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On the heels of Avengers: Infinity War, the average moviegoer finally understands the levels of power found in the characters of the Marvel Universe. What’s mind-boggling, however, is that the movies only scratch the surface of the most powerful Marvel characters. For fans who’ve never dipped their toes into the world of Marvel Comics, the sheer number of characters can be overwhelming.
To help introduce you to the most powerful players in the world of Marvel, we’ve broken up them up into three categories: heroes, villains, and gods. These classifications aren’t absolute. Heroism is complicated, so while someone like Magneto has been a hero in the past, his villainous actions far outweigh his heroics. What we’re saying is don’t @ us if Thanos gets retconned next year as a hero. He’ll be back to evil soon enough. Here are some of the most powerful Marvel characters of all time.
The most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe
Although Thor is technically a god, his corporeal form earns him a spot in the hero section. One of the few beings in the galaxy who can go one on one with the Hulk, Odinson is best known for welding the hammer Mjolnir and throwing lightning, but that undersells his power. Thor’s lesser-known abilities include near-immortality, flight, and weather manipulation. But the kicker is his “God-Blast.” This focused beam of energy is so powerful that using it against an enemy once caused an earthquake. We hope the MCU brings out the God-Blast for Infinity War 2.
2) Scarlet Witch
Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, is a character whose actual power level was hidden for most of her career. The daughter of Magneto, Wanda is mutant royalty, gifted with the ability to alter probabilities and reality itself. When she holds her power back, she’s an indispensable part of the Avengers, providing defense against magic while “hexing” their enemies. However, left unchecked, Wanda can wreak havoc on the world. She once stripped 90 percent of the mutants in the world of their powers with a whisper. We hope the MCU gives her a chance to let loose in the future.
3) Franklin Richards
Unlike his parents, Mr. Fantastic and Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, Franklin Richard didn’t get his powers from space. Instead, he was born a mutant, with reality-warping powers rivaling that of a god. During the ’90s Franklin birthed a baby universe as a place for heroes killed by the villain Onslaught to be reborn. He’s one of the few friends of the world-eating being Galactus and has beaten up the devil twice. Franklin might sound like a cosmic Chuck Norris joke, but without his aid, the Marvel Universe would have been destroyed numerous times.
4) Dr. Strange
Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange, is the most powerful magic user in the Marvel Universe. Blessed by a trio of interdimensional beings called the Vishanti, Strange can manipulate energy, control time, and conjure objects from thin air with a wave of his hand. That impressive power list doesn’t even include the WMD-level spells hidden in his mind, from black to chaos magic. Dr. Strange’s control of astral projection is so complete, he often goes on adventures without physically leaving his home. Even without his powers, Dr. Strange is a professional surgeon. Keep him on your fantasy team.
Parenthood is a blessing, but in the world of Marvel, it comes with the risk you might accidentally birth a being with unimaginable power. Legion is the son of the X-Men’s Charles Xavier, born with the ability to spontaneously develop almost any new mutation he needs, including warping reality itself. The downside is each new mutation develops a new personality in his mind, and not all of them are as heroic as their host. Over the years Legion has learned to control his powers, shifting from tragic danger to the world to superhero with his own comic and TV series.
Since his debut in the ’60s, The Incredible Hulk’s power level has fluctuated dramatically, from one of the mightiest creatures on Earth to one of the most physically powerful beings in the universe. The angrier he gets, the stronger he becomes, and Hulk’s rage knows no limits. When Hulk decided to declare war on Earth for exiling him to an alien planet, it took the combined efforts the entire Marvel Universe to stop him. In fact, he’s stated that Thor is the only Avenger he sees as a threat, and even then only when he has his hammer. Thankfully Hulk is back to being a hero. For now.
7) Professor X
At first glance, Professor X appears to be an unassuming character, a handsome man in his 60s confined to a wheelchair. He’s used that image to his advantage to keep the world from realizing he’s the most powerful telepath on Earth. The true limits of his mental powers have never been identified, but mind control, possession, mental amnesia, and even psychic blasts make up a fraction of his abilities. What he lacks in personal power, he makes up for with the ability to control nearly any being on Earth. However, when he allowed his darkness to take over in the form of Onslaught, he almost destroyed the world.
8) Silver Surfer
Once a humble alien, the Silver Surfer sacrificed his life to save his planet and become the Herald of Galactus. Gifted the Power Cosmic by his master, Silver Surfer can travel faster than light, absorb and manipulate untold amounts of energy, and then redirect that energy into unstoppable attacks. Should he ever decide to get into a fistfight, his enemies better beware. The Surfer has displayed a physical strength that rivals the Hulk. Once separated from Galactus, Silver Surfer explored the universe, hoping to undo the damage he caused.
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The most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe
Given he’s bounced between heroics and villainy of the last 30 years, some may balk at calling Magneto a supervillain. Of course, his adventures as a hero add extra horror to the moments he snaps, and it’s important to remember just what kind of power we’re talking about. Magneto could simply reverse the poles of the Earth at any moment he wanted, killing almost everyone on the planet. Don’t believe us? Check out 2009’s Ultimatum story, in which Marvel lets the master of magnetism do exactly that. A being with a grudge and control of Earth’s very magnetic fields? That’s a danger even Hulk couldn’t punch his way out of.
Thanos’ all-consuming quest to find the Infinity Stones might give the impression he needs them to be a threat. Those who underestimate the Mad Titan soon learn the error of their ways. Born an eternal, galactic mutant of incredible physical strength, speed, agility, and energy projection, Thanos became even more of a threat when he fell in love with Death. Not the concept, but the actual being Death, who blessed him with the gift of immortality. Even without the Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos has been able to beat Thor in one-on-one combat.
Annihilus was born as a bug in the Negative Zone and evolved into one of the greatest warriors the universe has ever seen. His exoskeleton gives him incredible strength and durability, and upon his death he spawns clones that retain his memories, rendering him effectively immortal. During the 2006 Annihilation event, the villain unleashed the Annihilation Wave, his army of mutant insects and planet-sized warships that destroyed a million worlds in one day. One on one he’s nearly unkillable but left to plot an all-out war, Annihilus is capable of genocide on a cosmic scale.
4) Dr. Doom
No human being has ever reached the levels of power of unlocked by Dr. Doom, a brilliant mad scientist whose studies into mysticism surpass even Dr. Strange. Combining technology with a willingness to explore the blackest forms of magic, Dr. Doom’s immorality frees him from the self-imposed limits of the heroes he faces. Hiding his scarred face behind a mask, Doom rules as the official head of state for his birthplace, Latveria. At one point Doom obtained ultimate power, becoming a deity, only to give it up when he realized his nature would prevent him from being an effective god. Some people are just better villains.
5) Molecule Man
For most of his career, Molecule Man was a powerful yet mostly b-list foe of the Fantastic Four and Avengers. Able to mentally manipulate the very molecules that make up matter and energy, Molecule Man can unleash unstoppable blasts or open wormholes with a thought. Dr. Doom once used his assistance to rebuild space and time after two universes collided with one another, almost destroying existence. His powers even expand to manipulating magic objects, making him a rare link between science the mystic arts in the Marvel Universe.
X-Men fans waited decades for the reveal of the lost third Summers brother, the rumored sibling of heroes Cyclops and Havok. Possessing Omega-level mutant powers to control and redirect energy, Vulcan can even use his abilities to shut off other beings’ powers. Sadly Vulcan’s family reunion was bittersweet, uncovering a secret history with the X-Men and a deadly grudge against Professor X. Fleeing Earth, Vulcan conquered the Shi’ar Empire, becoming an interstellar warlord in the process. Vulcan was eventually defeated by the Inhumans, seemingly dying in the process, but evil on his level seldom stays dead forever.
Technically Onslaught represents Professor X’s second appearance on this list. In the ’90s Xavier used his telepathic powers to absorb Magneto’s mind into his consciousness in a last-ditch effort to stop the villain. Magneto’s hate and anger merged with Xavier’s dark subconscious, birthing a psionic entity that fought the entire Marvel Universe on both the physical and astral plans. By the end of the conflict, Onslaught had killed both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, before being hit so hard by the Hulk he lost his physical form. Its spirit has been trying to return to Earth ever since.
8) Kang the Conqueror
Born Nathaniel Richards, Kang is a distant relative of Mr. Fantastic from the 30th century of an alternate-reality Earth. As a teenager, a future version of himself appeared and started his training to make Kang the greatest conqueror in all of time. Utilizing advanced technology from the future, along with a calculating willingness to play with history itself, this time-traveling villain has nearly destroyed all of existence numerous times. One Kang would be bad enough, but we haven’t even factored in the alternate reality Kangs bounding through the timestream. His ruthlessness and access to any moment in history make him a profound threat to life.
The most powerful cosmic beings in the Marvel Universe
The giant Galactus has brought untold death to the Marvel Universe, traveling space for eons consuming entire planets to feed himself. Technically Galactus isn’t a villain, no more than a human who steps on a bug is, bearing no ill will to the creatures who die in his quest for life. Possessing unquantifiable strength, intelligence, and cosmic power, the Devourer of Worlds, is an important part of the galactic ecosystem. His body hides the dark god Abrazas, a cosmic evil held at by Galactus’ life-sustaining conquests. From 2015 to 2018, Galactus became a being of creation, spreading life, though he recently sacrificed his heroic nature to save the galaxy.
2) The Beyonder
One of the problems with beings of god-like power is they lack empathy, and no more significant example exists in Marvel than the Beyonder. Introduced during the first big Marvel crossover, Secret Wars, the Beyonder was an entire universe that gained sentience and took human form. He used his powers to teleport Earth’s heroes and villains to an alien planet to battle for his amusement, treating them like toys in a life or death game. Over the years he’s learned to appreciate humanity, but when a wild idea strikes him, he’s not above using Earth as a playground.
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3) The Phoenix Force
One of the oldest known beings in the universe, the Phoenix Force is an entity of pure energy that represents all life that has yet to be born. While technically a manifestation of creation, the Phoenix’s habit of burning away everything that has stopped evolving to create something better has left billions dead in its wake. Inexplicably drawn to Earth, the Phoenix Force has possessed numerous X-Men, though Jean Gray is its most famous host. With a nearly omnipotent level of power and an all-or-nothing view of survival, this cosmic force is feared by every society in the universe.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.