An antagonist can be classed on three orthogonal parameters:
- How much danger they, or their plans, pose.
- How effective they are.
- How much the audience is supposed to hate them.
This is a method of quantifying the first one.
Superman is locked in a battle with Lex Luthor, who is threatening to melt the polar icecaps and flood the world. Meanwhile, in Gotham, the Joker is going to gas the city. Meanwhile again in space, the Green Lantern is getting ready to defend against the invading Sinestro Corps. All of these examples have villains that are exhibiting differing levels of threat.
You can class various villains on tiers of the type of threat they present to the world and the heroes. The Sorting Algorithm of Evil will usually ensure that the hero's successive opponents will each be higher on the scale than the last, but, due to the SAoE's caring about effectiveness as well as scope, not always. In general, the hero will also have the same potential for destruction as his villains, but usually is slightly below them, because underdogs are more relatable. Having a wild range of villains may help avoid causing a feeling that The World Is Always Doomed because Evil Only Has to Win Once. Having a hero with a Story-Breaker Power usually upsets this dynamic, or forces a jump in villain up the scale.
Most series that lean towards the realistic side of the scale do not venture beyond villains that are Planetary Threats, as villains that are Stellar Threats and above tends to put a lot of pressure on Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Shifting too far up the scale, especially over a short period of time, is an easy way to Jump the Shark.
When talking about some villains, this is very much related to how much they can abuse the Kardashev Scale for death and maiming. Contrast with Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness, when you're talking about the audience's reaction to a character rather than the threat they represent, and Sliding Scale of Villain Effectiveness when talking about how well they succeed.
- Local Area Threat: The villain poses significant harm to a single person or small group of persons or a localized area.
- Examples: Most Red Dwarf villains, most serial killers from slasher movies, any normal person severely pissed off, most comic book Bad Ass Normals, the average vampire who doesn't refrain from drinking human blood, Dr. Facilier (although he slips into a city threat by offering the souls of New Orleans to his "friends"), the more mundane Disney villains (such as Cruella de Vil and Gaston) and the not so mundane but violently petty ones (like the Queen and Maleficent), 24's first-season villains (Ira Gaines, the Drazens. Then again, killing David Palmer could trigger significant civil unrest), Joe Chill, Catwoman, Mad Hatter, Deadshot, Penguin, Man-Bat, Black Mask, The Diesels and Spencer, the Zed Stacks, the Pirates, and Johnny Cuba, Chameleon, Electro, Bullseye, the Scorpion, the Kingpin, the Vulture, the Green Goblin, GLaDOS, the Wizard of Yendor, the various Terminators, the Linear Guild, Satan in Judaism, the Trio, Holtz, Spike, The XPs, most villains from the first season of Bleach, Thrax, and David from Animorphs.
- City Threat: Villain possesses capabilities to do significant damage to or destroy a city.
- Examples: Diego del Torro in 1701 A.D.: The Sunken Dragon, a typical Non-Malicious Monster (mitigated by the fact that, unless hungry, will never strike first and their True Neutral alignment, but increased due to their raw destructive power and being hard to kill), The Joker, Riddler, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Captain Cold, Demona, Doctor Light, Parasite, the Fearsome Five, Doctor Octopus, Baron Blood, Deathstroke the Terminator, Rita Repulsa, some of Captain Planet's Rogues Gallery, most The Powerpuff Girls villains, Team Rocket, the alien ship from SimCity, and bad guys from Sin City could also count for that matter, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman (although sometimes a Planetary Threat as well), Syed Ali, Vladimir Bierko, Samir, the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart until its change of management, most Touhou "villains", the Enclave, the Disney version of Frollo, The Others and Martin Keamy's mercenaries, Yoshikage Kira.
- Regional Threat: Villain wields the capacity to be a significant threat to a part of a continent or landmass.
- State/Province Threat: Villain can wreak enough damage to destroy or otherwise defeat a large group of cities.
- National Threat: Villain can destroy a country or take it over and turn it into a Crapsack World. The path to Diabolical Mastermind tends to end here, but not always.
- Examples: Lex Luthor, Devimon and Etemon, Littlefinger and Varys, Morgan le Fay, Shendu and his Demon brethren, Gorilla Grodd, the Mandarin, Bowser (before Super Mario Sunshine), Ganondorf, King K. Rool, Phobos, Godzilla and most other Kaiju, Kotomine Kirei in the Fate route, the Sennites, many Disney villains such as Jafar, Professor Ratigan, Ursula, Scar, and Shan Yu, the Horde and the Alliance in each others' eyes, often other countries in both fiction and real life, Satsuki Kiryuin and the Elite Four, Diavolo.
- Continental Threat: Villain has the capabilities to destroy or take over an entire continent or even an entire landmass, with the ability to turn it into a Crapsack World.
- Planetary Threat: Villain poses significant threat to the world at large, up to and including world domination and/or Earth-Shattering Kaboom. In worst case scenario, is an Omnicidal Maniac. Usually via large army, colossal superpowers, or a Doomsday Device. Evil Overlord tends to describe them. A fictional Emperor is likely to be portrayed as a villain of at least this threat level. At this point, you should start checking out Apocalypse How.
- Examples: Rau Le Creuset, Light Yagami, Vandal Savage, Amazo, Brainiac, Doctor Destiny, General Zod, Doomsday, Bizarro, Ra's al Ghul, Achilles de Flandres, Syndrome, Myotismon and the Dark Masters, Majora's Mask, Darkrai, Doctor Doom, Apocalypse, Kang the Conqueror, Ultron, Red Skull, the Homunculi, the Millennium Earl, Loki, Morgoth and Sauron, Johan, the Cybermen, Mother Brain, Ridley and the Space Pirates, the Black Hole army, Giygas, most major Nasuverse villains, Lavos, Red Falcon, the Doctor, Team Aqua and Team Magma, most Final Fantasy villains, the Gyaos in the 90s Gamera trilogy, Trudy and Nega-Nick, Utsuho, possibly Flandre Scarlet, if she isn't lying, Yukari Yakumo, Kotomine Kirei in the Heaven's Feel route, Gilgamesh in Unlimited Blade Works, SEELE, Xykon and the Snarl, Cthulhu, the Brotherhood of Nod and the Scrin, the Fallen Lords, most of the Big Bads of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jasmine, Dark Danny (albeit only implied), SHODAN, Satan in Christianity and Islam, the D-Reaper, the Man in Black, the Deathlords, Weil, Omega, the Guardians, the Fire Nation, Unalaq and Vaatu, Adam Monroe, the Twilight's Hammer, Visser Three from Animorphs, Commander Tartar, Doctor Robotnik, The Titans and Protogenoi, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Kars, DIO, Funny Valentine, the Kiryuin Conglomerate, the Life Fibers, Lordgenome, Corset, The Endbringers.
- Stellar Threat: Forces able to credibly threaten an entire solar system up to even an entire star cluster, but probably not able to dominate a galaxy. Galactic Conqueror starts here.
- Examples: Dr. Eggman/Robotnik, who has actually conquered an alien planet and used its inhabitants as energy, all major races in Star Trek (Borg, Dominion, Klingons, Romulans, UFP, etc), The Saiyans and the Ginyu Force, the younger races in Babylon 5, the Cylons, the Combine, the Zerg, Ka Anor,Felix and Locus from season 11-13 of Red vs. Blue, the People's Republic of Haven, the Ur-Quan Kzer-Za and Kohr-Ah, the Tau Empire and the ancient Eldar and Dark Eldar from Warhammer 40,000, King Ghidorah and Hedorah (Showa version), the Phfor Empire and Notorious Mental, The Successor States, the Clans and the Word of Blake, the Suul'ka Horde, Andross, the Union of Allied Planets, Grand Admiral Thrawn and the other post-Palpatine Imperial warlords of the Star Wars Expanded Universe usually blurred the line between this and Galactic Threat: their ambition was usually galactic, but aside from Ysanne Isard, Thrawn himself, the Emperor Reborn and perhaps at a stretch Warlord Zsinj they rarely had a credible chance of reconquering the galaxy, and by Admiral Pellaeon's time the Empire falls squarely into this territory, the Yevetha, the Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders and most other non-Sith antagonists in the Star Wars EU also fall somewhere in this category, Atomsk.
- Galactic Threat: The Villain has the capability to destroy or control the best part of the galaxy. Galactic Conquerors are this threat level.
- Examples: Emperor Palpatine, most other Sith Lords, the Yuuzhan Vong, The Borg (again), Species 8472, First Ones, Despero, the Fremen, the Skrull Empire, Sinestro, Parallax, most of the non-Heartless Kingdom Hearts villains (sort of), Purge, the Sailor Moon villains, Frieza and Cell, the Dalek Empire, Trigon the Terrible, any major villain group in the Stargate-verse, the Bacterions, the Reapers, the Decepticons, the Highbreed and the DN Aliens, the Governance de Magi, several races from Warhammer 40,000 (the Necrons, the Tyranids, the unending tides of Chaos, the Orks, and, hell, the Imperium of Man itself), the Blight, the Excession, the Empire, Foundation, Second Foundation, Gaia, Boskone, the W'rkncacnter (low-level estimate), The Covenant, Aku, Lord Dominator and Lord Hater, the Solarian League and the Mesan Alignment (at least for the known galaxy from humanity's point of view).
- Universal Threat: Villain can conquer the universe, or even cause The End of the World as We Know It — all of creation blinked out or ground beneath an iron boot. Dimension Lords are this threat level.
- Examples: many Eldritch Abominations, Isaac Ray Peram Westcott, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Darkseid, Glory, Galactus, Thanos when in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet, Majin Buu, Baby and Omega Shenron, Apocalymon and Millenniumon, Exdeath, Nerissa, United Alliance of Evil, The Master, the Ten Wise Men/Luther, the Anti-Spiral Collective, (only at this level because it is uninterested in other realities. Power-wise, it can reach up to Multidimensional levels), Bowser in Super Mario Galaxy note King Boo as of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, the Xeelee and Photino birds, The Flood, The Zerg (again), Deathborn, Cyrus, The Seer from Kid Radd, the Krikkits, U-DO, the Gnosis, the planet Meteo, potentially Alma Wade if she gets around to it, Senna Wales from Everworld, Haruhi Suzumiya if she ever finds out about her powers, Azrael, Yawgmoth (while his creation Phyrexia steps into Multiuniversal), Weeping Angels when given something big enough to feed on, The Titans, the Balorean Crusade, The X Parasites, Walternate in Fringe, Kriemhild Gretchen from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Enrico Pucci, Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the monsters from Evolve (though they initially appear to simply be on the Planetary scale), Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War.
- Multiversal Threat: Just to one up those small-timers above, these guys won't stop at a single universe; they'll cross time and space to either take control over or just smash the entire Multiverse to pieces. See Multiversal Conqueror.
- Examples: Dr. Eggman again, not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES, The Anti-Monitor, Ch'rell/Shredder, Galactouse, Abraxas, the Dark One, Kaiser Ephes, Dark Brain, The Edel Bernal, Gaioh, Euzeth Gozzo, Noein, BKR, Davros and the Daleks (in the series 4 finale of the new series), the Authority in His Dark Materials, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Version 2.0 in Mostly Harmless, Unicron (somewhere between this and the above; he's a multiversal being that devours realities one universe at a time), Count Bleck and Dimentio in Super Paper Mario, Brand, the Heartless, Professor Calamitous in the Nicktoons Unite! series (not so much in his source material), Pandemonium in General Protection Fault, Mary Sues, the League of Mary Sue Factories and the Enforcers of the Plot Continuum, most villains in Digimon (notably the Final Boss), Baal, the Mortiverse and Pun-pun from D&D 3.5, the Lone Power, The Guardian of Forever, Luther Lansfeld, Father Balder inside Jubileus from Bayonetta, the Kromaggs, Rovagug the Rough Beast, Azathoth, Judge Death and the Dark Judges, the Time Lords (pre-time lock), the Silence of Doctor Who, Lord Vyce and the Entity, the Neverborn, the Nephandi as whole, especially the Aswadim, Nicol Bolas as well as Phyrexia (assuming each plane counts as a universe), The Outsiders, Nyarlathotep (it has been said but never shown on-screen as being true or false), Lord English and Jack Noir from Homestuck, the Mega Bug from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Hyness and Void Termina from Kirby Star Allies, The Machine and First People from Fringe (although it was an unintended side effect, and is resolved in two episodes), all the high ranked witches from Umineko: When They Cry, such as Bernkastel and Lambdadelta, The Burning Legion and the Iron Horde, The Mad Mind of Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars (who may not be able to do this alone, but the blowback of his clash with his benign alter-ego Vanamonde might well "ring down the curtain on Creation" when and if it happens), the Combine, Galeem and Dharkon.
- Subverted in The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, where even though Maou first arrived to Earth from Ente Isla with the goal of conquering it, he soon found that he was happy enough just working at the local MgRonald's.
- Omniversal Threat: Just to go even further than those small fries above, these villains will not stop at a single Multiverse, but they will cross all of reality to take over or simply destroy the totality of The Verse/Series Franchise (if said totality exists beyond a Multiverse), taking control over or obliterating all alternate dimensions, planes of existence, parallel universes, possible universes, timelines, alternate continuities, realities, and Multiverses within said totality.
- Examples: The Crimson King in The Dark Tower, Featherine Augustus Aurora, the Decreator, Azathoth, Bartleby and Loki from Dogma, Deadpool in Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Goku Black and Zamasu, Spider-Carnage from Spiderman The Animated Series (who actually succeeds at destroying the entirety of reality, it's only because of Beyonder returned back in time that the heroes can stop it).
See also Super Weight, which is more about measuring characters (including villains) in terms of raw power.