Historical Badass Upgrade

"So, all in all, just a normal day in the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Turn lead into gold, paint the most famous portrait of all time, and invent the first hang glider. And I bet itís not even 9 AM."

Sometimes a Historical-Domain Character is portrayed by adding a copious amount of Badassery and Stuff Blowing Up, that was either far lesser or non-existent with the Real Life person. The reasons could range from sloppy research to Rule of Cool.

Maybe a king, who was known for very little else but diplomacy, gets to be a war hero instead. Maybe Mohandas Gandhi gets to fight grizzlies. Maybe a pope hunted vampires in his spare time.

Kung-Fu Jesus is a subtrope.

Compare Beethoven Was an Alien Spy for a possible justification of this trope. Adaptational Badass is when this happens to a character from a previous work. Memetic Badass is when the Badassery is upgraded through Memetic Mutation.

See also Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Villain Upgrade, both of which this trope may very well overlap with if the character's more heroic or more villainous actions come off as Badass.

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Examples using real people

    Media in General / Common Persons 
  • Nikola Tesla was undoubtedly a major influence on the Mad Scientist trope, but what a lot of people either forget or choose to ignore is that after he got bored of sane science, his career totally bombed. Media depicting Tesla often give Thomas Edison (who, in all fairness, was by no means a particularly nice guy in Real Life) a Historical Villain Upgrade and posit some kind of grand conspiracy to suppress Tesla's discoveries, when in reality his attempts at creating a Death Ray or Weather Control Machine or whatever else he was hoping to build that week just plain didn't work. He did some important early work on the physics of radar and may have been the first person to file a patent on a VTOL aircraft, but neither would actually be built until decades later with the actual nut-and-bolts engineering being done by someone else.
  • Guy Fawkes gets this coupled with heavy doses of Historical Hero Upgrade and a somewhat lesser one of Historical Villain Upgrade. People know him because he was the designated triggerman in a conspiracy to blow up most of Britain's government from the Monarchs down at Parliament, only to be caught and executed in an admittedly gruesome fashion. This has made him the sort of hip anti-prop symbol for anyone fighting against "the man". What most people tend to forget or willingly overlook is just how unsympathetic and even unremarkable Fawkes was. He was basically The Brute (bordering on Dumb Muscle ) recruited by the actual leaders of a conspiracy trying to replace a bigoted Protestant Constitutional Monarchy with an Absolutist Catholic one by mass murder and terrorism that horrified most of their fellow English Catholics. And when he was found, he was overpowered and taken into custody without a struggle. While it is true that the real Guy/Guido Fawkes did serve several years serving in the Tercios of Spain and remained Defiant To The Last in a way that impressed even his supposed victim King James, he was still a traitor to his country turned religious terrorist flunky who was only prevented from being a figure akin to Osama bin Laden by luck and incompetence. But apparently "Robert Catesby Mask" doesn't have the same ring to it.

    Anime and Manga 

  • The Manhattan Projects feature robot Wernher Von Braun, irradiated skull Harry Daghlian, cannibal Evil Twin of Oppenheimer, evil parallel universe Einstein, and FDR AI meeting aliens, discovering wormholes and fighting robots zen powered by death monks.



    Live-Action TV 


    Video Games 

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Robot Chicken does this frequently:
  • Futurama has done this occasionally.
    • Benjamin Franklin invented a weapon he dubbed "The Franklin-ator": a live badger tied to the end of a club.
    • Harry Truman in Roswell that Ends Well.
    • Inverted and then played straight with Leonardo da Vinci, who is revealed to be an alien who is one of the least intelligent of his species, but designs and builds a giant killing machine to extract revenge for his ill-treatment.

In-Universe examples

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Living Witness". The story focuses on the historical depiction of an encounter with the Voyager crew by an ancient civilization hundreds of years before. The biased depiction portrays them as a ruthlessly violent gang of thugs, and the Voyager as an inpenetrable warship armed to the teeth with weapons, and containing a complement of Borg drones at the captain's disposal.

    Western Animation 
  • In Gravity Falls, we have Nathaniel Northwest, a supposed badass pioneer and the touted founder of Gravity Falls. In reality he was a waste-shoveling village idiot who was used to hide the existence of the real founder of Gravity Falls and America's most embarrassing secret, the 8th and 1/2 President of the United States, Quentin Trembley.