"Most of it was encrypted. Not easy to decipher. But I have experience and patience. A man can do anything if he has those."
—Helmut Zemo, Captain America: Civil War
Films, by release date
- Thanos the Mad Titan, after the death of his home world, is obsessed with reducing the population of the universe to save it and prove himself right. Forming an army of fanatics, Thanos travels from world to world, killing off half of the population of each, while taking children to raise as new warriors in his army, including his favorite daughter Gamora. Seeking the Infinity Stones to wipe out half the universe in one snap of his fingers, Thanos tricks and traps the heroes, staying one step ahead to reclaim the stones, even sacrificing Gamora to claim the Soul Stone at one point even as it destroys him to do so. Attacking Wakanda, Thanos repeatedly shows brilliant and effective use of the Stones before completing his gauntlet and performing the snap, before destroying the stones to prevent his work from being undone. When his past self from 2014 arrives, he has his daughter Nebula infiltrate the heroes, posing as her future self to not repeat any failures, resolving to wipe out the universe and make a new, grateful one himself before engaging in the ultimate battle for the fate of all existence.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Alexander Pierce is the US Secretary of Defense, a member of the World Security Council, and a commanding member of HYDRA, who have evolved from a Nazi science Cult to a fascist conspiracy group dedicated to bringing about One World Order under their banner. Pierce had the Winter Soldier assassinate his old friend Nick Fury so Pierce can take control of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Project Insight, intending to use the project to massacre hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, who could stand in HYDRA's way. Along the way he frames Captain America as a rogue agent who has to go on the run, kills his fellow members of the World Security Council, and shoots his housekeeper just for walking in on a meeting he has with the Winter Soldier. And he does all of this with calm, affable composure towards his enemies, attempting to make them understand that Utopia Justifies the Means.
- Captain America: Civil War: Helmut Zemo proves his stripes as one of the greatest manipulators of the franchise. Overcome with grief over losing his family during the Avengers battle with Ultron, Zemo decides to enact vengeance against them. Knowing he is no match for them in strength, Zemo instead devises an intricate plan to break them up. Launching an attack on a UN conference, Zemo frames Bucky Barnes for the attack which starts a manhunt against him. After Bucky is captured, Zemo impersonates a UN interrogator to activate Bucky's Trigger Phrase which will put him under his control to give him information on the death of Tony Stark's parents. Finally, Zemo leaks this ruse to the media, counting on Tony Stark following Cap and Bucky to the Hydra compound in Siberia so he can accomplish his real plan: show Tony evidence that Bucky killed his parents, causing him to fly into a murderous rage and attack Bucky and Captain America, permanently fracturing the Avengers in a way they may never fully recover from. By the end, in spite of being captured by T'Challa, Zemo still accomplishes what he wanted and gracefully accepts his capture and even offers to let T'Challa kill him to avenge the death of his father. Zemo stands out in a world full of super-powered beings, aliens, sorcerers and cosmic entities with only his intelligence and able to cement himself as one of the work's most successful villain, being the man who broke the Avengers.
- Spiderman Homecoming: Adrian Toomes/Vulture was once a hard working man who made a living salvaging Chitauri technology from The Incident. After having his occupation taken by Damage Control, he became a career criminal, taking the moniker The Vulture, and turning what was left of his salvaging company into an underground arms dealership, that would steal said technology and sell it to criminals. Toomes made sure not to leave any evidence for government officials to track his operations, while also making sure they aren't too big so that the Avengers won't view them as a threat; This process worked great for Toomes and his criminal business lasted for eight years without any problems. However, when he does face a problem in Spider-Man he isn't afraid to fight Spider-Man himself on several occasions; Spider-Man barely manages to survive those encounters with him. He is also able to uncover Spider-Man's civilian identity, Peter Parker, simply by analyzing Peter's behavior, and finds an opportunity to intimidate Peter from interfering with his operations. When this fails he sends The Shocker to distract Peter and later fights him for the final time so he wouldn't foil Toomes' latest heist job. Although threatening to kill Peter and his loved ones, it's shown that Toomes greatly respects him, showing gratitude for saving his daughter's life, as well as his own, by not selling out his Secret Identity in prison, cementing Adrian Toomes as one of the most honorable, yet cunning foes in the films.
- The man once known as Alveus, upon Kree experimentation, was forever transformed into "Hive." Through sheer intellect and force of will, Hive drove the Kree from earth, rallying all The Inhumans to his side in the process, and though banished from earth by treacherous followers, Hive nonetheless laid the groundwork for the formation of HYDRA, the death cult organization that has haunted the world for centuries after. In the present, Hive manipulates himself back to earth with help from Gideon Malick, and immediately amasses a small following of Inhumans. Using Malick before murdering him once he outlives his usefulness, Hive stays one step ahead of S.H.I.E.L.D. throughout the series, even turning Daisy Johnson to his side and using her as a mole. Though driven temporarily insane, Hive is revealed to have exaggerated even this as a plot to be captured then use SHIELD's own devices to enact his final plan of turning a chunk of humanity into Inhumans so as to create a perfect, peaceful paradise. Hive's final moments are spent calmly reflecting that he truly wanted what was best for Inhumans, and dies realizing and admitting that perhaps humanity isn't as deserving of destruction as he once thought.
- Madame Gao is a leader of The Hand who works with Wilson Fisk, first coming into conflict with the Defenders through her heroin trade in New York City. A manipulator extraordinaire, Gao operates by gaining leverage on powerful figures, having deeply ingrained herself into Danny Rand's family company and uses it as a front for her drug trade. A charismatic leader, Gao's followers have unwavering loyalty to her, her drug factory workers having willingly blinded themselves as a sign of faith in her. Ever calm in the face of her enemies, Gao manipulates Danny and his friends when they capture her, manipulating them into doubting each other and mocks them by pretending to be under the effects of their truth serum.
- Daredevil (2015): Wilson Fisk runs a complex scheme to make himself the hero to Hell's Kitchen, all while bringing organized crime under his thumb for the supposed betterment of the city. Falling prey to his own insecurities and impulsivity, Fisk is defeated and imprisoned, but slowly rebuilds himself as more dangerous and clever than ever. Shedding his former flaws, Fisk becomes a force to be reckoned with, even arranging for the Punisher to dispose of his obstacles, outmanuevers and crushes all his opposition and arranges for his own release from prison under 'house arrest' where he still dominates organized crime as the true kingpin. Steadily manipulating others into his grasp, including the deadly FBI agent 'Dex' Pointdexer, he arranges for Dex to impersonate Daredevil on several murders as to frame him, all while rising even further and even getting his hooks into FBI agents. Even when defeated, he makes a deal with Daredevil for the safety of his beloved Vanessa and seals it with an honorable handshake, constantly showcasing himself as one of the most brilliant and skilled villains in all the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- Luke Cage: Hernán "Shades" Alvarez is a charismatic criminal of Harlem who during his time at Seagate Penitentiary ran a prison fight ring along with Comanche and a corrupt warden. Upon returning to Harlem, he became the Hyper-Competent Sidekick of the Stokes family, the most powerful crime family in Harlem, brokering deals for the family to gain high tech weaponry. Despite his loyalties, he has no problems turning against his masters when they turn against him, such as when he planned to kill Cottonmouth only to find Mariah Dillard committing the act which Shades helped her coverup by framing Luke Cage and Diamondback for the deed, killing any witnesses in the scenes, and successfully sending Luke back to prison. During that time Shades becomes enamored with Mariah helping her become the leader of her crime family with him as her lover, only to become horrified of her decision to massacre an entire restaurant full of innocents, so much so that he orchestrates her entire downfall by becoming an informant for the police. Always maintaining his cool and suave demeanor, Shades even accepts his final defeat with grace.