"You know, I actually like working for someone else. It lets me be a little more... hands-on."In the natural progression of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, a stronger Big Bad will replace the previous villain for the new season. However, what happens if the previous villain is still here? One of the things the former Big Bad can do now is to work for the new Big Bad as his Dragon. This is Demoted to Dragon in a nutshell. Demoted Big Bads will almost always become The Starscream or a Dragon with an Agenda. Contrast Dragon Ascendant, the inverse, and Big Bad Duumvirate, when the previous Big Bad isn't explicitly subservient to the new one. See also Big Bad Wannabe. Beware of spoilers.
— Slade, Teen Titans
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Anime & Manga
- In Naruto, Pain, thought to be the Big Bad, is eventually revealed to have been the Dragon with an Agenda to Tobi, who turns out to be the dragon to the real Madara. Until Tobi kicks Madara to the curb and takes over his plot. Well, Madara is the Big Bad again anyway, thanks to his other Dragon Zetsu. But even that doesn't last long once it is revealed that Zetsu is actually the Dragon to Kaguya, leaving Madara not only demoted but dead.
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion, after Homura becomes the devil, Kyubey is forced into this role, turning from a potent and incomprehensible chessmaster to a lapdog whom she apparently Mind Rapes at the end.
- Played with for the Team Rocket trio in the Pokémon anime. Though they always served under Giovanni, they usually worked on their own accord and were individual villains. In the Best Wishes series however, they are promoted to Elite Mooks, either taking orders directly from Giovanni, or being supervised by the organisation's scientist Dr Zagar.
- In Sonic the Comic, Robotnik is Demoted to Dragon twice. First in the Drakon arc, he makes a deal with Emperor Ko-Dorr — the Drakons would provide Robotnik with resources and transport, and he in turn would deliver the Chaos Emeralds. Then, in the Shanazar arc, Robotnik worked for Princess Kupacious as Grand Vizier. Both times he was using them to further his own goals, and he was a far greater threat than Princess Kupacious.
- In Fray, the vampire Icarus used to be the boss of all the vampires in Manhattan, (or Haddyn, as the Future Slang of the world calls it) but willingly chose to give that up and become The Dragon to Visionary Villain and Undead Child Harth.
- In Secret Wars, Ultron attempts to pick a fight with Galactus. This goes about as well as one would expect, and Ultron is later reprogrammed into serving as The Dragon to Doctor Doom.
- In Sonic the Hedgehog/Mega Man: Worlds Unite, Doctors Eggman and Wily — the main antagonists of their own series and the Big Bad Duumvirate of the previous crossover — are press-ganged into the service of Sigma. It doesn't take long for the two of the them to go full Starscream, either.
- Carmen Cole, the Big Bad of the novel Hottie by Jonathan Bernstein, becomes The Dragon to Emperor Vakudos in Hottie 3: The Best Fan Fic in the World.
- Matt Pinfield, the Big Bad of The Naked Brothers Band animated special "Supetastic 6", becomes The Dragon to Princess Jody in the Spin-Off, Hottie x Supetastic 6: March Madness.
- The Powers Of Harmony: Eclipse (formerly Nightmare Moon) ends up forced to serve Cetus, her own creation. Naturally, she's not pleased with this.
- My Little Mages: The Nightmare's Return has Chrysalis. Fifty years ago, she led one side of a war between the living and the Undead, but was defeated and forced to go into hiding, before Nightmare Moon recruited her for her new Quirky Miniboss Squad.
- The Rise of Darth Vulcan has this happen to Chrysalis in relation to the titular Villain Protagonist. However, due to a combination of Mad Love and being genuinely impressed by him repeatedly, she doesn't mind much.
- Persona EG: The dark persona user Eris, AKA Fluttershy seems to be the main enemy of ZIT, but it is eventually revealed she is working for the far more powerful and dangerous Mephistopheles, AKA Sunset Shimmer.
Films — Live-Action
- In the first Michael Bay Transformers movie, Megatron is the Big Bad. In the sequel, he's resurrected, but the Big Bad is The Fallen. As of Dark of the Moon, Megatron is still The Dragon. This time under Sentinel Prime.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the previous film's Big Bad Davy Jones is demoted to being The Dragon for Cutler Beckett. Justified by Beckett possessing the heart of Davy Jones, and therefore being quite capable of having Jones killed and replaced if he doesn't obey Beckett's orders. And in the climax, Davy Jones regains control of his heart, going into full Dragon-in-Chief mode.
- Poor King Ghidorah of the Godzilla franchise. He started out as the Big Bad in Ghidorah The Three Headed Monster and was considered the ultimate evil in the universe. The next film, Invasion of Astro-Monster reduced him into the mind-controlled pet of an evil alien-race. And he's pretty much been that way ever since.
- James McCullen spends most of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra as the Big Bad. Then his Mad Scientist revealed himself as Cobra Commander, Turning McCullen into his Dragon Destro in the process.
- Hellraiser: Bloodline: After Angelique summons Pinhead to help her with John Merchant they stand on roughly equal ground. When Merchant tricks them, Pinhead drags her back to Hell for her failure and makes her a part of his retinue of servant Cenobites.
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has the Orc Leader Azog as the main villain, pursuing Thorin and Company. However in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug the Necromancer Sauron tells him to stop hunting Thorin so he can lead his troops. This means Azog sends his son and Dragon Bolg to continue the hunt.
- In The Lone Ranger, Butch Cavendish was the Big Bad in the 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger, but here, he's Cole's right-hand man.
- While Shredder is The Heavy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, he's Kraang's chief enforcer and is carrying out his agenda.
- In the Wrong Turn series, Three Finger is the default leader of the cannibal hillbillies. But in the fifth and sixth films, he takes orders from other members of the family — Maynard in the former, and Jackson and Sally in the latter. In the first case, he actually seems intimidated into service, while in the second it's more a case of Teeth-Clenched Teamwork.
- Brokenstar was the Big Bad of Into the Wild, the first book of the Warrior Cats series. Then he gets driven out of his clan and killed, leaving Tigerstar in control of his army. Later in the Omen Of The Stars arc, Tigerstar and Brokenstar meet up in the afterlife and Tigerstar becomes Brokenstar's dragon.
- Caine Soren is reduced to this briefly during HUNGER (the first of many sequels to GONE). He bounces back though.
- Occurs in Needful Things, where John "Ace" Merrill, the Big Bad from Stand by Me, becomes a lackey for Leland Gaunt.
- Happened in the backstory of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. The three Raversnote (formerly human, bodiless possessing demons) were the Land's reigning supreme evils for centuries, possibly millennia- at least until Lord Foul the Despiser showed up to seize the throne of Big Bad de jure. In the process, he made the Ravers his chief minions (an arrangement which worked out well for the Ravers; Foul was as evil as they were, far more powerful, and an extremely subtle chessmaster, so allying with him made them if anything even more dangerousnote ). However, by the time the actual books take place, this is entirely a matter of legend; the Ravers are well-known primarily as Foul's minions, and are even described as such in the books' glossaries.
- A rather... tense... version in the later books of The Death Gate Cycle. Lord Xar is a Sorcerous Overlord Badass Grandpa and Magic Knight; Kleitus is an undead, omnicidal Implacable Man Necromancer. When they meet, Xar is able to force Kleitus into serving him by the simple expedient of being too powerful to kill (and Xar can't just kill Kleitus because he doesn't know the one spell that can destroy him). It's explicitly stated that Kleitus follows Xar around and does his bidding not out of any sense of loyalty, but out of the pure hope that he can be there when Xar slips up and use the opportunity to finish what he started. Xar, of course, is fully aware of this and doesn't trust Kleitus as far as he can kick him.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- When Angel became Angelus, former Big Bad Spike became Angel's Dragon.
- Mr. Trick, after having abandoned his master, Kakistos, to the Slayers, seeks to install himself as the next Big Bad and The Man Behind the Man. Cue the Mayor forcibly recruiting Mr. Trick.
- Also subverted when the Mayor attempted to do this to Angelus. Angelus initially goes along with it (in a very openly-Starscreamish way) but it turns out the Mayor failed to actually take Angel's soul, and he was just playing along to get information from Faith.
- A strange variant in Smallville's Season 10 episode, "Dominion". General Zod of Season 5, and Major Zod (his clone), the Big Bad of Season 9, were fused into a single being by Darkseid, the Season 10 Big Bad, and used as his surrogate in the Phantom Zone.
- Regina Mills, the Big Bad of the first season of Once Upon a Time becomes The Dragon to her mother Cora in the second.
- Darken Rahl is the Big Bad of the first season of Legend of the Seeker. Then he's killed in the season finale. Come season 2, the Keeper has become the new Big Bad, seeking to kill every living thing, with the Rahl's soul being his Dragon. Not only that, but he reveals that he has always served the Keeper after making a Deal with the Devil for more power, and all his murders and slaughters were partly to appease his master. Then again, Rahl is a dick either way and really enjoyr killing. Of course, he turns out to be a Dragon with an Agenda and betrays his master by the end. Additionally, in the episode where Zedd's spell goes awry and rewrites history, Rahl becomes Richard's willing assistant, after Richard brainwashes him. Then the spell is broken, and Rahl is back to his old self. By the end of season 2, Rahl finds a way to return to the world of the living and turns his back on the Keeper.
- Farscape: Crais briefly experiences this once Scorpius deposes him as captain of his Peacekeeper battleship, but takes the first opportunity to desert and do his own thing.
- Done briefly in Stargate SG-1. Initial Big Bad Apophis is hunted down by replacement Big Bad Sokar and dies while hiding on Earth. In a later episode, one of the lesser Goa'ulds serving Sokar has a First Prime named Na'onak who turns out to be a regenerated Apophis in disguise. However, Apophis rapidly pulls a Starscream on both and reclaims the Big Bad throne.
- Later on, the new Big Bad Anubis is defeated by O'Neill controlling the Ancient super-weapon. He is presumed dead, and Ba'al, whose rise to power is previously facilitated by SG-1 to counterbalance Anubis becomes their number 1 threat. Near the end of the Goa'uld rule, though, it's revealed that Ba'al has since become this trope after Anubis manages to come back and retake his empire. After the fall of the Goa'uld, Ba'al is the only real Goa'uld threat remaining.
- In Person of Interest, Mr. Greer willingly and happily demotes himself to the role of The Dragon after succeeding in his two-season mission to install Samaritan, an Artificial Intelligence unfettered by morality, as the show's new Big Bad. His goal is to put all of humanity in the control of AIs, believing them to be logical, incorruptible and superior to human leaders in every way.
- Denshi Sentai Denziman / Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan: Queen Hedrian, the Big Bad of Denziman, is revived and forced to serve Führer Hell Saturn (himself revealed to be The Dragon to The Omnipotent God, the actual Big Bad of the series) at the start of Sun Vulcan.
- The Undertaker, as the leader of the Ministry of Darkness, was clearly seen as the biggest threat in the WWF at the time, to the point where it seemed even Vince McMahon was getting face cheers over him and was being portrayed somewhat sympathetically. However, Taker began making references to a "Higher Power", and when it was time for the reveal, it was none other than McMahon himself who had been pulling the strings all along. The Ministry merged with The Corporation to form the Corporate Ministry, and Undertaker immediately became McMahon's dragon.
- The nWo were the main Power Stable during their time in WCW, but after WCW was bought out by the WWF, they were reduced to Mr.McMahon's lackeys.
- In Super Mario Land. Tatanga is the Final Boss. In the sequel, Wario is the Final Boss, and Tatanga is simply guarding one of his coins for some reason. It's implied he may have been working for Wario the whole time, given that Wario takes over when Mario was distracted by Tatanga.
- Played with in CrashBandicoot. Dr. Cortex was always Uka Uka's Dragon, but only after the latter's release in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped does this become apparent and he directly serves under him. In Crash: Mind Over Mutant, Cortex finally tires of Uka's abuse and overthrows him, making himself the true Big Bad for the first time.
- Happened to Lechuck in Escape from Monkey Island, though he does turn on the game's new villain in the endgame when they're defeated.
- In Final Fantasy X, the seemingly Big Bad Final Boss called Sin turned out to only be an armor used by Yu Yevon, the center of the world's only religion and pretty much their god. From the moment the cast learns this, Sin is technically Demoted to Dragon, because the player had expected that Sin would be the Big Bad.
- 'Pokémon Mystery Dungeon:
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky actually took this literally with Primal Dialga.
- Gates to Infinity does it again, still literally, with Kyurem.
- Medusa, the villain of the first Kid Icarus game, is actually reduced to this in Kid Icarus: Uprising. Though in what may have been an Author's Saving Throw in case this wasn't well received, it's revealed that the Medusa in Uprising isn't actually Medusa, just a whole bunch of random souls Hades put together in a Medusa-shaped container.
- In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Darth Sion starts out as one half of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Darth Nihilus. During the events of the endgame, in which Nihilus dies and Kreia reclaims her identity as Darth Traya, he becomes the sole Big Bad for a time, only to be forcibly demoted upon Traya's return.
- In the arcade version of Double Dragon, Machine Gun Willy is the leader of the Black Warriors and the final boss in the game. In the NES version, he's simply the last guy the player must face before the final battle against the player's twin brother, who became the main villain in the NES version. Note that while the sibling battle also occurs in the arcade version, it was an optional fight that only occurs if two people were playing, whereas in the NES version it's mandatory to completing the game.
- Sagat was the final boss in the original Street Fighter. In Street Fighter II, he's simply the last fighter the player must face before M. Bison.
- The Magician reappears in House of the Dead 2 as the penultimate boss before the final stage. He isn't any easier to beat, though. Probably doesn't count though, since he isn't related the the bad guy's plan at all. He's a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere.
- Also happens to Geese Howard in Fatal Fury Special, where he is the last opponent the player must face before facing Geese's half-brother Wolfgang Krauser. In Real Bout Special, it happens the other way around.
- Speaking of Geese, in the first Art of Fighting game, the main boss is an escrima using crime lord named Mr. Big. In II, it's established that Geese defeated Big and took control of the underground in South Town. It's also why Big appears on the Villains team in KOF'96 alongside Geese and Krauser.
- In the Genesis version of Golden Axe, the player must face Death Bringer (a console-exclusive final boss) after defeating Death Adder (the final boss in the arcade version).
- As of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Ansem, Seeker of Darkness and Xemnas, the Big Bads of the first and second game, respectively, have both been Demoted To Dragon under Master Xehanort (either that, or Master Xehanort was playing the Man Behind The Men the entire time) For the record, these are all different incarnations / versions of the exact same guy.
- In Battle Clash, the space alien Anubis is the last boss of the game. In the sequel, Metal Combat, it is revealed that Anubis was following orders from a race of alien invaders who were plotting to conquer the Earth as a replacement for their lost home.
- Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable : The Gears of Destiny has former Big Bad Lord Dearche becoming the subordinate of the Unbreakable Darkness, the true master of the Materials. At least, that was the plan. Then it gets subverted when the Unbreakable Darkness turned out to be more unstable than expected and unintentionally destroys the physical bodies of the Materials in her introductory scene, forcing the Materials to join forces with the heroes to stop/save her. Lord Dearche does eventually become the subordinate of the Unbreakable Darkness, but only after a Heel–Face Turn for everyone involved.
- Hyperdimension Neptunia features Arfoire, the Anthropomorphic Personification of digital piracy as the Big Bad, who in the Continuity Reboot of Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 becomes the Greater Scope Villain and the leader of her own gang of powerful software pirates. In mk2's sequel Hyperdimension Neptunia Victory, she's merely a member of the Seven Sages, another group of supervillains plotting to wreak havoc across an Alternate Universe Gamindustri.
- In Lunar: Eternal Blue, Zophar resurrects Magic Emperor Ghaleon, the Big Bad of Lunar: The Silver Star, to serve as his Dragon. In the end, this backfires spectacularly. It turns out that being dead for a thousand years gave Ghaleon plenty of time to think about what he did wrong in his previous life, causing him to act as a Stealth Mentor to the heroes. Zophar had been quite prepared for the possibility of a straightforward betrayal and revived Ghaleon in such a way that he could simply withdraw his power and cause Ghaleon to instantly die. But it never occurred to him that Ghaleon would pull a Heel–Face Turn and be entirely willing to die to stop him.
- Yuga, the supposed Big Bad of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds turns out to be the Dragon to Hilda, though he turns out to be a Dragon with an Agenda.
- Delekhan from Betrayal at Krondor, though supposedly in charge, ends up the whole time to be working under the direction of Makala and The Six, which the player doesn't figure out until at least Chapter 6 (if not later) and the party doesn't figure out until Chapter 8 (of 9).
- In Bayonetta 2 the Big Bad of this game, Loptr/Aesir tricks Balder, the big bad of the first Bayonetta game, into serving him by making him think Loki, Loptr's good half, was the one who killed his wife. However, the Balder in the sequel was brought to the present via Time Travel, and is not the same Father Balder from the first game, at least not until the end of the second game.
- In Harry Potter Comics, Voldemort is revived by a mysterious Necromancer for the sole purpose of being his Dragon (and fully opening the Chamber of Secrets).
- In the Start of Darkness prequel to The Order of the Stick, the Evil Sorcerer Psycho for Hire Xykon wrests Big Bad status from his employer Redcloak through superior firepower unchecked by morality, decency, or self-restraint. Though Xykon acts more or less entirely For the Evulz and Redcloak fancies himself The Man Behind the Man to his machinations, Redcloak remains almost completely subservient to Xykon's whims.
- In Sonic the Comic – Online! Robotnik is demoted to the brute of The Syndicate in the Sonic Adventure 2 arc.
- On Atop the Fourth Wall, Mechakara was the Big Bad starting from the May 2009 episodes. After the storyline concluded in February 2010, Mechakara later reappeared as The Dragon to the new Big Bad, Lord Vyce. Unlike other cases, Mechakara doesn't suffer from Villain Decay, becoming more of a threat due him being upgraded.
- Vilgax from Ben 10 becomes the Dragon to Diagon in the Ben 10: Ultimate Alien season 2 finale, though he is hinted to be a Dragon with an Agenda. This is confirmed in the Grand Finale, where Vilgax is a successful Starscream, killing Diagon and absorbing his power to become the most dangerous villain the franchise.
- In Danny Phantom the Fright Knight became Pariah Dark's Dragon when he awoke. Though in this case, the Fright Knight was always Pariah's Dragon, his boss was just Sealed Evil in a Can when the Fright Knight was unleashed the first time. Vlad convinced him to turn against his master offscreen.
- In G.I. Joe, this happens to Cobra Commander when Serpentor is created. Worsened after the events of the movie where Cobra is reduced to nothing more than a pet snake for the latter. When changed back, Cobra Commander returns the favour to Serpentor to retake his position.
- Magmion was the Big Bad of the first season of Gormiti: The Lords of Nature Return. Season 2 introduced Obscurio, and Magmion was reduced to his main henchman.
- Gideon was the Big Bad of Gravity Falls in Season 1, but becomes Bill Cipher's enforcer in Season 2 after Bill regains his full power and brings the End of the World as We Know It.
- Skeletor was the Big Bad of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), but became The Dragon to new villain Flogg in The New Adventures of He-Man. However, Skeletor's role wasn't all that different functionally, as he constantly manipulated the clueless Flogg.
- Shendu, from Jackie Chan Adventures. For the first season he was the one calling the shots but after his defeat he is forced into servitude to his demon siblings. Though in this case, he demoted himself so they'd stop beating the crap out of him for leaving them to rot in their prison.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Twilight's Kingdom, Part 1", Discord thinks he and Tirek are a Big Bad Duumvirate, but in actuality he's this trope and Tirek double crosses him as soon as he is no longer important.
- Professor Pericles from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated acts as the Big Bad of season 1 but in the second half of season 2 is revealed to be the Dragon to the Nibiru entity.
- Slade from Teen Titans is demoted to Trigon's dragon when the latter tries to take over the world. An unusual case where the former Big Bad is actually more of a threat to the heroes when he's serving as someone else's henchman, because Trigon gave him a truckload of powers in the bargain.
- Transformers Prime: This is played with when Unicron shows up. Megatron wants to serve him, but Unicron doesn't give a crap about Megatron, viewing him as beneath him. Which is a total reversal of the G1 situation ("serve me or get eaten") and the Transformers Armada situation ("you've actually been serving me all along.") where it's an unwilling Megs being made to work for Unicron until he can turn the tables. (If you go with the All There in the Manual Retcon that there's just one Unicron, it could be that the Chaos-Bringer has just learned that Megatrons don't make good servants.)
- They do cross paths again in the finale movie. He still doesn't become Unicron's dragon. Megatron's dead body is hijacked by Unicron, and Unicron proceeds to torture Megatron whenever he speaks out of turn.
- The Trix from Winx Club were the main villains in season 1. In seasons 2, 3, the 2nd movie, and 5 they work for the more powerful villains Lord Darkar, Valtor, the Ancestral Witches, and Tritannus.