Big Bad

aka: The Big Bad

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.

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.

A Big Bad 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 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; this is a Big Bad Wannabe (although Spike was the character to do this the most, and he was part of the Big Bad Duumvirate of Season 2 along with Drusilla until Angelus showed up). 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. If the Big Bad doesn't start out as bad but develops over the course of the story, it's Big Bad Slippage.

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 only one to have over thirty thousand wicks. 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.



Alternative Title(s):

The Big Bad