In general terms, this trope is about some sort of evil force or being that has been around for an extreme length of time - hundreds or thousands of years at the minimum
, and potentially predates humanity - or even life/earth/the universe itself.
Alternatively, it can be about a particular ancient civilization that was (or still is) deeply evil.
In most cases, the extreme age of the being/force/civilization is portrayed as emphasizing how evil it is (either because of the association of living very long and mental deterioration
or how such evil can survive the changes of time).
A Sealed Evil in a Can
is often an Ancient Evil, but Ancient Evils are not necessarily sealed; they may just be lurking. Or waiting
... Occasionally, they may be already dead, but the villain of the present time brings them to the current timeline,
either via Time Travel
, unsealing, or resurrection.
Descriptions and examples of the various forms of Ancient Evil:
- Some sort of utterly ancient "force of evil", that is as old as the earth, and maybe as old as or older than the universe, and possibly universal in influence. Either Eldritch Abomination, God of Evil, or Satan (or equivalent). It is effectively the source of much or all evil among humans, either by tempting or leading them astray, or through some sort of mental corruption.
- A pre-human sapient species. The earth belonged to them once, and they hate us for usurping it. Maybe they want it back, or perhaps just to harm us out of jealousy. Often they are forced by violent human ancestors figuratively or literally underground, earning them the name Ultraterrestrials. Examples include the demons from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, many of the creatures in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and many of the creatures encountered (and killed) by Conan the Barbarian.
- An ancient (and long-extinct) civilization. Possibly caused its own extinction due to its evil (or the evil it unleashed). Typically had a society based on demon summoning, worship of dark gods, etc. May be presented as being evil because it was so ancient. By the time the main storyline goes, this civilization is mostly being talked over, and either being Greater Scope Villain or the source of the current villain's evil.
- Related to the above, an ancient and still existing civilization. Again, may be presented as being evil because it is so old – either because it is a survivor from a time when every civilization was evil, or because it has been corrupted over time (a form of Immortality Immorality as applied to cultures). May have a hand on an Ancient Conspiracy and maintains a Masquerade, but they may sometimes go openly.
- A very powerful Evil Sorcerer from ancient times who, because Wizards Live Longer, survives the ravages of time and is still being influential. This type is prone to Regularly Scheduled Evil.
Subtrope of Trouble from the Past
. See also Evil Old Folks
. Compare Abusive Precursors
and Immortality Immorality
Anime and Manga
- Naruto. The original Tailed Beast, the Juubi (Ten-Tails) was originally a benign, very old and powerful World Tree who only wants to remain be until Princess Kaguya ate one of its fruits, becoming the first human with the power of chakra, in order to stop the neverending war of humans. Said tree was not amused and turned into Ten-Tails, terrorizing all humans until Kaguya's son, the Sage of the Six Paths, sealed him within his body, and later, split off Juubi's power into 9 creatures (who became the 9 Tailed Beasts) and created the moon to bury his body out of Earth. In the current timeline he's successfully revived by efforts of the group Akatsuki and gets sealed in its leader Tobi, gaining its tremendous power. Or, at least, that's what everyone thought it was. In reality, the World Tree was ultimately just that — a tree. The Ten-Tails came about when Kaguya became jealous of the power her sons inherited from her and merged with the tree to become the demon of legend and take it back, subsequently being sealed in the process, but not before she created Black Zetsu, who spent the next several thousands of years engineering the history of shinobi in order to revive her and erasing nearly all traces of her existence and records of her rule in order to prevent anyone from trying to stop her unsealing. So their is an ancient evil at work — just not the one everyone thought it was.
- Parodied in Ranma ½ with Happosai, whose introduction in the manga makes him seem like some horrible, ancient evil that's been sealed away for centuries. He, of course, turns out to be just a Dirty Old Man that Genma and Soun locked up several decades earlier.
- In Kill la Kill, the Original Life Fiber is a massive parasitic organism that actually predates human life.
- Majin Buu in Dragon Ball Z is one, having existed for millions in reality, billions of years before the start of the series. Double Subverted when he tries to be good, only for bastardry by humans to unleash his dark side again.
- Merd the Oppressor from the Judge Dredd comic books seemed to have been eaten by the giant magical toad Sagbelly, from which Judge Dredd extracted some oracle spice. However, Merd's ghost appeared briefly with a warning: "It takes ten thousand years to learn to use oracle spice correctly, and even then it is dangerous. Look what happened to me." Among Merd's horrors was culling villagers to feed Sagbelly.
Film - Animated
- This trope has become so overused in The Legend of Spyro fanworks that it's often the source of major Snark Bait within the fandom. 'New ancient evil' has pretty much become a major flag that the fic falls into "Post Dawn of the Dragon template", and is often associated with Sturgeon's Law fics in the fandom. Despite this though, this trope just refuses to die, with stories that enclude "Spyro and Cynder have to fight a new ancient evil" still clogging the archive to this day.
- Child of the Storm has a few: Gravemoss, who's about fifteen hundred years old, the Darkhold which is indescribably ancient, its author, whose vintage is somewhere in the billions and there is mention of the Dark Elves (though they are believed to be largely extinct).
- The Disir are in the region of ten thousand years old.
- Thanos is also implied to have been around for thousands of years.
- The Seventh Doctor's tendency to fight these is parodied in the This Time Round story "Like Water For Adric", where the Doctor's companions complain that if he finds so much as a cockroach in the loo, he calls it 'Ancient Eeeevil!'. The Doctor protests that cockroaches are ancient.
- Hope For The Heartless (set after The Black Cauldron) has Arawn, the Death Lord of Annuvin. He was an evil overlord and the former master of the Horned King who sought the Black Cauldron in order to use it to take over the world. Now he's a spirit trapped inside said Cauldron. While it's not stated exactly how long he existed before his imprisonment, it's known that he plagued the mankind at least centuries before his former apprentice came into existence. Note that the Horned King is over a thousand years old himself.
- The New Adventures Of Invader Zim has Norlock, the vampire who allies with Zim. An exact age is never given, but he claims to have known Caligula, and states at one point that when he was human he built pyramids for a living.
Film - Live Action
- The Loc-Nar from Ivan Reitman's Heavy Metal describes itself as "the sum of all evil. My influence spans all times, all dimensions, all galaxies." Although it is ultimately destroyed in the film's climax, the closing narration implies that a new Taarakian is born to protect the universe; presumably, evil will return and coalesce into another Artifact of Doom.
- Kai from Kung Fu Panda 3, who was sealed in the Spirit Realm before the creation of kung fu itself, only breaking out five hundred years later. Being the Ancient Evil actually kind of pisses him off, since it means that nobody knows who he is anymore.
- The Dark Elves, and especially their leader Malekith, in Thor: The Dark World have existed since before the creation of the universe and aimed to destroy all worlds to bring back everything to the state of the dark void.
- The Djinn from Wishmaster is an immortal wish-granting Jackass Genie who has been alive since the birth of the universe. Notably, he has no problem whatsoever adjusting to the modern world.
- Godzilla and Gamera are both ancient monsters who are awoken one day and go on a rampage. In some movies they are depicted as good, however.
- An ancient Egyptian princess from The Awakening was so evil that her father, the Pharoah, had her Sealed Evil in a Can in an unmarked tomb, and erased almost all traces of her existence. The evil princess takes possession of an archaeologist's daughter once he opens the hidden tomb.
- Snow White and the Huntsman: Queen Ravenna is an ancient sorcerer who has been keeping herself (and her brother Finn) alive and young by devouring other's lifeforce. As she reveals towards the end, she's lived at least twenty human lives (making her over 1400) and destroyed countless kingdoms.
- The Lord of the Rings. Melkor/Morgoth, Sauron, the Balrogs, Ungoliant, Saruman...just about all of the extremely evil and powerful beings in Middle-Earth were also thousands of years old, some of them dating back to the creation of the world.
- Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Lord Foul is older than the Land. He was trapped in it by its Creator. His Raver servants are also very old.
- Many entities in the Cthulhu Mythos, including Cthulhu himself.
- The Humanx Commonwealth novel Bloodhype. The Vom is a giant ameoba-like creature that devours all life on whatever planet it's on. It's at least 500,000 years old (and probably much older).
- Dean Koontz's Phantoms. The Big Bad is a gigantic amorphous creature that's older than humanity, and possibly as old as life on Earth.
- In Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates, an ancient Egyptian sorcerer who has held on long after the use of magic decayed into evil.
- The Big Bad of Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep is the Blight, an Eldritch Abomination implied to be a kind of sentient computer virus that is capable of running on both mechanical and organic platforms—i.e., any sentient creature. Humans inadvertently boot up an ancient database that has hosted the dormant Blight for at least a few tens of billions of years, and it immediately begins to spread out over the galaxy-wide computer network, infecting both computers and sentient creatures.
- In The Belgariad, Big Bad Torak is so ancient that not only did he and his brothers precede the great disaster that split the known world into two continents, but he in fact caused the disaster.
- The driving force behind the Second Apocalypse by R. Scott Bakker is the Consult, a group of powerful sorcerers and generals who allied with an Always Chaotic Evil race of Magitek-wielding aliens. Together, they're attempting to resurrect their Eldritch Abomination No-God, Mog-Pharau. The Consult was responsible for the Apocalypse four thousand years before the events of the series, but by the present day, everyone except for the Mandate school of sorcerers is convinced that they no longer exist, if they ever existed at all. Interestingly Downplayed in the first trilogy, as they are mostly a Greater Scope Villain only tangentially connected to the main plot of the Holy War, but played very straight in the second trilogy.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: the Others. When the first of the First Men, eight thousand years ago, set foot on Westeros, the Others were already there, waiting for new victims. They might be even older than that, given that the Children of the Forest, another very ancient race, carried obsidian weapons that are their Kryptonite.
- In the Dark Wing series, the Vuhls have been around since at least as far back as the days of Qu'u, a legendary Zor hero who lived thousands of years ago.
- In The Wheel of Time, the Dark One is said to have been bound "at the moment of Creation"; taken literally, it predates the universe (but since it strictly speaking exists outside of time entirely, that's a somewhat wonky call to make). It's chief servants, the Forsaken, clock in at a "mere" three millennia and change, but still qualify as well.
- Illyria, from Angel. Probably the rest of the Old Ones too, but he/she was the king.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- The Master is one of the few vampires old enough to have totally lost all human features, making him several centuries old.
- Glory. Nobody knows her real name because she predates the invention of written language.
- The aptly named First Evil.
- Doctor Who features this a lot, with the Doctor stopping the reemergence of evils on all levels of the scale. Plus, in the expanded canon of the novels and audio stories the ancient Gallifreyans were a race of monster-slayers who tamed the chaotic early universe.
- "The Pandorica Opens" Subverts this. Initially, the Doctor believes that the Pandorica houses some kind of ancient, unimaginably evil entity that his enemies intend to unleash on him and the rest of the universe. Turns out, the Pandorica is a cage—intended for him. It goes further when it's revealed that a lot of races regard the Doctor himself as an Ancient Evil.
- Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Wolf in the Fold". The Emotion Eater Energy Being that was Jack the Ripper is at least 500 years old. It is described as being "ancient" so it may be even older.
- The vast majority of demons. Ruby and Crowley are both from the 16th century, and it's implied that they're young by demon standards, as they're the only known demons young enough to remember having once been human.
- The Archangels all predate humanity, and "The Man Who Would Be King" reveals they were there when the first land-dwelling vertebrates evolved. The S10 finale implies they predate the Universe itself. All other evil angels also predate humanity, though they are younger than the Universe.
- War, Famine, and Pestilence are implied to be as old as the concepts they personify.
- Eve, the Mother of All Monsters, predates Angels, Humans and Demons and was implied to be related in some way to the Leviathans.
- The Leviathans are ravenous primordial monsters who were the first of God's creations and predate both Angels and the invention of souls. Death explains that God sealed them away out of fear that they would "chomp the entire petri dish".
- Rowena is Crowley's mother, making her over 500 years old.
- The Darkness predates Creation itself, and is so powerful that it took God and his Archangels to even seal it away, and it's implied that even Death was incapable of killing it.
Mythology & Religion
- "Night on Bald Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky, a composition about a huge mountain where a witches sabbath takes place at night. In Fantasia this is made more clear by having the top of the mountain actually be Tchernobog the demon god, folded behind his wings, sleeping all day, but awakening at night and summoning all demons, ghosts, witches and other creepy things to appear inside the mountain for a devilish feast. It is implied that this has been going on since the dawn of time.
- "Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey's Head" by Gorillaz from Demon Days is a Spoken Word track, read by Dennis Hopper about an ancient mountain called Monkey whom the villagers below the foot of the mountain know and fear. In the end it destroys everybody and everything.
- Japanese Mythology: some of the Youkai are actually either animals (like the two-tailed cat or the Kitsune) or items (such as umbrellas or combs) who have lived/neglected for long enough and gains spirits of their own, and most of the time, becoming malevolent.
- The SCP Foundation has a file on Bigfoot. The "official" version is that just seeing it causes death, but the real version is that they were a Superior Species to which humanity was enthralled in prehistoric eras, having mastered Organic Technology. Then mankind rose up against them, destroying them, and wiping their own memories of the event... but now they're coming back.
- The "pre-human sentient species" thing is played up to eleven with Aboleths from Dungeons & Dragons. They are an evil species that predates creation itself. And they can life indefinitely, meaning there might be some that were still around before the creation of the multiverse.
- Call of Cthulhu supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn". The title Cthulhu Mythos deity is stated to be at least a billion years old.
- Warhammer 40K has no shortage of these, with the youngest Chaos god being ten thousand years old. The other three achieved sentience during the Renaissance, Middle Ages and Mesopotamian eras respectively, while the orks were created approximately sixty million years before humans existed, but the eldest entities in the universe are the C'tan.
- The Zendikar block of Magic: The Gathering features the Planet-Eating Eldritch Abomination Eldrazi Titans as its Big Bads. Aside from the whole Planet-Eating thing, their main schtick is that, despite being living things, they are colorless, because they predate the colors of magic. For reference, In-Universe, the colors of magic are practically a law of nature; the Eldrazi are basically older than physics.
- The Creators in Neverwinter Nights, who deliberately became a Sealed Evil in a Can in order to escape an ice age.
- The Legend of Zelda has Ganondorf, an Evil Sorcerer who (depending on which side of the split timeline) has been sealed away for hundreds of years at a time, only to be released and either sealed again or killed.
- The Reapers of Mass Effect, massive highly advanced machines that "harvest" all space-faring civilizations every 50,000 years.
- The Big Bad of the first Shadowman, Legion, is known to be so ancient that it practically made all the prophecies about its own return after it was sealed off. It also manages to gather some of history's finest serial killers under his thrall.
- Chrono Trigger
- Lavos, an ancient being who came to Earth millions of years ago, and who (in the Original Future) will cause The End of the World as We Know It, was responsible for the death of an entire intelligent species, will consume almost all life on Earth and then send its children to other worlds to do the same (implying that it was born the same way).
- Also the Rust Tyranno which had been waiting for more than 65 million years for a rematch.
- Jenova from Final Fantasy VII, an ancient being who came to earth thousands of years ago, and who almost caused The End of the World as We Know It, consumed almost all of the Ancient Cetra, plans to consume all the energy in the planet and then depart to another planet to do it again.
- The oldest evil in the Diablo universe was Tathamet, the original Prime Evil, which was destroyed by Anu, the original god of the cosmos. The Burning Hells and the demons were spawned from Tathamet's remains, and the Seven Great Evils which would threaten creation were born from each of Tathamet's seven heads, while Anu's remains would form the Crystal Arch, from which the High Heavens and the angels sprung.
- The King of Fighters
- Orochi has existed since the creation of the Earth, and is disgusted by humans for ruining the world, so he aimed to Kill All Humans. He was sealed by the ancestors of Kyo, Iori and Chizuru long ago. Nowadays (that is, KOF '97) he was unsealed again by the Hakkeshu (Orochi's followers) and Kyo, Iori and Chizuru have to seal him again.
- There's also Those From The Past, a group of villains lead by Saiki who time-traveled from the distant past and aims to take the power of Orochi for their own purposes.
- Common in the Dragon Age series.
- Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door: The Shadow Queen was sealed away 1,000 years prior to the events of the game and is trying to be resurrected.
- In the Siren games, the Big Bad for the first Siren game/New Translation remake consisted of Datatsushi/Kaiko, alien beings that landed on Earth in the 600s that were responsible for the events in Hanuda while in Siren 2, Mother and Otoshigo were responsible for the events in Yamijima Island.
- The Big Bad of Tales of Symphonia is revealed to be One Character With Two Aliases: Yggdrasil, the leader of the evil organization Cruxis, is actually Mithos, the legendary hero who ended the war which more or less marks the beginning of recorded history. Yuan and Kratos Aurion are also just as ancient—they were his party members back then—but significantly less evil.
- The true main antagonists of the Nazi Zombies saga are revealed to be the Apothicons, a splinter race of ancient Keepers whose goal is to corrupt and destroy the universe and all its' dimensions and then devour it. They send Element 115 into each dimension in order to carve a path to an apocalypse, or send their emissary the Shadow Man to speed things along. Origins alludes to them by referring to them as this trope, and the following maps gradually build up their presence until their true role in the story is revealed in Revelations.
- Discord And Nightmare Moon from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Discord was an ancient being of chaos, who ruled over Equestria and made everypony's existence miserable, until Luna and Celestia were able to seal him. Nighmare Moon was Princess Luna, an Alicorn so powerful, her special talent was to move the moon, but ended up succumbing to The Corruption and became a villain who wanted to bring Eternal Night if not stopped by Celestia.
- Lord Tirek first assaulted Equestria centuries ago in order to steal all its magic, before his brother betrayed him to the ponies, who locked him away in Tartarus.
- King Sombra enslaved the citizens of the Crystal Empire a thousand years ago. He was never killed, though he was turned into a Living Shadow.
- The Center, the main enemy of Justice League: The New Frontier is a mix of this and Gaia's Vengeance, as it has made several attempts to stop man's evolutionary progress after they managed to evolve to a point that they could pose a serious threat to the Earth.
- Star Trek: The Animated Series episode "Beyond The Farthest Star''. The magnetic Energy Being has been trapped on an alien starship in orbit around a black hole for three hundred million years.
- Aku from Samurai Jack. In one episode which showed his Back Story, he is shown fighting Jack's world's gods before the world began.
- In Thunder Cats, Mumm-Ra calls upon the "Ancient Spirits of Evil" to give him power to transform.
- Mr. Burns on The Simpsons can be one Depending on the Writer. Usually he's only 104 years old, but one throwaway gag had his age as an unspecified 4-digit number, and another revealed that he was born in Pangaea, making him over 200 million years old.
- Downplayed in The Amazing World of Gumball. Miss Simian is over 2 million years old, but she's not actually evil, just a Jerkass.
- Jimmy Two-Shoes: All the Heinouses, apart from Beezy. In one episode, Jimmy asks Lucius Heinous VII, the youngest of them, how long it took him to grow his horns. Lucius answers that it took 400 years.
- Adventure Time:
- Ice King is over a thousand years old. He's more insane than actually evil, though.
- The Lich dates back at least to The Great Mushroom War which happened a millennium prior to the series. "Evergreen" implies that he's over 65 million years old, and "Gold Stars" reveals that he predates non-existence (or at least is old enough to know of beings that did).
- "Orgalorg" reveals that The Ice King's pet penguin Gunther is actually an evil god named Orgalorg. How old he is is unspecified, but at the time of his banishment, Earth was still an inhospitable planet.
- Jackie Chan Adventures has the title hero fight against demons that are ancient, immortal and varying among each other.
- Shendu ruled over Asia with an iron grip until he was turned into a statue and ripped off of his powers nine centuries ago. Much longer before that, he and his seven Demon Sorcerer siblings ruled over the entire Earth before they were all sealed in the Netherworld (with Shendu managing to escape through unmentioned means).
- Tarakudo, Lord of all Oni and King of all Shadowkhan, ravaged the ancient Japan with his nine Oni generals who each commanded a vast Shadowkhan army, until they were imprisoned in Oni Masks and/or separate dimensions. This evil faction is implied to be older than the Demon Sorcerers are, given the fact that Shendu controlled one of the Shadowkhan armies through one of the Oni Masks in his statue form.