Only a handful have what it takes.
Warning: Full spoilers follow for Avengers: Endgame.
There’s a reason Marvel has started referring to the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as “The Infinity Saga.” Each of these 22 films has played a part in advancing an overarching story about Earth’s Mightiest Heroes banding together to stop Thanos from wreaking havoc on the universe. Even if Thanos himself only ever appeared in a handful of these movies, he was the catalyst that fueled the MCU for an entire decade.
Now that Avengers: Endgame has arrived and brought the Infinity Saga to a close, we have to wonder what villains could possibly fill that void. What Marvel characters are twisted enough, ambitious enough and fascinating enough to shape the next decade of the MCU in the way Thanos shaped the first? Here are a few worthy candidates.
Onslaught is the ultimate fusion of mutant power. This villain was created the day a grief-stricken Charles Xavier used his powers to wipe Magneto’s mind. At that moment, the darkest aspects of Magneto’s personality transferred into Xavier’s mind, merging with Xavier’s own dark side and spawning a psychic demon of incredible power. By the time Onslaught took physical form, it had evolved into a being so powerful it took the combined might of the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers to stop it.
Onslaught certainly has the power to take on the many heroes of the MCU. And given that the X-Men will finally be making their MCU debut in the years to come, it seems only fitting to frame the next decade of movies around a mutant villain this time. The movies will need a certain amount of setup and world-building to make Onslaught happen, but the comics already offer a blueprint. The Onslaught saga played out over the course of many months. Early on, the X-Men heard only hushed whispers of a new mutant threat, one powerful enough to literally punch Juggernaut across the country. That buildup culminated in an epic showdown between Marvel’s heroes and this seemingly unstoppable foe.
We’d hope to see the MCU make some adjustments to this villain, including giving Onslaught a more defined personality and deeper motivations than seen in the comics. But the potential for a worthy Thanos successor is certainly there.
We’ve now seen two incarnations of Doctor Doom in live-action (three if you count Roger Corman’s unreleased Fantastic Four movie), and none of them do justice to the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe. The only way to make up for this Doom drought is to put the character at the forefront of the MCU.
Doom will always be a Fantastic Four villain first and foremost. His unique mixture of loathing and love for the Richards family will always ensure that much. However, Doom has a pretty strong track record antagonizing other Marvel heroes. Arguably his crowning achievement as a villain came in 2015’s Secret Wars. When the Marvel multiverse was obliterated, Doom created a realm known as Battleworld and ruled over it as God Emperor. That’s the thing about Doom. He may not be as inherently powerful as someone like Thanos, but his boundless ambition and thirst for glory have often elevated him to become one of the most powerful beings in existence. Like Thanos, Doom is a mighty villain whose only vulnerability is his profoundly damaged psyche.
We’d love to see an adaptation of Secret Wars serve as the end point for the next decade of Marvel movies. And with Spider-Man: Far From Home apparently introducing the concept of the multiverse, we may be one step closer to that story becoming a reality on the big screen.
Many fans speculated the MCU would pivot to an adaptation of Secret Invasion after Endgame. That story hinges on the reveal that many of Earth’s heroes and political figures have been secretly replaced by Skrull impostors. This deception is aimed at ushering in a massive Skrull invasion of Earth, even as the Avengers themselves are paralyzed by the question of whether they can trust their own allies.
As much as we’d love to see the MCU build toward an adaptation of either Secret Invasion or The Kree-Skrull War, neither option seems terribly likely given the events of Captain Marvel. That movie established the Skrulls as the innocent victims of the Kree Empire’s never-ending war of conquest and expansion. It’s possible not all Skrulls are as benevolent as Talos and his family, but the MCU definitely hasn’t painted the Skrulls as the threat they are in the comics.
That doesn’t mean the Kree can’t serve as major antagonists in Phase 4. Earth has finally been awakened to the existence of alien life. The fact that a team of Earthlings stopped Thanos and saved the universe is bound to attract attention of the good and bad variety, not to mention that the more enemies Captain Marvel makes in her intergalactic peacekeeping missions, the more she paints a target on the back of her homeworld. We could see the Kree Supreme Intelligence deciding to make Earth the next target in the Empire’s expansion plans, and it’s going to take more than one team of Avengers to stave off the biggest military in the known universe.
Apocalypse is an obvious candidate for a major MCU villain. He’s among the most powerful mutants on Earth, and he’s been known to tussle with other heroes as well. We certainly wouldn’t say no to a movie based on the Age of Apocalypse crossover.
That being said, Apocalypse was handled pretty recently (and poorly) in 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Marvel Studios might consider this villain to be damaged goods right now. Even if not, Marvel’s choice of villains so far in the Spider-Man movies suggests they’re more keen on using bad guys who haven’t already been featured in past movies. So if not Apocalypse, then why not the one mutant villain even older than he? Maybe Selene is the best option for the MCU.
Selene is a millennia-old mutant vampire who feeds on the psychic life force of others. This has allowed her to survive into the present and makes her a nearly unstoppable foe when powered up. She’s battled the X-Men both on her own and as a member of the Hellfire Club. Given her connections to the supernatural realm, she’s a villain with a unique ability to unite the X-Men, Avengers and Doctor Strange in one massive conflict. The MCU could even do its own take on the Necrosha crossover, where Selene resurrects dead mutants in an attempt to turn herself into a goddess. That could be a way of bringing back dead fan-favorite heroes as zombies.
Selene’s backstory also allows for some interesting possibilities in terms of exploring the prehistoric past of the MCU. She actually has tangential ties to Conan the Barbarian! Should Marvel Studios ever gain the rights to the Conan franchise (as Marvel Comics recently did), Selene would be the perfect villain for a Conan/Avengers team-up movie.
Kang the Conqueror
This powerful villain is infamous for having weaponized time itself. He freely travels between past and future and manipulates the course of human history for his own ends. He ruled in ancient Egypt as a god, and he lords over the distant future as an all-powerful tyrant. And no matter how many times Kang is defeated and seemingly killed, his mastery of time means there’s always another version of him ready to strike the Avengers when they least expect him.
The events of Endgame could easily serve as the catalyst for Kang’s debut. Perhaps Endgame serves as his origin story. When a young Kang sees how the Avengers were able to manipulate time in order to achieve an impossible goal, he’s inspired to do the same. Or maybe Kang has always been lurking behind the scenes in the MCU, and the Avengers’ actions make him feel threatened enough to finally reveal himself. It could be that the events of Endgame leave time itself broken, leaving Kang an opening to work his mischief on an even grander scale.
Kang makes sense as an overarching mastermind villain given his connections to various Marvel franchises. He has ties to the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Inhumans and X-Men. And given all the evidence that Marvel is slowly building up to the debut of the Young Avengers, Kang would be a perfect nemesis for that team. For more on how Endgame subtly sets up Kang the Conqueror, head here.
For more on Avengers, read our Endgame review, learn about the post-credits scene in Endgame, or let us explain the Endgame ending for you! Dig into Gamora’s dead or alive status in Endgame. And is Black Widow really dead? We explain here. Check out all the Endgame Easter Eggs we found, read up on our biggest Avengers Endgame questions, or ponder Endgame’s time travel rules.