Big Bad Wannabe

Long Feng:...You've beaten me at my own game.
Azula: Don't flatter yourself. You were never even a player.

The Big Bad Wannabe is a villain who is seen as a significant threat but can't back it up when it comes to the crunch. The absolute level of menace varies widely, from an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain having a good day, to a villain who could legitimately be the Big Bad if the real Big Bad wasn't even more Badass than they are, but within a story they are (initially) presented as a big deal.

There are a lot of ways of building up a baddie. In a Slice of Life show a school bully might just talk tough. In a more action oriented work the wannabe might beat up a tough hero to look even tougher: the Worf Effect.

There are also many ways of revealing the villain is an over-inflated threat. A school bully might run from a real fight. In the second example Worf Had the Flu — an unfair circumstance gave the villain his early victory. Sometimes it's just a matter of scale; the heroes catch a murderer, but he's just a copycat, not the real mastermind serial killer he was thought to be. Alternatively the real Big Bad might outdo the wannabe or even kill the wannabe. Those that fall under this trope are also extremely vulnerable to the Wannabe Diss, both from actual Big Bads and their enemies.

The early victory can show the Badass in Distress. Fans might feel a Player Punch if a sidekick comes to grief.

Contrast with Team Rocket Wins. Compare with Smug Snake vs The Chessmaster or Magnificent Bastard, Eviler Than Thou, and Disc One Final Boss. See also Dragon-in-Chief. Subtrope of Paper Tiger.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Prime Minister Honest, from Akame ga Kill!, always has a cocky grin but his only ploy seems to be summoning General Esdeath to go take care of whatever matters are challenging him. He even allows her to disband his son's personal force, telling his child not to cross Esdeath.
  • Kyusoke Higuchi from Death Note is an Arc Villain who gains Light's Death Note as part of his Memory Gambit. The task force initially see his crimes as a major threat but his carelessness makes him much easier to catch on to than Light ever was and he's killed off once Light decides he doesn't need him anymore.
  • Fairy Tail:
    • Jellal is built from his first appearance as the biggest threat the main protagonists have to face: he infiltrates one of the world's most influential ruling bodies so he can perfect a spell necessary to bring the series' established Greater Scope Villain Zeref Back from the Dead. Then it turns out that he's being manipulated by his underling Ultear, who is really The Dragon of Hades, who knows that Zeref is Not Quite Dead. Then he gets upstaged by Zeref himself.
    • Really, this trope is in play every time Zeref decides to get involved. Mard Geer of Tartaros was built up as the most powerful foe Fairy Tail had ever faced, yet in the end Zeref kills him without batting an eye once he failed to revive E.N.D.
    • Master Jose of Phantom Lord manages to terrorize the entire guild, and even put Makarov out of action for a while due to one of his Quirky Mini Boss Squad member's sneak attack. The second Makarov recovers, however, he obliterates Jose without even trying.
  • Marie from Flame of Recca manages to easily "defeat" The Smart Guy Mikagami Tokiya through a string of coincidences, but is later smacked around by Recca and Domon, and she's been a non-factor ever since.
  • Gates from Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid, who spends the entire season being set up as the Big Bad. In the climax, he kills a henchman of another villain and defeats Mao... And then Sousuke enters the arena and kills both Gates and his Elite Mooks in a matter of minutes.
  • Gundam:
  • The original series of Gunnm has Bigott Einsenburg who seems to be a high ranking official in Zalem and has a smug disdain for scrapyard cyborgs who defile their bodies with electronics. He betrays Gally several times because he just sees her as a disposable tool. He also has access to the superweapon "Abbadon" which crushes a full scale rebellion led by a Humongous Mecha in seconds. However Desti Nova then reveals all citizens of Zalem have their brains replaced with chips when they come of age. Cue an epic psychotic fit which leads to the guy and all his co workers being eradicated by Zalem's true robotic rulers.
  • Encrico Maxwell, the head of the Vatican's Section XIII in Hellsing. When he joins the London battle, he does so with the grand ambitions of killing Alucard and even equips his vast number of troops with anti-vampire weapons. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't aware that Alucard was capable of going One-Winged Angel and summoning an Army of the Dead and when he does, Maxwell's forces are completely decimated before he himself is betrayed by one of his subordinates and left to die by the hands of Alucard's zombie-minions.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure
    • Hol Horse from the Stardust Crusaders arc. He even tries to kill Dio at one point, only to be given the first demonstration of Dio's Time Stop.
    • Donatello Versace is this to the main villain three arcs later. Like Hol Horse he starts out under the villain's command but seeing no motive to help him and feeling more entitled to Dio's legacy due to being his son Versace tries to hijack his plan.
  • Mixer Taitei is one of the only villains to ever straight up defeat Kinnikuman himself, but immediately afterward suffers the ignominy of being killed by Kinnikuman's milquetoast kid sidekick, Meat. To be fair, Mixer Taitei is a giant blender Choujin and his fight with Kinnikuman has knocked a few of his screws loose without him realizing it, making him extremely vulnerable to drops and suplexes... but the fact remains that after beating The Hero, he was in turn defeated by a preteen 1/8th his size. The only reason he won against Kin was because the 5 Evil Gods gave him a temporary power-up, meaning the match was 1 against 6. Mr. VTR has to alter reality enough to reverse Kin's Finishing Move in Mixer's favor.
  • In the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind anime, Kurotowa pulls the most half-assed attempt at this ever. When Kushana is missing and presumed dead, he plans to take command from her and use the Giant Warrior to carve out a position for himself — or even conquer the world, it's really not clear just where his ambition would end. Then, when she turns up alive, he just quietly gives up on this plan, complaining that his chance is gone now. It's even more jarring if you read the manga first, as there he shoots up to Not-So-Harmless Villain territory in record time. To be fair to the guy, with Kushana presumed dead he would be left in charge of their forces and the operation to revive the Giant Warrior. Backing off when Kushana reappears just means he's just loyal to her and his complaining is more bemusement that actual bitterness.
  • Noah from Soul Eater. He is thought to be the 3rd Big Bad of the series until it turned out he was simply a tool of the Book of Eibon's Table of Contents.
  • Hody Jones from One Piece may be the Big Bad of the Fishman Island arc, but compared to the post-Time Skip Straw Hats, even with his steroid abuse, he's nothing but fodder. It's particularly telling that he's the only Big Bad of an arc who was beaten before his minions. With, he's the most dangerous member of the three-man Big Bad Ensemble in that same arc, is the one whose minions actually fight with the Straw Hats, and came close to commiting genocide against his own people (twice, in fact). If he wasn't so hopelessly outmatched, he would have been the Big Bad, and he was at least stronger than everyone who wasn't a Straw Hat. The only exception to this was Jinbei, and he would have joined the crew if it weren't for the fact that he had personal business to attend to first. This even carries over into their eventual fate. Many of the villains are defeated and have to live with their dreams being crushed, but they're still around, and some of them are better off when they find something new to do with their lives. Hody and his crew talked big about sacrificing their lives for the strength the Energy Steroids gave them (the steroids being the only reason they were ever a threat at all) but after going to jail, the toll of the steroids turns out to simply be turning them into harmless, wrinkled old fogies. The would-be conquerors of the world are too lame for even their defeat to have a modicum of dignity.
    • A lot of One Piece's earlier villains were this, to varying degrees. For all their big talk, none of them actually posed a threat to Luffy himself, and most of them were taken out rather easily. Most of their impact was on Luffy's crewmates. In fact, one could easily argue that the series didn't have a legitimate Big Bad until Crocodile during the Alabasta arc.
  • Pretty Cure has two villains who were believed to be the Big Bads for a long time, until the origins of their evil actions, the Man Behind the Man/Greater Scope Villain, were revealed:
  • Kyoko of Puella Magi Madoka Magica appears to be the most significant non-witch threat in the show during her early appearances. However, as she undergoes a Heel-Face Turn, it turns out that the girls' main foe is in fact Kyubey, who ruins their lives and robs them of their humanity in order to stave off the heat death of the universe. Bonus points in that this is the catalyst for Kyoko's turn to the light side.
  • YuYu Hakusho:
    • While Gonzou Tarukane is dangerous thanks to his wealth and his connections being the founder of the Black Book Club, and hiring various demons and humans to do his dirty work. He overestimates his chances of winning, loses everything when Younger Toguro is defeated, and doesn't compare well to the rest of the antagonists in the series. It doesn't help that The Toguro Bros were actually working for the real Big Bad who had caused him to lose his money, and that they end up killing him after this is revealed.
    • In the final arc, after the preliminaries end, just before the first match of the tournament, a contestant approaches Yusuke and tells him that after he wins his first fight, he will fight him in the second round and kill him, before going on to kill Yomi (who had the best chance of winning overall) in the third round, and then win the tournament and take over the entire Demon World. Yusuke wins his first match... but his would-be second round opponent does not.
  • Kurt Grendel of Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force. He and the Grendel Family make a fairly impressive entrance, proclaiming their intent to Take Over the City, giving trouble to Tohma, Erio, and Caro, and successfully performing a Grand Theft Prototype. Then one of their members meets Hero Killer Cypha, another member meets the Crazy-Prepared Isis, and their last member together with Kurt himself meets the Weak, but Skilled Teana. All of the them are then summarily taken out over the course of one and a half chapters with ridiculous ease.
  • Pain of Naruto was introduced as the Big Bad in charge of Akatsuki, but was soon Demoted to Dragon with aspirations of becoming the supplanting Tobi after gathering the Bijuu. Despite gaining a massive Hero Killer reputation by killing Jiraiya, he was defeated by Naruto in his second appearance and after only the first of Naruto's Shounen Upgrades.
    • Kabuto tried very hard to take his master's place, using some incredibly extreme methods. His Edo Tensei army was dangerous, but personally he was defeated relatively easily despite extensively modifying his own body and achieving an Evil Counterpart to Naruto's Sage Mode and was mostly forgotten by the story for a few years.
    • Obito was the Big Bad for a significant portion of the story and the most credible threat for most of the Fourth Shinobi War. After his defeat, he was quickly replaced by Madara, who proved to be significantly more skilled in every field, including dojutsu and controlling the Juubi.
    • Even Madara himself gets this treatment when is revealed that he was nothing but an Unwitting Pawn in the plan of the Black Zetsu to revive Kaguya Ootsutsuki, his even more powerful and dreaded female ancestor.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!
    • Marik Ishtar in the original manga and its anime seems to be the Big Bad of the Battle City arc at first, even teaming up with a more significant threat, Dark Bakura. But in the finals, his Split Personality, Dark Marik, is revealed to be the true threat, and is revealed to be behind Marik's motivation to kill Yugi. Dark Bakura, on the other hand, just waits until the final story arc to make his move.
    • Rudger Godwin/Roman Goodwin from Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's was this for the Dark Signer arc. He was the defeated before the two female villains, and he was nothing but an Unwitting Pawn to Rex Godwin/Goodwin, the real Big Bad and Man Behind the Man.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL took this Up to Eleven. At first, Tron was a third-party threat to both the heroes and Dr. Faker, who seemed to be the Big Bad. But then, it was revealed that Faker was just an Unwitting Pawn to Vector. But it was revealed much later that Vector and the other Barian Emperors, along with most other villains, were pawns to Don Thousand, the true Big Bad.
  • Wolf's Rain: The Nobles are all prominent antagonists: Lord Darcia, Lady Jagura and Lord Orkham. Lord Orkham was the one who stole Cheza in the first place and but he's implied to merely be The Caligula compared to the other Noble's more grand designs. His troops are the main threat for much of the few episodes, but he has few appearances before Lady Jagura's troops infiltrate his base and unceremoniously murder him. His nameless Mook Lieutenant has more characterization, and appearances than him.
  • High School DXD: Diodora Astaroth is given much the same treatment as Starter Villain Raiser Phenex before him, being in a class above Issei, trying to take one of his harem away, and with the added threat of having orchestrated much of the grief that followed Asia for much of her life. He has the dubious honor of being the first foe Issei utterly flattens.

    Comicbooks 
  • Moonstone of the Masters of Evil, archenemies of The Avengers, really thinks that she's a brilliant manipulator who could lead the Masters better than Baron Zemo. She's certainly dangerous, at least in a straight-up fight, but she doesn't compare to Zemo at all. A big part of her problem is Complexity Addiction; she's powerful enough that she could easily win through sheer force thanks to her powers, but she's convinced herself that she's also a psychological genius and so always wastes time and resources trying to break her enemies mentally instead of just getting the job done. She's also a major Jerkass, making it difficult to get the other Masters to follow her instead of the charismatic Zemo. Thus whenever Moonstone tries to manipulate her way to the top, Baron Zemo runs mental circles around her and puts her back in her place.
  • Batman villain Hush never learns. A brilliant surgeon who knows the secret of the Bat's true identity, he has an habit of gathering A-List bad guys to do his bidding and likes bragging to them that HE is not the type to fool around. Yet, he's eventually revealed for what he truly is: Bruce Wayne's petty and moderately effective Troll who gets the credit for plans that are mostly others' and left on his own, an Anti-Climax Boss. To put it short: Bane, Hush isn't.
  • Another Batman villain Ignatius Ogilvy aka "Emperor Penguin" had this as his primary motivation. His father was a henchman who was murdered in front of him when he was a kid. Ever since then Ignatius has been trying to prove that he could be more than a mere henchman and be a Big Bad in his own right. Ignatius briefly manages to oust Penguin and even beats up Batman in a fight after taking some Super Serum, but he goes down quickly enough after Batman and Penguin team up to beat him.
  • Several other Batman stories state that The Mafia is this compared to the supervillains. The Long Halloween in particular has Gotham's transition from mundane to metahuman crime as its backdrop, culminating in the seemingly-untouchable Carmine Falcone, a Karma Houdini for decades in-universe, being nonchalantly executed by Two-Face. A common source of angst for Batman is wondering whether he actually made Gotham worse by attracting super-crime to it.
  • Another Batman example is Dr. Hurt and the Black Glove, an evil club of various influential people. They think they're the ultimate villains that not even the great detective Batman can defeat and that they're too powerful and influential to be punished. In reality they're just a bunch of rich pricks who have to hire supervillains to do things for them. They're big Evil Plan concludes with the Batfamily crippling their organization and the Joker slaughtering them in the most comically undignified manner possible.
  • The Bone Tie-In Novel trilogy Quest for the Spark features King Agak the new king of the rats. He thinks that he is in a equal partnership with the possessed Constable who views him and his rats as nothing but muscle and is really working for the the Nacht, a dragon who went rogue.
  • In Daredevil, the Owl took on this role in the 2000s after his original niche as a physicaly powerful crimelord was taken over by Daredevil's Arch-Enemy (and Spider-Man Rogues-Gallery Transplant) the Kingpin, who fills it much more effectively. Since the1980s and 1990s attempts at Retooling the Owl as a mutated supervillain or The Atoner didn't take, Brian Michael Bendis simply rolled with it and used the Owl as an example of how not just anyone has the brains or the brawn to rule the mobs and act as Daredevil's Arch-Enemy. Most writers since have followed his lead.
  • In Empowered, Irresistimmovable, whose Byzanium-powered force-field generator that he turns out to be a rental.
  • Crisis Crossover Final Crisis
    • Utterly obscure villain The Human Flame kills major DC hero Martian Manhunter with help from an agent of Darkseid, who wanted to use him to win other villains to his side. Now he's on the run from both heroes and villains.
    • Flame's benefactor Libra might also count. For the one who killed Martian Manhunter, he's reduced pretty much to an afterthought once his boss Darkseid enters the scenes.
  • The original Saw Viper from the G.I. Joe comics killed (for real) four named Joes and with his battalion killed off some more (including some pretty prominent ones like Quick Kick) in the space of a single issue, whereas the Cobra organization had repeatedly failed to kill even one named Joe for years prior to that event. He then had the gall to point this out to Cobra Commander (a guy well known for being extremely dangerous and unpredictable) himself. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow eventually hunt down and kill him offscreen for his heinous deed.
  • Marvel villain The Hood tries so hard to become one of the verse's Big Bads after getting a taste of power from his magical clothes. Problem is, he's still a street thug at heart and doesn't really know how to best use the vast power he has at his disposal. He does accomplish a lot, but he's ultimately a slave to his own hunger for power and to the entities who feed his addiction. The one time he tries to claim power without making any deals with otherworldly entities he attracts the attention of a much worse villain and loses that power in short order. His greatest act of villainy was having a bunch of his thugs beat up a captive superheroine, and said heroine paid him back in spades.
  • Komodo Dragon from Invincible singlehandedly killed Shrinking Ray and Dupli-Kate and tore out one of Rex Splode's arms, but Rex still kills him shortly thereafter
  • Grand Moff Morlish Veed from Star Wars: Legacy. Arrogant, ambitious, and ruthless to a fault, he has his eye on the Imperial throne and plainly considers himself an Evil Genius when in fact he's just average- and in a galaxy also inhabited by Darth Krayt, Darth Wyyrlok, Emperor Roan Fel and Veed's own girlfriend Nyna Calixte, average just isn't good enough. He spends most of the comic trying to gain leverage while in fact being the pawn to one faction or another.
  • Les Légendaires:
    • Skroa the Cunning is a skillful Chessmaster, a demonic Evil Sorcerer and he effortlessly plays the Five-Man Band protagonists and their Arch-Enemy into accomplishing his goal for him. However, when he tried to take over the world in the past, he was eventually defeated by his Rival Darkhell, who ended up being the Big Bad; in the present day, he did got his own story arc, but was Brought Down to Normal at the end of it and later captured while Darkhell and Anathos were taking over as major villains. And when he comes back later attempting to get his powers back, he ends up slaughtered by a vengeful Amydala before he could even succeed.
    • Captain Ceyderom is introduced in his story arc as the apparent Big Bad. In the next book, he is quickly overshadowed by his "ally" past Darkhell, and ends up quickly defeated when he finally tries to act.
    • Count Kasino appears to be the Big Bad of the story arc when he is introduced; not only does he not even survive more than one book, but the next book reveals he was part of Abyss' (the true Big Bad) machination to begin with.
  • In The Sandman the third rate villain Dr. Destiny gains godhood and that appears to be it. it's only temporary. Once unleashed Dream is a literal force of nature and beyond such combat. Another example are the minor nightmares Brute and Glob (originally from a much more child friendly DC comic that previously held the Sandman title) manage to make their own miniature Dreaming from a single child's mind.
  • The Skrulls in the Marvel Crisis Crossover Secret Invasion. To wit, they managed to capture three superheroes; including Spider-Woman, Yellowjacket (one founding member of The Avengers) and Dum Dum Dugan BEFORE big events like House of M, all not through direct combat. To make it even more 'big', they also used the same method to capture Black Bolt of the Inhumans, considered as one of Marvel Universe's most overpowered characters. Their eventual invasion turns out to be an Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion, although they still caused the death of The Wasp. Then, their queen Veranke (disguised as Spider-Woman) was headshotted to death by Norman Osborn, and then Hercules kills their God with ease. Oh, and thanks to killing Veranke, Norman immediately kicked off the Dark Reign era.
  • The Yellow Bastard in Sin City. Sure he's a rapist and murderer (of children, no less) but in combat, he's a Dirty Coward and is eventually killed pretty easily.
    • Honestly, every villain in Sin City tend to fold like a wet towel in a straight-up fight, even built-up badasses like Manute and The Colonel. The only real exception is Kevin.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Anti-Sonic, Sonic's Evil Twin from Moebius, was this for a long time, as he liked to talk tough, only to be pushed around by the other villains and get beat up easily by the heroes (a pre-Character Development Antoine once knocked him out cold. By accident.). Then, a dose of Chaos energy directly from the Master Emerald transformed him into Scourge, granting him several dozen levels of badass and making him one of the series' most powerful (and popular) villains. He's still not on the level of Dr. Eggman or Finitevus, but he's definitely a credible solo threat these days.
  • Mist II from Starman, daughter of the original Mist, thinks that she's a brilliant supervillain and Manipulative Bastard who will rule Opal City. In reality all she ends up doing is committing a bunch of terrible crimes that had zero benefits like drugging and raping Starman and killing one of the Crimson Foxes. This backfires on her pretty spectacularly; the original Mist, enraged by how she's ruined his title and reputation, berates her for what a shitty criminal she is and then proceeds to shoot her dead with stunning ease.
  • Y: The Last Man has the Daughters of the Amazon and their leader Victoria who wields a ton of influence in the crazy time following the gendercide. Victoria gets an axe to the head by the end of the second arc and the rest of them are soon rehabilitated.
  • The Baroness is depicted as this in IDW's G.I. Joe comic continuity. She views herself as a brilliant manipulator and assassin who could overthrow Cobra Commander and run Cobra herself. In reality she's an egotistical, petty, immature, and overly-theatrical Mood-Swinger who throws childish tantrums whenever she doesn't get her way and is desperate to be taken seriously. It also becomes clear that despite her delusions of deadly combat skill she's actually pretty crappy in straight-up fights; she never wins any battles where she doesn't either cheat, sneak up on her opponent, or have back-up.
  • Red Mist in Kick-Ass, so much so that Dave actually laughs at the idea of him trying to get revenge. While he does commit a whole bunch of horrible crimes in volume 2, he's only able to pull them off because he's paid off a bunch of other supervillains to protect him. When Dave finally confronts him it turns out that Mist hasn't bother training to fight at all, at which point he is promptly beaten within an inch of his life.
  • Jason Macendale from Spider-Man. He desperately thought he had what it took to be a deadly archnemesis to Spider-Man and tried to take up the Hobgoblin identity, but while he was willing to commit terrible crimes (even more evil than stuff the real Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, does), he was also horribly incompetent at actually pulling them off. The only people who couldn't effortlessly kick his ass were either untrained civilians or rookie heroes who didn't know anything about him. Worse, his incompetence often led to him ruining the schemes of other villains and his own employers, making it near impossible for him to get any work as a bad guy. This ended up being Macendale's downfall; when the real Hobgoblin came back, he was so enraged at what Macendale had done to his gang and title that he murdered Jason for his failures.
  • IDW's Transformers comics examine this a fair bit with the textbook example, Starscream. He wants to be leader of the Decepticons, but he just doesn't have the skills needed to be a proper leader; the average Decepticon troops don't trust or like him, he's not as powerful as Megatron, and his battle strategies leave a lot to be desired. When he takes command of the Decepticons while Megatron is in a coma, he's unable to get the army regrouped and the battalion he's personally leading is left cut off from supplies, descending into violence and desperation. Megatron's first order of business upon waking is beating the ever-living shit out of Starscream and givig him a "Reason You Suck" Speech to put him back in his place... but not so much of a beating that it keeps Starscream from betraying him again, as he considers Starscream's scheming an important activity that keeps him from growing complacent.
    • Marvel's TF comics meanwhile depicted Shockwave as this. He was certainly a dangerous guy on his own and he even led the Decepticons on Earth for a bit. However his overly cold and logic-based leadership just couldn't keep up with guys like Scorponok and Ratbat, and he eventually ends up spending an extended time trapped under the ocean because none of his troops bothered to rescue him. When he escapes later on, he attempts to form a coup against Scorponok and take back over as Big Bad, but by than he's become little more than a nuisance to be dealt with before Unicron arrives.
  • Kraven the Hunter in Ultimate Spider-Man comes across as this hin his initial appearances, proudly boasting how he will hunt down and defeat Spider-Man on live television. After pages and pages of hyping his audience, he finally comes face-to-face with his target; Spider-Man, already having had a long night taking down Doctor Octopus, isn't in the mood and decks Kraven with a single punch.
  • Wonder Woman has Veronica Cale, a millionaire perfume magnate and Mad Scientist who fancies herself the Lex Luthor to Diana's Superman. The problem is, Cale lacks not only superpowers, but common sense, and regularly finds herself the pawn of more powerful antagonists, including Dr. Psycho, the Gorgons, and Circe.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Fallen King has Yami Bakura, who is a threat, but isn't nearly as pressing or as personal a threat as Pegasus is. In his internal monologue, Joey thinks that Pegasus is the real monster and Bakura can't compare.
  • Justice League of Equestria:
    • Mare of Steel: By the time the second arc starts, Rainbow Dash has apparently had to deal with numerous wannabe villains all claiming to be her Arch-Enemy. She finds it all annoying.
    • Steel Wing is the first antagonist introduced in the second arc, but is quickly reduced to Brainiac's Unwitting Pawn, and is dealt with before him and Silversmith.
  • Wei and his Dragon Sho, from Legacy of the Fire Empire hold several children hostage so they can force Fire Lord Jiazin to step down from her throne, and bring back the Fire Empire. When Kanoda throws a spear at them, they make the mistake of sending out the soldiers leaving themselves unguarded. Kanoda then acts as a diversion, while Avatar Aang ambushes the soldiers when they come back and promptly knocks out Wei and Sho.
  • Yognapped has Peva. He's built up as a Manipulative Bastard and a worthy successor to previous Big Bad Sben, killing Sips on a whim and forcing the Yogscast to mine away at bedrock until Herobrine is released. Once things predictably go to hell and Peva loses his entire pool of gathered troops instantaneously, he's revealed as little more than a Jerkass with a petty grudge, and his attempt to fight results in a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown with him on the losing side, shortly afterwards being stabbed in the skull by a resurrected Sben.
  • The Nuptialverse: Olive Branch is set up as the Big Bad of Families, a Villain with Good Publicity aimed at taking down Celestia's regime who appears to be a Magnificent Bastard... until the climax, where his ultimately poorly thought out plans fall apart, with him unable to compensate at all.
  • Harry Potter fanfic "Partially Kissed Hero" stated that Severus Snape's real reason to hate James Potter was that all of James bullying him during school time was what prevented Snape from being taken seriously enough to become a Dark Lord on his own right.
  • The Pony POV Series: in the Dark World timeline, the Valeyard views himself as The Man Behind the Man to Discord, humoring him while planning to one day steal his power for himself. However, while he is a genuine threat, he ultimately doesn't match up to Discord and is defeated well before he is.
    • In the Wedding Arc, there's General Lone Ranger, who thinks he's playing the Changelings for his own convoluted agenda of making Equestria become more warlike. However, while he's pretty strong and smart, he's an Unwitting Pawn all along, and by the time the Mane Six confront him, he's so physically and mentally broken down that he goes down easy.
  • Queen Of All Oni:
    • Lung, Daolon Wong's former apprentice, who views himself as the only one powerful and skilled enough to take Wong's place as the Darkest Mage. However, his master plan — to force Jade, and by extension her Shadowkhan, into his service — was too simple minded, and fell apart rather easily. More importantly, the fact that his only response to said plan failing was to not acknowledge that fact and keep bludgeoning ahead, and that his reaction to Jade's minions showing up was to slip into a Villainous BSOD bordering on a full-scale breakdown... yeah, he's really not in Wong's league. And then Jade's minions kill him, so he's definitely never going to make Big Bad.
    • Shortly afterwards, Drago arrives from the future in an attempt to change the timeline to his desire. However, while he has the strength to back up his plans, said plans are constantly derailed by every other faction he comes up against kicking his ass and he's eventually sent back to the future, where the Matriarch (future Jade) has him restrained and beaten. He doesn't look so impressive at that point.
    • Daolon Wong himself actually rather comes off as having degraded to this in-story, given his pitiful attempts at regaining his power and the Humiliation Conga he goes through (Tarakudo even calls him a wannabe at one point).
    • Anton Mortimer thinks that his money and business connections make him beyond the touch of the law, that it makes him the ultimate Diabolical Mastermind that the J-Team can't hope to fight. After they ultimately end up blackmailing his Oni mask off him, Jade then shows up and proceeds to rob him blind, while giving him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech over how insignificant he really is.
  • Kanoya in the Medaka Box fanfic World As Myth tries to take over the Student Council with force, but is promptly defeated by two freshmen in the first chapter.
  • The Warmistress of Equestria: Lord Talon Hoof views himself as the leader of the Traitor Legions and the greatest threat to Equestria, but is in fact an Unwitting Pawn to Scorpan and his master, Tirac.
  • The Nyxverse story Alicornundrum has this in its main antagonist, Duke Blueblood (Prince Blueblood's father), a Smug Snake who thinks he's a Magnificent Bastard. However, it's made clear that Celestia has been shooting down his petty schemes with ease for years (usually leaving his "victims" better off than they were beforehand). Even the main threat he represents — a conspiracy of unicorn supremacist nobles — while successful in undermining Celestia's government for a time, falls apart completely the moment the Princesses are presented with hard evidence of its existence. As does the Duke's mind, as the shock of realizing how badly he's been Out-Gambitted results in a Villainous Breakdown that actually causes brain damage, reducing him to the mental state of a foal.
  • Lestat in Xendra thinks he's a highly dangerous vampire, partially because having his still human friends as underlings makes other vampires think that he's a master vampire so old he can hold multiple humans in his thrall. In reality, he's an extremely out of shape fledgling who's only a few months old. The only real reason he's a threat is that Buffy is out of town so the other Scoobies have to deal with it.

    Films — Animated 
  • Trixie in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks. She and her band are a significant challenge to the Rainbooms, and Trixie is enough of a Smug Smiler and bully to them to definitely be called antagonistic. At one point, Trixie even causes a Near Villain Victory for the Dazzlings by trapping the Rainbooms beneath the stage they perform on. But, the Dazzlings are interested in winning the Battle of the Bands for sinister reasons (namely, to brainwash the school and Take Over the World) whereas Trixie just wants to win to rub it in everyone's faces. And, Trixie only trapped the Rainbooms because of a Batman Gambit on Adagio Dazzle's part.
  • DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp: The cowardly and greedy Dijon knows full well that he's just the lackey of the ancient sorcerer Merlock, but when he accidentally gets control of the genie's lamp he abandons his master and briefly takes over Duckburg. Merlock sneaks into the palace by hitching a ride with the Ducks and demonstrates who the real villain is.
  • The Duke of Weselton in Frozen fancies himself as the mastermind, planning to exploit Arendelle for its riches but is unable to hide his intentions. When Elsa runs away and causes the eternal winter, he tries to restore the kingdom for his own benefit. He sends his two bodyguards on Prince Han's rescue mission to kill Elsa, but Prince Hans saves her only to frame her for freezing Anna's heart(which she did do accidentally), and then leaves Anna to die so he can claim the throne for himself which turns the Duke into a complete non-entity.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The Dark Knight Saga:
    • Carmine Falcone from Batman Begins. As Gotham City's major crime boss, he makes very clear to Bruce that he's completely untouchable but once Batman gets serious, he stands no chance and he ends as a guinea pig for Dr. Crane, a guy he thought was his underling but who actually worked for the true Big Bad.
    • Salvatore 'Sal' Maroni the new Mafia Boss from The Dark Knight aspires to replace Falcone as the new master of Gotham but he's no threat compared to the Joker.
    • John Daggett in The Dark Knight Rises pays Bane "a small fortune" for helping him attempt to take over Wayne Enterprises. Bane later points out that, contrary to what Daggett thinks, this doesn't give him any power over Bane.
  • In the Loop: The masterminds behind the war are the PM and the President. Their respective enforcers, Malcolm and Linton see themselves as superior to each other.
  • In the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 believes he's going to take down Tony Stark, especially since he just "hired" Ivan Vanko, a brilliant tech wiz that can create gear rivaling Iron Man's. The thing is, Hammer has absolutely no control over Vanko as the latter hacks into his system, derails his Powered Armor prototypes into unmanned drones, and so on. Vanko even plays up You No Take Candle for no other reason than to annoy Hammer, and get him out of his way. Hammer's is most clearly shown as pathetic when he tries to force Vanko into line... by taking his pet bird. And his shoes.
      • It also extends to his presentations: he comes out dancing, or at least a poor imitation of it, to Average White Band's 'Pick Up The Pieces' and goes on with bad jokes that make no sense ("The newspapers are about to run out of ink!") to outright showing what is clearly Stark technology (the second Iron Man suit, the one with the icing problem), only with a lot of guns welded on, all to scattered applause. All Tony does is show up in his new suit, during Hammer's presentation, and he gets a standing ovation.
    • Loki in The Avengers. Oh sure he's got the Chitauri backing him up and he puts on a big show, but in the end he's nothing more than a self-absorbed pawn to Thanos. In the Evil Plan, Loki will get Earth, but Thanos will get the Infinity Gems and pretty much the whole universe.
      • Similarly, Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy seems to think he's the biggest threat around when in reality he's basically just a glorified courier bringing a stone to Thanos. Thanos actually calls him out on this at one point, giving a blistering "Reason You Suck" Speech in the process.
    Thanos: The only matter I do not take seriously boy, is you. Your politics bore me. Your demeanor is that of a pouty child.
  • Roderick from Jack the Giant Slayer is quick out of the proverbial gate, but fades in the stretch.
  • James Bond:
    • Goldfinger gives us Mr. Ling, a Chinese nuclear weapons whiz on loan to the titular villain's operation. Ling acts like a superior to Goldfinger in their interactions - reminding him of deadlines, receiving progress reports from him, and so on - as the "on-paper" aim of Goldfinger's scheme is to destabilize the West's economy to benefit the Communist countries, and realizes he's being gamed perhaps half a second before Goldfinger puts a round through his heart.
    • Hai Fat in The Man with the Golden Gun imagines that he is in charge or at least part of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Francisco Scaramanga in their plot to steal the Solex device, but once the assassin has what he wants he quickly uses his signature weapon to slay Fat and then takes over his company.
    • General Medrano from Quantum of Solace views himself as Domonic Greene's equal partner, but Greene basically tells Medrano that he'll be a Puppet President once they put him in power, and if he doesn't like it, Greene's partners will simply have him killed and put another guy in his place (maybe even his own bodyguard). Medrano is seriously annoyed, but reluctantly concedes.
  • Admiral Marcus from Star Trek Into Darkness is most certainly a dangerous thereat with powerful connections, and proves this when his starship the Vengeance easily incapacitates the Enterprise. This however forces Kirk to team up with John Harrison aka Khan Noonien Singh to infiltrate his ship. He easily folds when Harrison gets his hands on him, leaving the Vengeance in the hands of Harrison, and Marcus nothing more than a tiny blip on a radar.
  • The Trade Federation and Separatist leaders are this in the prequel trilogy of Star Wars. They think their war is the main event and they'll be in charge after the dust settles, but it's all just a long game by Palpatine to take over as Emperor. They only realize their mistake when Palpatine sends Darth Vader to slaughter them all after they've outlived their usefulness.
    • Linked to this are Darth Maul and Count Dooku, who both think they'll be Palpatine's apprentice, ruling the galaxy side-by-side with him. In reality they're nothing more than pawns whom Palpatine is using to control the Separatists and prepare his real right-hand man Darth Vader. Maul eventually figured this out during The Clone Wars and, since no one knew he was still alive after his defeat on Naboo, decided to try and build his own army and base to menace the galaxy personally. Sadly for him, Palpatine realized that his former apprentice could very well destroy all his work and so chose to deal with the matter personally. While Maul escaped with his life, Palpatine made certain he would be in no position to endanger his plans, at least not before he became The Emperor.
  • Buckingham in The Three Musketeers (2011). He humiliates the Musketeers, counts on Milady de Winter's allegiance, believes his war machine to be invincible and all but states to Cardinal Richelieu that France would have no chance against England in case of war. However... Milady is just spying on him and promptly defects upon learning that the Musketeers are en route to London, he's the first villain to be taken out by the Musketeers and they even steal his invincible machine. Subverted in the end where Buckingham has not taken the theft lightly and assembled a large fleet of airships and a naval force to take vengeance upon the Musketeers.

    Literature 

  • Visser Four from Animorphs. After a humiliating defeat on the planet Leera, he comes to Earth and attempts to use the Time Matrix to rewrite history in order to make the Yeerk conquest of Earth easier. But he has no real idea what he's doing, bumbling from one historical battle to the next and ultimately gets himself captured by a German/French allied force in a severely altered version of World War II.
  • The Shadowmasters, particularly their leader Longshadow, in the middle part of the Black Company series. Though they certainly do a lot of damage, they just don't stack up compared to the Lady, the Dominator, or the Ten Who Were Taken from the first arc, Kina from the later books, or even Soulcatcher, who operates throughout. Longshadow especially proves himself to be an incredibly powerful sorcerer and dangerous opponent, but he's just too erratic and paranoid to put his abilities and resources to their full potential.
  • Several examples in Codex Alera, considering the Big Bad Ensemble and Gambit Pileup the series has going on. Sarl is probably the most obvious, going from a supporting villain in the second book to the main bad guy in the third and screwing things up a lot before getting undone by his own hubris and inability to control his own followers. High Lord Kalarus does better, effectively holding the title of Big Bad for the middle three books (of six), but he still goes down hard just before the real Big Bad reveals herself.
  • Shift the Ape, from the last The Chronicles of Narnia book The Last Battle, cooks up a cartoonishly silly Paper-Thin Disguise scheme to con his way into assuming Aslan's authority (which actually works), then conspires to take over Narnia with the help of the Calormen Empire. Once the invasion is underway, his authority is quickly subverted by the far more competent and serious Calormen General, who promptly feeds Shift to the God of Evil.
  • Kleitus of The Death Gate Cycle. A competent and ambitious Evil Overlord and Chessmaster in life who only became worse after getting turned into a lazar and deciding that killing every living person on the four worlds and ruling over an empire of the undead sounded like a great idea, he's an extremely nasty piece of work whose nature makes him virtually indestructible. Unfortunately for Kleitus, he hits a terrible run of bad luck, including having many of his followers poached by another lazar who turned out to be a Messianic Archetype, getting defeated and forced into a subordinate role by another Evil Overlord, and then getting destroyed before his scheme to manipulate said overlord into finding an immensely powerful Amplifier Artifact Kleitus intended to hijack bore fruit. For all his big plans, he never succeeded in extending his influence beyond his homeworld of Abarrach and into the wider multiverse, while bigger villains took up the slack.
  • Gwilanna from The Last Dragon Chronicles, sometimes, that woman is just desperate to foil one of the good guys.
  • Annias in The Elenium is a Smug Snake who's out to become Archprelate (think Pope) through whatever means are necessary. For the first two books he is played as a dangerous, if overconfident adversary. Then in Book 3, it all falls apart on him, he's forced to flee for his life to the God of Evil he made a deal with, and his Dragon-in-Chief, Martel reveals that he is the real brains of the operation. It's all downhill from there for Annias.
  • Harry Potter series:
    • For the first 5 books Draco Malfoy acts like a pro-Voldemort fanboy Sitcom Arch-Nemesis to Harry, more of an annoyance than a threat. Then, when Half-Blood Prince comes along, he starts actively working for Voldemort and his Death Eaters. When he tries coming up with plans to aid them they end up failing simply because he's really not able to keep up the level of evil required of him, and because of his stupidity. His mother was in fact terrified of him joining up because she knew he was in over his head. Dumbledore infers that Voldemort only let Draco join the Death Eaters to punish Draco's father's failures.
    • Draco's dad, Lucius. Lucius is a very smooth operator, and there's nothing he won't stoop to in order to cement his family's influence, and in his first few appearances he's treated as someone very dangerous- but when Voldemort is resurrected, Lucius is truly revealed for the Smug Snake he is in comparison to his revived boss. By Deathly Hallows, he's almost a complete nonentity.
  • Both the Harrow and Roger Covenant from The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Since the real Big Bad, Lord Foul, is a superintelligent Physical God of Evil, most villains look like wannabes next to him.
  • Saruman from The Lord of the Rings is by all means a dangerous villain, and even planned to supplant Sauron as Big Bad by getting his hands on the Ring himself. However, it soon becomes clear that compared to the powerful Magnificent Bastard Sauron he is only a Smug Snake pretender. He attacks Rohan with his entire army leaving Isengard undefended, and even then his army fails to effectively curb stomp Rohan, while underestimating the neighboring Ents. On the other hand, Sauron effectively pins down Gondor with an advance force that is a fraction of his military might and is only defeated with help from a 3,000 year old forgotten ghost army and is implied to have driven out or annihilated the neighboring Entwives during the previous era when he was more powerful. Even their removal from Middle-Earth demonstrates this; Saruman leaves Middle-Earth as a small puff of smoke after being robbed of his staff and magic and being stabbed in the back, while Sauron is the most powerful entity in Middle-Earth when the One Ring is destroyed at the end of a long and grueling quest, and leaves Middle-Earth as a giant menacing black shadow that covers Mordor.
  • Shamoke from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. A bit of a subversion, since the novel treats him as working under Shu, the good guys. He manages to kill a weakened Gan Ning with a shot to the head, but after Shu falls for a fire attack in a later confrontation, Shamoke retreats, and is then killed by Wu general Zhou Tai.
  • In The Russian adaptation of "The Shadow" by E. Schwartz, the titular Living Shadow is this. After successfully becoming king, he gets played around by his ministers and then dethroned.
  • Maridon in Salamander manipulates Coelus into making him the subject of the Cascade ritual in order to seize power, and then later attempts to assassinate Ellen. The first time the ritual is performed, it goes lethally wrong and he gets replaced as Big Bad by Prince Kieron and Lord Iolen. Amusingly, Maridon gets Coelus to give him ultimate power by telling Coelus that he, Maridon, is more expendable than Coelus is in the event that the Cascade goes wrong.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant has Vaurien Scapegrace, who gave himself the title 'The Killer Supreme' despite never having killed anyone, and gets beaten up by a teenaged girl multiple times in a short period of three books. He does eventually kill someone after being turned into a Zombie and ordered to do so by a Necromancer.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire gives us Cersei Lannister, who has a couple of neat ideas, but once she gets on the throne... she manages to surprise Magnificent Bastard Petyr Baelish with how quickly she runs the kingdom into the ground. He points out that in the Game of Thrones she imagines herself a player, but is in reality a piece, because even as the most politically powerful person in Westeros she is so damn predictable.
  • The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: The Ilse Witch is without a doubt a dangerous young woman and is no one to be crossed lightly. Yet as The Morgawr's former Dragon she is forever the junior partner in their relationship, a fact that she resents enormously, as she believes herself to be his equal in power and skill. The Morgawr and his current Dragon, Cree Bega, see the situation rather differently, regarding the witch as little more than a dangerous tool, to be used and discarded as they see fit, and the bad news for her is, their view of things is more or less accurate. Soon after arriving at Castledown the Ilse Witch is sidelined as The Heavy by Antrax, and then by The Morgawr himself. Powerful and clever she may be, but she's just not evil enough to play at his and Cree Bega's level.
  • Sol of Warrior Cats: Power of Three, who takes over ShadowClan, but then is easily defeated by Lionblaze, Jayfeather and Hollyleaf.
  • Several examples in The Wheel of Time, with Sammael (who badly overplayed his hand), Elaida (who was just never as awesome as she thought she was) and Padan Fain (who by that point likely could have replaced the Dark One as Big Bad if he hadn't run straight into the one guy completely immune to his power) being the three most notable.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Raina in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. She may be a Manipulative Bastard and may think she's meant for something great, but ultimately she's just an expendable pawn in the schemes of HYDRA and Mr. Hyde. This is even reflected by what happens to her when she undergoes terrigenesis. Raina was expecting to be a beautiful and powerful angel blessed with amazing powers. Instead she was turned into a gnarled, spikey, and pathetic monster who is in perpetual agony and is left with painful prophetic powers that she can't even control.
  • Gordon Dean on Alias. He stakes his claim to being the show's newest Big Bad in the first episode of Season 5 by brutally murdering Sydney's love interest right in front of her, but he proves over the next several episodes to be a singularly inept Arc Villain instead. APO almost effortlessly exposes his operations, steals all of his money, captures him, and successfully tortures him for information, and he is subsequently murdered by his employers after they determine that he has outlived his usefulness.
  • Prince Edmund in Black Adder tries to lead a group of the most evil men in England to take over the kingdom. Since he's cowardly and petty, they betray him the moment someone else shows up.
  • In Breaking Bad, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle actually comes pretty close to having been a Greater Scope Villain for the show overall, since it was her who gave Gus and the Cartel the supplies to make their meth business as big as it was. However, when she's finally introduced in the fifth and final season, she's revealed to be a weak-willed and cowardly woman, whose only real threat comes from her hired muscle, the Aryan Brotherhood, with Lydia herself staying as far from trouble as she can help it.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Warren (and his partners-in-crime, to a lesser extent) tries to kill Buffy, but does kill Tara. He brags to demons about "killing the Slayer" in order to impress them (they aren't impressed), and then discovers that Willow has become extraordinarily powerful and is trying to kill him. His position has become one of such helplessness that the Scoobies need to prevent Willow from killing Warren and his relatively innocent compatriots Andrew and Jonathan. He meets his end at Willow's hands.
    • Harmony, a schoolmate-turned-vampire, thinks of herself as the Big Bad, much to Spike's amusement.
    • Also, the 5th season episode "Fool For Love" is dedicating to exploring this trope, after Buffy nearly gets killed by a random vampire that is easily dispatched later by Riley. When asked for advice, Spike tells Buffy that it is incredibly likely that her end will come at the hands of a random Mook, just having a good day.
    • Spike himself repeatedly calls himself "The Big Bad". While he was the Big Bad for about the first half of season 2 after proving badder than the Anointed One, but he then gets usurped by Angelus. And then it happens again in Season 4, when his overblown rant from the shadows is swiftly interrupted by Initiative agents capturing him. He also falls by this briefly early on in season 5 where he attempts to have the chip the Initiative planted in his head removed and it appears to succeed for a bit, only for Spike to again scream in pain when he attempts to actually physically hurt Buffy, which leads the doctor to reveal that he faked the surgery since he didn't know how to properly remove it without permanently killing Spike. In this case it occurs before Glory has even shown up.
    • Genevieve is a strong Slayer who puts together a credible plan to kill Buffy, but she is easily bested in battle by Buffy, and she was an Unwitting Pawn for Twilight in the first place.
  • As if fulfilling Batman's addressing in the Western Animation example, Choujin Sentai Jetman had Gai Yuuki/Black Condor, after surviving lots and lots of battles against the Vyram... gets stabbed by a random mugger and killed. Whatever happened to the thug is mostly unknown, most fans call him Karma Houdini.
  • Criminal Minds
    • Episode "A Real Rain" has the BAU chasing down a Vigilante Man who kills criminals by stabbing them through the head. William Sykes, an Attention Whore, who tried to take credit for the crimes, but unlike the real killer who had specific targets in mind, would just wander around hoping to be attacked. He guns down an apparent mugger in the park, then turning himself into the police the next day claiming to be the viganlte. The FBI don't believe him, and when Gideon asks him: "Is that why you stabbed him in the groin?", realizes that he was lying by his affirmation. The mugger turns out to be an undercover cop, meaning all Sykes got himself is a very long prison sentence.
    • Henry Grace from "Masterpiece." After his Serial Killer brother was caught by Agent Rossi of the FBI and put to death, Henry decided to reinvent himself as the Moriarty to Rossi's Holmes. He began abducting victims himself, and disposed of their bodies with sulfuric acid to avoid leaving evidence, then walks right up to Rossi and confesses to a kidnapping. He leaves behind extremely obscure and elaborate clues that he knows the geniuses of the BAU can figure out but would sound like nonsense to a jury, and plans to kill Rossi's entire team with a booby trap on his house. He's so certain he'll win that he freely admits the original acid murders right to Rossi's face. Rossi's response? "Did you get all that, Garcia?" Cue Villainous Breakdown.
  • Vern on Dark Oracle spends the whole of Season 2 attempting to become the Big Bad. His magical power increases exponentially, and he becomes a legitimate threat, though he is thwarted at every turn by Lance and Cally. Then, just as it looks like he's going to achieve true Big Bad status, former Big Bad Omen returns, his bosses, Blaze and Violet break free from their Dark World in the mirror, and Vern is relegated to loser status again.
  • Dexter has Neil Perry who in order to make a name for himself, consciously obstructs a murder investigation by claiming to be the Ice Truck Killer. He views himself as a sinister mastermind destined for fame when in fact he's little more than an unscrupulous poseur. Once LaGuerta shows him a severed head, he starts crying like a baby and owns up that he is not the Ice Truck Killer.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Vardans manage to temporarily conquer Gallifrey and the Time Lords with the Doctor's help, only for it to turn out that it was all a trap by the Doctor. Furthermore, they only turned out to be unwitting stooges of the Sontarans, who were using them to do all the difficult stuff and then were planning to wipe them out anyway.
    • Again with the Sontarans in colab with Luke Rattigan. Luke comes up with the device du jour that puts Earth in danger and thought he was in a Big Bad Duumvirate with the Sontarans, but as soon as he reveals to them nobody of his Think Tank wanted to join him on "Earth 2", the Sontaran leader reveals they would all have been shot anyway, leaving Luke a whiny little snot who just lashes out angrily at a society that doesn't take him seriously.
    • The Cybus Cybermen in "Doomsday" invade Earth with an army of five million and stood a good chance of conquering the planet. Unfortunately for them, they're invading the Earth at the same time the Daleks have their plans for it and quickly get brushed aside when they show up.
    • The Master makes a good account of himself in "The End of Time" — by turning all but one of the human beings on Earth into duplicates of himself — but, in the end, he turns out to be merely the Unwitting Pawn in the Time Lords' plan to escape the Time War and destroy time itself.
  • General Wade Eiling in The Flash (2014). Normally he'd be a genuine threat and someone to be concerned about, but he's far less influential than he thinks and is ultimately irrelevant compared to the Reverse-Flash and Gorilla Grodd, the real Big Bads. In fact this ends up being his downfall; after his attempts to make metahuman weapons interferes in the Reverse-Flash's schemes once too often, he gets fed up with it and has Grodd effortlessly Mind Rape Eiling.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Viserys Targaryen tries to amass an army to take back the Seven Kingdoms from King Robert, but despite marrying off his sister to Khal Drogo he never gets any respect from the Dothraki due to his arrogance and disrespect for their customs. He gets fed up with waiting on Drogo to fulfill his promise and is killed after he threatens both Daenerys and Drogo's unborn son.
    • Cersei Lannister tries to be the political heavyweight of the Lannisters at first while her father is out in the field, seizing the throne from Ned Stark and Robert's brothers on Joffrey's behalf and at Tywin's consent. Joffrey quickly undermines her power by going over her head to execute Ned, and this pisses off Tywin so much that he sidelines her in favor of Tyrion to get things back in order in the capital.
    • Joffrey himself tries desperately to be a powerful king, but is instead just a cruel bully. He's definitely one of the most sadistic characters in the show, but his aspirations to lead his army and boasts to personally face Stannis Baratheon in battle are proven hollow when he cowers in his palace in fear. His grandfather Tywin's political cunning and Westerlands army is the only thing holding Joffrey's regime together. It's made very clear to Joffrey himself that Tywin has no respect for him at all and is the real man in charge.
  • Arthur Petrelli of Heroes, mentioned before in hushed tones, debuts by draining the previous Big Bad's power, then drains all of Peter's powers (including his ability to get and hold powers), and starts gathering people together for some evil scheme while easily stopping anyone who opposes him. Then after a few episodes before he can get his plan going or we even find out what it was, he is easily killed off by Sylar.
  • Justified:
    • Season 2 has drug-dealer Dickie Bennett, the scheming middle-child of Harlan County marijuana kingpin, Mags Bennett. In contrast to his mother, who rules as the uncrowned Feudal Overlord of the town of Bennett, Dickie is sullen and incompetent, with his attempts at stepping up leading nowhere but bad. He's still vicious enough and underhanded enough to be a serious problem, gunning down Helen Givens, wounding Ava Crowder, and triggering a Mob War between his mother and up-and-coming Harlan gangster Boyd Crowder.
    • Season 6 has supposedly legendary gangster, Avery Markham. Introduced with the same flair as Bo Crowder, Mags Bennett, and Robert Quarles, Markham proves incapable of actually living up to his reputation, and his schemes rapidly collapse around his ears, costing him most of his henchmen, and any control he might have had. In fact, Markham ultimately winds up, not driving the plot, but as the target of schemes from other players, including Boyd, Wynn Duffy, and his own ex-girlfriend, Katherine Hale.
  • Leverage: Season 4 appears to be setting corrupt investor Jack Latimer up to be the series first ever Big Bad. He's The Man Behind the Man to many of the companies they've taken down, is making a clean profit from every move they make, and has been spying on the team by wiretapping their apartment. It is eventually revealed that Latimer has been getting most of his information from former Mark, Victor Dubenich, whom he believes he has under control. In reality, Dubenich is the far smarter of the two, holds the real power in their relationship, and ultimately turns on Latimer in the finale, shortly after the investor reveals that he is Too Dumb to Live.
  • From The Mentalist, the San Joaquin Killer, James Panzer, was a Serial Killer of young girls. Filled with delusions of grandeur, he built up a mythology of himself as unstoppable, Evil Genius and stated that he’d keep killing more and more people while the police were helpless to stop him. Red John, meanwhile, has eluded police capture for decades and has a network of utterly devoted Serial Killer apprentices working under him, a number of which are powerful people placed in positions of influence. With Red John presumed dead, the San Joaquin Killer believed he would be the next biggest threat. Too bad for him he was a Smug Snake who believed his own lies regarding his invincibility so much that he insulted the presumed dead Red John on TV, ensuring that Red John had him killed.
  • Smallville: Alexander Luthor talks a good game, and his Enfante Terrible (later Teens Are Monsters) status, and undoubted Evil Genius make him a legitimate threat to the heroes. Yet he's too fundamentally screwed up to replace the genuine Lex Luthor, and his Clone Degeneration causes him to slowly break down both mentally and physically, ultimately resulting in total amnesia and a Heel-Face Turn. A similar case could be made for the psychotic Lex Clone who escaped in the Season 10 premiere: he's incredibly dangerous, but is too insane to fully step into Lex's shoes, and is in the middle of The Last Dance anyway. They've got the same problem in fact: they're very capable opponents but are overshadowed by both their genetic source material and the season's real Big Bad.
  • Jackie Aprile Jr. from The Sopranos. He's the spoiled and overly-ambitious son of a deceased mobster who thinks he can rise through the ranks like Tony did and become the boss. Nobody wanted him in the business, not even his father, but he insists on pushing his way in and feels entitled to respect because of his heritage. All he ends up doing is causing tensions with the Dimeo crime family after he stupidly attempts to rob a card game held by them, which results in his crew getting slaughtered when the robbery predictably goes south. He never once approaches anywhere near the power needed to take on Tony and the second it looks like he might, Tony casually has him killed.
    • A later example is Feech Lamanna. Like Jackie he tries to scheme his way to the top, but by that point Tony's learned to nip this sort of nonsense in the bud and manipulates him into getting sent back to prison before he can cause trouble.
  • The Wire: Stringer Bell is smarter than the average Baltimore gangster, but he is only really educated and intelligent by the standards of his street peers, and worse he tends to misunderstand the nature of the game, to the point of Avon often having to correct him when he attempts reckless solutions to his problems such as ordering a hit on a Senator. He overestimates his own intelligence and underestimates the intelligence of those around him as a result, not realizing that street smarts matter more than college smarts when it comes to street crime. Part of his problem is that he wants a low profile and doesn't want to act as Big Bad, but still has to before retooling his organization, and as Avon points out, he may be too smart for his fellow criminals, but he might not be smart enough for the white collar world he aspires to, and is thus playing an intellectual more than actually being one.
  • Kamen Rider Gaim has three characters vying to be the Big Bad. It makes sense, since all three are foils to each other.
    • In the 'Beat Riders' department, we have Kureshima Mitsuzane, who thinks of himself as a master manipulator being able to blackmail shady dealers and commanding mad scientists to do his dirty work. What he doesn't know is that he's the one being manipulated by various people, including the dealer and scientist. Speaking of...
    • Over at Yggdrasil, we have Ryoma Sengoku, who is shown to be the true head of Yggdrasil, using Takatora's (and by extension, Yggdrasil's) Project Ark as a front for his schemes to achieve godhood. What he doesn't know is that godhood is only given to a select few, and he isn't one of them.
    • And in Helheim Forest, we have Redyue, who is more upfront about plans of Take Over the World. It helps that she has an apathetic king who cares less about the fate of both worlds and more about his wife. She actually had the closest shot of seizing the Big Bad spot even if she was first of the three to be Killed Off for Real (or in Mitsuzane's case, written out) had it not been for the small fact that said king finally gave a crap about humanity and gave away the one thing she wanted.
  • Todd and the Book of Pure Evil has Atticus, after he takes over the Satanic Society in Season 2. He thinks he's now an evil mastermind destined to rule the world, but his own minions have zero respect for him, and despite a few Not-So-Harmless Villain moments here and there, most of his plans are simple and easily fail. Even in the Bad Future episode, he only manages to take over the town because Hannah has a Face-Heel Turn and aids him, and while in the final episode he finally gets the Book and uses its power to become a demon, it turns out that he was merely an Unwitting Pawn of the Metal Dudes all along.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Many times when a popular face wrestler is on a title reign, a monster or such will typically be built up to challenge him. He'll start out by utterly smashing jobbers before plowing through the midcard with a few easy victories over established, popular superstars along the way, but by the time the big showdown at the pay-per-view rolls around, the heel will usually lose decisively to the popular face and will be booted back down to the midcard, rarely if ever seen again in the main event. Examples include the pushes received by Snitsky, Chris Masters, and Umaga, among many others.
  • This is a recurring problem for Jon Moxley. From thinking himself king of the Heartland Wrestling Association, even with member of his own "crew" gunning for his title, to assuming he could just walk step into NEWP and start running through the roster, to threats of arson on his first day at CZW, to blabbing about world take over schemes as if he was the undisputed leader of KAMIKAZE USA in Dragon Gate. His insistence on being "the baddest man on the planet" despite constant back up from the rest of The Shield shows not even WWE could beat this trait out of him.
  • Candice LaRae in All Pro Wrestling. While she was savvy enough to at least wait until ChickFight's functional mascot Cheerleader Melissa was on hiatus before proclaiming herself "Queen", it didn't change that she usually got beaten up and or stretched out by incoming wrestlers. Who would then show up but ODB?
  • Joey Ryan in regards to Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Champion Wrestling From Hollywood, where trying to convince him he is anything but the biggest money making star is nothing but an exercise in frustration.
  • Nikki Storm is a relentless, terrifying, indomitable monster in her own words. In practice, relentless is the only part that's true. Her rants can seem intimidating at first but she has a tendency to talk a lot more than needed till they start to become comical, camera angles often hide that she's pretty tiny by wrestling standards and she tends to get kicked around buildings because of these things.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dresden Files RPG introduces Domocles Ravenborn, something of a subversion because he is a very legitimate and deadly threat if you get into a fight with him, but also a bully who folds under pressure. He's the ultimate poser, but with actual power if he knew what to do with it.

    Videogames 
  • Martin Madrazo from Grand Theft Auto V is, in a lot of ways, the traditional GTA gangster that defines the Big Bad throughout the games. The big difference is, Martin Madrazo is what you get when two of your playable protagonists are a short-tempered former bank-robber who tears down million-dollar houses belonging to your mistresses just to get at a guy that was sleeping with his wife, and the other a complete psycho who falls madly in love with your wife after he kidnaps her (and tears out your ear when he sees how you've been mistreating her). In any other GTA game, Martin would be a legitimate Big Bad threat. In GTA V, he simply can't catch enough of a break to be a proper antagonist.
  • Borderlands 2 has Professor Nakayama of the "Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt" DLC. While he's the main antagonist of the storyline, he is portrayed as a largely pathetic individual who strives to become just like Handsome Jack but isn't nearly as effective of a villain. The protagonists and Hammerlock only agree to kill him solely because they consider him a nuisance distracting them from their hunting expedition and when the Vault Hunters proceed to kill their way past his Jack-worshiping savages, Nakayama proceeds to freak the hell out and make it clear that he's terrified of you guys. When you finally meet him, he ends up up tripping down a slope and tumbling to his death (and sparing the player from feeling like a prick)
  • Azmodan in Diablo III wants so badly to be the Prime Evil. Too bad his competition is Diablo.
  • If Loghain had pulled his coup during normal times in Dragon Age: Origins he'd be a pretty threatening Big Bad, but since there's a Blight going on he's just a distraction on the way to the Archdemon.
  • Arcturus Mengsk from StarCraft is a major threat, but he is unfortunate enough to have villains like the Overmind, Kerrigan, the UED and Amon as his competion. As a result, he gets to be the Big Bad in storylines focusing on the Terran in particular and when Kerrigan decides to go after him, but in the franchise as a whole, he is constantly overshadowed by a bigger threat.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • Benny, your character's would-be-killer who jumpstarts the main quest line of , thinks he's the main event, but it turns out he's barely a Disc One Final Boss. In his defense, he is aware that he isn't the Big Bad - getting to that point was the entire point of his scheme.
    • Mister House is also this in the NCR or Independent paths. You can easily kill him without a second thought about five minutes after walking into the Strip. Despite his grand plans of setting up an oppressive military dictatorship, and his ability to complete that plan if the Courier aids him, he's only ever capable of taking action against a Courier who sides against him once in the entire game. If you opt to blow up his robot army, he'll sick four Sentry Bots on you in the bunker. But after that, you're free to go back to the Lucky 38 and kill him whenever you feel like it with little effort.
  • Shinji Matou in Fate/stay night. He's an arrogant Jerkass who fights for his own self-gratification, takes out his frustrations on his sister and his servant Rider, and tries to sacrifice everyone in his school just to increase Rider's power. Yet he's also a complete coward who begs and squeals for mercy the second that the tables turn on him, and he never ends up well in any route. In the Fate route he is unceremoniously killed by Ilya; in Unlimited Blade Works he gets turned into a Holy Grail core by Gilgamesh, an experience so traumatic that he is scared straight; and in Heaven's Feel he is killed by Dark Sakura after abusing her one too many times.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Leon the Dark Knight in Final Fantasy II is implied to be The Dragon for the Emperor throughout the game. He takes over the empire after the Emperor is killed and immediately sets about trying to crush the rebellion. Too bad the Emperor not only returns from the afterlife, but comes back as the King of Hell (unsurprisingly, this inspires Leon to do an abrupt Heel-Face Turn).
    • Emperor Gestahl in Final Fantasy VI, who gets overshadowed by his Dragon-in-Chief Kefka for most of the game and finally killed by him about halfway through.
    • President Shinra — first senior, then junior — in Final Fantasy VII. You start out fighting their corporation that owns practically the whole planet and is slowly killing it, until Sephiroth shows up, kills the old President Shinra in passing, and sets out to kill the Planet in a much more grandiose manner. Rufus Shinra becomes the new president of the Shinra Corporation in his father's place and promises to be even more ruthless, but he can never make it past the status of a secondary menace with Sephiroth around, and in fact tries to work in parallel with the heroes against him sometimes, though never with them. And in media following the game, he's mostly stopped trying to be a villain.
    • Final Fantasy IX:
      • Queen Brahne is a pretty classic example of the "overconfident weakling" variant of this trope; an apparent menace to just about every major city on the Mist Continent during discs 1 and 2, she's certainly ruthless enough to be a Big Bad. It all falls apart when she tries to take on her own weapons supplier, Kuja, and ends up having her entire fleet obliterated in a single battle.
      • Garland is an example of the "legitimate and serious threat" type. Introduced with a lot of fanfare, revealed to be The Man Behind the Man extraordinaire, and shown to be more than capable of foiling Kuja's schemes - in fact, he's technically the Big Bad behind most of the game. In the end, though, he makes the mistakes of thinking kicking Kuja's ass was enough to keep him in check thus focusing only on Zidane while completely ignoring his friends, only to end up ousted from power and killed in a rather undignified fashion by Kuja.
    • Final Fantasy X gives us Seymour Guado. Having the aura (and screen time) of your typical FF Big Bad and gleefully pushing the party's buttons, he might make you think he would succeed in his Evil Plan to becoming the next Sin. But soon after that reveal, he quickly stops bearing any significance to the plot, just showing randomly being a dick and thus never managing to get any sort of influence over Sin.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • Alvis of Velthomer subverts it by also surprisingly being sympathetic in a way. While he at first starts as an amiable ally to Sigurd, he mostly stays behind the scenes when Sigurd was being accused... only to pull off the biggest Player Punch ever by taking in Sigurd's wife as his own... and then slaughters him and his whole army mercilessly and then becomes the next Emperor of Grandbell... only to realize after 17 years that he's been had by Manfroy who eventually made his son Julius into the host of Loptous and practically turns Alvis himself into a pawn ruler and the Empire he built goes from noble to downright tyrannical. By the time Celice comes to avenge Sigurd, it is widely known that Alvis, while he was a big threat beforehand, is now reduced into a pitiful man swept by fate and the true villain and evil is Manfroy.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn's Lekain is a straight example. The leader of the corrupt Begnion Senators, he's a failed Magnificent Bastard and The Man Behind the Man to almost every awful thing in the series. He's a vile, arrogant, SOB, and killing him off is truly one of the highlights of the game. Yet at the end of the day, he's not the Dark Messiah that he thinks he is, and is in fact just another one of Sephiran's pawns in his plot to reawaken the Goddess Ashera.
    • Fire Emblem Awakening has Excellus, who fancies himself The Starscream to Walhart. In reality, he did such a bad job of hiding his trecherous nature that Walhart knew all along, and he's promptly sent to the frount lines to die before he has a chance to carry out his plans.
  • Sakaki from Dot Hack GU. He turns out to be an arrogant jerk who does manage to cause a lot of trouble in both the second and third games, but is known to just be a secondary threat who serves as a distraction from the one who's really the source of the World's problems.
  • The King of Fighters ' has K9999, especially for those who like Foxy and Kula. He backstabbed and killed Foxy (at first) and seriously breaking Kula's heart as he and Angel bully her and would've killed her if it wasn't for K's Big Damn Heroes moment. Then he retreats, never to be seen again... then Foxy was later revealed to be Not Quite Dead. Hoping for a rematch for what he he did to them? Not a chance, when K9999 is eventually retconned into a different person, Nameless, who had a different backstory (and a much more sympathetic one at that).
  • Mass Effect has Elanos Haliat from a side-quest in the first game. He traps you underground with a nuke as part of a gambit to get back in charge of the Terminus Clans, who your character helped defeat during the Skyllian Blitz. He leaves you enough time to disarm it, takes his gang out in one last ditch attempt to kill you, and ends up getting killed in the resulting firefight. Doubly humiliating if you managed to run past him and his men and get into your Awesome Personnel Carrier, in which you case you can take out the entire group with one shot from the main cannon. Though it's harder to do it that way, since it's far away and you have to run straight through enemy bullets. His Genre Blindness is doubly so if Shepard is an Infiltrator. After claiming to know everything about Shepard, he sets up his camp at the bottom of the mountain that he trapped the expert sniper in. Guess how that ends.
    • Cerberus. Any other time they would've made excellent Big Bads, being a powerful and wealthy human supremacist group scheming willing to do monstrous things to get the job done. However with the Reapers coming to destroy civilization, they're nothing more than a stubborn nuisance that think they're a bigger deal than they actually are; Illusive Man seriously thinks he can control the Reapers. Shepard and the Normandy crew aren't even in that big a rush to deal with them until they steal the ancient VI that the crew needs to finish the Crucible. Once that happens the Alliance gets fed up with their antics, quickly tracks them to their base, and lets the Normandy crew more or less wipe the organization out except for the Illusive Man himself, who fled like a coward once he realized Shepard was coming. As if the group couldn't get anymore pathetic in the grand scheme of things, it's revealed in the finale that the Illusive Man and likely the rest of Cerberus got themselves indoctrinated by foolishly overexposing themselves to Reaper tech while attempting to study it. They would've never even gotten the chance to be a big threat because the Reapers wouldn't let them.
    • Linked to Cerberus is Kai Leng, who fashions himself as Shepard's ultimate archenemy and greatest challenger. He's actually nothing more than the Illusive Man's pet assassin who largely ends up being more trouble than he's worth due to his poor impulse control, inability to hold back his bigotry towards aliens, and obsession with Shepard. The former two traits end up robbing Cerberus of a potentially vital ally, as he ends up murdering an Asari who turns out to be the daughter of Aria T'Loak, one of the most influential and powerful gangsters in the galaxy. The only battles we see him win decisively are against enemies who are already weakened ( Thane and possibly Miranda) or didn't the chance to fight back ( Captain Kirrahe). When Shepard finally confronts him he gets beaten like a chump and is pathetically stabbed and killed while making a final effort to kill Shepard.
  • Mac from Mega Man X3. He used X's trusting nature to sucker-shot him with a stun bullet and captures him easily. Then Zero arrives and it only takes several shots and maybe one or two swings of the Z-Saber to kill him for good.
  • Persona 4:
    • Subverted by Taro Namatame in the worst ending. He is revealed to be the one behind the kidnapping and his last acts ends up killing Nanako, though not a party member, but still a very well beloved character. The player can opt to throw him into the Midnight Channel where he will be killed by his own Shadow (which clearly DOES pose a worse threat than him alone...). The better endings, however, averts this as Namatame turns out to be a Tragic Hero manipulated by Adachi.
    • Played straight with Mitsuo Kubo, a mentally unstable student who propagates himself as the culprit behind the string of murders in order to gain attention, and who the party believe to be responsible for a short time. In fact, Mitsuo only kills one person, Mr. Morooka, and it is revealed that he was thrown into the TV world by Adachi to further his own goals; Mitsuo spends the rest of the game presumably in prison.
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV has Tayama, the Yakuza kingpin who has taken control of Tokyo After the End. The city's entire population fears and respects him, he acts as the main antagonist for the second quarter or so of the game, and he has a stable of incredibly powerful demons and numerous Moral Event Horizon crossings to his name. As his arc continues, however, we discover that all of said demons hate him, only fighting fore him because he has their Soul Jars, he's a massive coward if he's deprived of them, and that of all the antagonists in the game he's by far the least "in the know" of the finer points of the plot.
    • Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has Serial Killer Sakahagi, a ruthless Manikin who has a bad habit of skinning other Manikins alive before killing them and draining them of their Magatsuhi and leaving them dead. At a certian point in the game, he obtains a powerful Macguffin and uses it to brainwash an army of Fairies. He then proceeds to cut off Chiaki's arm off screen, though she survives, before engaging the protagonist in a battle where he is killed. Ultimately, he fails due to an inability to create his own Reason due to a lack of humanity and not nearly measuring up to the power of Kagutsuchi and Lucifer.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog villain Dr. Eggman has evolved into this starting in Sonic Adventure, since he constantly tries to use sealed evil in cans but fails to learn that Evil Is Not a Toy, so he constantly helps his enemies defeat it before unleashing the next evil. Sonic Colors rectified this though, as he does his old-fashioned scheme of using his Mecha-Mooks to defeat Sonic. Except in the DS version, where he unleashes a brainwashed and Nega-fied Mother Wisp.
  • The third time you meet Mysterio in Spider-Man 2 you find him robbing a convenience store. As he turns to confront you, his health bar appears next to him, filling up completely not once, not twice, but three times, granting him (apparently) far more health than any other in-game character. Then, it turns out, a single punch does him in.
  • Many games with The Empire, such as Suikoden always have some guy like this at first who targets you or your loved ones because he's a jerk; plotwise in order to keep your characters in an adversarial relationship with said Empire. Once you've managed to beat him; you are now deep into "Enemy of the State" territory and will be dealing with the full might of the Empire.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
  • Rieltar Anchev in Baldur's Gate. He seems to be the mastermind behind the Iron Throne's evil plans, but turns out to be just a puppet for his adopted son Sarevok, whose own plans have an even darker end.
  • Wilhelm von Juergen from Super Robot Wars Original Generation (or, more precisely, The ODE System that absorbed him)... is practically the very epitome of this trope. His debut in the OVA involves effortlessly capturing the new Aggressors (Lamia Loveless, Arado Balanga, Seolla Schweitzer and Latooni Subota) plus Kusuha Mizuha, because all of them are not in any mecha. Then, while Lamia eventually resisted him, he still manages to overrode her mind one time before Kyosuke plugged her out, while the rest of his captives are subdued by the rest of the EFA and restored. Then, in Original Generation Gaiden, whereas while once Lamia resisted he couldn't override her mind, instead he apparently killed her off, now while she was battered and naked on Alt Eisen's arm... only for seconds later (after the rest of the EFA weaken him) get killed off (and reabsorbed) by Duminuss. To add insult to injury/death, Duminuss "revives" her, then later Axel brought her back to her normal self, rendering Juergen's "victory" pointless.
    • Given the nature of of the series, all of the non-OG games have some of the participating series' villains reduced to this. However, the stand out example definitely goes to the Maremaia Army. While the movie itself has been one of the most commonly used series in the franchise, it's main antagonists are never a credible threat. Typically they're an Unwitting Pawn for another team of villains like the Martian Successors or Neo Zeon, and even if they aren't, they're always dealt with fairly early in the game. In Alpha Gaiden (their first appearance no less), not only are they taken out before even the Starter Villain (the Titans remnants), but depending on the route split the player chooses, they're defeated offscreen
  • Saleh from Tales of Rebirth is at first shown and described as a powerful enemy general, with a reasonless penchant for destruction and disgust on anything that is 'good'. Every time Veigue tried to approach him during the first half of the game, he spends his time outwitting and overwhelming Veigue... in cutscenes. However, he is never seen in battle on solo compared to his partner Tohma, he's usually fighting with a friend. Veigue defeats him rather easily, and following Tytree's "The Reason You Suck" Speech, it would seem that Saleh would try to get his threat level higher. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time after that just annoying Veigue with words on how he's going to crush their 'power of hearts', without actually kicking ass, and when he's actually fought the second time (with all his allies, nonetheless!), he's beaten just as easily. In other words, Saleh barks as if the power of evil will triumph all the time, but he couldn't back up with actual prowess.
  • Delphi from Trauma Center. Played up as a nihilistic bio-terrorist group that sees modern medicine as unnaturally prolonging people's lives. To that end, they do end up creating the parasites that form the threat of the first two games... and completely fail to kill any real number of people. In one outbreak in Under the Knife 2, the current head of Delphi ends up turning the television off during a report happily pointing out that despite their best efforts, not a single person was killed. Compare to Trauma Team, where untold thousands of people are killed completely by accident, with no Big Bad behind Rosalia whatsoever. Pretty pathetic showing for such a feared organization.
  • Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark: The drow calling herself Valsharess, "Empress", has made a decent start at Taking Over The World in conquering much of the Underdark and extending her attacks even to the surface, something almost unheard of for the subterranean drow. She's, naturally, presented as the Big Bad, and the game also makes a point to stress how exceptional she is. Unfortunately for her, she's only become so powerful by somehow enslaving a Dimension Lord who's arguably the second biggest Chessmaster in a place with such a level of scheming it makes the drow society look like a picnic. Inevitably, the Archdevil Mephistopheles manipulates her to bring in the Player Character to kill her and let him free, leaving him to lead a much more credible bid at Taking Over The World in the final chapters.
  • Batman: Arkham Series: The Riddler is not exactly harmless by any means, but compared to the other villains he can't measure up. He keeps boasting to everyone how he's Batman's intellectual equal and match when at best he's been an annoyance who is too self-deluding to solve a mystery as basic as finding out Batman's Secret Identity (something Bane and Hugo Strange for instance found out with Boring but Practical means). He is also unable to come anywhere near the threat level of The Joker or Scarecrow whose plans are both Dangerously Genre Savvy, as well as both massive in scope and grand in vision in comparison to the Riddler's extremely narrow and petty goals.

    Webcomics 
  • Lupin Madblood of Narbonic, who tries to defeat Helen Narbon or take over the world, and never comes close to succeeding. Once he was thwarted by a gerbil. Okay, it was a really smart gerbil, but still.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Nale tries to be a Chessmaster, but events have repeatedly shown that while he's pretty good at putting plans together, they ultimately tend not to work out. His first scheme would have succeeded if not for Haley making an almost impossible shot with her bow. His second scheme, in which he impersonated Elan, would have also succeeded if Elan had remained as dumb and incompetent as ever, rather than suddenly taking a level in badass. And, more generally, if Nale didn't constantly trip over his megalomania. Later, he finally manages to actually kill Malack and proceeds to taunt his father about it, right in the middle of his father's army and in the presence of one of Tarquin's powerful companions. Tarquin tries to offer Nale the chance to reconcile, but Nale brags about how he managed to kill Malack without Tarquin's help, complains about how much he resents his father, and rejects his Last-Second Chance. Tarquin finally proceeds to show Nale just how quickly he would have died without his protection, by stabbing him without a second thought.
    • Daimyo Kubota tries to usurp Hinjo's position, culminating in him ordering the assassination of a pair of former commoners who were promoted to nobility. The wife is pregnant. When the plan fails, he murders Therkla, his own number two, with poison just to give himself time to escape and frame her. He then surrenders to go on trial and use his aristocrat talents to turn around and slander Hinjo, but Vaarsuvius simply disintegrates him. His status as this is cemented by the fact that he just doesn't stack up against Xykon and Redcloak, and is naive enough to think that taking the city back from Xykon will be a trivial matter.
    • Elan and Nale's father Tarquin truly believes he is the real Big Bad, and that Xykon is just the end-goal of some minor sidequest, and that Elan, not Roy is the main protagonist. In their final confrontation, after Tarquin killed Nale (mainly because he was a distraction in the conflict between himself and Elan), Elan flat-out refused to fight, capture or engage with Tarquin in any way and just left him in the desert without any sort of climactic confrontation, which was probably the worst thing he could have done to him. Tarquin is left screaming after a departing Elan to come back and "finish the story". Even among his own party, Tarquin is not the leader. Neither Malack, Laurin, or Miron have any interest in doing what he says, they mostly just put up with it because Tarquin's narrative logic assists in their own personal motives, and is quite profitable to boot. He has to cajole and run on a system of favors in order to get them to do anything for him. His military prowess is stated to come from elsewhere in the party. Even Julio Scoundrél only considers him one of his "B-list villains".
  • In Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi, we have several examples of this: First, Mojo Jojo — the Girls' canonical Arch-Enemy — nearly succeeds in killing them with a monster, only for them to be saved by Jack, at which point Mojo is captured by Bell and forcibly "recruited" to work for the Darkstar Council. Then, when they arrive at the Council's base, they're greeted by Zim, who for a moment seems to be pretty high up in the organization, since he's sitting on a throne and giving a Motive Rant about their goals... then Dr. X, the real Big Bad shows up, and tells Zim to get out of his chair and get back to his janitor duties. Later on, Mandark shows up and appears to be a major villain, but it's quickly made apparent that he's nothing but a pawn that Dr. X is manipulating through his mental instability.
  • Black Licorice from The Last Mystical Legend Of The Fantastic Fantasy Trigger Star is a living embodiment of this trope. He starts out burning a city to ashes for the sake of being evil, causing the main character to seek revenge against him. He then turns out being extremely weak, unable to beat even his own mooks. He is less evil than the main character. In an actual fight against the main cast, they point out how weak this enemy was and that it couldn't be the real Black Licorice-at which point he pretends being a mook, flee, and burst out crying wondering what's going to happen to him.
  • The Condesce from Homestuck. She's definitely a physical threat to the protagonists. However despite this and her rampant egomania she's hopelessly outmatched in every way by Lord English, the true Big Bad. She's not even that intelligent really, simply relying on her insanely strong powers (which she only has because she was lucky enough to become empress) and big army to bully others into following her. When she loses said army, she ends up being reduced to Lord English's lackey, preparing things for his arrival in return for ruling Earth as a cheap, half-assed replacement of Alternia. The Alpha version of Jade plastered English's face all over merchandise to mock the Condesce by constantly reminding her of how pathetic she really is.

    Web Originals 
  • Dr. Linksano from Atop the Fourth Wall appears from another universe and tries to take over ours, but all of his plans end up failing without Linkara even noticing. After the review of Warrior 2 and 3, he retreats at sight Lord Vyce's approach, which he said was reason he fled his universe. After Vyce's defeat, he makes another attempt to attack Linkara, but The Entity appears to kill him. After he is brought back from that, Linkara just hires him as a tech-expert and he becomes a (so far) loyal ally.
  • In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, Brainchild put together a criminal organization, attracted mercenary supervillains to work for him, and tried to take over New York City's underworld. He was arrested, and his organization dismantled, by Pamela Odd, a Badass Normal private detective.
  • Nephandus of the Whateley Universe. A member in bad standing of the Bad Seeds (children of supervillains club) at Superhero School Whateley Academy, none of his nefarious plans have succeeded. One of his plans ended with him duct-taped head down in a toilet.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • As seen in the page quote, Long Feng. He had a pretty good conspiracy going in Ba Sing Se, managing to keep the Earth King under his control by not letting him know there was a war going on. He manages to delay the Avatar and his friends, brainwashes and kills Jet, and even manages to maintain control of the Dai Li after he is exposed for his treachery. When Azula shows up in the city he tries to use her to start a Coup against his king. When this plan succeeds and he tries to betray her, he finds that Azula's charisma has made the Dai Li loyal to her putting Ba Sing Se in the hands of the Fire Nation.
    • Zuko in the first season. Zuko is a more persistent threat than Zhao and a better fighter personally, but Zhao has an army at his command and is far more vile. The climax of the season revolves around Zhao's plan to kill the Moon Spirit and conquer the Northern Water Tribe, and Zuko's attempt to capture the Avatar is reduced to little more than a side-story that pops up at an inconvenient time for the heroes. This ultimately turns out in Zuko's favor, though, since unlike Zhao, he actually survives the season.
  • Sequel Series The Legend of Korra:
    • Season 1 has Councilman Tarrlok who practically rules the city with the other councilmen except Tenzin acting as yes men. He is able to enact curfew laws for non-benders, and arrest a large group of people and Korra's friends when they try to stop him. When confronted by Korra, he demonstrates the previously unheard-of ability to bloodbend during the daytime and without a full moon, and actually manages to subdue and capture Korra. The next episode his plan is found out and he escapes with his bloodbending, but loses his political power in the process. Amon is able to counter his bloodbending, defeats him and takes his bending away. In a twisted form of Irony, it is Tarrlok who kills Amon, and he himself goes with him..
    • Season 2 has Varrick is a competent enough villain, and got even farther than Tarrlok ever did, but ultimately the real Big Bads Unalaq and Vaatu are out of his league. He initially attacked Unalaq to start a civil war. Then, he plans bring Republic City into the war by bombing a peaceful demonstration and robbing Asami's company, blaming the north. When Mako catches on to his plans he gets the gangsters Mako is forced to work with help him rob Asami's last resources forcing her to sign interest over to him, and frames it all on Mako. His next plan though, kidnapping the President, exposes him and he is arrested. He ultimately is forced to enter an Enemy Mine with the heroes and help stop Unalaq by giving them his ship. Ironically, he's the one who ends up surviving.
    • Season 3 has Earth Queen Hou-Ting, who plans to take back Republic City with an enslaved army of airbenders. When Korra and her crew search for new airbenders after Harmonic Convergence, she tries to hinder there search but Korra sees through her deceptions and rescues the airbenders. In her next appearance she sets up a deal with Zaheer and the Red Lotus, who agree to take Korra from her in exchange for the location of the airbenders. When Zaheer finds out she does not have Korra, he and his group easily fight off the Dai Li, and kills her. Due to her cruelty and wastefulness, Zaheer is seen by most of the population as a hero.
  • Billy Billions from Ben 10: Omniverse considers himself Ben's archenemy. The thing is, Ben had never even knew he existed before Billy confronted him with killer robots and started talking about "their" past. He later on attempted to drive Ben out of the hero business with his own superhero team called, "The Vengers". Ben doesn't even remotely take them seriously, and would rather literally watch paint dry than devote even a smudge of attention to them.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: At the beginning of Season 3, Daolon Wong became the main villain and tried to get the talismans' powers for himself. He got two powers (Rooster and Pig) for most of the season and (briefly) Sheep. When he brought Shendu back so the Dragon power would be available again, things went downhill for him.
  • The Modifyers: Baron Vain has big aspirations but, like Dr. Draken, he's too ineffectual to actually get anything done. That's what he has Lacey for... except she's really Agent Xero in disguise.
  • Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz in Phineas and Ferb is a textbook example. He has ambitions to take over the Tri-State area, and the technology to boot. No matter how hard he tries, he is a complete laughingstock in the eyes of every villain.
  • Megabyte from ReBoot has an... interesting relationship with this trope. He seems to be the Big Bad in the Mainframe, but it's eventually revealed his dreams of taking over the whole Supercomputer are an egotistical delusion at best; the Guardians could've have easily blasted him to dust decades ago, but the idealistic Bob believed that Megabyte could be redeemed and so blocked their attempts to kill him. However, Megabyte eventually realizes that he's a Wannabe and thus dedicates himself to becoming more powerful, beginning to go to increasingly vicious lengths to get what he wants. By season 3, he's sufficiently Taken His Level In Badass and after the battle with Daemon, it's clear that Megabyte was the one true Big Bad all along.
  • Killer Moth from Teen Titans is a Mad Scientist with dreams of conquering the city, and the skill to probably make it happen if he didn't have a ridiculous gimmick, and wasn't completely cowed by his Bratty Teenage Daughter. She's as evil as he is, but not very bright, and when she hijacks his scheme as a means to get a date for her prom, things go downhill pretty fast.
  • Justin of Total Drama starts of the second season as being the Manipulative Bastard who'd use the girls to his advantage. Over the course of the season however it becomes highly obvious that he has no real skills outside of his looks and quickly becomes Out-Gambitted when Courtney returns.
    • Max from Pahkitew Island is this to a lesser extent. He deludes himself into thinking that he is the true evil of the season, but is truly nowhere near the level of other antagonists. The only reason he isn't known to be a wannabe is due to the true antagonist Scarlett doing most of the work for him.
  • In Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Darth Maul, Savage Oppress, and the Deathwatch are certainly dangerous antagonists in their own right and they talk a big game. However the second their schemes start interfering with Palpatine's work, Palpatine heads to Mandalore personally and effortlessly curb-stomps Maul, kills Oppress, and cripples Deathwatch.
  • Transformers:
    • There is Starscream The Transformers, repeatedly trying to kill Megatron and failing miserably, but always gets let off with a slap on the wrist. When Megatron turns into Galvatron after Starscream betrays him yet again, Megatron decides he has had enough and disintegrates Starscream.
    • This happens to Starscream a lot in Transformers Animated, where he'll show up with some sort of uber-plan (clones, immortality, Omega Supreme, etc) only to have Megatron either shrug it off or effortlessly take advantage of it. Starscream is plenty dangerous when he's by himself, but next to Megatron, he just doesn't compare. Megatron put it best:
      Megatron: Is that the best you could do, Starscream? And to think, you actually believed you could take over as leader of the Decepticons? You couldn't lead a parade.
    • The Transformers Prime Starscream seems like a big threat to start off with, killing one of the autobots in the first ten minutes, competently leading the decepticons and showing some signs of beating his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder when he displays concern for Megatron’s wellbeing. Unfortunately he is extremely vulnerable to Villainous Breakdowns and thinks he’s far tougher than he actually is, the humiliation piling up until he’s left badly damaged with no allies and is forced onto a bus for the rest of the season. In a surprising moment of clarity on his part during the hunt for the Omega Keys, he ends up realizing this and how acting on his own he has no hope of ruling Cybertron even if collects the keys. So instead he uses them to convince Megatron to take him back and remains loyal to him for the rest of the series.
    • Beast Wars
      • Terrorsaur, and while smarter than G1 cartoon Starscream, proved to be as big of a failure. His attempts to overthrow Megatron generally resulted in whoever he was working with manipulating him as part their own plan. He's an 80s Starscream Expy in a Darker and Edgier 90s series, and "Megatron has falle- oh, wait!" just doesn't cut it when you're surrounded by true Magnificent Bastards. As TF Wiki puts it, "Terrorsaur is always thinking two steps ahead. Unfortunately, the big guns of the Beast Wars are usually thinking at least four steps ahead, and Terrorsaur always ends up on the short end."
      • Tarantulus, once the writers figured out what they wanted to do with him, plays this role acting as The Starscream for most of the series and is ultimately revealed to have been an agent of the Tripredicus Council following their agenda to rule the universe. While he's smart enough to keep his agenda a secret, Megatron is almost always a step ahead of him and manipulates his schemes to further his own.
    • The series sequel Beast Machines has Tankor, after he's revealed to have been a reprogrammed Rhinox from the previous series. Gaining his original memories, but having none of his morals, he decides to wipe out Megatron and the Maximals both and rule Cybertron himself. After faking his own death his plotting seems to go unnoticed, but in the climax of season 1 it's revealed Megatron always knew Tankor was betraying him and had all of his generals' programmed so they could never directly harm him, at which point Tankor is crippled just by the sheer act of trying to attack Megatron. Megatron proceeds to call out Tankor on this and explains that the only reason he was able to run around with any free will was because it indirectly aided Megatron's own goals.
    • In Transformers: Robots in Disguise
      • This is Sky-Byte's life, especially after he loses his position as Megatron's second in command to Scourge. Sky-Bite and his three Predacon underlings are hopelessly outclassed by everyone else in the series, but Sky-Bite keeps on trying to get the respect and prestige that he thinks he's entitled to.
      • Scourge could also be considered this. He's dangerous enough and comes pretty close to controlling Fortress Maximus, but once he reveals his plan and attempts the coup, it becomes clear that he's nothing compared to Galvatron, as he is quickly defeated and than brainwashed into being a fanatically loyal slave.
  • Jack Spicer from Xiaolin Showdown actually started out as something of a Big Bad during the show's first season, before getting unseated by Wuya. After that, Chase Young and Roy Bean came onto the scene, both more powerful villains, which started his decline into Diminishing Villain Threat, until Jack was only an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. One time-travel episode subverts this though, when it turns out Jack could grow up to become the successful super villain he always dreamed of being.
  • In The New Adventures of He-Man, Flogg is the leader of the Evil Mutants, but once the outsider named Skeletor offers his help to turn Flogg into the king of the Tri-Solar Galaxy in exchange for a chance to defeat He-Man, Flogg never realizes that he has become a pawn of the Lord of Destruction.

    Other 
  • The Piraka of BIONICLE are introduced brainwashing a whole village of Matoran to do work at a volcano in an attempt to get an Artifact of Doom, committing several Kick the Dog moments purely For the Evulz, and taking out the veteran Toa heroes who showed up. In addition, leader Zaktan knew Big Bad Makuta's Evil Plan and swore to use it to his own advantage. Turns out they were manipulated by Makuta from day one, and eventually got beaten by a rookie team of Toa Because Destiny Said So. They were shortly afterward mutated into sea snakes and captured by the Hero Secret Service. They're imprisoned in a fishtank. Zaktan tried to offer his knowledge of the gambit in exchange for parole, leading some other heroes to Makuta — but when they get there, Makuta blows him up, and he goes missing for a while.
    • Subverted later on, when a group of Skakdi (the Piraka's species) performed a ritual sacrifice, during which they threw the remaining Piraka snakes and various other beings into a vat filled with Mutagenic Goo — along with, unknown to them, Zaktan's still living particles. The result is a god-like fusion who has become one of the several new Big Bad expectants. Or is this a Double Subversion, as we don't know for sure if this being can even be considered to be the same as the Piraka (or just Zaktan)?
  • If he is not promoted as a hero, Akechi Mitsuhide is usually seen as this. He did plan his betrayal of Oda Nobunaga, but it depends mostly on luck about how Nobunaga suddenly came into Honnoji with minimal troops. Right after he defeated and forced Nobunaga to commit suicide, 13 days later, Nobunaga's successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi arrives and defeated Mitsuhide, forcing him to flee and get himself killed by peasants. Hideyoshi might not be a complete evil per se, but he is also often the recipient of Historical Villain Upgrade like Nobunaga.
    • Not applicable in the rare instances where Oda Nobunaga is portrayed as good, while Akechi Mitsuhide is portrayed as evil. In those cases he typically ends up being the Big Bad already. This is pretty rare since Oda Nobunaga is almost never portrayed as the hero.
    • These both seem to stem from two ill-viewed events, Hideyoshi's blunder of an invasion into Korea, and Nobunaga's hatred of Buddhism and burning of a temple of warrior monks. (It doesn't matter, that they tried to assassinate him first... only that they were monks and he burned the temple down to the last man.)


Alternative Title(s):

Evil Frog Wants To Be An Ox, Evil Frog Who Wants To Be An Ox