Considering its place as the highest-grossing film franchise in history, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is home to some of the most iconic characters to ever grace the big screen. Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor, and so many others have appeared across several blockbuster movies since it debuted.
It can be tough for a character to make a major impact on such a vast universe if they only show up in a single film but some have managed to do just that. A few are even among the best in the entire franchise. Characters who are confirmed to appear in a second movie (like Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia) are not included.
Justin Hammer (Iron Man 2)
A lot of the best characters to only be in one movie are villains since their stories typically wrap up by the end when the hero defeats them. One of those is Justin Hammer from 2010’s Iron Man 2, though he’s certainly not one of the most powerful foes that Tony Stark ever had to go against.
In fact, Hammer was an interesting character because he was not a true threat. In his eyes, he was Tony’s rival but he could never live up to him. That made him different from a lot of antagonists and the charming performance of Sam Rockwell helped him stand out. Although he was only in one film, he did make a cameo in the All Hail the King One-Shot.
Pietro Maximoff / Quicksilver (Avengers: Age Of Ultron)
Not counting the post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Pietro Maximoff only appeared in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Introduced alongside his twin Wanda, it seemed like they were gearing up to be major players going forward. Wanda has certainly taken on that role but Pietro did not last
The film constantly teased the death of Hawkeye only for Quicksilver to sacrifice himself to save the archer he had been antagonizing to that point. Though this Quicksilver was considered to be lesser than the one in X-Men movies, he was still a welcome addition who fans wish lasted longer.
Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)
Almost everything about 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok was seen as an improvement over the first two films in the series. Among them was the villain, Hela, who is the sister of Thor and Loki. That immediately gave her a personal connection to some important characters.
While it is true that some of Hela’s scenes in the film feel a bit out of place next to the wacky adventures on Sakaar, there’s no denying how enjoyable Cate Blanchett was as the Goddess of Death. You could tell that she was having a blast being evil and it translated onto the screen. Throw in that she was a legitimate threat and Hela was a winner.
Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Spider-Man: Far From Home)
One of the few criticisms that the first two MCU Spider-Man films received was that the villains were too closely connected to Tony Stark. It’s a valid thought but it does not take away from how good those bad guys were, especially Quentin Beck, better known as Mysterio.
Seeking vengeance after being dissed by Tony, Mysterio used his genius technology to create massive illusions that depict him as a hero. While he looked cool and was a fantastic villain who ended up revealing Peter Parker’s identity, the true greatness of the character came in the scenes he shared with Peter, acting as both a friend and mentor.
Grandmaster (Thor: Ragnarok)
While Hela was easily the most threatening villain of Thor: Ragnarok, she was not the most entertaining. That’s not a knock against her but instead a look at just how much fun the Grandmaster was. Bringing in Jeff Goldblum was a brilliant bit of casting for the role.
Goldblum’s trademark eccentric nature was perfect for the Grandmaster who was hilarious in every scene. Whether it’s something like laughing at Thor’s sparklers or not wanting to call his prisoners slaves, Grandmaster was someone who audiences adored seeing. They continue to want more of him.
Adrian Toomes / Vulture (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Unlike Quentin Back, Adrian Toomes did not have a personal connection to Tony Stark but his reason for becoming a villain did have to do with Iron Man. His actions put him on the radar of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.
In the comics, the Vulture is kind of a goofy old man but the movie managed to make him a true menace. His suit and technology made him legitimately imposing and he had the unhinged nature of a man desperate to do anything for his family. The scene where Toomes confronts Peter about his identity in a car is one of the MCU’s best.
Peter Parker 3 (Spider-Man: No Way Home)
It was pretty incredible to see Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland all share the screen as various incarnations of Peter Parker in Spider-Man: No Way Home. While Tobey’s solo appearance in the MCU was certainly great, it was Garfield as Peter Parker 3 who stole the show.
First, he got some of the best moments from MJ throwing bread at him to his youth pastor dig at Tobey’s Peter to telling the other Peters that he loves them. His true shining scene came when MJ was falling to her death and he managed to save her life in the way he could for Gwen Stacy all those years prior.
Norman Osborn / Green Goblin (Spider-Man: No Way Home)
There were actually a bunch of characters who made their solo MCU appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home thanks to the multiverse crossover. While most of the villains managed to be highly entertaining, there’s no doubt that Norman Osborn was the best.
He first arrived and seemed to no longer be controlled by the Goblin, offering his help to Peter and his friends. Of course, the Goblin took control and Osborn became Peter’s greatest foe. He killed Aunt May, brutally beat Peter, and was maniacal throughout, aided by Willem Dafoe’s performance.
Yelena Belova (Black Widow)
Unlike many other characters to only get one MCU film, Yelena Belova has at least shown up again in the Hawkeye series. While that was a welcome sight, Yelena’s only movie appearance remains in Black Widow, where she was introduced to audiences.
Yelena immediately became a fan favorite and is one of the best characters to debut in Phase Four. Due to her harsh upbringing, she’s sympathetic throughout her emotional scenes, and she’s also downright hilarious. Fans are clamoring for a movie starring her and Kate Bishop after they became friends in Hawkeye.
N’Jadaka / Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Black Panther)
Not only is Killmonger an incredible one-off character but he’s also arguably the best villain in franchise history not named Thanos. In Black Panther, Killmonger took hundreds if not thousands of lives all so that he could get to Wakanda with his ultimate plan.
He wanted to use Wakanda’s technology to liberate mistreated Black people all around the world. His words rank so true that T’Challa ultimately followed them, though Killmonger went about it in too ruthless a way. His final line of “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage,” is already the stuff of legend.
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