What The Scariest MCU Villains Look Like In Real Life

Many of the best-known Marvel movie villains look like the actors playing them. Loki is Tom Hiddleston in a costume. Killmonger is Michael B. Jordan with dreadlocks. They're beloved because they're relatable, and although we may hate their goals the actors embodying them frequently convey sympathetic motives. They're dangerous in part because they have some (arguably) likable traits.

The truly scary threats, however, look solidly inhuman. Aliens, monsters, gods, robots, the occasional mutant ... we cannot relate directly to such overpowered beings when it's so very unlikely they can be persuaded not to crush us. Yet behind all these frightening threats, there is a real human being. In some cases, it's one you may not believe you didn't recognize before. Let's take a look at what the actual actors behind so many intimidating creatures look like when they're just being themselves. Here are what the scariest MCU villains look like in real life.

12. Damion Poitier as Thanos

Before Josh Brolin took on the role of Thanos — giving him a world-weary face and a performance that actually made some viewers sympathize — the Mad Titan was just a scary alien in the middle of the first "Avengers" movie's credits. Aside from his basic body shape, this first Thanos was not recognizably human, but a purple-faced alien unlike any of the more familiar actors who'd played primary villains in Marvel movies up until that point.

In hindsight, "Marvel's The Avengers" seems like a surefire hit, but at the time it wouldn't have made sense to bust the budget by hiring another big-name actor to just stand there saying nothing. Damion Poitier, a stuntman who had previously worked with director Joss Whedon on "Firefly," "Angel," and "Dollhouse" donned the gold armor for Thanos' big-screen debut. Unlike Brolin's later motion-capture performances, however, he wore full practical makeup. An Instagram post from Jose Fernandez's Ironhead Studio revealed the details, noting, "Jose designed and sculpted the makeup as well as his helmet and armor. The makeup appliances were painted and applied to Damion Poitier by Thom Floutz." In a 2012 interview with ComicBookMovie, Poitier recalled, "the call was for 'Man #1' and I had no clue what was going on till I went in for the lifecast." While he hoped to continue, he gave Brolin his blessing in a subsequent CBM interview.

11. James Spader as Ultron

Ultron is frightening in so many ways. As a giant robot who looks like a mechanical skeleton, he can occupy multiple bodies at once, enter the Internet (at least until JARVIS blocks him), and he has the silky smooth voice of James Spader. That man does not have to yell in order to drip menace from his every pronouncement. Intended to be the ultimate defense against alien threats, he determined instead that humans were the real threat and needed to be wiped out. He's a bit of a petulant child in his worldview, but this kid's temper tantrums can erase all life on Earth.

James Spader's face should be extremely familiar to most movie and TV fans. Currently starring in "The Blacklist" (following hits like "Boston Legal" and "The Office"), he's done blockbuster movies like "Stargate" and edgier fare like "sex, lies and videotape" and "Crash" (the David Cronenberg version). Obviously, little of that familiar face remains on the eight-foot CGI robot, but some of its expressions might look familiar, as Spader discussed in an interview with E!

"The technology was such that I put on the suit and you do a range of motion. They record the range of motion with all the markers on and all the transmitters and everything, and then they sort of plug it into some program. I would move and I could watch it live as Ultron. And that's the first time I stood up a little straighter."

10. Colm Feore as Laufey

Loki's the real villain of "Thor," but Laufey — King of the Frost Giants — facilitates most of Thor's problems. It's the Frost Giants who lure Thor into a reckless battle he shouldn't have taken the bait on, and it's Loki's history as an actual Frost Giant foundling that helps drive him over the edge. However, even if Laufey did nothing he'd still be a giant ice monster with a tactician's mind for goading his foes into overreacting. 

Colm Feore has one of those faces audiences are sure to recognize from movies like "Chicago," "Pearl Harbor," and "The Sum of All Fears," but in "Thor" it's buried under makeup. Speaking with Collider from the set, Feore described his look being applied in 17 pieces and taking a good long while at that:

 "I kind of enjoy it because it gives me a good four-and-a-half hours here at three in the morning when no one else is here, it gives me a chance to get into what the character is going to be. I start to assume the physicality and all the stuff that Ken Branagh and I have talked about in terms of where this character sits and how he's evolved. And, four-and-a-half hours later, this appears. From inside, it feels different to me than it looks to you, but it actually works as far as I'm concerned. I think it's pretty scary and the voice...the voice is dropped."

9. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Ebony Maw

The most alien-looking of Thanos' Black Order, Ebony Maw serves as the mouthpiece for Thanos' grand ambitions in "Avengers: Infinity War." Tall, spindly, and not as outwardly brawny as his fellow purple-skinned villains, "The Maw" (as Thanos calls him) has some classic "Gray" alien vibes, and enough power to take on Doctor Strange and Iron Man. Only when Spider-Man remembers "that really old movie" called "Aliens" do the heroes figure out that the vacuum of space is everyone's Achilles heel.

Irish actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor ("Love/Hate") donned a motion capture suit to play the object-manipulating monster. VFX supervisor Andrew Lawler explained how the actor's performance was preserved under such a heavy CG transformation:  

"Maw had to be an animation-friendly character, and it also had to be able to accept all the facial capture gathered on the shoot. We did a true facial capture solve from the face cam, which was very high quality, and used that directly to stay true to Tom's performance. Creating a full-screen CG Ebony Maw was quite a challenge — his head literally fills the whole screen at times. We combined the best of the team's artistic and technical abilities to produce this very photorealistic character."

8. Clancy Brown as Surtur

Surtur's design screams "villain" about as loudly as any appearance can: he's a giant flaming demon with a big sword. He's also capable of capturing Thor in a cage and has a pet dragon. Surprisingly, Thor manages to dispatch him in battle early on in "Thor: Ragnarok," but needs him again after Hela takes over Asgard. Destroying his homeworld in order to save it, Thor realizes only Surtur is powerful enough to defeat Odinson's bitter big sister, bringing him back to life using the Eternal Flame which supercharges the demon's powers. He's still out there somewhere, more devastating than ever, though maybe destroying Asgard got all the aggression out of his system.

In live-action, Clancy Brown frequently plays big, intimidating characters like Kurgan in "Highlander" or Sgt. Zim in "Starship Troopers." As a voice-over artist, he's best known as Spongebob's money-grubbing manager Mr. Krabs. The role of Surtur brings his fear factor into animation. Brown provides the voice of the kaiju-sized foe but not his body, which was motion-captured from a performance by director Taika Waititi. Brown later expressed that it was "a voiceover character pretty much" but that he'd gladly return and do mo-cap for it if "they call me up, and we can reach a deal, then I'll do it. If they call me up, and they don't want to pay me, then I won't. I mean, it's not that big a deal. It's not a real character to me anyway, Surtur."

7. Luke Goss as Nomak

Okay, so the headline says "MCU" but why not throw in an oldie? Disney-Marvel hasn't gone R-rated as of this writing, but in the pre-"Iron Man" era the "Blade" trilogy certainly did. Following the first film, in which a half-human Daywalker fought relatively conventional vampires, "Blade II" brought Guillermo del Toro aboard to direct the sequel. Unsurprisingly, he created more monstrous villains in the form of Reapers. These mutant vampires bred to be more powerful also turned out more hideous, with chins that could split apart to reveal gaping, bloody, vagina dentata-looking maws. As their leader, Jared Nomak proved the most resilient, finally killing himself after having his revenge on an abusive father.

It's hard to believe now, but Luke Goss was a teen pop idol in the UK with his brother Matt. As the duo Bros, they recorded such tunes as "When Will I Be Famous?" and "Drop the Boy," endearing themselves to legions of female fans. Few such fans presumably envisioned him as a hideous bloodsucker back then. For the singer-turned-actor, the heavy prosthetics were a "baptism by fire," as he told MediaMikes. As he recalls, "It was hours in front of the mirror working out the psychics of how it works so when you make an emotion how much you should add or shouldn't. It was a real learning curve for me as an actor." While there was clearly some digital enhancement, that opening chin-mouth was much more practical than you might think.

6. Benedict Cumberbatch as Dormammu

Dormammu in comics often appears in a humanoid form. In "Doctor Strange," he hovers like a disembodied deity in the dark dimension. His eyes and mouth can be made out, but his true form is too vague to get a handle on, befitting for a creature so powerful he can kill Doctor Strange with but a thought. Unfortunately, that thought wasn't, "Hey. maybe this guy can create a time loop." Caught in a sort of cosmic perpetual check, Dormammu finally yielded and backed off. 

In some ways, though, he never left, since the actor who portrayed him remained. Yes, that's Benedict Cumberbatch's face motion-captured and creatively enhanced, as confirmed by director Scott Derrickson:

"No one understood Dormammu better than Benedict did. I also wrote that role to be a kind of ultra-inflated version of Strange. He is an ego run amok; he is this cosmic conqueror where everything, where literally everything in the multi-verse is about him. There's something interesting about this confrontation of this little, tiny guy who has this power of time and this monstrous conqueror who is trapped by a clever gambit. There's something about that worked well, and I didn't think [of] anybody to interact with Benedict [other] than he, himself." 

As for the voice, Derrickson says it was "a British actor whose name I don't know." However, Tony Todd, who was considered for the role, claims it was Cumberbatch too. Only Doctor Strange knows for sure.

5. Bill Skarsgård as Kro

Kro, leader of the newer/more evolved/definitely not-extinct Deviants, undergoes several changes during the course of "Eternals." Now possessing the ability to suck the powers of an Eternal away before killing them, he evolves every time he does so, incorporating the newest gift while coming ever closer to a more humanoid form. When last we see him onscreen, he's like a very tall humanoid in Japanese beetle colors with several extra-pointy tentacles, and about to take Thena's powers away. As intimidating as he is, he doesn't reckon with her Mahd Wy'ry dementia — actually a flashback to previous lives — which makes her unpredictable enough to cut him to pieces.

Bill Skarsgård has some experience playing ageless monsters who adopt human form, as he was Pennywise the clown in two "It" movies. For Kro, he required far less makeup, but more technical equipment attached to him. Unlike some on this list, he wasn't used as a direct 1:1 motion capture. Weta Digital supervisor Matt Aitken explained it to The Wrap

"Bill was wearing a head-mounted camera rig to film his face, and then we scrutinized the footage to replicate what Bill was doing, but we also had the option to keyframe (select snippets of footage to animate), which we felt was the best way to honor that performance and that character."

4. David Kaye as Arishem

Humans in the Marvel Cinematic Universe can have all the faith they like, but according to "Eternals," the creation of the Earth wasn't God's handiwork. Rather, the Celestial Arishem made our planet as a giant egg to hatch another of his kind, Tiamut. He created the Eternals and the Deviants to keep nature in balance, all while waiting for organic life to generate enough energy to bring Tiamut to life. This is not the creator you're looking for: he does not care about you except as fuel, and when last seen, he was mightily furious. 

Arishem doesn't have facial expressions to speak of, just a helmet with six light-up eyes. Thus, Marvel didn't need to motion-capture any facial expressions and went with prolific Canadian voice actor David Kaye. Talking to Comic Book Movie, he described his process for finding the voice:

 "I didn't want to go too particular. The size of the character, first of all, you don't want to go to type. I used my normal voice and then we played around a bit. I gave him a bit of my British heritage. What they do with the sound is pretty amazing. We took a minute to dial it in and find the correct tone and placement. I knew they were going to futz with it a little bit, so it couldn't be too low because the character is already so large anyway. It's round about my own voice and very calm."

3. Michael Rooker as Yondu

Yondu made such a solid babyface turn in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" that it's easy to forget he was basically a villain before. The fin-headed, bad-toothed leader of the Ravagers may have raised Peter Quill, but he didn't exactly do it well. He can still kill multitudes in an instant just by whistling to his dart. Fortunately for anyone who encounters him, he can be swayed by "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" logic.

The Yondu makeup, which looks like mostly blue paint, may seem less intensive than some of the others on this list, but according to Michael Rooker, it took just as long to apply. In an interview with A Magical Mess, he revealed the process: 

"It took about, maybe a three-hour process to put on and for or five, six layers of different shades of blue and gold and silver and yellow, flax and all kinds of stuff. I'm like, 'What color is this?' 'It's gold,' and sometimes they'd just flick it on with a brush ... like little speckling all over your face, but tiny little dots that helps to bring out the depth of the paint, so it looks like real skin. And, I mean, it feels like real skin too." 

The real challenge was being able to whistle through fake alien teeth. Luckily, the sound folks could digitally enhance that.

2. Colin Farrell as Bullseye

Here's another great throwback entry. In the early aughts, some five years before "Iron Man," superhero and villain costumes were all about the leather, and 2003's "Daredevil" embraced that notion thoroughly. Ben Affleck's eponymous hero wore red leather. Love interest Elektra donned black leather rather than red satin. Bullseye put on a leather jacket, shaved his head, and carved a crosshairs logo into his forehead. Sure, it looked a bit silly, but the guy could kill you with a paper clip, and Colin Farrell's intensity sold the character as a legit threat despite looking more like a 1966 "Batman" TV foe than one who could go toe-to-toe with 2003's version of Daredevil.

Farrell has since gone on to play the Penguin in "The Batman" under a lot of latex that renders him less recognizable. For Bullseye, he told Latino Review (via ComicBookMovie) of the forehead effect, "That took only 10 minutes every morning. It was a gelatin. They had printed out gelatin molds, bullseyes they just glued to my forehead." Back then he was less patient about comic-style garb, adding, "I don't know if I would've done it if I'd had to wear blue tights all over my body for the two months."

1. Elizabeth Olsen as Gargantos

Ah, Gargantos. The creepy tentacled void monster who trashes New York City at the beginning of "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" feels like a throwback to classic stop-motion movie monsters and H. P. Lovecraft's Old Ones. One thing it does not look like is a creature that was played by any human being living, dead, or between worlds. Yet there actually was at least one human performer utilized to bring the America Chavez-hunting critter to life.

As an early bit of foreshadowing that Scarlet Witch was actually the secret villain sending monsters after the dimension-hopping America, Elizabeth Olsen's eyeball was actually scanned to create the giant one that ultimately gets gruesomely ripped from Gargantos' body. Producer Richie Palmer revealed this detail on the Blu-ray commentary. Olsen may not have actually done much acting to bring Gargantos to life, but it technically qualifies as the biggest stretch for any actor appearing in a Marvel movie.