Big Bad

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I've learned that, in every story, there is a big, bad something. An evil force that, no matter the size, corrupts the world of the story, and tries its best to destroy the hero. A wolf, a witch, a giant, a dragon, a knight... or an idea, a desire, a temptation... or even a book.
Lullaby

The cause of all bad happenings in a story. The Big Bad may either be personally responsible for the events, or the biggest force in opposition of the hero's goals. A Big Bad could be a character with Evil Plans or it could be an omnipresent situation, such as a comet heading towards the Earth. In a serial story, the Big Bad often exerts an effect across a number of episodes, and even an entire season. In a standalone cinematic story, their presence drives the plot.

This trope is not a catch-all term for the biggest, ugliest or even primary villain of any given story. The badass leader of the outlaw gang that causes the most personal trouble is The Heavy, not the Big Bad. The railroad tycoon who turns out to be using the gang as muscle is the Big Bad. The Man Behind the Man is very common for this trope, leaving the reveal of the big bad as The Chessmaster behind it all and proving themselves far more clever and resourceful than the Villain of the Week. Sometimes the Big Bad is the grand enemy of the entire story as an Overarching Villain. At other times, the Big Bad is an Arc Villain who causes trouble for a period of time only to be replaced by another Big Bad with ambitious plans.

The Big Bad may be confronted frequently, but is too powerful to finish off until the last episode of the story arc. The Big Bad may work through Evil Minions and will almost certainly have The Dragon protecting them, to keep interest up and provide something for the good guys to defeat. When you look at a season-long story or a major Story Arc and you can identify that one villain as being the one in control of everything, that is the Big Bad.

In its most general terms, a Big Bad will be at the center of the Myth Arc rather than just any Story Arc. At the same time, the Big Bad is not exclusively the most dangerous enemy of the arc. In many cases, you will find that while the Big Bad may be in control, the Dragon-in-Chief would still be the greater threat. In the grand scheme of things and the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, a Big Bad could even become a Sixth Ranger to aid the heroes against the next threat. The Greater-Scope Villain would be an enemy who is an extremely obtuse danger but nothing that directly concerns the heroes at that point in time.

The term "Big Bad" was popularized in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was characteristic of Buffy's Big Bads for their identity or nature, or even the fact that they are the Big Bad at all, to remain unclear for considerable time. Occasionally, characters would even refer to themselves as "the Big Bad". Whether or not they were, though, this is a Big Bad Wannabe. The structure of Buffy placed the Big Bad as being crucial to the Half-Arc Season, half the episodes are filler dealing with unrelated enemies while the other half involved the ongoing Myth Arc with the Big Bad. Each season can easily be defined by who the Big Bad was.

A Big Bad character is also an integral part of the Five-Bad Band dynamic. The role remains largely the same, but it should be noted that they are the Big Bad of that particular organization. They are not just the leader of a Quirky Miniboss Squad, but is a set group to counter the roles in the heroes' Five-Man Band (where either The Leader or The Hero is the Good Counterpart). Whether or not they turn out to be the Big Bad of the entire work of fiction is not set in stone (although more often than not, they will be).

If a show has a series of Big Bad jeopardies, they can function like a series of Monsters of the Week that take more than a week to finish off. If there is a Legion of Doom, you can expect the Big Bad to be involved somehow. They're probably sorted by power, with the strongest for last, following the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

Evil Overlord, Diabolical Mastermind, The Chessmaster, Arch-Enemy, The Man Behind the Man, and often Manipulative Bastard are specific types of villains who are liable to show up as Big Bads. If they're a Magnificent Bastard or Hero Killer, the good guys are in big trouble. The heroic counterpart of this character is the Big Good, who will very often be the focus of this character's attention over The Hero at the beginning of a series. If a work of fiction is conspicuously lacking a Big Bad, it may be a case of No Antagonist.

See also Big Bad Duumvirate for two (or more) Big Bads working together (or not). Sometimes a Big Bad will get their start as a servant to another villain — if that's the case, they're a Dragon Ascendant. If the character who fills the role of Big Bad in most meaningful ways is nominally subordinate to someone else (someone significantly less menacing by comparison), they are a Dragon-in-Chief. If the story has many Big Bads at once who don't work together, see Big Bad Ensemble. The Big Bad Shuffle occurs when there are multiple candidates for the Big Bad position. If the Big Bad doesn't start out as bad but develops over the course of the story, it's Big Bad Slippage. If the Big Bad of one section of a work doesn't die on being defeated and stays around as a character in a different plot role (reformed or not), that's Ex-Big Bad.

Note that the Big Bad of a story is not always the most powerful or oldest existing evil force. Perhaps an evil presence along the lines of an Eldritch Abomination overshadows the work's setting, but is mainly divorced from the story's events — that would be the Greater-Scope Villain. The Big Bad is distinct from that by being the main obstacle that the hero must contend with, though the Big Bad might try to harness the Greater-Scope Villain in some way as part of their plan. (Whether or not this backfires may vary.)

It is one of the most well-known tropes on the TV Tropes community, it being the first to have over thirty thousand wicks, and is the most wicked trope. This is probably because it's incredibly common; it's Older Than Feudalism, and it applies to almost every villain in any multi-part speculative work.


Examples

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • The Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, enslaving the Israelites and doing everything he can to defy the will of God, even after accepting defeat. Serving as the greatest opposition to Moses and God outside of the personal flaws of the people of Israel, the horrid Pharaoh serves as the Ur-Example of the Big Bad, predating most examples of the trope by centuries or millennia. The age shows, as the Pharaoh is killed long before the end of Exodus, which details the travels of the Israelites from the Red Sea and God's revelation of the Mosaic Law, as opposed to more contemporary Big Bads who tend to provide conflict for the entire work.
    • Haman in the Book of Esther, who tries to convince the Persian Emperor to wipe out the Jews.
    • Satan in the Book of Job, The Four Gospels, and the Book of Revelation. In the former, Satan attempts to get Job to denounce his faith and strips away all his fortune from him. In the latter, Satan (as the dragon with seven crowns) corrupts the world with the Whore of Babylon, attempts to get people to worship the Beast from the sea, is revealed to be the Serpent from Genesis and ultimately, battles the armies of Heaven until he is thrown into the Lake of Fire.
    • The Pharisees in The Four Gospels, who try to challenge Jesus at every turn and are the only people who Jesus gets mad at throughout his travels. Notably averted with Satan, who is a background character with minimal involvement in the plot.

    Theatre 
  • Annie: Daniel "Rooster" Hannigan and Lily St. Regis
  • The Crucible: Abigail Williams manipulates the girls of Salem into obeying her and gets them all to help accuse others of witchcraft, condemning innocent men and women to imprisonment and death in order to escape punishment for her own evils.
  • Faust: Mephistopheles
  • Gypsy: "Mama" Rose Hovick
  • Into the Woods: Subverted, as there is no official main villain in the show. The Witch might come off as the villain at first, but as the show progresses, we learn that her actions are very much justifiable, and eventually, she becomes extremely sympathetic ( mainly after Rapunzel's death). The Giantess, while being a major antagonistic force, simply wanted justice for the death of her husband, and the chaos and death that she had caused are often portrayed as accidents (considering that she was near sighted and had lost her glasses). The only character to be truly evil and despicable is the Wolf, and even he's given a hint of sympathetic light ("Ask a wolf's mother!").
  • Les Misérables: being one of the only lawful characters in the entire show, he naturally opposes and antagonizes every main character: he tries to arrest Valjean multiple times, he defends Fantine's rapist by having her arrested instead, he threatens Eponine and the Thenardiers with arrest (and is presumably already familiar with the latters' antics), and spies on and directly opposes Marius and Enjolras's revolution. Curiously, despite being the main villain, he is not the most evil character in the show: that honor goes to the Thenardiers, who are full-blown Chaotic Evil compared to Javert's Lawful Neutral, and worst of all, get away with it all.
  • William Shakespeare has various antagonists in his plays. The comedies tend to lack them though; if a major antagonist is present in a comedy, they will rarely be legitimately evil. note 
    • Hamlet: Claudius usurped the throne that rightfully belongs to Prince Hamlet, who spends the play plotting to kill Claudius.
    • Othello: Iago misleads every character in the play so he can ruin the life of the title character
    • Macbeth: Macbeth himself kills the good king Duncan and ruins Scotland with his corrupt reign, acting as the main villain despite being the protagonist of the story.

    Visual Novels 


Alternative Title(s): The Big Bad

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BigBad