How To Survive An MCU Villаin: 10 Rules Tһаt We’ve Leаrned Over 33 Movies

Over the course of the MCU’s story, the franchise has created a framework of rules to follow in order to survive a battle with a dangerous villain.

Chris Evans as Captain America in Avengers: Endgame and Josh Brolin as Thanos looking shocked in Avengers: Infinity War


  • Earn their respect: Heroes like Iron Man can survive encounters with powerful villains by earning their respect through resourcefulness and tenacity.
  • Hide: Sometimes it’s better to hide and avoid direct confrontation with a powerful adversary, as demonstrated by Kraglin in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
  • Be willing to break your own bones: Black Widow showed that heroes must be willing to endure pain and sacrifice to defeat powerful villains, even if it means breaking their own bodies.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen its heroes fight battles against all manner of antagonists, and the franchise has established a number of rules to follow in order to survive an encounter with a villain. Since the inception of the MCU, the franchise has introduced a wealth of characters adapted from the stories of Marvel Comics. Central to most comic book narratives – and therefore also the movies of the MCU – is the struggle between good and evil; between a hero and a villain. However, with so many powerful and dangerous antagonists, it’s become clear that heroes may not always survive these battles.

When looking closely at the many different occasions that a hero and villain have faced off in the MCU, a framework of rules begins to take shape. The MCU movie timeline has established a handful of tenets for surviving an encounter with a powerful villain, with each installment in the franchise offering up a potential lesson about how such battles can be won (or at least survived). With that in mind, here are 10 rules for surviving an MCU villain that have become clear over the first 33 films in the franchise.

10 Earn Their Respect

Thanos vs Iron Man – Avengers: Endgame (2019)

The ending of Avengers: Infinity War saw Thanos defeat the Avengers and use the Infinity Gauntlet to kill half of all life in the universe. However, over the course of the Infinity Saga, Tony Stark had proven a repeated thorn in the Mad Titan’s side, from the events of The Avengers all the way through to their battle on Titan in Infinity War. This saw Thanos opt to leave Stark alive, even after beating Iron Man in their fight, because Iron Man had earned the respect of the villain for his resourcefulness and tenacity. Even though the villain won on that occasion, Iron Man lived to fight another day.

9 Hide

Kraglin In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023)

Sean Gunn as Kraglin in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3

Though Kraglin may not be the most important hero among the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, he actually demonstrated a novel technique for surviving an encounter with a powerful adversary. When Adam Warlock attacks the Guardians on Knowhere, Kraglin chooses to hide from the powerful Sovereign being rather than face him head on. Even after unlocking the power of Yondu’s arrow to attack Warlock, Kraglin hides, managing to avoid a beating when the weapon has no effect. It may be a cowardly tactic, but it certainly prevented Kraglin from getting injured or killed during Adam Warlock’s attack.

8 Go To The Boss

She-Hulk vs HulkKing – She-Hulk (2022)

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law introduced a new and interesting dynamic to the TV shows of the MCU, with the titular hero regularly breaking the fourth wall in line with her comic book appearances. The self-aware nature of the show saw the eponymous hero adopt an interesting approach to her showdown with HulkKing. Rather than face the villain with brawn, She-Hulk instead used her brains, climbing out of the show and going directly to see KEVIN, the AI supposedly in charge of Marvel Studios. After complaining to the boss about the conclusion of her show, She-Hulk is able to resolve everything without an ounce of bloodshed.

7 Be Willing To Break Your Own Bones

Black Widow vs Dreykov – Black Widow (2021)

Black Widow standing during the confrontation with Dreykov in his office in Black Widow

Black Widow saw the MCU finally explore the fascinating backstory of Natasha Romanoff, explaining the nature of the conditioning involved in her training and the horrific conditions she was raised in. The story’s epic conclusion sees Romanoff confront her former master Dreykov, who is protected from harm by the pheromone-based conditioning he subjected Natasha to. However, in order to defeat the villain, Black Widow’s ending sees the hero break her own nose to override the conditioning, allowing her to finally confront the man who tormented her for years. It’s a powerfully symbolic act, showing exactly how much Romanoff was willing to endure to stop Dreykov.

6 Keep Your Emotions In Check

Shang-Chi vs The Mandarin – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi fights Wenwu with the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings saw the titular hero face off against his own father, Xu Wenwu, the Mandarin. The pair’s showdown first ends with Wenwu killing his son, only for the hero to be revived by the Great Protector. Their subsequent fight sees Shang-Chi finally gain the upper hand over his father, only to learn that all along the villain had been manipulated by the Dweller-in-Darkness using the emotional leverage of Wenwu’s late wife. The lesson to be learned is to keep a handle on emotional situations, particularly where family involved, as failing to do so was what ultimately led to Wenwu’s death.

5 Level The Playing Field

Doctor Strange vs Scarlet Witch – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hosted one of the MCU’s most significant villain turns, with Wanda Maximoff using the power of the Darkhold to become the Scarlet Witch. Faced with the simple fact that he couldn’t match Wanda’s power, Doctor Strange chose to use the Darkhold himself to level the playing field. Though he risked becoming corrupted by the Darkhold, he knew that it was his only hope of stopping the villain, and opted to do so no matter the cost.

4 Hold Nothing Back

Captain Marvel vs Yon-Rogg – Captain Marvel (2019)

Jude Law as Yon-Rogg facing off with Brie Larson as Captain Marvel in the MCU

Captain Marvel told the origins of the titular hero, with Carol Danvers manipulated by the Kree into doing their bidding. After learning the true intentions of her mentor Yon-Rogg, she faces him again, having never been able to defeat him without using her powers. Before they face off, he taunts her, challenging her to beat him without using her abilities. Realizing she nothing to prove, Captain Marvel chooses to hold nothing back, blasting him with her cosmic powers and easily winning their fight – in other words, using everything at her disposal to stop the villain and live to fight another day.

3 Don’t Be Afraid To Call In Someone Bigger

Thor vs Hela – Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Surtur destroying Asgard in Thor Ragnarok

Pride often proves the downfall of heroes, as they usually possess such immense power that it’s difficult to process being unable to overcome an enemy. Thor: Ragnarok sees the God of Thunder learn exactly that, when his sister Hela enslaves Asgard and proves herself the stronger sibling. However, Thor’s contingency plan involves bringing in Surtur to destroy Asgard and Hela with it, calling in an even bigger and stronger entity to win the battle for him. Though it ultimately cost him his home, it allowed Thor and his fellow Asgardians to survive.

2 Persistence Is Key

Doctor Strange vs Dormammu – Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange fights Dormammu in the Dark Dimension

Doctor Strange is one of the MCU’s most powerful magic users, and his rapid ascendancy through the ranks of sorcerers shows how capable he is. However, when coming up against Dormammu, Strange had no obvious means of winning. Instead, Doctor Strange trapped Dormammu in a time loop and allowed the villain to kill him repeatedly, effectively boring the antagonist into relenting. By refusing to give up in the face of defeat again and again, Strange eventually survived the battle through sheer force of will alone, proving that persistence can help a hero win any battle.

1 If In Doubt, Just SMASH!

Hulk vs Loki – The Avengers (2012)

Mark Ruffalo's Hulk smashing Tom Hiddleston's Loki in The Avengers (2012)

Back in Phase 1 of the MCU, Hulk wasn’t the smartest hero in the franchise. However, when coming up on Loki armed with the Mind Stone, Hulk was still able to find a way to win: he simply picked Loki up and smashed him. Facing a powerful and intelligent villain capable of all manner of tricks, Hulk simply played to his own strengths, proving that good old-fashioned muscle is often enough. It’s one of the most memorable moments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to this day for its comedic qualities, but it’s also a lesson on surviving a battle with a villain, too.

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