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Adaptational Villainy
Kaa in Disney's Jungle Book vs Kaa in the original.

"As many people have noted throughout the years though, Disney has been rather...lax when it comes to adapting books and fairy tales into movies. This is understandable in some cases. Still, it can be a bit galling when one knows that the fire-breathing, demonic witch on the screen was a kindly old lady in the source material."

The villain of an adaptation or retelling of a story is a familiar character who wasn't as bad in the source material. Sure, they may have been a bit of a jerk, or couldn't care less about the good guys, but they weren't evil. Maybe they were even an ally of the main characters who leaned a little too far on the evil side, or a villain with standards or who was known to show a softer side. Maybe the character rubbed the heroes the wrong way, but never caused any real harm and was otherwise a decent person.

In any case, the character seriously Took a Level in Jerkass in the P.O.V. Sequel, The Movie, The Film of the Book, or any other reimagining of the original material. Where they were simply a pest before (and never treated as anything worse than that), or even friendly, they now kick dogs for fun.

This trope can take several forms, depending on the adaptation and the character. The True Neutral figure is actively villainous instead of simply not caring or choosing not to get involved. An imposing and potentially dangerous, but ultimately helpful, ally may become an enemy instead. The Anti-Villain and Tragic Villain will probably lose most or all of their sympathetic side and have fewer, if any, nicer moments. The Jerkass companion who is merely contemptible (but still entitled to the same protection as any other non-villain) in the source material will start committing acts in the adaptation that make him an actual enemy. The dangerous but tragic Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds will lose any sympathetic parts of their characterization or backstory, and the Noble Demon will lack most or all of their code of honor. Meanwhile, the Well-Intentioned Extremist's belief that they are doing the right thing is gone, and they do evil things just For the Evulz, even saying so. Sometimes it can be as simple as ignoring a reformed character's Heel-Face Turn or The Atoner's remorse over his past bad behavior.

This occasionally happens to characters who were explicitly good guys in the source material, and if it does, it's sometimes a Take That to an unpopular one or to make the character Darker and Edgier. It may be a sign of Character Exaggeration. It can also be done to preserve a twist in the original story by surprising the audience with the identity of the villain, using an unexpected character as opposed to the original villain, who turns out to be innocent in the adaptation.

This isn't always a bad thing, however, and indeed some iconic villains have come about in this way, although it will probably lead to accusations of Adaptation Decay or Character Derailment from purists. Unlike Ron the Death Eater, there is usually more justification for the change in the character. Sometimes Adaptational Villainy is a result of Composite Character - the composite mixes the harmless character and a more villainous one - or Adaptation Expansion, when there is no obvious villain in the original work, and a Ghost or another minor character gets the part. Sometimes it's to make the moral lines of an otherwise edgy story more clear or to simplify a complex character. A Perspective Flip often uses this deliberately to subvert the audience's expectations of who the hero and villain are. If the adaptation does well, the darker incarnation of the character may become more popular and eventually overshadow the original, for a variety of reasons.

It's not Adaptational Villainy if an entirely new character is created to be the villain. This trope only applies if the villain in question is recognizable from the original work, but was a more sympathetic or tragic figure, had some form of standards or sympathetic motivations, had sympathetic moments or people that the villain genuinely cared about, was strictly neutral, was eventually redeemed, showed remorse, or wasn't evil at all. It is also not Adaptational Villainy if a character is Flanderized into being more outright evil than they originally were within a canon, their original, more understandable motives behind their actions are downplayed or completely ignored as the material goes on, or if constantly switching sides is an established character trait.

This trope is Older Than Dirt, since this sometimes happened to religious or mythological figures who, over time, became more malicious then they were in the older versions of their myths due to displacement or conquest.

The Super Trope to this is Demonization. Also a subtrope of Adaptation Personality Change.

Compare Everybody Hates Hades, which is this trope applied to certain Dark Is Not Evil gods in mythology, and Historical Villain Upgrade, which is a variant for Real Life figures. Ron the Death Eater happens when a section of a fandom demonizes a character rather than one specific adaptation.

Contrast Took a Level in Jerkass, in which the character becomes more unpleasant canonically, because of Character Development.

For the inverse where a villain or Anti-Hero is softened in the adaptation, see Adaptational Heroism.


Example subpages:


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    Fan Works 
  • Fandom has a specific term for taking a character that is good (or neutral) and downgrading them to villain: Ron the Death Eater
  • Sonic The Comic Online does this with many games characters. Shadow, Rouge, the Babylon Rogues, Bean, Silver... even Cream the Rabbit! Blaze is immune to this, being almost identical to her game counterpart.
  • While Discord in canon was certainly malicious and powerful, he was presented more along the lines of a misbehaved brat than anything else and he did ultimately have a Heel-Face Turn, starting in Season 3 with a friendship with Fluttershy and occasional helpful, if still jerkish, Trickster Mentor moments. It was completed in the Season 4 finale after a backslide prompted by Tirek and a Heel Realization after Tirek backstabbed him. The episode shows that Discord is capable of remorse when he genuinely and seriously apologizes for his bad behavior and completely reforms. However, many fan stories (most prominently the Pony POV Series and The Nuptialverse) present him as an unrepentant Ultimate Evil, responsible for multiple genocides and creating the Changelings, among other crimes. (This is somewhat more justified for fanfics that were written before "Keep Calm And Flutter On" and the character development Discord got in that episode; more modern works have less of an excuse.)
    • While it's mostly tongue-in-cheek, Princess Celestia gets this a lot. There are memes of her being a tyrant who rules with an iron hoof and sends people to the moon at the slightest annoyance, a Discord-like prankster causing the cast's problems for the fun of it, or a Memetic Molester. Look up Tyrant Celestia, Trollestia, and Molestia, respectively.
    • In Harmony's Warriors, a rather expansive crossover with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is extensive use of this:
      • Fancy Pants, one of the few pleasant inhabitants in Canterlot in canon, is presented as a Corrupt Corporate Executive Bitch in Sheep's Clothing.
      • Canon Snowflake is a background character showing no signs of being a bad guy, but here is a Blood Knight with signs of mental instability (which only gets worse after taking the serum).
      • Cheerilee is the counterpart to the Lizard.
      • Carrot Cake, Pinkie's kind employer, and Fleur de Lis — like Fancy Pants, one of the few pleasant Canterlot residents — are in the roles of prominent Anti Villains Magneto and Mystique.
      • Canon Gustav is a kindly baker. Here, he's a sociopath with delusions of grandeur who seeks power For the Evulz.
      • Canon Hoity Toity? A slightly snobby fashion critic. Harmony's Warriors Hoity Toity? Red Skull.
      • Filthy Rich is Norman Osborn.
    • In the G1 special that he premiered in, Scorpan was a Nice Guy who happened to work for Big Bad Tirac, and in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic it's mentioned that Scorpan befriended the ponies and helped them imprison Tirek in Tartarus. The Warmistress of Equestria, however, portrays Scorpan as a manipulative, bloodthirsty Lord of Chaos whose Evil Plan is to break Tirac out of the Warp and sacrifice Equestria to the Dark Gods.
  • Damion, a one-shot character from Pokémon, was originally just a Jerkass becomes a dangerous psychopath in Symbiosis. He is willing to kill Ash to get revenge on Brock and Misty for reporting his crime.
  • Count Mott of The Familiar of Zero is "merely" a decadent noble who sexually harasses his servants. In Unfamiliar, he's an outright psycho who tortures, murders and tortures to death anyone who crosses him.
  • Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King Adventures, where they're turned into a soul sucking Evil Sorcerer and his helper.
  • In the Simpsons AU The Fourth Simpson Child, Lisa gets this treatment, going from a socially isolated smart girl who is somewhat The Unfavourite to a Smug Snake who is openly jealous of Samantha (her older sister and the titular character).
  • In Touhou, Wriggle is just a run-of-the-mill insect youkai and, while still dangerous, she usually has no malicious intentions against humans and will attack only if provoked. In the fanfic No Such Thing as Fairy Tales, Wriggle is a fae, who spirits aways humans and torture and rape them for no other reason because she can. An Eldritch Abomination.
  • Touhou Ibunshu does this to almost half of the cast. Rumia, Mystia, and Remilia are Creepy Children that eat people, Cirno, Wriggle and Hina are sadists that try to kill people for no reason, Sakuya is a Serial Killer and succeeds in killing the humans, and Yukari and Mokou both try to obliterate Gensokyo. Strangely, the ones that get some Character Development end up being more sympathetic than the originals, even if they are worse people overall.
  • Imperfect Metamorphosis takes Yuuka Kazami (a powerful and dangerous individual who nonetheless mostly leaves people alone) and turns her into The Dreaded who makes every character crap their pants whenever she's mentioned, and more than lives up to her reputation by being a full-blown Outer God.
  • Dirty Sympathy does this to several characters: Daryan Cresend ( already Dirty Cop) into a Domestic Abuser who abuses Klavier and constantly makes death threats. Kristoph Gavin ( an Amoral Attorney and poisoner) into a Bad Boss who traps Apollo into All Take and No Give relationship and abuses him because Apollo has no one else to turn to. Machi's portrayal as innocent child is done away, presenting him as angelic-looking, distrubed smuggler and he is actually guilty of killing LeTouse. Lamiroir is a cold-blooded Mama Bear, who thought nothing of framing someone and threatening someone with death to protect Machi. And the story's leads, Klavier and Apollo become Villain Protagonists.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, Dr. Wily and several Robot Masters are far more villainous than in the show.
  • In the MLP Alternate Universe Fic series The Dashverse, the canon villains of Friendship Is Magic become much more threatening. They aren't too monstrous that the series is grimdark, but they do sink to depths not approachable in canon.
    • In Rainbooms and Royalty, which is the re-imaging of the pilot, Nightmare Moon is more explicit in her attempts to stop the Mane 6. She assaults and repeatedly tries to kill them especially Rainbow Dash, brainwashes Shining Armor and Ditzy Doo into her loyal minions, offers Rainbow Dash a greater temptation than she received in canon, and in a final act, threatened to drop the rest of the Mane 6 to their deaths and forcing Rainbow Dash to choose which ones to save. By the end, it is not surprising that Rainbow Dash hasn't forgiven Luna.
    • In Hot Heads, Cold Hearts, and Nerves Of Steel, King Sombra, who was already a Crazy-Prepared and evil dictator in canon, is more of a threat, since his actions have direct impact on the protagonists. He kidnaps the foals of Ponyville and brings them to the Frozen North. When Rainbow Dash reaches his lair he enters Rainbow's head and tells him his backstory: he started out as just as snobbish prince before he obtained the Alicorn Amulet. Afterwards, he sought even greater power, he murdered his wife, manipulated Luna into falling in love with him, and even after his defeat by the Princesses, he knew he had driven Luna into the despair that would create Nightmare Moon. He then reveals his plan, to sacrifice the foals to increase his power and become an alicorn god. And he comes pretty damn close as well.
  • In Freedom Through Harmony, Celestia is corrupt and banished Luna for trying to reason with her, that still does stop her from becoming Nightmare Moon though.
  • In I'm Here to Help, the senshi of the future, as well as Neo-Queen Serenity, are portrayed as considerably more villainous than their canon counterparts. While we don't see much of them, it's established that they are essentially the Big Good of the future, to the point where they were willingly asked to rule the now-united Earth. In the fanfiction though, their adoration comes from Neo-Queen Serenity "purifying" all negative emotions out of them, allegedly turning them into placid zombies. While Emerald is something of an Unreliable Narrator due to being insane, one segment told from the point of view of the future Jupiter and Mars has them discuss how they attacked/killed several children who Emerald had help with one of his plans, dismissing the whole thing as the children having made their own choices in the matter. Needless to say, the canon senshi would never willingly harm children, whether or not they were helping a villain.
  • In System Restore, there are a few cases.
    • The first and second victims, while acting similarly to how they did in canon (Hoping to kick-start the mutual killing and planning a murder so that Kuzuryuu can gradaute, respectively), they come off as somewhat less sympathetic, since their motives are revealed after their deaths.
    • The second murderer, and the first who's different than canon, is Sonia Nevermind, who not only never killed anyone in canon, but was also one of the nicer cast members.
  • In Kitsune no Ken: Fist of the Fox, Utakata, Yagura and Gaara are the three most villainous members of the Kyuushingai introduced, with Utakata being an Ax-Crazy Serial Killer who'll even murder children in his rampages, Yagura being a cold-blooded gang leader who's infamous for making witnesses set to testify against him "disappear," and Gaara being an aspiring drug kingpin who's currently in an alliance with Yagura. Contrast their canon counterparts from Naruto, where Utakata was merely disillusioned after being mistreated due to his jinchuriki status but wasn't otherwise stated to be evil, Yagura only had his bad reputation because he was manipulated into committing bloody actions during his time as the Mizukage, and Gaara is one of Naruto's staunchest friends and allies (though he did start out Ax-Crazy and only wound up undergoing a Heel-Face Turn following being defeated in combat by Naruto).
    • The same fic also has Konan, who's a member of Akatsuki and determined to kill the Kyuushingai no matter what (in canon, she's also a member of Akatsuki, but there she's a Well-Intentioned Extremist who later becomes one of Naruto's supporters).
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: In canon, Tsukune's ghoul form was largely depicted as an instinctive, mindless Berserker. Here, it's shown as a full-fledged Superpowered Evil Side with its own identity and personality.

    Literature 
  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe novel The Resurrection Casket is Treasure Island IN SPACE! Drel McCavity (the Squire Trelawney character) turns out to be a villain, but not quite as much of one as Salvo (the John Silver character) who's been "upgraded" to Faux Affably Evil.
  • In the original story of Saint George and the Dragon and most reworkings of it, Saint George is the hero. For example, in The Reluctant Dragon, he becomes the title character's friend. Even in retellings where the dragon is Spared by the Adaptation, George usually convinces it to Heel-Face Turn. In the Dragon Keepers series by Kate Kilmo, Saint George is a Villain with Good Publicity who enslaves magical creatures and drinks dragons' blood while the princess he saved is an evil witch. The dragon from the original tale tells his own side of the story, in which he was a benevolent sorcerer betrayed and killed by George.
  • Myth-O-Mania has some in-universe examples: When Zeus rewrote the stories of Classical Mythology, he exaggerated monsters' scariness to glorify the heroes. (eg, The Minotaur went from being a vegetarian to eating humans.) Plus, Zeus claimed that Hades kidnapped Persephone, when actually she hitched a ride on his chariot while running away from her overprotective mother.
  • The mice from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - In the radio play, they are fairly amiable, and upon discovering that Arthur is in the ideal position to find the ultimate question, offer to make him "a reasonably rich man" if he does. In the book and subsequent adaptations, however, they are much more sinister, plotting to steal his brain in order to read the question from it.
  • While L. Frank Baum didn't elaborate on what makes the Wicked Witch of the East evil (allowing for certain Alternate Character Interpretations), Volkov wastes no time in Tales of the Magic Land, and opens the series by portraying her as an Omnicidal Maniac.
    • Likewise, the Wizard is not necessarily a good guy, and does several reprehensible things, but when Greg Maguire got his hands on Oz, the Wizard became a power-seeking, first-rate Magnificent Bastard who exploits religious factionalism and Fantastic Racism to pit his potential enemies against one another, drive Oz into civil war, and start genocide of the sentient beasts as a cover for him trying to locate the Grimmerie and obtain absolute power.
  • In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts is clearly a mean woman and a blustering Jerkass type, but calling her evil might be stretching the definition a little; though she often calls for people to be beheaded, her husband secretly pardons most of the people she condemns, and the Griffon tells Alice that, "It's all in [the Queen's] fancy, you know. They don't actually execute anyone." Nonetheless, you can be sure in almost any modern story where Lewis Carroll's heroine is portrayed as the protagonist, the Queen of Hearts (often conflated with the Red Queen) will be the villain, and portrayed as far more evil than Carroll could have ever imagined. Whereas Alice's trial in the book ends with her realizing that the Queen of Hearts' threat against her is empty and dismissing the Queen's court as a pack of playing cards, in the 1951 Disney version, the Queen of Hearts is portrayed as a genuine threat, and the trial ends with Alice running for her life from the Queen and her soldiers before waking up.
    • The Jabberwock is often both this and an Ascended Extra in such works, seeing as the beast barely even counted as a character in Through the Looking-Glass, only briefly appearing in the now-famous poem that Alice read. The poem became so popular that most modern works include the creature as an adversary for Alice and the heroes in general.

     Music 
  • In the picture book The Butterfly Ball, Sir Maximus Mouse, the cheese tycoon, is simply a workaholic who's too busy to go to the Ball. In Roger Glover's concept album adaptation, he's a borderline-demonic Corrupt Corporate Executive.

    Pinball 
  • Aside from a fight when she premiered in one issue of the Comic Book, the Black Widow has never been a Spider-Man villain. Yet Gottlieb's The Amazing Spider-Man pinball has her on the backglass along with Spidey's other rogues, such as the Vulture and the Green Goblin.
  • In Zen Studios' Spider-Man pinball, J. Jonah Jameson is elevated from an annoying nuisance to one of four villains for Spider-Man to fight.

    Theater 
  • The Wizard in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, although he becomes one of Dorothy's friends, isn't nice in his early appearances (after all, he did have Ozma kidnapped to prevent her from interfering with his takeover of Oz). However, in the Perspective Flip Wicked and its musical adaptation, he is much worse. The musical version, though, is more sympathetic than the book version, who doesn't shy from personally murdering the Ozma Regent, violently suppressing Animal protesters, and attempting to exterminate the Quadlings just to get at the rubies on their land. In the musical, he's a sort of a Well-Intentioned Extremist who is puppeteered by Madame Morrible and generally seems to want the best for Oz, as long as he remains its leader.
  • This happens to several characters in Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. The trope applies in two ways, both because characters from the first musical undergo villain transformations and because in The Phantom of Manhattan (the Frederick Forsyth novel that was the result of early work on what became this show) contains no such transformation, instead having the villain be a completely new character who didn't make it to the stage.
  • In Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure, the Mad Hatter becomes female and the play's main antagonist, with the March Hare as her Dragon. In the book, he's scatterbrained, but not particularly malicious about it.
  • Brecht's The Three Penny Opera makes Macheath considerably more unpleasant than he was in The Beggar's Opera. In the original play, Macheath is a gallant highwayman who doesn't kill except in self-defense, and while utterly incapable of remaining faithful to one woman, is an overall nice guy. In contrast, Macheath in Brecht's play is a mass murderer and rapist and only rarely pleasant. An additional change is that lines from the original play given to Peachum involving plans to sell out criminal associates to the authorities with full knowledge they will be hanged is given to Macheath in The Three Penny Opera, changing Macheath from an example of Honor Among Thieves to one of No Honor Among Thieves.
  • In The Golden Ticket, an opera adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Spoiled Brat Veruca Salt agrees to a deal with a TV reporter to secretly film and photograph the titular, top-secret factory during the Golden Ticket tour — which makes her and her dad, who goes along with the plan, spies. As well, she's much nastier in her selfishness than in other versions, and specifically contrasted with poor-but-good Charlie Bucket throughout. With this in mind, while the novel and all other adaptations have them the third group to be eliminated from the tour, here they're the fourth and last to go.
  • In The Ring of the Nibelung Hagen goes through this. He is largely a Composite Character of Hagen from The Saga From The Volsungs and Literature/Nibelungenlied. However in the Volsung Saga he is Gunther's heroic brother and though a more villainous figure in the Nibelungenlied, murdering Siegfried, there he is acting out of loyalty to Gunther. In the Ring Cycle Hagen is the son of the main villain Alberich and murders Siegfried and Gunther for the Ring of Power.

    Web Comics 

    Web Originals 
  • This page lists five well-known characters who were reimagined into villains through Disney movies in this way.
  • The Day of the Barney Trilogy takes Barney and Baby Bop, who are portrayed as sincere and good friends to the kids on Barney & Friends, and portrays them as villains who successfully get the world's children to kill any adult they come across, kill their male Special Friends when they turn thirteen, and take the thirteen year old girls away to fatally mother mutated offspring. They're even revealed to be Really 65 Million Years Old and to have been the harbringers of many of the world's evil dictators and catastrophes.
  • In the movie Downfall Hermann Fegelein is simply Heinrich Himmler's Number Two man who Hitler killed for trying to leave the Bunker and flee Berlin. In Hitler Rants, however, he's portrayed as a malicious Trickster Archetype and Screwy Squirrel whose "antics" constantly bamboozle Hitler at the drop of a hat, making Fegelein the Big Bad. Granted, this stuff is Poke the Poodle compared to the real-life Fegelein's "antics" in Byelorussia.
  • Hilariously, the Lighter and Softer version of the game Warhammer 40,000, Brighthammer 40000, does this to the Tau Empire. To explain, Warhammer 40000 is an extremely grimdark setting, with a number of genocidal, xenocidal and one or two omnicidal factions locked in a Forever War. The sole exception is the Tau, who are still bad in a sense but still the most sane and sympathetic of all factions. For Brighthammer 40000, every faction except the Tau have been made more sympathetic, while the sinister aspects of the Tau have been played Up to Eleven, along with some new ones added. This has the effect of turning the Tau into the setting's Big Bad. Water Caste Tau are all conniving schemers and cheating merchants, Air Caste Tau are all cowards who launch unprovoked bombing runs and orbital strikes on defenceless worlds, Fire Caste Tau are all violent brutes who bully other Tau and use prisoners of war for target practice (when they bother to take prisoners at all), and the Ethereals run the empire as this horrible 1984-esque society and often use mind-control to order Tau to kill themselves, sometimes for fun. Only the Earth Caste escape this treatment, being poor schmucks who are abused, exploited and left to die when they're no longer useful.
  • Since the fan who is recalling JoJo's Bizarre Adventure replaced characters from the series with characters from other works in Vaguely Recalling JoJo, this trope was bound to happen. He replaced Ebony Devil with Negi Springfield, Nena with Bridget, Steely Dan with Atobe Keigo, ZZ with Captain Falcon and High Priestess with Blossom.
  • The Midwestern Brotherhood of Steel are just downright fascist in one of the worlds from We Are Our Avatars, they even tortured an Enclave soldier even though he's a Punch Clock Villain.
  • Danganronpa Abridged Thing does this to the first murderer. In canon, the crime was committed in what was arguably self-defense, although it's pointed out that the killer technically went out of his way to get to and finish off the victim. In the abridged series, the murderer accepted the victim's invitation, hoping to "get some," and killed her when she called him a "weenie."


Adaptational HeroismDerivative WorksAdaptation Sequence
    Heel Face IndexBait the Dog
Above Good and EvilEvil TropesAffably Evil
Adaptational HeroismMedia Adaptation TropesAdaptation Species Change
The Jungle BookImageSource/LiteratureThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Action GirlOlder Than DirtAlways Chaotic Evil
Adaptational HeroismCharacterization TropesAdaptational Wimp
The Jungle BookImageSource/Animated FilmsHypnotic Eyes
Accuser of the BrethrenVillainsThe Adjectival Man

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