I don’t, but I’ll bet it’s a fucking PROCESS, especially for a high-ranking government official. And he barely hesitated. He was totally ready to start looking for a new one minutes after he pew’d Renata. That’s dedication, if nothing else.

Aldrich Killian
(Iron Man 3)

Grade: D+

I’m always a Guy Pearce fan. Always. That doesn’t mean his villain in Iron Man 3 was up to snuff. He failed to kill the President OR Gwyneth Paltrow, something to which we were probably all looking forward. (Seriously.) He also managed to shoot his best scientist, who was likely upset about the shitty benefits package he was doling out. And he proved he wasn’t as smart as Tony Stark on numerous occasions. The one thing he did know about: using public perception. He underwent several stunning (mostly physical) transformations, made deals with power-hungry members of the government, and was the inventor of one of the world’s greatest terrorist threats, all in an effort to make himself a boatload of money. Wait… that’s all he wanted? Ugh. Maybe if AIM makes a repeat appearance he can improve his impact score.


It hurts, I know.

Laufey, King of the Frost Giants

Grade: D+

I’ll be your forgot about ole’ Laufey, didn’t you? It’s for good reason, as the ruler of Jotunheim was basically a pawn in the scheming machinations of his son, Loki. The adopted son of Odin is famous for twisting and manipulating others, but man did he work over the frost giant king. Laufey got his but whipped by Odin twice, the first time being when he lost the Casket of Ancient Winters. (Best artifact name ever?) Then he got suckered into Asgardian political drama, only to be killed by his son, leaving his world to be destroyed by a spinning planetarium thingy. He gets cool points for FROST GIANT POWER. And let’s be fair, everyone gets tricked by Loki, usually repeatedly. Expect ScarJo, she ain’t having that shit.

Obadiah Stane – Iron Monger
(Iron Man)

Grade: D+

Obie here could have been lots better, if he had an good or original idea in his brain. He was just wasn’t enjoying his million-dollar lifestyle enough, so he obviously needed to hire fucking terrorists to kidnap and kill Tony Stark. And you just know he was aware of Tony’s redesigned armor, but still said “You know the old, clunky-ass armor he put together using scraps? I want a bigger, clunkier version of that, complete with the maneuverability of a tractor.” And he really should have thought of the icing problem.

Brock Rumlo
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Grade: C

Rumlo shows up on this list because he gets into semi-solo fights with Agent 13, Falcon, and the Captain himself all in one movie. He’s a legit villain if he tussles with that many heroes and doesn’t constantly get his ass kicked. (He was probably gonna waste Falcon if that building hadn’t uh… fallen apart on him.) Solid outing, Rumlo. We’re all awaiting your return as CROSSBONES, when your cool factor will earn you a significantly higher grade.


One can only hope.

Ivan Vanko – Whiplash
(Iron Man 2)

Grade: C+

Mickey Rourke is weird. Like, really weird. His turn as Vanko was peppered with moments of brutality and sheer crazy, but that accent wasn’t exactly stellar. He loses a lot of impact points because he was essentially the second supposedly smart guy to think “Hey, I could kill Tony Stark by just making a similar, yet over-sized Iron Man suit! But this time.., with WHIPS. Yeah, that’ll work!” *Pets bird*


But again, cool moments.

Emil Blonsky – Abomination
(The Incredible Hulk)

Grade: B-

Oh hey, the bad guy from that Marvel flick no one talks about anymore. See, what sets Abomination here apart from Kurse is that the sickly green Doomsday clone actually has a character arc. Tim Roth, while not exactly the physical representation of a legendary soldier (he struts like he’s still on the set of Reservoir Dogs), offers a legitimately character-driven reason for his eventual transformation. Then he gets in a cool, if brief, solo fight AGAINST THE DAMN HULK before breaking out the big guns and going full-fledged bone monster for an epic beat-fest across Harlem. Hell, I just talked myself into a better grade for Blonsky. It was gonna be a C.

Red Skull
(Captain America: The First Avenger)

Grade: B-

I was torn on Skull-face here. His impact is undeniable: he discovered the location of the Tesseract, essentially setting the entire MCU’s timeline in motion. He launched a war against the rest of the globe using it as the energy source behind a new line of advanced weaponry (a feat which he knew required the knowledge of Arnim Zola to accomplish). All that being said, his master plans were taken down by a still-green Captain America and his Howling Commandos. Oh, and then he went and touched the Tesseract, which extracted him into the nebulousness of the cosmos. You would have thought that his cryptic “death” would set up perfectly for a return, but Hugo Weaving seems less than enthused about the role, despite his contractual obligations. The Skull passes muster because he’s a near dead-on interpretation of the comic book baddie that’s plagued Cap for over half a century.

Red Skull Cube

Creepy close.

(The Avengers)

Grade: B-

You’re thinking ” what’s Hawkeye doing here? He’s an AVENGER!?” First of all, back off, buddy. It’s my list. Second, mind-controlled Hawkeye was the only other villain of note in The Avengers. He arrow’d some guards IN THE NECK, stole super useful iridium, and led a pretty successful assault on the SHIELD helicarrier, despite eventually losing to and being cognitive re-calibrated by a hobbled ScarJo. That’s more than some of the dreck on this list can claim.

(Guardians of the Galaxy)

Grade: B

Karen Gilliam’s Nebula gets bonus cool points for being creepy as hell and the fact that she’s THE ONLY FEMALE ON THIS DAMN LIST. HMPH.

nebula  gamora

Tell me about it, ladies.

The cybernetic “daughter” of Thanos provided a worthwhile physical nemesis for her “sister” Gamora and has the added benefit of actually surviving the battle on Xandar, which cannot be said about most of the other bad guys in that fight. So hey, MORE NEBULA TO COME.

Ronan the Accuser
(Guardians of the Galaxy)

Grade: B+

Despite the one movie handicap, Ronan the Accuser has a lot going for him. First off, Lee Pace is awesome, in case you didn’t know. Second, his name is RONAN THE FUCKING ACCUSER. That’s about as badass as badass gets. So he’s up there on cool points already. In Guardians he acquires the Power Gem and uses it to destroy a large chunk of the Nova Corps. I’d say that’s some impact. And this is after he threatens Thanos with what would have been a sweet ass-kicking. I was kinda hopeful he’d make good on that threat, just so we could see it in action.


Bring it Golden Boy! I have the power of PURPLE.

Arnim Zola
(Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Grade: A-

Arnim gets a lot of credit from me for the work he did in the first Cap, without which the Red Skull would have been stuck with a glowy cube with which he could do approximately jack shit. That he then went on to create the Winter Soldier, infiltrate SHIELD, and develop their “threat algorithm” means he had a far-reaching impact over a long period of time. His turning into an old-school computer A.I. like in the comics is just icing on the cake. He may not have a flashy costume or have punched anything into oblivion, but Arnim Zola was clearly a successful villain in the long-term.

Arnim Zola

He’d probably just fit on a 4GB flash drive nowadays.

Justin Hammer
(Iron Man 2)

Grade: A

What could have been just a sniveling little weasel of a character was instead one of the best parts of the Iron sequel. Justin Hammer makes all the necessary moves in order to make him a viable competitor to Stark Industries, aside from not properly monitoring the psycho Russian he brings on board. I mean, let’s run down his decisions. He outfits War Machine with all the guns, which is absolutely necessary. Having an army of drones is doubtlessly a great idea, given that they’re not controlled remotely by aforementioned Russian. And he flies in Italian ice cream… from San Francisco. I’m on board with all of this.

He goes way over in the cool department because SAM FUCKING ROCKWELL.

Justin-Hammer Sucker

Buck Barnes – Winter Solider
(Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Grade: A

He’s SO COMPLEX. He has LONG HAIR. He’s EMOTIONALLY DISTRAUGHT. He’s been KILLING IMPORTANT PEOPLE (like TONY STARK’S PARENTS) FOR 70 YEARS. He put a massive hole through NICK FREAKING FURY (which should have killed him). Captain America BROMANCE. He has a FREAKING ROBOT ARM. Case CLOSED.



(Thor, The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World)

Grade: A+

Don’t kid yourself, you knew he was going to be at the top of the list. Loki is the definition of a great villain. He’s nuanced, adaptable, and fights only when he wants to, otherwise he runs the subtle offense better than anyone else in these flicks. He’s got that all-around game.

His initial run in the first Thor established him as an immediate player in the universal chess game. He plays almost everyone at every turn, ruling Asgard for a short time before being undermined by Heimdall and Odin’s cryptic hammer logic which apparently lets human DEAD Thor come back to life. Yeah. That happened. Loki may have been defeated at the movie’s end, but he wasn’t going to be denied his power, so he came for more in The Avengers.

I’m not blaming Loki for his lack of success in taking over the Earth. Obviously no one told him that “head trauma” could undo the mind gem’s control or that someone might be able to partially ignore it (hi Dr. Selvig) and that the Chitauri are wildly ineffective as an invasion force. He snagged the Tesseract, found all the right people to make it work, killed Coulson, and pulled an alien horde to Earth. What, was he supposed to do it ALL by himself and keep track of the mind gem at all times?

Loki Madness

Without question Loki’s success rate takes a dramatic spike upwards with the conclusion of Thor: The Dark World. He’s tricked Thor and Asgard into thinking he was dead (for the second time), which lets him approach, capture, imprison, and impersonate Odin. We last left him ruling Asgard as he always wanted. Life Goal Achieved.


And obviously the most important aspect is Tom Hiddleston’s continually excellent performance as the god of mischief. I don’t think any can argue that Loki’s wit, charm, and presence bleed through every film cell and exponentially improve every scene. Every time he and Thor have a tiff I laugh unnecessarily loud. The chemistry is THAT good, which is an element missing from some of these other villains. Loki has a deep and personal connection to his nemesis, one that lets Hiddleston play in a sandbox of emotions at all times. Love, anger, jealousy, sadness, and greed are all on the table. I’m counting the days until he returns in Thor: Ragnarok. (And perhaps earlier if spoilers are to be believed…)

So… what did we learn from these grades? Well, we discovered that Iron Man’s bad guys aren’t nearly as cool as he is except when they’re faked, while Cap has an overly nefarious foe that he’s never even punched. The Guardians brought worthwhile villains to the screen with Ronan and Nebula, but that couldn’t make up for the total ineptitude of Thanos. Thor’s rogues gallery may have suffered in quality thanks to The Dark World, but at least we’ll always have Loki. He’s the gold standard for movie villains and truly deserves top marks.

As a final reward for making it through this exhaustive list, here are some Loki GIF’s. Enjoy, for they are glorious.

Loki Con


Loki Tumblr


Loki Thumbs

That’s for MJK as thanks for her help on this piece.







Comments? Arguments? Where do you think Ultron will fit in all this? How’d your favorite villain score? Do you want to see Judge Nerdd grade the heroes? Let us know below!

Grades Rendered. Sentencing Complete. I AM DA LAW.