A battle between good and evil is a fundamentally satisfying thing, and over the decades, Marvel’s doled out more than its fair share. But with the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, those battles became that much more visceral, employing actors of varying skill levels (mostly great) in one epic showdown after another. One film and series at a time, they’ve added more and more characters to their roster, with several jumping between stories and mediums to make that world feel just that much more concrete. Agent Maria Hill? She’s all over the place. Jasper Sitwell? That conniving asshole makes plenty of appearances. And you can never have too much Peggy Carter.
Of course, the bigger the world, the more frequent the duds. We’ve compiled and ranked a list of 140 of the most memorable (or offensively forgettable) characters in the MCU, 70 heroes and 70 villains, and pitted them against each other in a series of arbitrary but unexpectedly fun showdowns. Ever wonder who’d win a fight between Erik Selvig and Darren Cross? Wonder no more; we’ve sussed that one out for you. Now this list is far from complete, if only because Marvel’s got a bit of a problem creating memorable villains, and we had to throw in some back benchers on one side (Dr. List, anyone?) and cut some real contenders on the other (don’t expect to see the Warriors Three or the Howling Commandos on this list — all apologies to Dum Dum Dugan, who is the best).
So let’s get in the spirit of Civil War with some showdowns of our own. Any list is fun — who’s the top villain? Who’s the worst hero? Where’s Happy Hogan? Inquiring minds want to know! — but just to add a little spice, we tried to imagine who’d win that fight. Let us know what you think, but beware — if you disrespect Natasha Romanoff, Hulk might smash you.
70. Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff) vs. Thanos
Oh, Quicksilver, we hardly knew ye. In Pietro’s defense, he spent most of his big Marvel outing fighting for the wrong team. Now, Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s quick, emo orphan had a heroic death, to be sure. But until near the end, he was mostly just a pain in the ass. Add in that Maximoff’s speedster doesn’t pack the powers, or the fun, of Grant Gustin’s small-screen take on The Flash, and what you get is a pretty disappointing super. Sorry, Pietro. You’ve got a gloomy sister, and Barry’s got Cisco Ramone. He’d win the fight of the fast guys, no doubt.
But he’s in luck in this matchup. There’s no question that this list will probably change a lot once the next round of Avengers movies come around. Civil War screenwriters Steve McFeely and Chris Markus outright acknowledged Marvel’s villain problem in a recent interview, saying that it’s likely that Thanos will be the one to change all that. But for now, Thanos is one big, blue-faced tease after another. Hope that chair’s comfortable, Josh Brolin, since you’ve spent so much time in it.
Who Would Win: Who knows? Thanos hasn’t done shit yet. But I mean, he probably would, or he wouldn’t be the big bad, right? Right? Bueller? —Allison Shoemaker
69. Agent 13 (Sharon Carter) vs. Raina
Sharon Carter is a solid ally for Captain America in The Winter Soldier, despite Steve’s surprise that the neighbor he’d been flirting with was an undercover agent keeping tabs on him. Still, the character’s simply too underserved in her lone appearance in the MCU to rate much higher, something that Civil War might correct.
But Raina, with the way she constantly spouted stock bad-guy dialogue and the usual villainous doublespeak, was, if anything, overserved. Raina was a fly in the ointment whether she was working with The Clairvoyant, helping Calvin Zabo find his daughter, or roaming around an Inhuman collective. The best thing to come out of her character, before or after her Terrigenesis transformation, were jokes that she looked like Sonic the Hedgehog.
Who Would Win: Raina could talk endlessly, but wasn’t worth much in a fight. Our vote is for the new Agent Carter. –Andrew Bloom
68. Lincoln Campbell vs. Jiaying
A lightning-wielding, occasionally hotheaded, rogue Inhuman should be pretty damn cool. Instead, Lincoln is a bland, generic love interest for Daisy who possesses all the edginess of Poochie. While Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has tried to redeem the character in encounters with May and Coulson, he’s still a superfluous figure in the series.
Similarly, the mystery of Daisy’s mom had been one of the most notable story arcs in AoS from the beginning. The reveal that Skye’s mother was not only a routine Inhuman extremist, but a monologuing villain whose painful attempts at emotional moments with her daughter were a consistent low-light made Jiaying one of the great disappointments of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Who Would Win: It’s a little late now, but the best we could hope for is mutually assured destruction. –Andrew Bloom
67. Vision vs. Algrim/Kurse
What happens when you combine an infinity stone, snootfuls of vibranium, JARVIS’ A.I., and Thor’s lightning? Apparently, you get a cross between Slim Goodbody and The Kool-Aid Man, who offers fortune cookie-level monologues about the nature of man, and a third-act addition to an already overstuffed film.
Speaking of unnecessary characters, the rap on Malekith, the nominal big bad of The Dark World, is that he’s an entirely indistinct, unmemorable antagonist with barely established motivations or personality. So where does that leave a character who’s basically Malekith’s sidekick? Right here.
Who Would Win: Kurse would get hyped up on Aether and then break into tears when he realizes that no one knows who he is. At the same time, Vision would crack six more jokes about being born yesterday. –Andrew Bloom
66. Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) vs. Aldrich Killian
Full disclosure: neither of the writers of this list have seen Civil War yet. Based on Dominick Suzanne-Mayer’s review, it sounds like she’s got some prominent moments. But like her brother, who sits smack-dab at the bottom of this list, Wanda has yet to impress. Sure, she does a real number on Ultron, and it’s completely understandable that a person not battle-tested might freak out when they’re surrounded by screaming people on a big piece of land floating in the sky. All the same, we’ve really only seen her be sad, mad, or scared, and none of them were particularly compelling. Elizabeth Olsen can do better. Let’s hope she does.
Yeah, Scarlet Witch is pretty lame. But Aldrich Killian is, as a friend put it, a childhood-ruiner. The Mandarin is a legendary Iron Man villain, and while the bait-and-switch pulled in Iron Man 3 gets points for cleverness, it does somewhat lessen the stakes. It’s hard to hitch an epic ride to a dude who’s really pissed he got left on a roof. And the normally compelling Guy Pearce chews so much scenery that it’s amazing there’s anything left for them to blow up at the end. Woof.
Who Would Win: This is a pretty good fight, actually, and it would be so pretty! All the glowing lights! Let’s assume Wanda could get in Killian’s head, exploit all those dudely insecurities, and convince him to kick his own ass. —Allison Shoemaker
65. Lady Sif vs. Ulysses Klaue
Sif’s appearances in the Thor films and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have cast her as little beyond a standard-issue Asgardian warrior and a transparent love interest for Thor as an alternative to Jane Foster. While plenty capable in combat, Sif’s just another berserker who’s been dropped off from the Renaissance fair.
Klaue, on the other hand, certainly has personality in what little we see of him in Age of Ultron — talking back to the Maximoff twins and giving the titular megalomaniac bot the vibranium he seeks. But Klaue hasn’t had much of a chance to shine just yet, after an ill-timed comment to Ultron left the weapons dealer as an unarmed man.
Who Would Win: Klaue won’t back down from a super-powered foe, but the last time he tried that, it didn’t work out too well for him. Bet on Sif. – Andrew Bloom
64. Jason Wilkes vs. Dr. List
As Bill Nye would say, science rules. Jason Wilkes, scientist, only kind of rules. Pros: He’s a guy with the guts to woo Peggy Carter; he’s a genius; he risks his job and his life to help the SSR. Cons: He makes some really bad choices; he is sometimes invisible but doesn’t do anything cool with it; he’s just kind of boring. But again, he’s a genius. That counts for something.
Dr. List, one of the MCU’s property- and media-jumping regulars, has his fair share of genius, too. He gets extra villain-points for being one of HYDRA’s sleepers within S.H.I.E.L.D., for carrying the evil doctor torch first ignited by Arnim Zola, and for killing off his test subjects with reckless, PETA-scorning abandon. He also accidentally created an Avenger. Whoops.
Who Would Win: Oh, List, no question. Whitney Frost got Wilkes all twisted in like five minutes flat. —Allison Shoemaker
63. Mitchell Ellison vs. Mitchell Carson
First up in this Mitchell vs. Mitchell showdown, we have a very specific type of hero: the plucky, fearless reporter. In this case, it’s specifically a plucky, fearless editor, but the point stands. Ellison spends most of season one of Daredevil getting in Ben Urich’s way and most of season two making up for that by helping Karen Page fight the good fight (and turning her into one of those plucky reporters along the way). No powers, just ink-stained fingers and mad research skills.
He’s countered by another administrative-type, S.H.I.E.L.D. turncoat Mitchell Carson. He’s one of those rich guys that tries to buy his way to the top of the food chain, and he’s also a dick, so basically, he’s the worst. But when you’re talking about villains, those are prized qualities. If he were maybe a little better at his job, he might be higher on the list.
Who Would Win: Ellison. One good cover story and Carson’s toast. —Allison Shoemaker
62. Daniel Sousa vs. Wolfgang von Strucker
Sousa shares a kinship with Peggy Carter, based on the way that the things that make them different — Peggy’s gender and Sousa’s disability — often leave them overlooked and underestimated in their field. The difference is that Sousa is a white-bread good guy with little of the wit or personality that Agent Carter brings to the job.
Likewise, Wolfgang von Strucker is a fairly generic evil-leader type, waxing rhapsodic about the age of miracles and ordering experiments with Chitauri detritus. But he quickly succumbed to The Avengers’ forces and was then taken out by Ultron before he could make much of an impression beyond one amusing line.
Who Would Win: Wolfgang would make a grand speech about how he’ll never back down from Sousa and then shortly thereafter surrender. –Andrew Bloom
61. Brett Mahoney vs. Kozlov
Is there only one honest cop in all of Hell’s Kitchen? Sometimes it seems like it. Whatever the case, Detective Sergeant Mahoney is worthy of any promotion he gets. It’s not just that he’s a fundamentally decent public servant. Mahoney gives Daredevil some much-needed tough love in season two, reminding him that people need to believe in something other than vigilantes if anyone will ever feel safe. He’s a good cop, a good guy, and a good son — now if only he could get Foggy to quit buying his mom cigars.
It’s entirely possible that Kozlov could move up a few slots after the second season of Jessica Jones rolls around. After all, he’s the IGH doctor behind Will Simpson’s scary red and blue pills, and that particular organization seems to be where Jessica’s likely to be interfering next. For now, he gets the aforementioned evil scientist bonus, some points for being played by hey-it’s-that-guy, Thomas Kopache. Other than that, kind of a bust.
Who Would Win: Can Kozlov bring his red pills to the fight? If so, he’d win. If not, Mahoney’d have him locked up in a jiffy. —Allison Shoemaker
60. Betty Ross vs. Vernon Masters
The daughter of General Ross, and the former colleague and companion of Bruce Banner, Betty is one of the few people who can calm The Hulk and help him turn back into his less violent persona. Showing real bravery in how she’s willing to confront the emerald beast, Ross is a light in the darkness for her uneasy friend, but an otherwise unimportant figure in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Masters, however, is a force to bring more darkness into the world. A former member of the Department of War and an affiliate of the Hydra-like Council of Nine, Masters isn’t above torture, threats, and intimidation to get what he wants from enemy and ally alike.
Who Would Win: Given how Betty’s been able to handle another graying military leader, we think she could outmaneuver the conniving Masters. –Andrew Bloom
59. Frigga vs. The Other
Poor Frigga. Thor: the Dark World is a bit of a mess, but one of its best moments comes courtesy of Rene Russo and the fierce Asgardian queen she plays. She goes toe to toe with Malekith to defend Jane Foster, displaying fighting skills worthy of her hammer-wielding son, plus some trickery in the mold of that other kid of hers. It’s a terrific scene, and she dies a warrior’s death. Unfortunately, it’s just about the only cool thing she does.
Like his boss, The Other’s a bit of a snooze, and like Frigga, he mostly functions by metaphorically standing by his man. Still, Thanos’ personal assistant spends more time in the thick of it than the big, blue guy, he’s much cooler-looking (which totally counts, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), and anyone who can go toe to toe with Loki has got something going on. Boring? A bit. Bottom of the barrel? Not even close.
Who Would Win: Tough to say, as they’re both dead, but let’s assume Frigga had more than one good fight in her. –Allison Shoemaker
58. Agent Maria Hill vs. Giyera
Hill gets shit done. Played with a brisk, no-nonsense style (and a hell of a deadpan) by Cobie Smulders, Maria Hill solves problems, stays cool in crisis, and really comes in handy when you want to fake your own death and/or take down some helicarriers. She may not have superpowers, but there’s something to be said for being almost freakishly good at your job.
Of course, it’s possible to love a job too much. Case in point: Giyera, one of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s most uninspiring villains (which is saying something). His single most compelling characteristic is his enthrallment by Hive, which given that he’s an Inhuman, is really saying something. Telekinesis? Who cares. Show us what else you’ve got.
Who Would Win: Anyone who can come close to kicking Melinda May’s ass is a force to be reckoned with, so Giyera’s probably got this one. Then again, Hill’s got a direct line to Iron Man, so… —Allison Shoemaker
57. Odin vs. Gordon
In one corner, we have a one-eyed Asgardian. Oh, Odin could be so cool. He has his moments — he is the All-Father, after all — but sadly, Odin spends most of his time being kind of a shitty dad. Now, he’s still the King of Asgard. Not too shabby. But you’re (sort of) a god, (definitely) a king, and played by Anthony Hopkins while he’s mostly not phoning it in? Should be a hell of a lot more awesome.
In the other corner, we have the No-Eyed Boot Licker. Gordon’s one of those characters that you can tell was created to be a mysterious, compelling, ominous other. Sometimes that works. This time, it didn’t. His death isn’t even all that compelling, given that he gets killed by being a few inches too far forward. This one’s no contest.
Who Would Win: Odin. Come on. —Allison Shoemaker
56. Skye (Daisy Johnson) vs. Laufey
Skye was initially so perfect, talented, and loved by all who encountered her that the brain trust behind Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. said the character’s real name was “Mary Sue.” But eventually, the newly-dubbed Daisy discovered she was an Inhuman, solved the mystery of her parentage, mastered her powers, and against all odds, became a real leader and a welcome presence in the show’s ensemble.
Laufey, on the other hand, has been all but forgotten since the events of the first Thor movie. With Loki as the film’s true antagonist, the King of the Frost Giants (and Loki’s biological father) met his end at his son’s hand. Loki’s double-cross left Laufey in the dustbin of MCU history.
Who Would Win: With her quake-powers at the ready, we like Daisy’s odds of shattering the Frost Giant’s icicles. –Andrew Bloom
55. Happy Hogan vs. Calvin Chadwick
Every eccentric billionaire needs a good man by his side. Bruce Wayne’s got Alfred. Tony Stark’s got Happy Hogan. Winningly played by Jon Favreau (who had a few other things to do during filming), Happy’s got a knack for keeping Tony safe and lands more than a few solid punchlines. But he gets his big moment in Iron Man 3 when he nearly dies trying to keep Pepper safe. He also gets everyone wearing badges, which is always a good thing.
On the flip side, we’ve got rich guy Calvin Chadwick, who really could have used a Happy Hogan. He’s got his share of heavies, but they don’t do a very good job of keeping him safe, as Peggy Carter gets to him in about five minutes. Then he tries to take down his dangerous Zero Matter-infected wife, and it goes really, really badly. This one’s no contest.
Who Would Win: Money can’t buy everything. Happy wins, no contest. —Allison Shoemaker
54. Darcy Lewis vs. Daniel Whitehall
The eccentric intern, assistant, and friend to Jane Foster and Erik Selvig, Lewis has been in the thick of Thor’s adventures on Earth from the beginning. Quick with a sarcastic aside, Darcy’s the one who made the connection between Thor and the vortex in New Mexico, and her help was vital in defeating the Aether-infused Dark Elves in London.
Daniel Whitehall uses science for more nefarious ends, utilizing Kree artifacts to experiment on his less-than-willing subjects and eventually using one of his Inhuman guinea pigs to help him reverse the aging process. Starting out as one of Red Skull’s subordinates, Whitehall rose to prominence in Hydra as a scientist and relic-hunter.
Who Would Win: As resourceful as Darcy can be, Whitehall’s decades of experience would, in all likelihood, allow him to defeat his untrained young foe. –Andrew Bloom
53. Helen Cho vs. The Leader (Samuel Sterns)
Cho is a brilliant geneticist whose skills and technology allow The Avengers to quickly heal from battle. Unfortunately, she was brainwashed by Ultron and forced to try to help him build a new body. Thankfully, instead her work was instrumental in helping Tony Stark create Vision and giving The Avengers yet another ally against the robot gone mad.
Sterns is also a genius scientist strong-armed into aiding a more imposing bad guy. Obsessed with the power that gamma radiation could provide, Sterns helped Emil Blonsky become Abomination, but some inadvertent contact with Bruce Banner’s blood gave him a mutation of his own.
Who Would Win: Neither Cho nor Sterns seems like much of a fighter, so we imagine the pair of brainiacs settling any disputes with a cordial game of Trivial Pursuit. –Andrew Bloom
52. Detective Oscar Clemons vs. Gideon Malick
Clemons is one of the few people on the side of law and order who came to believe Jessica Jones with respect to the danger that Kilgrave posed. Initially an unwilling witness to the villain’s horrors, Clemons stood ready to bring the force of the law down on the mind-controlling miscreant before Nuke stood in the way in a particularly forceful fashion.
Gideon Malick knows a thing or two about standing in someone’s way. The last living scion of Hydra’s old leadership and a former member of the World Security Council, Malick is part of a religious faction within the organization that worships Hive and intended to bring the creature back to Earth. But what happened when he accomplished his goal suggests the man should have been more careful about what he’d wished for.
Who Would Win: Clemons could easily handle a blowhard like Malick so long as the former Hydra boss didn’t sic some of his bodyguards on the detective first. –Andrew Bloom
51. Stick vs. Malekith
Warrior. Martial arts master. Devoted educator. Dick. Stick is many things, and one of them is an asshole. Anyone who trained both Matt Murdock and Elektra’s got some skills, but as a hero, Stick’s complicated. Yes, he’s fighting the good fight, but he’s doing it in a bad way. He also gives cute children loads of emotional baggage. Two steps forward, one step back, lots of dead ninjas.
Stick gets a boost because he’s played by great character actor Scott Glenn. Malekith gets points docked for being a complete and utter waste of Christopher Eccleston. A key example of Marvel’s trouble with villains, Malekith might be interesting if his face ever moved, but rendering a great actor totally unrecognizable usually means they’re not able to do their jobs. Couple that with a story that’s just not all that compelling, and another great performer crashes and burns.
Who Would Win: Stick’s a badass, but Malekith almost destroyed the universe. He’d win, even if it was pretty boring. — Allison Shoemaker
50. Erik Selvig vs. Yellowjacket (Darren Cross)
There have been a lot of evil scientists on this list, so here’s a good one! At first, Dr. Selvig’s a doubter, but he becomes a steadfast ally of Thor. But while he primarily exists in Thor’s storyline, his biggest (and coolest) moments come in The Avengers. Sure, he spends most of the film controlled by Loki, but some part of his brain resists, allowing him to build a secret flaw in the device and basically save the world. So even when he’s bad, he’s good.
But now we’re back to another evil scientist. Luckily, this one’s pretty open and shut: Not only is he a pretty boring villain, but he’s also a sub-par scientist. His whole thing basically comes out of being insecure that his employer doesn’t think he’s amazing, and most of his dramatic arc comes from unsuccessful experiments. Oh, and this is another complete waste of a good actor — Corey Stoll, meet Christopher Eccleston. You guys probably have a lot to talk about.
Who Would Win: I mean, Selvig’s not much of a fighter, but again, Cross is kind of a putz. Selvig would figure out how to short out his suit, and then he’d be fine. —Allison Shoemaker
49. Wasp (Hope Van Dyne) vs. Korath
There are lots of things to love about Ant-Man, but like Yellowjacket, Hope van Dyne isn’t one of them. This is one of those entries likely to change when the next film rolls around, as we already know that Ant-Man and the Wasp is headed our way. But based on Ant-Man alone, Hope van Dyne is cranky, competent, and kind of boring. Evangeline Lilly will probably be a great superhero, but she’s a pretty dull love interest.
Speaking of dull, remember Korath? No? Korath is Kree, which means he’s pretty badass, and thus placed so low on this list because he’s forgettable, not because he’s a wuss. He’s best remembered as being a great straight man in the movie’s first big Star-Lord scene, for being like, “Hey Ronan, dude, maybe let’s not start a war with Thanos?” and for dying at Drax’s hands as the latter tries his hand at metaphor.
Who Would Win: Korath. Hope might make a great Wasp, but right now she’s just a lady with a prototype in her closet. — Allison Shoemaker
48. Mockingbird (Bobbi Morse) vs. Ellen Brandt
Soon to get her own spinoff alongside Lance Hunter, Bobbi Morse is an extremely effective agent who managed to not only infiltrate Hydra, but also Coulson’s team as well, when her loyalties still lay with another splinter group. With her battle staves in hand, the dangerous Mockingbird is nigh-unstoppable.
Ellen Brandt’s no slouch herself, but owes her abilities to an infusion of extremis rather than to spy training. Brandt attempted to apprehend Tony Stark on behalf of Aldrich Killian when he was on the run, and while she gave the suitless Iron Man a run for his money, Stark improvised a way to defeat the genetically-enhanced enforcer.
Who Would Win: While Bobbi may or may not be able to improvise as well as Stark, she’s a lot more reliable when it comes to armorless combat, which ought to give her the edge over Brandt. –Andrew Bloom
47. Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie vs. Georges Batroc
Mack is a quick-thinking, empathetic, burly mechanic who’s as useful in the field as he is in the garage. While initially loyal to the “real” S.H.I.E.L.D., Mack eventually learned to trust Coulson and became a vital member of his team. He’s also pretty handy with an axe.
On the other hand, Georges Batroc, the mercenary who takes over a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel in The Winter Soldier, prefers to fight without weapons. He’s able to hold his own against Captain America in hand-to-hand combat, which is no small feat, though he’s something of a one-hit wonder.
Who Would Win: We think Batroc could get the better of Mack one-on-one, but he’d be a lot worse for wear after the encounter. –Andrew Bloom
46. Jack Thompson vs. Agent 33 (Kara Palamas)
Jack Thompson might very well be considered a villain or at least not quite a clear-cut hero. More than once, he’s attempted to thwart Peggy Carter and become entangled with an outfit that seems to be at least loosely affiliated with Hydra. But when push comes to shove, the SSR operative has opened up to his colleagues and ended up on the right side of the fray.
Kara Palamas was a good agent who also found herself falling in with the wrong crowd. She was initially brainwashed by Daniel Whitehall and then was taken in by a manipulative-yet-caring Grant Ward. Her face-changing abilities gave her a unique advantage, but also led to her demise.
Who Would Win: If Agent 33 had a fighting chance against Melinda May, there’s no hope for the scrappy if overmatched Chief Thompson. –Andrew Bloom
45. Malcolm Ducasse vs. Crossbones (Brock Rumlow)
There are some garden-variety heroes on this list, and while they might not match up to, say, Cap or Hulk or Jason Wilkes (kidding), they’re heroic in their own right. Like Jessica, Malcolm has to overcome his abuse and misuse at the hands of Kilgrave, which have left him a helpless addict that’s borderline paralyzed with guilt. After being forced to stalk Jessica for some time, she helps him shake off those purple chains, and he becomes a fierce advocate for others who’ve suffered at Kilgrave’s hands. He’s solidly in Jessica’s corner, and that makes him someone she needs.
Brock, on the other hand, is the idiot HYDRA operative who thinks he can take down Steve Rogers with just a couple guys. He puts up a hell of a fight. He’s fighting Captain effing American. He loses.
Who Would Win: Brock, I’m sorry to say. Unless Jessica’s around to kick Brock’s ass on her friend’s behalf. —Allison Shoemaker
44. Heimdall vs. Absorbing Man (Carl Creel)
As the gatekeeper of Asgard who guards the path to the rest of the nine realms, Heimdall can see for miles and then some. But he’s also a powerful defender in his own right, taking part in the battles that threaten his homeland and helping Thor protect Jane Foster in the throes of combat.
Absorbing Man is a combatant of a different sort. A former boxer who lost to Matt Murdock’s dad in his final fight, Creel volunteered for an experiment that left him able to absorb any material and alter his skin to match it. Working for both Daniel Whitehall and General Talbot, Creel’s proved a tough foe for S.H.I.E.L.D. on multiple occasions.
Who Would Win: While it’d be interesting to see if Creel could absorb Asgardian materials, we’re giving the nod to the Norse warrior. Just don’t give him any 40-degree days. –Andrew Bloom
43. Ana Jarvis vs. Blizzard (Donnie Gill)
Mrs. Jarvis was initially much spoken of yet never seen. Nevertheless, she made an appearance and an impression in Season 2 of Agent Carter. A young Jewish woman who escaped Axis Hungary during World War II with the help of her soon-to-be husband, Ana displayed a quiet strength, supporting Edwin despite her misgivings and even standing up to Whitney Frost and paying the price for it.
Donnie Gill is a troubled young man who paid a terrible price as well. His experiments with a weather machine led to the death of his best friend and partner and brought him into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s custody. He soon discovered that their experiments had given him the power to generate and control ice, an ability which would be put to use for S.H.I.E.L.D., for Hydra, and for himself.
Who Would Win: While Blizzard has the clear advantage in terms of his powers, we’d like to think that the well-spoken, sensitive Ana could talk Donnie down. –Andrew Bloom
42. Jane Foster vs. Maya Hansen
It’s another science-on-science showdown! Jane Foster, astronomer, stumbles onto the discovery of a lifetime when she drives straight into a big, scary storm and promptly hits Thor with her car. Jane’s a genius, and better still, one who’s willing to think outside the box (hence the badass Arthur C. Clarke quote about how magic is just science that we don’t understand). She should be awesome. But she’s kind of … not? It doesn’t help that Jane spends most of the second Thor flick being tossed around like an Aether-filled hot potato, unable to cope with the precarious circumstance in which she finds herself.
Maya, on the other hand, is all cool pragmatism and deception. Well, at least at first. She discovers something incredibly powerful and dangerous, and like most scientists (good and bad) on this list, she doesn’t think through the ramifications. It’s hard to think of her as a villain, because she spends most of the movie playing the part of a damsel in distress, only to try to do the right thing right before she kicks the bucket.
Who Would Win: Jane, I guess, if she has her gizmo. —Allison Shoemaker
41. War Machine (James “Rhodey” Rhodes) vs. Ray Schoonover
Capably played by Terrence Howard, then way more capably played by Don Cheadle, Rhodey’s the kind of friend everyone wishes they had and almost no one deserves. Decades spent putting up with Tony Stark’s bullshit will do that to you. Tony’s sharp downward spiral in Iron Man 2 drives Rhodey to become the Iron Patriot in a suit of his own, and within just a few summer blockbusters, he’s an Avenger in his own right. He’s a war hero, and he knows how to blow shit up, but Rhodey’s true superpower is helping to keep a powerful, brilliant man anchored to his own humanity.
[Major spoilers for season two of Daredevil follow.]
All the things that Rhodey is? Colonel Ray Schoonover’s the opposite. An old war buddy of Frank Castle, Schoonover (a.k.a. The Blacksmith) is not only responsible for the massacre of Castle’s family (indirectly, but still), he’s also secretly a drug lord who terrifies the holy crap out of everyone. Why isn’t he higher? Because we only know he’s a villain for about 10 minutes, and because they cast Clancy Brown, so of course he was a bad guy. Lousy friend. Decent crook. Mediocre villain.
Who Would Win: Blast him to hell, War Machine. Right in the middle of a monologue, if possible. —Allison Shoemaker
40. Dr. Ho Yinsen vs. General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross
Dr. Yinsen has a hallowed place in the MCU — he’s the good Samaritan who not only saved Tony Stark’s life, but convinced him to become a better man. Yinsen lost his own life in the process, but the lessons he offered to Tony about what his life could mean, and his ultimate sacrifice, are anything but forgotten.
By contrast, General Ross is a proud, determined man, who’s attempting to erase the mistakes of his past and clear the big green stain off of his record. While Ross is poised to rise in stature with his appearance in Civil War, for the time being he’s just a thinly-drawn, angry general chasing after The Hulk.
Who Would Win: Yinsen clearly believes that a man can change, whereas that’s what General Ross is afraid of. Still, Thunderbolt’s military training would likely win the day. –Andrew Bloom
39. Gamora vs. Madame Gao
How is it possible that a green-skinned super assassin who refuses to dance is the least interesting guardian of the galaxy? Well, because she’s up against a sentient tree, a wise-cracking raccoon, a hyper-literal WWE superstar, and Chris Pratt. Gamora’s great and lethal and the most straightforwardly heroic of her gang. Unfortunately, she’s also the least compelling. File under “suffers by comparison.”
Madame Gao isn’t boring, per se. It’s just that she’s one of those menacing, quiet, behind-the-scenes types. Obviously she can take care of herself, she’s fiendishly good at her job, and she had all those people she presumably blinded working as slave labor, which is straight-up evil. But like Gamora, she sort of recedes to the background in the Daredevil villains class photo.
Who Would Win: Gamora, fired by all that parental rage. —Allison Shoemaker
38. Eric Koenig vs. Mister Hyde (Calvin Zabo)
Are the various Koenig brothers identical twins? Holograms? Robots? Where did they come from? How many of them are there? We still have no idea. What we do know is that Patton Oswalt brought a great deal of levity to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as the lanyard-issuing, base-nicknaming, lie detector-administering Koenig.
In the same vein, casting Kyle MacLachlan as an antagonist guarantees a certain manic energy in your show. But the long-ballyhooed reveal of Skye’s formula-guzzling dad culminated in one of the cheesier prosthetics jobs on an often chintzy-looking show. That took a lot of the wind out of the erstwhile Mr. Hyde’s sails.
Who Would Win: Cal would kill Koenig twin after Koenig twin, only for more and more of the Koenig brothers to come out of the woodwork, eventually overwhelming Zabo with sheer numbers. –Andrew Bloom
37. Falcon (Sam Wilson) vs. Abomination (Emil Blonsky)
When trying to adjust to the present, it’s only natural that Steve Rogers would gravitate toward another veteran, especially one helping his fellow soldiers deal with the transition back home. Equipped with his experimental flight pack, Wilson’s also a formidable ally who’s fought Crossbones, The Winter Soldier, and even Ant-Man and managed to hold his own.
Emil Blonsky is also a soldier, but his attempted enhancements were biological rather than technological. Hoping to be able to withstand The Hulk, Blonsky tried to replicate the experiment that turned Banner into the bright green brute. But despite Tim Roth’s verve, the CGI Abomination mostly felt like something that had stumbled off the set of Lord of the Rings.
Who Would Win: Falcon would have trouble taking on a full-strength Abomination, but he might have a shot if Hulk softened Blonsky up for him first. –Andrew Bloom
36. Luke Cage vs. Whitney Frost
Like a few others on this list, it’s likely Luke’s ranking will change once his own series hits Netflix, but as a supporting player alone, he ain’t half bad. It’s difficult to analyze which of the awesome things Cage does are actually awesome and which are done under Kilgrave’s influence, but he’s about as understanding a partner as one could hope, given Jessica’s, ahem, connection to his late wife. There’s also the superhero sex, the awesome fight in the club, and the best line in the series: “You are a hard-drinking, short-fused mess of a woman, but you are not a piece of shit.” Sweet Christmas.
While Luke Cage is all unbreakable, quiet control, Whitney Frost is literally coming apart at one seam. While already a bit unhinged, thanks in part to a life spent pretending she’s not a genius while being valued only for her pretty face, Frost gets exposed to Zero Matter in a lab explosion and becomes a living, breathing black hole of sorts. It’s a great character, one intended to provide a parallel to the similarly underestimated Peggy Carter, but one that falls a bit short thanks to an oddly campy performance. Ah, well. She’s still cool.
Who Would Win: Wow, this is a tough one. Would Cage’s unbreakable skin rebuff Whitney’s Zero Matter thing? Maybe, but his eyes wouldn’t, right? So his eyes would get sucked out of his head, followed by all his internal organs, and then he’d turn inside out and be quite quite dead. Frost wins. —Allison Shoemaker
35. Ben Urich vs. Leland Owlsley
Ah, another fearless scribe. Ben Urich tries his damndest to uncover the truth while keeping others — his ill wife, the sometimes foolish Karen, the always delightful Foggy — safe. It’s said, over and over again, that Urich’s a reporter to his bones and that he’d be happy knowing he died in pursuit of the truth. He’s one of those everyday heroes, a real All the President’s Men or Spotlight type, and while he might not get the glory (or cool outfits) of some of our other heroes, he’s a hero, nonetheless.
He’s up against another Hell’s Kitchen white-collar type, accountant Leland Owlsley. He’s just the money guy, except the money guy comes damn close to taking down Wilson Fisk with nothing but some tricky accounting and a hell of a pair of balls. He’s not the only villain on this list ruled only by the desire for money, but he is the one who most seems to need a vacation.
Who Would Win: This writer would really like to say that another writer would take down the rich crook, but let’s be honest, Owlsley could be in the Caymans before any story of Urich’s hit the press. The world seriously sucks sometimes, man. —Allison Shoemaker
34. Jemma Simmons vs. Johann Fennoff
Honestly, all these science vs. science pairings aren’t on purpose. For this matchup, Jemma Simmons is here to rep for cold, hard fact, for inventiveness, for the importance of analysis, for testing and re-testing and re-testing, and for talking really fast, especially when you’re nervous. Simmons is another bona fide genius, one of the youngest-ever grads of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s science academy, and with her best friend and lab buddy, Leo Fitz, responsible for some of the most dazzling escapes and rescues ever performed by Coulson’s team. She also survived on another planet for a long time and functioned as a double agent within HYDRA, so she’s not half bad.
Unfortunately, Jemma’s up against a scientist with the power to control minds. Sure, if Jemma was locked up by a foreign government, she’d probably manage to break out in minutes, while Fennhoff is presumably still stuck (or, you know, dead). But this evil doctor managed to take down a whole agency in just a couple days, engineering his own fake rescue and outwitting Peggy Carter on a number of occasions. That’s no mean feat.
Who Would Win: If Simmons has time to prepare, she’s golden. She’d design the perfect pair of earplugs and/or some crazy voice-muffling apparatus. But if they meet on a street corner at random, Simmons would quickly become a hell of a Soviet asset. —Allison Shoemaker
33. Hawkeye (Clint Barton) vs. Jasper Sitwell
Hawkeye is perhaps the least regarded of The Avengers. He doesn’t have any super-abilities; he spends the bulk of his first major outing under Loki’s mind control, and the utility of a bow and arrow in a super-powered firefight is questionable. But he has the heart of a champion, a bravery that knows no bounds, and unlike the rest of the team, a family waiting for him at home.
Jasper Sitwell’s not particularly highly regarded either. But when Thor first came to Earth, Sitwell was there. When the helicarrier took to the sky in The Avengers, Sitwell was there. And when Hydra reared its ugly head once more, Sitwell was there … until The Winter Soldier threw him in front of a truck. Can’t win ‘em all.
Who Would Win: Hawkeye could pummel Sitwell easily, but then he’d have to take on the truck. –Andrew Bloom
32. Elektra Natchios vs. Deathlok (Mike Peterson)
Antihero showdown! In the MCU, the word “antihero” is often code for “troubled but cuddly.” Not so in the case of a few of Daredevil’s non-Daredevil heroes, Elektra among them. Without going into exactly what drives her, since it’s a) a major plot point and b) it’s kind of weird. But Elektra’s desire to be better, pitted against her need to be who she is, is one of the most compelling elements of Daredevil’s excellent second season. She kills people, sure, but she’s conflicted about it. She gives great fight scenes, too. That never hurts.
In contrast, Mike Peterson isn’t so much an antihero as a hero/villain/hero/villain/hero/villain/hero again. Unlike most of the test subjects who end up with those creepy eye implants, he seems to give over completely to the awful shit they want him to do. That, coupled with how rotten he is in the back half of the pilot, gives him more villainous shades, though he is, at present, technically a good guy. Whatever — Peterson’s a wild card, and he betrayed Coulson, which is a great big stain on his weird, weird record.
Who Would Win: Given that Elektra’s an expert at emotional manipulation and Peterson’s a sucker for it, gotta give this one to Elektra. —Allison Shoemaker
31. Ant-Man (Hank Pym) vs. Iron Monger (Obadiah Stane)
The original miniature crusader, Pym demonstrates that not every good guy loves S.H.I.E.L.D. or The Avengers, and he brings a pleasantly irascible presence to Ant-Man. What’s more, he’s one of the few generational heroes in the MCU, putting the weight of both history and mystery behind his role in the film and his relationships with his daughter and successor.
Stane’s relationship with his successor is obviously a bit more complicated. The MCU’s first true villain, Stane is jealous of his wunderkind business partner, Tony Stark, but his plot to take his rival out devolves into a typical evil executive donning an iron suit of his own for a perfunctory metal clash.
Who Would Win: The two have probably crossed paths before, but we imagine Pym outsmarting his villainous counterpart, no matter what kind of suit he’s wearing. –Andrew Bloom
30. Claire Temple vs. Nuke (Will Simpson)
Remember those garden-variety heroes we mentioned earlier? Claire Temple is not one of them. Imagine you find a guy in a dumpster wearing a weird mask. Do you help him or call the cops? Imagine you encounter a guy whose skin won’t allow injections? Do you bail, or do you smuggle him out of the hospital and then inject him in his eye? Claire Temple is bad as hell. Her whole world changes, and she changes with it, because her job is to keep people alive. That’s amazing. There are only two reasons she isn’t higher: one, Netflix can do better by Temple and by Rosario Dawson. Two, she doesn’t have a sweet roundhouse or anything like that.
In the other corner: a really bad boyfriend. Yes, that’s oversimplifying, but to be clear, Will Simpson is a villain long before he starts popping those red pills. That’s not because of the things he does under Kilgrave’s power, but because he makes someone else’s pain and fear all about him. His gradual disillusionment with Jessica’s way to doing business leads him right back to those red pills, and before long he’s a homicidal maniac.
Who Would Win: Temple would find a way to get those blue pills down Will’s throat, no question. —Allison Shoemaker
29. Lance Hunter vs. Ultron
After joining Coulson’s S.H.I.E.L.D. team in Season 2, Hunter immediately brought a jocular spark to the group. But he’s not just comic relief; Hunter’s a skilled and capable fighter, who’s fiercely loyal to his friends and a fine match for his once-and-future wife Mockingbird.
Equally adept with a smart remark, Ultron is one half the perfect reflection of his would-be father’s motormouth and neuroses and one half a generic evil robot bent on destroying humanity with the standard Asimov-gone-wrong playbook. James Spader is a boon, but Ultron himself is often just too much.
Who Would Win: Hunter would go down swinging, but Ultron would get the better of the fight in a landslide, that is if the two of them could ever stop exchanging bon mots. –Andrew Bloom
28. Drax the Destroyer vs. Hive
The incredibly literal Drax brings his own brand of deadpan humor to the comedic milieu of the Guardians, but he also provides a lot of the team’s muscle. Pursuing his vendetta against Ronan for the deaths of his wife and daughter, Drax is a skilled warrior who more than earned his nickname, “The Destroyer.”
Hive is a different kind of fighter. An ancient Inhuman whom the Kree engineered to lead their genetically-modified army, Hive turned on his creators, but was eventually exiled. Now, the creature has returned to earth, carrying the memories of everyone it’s consumed and attempting to bring the whole world under its spell.
Who Would Win: While they might commiserate over a shared disdain for a Kree or two, Hive would probably have the upper hand — though the thought of the hive-mind possessing Drax as its new host is a scary one. –Andrew Bloom
27. Jeri Hogarth vs. The Collector (Taneleer Tivan)
This is our little battle of the chaotic neutrals. Jeri Hogarth is an extremely capable lawyer with great instincts about people — namely Jessica, but also Foggy Nelson. Unfortunately, she’s got pretty shitty instincts about almost everything else, including Kilgrave and her love life. Where does she fall on the hero/villain scale? Probably a touch closer to hero. But all that ambiguity makes for a compelling character and a great foil for the hot mess that is Jessica.
Then, there’s The Collector, a.k.a. Taneleer Tivan. As we learn more about him, Benicio del Toro’s quietly menacing character may leap up a few notches. Is he a villain? Probably. After all, he’s got the aether and was very excited about acquiring all the rest of the Infinity Stones. But on the other hand, he lost the second one he got his hands on because he’s not very good at managing the help.
Who Would Win: Hard to say. It seems like it should be The Collector, but then again, he’s kind of a bonehead. Let’s give this one to Hogarth. —Allison Shoemaker
26. Abraham Erskine vs. Dorothy Walker
The man who turned Steve Rogers into a super-soldier, Abraham Erskine’s sort of the ultimate man-behind-the-curtain (or he would be, if Nick Fury wasn’t also on this list). After all, it’s thanks to him that Cap is who he is, since he insisted on picking the short, scrawny, asthmatic kid with the heart of a patriot and a generous soul, rather than some big, impressive meathead. Seconds after Rogers stepped out of that chamber, however, Erskine bit the dust, making his crowning achievement also his last.
That’s a hell of a story. Dorothy Walker’s is much more commonplace. To put it plainly, she’s just a really, really awful person and a terrible and damaging parent. Her biggest positive contribution on earth is driving together Jessica and Trish, because she’s just that awful. Oh, and she’s also a children’s talent agent, if you needed more fuel for the fire. Cheers to actress Rebecca De Mornay, because just thinking about Walker sets my teeth on edge.
Who Would Win: Erskine believes in the goodness of people. Walker would destroy him. —Allison Shoemaker
25. Trish Walker vs. Glenn Talbot
Speaking of our beloved Patsy, here’s the woman Dorothy Walker didn’t manage to completely destroy. Being Jessica’s best friend and adoptive sister isn’t an easy job, and neither is overcoming a childhood of abuse and an addiction problem, but Trish does both. She then takes on Kilgrave, first on her talk show, and eventually in the dazzling final fight of the season finale. Trish kicks so much ass.
She’s up against the man who would take down S.H.I.E.L.D. Is Talbot technically a villain? Like fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. character Mike Peterson, he’s a bit back and forth. But anyone who would sell out or attempt to take down Phil Coulson winds up on a permanent shit list, as far as we’re concerned.
Who Would Win: This one’s tough. Trish has got a bit of a weakness for guys in uniforms, it would seem, so she might take it easy on Talbot. Let’s give it to him. —Allison Shoemaker
24. Luis vs. Joseph Manfredi
Two career criminals face off in this pairing. First we’ve got Luis, Michael Peña’s scene-stealing thief. If we’re being honest, Luis doesn’t seem like a super-excellent crook, although his jubilation at being on the side of the good guys for once bolsters his performance in that last big heist. He’s also partially responsible for Scott Lang becoming Ant-Man in the first place. That’s gotta count for something.
I’m not sure how the sweet-tempered Luis would fare against Ken Marino’s Agent Carter mobster. We’re first introduced to Manfredi when he thinks a guy looked at Whitney Frost a little too long, so he turns his face into a pulp. He’s also got a band of heavies around him, a sweet little mother who likes knife-fights, and a deceptively nice face (or maybe that’s just Marino’s general vibe). Regardless, this is not a man to be trifled with.
Who Would Win: Luis would probably tell a long, rambling story, get on Manfredi’s bad side, and then get used for boxing process. Sorry, Luis. We love you. —Allison Shoemaker
23. Howard Stark vs. Rosalind Price
Modeled after a man with whom he shares a first name, Howard Stark is a genius inventor, a noted womanizer, a vivacious personality, and to a select few, a dear friend. Played with aplomb by both Dominic Cooper and John Slattery, Stark is the entertaining paterfamilias of the MCU.
Rosalind Price isn’t nearly so bombastic, but carries herself with a self-assured presence as well. More of a foil than an outright villain, Rosalind was the head of the ATCU, an anti-Inhuman task force, leading her to clash but eventually find common ground with Phil Coulson.
Who Would Win: Stark would no doubt try to woo Miss Price, at which point she’d probably be inclined to lock him in one of the ATCU’s stasis boxes. –Andrew Bloom
22. Edwin Jarvis vs. Vanessa Marianna
Edwin Jarvis is Howard Stark’s trusted, all-purpose butler, Peggy Carter’s aide-de-camp, and the namesake of Tony Stark’s A.I. He has an endlessly flustered, yet consistently capable rapport with his compatriots, and while his prim demeanor suggests he’s not a natural hero, that just makes it all the better when he rises to the occasion.
An art dealer by trade, Vanessa also finds herself enmeshed in a world and a conflict far beyond her training. But she too becomes a trusted confidante of her partner, the powerful Kingpin. She demands honesty from her law-breaking beau, but pushes him to go public with his efforts and accepts his criminal predilections and plans.
Who Would Win: It’s hard to believe Jarvis would ever hit a lady like Vanessa, but we’d expect Kingpin’s goons to descend on him before he could land a blow. –Andrew Bloom
21. Leo Fitz vs. Lash (Andrew Garner)
A brilliant scientist and engineer, Fitz has developed from a reluctant lab fixture to an important field agent, who can invent his way out of a jam, step up to the plate when the going gets tough, and put himself at extraordinary risk for his friend and partner Jemma Simmons.
Andrew Garner could have used Fitz’s help when he was exposed to terrigen crystals and became Lash, the monstrous brute who ruthlessly hunts down Inhumans. One of the MCU’s many Jekyll/Hyde figures, the sensitive, caring side of Dr. Garner, contrasted with the pure instinctual menace of Lash, makes the character a special kind of adversary for the S.H.I.E.L.D. team.
Who Would Win: This one might actually happen! We bet that Fitz and Simmons will find a way to neutralize or even cure Lash before they all come to blows. –Andrew Bloom
20. Agent Phil Coulson vs. Nobu
We know what you’re saying. What the hell is Phil Coulson doing at number 20? He’s basically an honorary Avenger! Yes, we hear you. Here’s the thing: Movie Phil Coulson is a top-10 character. TV Phil Coulson is not quite the superstar he is on the big screen. None of that has to do with Clark Gregg, who 100 percent deserves to have gotten miraculously resurrected so that he can topline a television show. Gregg’s winning, awkward charm and considerable dramatic chops make him a force to be reckoned with. But while movie Phil Coulson was always a highlight, however brief his appearance, TV Coulson can wear a bit thin. Don’t get it twisted; Coulson’s still a total badass. He’s just not the best part of S.H.I.E.L.D., and since it’s his show, that’s a bit of a problem.
[Major spoilers for Daredevil’s second season follow.]
But Coulson’s not the only guy to come back from the dead. One of the best fights in Daredevil’s first season saw Matt Murdock almost die, but his opponent definitely died, and he was on fire and still trying to fight. That alone is pretty badass. But whatever magic shit The Hand has up its sleeve (pun intended), it brought Nobu back from the dead, and Nobu 2.0 is every bit as formidable. Terrifying ninja, crime mogul, and sharp-dressed man: That’s a potent combination.
Who Would Win: Following S.H.I.E.L.D.’s formula, Coulson would seem about to die (again) thanks to Nobu’s crazy knives-on-chains, but at the last minute, he’d pop out some one-liner that shows he had a plan the whole time. Coulson wins, somehow. Always. Every damn time. —Allison Shoemaker
19. The Punisher (Frank Castle) vs. Ronan the Accuser
Remember how Elektra’s one of the only true antiheroes on this list? Her season two castmate is another. Frank Castle is easily one of the most compelling elements of Daredevil’s second season, played with quiet menace by Jon Bernthal (and probably with less-quiet menace in his just-announced spinoff). Castle believes that bad guys need to die, period, end of sentence. So he shoots them, lots of times. He can take down a whole hallway full of angry dudes in about two minutes, armed only with a shiv. He’s a terrifying, non-super-powered superhero. Oh, and he can beat Matt Murdock in a fight. No small feat. There’s just the small matter of him killing lots of people and the questionable morality of that.
Ronan, on the other hand, is kind of a lame villain from a cinematic perspective, but nigh-on unbeatable from a let’s-get-in-a-fight perspective. Lee Pace is a terrific actor, but like lots of the Marvel villains, he’s so unrecognizable that it’s hard to see the acting beneath the modulated voice and the dopey makeup. And yes, he sort of gets taken down in a one-sided dance-off, but it takes a whole team of heroes to actually finish him.
Who Would Win: Yes, Frank Castle can take down anyone, but Ronan gets shot in the chest by a crazy gun and just gets back up again. The Punisher might get punished. —Allison Shoemaker
18. Pepper Potts vs. John Garrett
Pepper is the C.E.O. of Stark Industries, Tony’s longtime confidante and paramour, and a fairly heroic presence in her own right despite not being a regular crime fighter. Whether she’s helping to defeat Iron Monger or The Mandarin, or just pushing back on Iron Man himself, she’s shown a fortitude and resourcefulness that have served her well.
Garrett, a former high-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent gone turncoat, is pretty resourceful as well. He joined Hydra not because he’s a true believer, but because he wanted vengeance against the agency that turned its back on him, and a ringer like Bill Paxton helped liven AoS’s shaky first season as the main antagonist.
Who Would Win: Garrett’s S.H.I.E.L.D. training likely gives him the edge, unless Pepper still has a little extremis in her system. –Andrew Bloom
17. Karen Page vs. Red Skull (Johann Schmidt)
Don’t call Karen Page a Mary Sue. First of all, that term is bullshit. Second, sometimes smart people are just smart. While she’s got a hell of a knack for chasing down the truth, her single biggest achievement is being the only member of the offices of Nelson and Murdock to keep a clear head about what exactly the whole point of their mission is. She’s also basically responsible for saving the lives of all those hostages, and while the whole oops-I’m-suddenly-a-journalist thing is a bit of a stretch, she’s still pretty awesome.
She’s up against Hugo Weaving as an evil Nazi with an actual red skull whose skin comes off. Open and shut case.
Who Would Win: R.I.P., Karen Page. —Allison Shoemaker
16. Franklin “Foggy” Nelson vs. Samantha Reyes
Here’s the highest-ranking sidekick on our list and with good reason. Foggy’s the fucking best. A great friend to a sometimes shitty guy, Nelson (like Murdock) walks away from the big lawyer money to fight for the little guy. He’s the last garden-variety hero on our list — from here on out, everyone is either super-powered or otherwise elite — but all those hard truths, difficult calls, and excellent lawyering more than earned him a spot in our top 20. It takes a lot to stand up to your friends, a fact we learned from Neville Longbottom all those years ago at Hogwarts. Foggy is a total Gryffindor, but he’s got the heart of a Hufflepuff, and he deserves all the accolades he can get.
Samantha Reyes, on the other hand, is the worst. Sure, Foggy loses his big case against Reyes, but that’s mostly because Castle tanks his own defense. He absolutely out-lawyers her, even when he’s pulling stuff out of his ass. She’s managed to claw her way pretty far up the political food chain, which is no small feat, but she turned into an objectively terrible person along the way (hence the appearance on the villain list). A last-minute change of heart doesn’t redeem her, and contributing to the fall of the team of Nelson and Murdock is pretty close to unforgivable.
Who Would Win: Foggy, clearly. She might win a fight, but she also consistently underestimates her opponent, and when you underestimate Franklin Nelson, you do so at your peril. —Allison Shoemaker
15. Nick Fury vs. James Wesley
There’s no way Samuel L. Jackson’s role in the M.C.U. wasn’t going to be awesome. The once and former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. knows how to survive, to sniff out people he can trust, and to bring together the right people (like, say, The Avengers). He also saves Fitz and Simmons in his appearance on S.H.I.E.L.D., which forever makes him a hero, because Fitz and Simmons are the best. Nick Fury’s a formidable presence, a crafty son of a bitch, and a one-eyed wonder. He’s pretty much unkillable, and he looks great in leather. Bonus points for bringing Phil Coulson back to life, repercussions and all.
Fury’s a head honcho, but Wesley is a positively lethal right-hand man. Being Wilson Fisk’s number two can’t be an easy task, and his devotion to that terrifying bastard is perhaps the single most unsettling thing about him. Competence is a terrific thing, and Wesley is unbelievably competent. That he uses his mad organizational skills for evil makes him one of the worst kinds of villains. He’s not operating on an agenda. He’s just doing his job.
Who Would Win: Wesley’s toast. He might have his shit together, but Nick Fury’s got his on lockdown, even when he’s supposed to be dead. —Allison Shoemaker
14. Ant-Man (Scott Lang) vs. Yondu Udanta
Like many great men in history, Scott Lang is just an ex-con trying to go straight and get his kid back. Blessed with Paul Rudd’s preternatural charms, the new Ant-Man is a hero as interested in doing right by his daughter as he is in fighting the bad guys.
Yondu is also a dad, of sorts, having kidnapped a young Peter Quill and raised him to be one of his Ravagers. He’s not purely a bad guy, just a man with his own interests who isn’t afraid to put a bounty out on his own protégé to get what he wants.
Who Would Win: A stalemate would erupt when a miniaturized Ant-Man starts having too much fun riding around on Yondu’s yaka arrow. –Andrew Bloom
13. Daredevil (Matt Murdock) vs. Senator Stern
There’s an idealism to Matt Murdock, both in the idea that his legal associates can only represent the innocent and the hope that his extracurricular activities can make Hell’s Kitchen a better place. But that’s tempered by his concerns that he has “the devil in him,” and his questions about whether his Daredevil persona — a well-meaning but forceful vigilante — is really helping to make a change for the better.
Senator Stern, by contrast, has no pretensions about helping the good or the innocent. Imbued with a bit of wicked smarm by the dearly departed Garry Shandling, Stern’s attempts to commandeer the Iron Man armor were put in a new light by The Winter Soldier’s reveal that he was part of Hydra the whole time.
Who Would Win: Daredevil’s already shown a propensity to come out on top against less-than-savory public luminaries. We think he gets the duke. –Andrew Bloom
12. Rocket Raccoon vs. Arnim Zola
A sidearm-wielding, wisecracking, mildly anthropomorphic woodland creature as a hero was either going to be amazing or awful. Thankfully, Rocket is the former, with his jokey asides being one of Guardians’ many comedic treats and his tortured origins giving him a bit of real pathos behind the humor.
Zola is a much more unassuming baddie, but from his time as the Igor to Red Skull’s Dr. Frankenstein to his old-school computerized appearance in The Winter Soldier where he revealed the existence of Hydra and his role in creating the film’s titular assassin, Toby Jones helped the diminutive Zola to loom large.
Who Would Win: Something tells us Rocket wouldn’t take kindly to a mad scientist who experiments on people like Bucky. We wouldn’t want to be Zola when the raccoon finds out. –Andrew Bloom
11. Melinda May vs. Dottie Underwood
Who doesn’t love a badass with a heart of gold? From her no-nonsense attitude to the devastating way she earned the nickname “The Cavalry” to her complicated relationships with Phil Coulson and Andrew Garner, May is steely and self-assured, but also very human.
Dottie’s a tough customer as well, whose heart isn’t nearly as pure as May’s. But what she lacks in valor, she makes up for in a Hannibal Lecter-like confidence in her ability to toy with the good guys. She’s quite adept at seemingly helping her foes-turned-allies out while pursuing her own agenda.
Who Would Win: …a fight between today’s top American spy and yesterday’s top Russian spy? We would. –Andrew Bloom
10. Jessica Jones vs. Nebula
How do I love thee, Jessica Jones? Let me count the ways. One: She’s a force of goddamn nature and a fiercely loyal one at that. Threaten Trish’s mom? No problem. Help Malcolm get through withdrawal, even after he’s been stalking her? Defend Hope Schlottman when no one else wants anything to do with her, at great personal risk? It’s just what has to be done. Two: She’s a survivor. We called Jessica Jones one of the best stories ever told about rape in or Marvel ranking earlier this week, and Jessica’s the biggest part of that. Krysten Ritter’s ballsy, brilliant performance lets the audience in, ever so slightly, on the guilt, shame, rage, and fear that follow her like a ghost, and when Kilgrave enters back into the picture, things only get more complicated.
Three, and perhaps most importantly, for all her dark and twistiness, Jessica’s just so much fun to watch. She tosses off noir quips with the best of them, has zero patience for fools, and makes the kind of mistakes many of us do when we’re in our dark days. She’s also incredibly clever, has great taste in superhero dudes, and ultimately triumphs over her tormentor in the most satisfying way possible. That’s no small thing. It’s easy to root for Jessica, in spite and because of her flaws. As Luke Cage puts it, “You are a hard-drinking, short-fused, mess of a woman, but you are not a piece of shit.”
She’s up against the Jan Brady of Thanos’ family band. Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan might not seem the an obvious choice for a villain, but she steals the show right out from under Ronan’s bright-blue nose, taking all that blasé parental resentment of hers and putting it to good (bad) use in the Accuser’s quest to get the orb. Turning on her adopted father at the first opportunity, she promises to destroy any number of galaxies as long as Thanos dies, and when she runs into the sister she “always hated the least,” she tries real damn hard to kill her. Twice.
But her most badass moment comes right at the end of the film, when she’s dangling one-handed from the soon-to-crash ship on which she’s been fighting her sister. As Gamora tries to save her and bring her over to the good guys, Nebula basically decides she’s had enough of these insane people. So she chops off her goddamn head, lands on a plane, punches through that plane, and peaces the fuck out, presumably heading straight for the sequel. If Guardians has one big flaw, it’s Ronan’s lameness, but if it has a second, it’s that there’s not enough Nebula.
Who Would Win: This is a tough one. Jessica’s a better character and a badass, but Nebula punched through a plane. It would be a close one, but let’s give the edge to the Luphomoid assassin. — Allison Shoemaker
09. Winter Soldier (James “Bucky” Barnes) vs. Winter Soldier (James “Bucky” Barnes)
Hot take: Bucky’s kind of a dick, at least at first. Sure, he’s just telling Steve Rogers some hard truths (and trying to get him laid, which is nice), but he tends to think the future Captain America’s burning desire to serve is silly, not inspired. But things turn around pretty quickly for the Howling Commando once the friends are reunited, and his loss in The First Avenger is deeply felt. Steve Rogers may be a forgiving sort, but you’ve got to be pretty special to inspire that kind of devotion. Peggy’s his best girl, but Bucky’s his person, and losing him proves devastating to Cap (and audiences).
Of course, he’s only sort-of lost. It may not have surprised many that Bucky was the man behind the Winter Soldier’s super-scary mask, since Sebastian Stan’s multi-film contract gave the game away pretty early, but it sure did surprise Steve. An assassin so deadly as to be the stuff of legend, a figure that scares the piss out of the unshakeable Natasha Romanoff, and the possessor of a pair of freakily vacant eyes, the Winter Soldier would be a top-tier villain in any case. But can we call him a villain, really? Can a person who was forced into becoming a monstrosity really be blamed for the evil acts he perpetrates? We’ll probably have a better idea after Civil War. This one’s not so much a fight as a battle for a man’s soul, and that’s pretty goddamn epic.
Who Would Win: If anyone can bring a broken man back from the dark side, it’s Cap. My money’s on Bucky. —Allison Shoemaker
08. Thor vs. Justin Hammer
Chris Hemsworth is out-of-control charming, and Thor’d probably be higher on this list if the Thor movies were just a little better. In the first, he’s saddled with a lot of fish-out-of-water jokes; in the second, he’s got more to do but a flimsier plot in which to play. Still, the God-like Asgardian’s a force to be reckoned with, what with Mjølnir and the Warriors Three and Lady Sif in his corner. That said, Thor’s a bit hard to connect with on an emotional level, something not true of most of the heroes in our top ten. Again, not Hemsworth’s fault, but the trouble with gods (or god-like dudes) is that they don’t seem all that human. He also gets outsmarted by Loki … how many times? Let’s say lots. Hulk smashes him for pretty much no reason. Oh, and Vision can lift his hammer, so he doesn’t even have that on lockdown anymore. He does have those arms, though. Sweet Christmas.
Thor, meet Hammer. Justin Hammer, that is. Sam Rockwell’s bumbling scientist isn’t there merely as comic relief, but to put lots and lots of lives at risk just because he doesn’t like not being the smartest guy in the room. That’s an incredibly petty reason to go straight villain. While Iron Man 2 is kind of a mess, Rockwell’s one of the highlights, and the sillier your reasons for being cool with death and destruction, the worse you are. You, sir, suck. Oh, and you’re a terrible scientist.
Who Would Win: Oh, come on. —Allison Shoemaker
07. Star-Lord (Peter Quill) vs. Grant Ward
There’s something undeniably appealing about a story featuring a charismatic rogue learning to be a hero, without giving up the rough-around-the-edges qualities that made him so much fun in the first place. Peter Quill has a penchant for classic tunes, a propensity to get into trouble, and enough tragedy and mystery in his past to ensure he’s more than just another criminal turned half-decent.
Chris Pratt offers the same goofy, charming presence he brought to Parks and Recreation and turns the ne’er-do-well Peter Quill into a winning almost-hero, who’s good enough to root for, but bad enough to stand out.
Grant Ward did not start out nearly as engaging. When Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began, it was hard to imagine that the show’s most frustratingly milquetoast agent would become one of its most interesting characters.
But after a secret allegiance to Hydra, an ill-fated romantic obsession, a run as the show’s line-crossing wildcard, and a quest for revenge, he became one of the most intriguing sorts of villains — the kind still convinced that he’s really the hero. Ward’s background, and the way he shows the dark side of a desire to belong to something greater, revealed an antagonist with much more flavor after his heel turn.
Who Would Win: It’s the man raised by thieves vs. the one trained by both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra. The tale of the tape favors Ward, but we think Star-Lord could still boogie his way out of dodge. –Andrew Bloom
06. Groot vs. Whiplash (Ivan Vanko)
It’s hard to deliver so much character with only three words, but “I am Groot” came to stand for a great deal over the course of Guardians of the Galaxy. Voice actor Vin Diesel had experience in crafting an unorthodox-yet-lovable hero with little more than growls and grunts from his work in The Iron Giant, and the stellar animation team gave Groot a great deal of personality in his expressions and movements.
The Chewbacca to Rocket Raccoon’s Han Solo, Groot is a hoot. He can create a beautiful scene in an unexpected place, offer a cheerful smile after whomping a room full of bad guys, and even utter those magic words — “We are Groot,” which signify that the Guardians are truly a team. He’s not a bad dancer either.
Ivan Vanko is a man of few words as well, but he’s also the mirror image of Tony Stark in Iron Man 2. Whiplash is trying to restore his father’s legacy at the same time Tony’s coming to terms with his own daddy issues.
The son of Anton Vanko, the discredited co-inventor of the arc reactor, Whiplash has a legitimate reason to go after Iron Man — he’s attempting to reclaim his birthright, the one that Tony inherited and that Howard Stark stole from his father. His “you lose” mentality shows both a craftiness and a mind for contingencies, and his visually impressive electric whips and robotic drones give Stark a run for his money.
Who Would Win: Vanko’s whips might be able to trim the hedges, so to speak, but you can’t keep a good Groot down. – Andrew Bloom
05. The Hulk (Bruce Banner) vs. The Mandarin (Trevor Slattery)
The duality of man — it’s a cliché. And yet the MCU’s Bruce Banner convincingly cuts the figure of a man who, if he had his way, would really rather just be left alone so he could keep the animal locked in his cage. But Banner has a curse and a gift — “The Other Guy,” who is far less eloquent, but far more likely to help save the day and cannot be ignored.
One of the few major heroes to be recast in the MCU, Edward Norton did a solid job bringing the big green lug into the fold, but Mark Ruffalo left an indelible mark on the character with his meek, haunted, but determined take on The Hulk. Whether he’s explaining how he’s “always angry,” pounding a “puny god” into the ground, or even enjoying his nerdy bromance with Tony Stark, both Bruce Banner and The Hulk bring something unique to The Avengers and to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Trevor Slattery does not cut nearly the imposing figure of his gamma ray-infused counterpart. He does, however, bring an unexpectedly comedic bent and a delightful twist on one of Iron Man’s oldest foes. Casting Ben Kingsley as a brown-skinned villain spouting terrorist platitudes had critics and fans alike wringing their hands long before Iron Man 3 debuted. But Marvel wisely sidestepped both the fraught political implications of the character as presented and in the Mandarin’s yellow peril roots with an amusing left turn.
They turned “The Mandarin” into a working-class British actor who could care less about geopolitical crises or sci-fi tech; he’s just in it for the money and the fame. In fact, the powers that be prefer to keep him away from the tougher stuff. A pro like Kingsley makes Slattery a laugh riot in almost every scene after the reveal, and his performance and that swerve turn the character into one of IM3’s most pleasant surprises.
Who Would Win: Trevor would try to soothe The Hulk with a virtuoso performance, and then get squashed like a bug. – Andrew Bloom
04. Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) vs. Kingpin (Wilson Fisk)
Red in her ledger. It’s a simple enough phrase and concept, but it speaks volumes about who Black Widow is and what she’s about. Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) is an incredibly talented spy and assassin who can hang with rest of The Avengers despite being a mere mortal. But part of what makes Black Widow such a unique character is that she knows what the other side of the line is like, and she’s doing everything she can to make up for what happened when she was operating on that side of it.
A skilled yet understandably troubled graduate of the Russian Red Room program, Agent Romanoff knows how to fool the likes of Tony Stark, go toe-to-toe with an invading alien army, and even pull a fast one on Loki himself. She’s incredibly perceptive and clever, and the way she’s trying to move away from a dark past to a hopefully better tomorrow makes her the perfect foil for a “fossil” like Steve Rogers. Her talents, her amusing quips, and her scars make her one of the most distinctive and impressive heroes in the MCU.
Wilson Fisk likewise emerged from an abusive childhood, bearing scars of his own and also vowing to become something different. But Kingpin is much crueler, much more ruthless when it comes to achieving his goal of renewal for Hell’s Kitchen, which he intends to bring about by any means necessary.
And yet, Vincent D’onofrio imbues a certain vulnerability into a harsh character, showing that despite his power and strength, he is still very much the frightened kid who lived under his father’s yoke. The gruffness of the performance, balanced by the practiced sophistication of the man, makes for a wonderful contrast.
Like many great villains, Fisk believes that the choices he makes, the people he steps on, the sacrifices he makes, are all for the greater good. And the idea that he and Daredevil are trying to accomplish the same goal, but through very different methods, gives him a depth and clarity as a villain unlike any other, in New York City and beyond.
Who Would Win: Fisk is a surprisingly adept fighter, but Romanoff’s taken down baddies from other planets. Our vote goes to the Black Widow. –Andrew Bloom
03. Iron Man (Tony Stark) vs. Alexander Pierce
Here’s the man most directly responsible for the out-of-control success of the MCU. Let’s all throw a little love R.D.J.’s way, shall we? The almost freakishly gifted actor has so defined Tony Stark that it’s nearly impossible to imagine anyone else in the role, but back when Iron Man was just a twinkle in Marvel’s movie-making eye, he seemed like both a liability and a long shot. Thank god they worked it out, because Robert Downey Jr.’s irrepressible wit, dead-on timing, and serious acting chops (best displayed in Iron Man 3) make even the lukewarm Iron Man 2 worth watching. He’s great as Tony the playboy, even better as Tony the brilliant mechanic, and best as Tony, the living, breathing human being with a deep and unshakeable appreciation for human life.
He could have easily grabbed the top spot. From here on out, things get pretty right. As each Mark of the Iron Man suits gets more complex, Tony’s brilliance becomes a bigger and bigger force in the world, and yeah, he did accidentally create a supervillain, but the intentions behind that move were about as pure as they get. Tony wants a world where there’s no need for Avengers. He wants a safe planet, and that’s about as noble as it gets.
On the flip side, we’ve got Alexander Pierce, that son of a bitch. Standing in for basically all the HYDRA operatives within the US government, one of the best moves Marvel made in getting The Winter Soldier off the ground was casting Robert fucking Redford as the de facto Big Bad. Redford’s presence made Pierce’s duplicity feel like more than a betrayal of all the things our government is supposed to be and do, but of the audience itself. Redford, a bad guy? No, it can’t be. Take it back! I refuse to accept it!
For all Pierce’s posturing that creating a better world “sometimes means tearing the old one down,” there’s not a single moment where you get a sense that his motives (or HYDRA’s) are actually pure. This is just a snake in the grass, plain and simple. He corrupts that which seems incorruptible, breaks that which seems unbreakable, and almost takes down Romanoff, which is just not OK.
Who Would Win: Pierce might be powerful, but as we’ve already seen, Tony Stark doesn’t give two shits about anyone else’s authority. Stark in one. —Allison Shoemaker
02. Peggy Carter vs. Zebediah Kilgrave
When constructing a list like this one, sometimes you have to make sure you’re not playing favorites, and sometimes you have to say “fuck it” and follow your heart. Peggy Carter has, as my co-writer Andrew put it, “a Batman-like ability to win any fight she has time to prepare for.” Couple that with her unshakeable spirit, her devotion to justice and democracy, and her desire for a better world, and you’ve got an unstoppable force. We listened to our hearts on this one, but you know what? Our hearts were right.
Beyond all that, Peggy is just an honest-to-god badass. It’s apparent in The First Avenger, but becomes most clear in Agent Carter, the excellent ABC series that might-but-probably-won’t-but-really-should get renewed. Peggy’s habitually dismissed, insulted, and underestimated by her male colleagues, and she takes it in stride, even using it to her advantage when she turns double agent on Howard Stark’s behalf. Representation matters, and all the young girls who’ve gotten the chance to watch Peggy Carter shove that chauvinism right back in the faces of the lousy bros who dole it out is a big deal. Even if it weren’t, she’d still be our number two.
The moral of the story is: Watch Agent Carter. You deserve a treat.
If Peggy Carter is a triumphant beacon of light, Kilgrave’s the reason women carry their keys in their hands like a weapon. David Tennant’s terrifying performance is the single biggest reason that the first season of Jessica Jones was such a triumph. The Purple Man is plenty scary on paper, but on screen, he’s a goddamn nightmare. Controlling and manipulating Jessica and countless others just because he can, Kilgrave’s depravity runs so deep that he doesn’t understand that forcing someone to do something against their will isn’t suddenly OK because you’re not using mind control to do it. Jessica’s just a thing he thinks he deserves, and his need to possess her, by any means necessary, is some real monster-under-the-bed kind of shit.
He’d be really high on our list in any case, but what makes him our solid second slot (and a serious contender for the top — really, we went back and forth on this one) is the arc where he forces Jessica to live in her childhood home with him, all without mind control. He manipulates her, through fear and threats to the lives of others, into playing house with him, a pattern of abuse that doesn’t require a superpower to perpetrate. He’s not evil because of what he can do. He’s evil because of what he thinks he’s owed. That his abilities are as terrifying as any on this list is just the icing on top. How Tennant’s not getting Emmy buzz is utterly beyond me. It’s a towering, terrifying, devious performance, and by being that kind of bad, it’s also feminist as fuck.
Who Would Win: Kilgrave’s a nightmare, but I refuse to accept that Peggy Carter would let any man control her, mentally or otherwise. As a friend put it, “I’m sory, but I am physically incapable of accepting that Peggy Carter would lose any fight against a dude, especially that one.” —Allison Shoemaker
01. Captain America (Steve Rogers) vs. Loki
Someone as pure and good at heart as Steve Rogers should be dull. And yet his status as a man out of time laces his old-fashioned decency with a hint of tragedy, and Chris Evans’ performance brings out the humanity in the character, to where it’s hard to find his old-fashioned style of heroism anything but endearing.
What’s more, Cap is not simply a blind patriot, but someone who believes in the ideals of what his country stands for, not just in his country. That means he’s apt to question Nick Fury when he unveils S.H.I.E.L.D.’s mass surveillance plan, to fight against the Hydra turncoats who threaten to rule the world through pure control, or to simply fall on a grenade to save his comrades.
What makes Captain America the best hero in the MCU isn’t the super soldier serum, his vibranium shield, or his crusade against foul language; it’s who he is at his core — skinny kid from Brooklyn who was noble and heroic in his own way long before he had the physique to prove it.
Loki is, in some ways, Cap’s opposite, not simply because he’s bad in the ways that Steve is good, but because while Captain America stands for the pure unwavering conviction in what’s good and right, Loki is a man constantly in conflict with himself. He is a child of two worlds, born to people he was bred to hate, and raised by the people who stole him away. He loves his brother, but envies and resents him. And he yearns to be Asgard’s champion, but also its destroyer.
That constant wavering part of him makes him complex and fascinating, but Tom Hiddleston fills the character with a sinister charm that’s also made him a fan favorite. Hiddleston’s Loki oozes a certain nefarious panache with each devilish smirk and bit of dry wit he unleashes on friend and foe alike. Though most of his schemes lead to ignominious ends for the trickster god, he always has something up his sleeve, and his legions of fans can’t wait to find out what.
Who Would Win: Loki’s powers would likely give him the upper hand over even a super soldier, but we’re betting the ever-determined Cap finds a way to win regardless. –Andrew Bloom