The Worst Characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ranked – Esquire

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You already know that the Avengers would be better off without Hawkeye and Star-Lord. We made a couple more cuts.
Here’s some knowledge for you: There are over 700 characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s your entire high school. Maybe double. Imagine that. A whole damn school full of superpowered people and their un-superpowered friends. Wasn’t that a Disney Channel movie with Nicholas Braun in it? Sky High, anyone?
Like any school, there are a few good eggs in the MCU. Wanda Maximoff, T’Challa, Spider-Man, Thor. Definitely Thor. But there are far, far more assholes running around. We’re talking villains (most of the Marvel villains, if we’re being honest—except for you, Kathryn Hahn, we love you) and OG Avengers. Since we’re in a rare superhero lull—stuck somewhere between The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki—we took it upon ourselves to sift through every character in Marvel’s 13-year history. Our goal? Find the worst of the worst. Then? Rank them. Here we go.

Of the three iterations of Groot we see in the MCU, the OG middle-aged Groot is the biggest drag. Sure, this Groot gives up his life to save his frens. But he doesn’t even register on the Baby Yoda Cuteness Scale, like his tiny counterpart, Baby Groot. Nor does he have the endlessly entertaining sass of Teenage Groot. This Groot is just kind of Vin Diesel making weird noises through a microphone.B.L.
Wow, what a real dummy. Rebecca Hall deserved better when she was cast as Maya Jensen, a Tony Stark one-night-stand whose scientific prowess helped give way to Extremis and Aldrich Killian’s plan to arm super-soldiers to take over the U.S. Not only is her presence in the movie an unnecessary hurtle for Iron Man to cross, but she makes matters worse most of the time. She died a dumb, inconsequential death, too. In short, Iron Man 3 probably couldn’t have skated in under two hours if we had just edited Maya out.—J.K.
Before you rage: Think about antagonists—if you can even call them that—like Erik Killmonger and John Walker. Those guys have legit reasons to mess with our heroes! A good Marvel villain should have you scratching your head, wondering how evil they actually are. Thanos… is not that kind of villain. His first few cameos feature him grumbling about doing it himself, whatever that means. His Infitnity War and Engdame arcs? Thanos is mostly choking Avengers out and rambling about how inevitable he is. If you find a villain who has a hankering for mass genocide sympathetic, you might have a problem.—B.L.
This is, understandably, a controversial addition, but hear us out: Captain America is the most boring of the Avengers. It’s just the truth. What has made this 21st century wave of Marvel films so interesting is that, in essence, Marvel is a story about a group of antiheroes who have to earn their goodness and struggle with the ramifications of it. The closest we’ve gotten to that with Cap in the MCU is his own reckoning in Captain America: Civil War, but still, he’s nothing more than a hunky bag of grade-A American meat more likely to say “golly whiz!” than he is to have a moral dilemma. Even his dedication to Bucky is noble at its core. He’s plenty fine for propaganda material, but as a character, he’s flat.—J.K.
To be fair, our flag-smashing friend Karli Morgenthau might’ve drawn the short end of the stick that was a major rewrite on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s script. But Karli, my friend. Why are you here? Who invited you to this superserum-shooting party? The leader of the Flag-Smashers is a drunken mess of motivations: The government’s against her, she hates Sam Wilson, kind of, and also John Walker, plus she needs some supplies… but they all killed Mama Donya! Yes, Mama Donya. How about Mama Donya? Mama Donya Mama Donya Mama Donya. Mama Donya saved my goddamn life, you know. Probably yours too! Can we get a number on how many times Morgenthau says Mama Donya this season?—B.L.
Sure, every high school has its glowed-up rich dweeb who thinks they’re funnier than they actually are. It’s life! I don’t blame the Spider-Man writers for making the MCU Flash Thompson (usually a roided-out bully) that guy. I blame them for dialing Flash’s smarminess up to a 13. This bro’s obsession with Spider-Man is more than a little weird. And the quips! The quips. Just… read: “Yo, Parker! This is called an airplane. It’s like the buses you’re used to, except that it flies over the poor neighborhoods instead of driving through them.” Here’s hoping that, in No Way Home, Flash falls through one of Doctor Strange’s portals and never comes back.—B.L.
To be fair Bill Maher only appeared in an Iron Man 3 deleted scene, so that’s why he’s not ranked higher. But he deserves to be on this list if only because a few years after he filmed a scene for a comic book movie, Maher critiqued comic book culture in the wake of Stan Lee’s death: “I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to suggest that Donald Trump could only get elected in a country that thinks comic books are important.” Awful take, my guy! Maybe he was just bitter they cut his scene?—M.M.
What a big, genocidal silly boy. Ultron made a worthy enough villain in the second Avengers movie, and sure, he gave way to Vision, but there’s also a lot of stupid stuff about Ultron that makes him a disappointment. It’s important to remember that this whole Avengers film and the mass death that came from it was all, pretty much, due to shitty oversight from Tony Stark. Perhaps Ultron was necessary to have a conduit to do unspeakable things, but I also feel like we could have streamlined this and put Wanda and Quicksilver in the role of Baddest in Town. At the end of the day, Ultron is a pissed off Alexa who got too big for his vibranium britches.—J.K.
Apparently, I’m the only editor at Esquire who doesn’t hate Iron Man 3. It’s a holiday movie! How can you hate a holiday movie? There’s some quietly brilliant commentary on living with PTSD. Tony Stark even makes a little friend who shows up at his funeral in Endgame. Aww. But casting Sir Ben Kingsley as a struggling actor pretending to be the Mandarin—an iconic Marvel villain—was a waste of Sir Ben Kingsley. Someday, Feige will run out of legendary actors to put in his movies. On that day, he will regret casting Kinglsey as a pawn in a meh-feeling plot twist.—B.L.
You know which villains are the worst? The ones with bosses. You can’t take a neon-blue alien like Ronan the Accuser too seriously when he’s cowering and whimpering at Thanos’s feet. Also: Who is Ronan accusing? What is he accusing this person (people) of? Help.—B.L.
At the time, it probably seemed like a good idea. Cast Mickey Rourke—who was smack in the middle of a career resurgence, fresh off an Oscar nomination for The Wrestler—as the villain in the mega-anticipated Iron Man sequel. Something went wrong. Marvel gave him electric whips, too many tattoos, and the vibes of a Spider-Man 3 villain. Add Elon Musk and Bill O’Reilly to that mess, and you have a full-blown dumpster fire. We’ll get to those other two winners soon.—B.L.
Even sacrificing his own life doesn’t redeem Tony Stark for his repeated homophobic jokes, constant womanizing, and just general dickishness. This is the guy who profited off of war, then took part in global destruction to prevent war, then profited off of the reconstruction from his own collateral damage. Why are we idolizing this guy?! Why is he positioned as a hero? Let’s also not forget that he is responsible for directly creating most of the conflicts and/or villains throughout the MCU. Plus, his facial hair is awful.—M.M.
I could tell you how uninspiring Captain America: The First Avenger villain Red Skull is. Or I could let Hugo Weaving—who played Red Skull in The First Avenger, but didn’t reprise him for Avengers: Endgame—say it. “I actually found negotiating with [Marvel] through my agent impossible,” Weaving told Time Out of why he didn’t show up in Endgame. “And I didn’t really wanna do it that much. But I would have done it.” Encouraging!—B.L.
Star-Lord isn’t even the best member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s just sci-fi Andy Dwyer and every other “Worst Chris” character. But he likes ’80s music! Let’s not forget that it’s also his fault the Avengers lose in Infinity War. M.M.
Do you remember what a Malekith is? Neither do we!—M.M.
Listen, I don’t care that WandaVision’s whole pin-the-tail-on-the-Pietro thing was one giant fakeout. But I do care that several episodes of teasing the MCU’s blooming multerverse was all building up to a dick joke. A dick joke! This is the media franchise that hardly shows its characters kissing, and a dick joke ended up being a major plot point. C’mon.—B.L.
The meta joke that Elon Musk wishes he was Tony Stark would be funny if the biggest problem with Elon Musk wasn’t that he wishes he was Tony Stark.—M.M.
WandaVision’s Tyler Hayward is the prototypical MCU villain. Instantly forgettable, but as soon as you’re reminded that he existed somewhere in the annals of this billion-dollar superhero empire, you say, “That guy! I hate that guy!” But you can’t remember why. Let me remind you. Hayward is the government big bad whose answer to infiltrating Wanda’s Hex was, “LET’S DRIVE A TRUCK THROUGH IT!” Sure, Hayward represents peak IRL, Trump-era government incompetence. If anything, that moves Hayward even higher up in these rankings.—B.L.
The problem with Hawkeye isn’t that he has no powers. It’s that his only talent, bow and arrows, is his only real defining character trait. I dare you to tell me anything interesting about Hawkeye besides the fact that his repeated dumb decisions constantly make things slightly more difficult for the actual heroes around him. In fact, the only time he can do something useful—sacrifice himself to save the universe and let Black Widow live—he fucks that up too. Don’t give this guy a Disney+ show. I’d rather watch a series about the Jeremy Renner dating app.M.M.
Oh I’m sorry, were you enjoying the escape of a comic book movie? Here’s Bill fucking O’Reilly spewing some bullshit to ruin your vibe. O’Reilly makes two points in his brief MCU appearance—the worst 22 seconds in the whole goddamn franchise: First he’s critical of Tony Stark having so much power to protect America. And this is truly the opposite of what O’Reilly would ever believe. One straight white man with limitless firepower and the ability to act without government oversight to vanquish the state’s enemies? That’s an O’Reilly wet dream. His second point is pure O’Reilly when he expresses doubt and criticism of a woman being a CEO. That tracks. Just don’t put his sexist bullshit in my Marvel movies, thanks.—M.M.

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