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 it’s 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 was a vampire hunter 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.
  • General George Patton has often been portrayed as a highly badass American general, a lover of general Nazi-asskicking and getting his hands dirty, and is simultaneously given a Historical Beauty Update in regards to his height and appearance. All of this was mainly due to the film Patton and to his very much real attitude of an all-American tough guy; however, despite being portrayed as youthful, tall, booming-voiced, and tough, he was actually fairly advanced in years and appearance when the War came around. He didn't enjoy public speaking due to his short height and raspy, very much non-booming voice, and he never actively went out in the field to get his hands dirty in combat, partly due to poor physical health. A good commander he was, Rambo he wasn't.note 

    Anime and Manga 
    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • In Atomic Robo, virtually any historical figure to appear will get this unless they were badass already, but special mention has to go to Carl Sagan, who gets to take a break from talking about the universe to blast the crap out of an Eldritch Abomination with a lightning gun while talking about the universe.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Samuel Steele was certainly an exemplary officer of the RCMP who re-established order in the lawless Yukon during the Gold Rush, but writer Don Rosa tops this by making him The Ace. The meanest, orneriest prospector imaginable rides into town on a friggin' bear, but is so scared of Steele that he rushes off before the man arrives. In fact, Steele is SO badass that explosions can't even hurt him.
  • In Über, Alan Turing and General Patton are turned into Ubers, being the only historical figures so far in the comic to be enhanced.

  • UHF parodied this with "Gandhi II".
  • William Wallace in Braveheart (possibly).
  • Leonardo da Vinci (post mortem), Buckingham and Cardinal Richelieu in the 2011 film adaptation of The Three Musketeers.
  • Qin Shi-Huangdi in Hero, as befitting a character in the wuxia genre.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
  • Jurassic Park III: The real Spinosaurus, despite being huge and powerful, was built for hunting in water and would be quite slow on land. Here, it's depicted as the ultimate superpredator who eats T. rexes for breakfast, which would only be possible if the tyrannosaur was standing on a bank. It also has its durability enhanced, shrugging off a T. rex bite that appeared to be perfectly placed to sever its spine.
  • The character of Phillip Thomsen in Das Boot is very loosely based on Heinz Hirsacker, the real life commander of U-572. Hirsacker was not as noble or brave as Thomsen is portrayed in the film and was never awarded a combat decoration for his U-Boat service, much less the Knight's Cross. He was further accused in 1942 of cowardice before the enemy after repeatedly avoiding enemy ships and retreating to base at the first sign of pursuit. Hirsacker was convicted by a court martial and sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1943 before the sentence could be carried out.
  • I Shot Jesse James: In this film, the character John Kelley is meant to represent Edward Capehart O'Kelley, who came into conflict with main character Robert Ford. In real life, O’Kelley had a history of drunkenness and only beat Robert Ford when he surprised him in Ford’s own tent. In the film, he’s able to take on two men at the same time and defeat Robert Ford in a duel by playing to Bob’s dislike of shooting men in the back.

  • Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. That is all.
  • Belisarius Series. You would think the Real Life Belisarius was badass enough, but this Belisarius defeats an evil cyborg Conqueror from the Future.
  • Almost everyone in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel who's a historical figure has taken a level or two in badass. This includes the ones who were badass already, like Joan of Arc, as well as the ones who weren't, like the Flamels and John Dee.
  • The Baroque Cycle portrays Peter the Great as a giant Boisterous Bruiser with enormous strength. While Peter was in reality extremely tall, especially for his era, he was also very thin and had health problems.
  • Roughly half the cast of The Pyrates, but particularly Calico Jack (who becomes an intelligent, level-headed, superhumanly strong leader of men) and Captain Avery (historical records are sketchy, but the real Henry Avery was definitely not a Master Swordsman Chick Magnet Canon Sue). The big exception to this is Colonel Thomas Blood, who in the book is merely a roguish, charming, highly capable antiheroic badass, but in real life was, if anything, a couple of steps up from that.
  • Older Than Feudalism: Goliath in The Bible is described as six cubits and a span (9'9" or 2.97 metres). In the Dead Sea scrolls (the oldest version of the story we have) he's a still impressive but much more plausible four cubits and a span (6'9", or 2.10 metres). Note that the tallest human whose size is reliably documented, Robert Wadlow, was 2.72 metres.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Basically every historical person shown fighting is given a healthy dose of this due to the stylized combat. Marcus Crassus, however, is also portrayed as a tyrannical Magnificent Bastard. In real life, Crassus (by many estimates the richest person who ever lived) is believed to have simply bought his way to the top and eventually got himself killed in an ill-advised quest for military glory.
  • This is the entire premise of Warehouse 13. The emotion-based Magical Realism of the setting makes every last Historical-Domain Character ever mentioned into a terrifying badass and makes their belongings into Artifacts of Doom.
  • America's Founding Fathers are given this treatment in Sons of Liberty. In reality, they were mostly middle-aged and spent their time debating and writing pamphlets, contrary to the series' portrayal of them as a band of scruffy thirty-somethings who can jump between rooftops and excel in combat.
  • Doctor Who: Whenever a historical figure teams up with the Doctor, they will always prove very capable in a tight spot and help win the day.
  • Black Sails portrays Ann Bonny as a Dark Action Girl and a deadly fencer who bests everyone she fights and acts as the enforcer to her foppish boyfriend Jack Rackham. While Bonny was a real pirate who did participate in ship combat, there's no evidence that she was an exceptional fighter.
  • Blackadder Back and Forth features a working Time Machine based on plans by Leonardo da Vinci.

    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" can punch his way out of a crate.
    • 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 speciesnote , 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 Voyager by an alien civilization hundreds of years before. The actual Voyager crew were stranded in a distant part of the galaxy on a ship built primarily for exploration and diplomacy who were constantly outclassed by far more aggressive enemies. The biased depiction portrays them as a ruthlessly violent gang of Nazi-like thugs, and the Voyager as an impenetrable warship armed to the teeth with advanced weaponry, 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. Although later it turns out he wasn't so much an idiot as a Manipulative Bastard, making this more of a Historical Hero Upgrade.
  • Mayor Dewey tried to do this in Steven Universe with his ancestor William Dewey, but he wrote him as so over-the-top that he was a total Mary Sue — he gave his ordinary human ancestor the power to grow 50 feet tall at will, entirely to invoke this trope. Pearl, who was actually there for the events the play covers, rewrote the whole thing to be more historically accurate and less absurd.