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10 Best Captain America villains of all time

cover of Captain America #300
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Captain America has had some seriously tough villains in his time. 

No matter who is carrying the shield and mantle of Cap - Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes, John Walker (or others) - they face off against some of the most despicable comic book super-villains of all time, including numerous evildoers and war criminals who echo Cap's longevity back to the '40s. 

All four of those shield-wielders will team up with some new Cap inspired heroes, like the newly revealed Aaron Fischer, for an adventure hunting down a mysterious villain who has stolen Captain America's vaunted shield.

And, in the current Falcon and the Winter Soldier MCU streaming show, a somewhat obscure Cap villain, Flag-Smasher, is getting a makeover for live action.

What makes Cap's adversaries so deadly is that they're as devious and nefarious as Cap is loyal and virtuous, leading to clashes that extend beyond the physical and into the realm of the philosophical, with Captain America's very ideals often hanging in the balance.

So, without further ado, here's a look at the greatest threats Cap has ever faced – the 10 best Captain America villains of all time.

10. Batroc the Leaper

image of Batroc the Leaper

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Georges Batroc - A.K.A. Batroc the Leaper (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966's Tales of Suspense #75) is a little bit of a joke, but he's also one of the best martial artists in the Marvel Universe – so much so that he's gone toe-to-toe with Captain America time and time again.

And while his plum-and-mustard costume, outlandish facial hair, and oddball accent make him seem like a cartoon, there's no question that Batroc is one of the deadliest mercenaries in Marveldom, even occasionally leading his own team, Batroc’s Brigade.

The MCU Batroc, played by appropriately-named French Canadian UFC fighter Georges St. Pierre, recently re-appeared in Disney Plus streaming show The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.

9. Secret Empire

cover of Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The Secret Empire (featured in the original '70s Captain America story of the same name) is a world-conquering organization that tried to bring down the U.S. government by ruining Captain America's reputation and infiltrating the highest levels of government. Their machinations eventually led to one of Steve Rogers' first breaks with his identity as Captain America.

Steve found himself deeply disillusioned with the government when he discovered that Number One, the Secret Empire's leader, was a high-ranking government official – heavily implied to be President Richard Nixon himself – an encounter that lead to Number One committing suicide, and Rogers walking away from the mantle of Captain America for a short time.

This story also put the building blocks in place for Sam Wilson, the Falcon, to become Captain America years later.

8. Crossbones

image of Crossbones

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

A disciple of the Red Skull, Crossbones assembled the Skeleton Crew, a team of neo-Nazi villains dedicated to the Skull’s teachings. 

Though he lacks superpowers, his fierce dedication to his dark ideals and his determination have made him a worthy foe for Captain America time and time again, even carrying out the apparent assassination of Steve Rogers after Civil War.

Crossbones has appeared in several MCU Captain America films, played by Frank Grillo.

7. A.I.M.

image of MODOK and AIM

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe may know A.I.M. best as the secondary villains from Iron Man 3, and though Advanced Idea Mechanics certainly have a history with the armored Avenger, in comic books, their ties run deeper with Captain America.

A.I.M. are responsible for creating the Cosmic Cube, an artifact of ultimate power that later became a powerful weapon in the hands of Cap's arch-rival the Red Skull. 

And not for nothing, A.I.M. is led by M.O.D.O.K. (Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing) a giant psychic floating head - a weird and wild character all on his own.

6. Serpent Society

image of the Serpent Society

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

A cadre of snake-themed super-villains may seem a little silly, but it's hard to argue with the villainy the Serpent Society have perpetrated over the years. 

Though they started with only a handful of members, the Society grew to encompass a veritable legion of villains who have menaced Captain America for decades.

The Serpent Society’s membership has included everyone from Sidewinder, to Puff Adder, Madame Hydra, Copperhead, and Princess Python, and even Diamondback, who later reformed, becoming a longtime love interest of Steve Rogers.

Serpents are a common theme for Captain America villains too - the Serpent Society was predated by the smaller Serpent Squad, there's also a villainous white supremacist militia called the Sons of the Serpent.

5. Arnim Zola

image of Arnim Zola

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Arnim Zola may be one of Captain America's weirdest villains – but he's also one of the most deadly. In his modern form, he's a giant TV screen with arms and legs, but his history is as a Nazi scientist who transferred his consciousness into an artificial body.

While Zola has been responsible for numerous evil schemes over the years, perhaps his most dastardly was creating Dimension Z, an alternate, dystopian reality where Cap raised Zola's son Ian as his own before seemingly losing both Ian and Sharon Carter to Zola's doomsday weapon - all told in the classic story Captain America: Castaway in Dimension Z.

4. Tony Stark

cover of Civil War #6

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

One of Cap's oldest allies – and the man who pulled him from the ice where he was frozen since World War II – may seem like an odd choice for a list of his greatest enemies, but it all comes down to Civil War, a story that pitted the old allies against each other over the Super Human Registration Act.

In Civil War, Cap and Tony went to battle, with the Marvel Universe's heroes picking sides between them. In comic books, it eventually ended with Cap surrendering – an act that allowed Red Skull and his co-conspirators to assassinate him. 

Things haven't quite been the same since Cap and Tony since Cap returned, and though they’ve been somewhat uneasy allies, they have also found many more reasons to be at each others' throats in stories such as Avengers: Time Runs Out.

And of course, their rivalry (and the story that started it) was adapted into the film Captain America: Civil War.

3. Hydra

image of Hydra agents

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Hydra is a Neo-Nazi organization dedicated to world domination, which has often been seen as the antithesis of S.H.I.E.L.D. They're also known for their history with Captain America, including his rivalries with Baron Strucker, Madame Hydra, and numerous other villains, stretching all the way back to World War II.

Hydra is well known to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the organization were key players in several MCU films, including Avengers.

Perhaps the worst thing Hydra ever did to Captain America was making him their leader, when Red Skull used a Cosmic Cube (that thing we mentioned that A.I.M. invented) to turn Steve Rogers into a Hydra infiltrator and dictator.

2. Baron Zemo

image of Baron Zemo

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

There have been two Barons Zemo to square off with Captain America over the years. 

The first, Heinrich Zemo, was a Nazi scientist who was disfigured in a clash with Cap, and who was also indirectly responsible for the seeming death of Cap's partner, Bucky (who was later resurrected as the Winter Soldier). Heinrich later resurfaced when Cap was unfrozen – a condition he suffered as a result of the same explosion that nearly killed Bucky – forming the Masters of Evil, a squad of villains brought together to take on the Avengers in Avengers #6.

The second Baron Zemo, his son Helmut, took over his father's mantle, and the leadership of the Masters of Evil. He even lead the Masters in falsely reforming from villainy as the Thunderbolts, before turning back to villainy himself. 

Helmut Zemo will return to the MCU in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, played again by Daniel Bruhl.

1. Red Skull

image of the Red Skull

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

There's no menace in Captain America’s history more evil, more deadly, and more villainous than the Red Skull. Something of a Nazi equivalent to Captain America as a figurehead and super soldier for the Nazi regime, the Skull has survived death multiple times to continue threatening Cap – and the freedom of the entire world – for decades.

A few years ago, the Skull committed one of his most heinous acts ever, stealing the brain of Professor Charles Xavier, and using his genetic tissue to give himself Xavier’s psychic powers. This allowed Red Skull to conquer the world, leading to many of the Marvel Universe's heroes and villains to be swapped in personality, with heroes going bad and bad guys reforming - which didn't end for every character when the story concluded.

In recent years, the Red Skull took over Hydra and used a Cosmic Cube to turn Steve Rogers into a Hydra dictator in the story Secret Empire. Though he was killed by his own brainwashed Steve, the Red Skull's return has been building in writer Ta-Nehisi Coates Captain America run, which is about to conclude.

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.