The MVP of the MCU: The Marvel Villain Problem of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

I am a fan of the superhero film genre.  I love (for the most part) the Marvel films.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe films have taken the genre to new heights.  But there is one prevailing problem in the MCU.  It is the MVP of the MCU: the Marvel Villain Problem.

(Spoilers if you have not seen any or all of the MCU films)

To boil it right down, the Marvel Villain Problem is this: they kill off the villain at the end of nearly every film.  You may not have thought about it given we are now 18 films in with the release of Black Panther but it is true.  Nearly every film in the MCU features the death of the main villain (and sometimes the secondary villain as well).  Here’s the list of MCU films and the fate of each main villain:

1.) Iron Man

Main Villain: Obadiah Stane. Status: Killed at the end of the film

2.) The Incredible Hulk

Main Villain: Emil Blonsky (Abomination).  Status: Alive, beaten and left with the army

3.) Iron Man 2

Main Villain: Ivan Vanko (Whiplash).  Status: Killed at the end of film

4.) Thor

Main Villain: Loki.  Status: Presumed dead but is still alive

5.) Captain America: The First Avenger

Main Villain: Red Skull.  Status: Killed at the end of the film

6.) The Avengers

Main Villain: Loki.  Status: Alive and in prison on Asgard

7.) Iron Man 3

Main Villain: Aldrich Killian.  Status: Killed at the end of the film

(One could argue that the Mandarin was also a main villain but they made that story to be that it wasn’t the real one but an actor so don’t know you could include that as a main villain)

8.) Thor: The Dark World

Main Villain: Malekith.  Status: Killed at the end of the film

9.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Main Villains: Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier), Alexander Pierce.  Status: Barnes – Alive and in hiding. Pierce – Killed at the end of the film

10.) Guardians of the Galaxy

Main Villain: Ronan.  Status: Killed at the end of the film

(One could argue Thanos as a main villain but he didn’t have that big a role in this one. That one is being saved for Avengers: Infinity War.)

11.) Avengers: Age of Ultron

Main Villain: Ultron.  Status: Killed (?) at the end of the film

(Ultron is a robot so the AI could still be out there but in the film, all of his bodies that he used were destroyed)

12.) Ant-Man

Main Villain:  Darren Cross/Yellowjacket.  Status: Killed at the end of the film

13.) Captain America: Civil War

Main Villain: Helmut Zemo.  Status: Alive and in custody (but not before he attempted suicide) at the end of the film

(a secondary villain (Crossbones) was killed early in the film)

14.) Doctor Strange

Main Villains: Kaecilius, Dormammu.  Status: Alive (?) in the Dark Dimension

(We know Dormammu is still alive, Kaecilius may be there as well as he was drawn into the dimension)

15.) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Main Villain: Ego.  Status: Killed at the end of the film

16.) Spider-Man: Homecoming

Main Villain: Adrian Toomes (Vulture).  Status: Alive and in prison at the end of the film

17.) Thor: Ragnarok

Main Villain: Hela.  Status: Killed at the end of the film

18.) Black Panther

Main Villain: Erik Stevens (N’Jadaka/Killmonger).  Status: Killed at the end of the film

(A secondary villain Ulysses Klaue is also killed in the film)


After going through these films, we have to take into account that one “main villain” is not a villain anymore.  So through 18 films, here is the list of villains still alive in the MCU: Abomination, Loki, Helmut Zero, Dormammu, Kaecilius, Vulture.  We also have Thanos (who will be the main villain in Avengers: Infinity War) Mordo (who will more than likely be the main villain in the sequel to Doctor Strange).  But in 18 films there are only 7 films where the main villain is alive at the end.  But that number is skewed because Loki is the main villain in 2 of those and another of those (Bucky Barnes) is now a hero in the MCU.  So if you throw out Barnes, it’s only 6 films (since Pierce died in Winter Solder).

So why is this a problem? Well for one, you drain the number of great villains from the comics.  Especially when you kill off great villains (Red Skull, Hela, Killmonger, Ultron) but even just villains that could develop into more if given longer opportunities (Stane, Crossbones, Ronan).  Now we don’t know what the plans are post Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel.  But unless they retcon at some point (which I don’t think that’s what Kevin Feige will do) there will come a point when they won’t have any strong villains left if they keep killing them off.  Or at least not enough to pose a viable threat to the Avengers post Infinity War.

Then again, Marvel may not feel like having another big team up film again.  But it is too bad we won’t ever see a huge villain team up film to oppose the Avengers (ala a Marvel version of the Legion of Doom).

One thought on “The MVP of the MCU: The Marvel Villain Problem of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

  1. Nice title!
    I think it’s not so much a problem that they kill the villains, but what matters more is that the villains don’t get nearly as much screentime as they deserve. While I love every second they spend with the hero, and, for this reason, choosing a favourite MCU hero for me is probably the hardest decision I could ever make, it really harms the potential of the villains.

    I think Marvel has recognized this problem and has begun to fix it, because Phase 3 has had some really good villains. Zemo from Civil War, Vulture from Homecoming, Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, and, (from what I’ve heard), Killmonger and Klaue from Black Panther, have all been pretty good.
    Taking Ego as an example, I say it’s very much possible to make a villain last only one movie but still be compelling, but I’d prefer it if it happens rarely, since you can pretty much predict, at this point, that the villain is probably going to end up dying. This ruins the tension.

    If Marvel only allows the villains to have some more screen time and gives the audience a chance to connect with them as well as with the heroes, I think this problem can be easily solved.

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