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Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good
HULK SMASH EVIL SCIENCE!

"As far as brains go, I got the lion's share, but when it comes to brute strength...I'm afraid I'm at the shallow end of the gene pool."

Heroes in fiction are held to higher standards of physical strength than villains and villains are held to higher standards of intellect than heroes, (see also The Villain Makes the Plot) leading to a trend that evil uses brains while good uses brawn.

This often results in Dumb Is Good, whereas evil tends to be smarter but comparatively lacking in the strength department, as if to imply that physical strength represents moral strength. Occasionally, the villain is Feigning Intelligence, the hero is playing dumb, or the hero just has the Idiot Ball until the climax and is ready to pass it to the villain.

Since it follows that qualifications in fighting/military leadership are therefore nobler than academic ones, see The Good Captain and Morally Ambiguous Doctorate.

See also Thud and Blunder, the subgenre of Heroic Fantasy that make gratuitous use of this trope. Contrast Guile Hero and Science Hero, who often overcome physically threatening foes with trickery or brainpower respectively; and Evil Is Bigger, where the villain is physically superior to the hero.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic books 
  • Either inverted or simply thrown out the window by Batman. The Dark Knight's enemies tend to be either superhuman in some way (Clayface, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy), willing to engage in a battle of wits with him (Riddler, Scarecrow, Strange), or simply out of their minds (Joker, Zsasz, Mad Hatter). Some of his enemies almost match him intellectually while having superhuman powers too, like Bane, but regardless of whether his physically outmatches his foes, Batman is always more brains than brawn.
  • Superman vs. Lex Luthor. Superman, of course, is far from stupid, but Luthor ("a tenth level intellect") is the smartest man alive, and unlike Superman, can't solve problems through brute force.
    • Also the Ultra-Humanite, the first comic-book supervillain, was designed to be the opposite of Superman, and was given "the most learned and agile brain on Earth" to contrast Superman's strength.
    • While Brainiac is tougher than either of them, his physical might still doesn't measure against the Man of Steel and he has a twelfth level intellect, making him one of the smartest beings in the universe.
    • Zig-zagged with Superman's enemy Manchester Black. Black's powers are all mental in nature, being both psychic and telekinetic, while Superman's are still physical and he largely uses his super-strength. But in terms of behavior, Black is a violent thug whose psychic powers still get used for brute force and Superman eventually defeats him with intelligence; strategically beating him at his own game.
  • Captain Marvel and Dr Sivana. Again, it's not that Captain Marvel is stupid, but he has the emotional maturity of a teenager and solves most problems with his fists.
  • The Incredible Hulk and The Leader. Though some versions of the Hulk is smart. And Bruce Banner is a genius.
    • Though more recent stories tend to play with Banner being a less than morally outstanding individual, himself.
    • This particular usage of the trope has been called out: "You're making the argument that Strong is good and Smart is evil to a bunch of comic book nerds? You don't really want to sell comics, do you?"
      • Memorably so in the Book of Ratings:
      Kind of obvious, really. Hero: Big green dumb strong guy. Villain: Small green smart weak guy. It's not really dripping with creativity, and the moral ends up being "clever planning and logic can never win against the sheer physical brutality of a guy who barely even knows where he is." This is not a moral that your average comic book reader wants to hear.
  • Somewhat inverted by Spider-Man who has a lot of villains stronger and dumber than him. (The Rhino, Venom, Carnage).
    • Played straight by some of his more prominent foes (the Green Goblin and Doc Ock) where they tend to edge him out in terms of brains and he edges them out in strength.
      • Though Doc Ock's Arms are actually stronger then Spider-Man overall, and actually made his debut by defeating Spider-Man in single combat. Though Doc Ock himself is indeed somewhat physically frail.
      • Green Goblin's raw strength in proportion to Spider-Man also varies, when originally it was equal to an ordinary man, then slightly weaker then Spider-Man, and sometimes noticeably stronger depending on the Goblin Serum used.
  • The Mighty Thor and his evil half-brother, Loki.
    • Only in comparison to each other. Loki is actually super-strong, durable, and able in combat by Earth standards. He's only weaker in that area by Asgardian standards, since the kids there are, by Word of God, as strong as Spider-Man. And Thor is not particularly slow on the uptake, either, he's just surrounded by too many geniuses like Loki, Iron Man, and Odin, for it to show.
  • The prequel comic to Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog reveals that this is the reason Billy decided to become a supervillain in the first place. Another one also reveals that Captain Hammer has deeply anti-intellectual beliefs, telling kids that anyone who is "different", such as being good at math or science, is a potential supervillain and should be reported to the police.
  • Averted in Watchmen: Ozymandias is reputed to be the smartest man in the world, but he's also more than a physical match for most other heroes. Dr. Manhattan, in turn, is the most powerful hero and a scientist too.
  • M.O.D.O.K. and Captain America follow this trope as well. Although both are pretty smart, M.O.D.O.K. is essentially a living supercomputer. M.O.D.O.K. even mentions this trope in MvC3.
  • In Scott Pilgrim, Scott isn't very bright but he is the "best fighter in the province" according to Kim. Gideon, on the other hand, is a genius inventor who cannot defeat Scott without stealing his sword or utilizing his technology.
  • Granted everyone in The Tick seems to have a few screws loose, but The Tick himself is most definitely Brawn=Good.
    The Tick: My brain has always been my Achilles' Heel!

    Fanfic 
  • Stray inverts this with the main couple. Adamska, who has the muscles and the combat skills, is decidedly the more morally ambiguous of the two. Hal, the skinny nerd engineer, is the Nice Guy Morality Pet. Adamska isn't a completely straightforward Evil(ish) Brawn, however, since he's a Genius Bruiser who relies more on his Improbable Aiming Skills than raw power.

    Films — Animated 
  • This seems apparent in Disney Animated Canon movies, especially the more recent ones.
    • The Lion King has the strong and noble Mufasa versus the Lean and Mean Scar, who comments on their differences in strength and intellect before even revealing his evil nature.
      • Subverted, since while Scar is a cunning and Machiavellian politician, Mufasa is wise, just and existential.
      • During the second half of the film, Mufasa's son Simba actually takes over as the brawny hero.
    • The Hunchback of Notre Dame has Quasimodo using his strength for usually justified (or at least well-intentioned) purposes, whereas the physically weak (and morally weak) elderly Manipulative Bastard Frollo emotionally abuses Quasimodo into an extreme of self-loathing that is in some ways comparable to being weak until he overcomes said self-loathing.
    • Disney's Hercules pits sleazy Manipulative Bastard Hades against naive farmboy-ish Hercules who trades almost solely on his superstrength
    • The Emperor's New Groove's villains include Yzma, the main villain, who is Lean and Mean but clearly cleverer than the physically-stronger Anti-Villain Kronk. Its "heroes" include Anti-Hero Kuzko, also skinny, and profoundly self-centered, and Pacha, a more unambiguously good character who is noticeably physically stronger and nowhere near as self-centered.
    • Sort-of inverted in Beauty and the Beast, which has the smart Belle on the side of good and the dumb, muscle-bound Gaston as the main villain. Still, Gaston is defeated in a physical battle with the Beast, who is not particularly intelligent.
      • Whether or not Gaston was even that dumb in the first place is subject to Alternative Character Interpretation anyway; it is plausible that he was just Obfuscating Stupidity. That he thought up that scheme for blackmailing Belle into marriage shows some level of cleverness, and that the people he associates with call thinking a dangerous pastime would easily provide an incentive to play dumb.
      • Could be just Book Dumb.
    • Also inverted in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, with scrawny but brainy Milo up against muscley and only slightly less intelligent Rourke.
      • Inverted with The Great Mouse Detective as well. Basil and Ratigan are evenly matched in wits. However, Ratigan far outweighs Basil in physical abilities.
    • Averted in Aladdin, which pits a Guile Hero against a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Megamind vs Metro Man.
    • Not a straight example. Megamind is a Designated Villain who's only a villain because he believes in a Balance Between Good and Evil. He would prefer to be the hero but since he couldn't top Metroman he chose to be the villain.
    • Inverted at the end with Megamind and Titan.
      • Titan isn't as stupid as he appears, though. Not many people would've caught the "Metrocity" vs. "Metro City" pronunciation.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 has the burly, dim-witted panda Po pitted against the evil, scrawny but superintelligent albino peacock Shen.
  • Inverted in The Nightmare Before Christmas, which pits Badass Bookworm Jack Skellington against Oogie Boogie, a rare villanous example of a Boisterous Bruiser.
    • That being said, the way Oogie actually fights Jack is this trope played straight, using his lair and his traps to his advantage rather than face Jack directly. We never get to see much of Jack's power, but given that he's the lord of Halloween, he might very well be stronger than he appears.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Die Hard: Cowboy Cop John McClane vs. criminal mastermind Hans Gruber. There's a reason it was the former Trope Namer of The Villain Makes the Plot.
  • In Thor, the cunning Loki frequently manipulates his powerful and hard-headed brother Thor.
    Loki: Are you ever not going to fall for that?
  • The Green Lantern movie has lazy, irresponsible and pretty vacant Hal Jordan fighting the shy, intelligent, hard-working, under appreciated Hector Hammond.

    Literature 
  • The original Dragonlance book series. Raistlin Majere was sickly and physically weak, highly intelligent and gradually turned to evil. His brother Caramon is strong, slow-thinking and a good guy.
  • Harry Dresden regularly gets his ass handed to him by more experienced and skilled opponents, but in terms of raw magical power he actually surpasses most of them. Moments where he gets this power properly applied to a strong enemy and/or enhanced by some planning tend to be crowning and sometimes terrifying.
  • A prime source of Alternate Character Interpretation when it comes to Odysseus, hero of The Odyssey. According to different sources, Odysseus' cleverness and wiliness were what set him among the greats of the Greek heroes, or else they were signs of a weak and cowardly nature too pathetic to fight like a real man.

    Live Action TV 
  • Inverted with Doctor Who. As Craig Ferguson put it, the one constant of the show is the triumph of "intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism".
  • The selection of the two tribes during Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains' pre-production was geared toward this. Before the merge, the Villains won 7 out of 8 challenges on the merit of their cleverness—the only challenge the Heroes won over this stretch was an unprecedented 8-0 sweep in a purely physical, one-on-one sumo wrestling challenge.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Most face/heel rivalries in Professional Wrestling play out like this with most of the drama centered around the heel cheating and tricking his way to victory against a more powerful and/or skilled babyface. Whereas a heel who's legitimately skilled gets cheered a lot of the time, the heel gets booed because the fans know he doesn't "deserve" to keep winning and are waiting until he finally gets demolished.
    • Prominent examples (as heels, of course):
      • Ric Flair
      • Chris Jericho
      • The Miz
      • Jerry Lawler was pretty much the Ric Flair of Memphis.
      • Triple H is a perfect example of both. As a heel, he can't win a match clean to save his life, yet as a face, all he needs are his fists and maybe a sledgehammer in order to take out the rest of the roster.
    • The standard psychology of a tag team match suggests this trope. Typically, the heel team shows more skill at actual tag team wrestling, isolating one face and utilizing numerous tag team maneuvers. This builds tension for the Hot Tag, whereupon the fresh babyface finally tags in and demolishes the heels singlehandedly, usually until a pinfall is broken up, all parties end up in the ring, and anything goes from there.
  • Professional Wrestling also has the "intellectual heel" persona, such as Chris Nowinski, David Otunga (both Real Life Harvard graduates), Molly Holly for a female version, and currently, Damien Sandow, whereas there is no real "intellectual face," since the intellectual heel will usually be wrestling a big, powerful face.

    Video Games 
  • Mega Man is a naive little robot who can bench-press a small building. His greatest villain is the brilliant but maniacal Dr. Wily. Then again, Mega Man has at least two benevolent scientists backing him up (one of which is Dr. Light, being Wily's equal).
  • Final Fantasy, most of the villains are cunning, scheming, manipulative masterminds that rely on magic and trickery while the heroes are strong, courageous, stalwart warriors that charge into battle using swords. The Crisis Crossover Dissidia: Final Fantasy highlights this — aside from Garland, Sephiroth and Jecht, all of the villains fight using magic and have strategic Difficult but Awesome fighting styles, while the heroes aside from Terra are physical brawlers with Boring Yet Practical attacks.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story we have the idiotic but strong Bowser as the Villain Protagonist versus the intelligent Fawful as the antagonist.

    Web Original 
  • Slightly inverted in Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with the Evil Genius Dr. Horrible, who is actually, a nice guy when he's not doing evil things, and the superhero Captain Hammer, who is a dumb Jerk Jock. The prequel comic seems to indicate that brains and brawn are polar opposites here. When Dr. Horrible previously tries to inject himself with a Super Serum made from Captain Hammer's DNA, he becomes as strong and tough as Hammer but also just as dumb. They just keep Megaton Punching each other until Dr. Horrible decides to go back to being smart.
    • Averted with the other heroes and villains in the related comics. For example, Johnny Snow (mentioned in the show itself) is smart enough to build himself a Freeze Ray, which he uses to stop the Evil League of Evil, when Captain Hammer is out of town.

    Western Animation 
  • The Powerpuff Girls : evil genius Mojo Jojo vs the girls and their super powers. Chemical X is the cause of both; think about that.
    • Possibly subverted in that the girls, especially Blossom are fairly clever themselves, not to mention the (largely) harmless and Reasonable Authority Figure Professor Utonium.
    • Inverted with Fuzzy Lumpkins, who is about as dumb as they come, and as STRONG as they come.
  • Played with on Gargoyles with Goliath (a hulking Proud Warrior Race Guy) and Xanatos (a Magnificent Bastard with no superpowers). Just to read the descriptions of the characters, one would assume this dynamic to be in place, but as the show goes on Goliath repeatedly shows off his Genius Bruiser and Warrior Poet sides, while Xanatos proves to be an expert martial artist who eventually has a suit of Powered Armor made that lets him match Goliath's physical abilities. Both hero and villain are no slouches in the brain or brawn department.
  • Thoroughly mocked in Dan Vs. season 3 finale, "Summer Camp", by making this the stated philosophy of the episode's villain. The summer camp in question is run by the Social Darwinist Mr. Tedesco, who, under the guise of "toughening up" the campers, divides them into two clans and makes them fight for a "spirit stick" which grants its clan privileges such as food. Dan recognizes that his clan can't win a straight fight, so he gains the spirit stick by setting a trap with a hornet's nest. Mr. Tedesco punishes the whole clan for this, explaining that the entire point was to win through brute force—that taking the stick with cunning was "cheating". Naturally, this pushes Dan to completely destroy the camp and take down Tedesco for good.

Boobs of SteelStrength IndexBrawn Hilda
All-Loving HeroGood Is DumbDid You Actually Believe?
Almighty IdiotAnti-IntellectualismDumb Is Good
The AlonerImageSource/Comic BooksBruiser with a Soft Center

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