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What is the difference between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra in Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)?

Both have been included in couple of MCU movies.

  • 6
    shield are the good guys and hydra are the bad guys – KutuluMike Apr 30 '17 at 10:55
  • 3
    @KutuluMike but everything is hydra eventually :) – Ankit Sharma Apr 30 '17 at 10:59
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The short answer is: HYDRA is a terrorist organization, while SHIELD is a law enforcement agency. In practice, it's a bit more complicated.


In the MCU, HYDRA is a secret organization that was originally formed as a cult that worshiped a very powerful Inhuman, and who's goal was to bring him back from exile to Earth. (This is the HYDRA in the TV show Agents of SHIELD -- none of this backstory appears in the movies).

During WWII, a group of German HYDRA agents formed a splinter-group, the one most people think of when they talk about HYDRA. This was basically an advanced research division, which took advantage of alien technology (like the Tesseract) to build advanced weapons for the German Army. They behaved as if they were working to support Hitler and his goals, but in reality, the leaders of HYDRA were planning to conquer the world for themselves.

Once WWII ended, with HYDRA's side losing, it went underground. They continued to work towards world domination, and continued to study advanced extra-terrestrial technology, but they also began to use more subterfuge and espionage techniques. One of those was the infiltration of SHIELD.

At the same time that the Nazi branch of HYDRA was forming, the US was building it's own advanced research group to counter it. This was the SSR -- Strategic Science Reserve -- and you see this group in action in Captain America: The First Avenger. After the war ended, the US government continued to counter HYDRA by mirroring their behavior: three of the SSR big-wigs (including Howard Stark and Peggy Carter) formed SHIELD. This was an counter-terrorist group that, like HYDRA, operated underground. The old SSR became part of SHIELD, and one of SHIELD's primary functions was to retrieve and study extra-terrestrial technology to keep it out of HYDRA's hand.

(Exactly who SHIELD answered to is a bit fuzzy; it seems to be part of the US government, but it also seems to be part of the UN, and it also seems to be run by a shadowy World Security Council; most likely it began as a US government agency and expanded as HYDRA's threats expanded as well.)

Both groups operated similarly, but for different reasons. HYDRA stays underground to avoid detection by law enforcement, and to keep their plans for world domination secret. SHIELD stays underground because the kind of dangers they deal with would likely cause panic if they became widely known.

Once the Chitauri Invasion happened, and the Avengers went public, the existence of SHIELD became public knowledge. Soon afterward, it was revealed that HYDRA had secretly infiltrated SHIELD early on and had been largely running the operations. So, in practice, the line between the two groups is more blurry that people thought.

In the MCU movies, both organizations are effectively dead -- Captain America: The Winter Soldier shows the end of SHIELD and the presumed end of HYDRA at the same time; The Avengers: Age of Ultron shows the Avengers hunting down the last remnants of HYDRA. In the TV universe, both groups rebuilt themselves after their outing; SHIELD eventually did hunt down and eliminate the last of HYDRA's top operatives, then went public again as part of the Inhuman crisis.

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