10 Best cosmic Marvel villains of all time

From Thanos to Venom, Marvel's list of best cosmic villains is a tough one to get onto. After all, space is a big place and in the Marvel Universe, it’s full of diabolical evil. From one-man armies such as the aforementioned Thanos and or the twisted Magus to devious races such as the Skrull, they are all so big a threat, the term “supervillain” seems insufficient.

With blockbuster films such as Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame bringing Marvel’s biggest cosmic badass Thanos to the big screen, and the Infinity Wars Prime arc carrying those themes to comics, we’re looking at the best Marvel cosmic villains of all time.

10. The Brood

(Image credit: Marvel)

Nasty. There’s no other way to put it – these parasitic aliens are arguably the creepiest of all Marvel villains, and that’s something. Created by Dave Cockrum and Chris Claremont to originally be henchmen for another villain, they grew quickly to become their own unique kind of threat to the X-Men, as well as Iron Man, Ghost Rider, Ms. Marvel.

Marvel’s Brood evolved many of the characteristics of the xenomorphs from the Alien movie franchise, but they’ve proven themselves even more sturdy with the power level of foes they’ve faced in comics. Virtually every X-Men has been impregnated and transformed to a Brood at one point – even Wolverine – in some visuals that are both awesome and grotesque.

In terms of individuality, for the most part the Brood blend together. It’s ironic that the most well-known individual Brood is Broo, who rebelled against his race and joined the X-Men. The next best thing is the Brood Queen – while not quite an individual person, is a ranking and similar to the queens of a nest of bees in terms of control. As a race and an empire they are among the universe’s biggest, even having a seat on the Galactic Council.

9. The Magus

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Imagine the dark side of a messianic figure. That’s a pretty bleak picture – and that’s the Magus. The Magus is the dark side of Adam Warlock – in some cases a splinter self, and in other cases merely an older Adam Warlock from the future who has gone corrupt. Either way you cut it, Magus at his worse eclipses in many ways Adam Warlock at his best.

Magus first appeared in Jim Starlin’s run on Strange Tales, guiding his younger self down the path that would lead to his dark transformation. Later, he gains ownership of the Infinity Gauntlet and mounts a one-man war against Warlock and other Earth heroes. The Magus also leads a religious empire named the Universal Church of Truth. That Church has been the thorn in side of many cosmic heroes, and was the central antagonist in The Thanos Imperative as part of the Cancerverse.

The severity of the Magus’ damage has always been limited by the intervention of Adam Warlock, but if and when that impediment is removed – or Magus gets the upper hand – worry be to those standing against him.

8. The Kree Empire

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One of the many creations during Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s run on Fantastic Four, the Kree Empire is one of the largest forces in the known galaxy – and have used it to their advantage. Organized as a militaristic dictatorship and most always run by a Kree super-mind called the Supreme Intelligence, the Kree Empire have brought war to Earth – and virtually every other part of the galaxy – for decades.

As a full-fledged empire, the Kree have a bevy of notable warriors in their fold. The original Captain Marvel was a member of the military, as is the iconic Ronan the Accusser. They also have numerous others like Korath the Pursuer and the super-group, Starforce.

The Kree Empire extends for nearly a thousand worlds, and was the inciting party in the centuries long Kree-Skull War which even drew Earth into the battle during 'Operation: Galactic Storm'.

7.  The Celestials

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Although their actions might sometimes be deemed to be un-malicious, the Celestials have done more than enough to be considered threats to humankind and, in general, life as we know it. Created by Jack Kirby in his 1976 series Eternals, in some ways they are the de facto chief life forms in the universe and were dubbed “space gods” by Kirby at the time.

For the Marvel Universe, they’re best known for their infrequent visits to Earth to judge the progress of the lifeforms here – each time deciding between killing all life, forcibly evolving some creators, or leaving everything untouched. They are responsible for the creation of the mutant gene in humans, as well as creating both the Eternals and the Deviants. During one of their visits, the combined forces of humans’ mythological gods attempted to prevent a judgment by the Celestials, and their battle ended in a stalemate.

At an average height of 2000 feet, the Celestials are an awesome sight in their rare appearances in Marvel comics. Their powers are seemingly limitless, with everything from moving planets to creating (and destroying) universes. That being said, they’ve been killed once on a comics page but that doesn’t diminish their threat at all.

In fact, the Final Host of Dark Celestials is the cosmic threat that led to the formation of the current Avengers line-up.

6. Venom

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Think Venom is just another Earth-based Spider villain? You’re forgetting where it came from. The alien symbiote known to us as Venom was first seen in 1984’s Secret Wars, latching onto Peter Parker when he was in need of a replacement costume. With Peter, he was eventually transported back to Earth and became Venom with a multitude of hosts – but he’s cosmic, no doubt about it; and Marvel has been playing that up since introducing Venom's home planet a few years ago.

Eddie Brock, the main Venom, may be more of an anti-hero than a villain, but he's given rise to an entire wing of alien villains that now stretch back into the secret history of the Marvel Universe.

5. The Beyonder

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Although his origins have been retconned multiple times, no matter how you tell it the Beyonder is a bad dude. Created to be the ultimate adversary for the combined forces of Marvel’s heroes in 1984’s Secret Wars, the Beyonder has limitless powers and has only proven himself stoppable through complex logical tricks or by turning him against himself.

Possessing these massive powers (and a massively retro jheri curl), the Beyonder took Marvel’s heroes to the limit on four separate occasions: the two major event series Secret Wars and Secret Wars II, and also in the Secret Wars 3 arc of Fantastic Four and in a star-studded issue of the miniseries New Avengers: The Illuminati.

Later, a race called the Beyonders were some of the primary antagonists of 2016's Secret Wars. What happens when he shows up next? It’s up to the Beyonder: he can make reality into anything he wants.

4. The Skrull Empire

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When you tell Earth heroes there’s an alien invasion coming, the first they think of is the Skrulls. From the earliest days of the Marvel age in 'Fantastic Four #2' all the way to the massive 2008 event Secret Invasion, the technologically advanced aliens from Skrullos have the uncanny ability to shape-shift to impersonate anyone, as well as the technology to allow some of its warriors – known as Super Skrulls and War Skrulls – to emulate superhuman abilities such as that of the Fantastic Four.

In the aforementioned Secret Invasion, the Skrulls embarked on a years-long covert plan to infiltrate the human race with sleeper Skull agents in positions of power – both in government and literal power: superheroes. Although they were ultimately turned back, they caused a sizeable rift in the superhero community which was taken advantage of by Norman Osborn when he took control of the U.S. government’s authority on superheroes.

In the aftermath of Secret Invasion, the Skrull Empire has smaller numbers but still poses a sizeable threat. However, they were unlikely allies in Earth’s defense against the Builders in Infinity.

3. Galactus 

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When most comic fans think of cosmic bad guys, Galactus probably comes to mind. He’s not the first, he’s not the last – but he’s arguably the most memorable. Like many of the cosmic villains on this list, Galactus was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee as a villain that was above the mortal ideas of “good vs. evil,” but rather was out to survive; and the only way he could live is by dining on planets.

Intended initially to be a one-time character, Galactus quickly became a major part of the Marvel U – in earth-shattering events of Fantastic Four, as well as in Thor and in the creation, management and rebellion by his one-time herald the Silver Surfer.

For some time, Galactus has been a Lifebringer, seeding new life in the universe. But in comic books, it's always just a matter of time before things swing back the other way.

2. The Phoenix Force

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Passion can be a good thing and a bad thing. And in the Marvel universe, the ultimate embodiment of that is the sinister, near-limitless being known as the Phoenix Force. As the nexus for all psionic energy, it’s drawn to beings of great power to join with them – such as Jean Grey. But their passion can sometime take too firm a hold, twisting the desires of their host into deadly consequences.

The Phoenix Force is responsible for the death of numerous planets, as well as twisting heroes such as Grey, Cyclops, Namor and others to kill loved ones around them – from the likes of Professor X, to most of the Wakandan nation.

In terms of power level, think big: when its power is fully actualized, it can transverse time and space due to its ability to create black holes. As the nexus for psionic energy, it has the ability to use it in all its forms: telekinesis, telepathy, as well as other abilities. Most importantly however, seems to be its namesake: it rises like a phoenix after every apparent death, even from deathblows from the likes of the Beyonder.

The Phoenix last appeared during the resurrection of Jean Grey, with Grey seemingly banishing the Phoenix from her life forever.

1. Thanos

(Image credit: Marvel)

Thanos was never intended to be an A-class villain; originally introduced as a one-off villain for Iron Man, it took 18 years and near that many twists of fate for him to end up with the Infinity Gauntlet in in 1991. But once he did, he never went back.

Born on the Saturnian moon of Titan, Thanos became fascinated with death as a child – something which grew inside him to become a twisted, pining love for the near-mythical cosmic force of death. Through twisted schemes as seen in Infinity Gauntlet and on through to the just started Infinity Wars, his goal is simple: the subjugation of the entire universe under his thumb, all in a steady procession to death.

Although Thanos on his own isn’t as powerful as most of his fellow villains on this list, he makes up for that in drive and deliberateness; gaining extra powers either as a consort to Death, as the possessor of the Infinity Gauntlet, or through other technological means. Thanos wasn’t born with power; but he knows it’s out there, and he’s one of the few with the diabolical drive to get it – and use it to cause death to everyone in the universe.

And of course, the Mad Titan is now a household name as the villain of the blockbuster film Avengers: Infinity War.

Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant covered comic book news for Newsarama from 2003 to 2022 (and as editor/senior editor from 2015 to 2022) and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)