Historical Villain Upgrade

Historical Rasputin: Russian peasant, mystic, and private adviser to the Romanovs.
Comic book Rasputin: Demonic warlock on a quest to destroy the world.

"... And every tale condemns me for a villain."

OK, let's say you're still writing that movie, which is Very Loosely Based on a True Story. You chose a period of history that involves a lot of exciting fight scenes and explosions so your audience won't fall asleep and now you need some main characters.

But there's a problem: most of the Real Life figures were morally grey and complex people. How are you going to make sure that your audience knows who the bad guy is?

Well, all you have to do is to pick someone who wasn't on your side. If you're American all you have to do is choose an evil Briton or German or Russian or Arab. Or failing that, an Italian or a Scotsman (just as long as they fought alongside those dastardly Anglo-commie-terror-nazis.) And if you're English you'll want to use one of the Anglo-Saxon bastards against the brave and heroic King Arthur. Or those treacherous English bastards against that brave and heroic King William the Con... Hey—wait a second...

But hang on. There's another problem. Your new villain wasn't actually "evil" per se. Well, all you have to do is give your newfound villain a few Kick the Dog moments, adjust his appearance to something more recognizably evil and ignore anything of his life that doesn't fit your artistic vision.

Note that just because this happens to someone does NOT mean that he or she was a good person in Real Life; it is perfectly possible to make absolutely anyone seem even more evil than in reality (yes, even Hitler). Also note that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it is often done to make a better story.

A lot of sports movies do this to the coach of the Opposing Sports Team; turning him or her from a paid professional whose job is to ensure that his team wins to a callous bastard whose philosophy is "win at any cost".

This trope is the opposite of a Historical Hero Upgrade, although many figures often get one of those as well in works with a different viewpoint. They may also appear alongside each other when applied to different people, to make the Black and White Morality contrast even more obvious.

Usually this is a part of Politically Correct History. When Fan Fic writers do this to a canon character, it's Ron the Death Eater. When an adaptation does it to a character from a previous story, it's Adaptational Villainy. Simply using bad people from history as villains goes under History's Crime Wave.

May overlap with Historical Badass Upgrade, Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, Ancient Conspiracy, and Flanderization. Compare with Hijacked by Jesus and Everybody Hates Hades, which do this to a member of a polytheistic pantheon. Contrast with Historical Villain Downgrade.

Sub-Trope of Demonization.
And Super Trope to:

    open/close all folders 

Examples using real people

    Media in General / Common Persons 
  • At least in the US, Benedict Arnold, who is considered a vile, cowardly traitor, but started out as a very capable American commander during the American Revolution. However, he had made himself powerful enemies (many of whom were in Congress) during the war, and it all ended when they managed to convince the congress and the upper brass that he would not deserve or need any of the promotions or additional wages for his military service (while he deserved them, there was often not enough money that the government could spare). To evade dishonorable consequences, he even attempted to resign, which Washington did not allow. In retaliation, he tried to sell the fort at West Point to the British, and now monuments that would depict him as a hero in the US only depict his boot, the foot that was injured in a major battle he had fought for America.note 
  • La Malinche, a Nahua woman who had an affair with Hernan Cortez and helped him in his conquest of The Aztec Empire, is seen by many in contemporary Mexico as a traitor for helping the Conquistadors to subjugate "her people". What often gets unmentioned or downplayed is that before she met Cortez she was a slave. Her step-mother sold her into slavery and La Malinche grew up in this state. By contrast Cortez trusted her and financially supported her after the conquest, so it is a bit unfair to condemn her for siding with him over the people who enslaved her.
    • Correction: La Malinche was not even an Aztec person. She belonged from a town called Paynala before she was told off to another town prior to sold off to Hernan. So she wouldn't be classified as a traitor, let alone the fact that the Aztec Empire was actually vehemently hated among the tribes and towns in Mexico. Cortez managed to win these people over very easily.
  • One of the most well-known examples is the composer Antonio Salieri, contemporary to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. History records that he was Mozart's (and Ludwig van Beethoven's) friend and collaborator. Various works of fiction, going back at least to the mid 19th century, portray him as Mozart's rival and discreet murderer. The most famous example is the play Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. While Salieri might not have been quite as good as Mozart by most reckoning, he was still a fantastic composer. The basis for viewing Mozart and Salieri as enemies comes from a few letters by Leopold Mozart or (more rarely) by Wolfgang which express resentment that Salieri received a commission Mozart wanted/otherwise upstaged Mozart. This is actually at odds with the fictional version which has Salieri as The Resenter toward Mozart, who is oblivious to Salieri's ill-will toward him. The reason why Salieri was vilified was more or less Italophobic German nationalism, who wanted to promote German musicians as greater than Italians like Salieri and others (Richard Wagner would for the same reasons bash Jewish composers much later, a position that obviously is not going to be entertained today). For some reason, most people wanting to correct this myth don't bother to examine and criticize the xenophobia, after all
  • The historical and legendary figure Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, vizier to Harun al-Rashid, hasn't been given a Historical Villain Upgrade exactly... but try finding an evil vizier in a story set in Arabian Nights/Days whose name isn't some spelling of Jafar. Likely more due to sloppy research. Ad Avis in Quest for Glory and the cartoon character Iznogoud could be considered a Historical Villain Upgrade of Ja'far. More generally, the position of vizier itself has had something of a historical villain upgrade, to the point that it even has its own trope. While there have certainly been plenty of examples of scheming and traitors among top advisers, most people who have held such trusted positions did so because they were, in fact, trustworthy.
  • Rasputin the Mad Monk is generally considered nowadays as a relatively harmless, if highly sleazy, eccentric religious figure, but during his life he was thought to hold the imperial family in thrall via strange supernatural powers. (This was more of a polite fiction among the aristocracy, as it allowed them to shift the blame onto him for all the bad decisions made by Nicholas II, who could not be criticized directly.) Therefore, in media he is usually depicted as a raving madman at best, an Evil Sorcerer at worst. The fact that he was apocryphally described as supernaturally resilient didn't help his reputation either. The original account of his murder was written by Prince Felix Yusupov, who supposedly organized the assassination; it was deliberately inaccurate (and changed whenever Yusupov was short on funds), but it's the one that everyone remembers. In movies, games and TV shows, he's presented as a kind of Evil Sorceror (Anastasia), in the Marvel Universe Rasputin was a mutant and so on and so forth.
  • King John of England, villain of the Robin Hood stories. While John certainly deserved some of his reputation (he was a bad general and very good at alienating the nobility), he was far from the craven usurper depicted in the later legends. He also wasn't an illiterate lackwit, as some popular folk lore depicts him, having written many books on law and was considered one of the premier legal minds of his age, so much so that his judgement had often been sought prior to his kingship in regards to legal disputes. He is also recognized as the founder of the modern British navy. There's also the fact that he could never get away from being in the shadow of his brother, Richard The Lion Heart, who came to be seen as a hero after his death, on account of his martial prowess never mind his much-criticized war mongering which led him to burn through the English treasury, which more or less granted his brother, John, a mess of a kingdom. John was a mediocrity and since his reign led to the Magna Carta, he obviously came to be the Designated Villain, i.e. the weak king that led to expansion of Parliamentary rights. But he was not the worst king nor the most tyrannical.
  • Richard III. He probably didn't betray his elder brother Edward or murder any of his family members, and he definitely wasn't nearly as deformed as he's generally portrayed (though exhumation of his skeleton in 2013 revealed pronounced scoliosis, so his hunchback wasn't a complete fabrication). Who really killed his young nephews, the "Princes in the Tower" is unclear — Richard definitely kept them in a Gilded Cage before their disappearance, and had them declared illegitimate in order to claim the throne, but Henry also would have had motive to remove them from the line of succession when he repealed the Act which claimed their illegitimacy.
    • The main culprit for Richard's smear campaign is William Shakespeare's play about him, which was written over 100 years after his death and was basically created for the benefit of the direct descendant of the guy who overthrew him — Shakespeare based his play off a published 'history' that was written by one of Richard's deadliest enemies, who was then made Bishop of Canterbury after Richard's death by Henry Tudor.
    • Notably averted by the University of York, where a popular legend credits him as the first person to propose establishing a university in York. The first formal proposal that we know of came during the reign of James I over a century after Richard's death, and the university itself opened in 1963; still, Richard's ties to York at least make the legend plausible.
    • Most historians also stress his incredible legal reforms during his time at the Council of the North and furthermore his very active monarchy which in its brief rule, passed far more legal statutes than King Edward IV and led to the poor being given the right of bail.
  • Young Americans tend to learn the word "tyrant" in association with George III of Great Britain, mostly because the Declaration of Independence and a few other important documents called him one. This is particularly sad, as poor old George was probably one of Britain's better monarchs—probably the best between his great-grandfather George I and his granddaughter Queen Vicky—indeed, he's in the running for being the most fundamentally decent monarch in the history of Britain (with Elizabeth II and her father George VI being about tied for it as well). At least until that bout of insanity in his last decade, when his son (the future George IV) took over as regent... and Britain might well have been better off to just keep George III on the throne even after he lost his mind. He had virtually nothing to do with the policies that so annoyed the colonists—that was the doing of his Government, but falsely claiming that the King was responsible served the cause of the independence movement by saying that there was a structural problem between the Americans and the British Crown, rather than a political problem between two groups of Britons. George himself preferred to write about agriculture and drink tea all day; he had very little interest in politicking. He did tell John Adams (when Adams presented his credentials to him as the first US Minister to Britain) that he was "the last to consent" to independence, but also that he wished the US well as an independent country and hoped Britain and the US would get along in the future. Nevertheless: American kids are raised to think of him as a tyrant, and many Americans hardly ever figure out that the truth is somewhat less simple. The biggest issue would be that by this point the king was essentially a powerless figurehead, so all the grievances Americans listed against him were not actually things he had any real control over if he'd wanted to stop them.
  • China's first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi gets this a lot, owing to his historical reputation as a brutal tyrant (albeit an effective one). He's the Big Bad in Bridge of Birds, in which he is also immortal and has magic powers. His Expy in World of Warcraft, Emperor Lei Shen, fares no better, given demonic lightning powers and Nazi-style racial theories to make him look more evil. Additionally, the Emperor in the film Hero is based on him, and is sort of an uneasy mix between this trope and Historical Hero Upgrade- he wins, and many thought the film had the odd lesson of "an imperfect government is better than civil war."
  • While Empress Dowager Cixi is hardly a saint, the traditional view of her is of an Evil Matriarch thanks to the media. There's still a lot of debate on how much of this is true and how much of this came from Chinese politics using her image as a scapegoat: more than one biographer depicts her as an Iron Lady who could be very cruel or selfish at one moment (like amassing a huge personal fortune in times when Imperial China was falling down, and being the number 1 suspect behind her nephew's death by poisoning) and very kind at the other (like thanking a nurse who took care of her when she was ill by releasing her from footbinding and making sure she healed completely).
  • In films featuring Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I gets this treatment. If the film is about Elizabeth, Mary, Queen of Scots, Mary Tudor, and/or Philip II of Spain will be treated this way.
    • Queen Elizabeth: The Golden Age bombed in Spain precisely because of this trope. Spanish audiences were insulted with its depiction of Philip II (a remarkably pious man) as — quoting one critic — "a cackling, Spanish Doctor Doom." And its prequel, Elizabeth, certainly followed the formula insofar as both her sister Mary and the Catholic Church at large were concerned.
    • This trend stretches back to Schiller's play Mary Stuart (1800) and even earlier.
    • The 1940 German film Das Herz der Königin ("The Heart of the Queen"), viewed by many critics as an anti-British propaganda movie, portrays Mary (Zarah Leander) as a beautiful saintly martyr (she sings, too), while Elizabeth is a bitter malicious dried up spinster who will stop at nothing to make her cousin miserable and eventually murder her.
    • The BBC miniseries Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot treated Mary far more sympathetically than Elizabeth. Ironically, it portrayed James I, the main character, as quite a Jerk Ass. (It should be noted that depicting James I as a Jerk Ass may be more Truth in Television than it is this trope. Still, John Donne seems to have thought well of him.)
  • Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, also tends to get hit with this a lot. While she certainly had a temper and was capable of holding a grudge, everyone near-universally agrees that she wasn't guilty of the charges of treason, incest and adultery at her trial.
  • Thomas Cromwell is another convenient Tudor villain for carrying out some of Henry VIII's more tyrannical acts, such as the execution of Anne Boleyn and the Dissolution of the Monasteries—at best he was portrayed as an amoral Yes-Man, at worst outright evil. He's been given more nuanced media portrayals in the 21st century (most famously in Wolf Hall). This might be due to Values Dissonance as the narrative of an intelligent Self-Made Man garners much more interest than it used to.
  • Mary I, better known as Bloody Mary, older sister of Elizabeth, gets this near universally (her nickname reflects that). However, though her government did burn a number of Protestants for heresy, it was no worse than what Elizabeth did to Catholics. This included being hanged, drawn and quartered for the "crime" of harboring a priest, or being a priest oneself and administering the sacraments to closet Catholics in the country. It was also a crime to not attend Anglican services if you were a Catholic (although that would only get a fine). Mary's crimes were commemorated by later Protestant works, such as Foxe's Book of Martyrs. They did not care about Catholic persecution by Elizabeth. At the time, no one had the concept of religious freedom except for a tiny radical minority. Further, while Mary did restore Catholicism, she did not reverse all of her father's (Henry VIII) reforms, recognizing the reality of the situation, making English Catholicism its own religion.
  • The Spanish Empire as a whole gets into this in Anglophone media, if you see the Cross of Burgundy in a film that does not have the characters in question being Spanish themselves then nine out of ten those characters are villians who are either zealots or brutes. This of course was the result of the Spanish Empire being so powerful both in Europe and overseas and with so many enemies in various fronts (the Dutch, the French, the English, the many, many Protestant German princes) that it was often subject to slander and evil propaganda, the Spanish have a term for this: La Leyenda Negra (The Black Legend). The actions of some of the conquistadors were indeed horrendous towards the indigenous population, however, people often forget that: a) the Emperor was pissed off at these enough to send armies to get the conquistadors in line and gave legal protection and equal rights to them as a Spaniard in Spain once the Viceroyalties were established (much more than what happened in the Thirteen colonies), b) the disastrous depopulation of the American natives was more the product of disease rather than warfare.
  • Louis XVI of France (king during the French Revolution) is generally seen as a tyrant, and few media will ever depict him as anything less. His actual problem was that he was too weak and indecisive a ruler, while a stronger one might have been able to prevent the revolution. Louis XVI's actual policies, which include positive and enlightened measures (e. g. in favor of Jews in the Alsace and of potato-farming) and military and political successes (victory over the old enemy across the Channel in the War of American Independence) also tend to be forgotten. Even in America, where if France's role is acknowledged at all it gets credited entirely to the Marquis de Lafayette.
  • On the flip-side, the French Revolutionaries as a whole get this, especially Maximilien Robespierre, who eventually came to be seen as proto-Lenin and proto-Stalin. Critics point out that he was a man of great integrity, to the point of being described as L'Incorruptible and that he had in fact argued against the War with Austria that escalated the Revolution and made France a target of invasion. He had initially opposed the death penalty. He was loved in his lifetime as a champion of the poor and the working class and did much to clear out the corruption in the military and society, and furthermore alongside the Committee of Public Safety and the National Convention, he participated in the 1794 Decree to outright abolish slavery by law and dispatched agents to the Caribbean to enforce it, and moved against pro-slavery lobbyists, ordering several of their arrests. Even critics of the Reign of Terror point out that Robespierre justified it as a wartime necessity only and in fact tried to moderate the excesses of the very people who later stabbed him in the back and guillotined him.
  • There are several conspiracy theories surrounding the Illuminati, who are often portrayed as a group trying to take over the world and create a Big Brother-style dystopia. However, in their time (end of the 18th century, not before, not later), they weren't really all too different from your regular Brotherhood of Funny Hats. Their New World Order was in fact referring to a republican government and laws based on fundamental human rights (think of the French Revolution). Indeed, this is how the conspiracy theories on them got started-in 1798 a royalist wrote a book blaming the French Revolution on Freemasons and the Illuminati, which then grew steadily over the years. Examples of these in fiction include:
    • Historical Illuminatus Chronicles turns Count Cagliostro, historically a mountebank and fraud, into the leader of a murderous conspiracy that would one day swell up to become the Illuminati.
    • On the subject of The Illuminati, the entire Rothschild family often gets this. In various media, works of fiction, and especially conspiracy theories (and not just anti-Semitic ones), they are portrayed as the leaders of The Illuminati or some equally sinister Ancient Conspiracy with plans to either Take Over the World by establishing a tyrannical New World Order or to kill everyone on earth and reduce the world's population to less than a billion debt slaves For the Evulz. This is seen in the short film The American Dream which portrays the Rothschilds (referred to as red-shields) as tentacled horrors ruining the economies of America and England through wars, central banking and the Federal Reserve For the Evulz.
    • In the same vein, 19th Century Freemason Albert Pike also gets this. In real life he isn't really well known outside of Freemasonry circles, but once again works of fiction and conspiracy theories portray him as the man who planned and engineered the concepts for the two world wars and a apocalyptic third one-all in the 1870s, all of wars which will bring about a Satanic One World Empire, all of these plans being recorded in a letter. The reality is that the letter was forged from an unknown source, through hoaxer Leo Taxil is the most probable culprit.
  • The 1932 novelization of the mutiny on the HMAV Bounty, and the 1935 and 1962 film adaptions, depict Captain William Bligh as a ruthless autocrat. Among other things, he is variously shown to have keelhauled a man, flogged a man to death, deprived his men of water until they succumb to dehydration, etc., none of which occurred in reality. Indeed, most who served under him regarded him as rather tame in terms of actual punishment, and a comparison to other contemporary captains seems to support this. For the most part, he seems to have been guilty of nothing more than arrogance, frequent shouting, and giving conflicting orders, much to his crews frustration. For his day, he would have been considered fairly strict, but fair, and not as strict as he could have been. Modern historians place the blame more on the crew's long vacation in the tropics, causing them to become overly sensitive to discipline; a lesser emphasis is placed on his tendency towards relentless micromanagement and acerbic wit. The 1984 film The Bounty takes a revisionist and more historically accurate view of Bligh, depicting both his good and bad points, along with the part most depictions completely omit-his almost 4,000 mile long voyage to safely reach Timor in the boat he and the loyal crewman were set adrift on, a remarkable feat by any standard.
    • Though even the 1984 film invents a cause for the mutiny: Bligh deciding to make another attempt at Cape Horn, and punishing seaman John Adams when he protests. This was never the case.
  • Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first Commissioner of Baseball. Firstly for the allegation that he had dealt with the Black Sox scandal in a ham-handed and unfair manner (aided by pro-Black Sox portrayals in films like Eight Men Out or Field of Dreams), with the greatest scorn coming for his treatment of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (who while he didn't participate in rigging the World Series, was not completely innocent since he still took money from the cheaters and kept his teammates' actions secret). This ignores how hated the participating players in the Scandal were at the time, and the implications the scandal held for all of baseball. Secondly, it's often been claimed that Landis was the sole reason for baseball's "color barrier", even to the extent of claiming the Ohio-born-and-raised Landis was an old-school Southern racist. Landis himself stated that the question was up to the owners (most of whom at the time were against integration), and invited black sports reporters to make their case to them. There was also the rather important (up until Branch Rickey said "screw it," and all the other owners followed suit) question of what compensation would be due to Negro League teams in exchange for drafting all their best players; the Negro League teams were profitable business entities in their own right and at the time of integration were predominately owned by African Americans.
    • Outside for his role in baseball, the accusations of racism against Landis are bolstered by his being the judge who presided over the racially-motivated sham prosecution of black boxing champion Jack Johnson under the Mann Act, despite it being a blatantly unconstitutional prosecution for actions that occurred before the law was passed.
  • Just about any film made about the sinking of the RMS Titanic is sure to portray the relatively blameless J. Bruce Ismay, the president of the shipping lane, as an arrogant, bullying prick who forces the Captain to run the ship full speed into an ice field and then act like sniffling coward who hops aboard the first available lifeboat. While it's perhaps easy to see where this reputation comes from — jumping into a lifeboat to save yourself while there's still hundreds of women and children aboard the ship is perhaps not going to cast you in the bravest or manliest of lights — the truth is a bit more complicated, with eyewitness accounts suggesting Ismay was diligent in helping load and lower the lifeboats and only took his seat in one after making sure that there were no women or children there to take it instead.
    • The musical Titanic plays around with this in a trio where Ismay, Captain Edward Smith, and architect Thomas Andrews take turns blaming each other for causing the disaster—ultimately revealing that the tragedy was the result of a perfect storm of circumstances nobody could have predicted. Ismay still manages to come off worse than the other two, possibly because he survives and they don't.
    • Villain Upgrades of Ismay are believed to owe much to American newspaper tycoon William Hearst. The two men mutually disliked one another even before the disaster, and when Hearst saw a chance to destroy Ismay's reputation, he jumped on it without hesitation.
    • The entire staff and crew of the Titanic tend to get this with respect to how the Third Class passengers were treated. One is unlikely to learn in a fictional treatment of the disaster that Third Class accommodations aboard White Star's ships in general and Titanic in particular were well above average for the time, including their own set of cooks to prepare food and stewards to serve it; on most other ships of the day, Third Class passengers were required to bring their own food (this was a deliberate marketing tactic by White Star, the idea being that Third Class immigrant passengers would recommend White Star’s ships to their relatives back home). It is also not true that the officers loading the lifeboats were biased in favor of First Class passengers, rather, the reason that Third Class passengers took proportionately higher casualties is because their cabins were the farthest from the lifeboats and many got lost in the corridors below deck, and even with this fact Third Class women were much more likely to survive than First Class men. Some adaptations, including the James Cameron version, portray the Stewards deliberately locking Third Class passengers below deck to prevent stampeding, which also probably never happened; the gates did exist, but due to health and immigration laws at the time requiring Third Class to be separated from First and Second. These gates could be opened in case of emergency, and never directly barred the way to the main deck, but in their panic the Stewards forgot to open most of them.
  • Lizzie Borden, who was tried - and acquitted - of murdering her father and stepmother in 1892, is almost universally demonized in the media, where she tends to be portrayed as an unrepentant sociopath, on the same level as Jason Voorhees in some cases. In truth, this perception of her was due to the brutal nature of the crime itself, ostracism from her community, and the intense media attention given to it; some have compared it to other landmarks of public interest in the history of American legal proceedings, such as the trials of Bruno Hauptmann, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and O.J. Simpson. While her guilt or innocence continues to be debated, she definitely was not on the same level as most serial killers-her motive, if guilty, apparently stemmed from a family dispute.
  • Richard Nixon is an unusual example- he gets this treatment in many, many works but rarely ones that deal directly with his original term of office. We say "original" because the upgrade tends to occur in Bad Future alternate timelines where America has become a Dystopia (such as Watchmen or Back to the Future Part II). We know they are dystopias because one of the features is that Nixon is still President, usually on his totally unconstitutional third, fourth or fifth term, implying he's running a de facto dictatorship. While he's rarely the Big Bad of these settings (in fact he's usually The Ghost), it still fits this trope that the writers thought that Nixon would a) so much as attempt something like this, and b) use his Presidency as further evidence that the setting is a Crapsack World (they are Crapsack, of course; its just a bit much to think that Nixon is one of the main reasons for it). Played for Laughs in Futurama where in the distant future he's a Head In A Jar Large Ham Card-Carrying Villain (and once again, President, though this time via Loophole Abuse rather than outright corruption).
    • Averted, for once in X-Men: Days of Future Past, in spite of common portrayals in fiction relaying the public opinion of him after the Watergate scandal. He treats the growth of the mutant population as another issue to solve as Commander-In-Chief instead of resorting to Fantastic Racism, and chooses to discontinue the Sentinel program after a few mutants prevent his death at the hands of Magneto.
  • Oda Nobunaga has basically become Japan's go-to guy whenever a series needs an Evil Overlord. While Nobunaga was clearly not a very nice man in Real Life, it is very unlikely that he was ever literally the king of Hell like many series like to claim. Indeed, he knew that uniting Japan would benefit the people; he didn't particularly care, but he knew. In that sense, he's a good deal like Otto von Bismarck—and the only things that people ever bring up about Bismarck are his genius and cunning. He may have been a ruthless badass during his lifetime even among the already vicious Lords of Japan, but modern works tend to take this to ridiculous (and often evil) extremes.
    • Many of his positive actions include tolerating Christians, open borders, modernizing the military and generally attempting to kick start a Japanese Renaissance. Though all of that can be filed under Pragmatic Villainy - tolerating Christians meant he could buy rifles from them, open borders enabled him to hire foreign mercenaries, modernizing his military is self-explanatory, as is his desire for a modern empire rather than a pre-Renaissance one.
    • Almost all depictions of Oda Nobunaga tend to gloss over or be vague about why specific conflicts involving him started. For example, it's pretty inconvenient for Nobunaga's villain status to point out that Asakura-Asai conflict was started because Ashikaga Yoshiaki, whom Nobunaga has just aided to become shogunate and was keeping in power, formed a secret anti-Oda alliance with the Asakura with the intention of launching a sneak attack because Yoshiaki realized Nobunaga knew he was the only thing keeping Yoshiaki in power and was more than willing to use that to his advantage when dealing with him. While Asai Nagamasa's aid of the Asakura is portrayed as being done out of a sense of duty, he was in favor of remaining neutral. It is generally accepted that his aid of the Asakura was the result of advice he received indicating the Oda were almost certain to lose and the Asai were trying to be on the winning side. Even with the worst historical portrayal of Nobunaga, there was more going on than his villainous portrayals generally show.
  • As alluded to in the Literature section, almost any adaptation of The Three Musketeers will dump the original novel's moral ambiguities and do this to poor Cardinal Richelieu.
  • Amakusa Shiro joins Nobunaga in villainous portrayals in Japanese media, albeit with the caveat that he's usually depicted as a once noble person who sold his soul to the devil for revenge in his dying moment.
  • The Norse and other Germanic tribesmen tend to suffer from this, with the media often depicting them as brutish, bloodthirsty and violent raiders, plunderers and killers. Sometimes even in media in which they're meant to be the protagonists! In reality, they were no more savage or prone to violence than any other people at the time, with a very sophisticated culture. Most media fails to acknowledge that the "vikings" are not even a culture of their own, but a specific profession (that is, pirates — which is roughly what "viking" in Old Norse actually means — although since pirates were typically "brutish, bloodthirsty and violent raiders, plunderers and killers" anyway, the depiction of the viking raiders themselves is not too far off), while the Norse people they were a part of were in some ways more advanced culturally than their European contemporaries — if nothing else, they had better hygiene than other Europeans and their society gave women more freedom and rights.
  • With the polarized view of American foreign policy worldwide, as well as the backlash at said foreign policy it is not uncommon to see this trope applied to every single one of the US presidents in countries with an extremely negative view of US foreign policy.
  • Thomas Edison often gets this in works about Nikola Tesla. While Edison was indeed a Jerkass in Real Life, he is often given sole blame for Nikola Tesla's never getting some of his inventions out, even the ones that genuinely didn't work or that Tesla never actually intended to be used. Though it is true the pair did share an intense one-sided rivalry on Edison's part, who used his influence with the American business community to limit Tesla's opportunities, and slandered his alternating current, making Edison's direct current (a less efficient form) the standard model. At least until Edison's other rival George Westinghouse bought a license to Tesla's patent and gave alternating current the financial backing it needed to compete with Edison's direct current on the open market.
  • The entire country of France gets depicted this way in the context of World War II, with the Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys and French Jerk tropes being combined. Partly in reaction to the myriad stories of French maquis (resistance fighters) bravely defying the Germans, a "black legend" of sorts has arisen claiming that most French people not only didn't put up a fight, but actually welcomed the Germans and became Nazis themselves. The truth is somewhere in between: those relatively few French who did oppose the Nazis were at best passively resistant; but most French people, whether resistance fighters or not, were not happy about being occupied. The French Army was also forced to surrender because Paris had already been invaded and the Nazis threatened to blow the city up. Also, most of the French who cooperated with the fascist Vichy government during the war had held fascist beliefs to begin with, and were to some degree using the invasion as a pretext.
    • The Vichy French Navy also stubbornly maintained the government's official neutrality, despite the government making that neutrality a sham and despite being directly attacked by the British. When the Nazis finally lost patience with this tried to seize the Vichy ships, the entire fleet was scuttled.
  • Older works about The American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, such as The Birth of a Nation, do this to Representative Thaddeus Stevens as a matter of course. He'll be portrayed as a fanatical, vengeful villain obsessed with further punishing the poor, defeated South. What did he do that was so bad? Well, that was the truly heinous act of getting Congress to grant civil rights and suffrage to the newly-freed black people. How could anyone do something so horrible? He was one of the few (even among abolitionists) who actually believed in racial equality, and was in a long-term relationship with his black maid when both those things were condemned by nearly everyone. Newer works, like Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, portray him much more positively and accurately.
  • This is a common tendency when depicting some of the more notorious Emperors in Roman History. This wasn't helped by the fact that histories of the Roman Emperors were often written by their critics once they were dead- some of which decades, if not centuries after the fact - who had no compunction against simply inventing negative stories about them.
    • Emperor Caligula gets this a lot, even on this very wiki. Most sources agree that he was a terrible emperor, although modern historians have come to question whether this wasn't exaggerated. Also, most sources agree that he was a very good emperor in the first six months or so of his reign, and that he then went insane. Philo of Alexandria, for example, claimed that he became mad after nearly dying of a serious illness in the eighth month of his reign, leading modern historians to speculate that he may have suffered brain damage as a result of a prolonged high fever. In short, while he may have indeed done bad things, those things are probably exaggerated, and were probably not entirely his fault.
    • Emperor Nero has a reputation for, at best, playing the lyre during the Great Fire of Rome, or at worse setting the city on fire deliberately. In fact the most reliable source on the fire, Tacitus, states that Nero hurried back to the city to oversee the relief efforts, paying out of his own pockets quite generously. Although his actions immediately following this; taking advantage of the situation by clearing out 100-300 acres of the burnt-out city to built his lavish Domus Aurea, quickly extinguished whatever good will he earned from this gesture. It's generally regarded by historians that much of Nero's reputation as a monster comes from his having favored the common people, which didn't sit well with the aristocrats who wrote all the historical accounts since the common people tended to be illiterate.
    • To a lesser extent, Augustus is also at the receiving end of this in some works. They tend to play up his perceived cowardliness (which he earned due to his frequent bouts of sickness forcing him to not participate in battles), sociopathy, and keen skill in manipulating people. Common Historical consensus on the man agree that he was an extremely ambitious man with a mind for politics over warfare (which is no slight against him; Roman politics were a jungle of conspiracies, corruption, and assassinations), was very loyal to those who chose to side with him (as seen with his long relationship with Marcus Agrippa), managed to drag Rome out of decades of civil war and turn it into an Empire which lasted for five centuries, and was capable of both extreme acts of leniency and stunning acts of cruelty to make it happen.
    • Emperor Commodus almost certainly did not assassinate his father, Marcus Aurelius, to become Emperor: most evidence points to the Antonine plague doing him in, and there's no evidence that Aurelius intended for anyone else to succeed him. He was certainly a terrible emperor as well, but claims that he single-handedly ended the Pax Romana and was the cause of the Empire's eventual destruction is also an exaggeration: he certainly accelerated the decline, but the growing conglomeration of Germanic tribes to the north, Rome being ravaged by the aforementioned plague, and economic meltdowns caused by hyper-inflation are also to blame, all of which happened without Commodus' involvement.
  • Early 20th Century cult leader Aleister Crowley was certainly a controversial figure, but he was clearly not into Hollywood Satanism, did not have magical powers didn't fit the Aristocrats Are Evil Trope (even if he was evil, he was not an aristocrat) and wasn't a vampire, contrary to works by people like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and many others, mostly in comic books.
  • Niccolò Machiavelli was commonly given historical villain upgrades in late Renaissance works, including Shakespeare and Marlowe. In fact his reputation was so bad that "Nick" may have become a name for the Devil because of him. Dated History has largely discredited this one, though; almost any recent fictional portrayal of him is more sympathetic.
  • Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) of Judea might not have slaughtered all those babies in his mad quest to find the infant Jesus, which is recorded only in the Gospel of Matthew. However, he did massacre members of his own family out of paranoia (one theory being that Herod was certifiably insane). Despite this, a growing number of Israelis are attempting to rehabilitate his reputation. In addition to benefiting from My Country, Right or Wrong and N-Word Privileges (although Herod was of course a Roman puppet and racially only a half-Jew), these Israelis argue that Herod was probably the best possible ruler they could have had under the circumstances. Only an accommodationist like Herod would have been able to persuade the Romans to be as tolerant of the Jewish religion as they managed to be (in a compromise, Herod had to design a temple that included both Jewish and pagan iconography). Also, following the collapse of the Jewish kingdom after the reign of Solomon and especially after the Babylonian exile, Judea had not only declined in glory but had become a cultural backwater - and Herod did all he could to modernize Judean society. Finally, the more secular and multiculturalist Israelis argue that if Herod and his family had managed to remain in power (which they did, although not for long) and/or had been followed by rulers who were just as willing to compromise with the Romans, the Siege of Masada (74 A.D.) might never have occurred, the Jewish nation-state would not have dissolved for over 900 years, the Jewish people would not have been scattered throughout Europe... and thus, just maybe, the horrors of the Inquisition, the Holocaust, etc., might never have come to pass. In this light, it is supremely ironic that King Herod is sometimes compared to Adolf Hitler; if he and his descendants had played their cards right, then for all intents and purposes there might not have been a Hitler.
  • Sir Alexander Leslie is often said to be the source of the poem, "There Was a Crooked Man." Said Crooked Man is depicted as being quite evil in various media. What was so crooked about Sir Alexander Leslie? He negotiated peace between Scotland and England.
  • Edward Teach/Thatch, better known as Blackbeard, is commonly depicted as the most bloodthirsty and dreaded pirate of all time, when he's not being alleged to have had supernatural powers and/or an indestructability to put Rasputin to shame. How many people did he verifiably kill with his own hands during his sea-borne reign of terror? Precisely none. He and his crew did kill several King's men in a broadside and subsequent exchange of small-arms fire in 1718, but that was in the battle where Teach himself was killed. Basically, his whole image as a merciless killer was a brilliant display of bluffing, that scared targeted ships' crews and town garrisons into surrendering without a fight.
  • For a given definition of "historical", prehistoric animals often get this in media that features them. The most common victims include Tyrannosaurus rex, dromaeosaurs like Velociraptor and Deinonychus, Pteranodon and (thanks to a certain movie) Spinosaurus. Expect either T. rex or Spinosaurus to be depicted as the "Ultimate Killing Machine" and possibly even fight each other brutally for that title (something that could never happen in life because they didn't live in the same place or time period, and even if they did, large predators tend to avoid fighting each other and instead attempt to scare off the other with threat displays). Deinonychus/Velociraptor (usually treated as one and the same) will often be depicted as scaly, Super Speedy, highly intelligent pack hunters that can take down prey ten times their size (later studies suggest that deinonychosaurs were covered in feathers, fairly poor runners, not pack hunters and not all that smart—not to mention that prey their size or bigger could easily kill them). Pteranodon (usually labelled a "pterodactyl") will almost always be depicted as an ugly, wyvern-like monstrosity that exists solely to pluck unfortunate prey from the ground with eagle-like talons (Pteranodons were strict fish-eaters with fairly weak feet that weren't built for grasping, and they were probably quite beautiful and almost certainly vibrantly colored). Many of the writers who invoke this tend to forget that prehistoric animals were...well, animals and just trying to survive. For more examples, see the Prehistoric Monster trope.
  • Aaron Burr has been the victim of this since his own time, for killing the first treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton; for this, he is often portrayed as a violent, bloodthirty, and highly entitled jerkass. In real life, Aaron Burr was often described as being a rather nice person, up until about 1804, and he was quite literally generous to a fault, nearly bankrupting himself on multiple occasions and pawning his possessions to give money to those in need. One of the reasons why his duel with Hamilton shocked so many people was because, supposedly, Burr was usually so cheerful and easygoing.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Le Chevalier d'Eon turned several real-life historical figures (including the title character) into heroes and villains of a life and death struggle for control of the world. The Big Bad of the series ultimately turned out to be King Louis XV.
  • Rose of Versailles turned some historical figures (like Madame du Barry and specially both the Countess of Polignac and the Duke of Orleans) into series antagonists, which result in some God-awful moments for people who actually know a thing or two about those characters. i.e., the real Countess of Polignac was extravagant to the max and apparently more than a little cold and calculating, but nowhere near the levels she gets in the show, and the Duke of Orléans wasn't exactly a peach either but he wasn't as much of a Smug Snake as the series shows.
  • In The Vision of Escaflowne the Big Bad is eventually revealed to be Isaac Newton. Though to be fair, the real Newton was said to be kind of a dick and Dornkirk's ultimate goal was making everyone's wishes come true. He thought the ends would justify the means. One of his interests historically was Alchemy.
  • In Drifters, the so-called Drifters are dead heroes from our world. They are sent to other worlds to battle the Offscourings - also heroes from our world, but decidedly anti-humanity. Amongst the Offscourings are people like Jeanne d'Arc (a Pyro Maniac) and Anastasia Romanova (An Ice Person). It's implied that Drifters are generally less-than-stellar paragons of humanity who died as they lived (Oda Nobunaga is a drifter), while Offscourings are people who were noble and good in real life but died unjustly (explaining why they've obtained a violent hatred of humans). The leader of the Offscourings is implied to be Jesus.
  • Souten Kouro's Zhang Rang, leader of the 10 eunuchs. He manages to rape Shui Jing despite not having the necessary instrument.
  • One Piece has many characters named after real pirates. Blackbeard for example is similar to... Blackbeard, except that One Piece's Blackbeard has the abilities of unholy darkness and earthquakes that can sink entire islands, and he is being set up as the most probable Big Bad of the entire series.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 1 turns Jack the Ripper into a vampire working for the Big Bad, Dio Brando. It also explains why he disappeared, The main character, Johnathan Joestar disintegrated him. To top it all off, he fights by shooting scalpels embedded in his muscles!
  • Black Butler:
    • In a similar vein, the manga turns Jack the Ripper into Grell (a clumsy butler who is actually a sadistic chainsaw-weilding Shinigami) and Madame Red (the protagonist Ciel's aunt and an abortion doctor, who was angry that her victims could get preganant when they didn't want children and thus chose to get abortions, when she herself wished to get pregnant and could not).
    • The first season of the anime does this to Queen Victoria, of all people, who sides with Angela/Ash the angel in an attempt to "cleanse" the world of sin with the implication that she sided with him/her after her husband Prince Albert died and it unhinged her. She's a straight Cool Old Lady in the manga, however.
  • Code Geass:
  • In Vinland Saga, the Danish chief Thorkell the Tall who was one of the commanders in the occupation of England, is turned into a larger than life Blood Knight Psycho for Hire who will work for almost everyone when it promisses to get him into lots of brutal battles.
  • Pretty much all of the villains in Read or Die are this where they are given weapons based on what they created. Though they are actually clones of said historical people.

    Audio Plays 
  • In Big Finish Doctor Who Fifth Doctor story the Kingmaker, Richard III is actually confronted by his own Historical Villain Upgrade. The reason why this entry isn't under the In-Universe page is because: This story does the same to William Shakespeare, who became very bitter due to the way the Fifth Doctor treated him, and nabbed a Time Machine and was willing to assassinate him, and his companions, and due to a Timey-Wimey Ball ends up becoming Richard III at his last battle, and Richard III takes up the mantle of William Shakespeare.

    Comic Books  
  • The Five Fists of Science portrayed Thomas Edison as a Lovecraftian sorcerer attempting to summon a demon, opposed by Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla.
  • Atomic Robo also depicts a heroic Tesla (creator of Robo) as the opponent of a supervillainous Edison who, among other things, uses the ghost of Rasputin in an attempt to murder Tesla and nearly blows up Manhattan in an attempt to contain the "Odic Force."
  • Swedish superhero parody comic Kapten Stofil does this fairly regularly. For example, one issue features Jules Verne as an evil superscientist inventing a Mecha Queen Victoria to exploit colonial India, until it is defeated by Indra and Ganesh.
  • In The Umbrella Academy's first story, they fight against a weaponized Eiffel tower controlled by... Zombie Robot Gustave Eiffel.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602 ("Marvel superheroes in 1602 AD"), several historical characters suffer from this, most notably King James VI of Scotland and I of England, whose Burn the Witch! tendencies become his main character trait in a world filled with superpowered individuals.
  • The Red Menace has Roy Cohn as a supervillain, the eponymous Red Menace (who doesn't appear until late in the series).
  • Chester Brown's biography of Louis Riel turns Sir John A MacDonald into a Machiavellian schemer who provoked Riel in order to raise publicity for his railroad project.
  • In Jonathan Hickman's S.H.I.E.L.D., the immortal Isaac Newton seems to represent Bad Science, in contrast with the time-traveling Leonardo da Vinci, who represents Good Science. Newton, in addition to torturing Nostradamus to get details about The End of the World as We Know It, which he then seems disinclined to prevent, also murdered Galileo to take his place as leader of SHIELD. The SHIELD Infinity one-shot reveals he even has his own Supervillain Calling Card — in the Marvel Universe Newton's rivals Hooke, Flamsteed, Pascal and Liebniz were all found dead with an apple beside them. The last issue of the first miniseries suggests Da Vinci's desire for change is just as fanatical as Newton's desire for control, and the real Good Science is the balancing force of Michelangelo and Nikola Tesla.
  • Chick Tracts:
  • The Chilean comic book 1899 paints the Peruvian Manuel Grau as a mad scientist and cyborg. While it can be argued that he was not heroic it cannot be argued from a Chilean perspective: he was a traitor to Peru's cause because his gentleness lead him to rescue his adversaries from the water in which they had fell. Conversely there is a hero upgrade in Chilean characters. Furthermore, Chile was the invading army and Peru had involved itself in the war only to defend Bolivia, which then left the war early when Peru could no longer avoid the continuing conflict.
  • The Marvel Comics version of Louisiana Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveaunote  was initially a victim of circumstance but as time went on she developed into a villain desperate for immortality and later still for employing assassins.
  • Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff does this to many figures from recent history. For instance, while George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Tony Blair, Ariel Sharon, and the nation of Israel as a whole are polarizing topics and likely always will be, it is highly improbable that they ever personally machine-gunned civilians For the Evulz, committed Prison Rape, seek to Take Over the World, or bathed in human blood. Many political cartoonists portray their ideological opponents as ignorant buffoons, but Latuff is one of a select few to portray them as Bond-style supervillains.
  • Don Rosa's "The Sharpie of the Culebra Cut" has "General Estaban" as the villain, based of the real-life Esteban Huertas. In his author's notes on the story, Rosa admits that the real Huertas wasn't actually a bad guy, and that naming the fictional character "General Estaban" was meant to differentiate him from the real Huertas. In his research on the construction of the Panama Canal, Rosa found that there wasn't actually anyone all that evil involved, but, needing an antagonist, he thus swiped Huertas's first name and put it on what is effectively an Original Character.
  • In Dynamite Entertaiment's 2014 reboot of Turok Genghis Khan is given an army of Dinosaurs and a Pteranodon riding daughter! Also he invades North America.
  • Watchmen is a classic example of Villain Upgrading Richard Nixon, in the manner described above. In this case it's used as part of the Deconstruction of superheroes, with Nixon dispatching the powerful Reality Warper Dr. Manhattan into The Vietnam War. Manhattan singlehandedly wins the war for the U.S., and as a result Nixon's popularity climbs so high he's able to repeal the 22nd Amendment and get elected three more times with very little opposition.
  • In 100 Bullets, John F. Kennedy murdered Marilyn Monroe, and was in turn killed by Monroe's ex-husband, baseball player Joe DiMaggio.
  • Iznogoud: Iznogoud could be considered one of the historical and legendary figure Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, vizier to the Abbasid caliph Harun al-Rashid (notice the similarity with the Caliph's name). Far from being a scheming Evil Chancellor, the real Ja'far al-Barmaki was a patron of the sciences who introduced new ideas from India and China into Baghdad and persuaded the caliph to open the Middle East's first paper mill in the late 8th/early 9th centuries, and was actually a heroic protagonist in several of the Arabian Nights tales. He eventually fell out of favour with the caliph and was beheaded in 803, a turn of events that would be unthinkable in the world of Iznogoud in which the Caliph trusts his vizier absolutely despite all evidence that he should not.note 
  • The Manhattan Projects invokes this with tongue firmly in cheek, jokingly depicting various famous political and scientific figures as absurd supervillains trying to take over the world. Amongst other things, Harry Truman is an Illuminati sorcerer, Enrico Fermi is an evil shapeshifting alien, and Lyndon Johnson is a sociopathic cowboy who helps murder John F. Kennedy. There are numerous historical nods to show that Jonathan Hickman knows his history and is just playing the whole thing for Black Comedy.

    Films — Animation 
  • Governor Ratcliffe from Disney's Pocahontas. The real John Ratcliffe seems to have been more foolishly trusting than villainous. By the way, he was tortured to death (flayed alive, actually) by the Powhatan Indians, who seem to have received a bit of a Historical Hero Upgrade in the movie.
  • Granted, the Huns weren't all that nice, but Disney's demonic portrayal of them in Mulan (complete with inhuman yellow eyes) is pretty extreme. They shouldn't even have been Huns. The tribe that Mulan fought against were the Xiongnu, a similar but distinct tribe.
  • Fitting in with the other depictions of Prince John, listed above, Disney's Robin Hood portrays the guy as an effeminate Large Ham who is prone to childish tantrums upon mention of his brother and always begins sobbing at the mention of his mother. He also taxes Nottingham until most of the citizens are in jail because they invented a song that insulted him and plans to have Friar Tuck hanged to lure out Robin Hood.
  • Queen Victoria was not a particularly mean person. The version of her that appears in Aardman Animations' The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, on the other hand, has been described as "a fiend in human form."
  • In Don Bluth's Anastasia Rasputin the Mad Monk is an undead evil sorcerer who sold his soul in exchanged for a demon-powered reliquary, and sparked the Russian Revolution to kill the Romanovs, and is out to kill Anastasia. In real life, he was an eccentric but staunch ally of the Romanovs, and is revered to this day in his native Russia.
  • In the Spanish animation El Cid: The Legend, Yusuf ibn Tashfin is depicted as the Big Bad and is even more over-the-top than than his incarnation in El Cid, in contrast to his alleged reputation as an honorable man. While the real Yusuf and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar were in opposite sides, the two never even met with Rodrigo having fought mostly against Yusuf's nephew. He also does other things that never happened such as capturing Rodrigo's wife Jimena and giving her a Go-Go Enslavement treatment.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Cinderella Man depicts heavyweight boxer Max Baer as a brutish thug who brags about having killed two men in the ring. In reality, Baer is remembered as a Nice Guy with a lighthearted personality and was celebrated as an American hero for his defeat of Nazi Germany's champion Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. Although one of his opponents did die in the ring with him, the opponent had the flu beforehand and the incident haunted Baer for the rest of his life, to the point where he regularly gave money to the opponent's family. Baer's son, Max Baer, Jr., who later became famous on his own account as Jethro Bodine on The Beverly Hillbillies, was outspoken in his criticism of the portrayal.
  • Tavington from The Patriot. While Banastre Tarleton, the historical Colonel Tavington, was notoriously ruthless (cf his actions at the Waxhaws Massacre and his fervent support for the Slave Trade as an MP), the film greatly exaggerates his actual misdeeds. Some of the worst atrocities presented in the film were in fact inspired by the ones committed in World War 2: erasing entire villages, locking all the townsfolk into their church and burning it down.
  • Dan Devine from Rudy. In the film, he was the jerkass Notre Dame head coach who wouldn't let Rudy play at all, only relenting after the entire team threatened to walk. In real life, he was the one who suggested that Rudy play! Dan Devine was a consultant on the film, and was actually ok with having himself portrayed this way, as they needed a villain, it was felt.
  • Done in Braveheart with Robert The Bruce and Edward I "Longshanks," although the Bruce quickly goes the way of The Atoner. The trope is possibly lampshaded given that the narrator's opening monologue admits that "Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes." Nonetheless, many Scots were quite upset by the film, since Robert the Bruce is an even greater national hero than Wallace.
  • Tom Norman, who exhibited Joseph Merrick at his freak show, was by most accounts fairly humane — he was conflated, both in the David Lynch and Bernard Pomerance versions of The Elephant Man with a different manager (identity unclear) who robbed him and abandoned him in Belgium. The Real Life Merrick had nothing but praise for Norman.
  • The old Universal Horror film The Mummy (1932) and its later remake The Mummy Trilogy do this to Imhotep. The historical Imhotep was a priest, official, and architect mostly known for inventing the pyramid, not for messing with Pharaoh's mistress and being buried alive to torment meddling Westerners thousands of years later. However, since both film versions also lived approximately 3300 years after the time of the historical Imhotep, it's possible to interpret this Imhotep as just a different guy with the same name as the historical figure.
  • The Scorpion King, who gets both a Historical Hero Upgrade and a Historical Villain Upgrade throughout the film series, and resembles the real man only in name and general location — although very little is known about the real-life Scorpion King, even if he was real at all. The Scorpion King's direct-to-DVD prequel gives this treatment to Sargon the Magnificent.
  • The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: The Dragon Emperor is almost the same as the real Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Ch'in Dynasty, who if anything was even worse than the one in the movie. They simply adds supernatural powers to him — and a plan to Take Over the World with his animated Terracota army (QSH pretty much took over the known world when he was alive, the result was that what was once a dozen of independent states were forever unified in a single state, China). The writers didn't take the risk of having the movie Banned in China for having its founder as a villain and called him Emperor Han.
  • 300 does this with a lot of people. Word of God insists that these are all simply the embellishments of an Unreliable Narrator:
    • In reality, the Persian Empire was one of the most cultured and progressive civilizations of its era. In the film they're a numberless horde of Faceless Goons, containing an elite faction of monster ninjas, a Giant Mook cannibal ogre, and a demonic executioner with sawblades for arms, firebomb-flinging sorcerers, and a bevvy of unwholesome diplomats covered in gold piercings.
    • Xerxes himself is reimagined as a nine-foot androgynous Scary Black Man covered in gold chains, who calls himself a god and spends his spare time in a smoky harem tent / opium den full of mutated freak-show performers, amputee concubines and pot-smoking goat demons. The real guy just had a tall hat and a funky beard. Compare this and ... this.
    • The Spartan Ephors are transformed from the equivalent of five Senators who run the Spartan government into deformed molester priests who betray their people.
  • In the Heart of the Sea: Captain George Pollard is portrayed as an arrogant, power-abusing man worthy of Captain Bligh. He is shown to hold contempt towards his first mate, steers his ship recklessly into a storm, angrily tirades his own nephew for questioning his careless decisions, and ultimately carries an angry vendetta against the whale which sunk his ship. In reality, there is no evidence of there having been any tension between Pollard and first mate Chase, and Pollard appears to have often consulted Chase and his second mate Matthew Joy for their opinion; perhaps too much, as the mates often did not make the best of choices. While the ship did get caught in a storm not long after leaving Nantucket, it was not due to Pollard arrogantly thinking they could pass through it, and he certainly did not blame Chase for it afterwards. There is a moment described in the book where Pollard apparently reprimanded his young cousin when he tried for privilege on behalf of being family, but this was over his nephew hoping to be excused from duty due to seasickness (which many of the young sailors were suffering from), not him standing up to Pollard on behalf of the whole crew. The film turns what was an understandable and somewhat comical moment into a sinister one. Lastly, it was Chase, not Pollard, who by all evidence seems to have carried out a personal vendetta to find the whale (contrary to what is shown in the film, where Chase has an epiphany and decides to give up whaling). All who served under Pollard had only kind words to say about him, and many felt it unfair when he was forced to retire from the sea after wrecking his second ship.
  • Kingdom of Heaven:
    • Even in the Muslim accounts of the war, Guy de Lusignan was never portrayed as the foppish, racist douche-bag he is here. Certainly, the historical Guy most likely held many of the views concerning Muslims he expresses in the film, but then so would have the vast majority of other figures, including those the enlightened heroes of the film were based on.
    • The Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is portrayed as a cowardly, self-absorbed jerk, blinded by his faith, and mostly spending his time on spreading prejudice against the Muslims. In reality, while almost everything we know about him comes from the writings of his rivals, we still know that it was him along with Balian who negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem and they rounded up the money to ransom the citizens who couldn't afford to ransom themselves. As for his cowardice, he along with Balian offered themselves as ransom for those who they couldn't afford to ransom, which Saladin declined.
  • Blackbeard in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a sorcerer who enslaves and zombifies people to serve on his crew. In reality, Blackbeard was just a fairly successful pirate captain with a regular crew of fellow pirates.
  • Among various other historical inaccuracies in U571, the film portrays a German U-boat crew gunning down defenceless sailors that are stranded in the North Atlantic. Never mind that in Real Life such an instance had only occurred once throughout the entire war and it was far more common for German sailors to assist all survivors. (Which was only good sense: a captured enemy can be interrogated, used as a bargaining chip, or sometimes even convinced to switch sides; a corpse cannot. Also, the Allies would have responded in kind as retaliation.) Such a courtesy only came to an end when it became apparent Allied forces would attack U-boats on sight, regardless of whether they were carrying rescued merchant men.
  • Comparatively mild case in The Young Victoria, where King Leopold I of Belgium is portrayed as a pushy manipulator trying to use his nephew Prince Albert to gain control over the eponymous Victoria. In reality, Leopold was Victoria's favourite uncle. Also, while Sir John Conroy was by no means a friendly personality, even he would never dare manhandle the future monarch of the United Kingdom.
  • In James Cameron's Titanic, pretty much every crew member other than Captain Smith is depicted as, at best, incompetant or easily duped and evil at worst. Harold Lowe might be an exception, seeing as he is the one crew member who tries to make space in his lifeboat and rescue the people in the water. The ship's first officer, William Murdoch, is portrayed shooting two innocent men to prevent them from boarding a lifeboat, and subsequently putting a bullet through his own brain out of guilt. This portrayal was so at odds with the historical record that a studio executive traveled to Murdoch's hometown, apologized, and made a donation to boost the local high school's William Murdoch Memorial Prize, and Cameron himself later apologized in the DVD commentary. This was still nothing compared to his portrayal in the famously horrid animated feature Titanic: The Legend Goes On, in which he's a Stupid Evil Jerkass who at times seems as though he's trying to get as many people killed as possible.
  • The HBO TV film Conspiracy about the Wannsee Conference gives one of these to Gerhard Klopfer. Whilst undoubtedly a foul racist and war criminal in Real Life, Conspiracy turns it Up to Eleven: The film-Klopfer is morbidly obese, lecherous, ugly (hint: he's portrayed by Ian McNeice, who also played Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in the Dune miniseries), does unpleasant impressions of gassed Jews, is so disgusting as to make the other Nazis uncomfortable and is even hinted to be a pedophile.
  • The scandal-ridden film Cleopatra (the one with Elizabeth Taylor) has Octavian as its main antagonist, and he's portrayed as pathetic, tantrum-prone to a homicidal degree and totally unfit to rule. This film did not earn many points with the historical community, to say the least.
  • Octavian was a Magnificent Bastard in Antony and Cleopatra — a scarily competent Chessmaster, a reasonably proficient strategist and the only man in Asia Minor who can resist Cleopatra. It is pretty much stated that Octy will rule the world better than Antony would have. It is his portrayal as totally inept that is objected to, especially when he was one of the more (possibly the most) competent Emperors.
  • Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, receives a big one in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette. The real Orléans was a genuine believer in the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Montesquieu, who used his position to foster support for liberalism and democratic reform. He was initially supportive of The French Revolution, but eventually turned against its excesses, saved several people from being executed, and was eventually guillotined himself. In the movie, however, Orléans is, in fact, the primary orchestrator of the entire Revolution, which he cooked up as part of an insidious plot to seize the throne, after failing to seduce Marie Antoinette. During the so-called "Affair of the Diamond Necklace", he becomes a full-blown Diabolical Mastermind, using forgery and impersonation to frame the Queen for fraud. Eventually, he maliciously casts the deciding vote in favor of executing Louis XVI, before being executed offscreen by the rabble (he did vote in favor of it, but was hardly the decider, though some people did take that as an attempt by him to get rid of the king and seize the crown for himself). The recent French film, The Lady and the Duke has a more sympathetic portrayal of the Duke of Orleans, seeing him as someone way out of his depth in revolutionary politics.
  • In a truly bizarre example, Around the World in 80 Days (2004) has as its Big Bad Lord Kelvin, a physicist responsible for formulating the first and second laws of thermodynamics, discovering the concept of absolute zero temperature (and getting the resulting scale named after him to boot), and many other worthy scientific achievements. He received his knighthood for his work on the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, including several inventions used in the project. The film turns him into a sniveling, conniving backstabber who attempts to stop Phineas Fogg out of little more than professional jealousy.
  • While Frost/Nixon avoids casting Richard Nixon in an overly negative light, his chief of staff Jack Brennan is not so lucky. In the film, he comes across as a humorless military man who has no problem bullying and outright threatening people in order to protect the image of the president. At one point, he even shuts down production to stop Nixon saying something bad and threatens to ruin Frost if he makes him look bad. The real Brennan, a former Marine, is known to friends and colleagues for his friendly, good-natured personality, with Diane Sawyer describing him as "The funniest man you'll ever meet." Frost described him as a "wonderful man" and even said Brennan and his colleagues could have talked Nixon out of Watergate in the first place had they been his staff.
  • Werwolf, Nazi resistance after WWII was, in fact, just a bunch of unskilled and inefficient partisans, who were quickly destroyed in a few months, but in Lars von Trier's film Europa, they are portrayed as a mighty underground network with spies everywhere, assassinating occupational leaders, committing large-scale terrorist acts, and generally being a serious threat to the Allies.
  • This was the major complaint about Moneyball, given that it wasn't all that "historical" and all of the guys being portrayed as villains were still around and able to come to their own defense. Perhaps no one got it worse than the team's scouting director, Grady Fuson, who was portrayed being fired for insubordination after almost physically assaulting Billy Beane over his disagreement with Beane's sabermetrics strategies. In reality, Fuson voluntarily left the A's for another job with the Texas Rangers (in fact, the A's forced the Rangers to compensate them for losing him).
  • Pearl Harbor, by Michael Bay, was panned by historians for its severe inaccuracies regarding the actual Pearl Harbor attack, particularly due to its heavy vilifying of the Japanese, which showcases their planes deliberately attacking and gunning down civilians (which Chuichi Nagumo, leader of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, had explicitly forbidden them to do in real life), blowing up civilian buildings and attacking much of the actual town itself (again, something they had been forbidden to do historically), and launching suicidal kamikaze attacks on American forces (a tactic they didn't adopt until the last year or so of the War, although there was a single kamikaze attack at Pearl Harbor). It gets even weirder when the same film later has LC James Doolittle telling his men to do kamikaze dives against the Japanese if they run out of fuel, and this is portrayed as a glorious thing to do.
  • Most film adaptations of The Three Musketeers combine this with Adaptational Villainy and make Cardinal Richelieu the primary antagonist, turning him into an evil, would-be usurper. In real life, Richelieu is considered a national hero in France since his actions were responsible for not only helping turn the nation into a 17th century superpower, but also saving it from being encircled and destroyed by the rival Habsburgs. In the books, even the musketeers acknowledge that he's a dedicated servant of France.
  • The film Dangerous Beauty depicts Veronica Franco as being accused of witchcraft and being tried by the Roman Inquisition. That really did happen. The film, however, also depicts the Inquisition as frothing-at-the-mouth witch-hunters determined in advance not only to convict Franco, but prepared to believe that Venetian society was rife with witchcraft, and eager to conduct mass burnings of witches. This portrayal of the Inquisition as lunatic witch-hunters is quite common and appears in many works. It is also totally false. In reality, the official position of the Catholic Church was that accusations of witchcraft were almost invariably superstitious nonsense; the Church generally tried to suppress witch-hunts. When the Inquisition did investigate charges of witchcraft and put suspected witches on trial, it was almost always because public hysteria had broken out, and some person, such as Veronica Franco, had been accused, and the Church wanted to put a stop to the nonsense before things got out of hand. By conducting an official investigation and clearing the accused, the Church could usually calm the situation and end the panic. The real witch-burning hysteria in Europe occurred in predominantly Protestant northern Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. So while Dangerous Beauty correctly portrays the Inquisition as dismissing the charges against Franco, it also portrays this as an incredible occurrence resulting from the heroic intervention of the entire Venetian senate. In reality, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Inquisition would dismiss the charges, or acquit her, because that's what the Inquisition normally did with witchcraft charges. Heresy charges definitely were another story, however.
  • King Arthur does this to Cerdic and Cynric, the first and second kings of Wessex; a particularly impressive feat, given that almost no accurate information on them exists due to the Saxons not keeping written records until well after they had died. It is pretty much certain (given that he succeeded him) that Cynric did not die several minutes before his father, however. Both they and Arthur are associated with the Battle of Badon Hill, which functions as the film's climax, despite the fact that no one will likely ever know if they were there, if they fought Arthur, or if Arthur existed at all.
  • Most Wyatt Earp films do this to the Cowboys. The conflict between the Earp clan and the Cowboys was not nearly so black and white as usually depicted. The Cowboys were a loose group of cattle rustlers who had a lot of support in the community, rather than a violent gang tearing the town apart. There were also politicalnote  and business interests at play to further complicate matters.
    • Most of the Cowboys in Tombstone receive this treatment. In particular, the film shows Ringo as a remorseless killer who is the lethal counterpart to Doc Holliday. Historic research, however, can only point to him committing one murder. At one point in his life, he even served as a town marshal, and was to all accounts a conscientious and efficient lawman.
    • My Darling Clementine depicts the Clantons as murdering James Earp minutes after the Earp brothers ride into Tombstone and actively seeking a fight with Wyatt throughout the movie.
    • Even Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp, much more Gray and Grey Morality overall, falls victim to this: it depicts Curly Bill Brocious as deliberately murdering Marshal Fred White, when by all accounts (including Wyatt's) White's death was a drunken accident. The equivalent scene in Tombstone is much closer to what happened.
    • The converse happens in Doc, which depicts Wyatt as a sociopathic thug who stages the O.K. Corral as a cold-blooded murder, with plans of using the gunfight to further his political career.
  • Anonymous effectively turned William Shakespeare into an illiterate drunkard and the true killer of Christopher Marlowe.
  • Zulu: The film makes a Composite Character out of Corporal Hooke. In real life, he was a model soldier who won the Victoria Cross for his bravery. In the film, he is combined with the convict soldiers who were also at the battle, turning him into a cowardly and lazy malingerer who rises to the occasion and becomes a hero by the end of the film.
  • Bonnie and Clyde does this to real-life Texas Ranger Frank Hamer. Did Hamer set-up the ambush that killed Bonnie and Clyde? Yes. Was it inevitable that a movie focusing on them would villainize Hamer? Probably. Was he a bumbling, sociopathic Jerkass who tracks down the protagonists to avenge a petty humiliation? Not so much. Needless to say, Hamer's relatives weren't happy and sued Warner Bros. over his portrayal.
  • Lawrence of Arabia's treatment of General Edmund Allenby drew considerable criticism. The real Allenby was a skilled general who was friendly with Lawrence and much more sympathetic to the Arabs than the film suggests. For instance, he served as Egypt's High Commissioner in the early '20s and threatened to resign if London didn't grant Egypt independence. In the movie he's equal parts Armchair Military and Manipulative Bastard who hides behind his military duties to excuse his actions. Screenwriter Robert Bolt wrote that he respected Allenby and tried to make him a sympathetic character, but it's not really evident in the finished movie.
  • In Bridge of Spies, East German attorney Wolfgang Vogel is depicted as a loyal Communist apparatchik who helps an innocent American (Frederic Pryor) solely to get a leg up for East Germany with the Soviet Union. According to Pryor, the Real Life Vogel was actually loyal to his client and did his best to represent Pryor's interests. Vogel successfully brokered prisoner exchanges that let thousands of people escape to the West.
  • The Imitation Game portrays Commander Alastair Denniston (played by Evil Brit role expert Charles Dance) as a rigid, snarky Jerkass who holds Alan Turing in barely-concealed contempt and tries shutting down his Christopher project. This doesn't tally with the real Denniston, who had a cordial-to-friendly relationship with Turing. Denniston's family was not pleased with his portrayal.
  • In Enemy at the Gates, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Jude Law, despite featuring the defending Soviets as the good guys (it is their country being invaded after all), pretty much the whole Soviet military gets this treatment.
    • Soviet sailors are shown beating or shooting evacuees who rush ships (in reality the Soviet Navy made several desperate but heroic evacuation attempts — unfortunately too late into the siege).
    • The infamous NKVD penal troops are shown mowing down as many Red Army troops as the Germans (in reality, while deserters were shot, this rarely happened in battles as depicted, since troops obviously run back and forth during urban combat) and aren't shown engaging the Germans (despite the fact that the largest unit, the 10th NKVD Rifle Division, suffered a 90% casualty rate and have a monument in Volgograd for it).
    • The Red Army's defending troops are hardly better, portrayed as their own worst enemy and utterly failed by the Soviet political philosophy, as opposed to the reality where their casualties were directly tied to the high competence, equal-or-better training, and in some cases ruthlessness of the German military operating on foreign soil. Unsurprisingly the film did badly both in Russia (where veterans of the battle tried and failed to have it banned) and Germany.
  • Assassin's Creed (2016): The real Knights Templar were a powerful military force and a financial powerhouse of the time, and were involved in the Crusades where a lot of questionable things were done. There is however absolutely no evidence whatsoever that they ever decided to try and rob humanity of free will.
  • Amistad:
    • President Martin Van Buren, though the film does show that he's effectively being blackmailed by John C. Calhoun into going to the lengths that he does.
    • Lewis Tappan as well. After the appeal, Tappan says the Amistad Africans may be better off as martyrs, after which Joadson admonishes him as not caring about the slaves, but only about ending slavery. The real Tappan was famously known as an uncompromising anti-slavery extremist, who supported full legal rights (including gun ownership and voting) and advocated mass intermarriage to create a country without prejudice.

  • Older Than Print: Romance of the Three Kingdoms does this for several historical figures. The kingdoms of Wei and Jin are often depicted as a cruel sinister empire bent on crushing everyone opposing them
    • Cao Cao was a very capable ruler, well-versed in matters military (he annotated Sun Tzu's The Art of War) and literacy (he was also an accomplished poet). In the book, he's simultaneously upgraded to the Big Bad of the tale (despite there being three kingdoms, remember?) and downgraded to a chump whose schemes to take over the whole of China get persistently foiled by Zhuge Liang.
    • Lu Bu, who in real life was a brilliant administrator as well a good shot with the bow, is treated as a Blood Knight who is only out for himself while he can't run an empire worth a damn. The reason why the story turns him into a dumb villain is because he was the antithesis of Confucian ethics, along with the unpleasant fact that he had an affair with Dong Zhuo's maid.
    • Minor warlord Zhang Lu. In the novel, he's greedy and craves power/territory as a means of playing up the righteousness of Shu and Ma Chao (who's a definite case of Historical Hero Upgrade). In Real Life, Zhang Lu was one of the more fair rulers of the time, building roads with free rest stops and food and using taxes collected to support the commoners instead of indulging himself. In fact, when he was forced to retreat during Cao Cao's invasion of his territory he explicitly left behind his wealth proclaiming that it belonged to the country and not him, an act which greatly impressed Cao Cao, causing him to let Zhang Lu peacefully surrender.
    • Sima Yi was one of Cao Cao's trusted officers who was one of Wei's loyal officers but the novel depicted him as an Evil Chancellor who destroyed Wei from within.
  • In a particularly weird literature example, the villain of The Wild Road, who performs cruel experiments on cats to learn their magic, turns out to be Isaac Newton. He tries to ascend to godhood by trying to surgically add cat body parts to himself and wields an evil magical staff powered by cat skulls.
  • Alexandre Dumas does this with a few characters in The Three Musketeers, but still keeps the characters three-dimensional:
    • Cardinal Richelieu is something of an Anti-Villain and Well-Intentioned Extremist. Although he hires the main villain of the first book, Milady de Winter, uses underhanded methods, and stands in opposition to the heroes, Dumas takes some time out to note that he's still a loyal and skilled servant of France (and very grateful to D'Artagnan for disposing of Milady when she went rogue.) His overt villainization is reserved for condensed and simplified adaptations—especially the movies. In reality, he's remembered as one of France's greatest statesmen. Dumas had to write another novel (The Red Sphinx) portraying Richelieu in a sympathetic light just to reassure people he really wasn't trying to demonize him.
    • Richelieu's successor Mazarin is portrayed as greedy, vain and cowardly, but he's also very shrewd. The stories emphasize how unfairly he's judged by the French for his Italian heritage.
  • Several of the Red Swords in Paladins. Gray's sword is implied to be Genghis Khan and believes in solving every problem with slaughter, and though we don't have any specifics on the Sandoval the time period and the name suggest Emil Sandoval may have been an alternate history version of a famous Conquistador with the rest of his achievements left in the dust in favor of playing up speculated abuses of the natives.
  • In 1632, Richelieu is one of the larger villains of the series. Series creator Eric Flint himself said that he would've liked to make Richelieu one of the good guys, but he needed someone intelligent to oppose the heroes.
  • In Gone with the Wind, the "Yankees" (Northerners) are a faceless mass of soldiers and later politicians (the infamous "carpetbaggers") invading happy Southern land. The one Yankee soldier to appear onscreen was a deserter shot by Scarlett before he could rob and (it is implied) rape her. As you might expect, the film kind of glosses over the whole slavery thing (unlike the book).
  • In Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood: His Odyssey (as in the film based thereon), the British King James II has the title character and his rebellious fellows sold into slavery for a profit. As such with the story being from their point of view, they see that King as foul tyrant and treat the news of his deposing in favor of William of Orange as a moment of celebration, especially since the new King is eager to emancipate them and recruit them for his navy.
  • Count-Duke of Olivares became a Manipulative Bastard and/or a Chessmaster (although not a Magnificent Bastard) in Alatriste. In real life, he was the power behind a weak king, and of course not exactly a fan favorite of the peasants; however the author provides Olivares with realistic opportunities to be a villain.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray's historical novel Henry Esmond has an extremely negative presentation of John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, presenting him as an amoral Magnificent Bastard willing to betray anyone to advance himself. His wife, Sarah, is presented as a social climbing bitch. Worth noting is that John's descendant, Winston Churchill was prompted to write about his ancestors in part to address the portrayal in the novel
  • It's hard to upgrade history's most famous serial killer, but Jack the Ripper gets a lot of the treatment anyway. In the short story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", his murders prove to be an occult means of extending his lifespan and he's still alive today to kill the narrator.
  • Not all of the Jury of the Damned in "The Devil and Daniel Webster" were really that evil in reality. In particular, Thomas Morton was only evil in the sense of being an enemy of Puritans and was an early proponent of treating Native Americans decently.
  • A lot in The Royal Diaries book series, which are fictional diaries about real princesses. An example is Mary I in Red Rose of the House of Tudor, who is portrayed as devious, cunning, and hateful towards her younger siblings. While her relationships with Elizabeth and Edward certainly cooled later in life, during their childhoods, the much-older Mary acted as a mother figure, and was on record as being hopelessly naive and guileless. The enmity between her and Elizabeth didn't really kick into gear until after Mary became queen; it's not until she starts burning Protestants that she really deserves this.
  • Gregory Maguire's Mirror, Mirror combines history with the tale of Snow White and casts Lucrezia Borgia in the role of the wicked queen. Though the Borgias were not a nice family, there's little evidence Lucrezia had the expertise in poisoning she was later accused of (in fact, the attributes of the poison she was most famous for don't even exist in any real substance). And, obviously, the Snow-White-like events of the novel don't have much basis in real history either.
  • Bernard Cornwell does this on occasion in his historical fiction, but at least he's polite about it. In the Author's Notes for the books of his series The Saxon Chronicles, Cornwell apologizes to Æthelred of Mercia for depicting him as a weak and devious snake and terrible husband, a characterization with no support in the historic record, but which makes for a better story.
  • Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu in the Sano Ichiro series. He indeed ruined the currency system of the time, and instituted policies that did nothing to alleviate suffering under the shogun's rule, but nothing indicates he was as scheming, vicious and relentless as he is in the books. He was little more than a yes man to the shogun.
  • Nikola Tesla gets this treatment in Goliath. His real-world eccentricities are ratcheted up several levels.
  • The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel has a sort of variant. The villains are historical figures (specifically, they're John Dee and Niccolò Machiavelli), but it's implied that the way they got immortality made them worse. Their actual historical lives are portrayed at some points, with great accuracy and not a lot of undue villainy.
  • It is unlikely that General José de Urrea was anywhere near as black as J.T. Edson paints him in Get Urrea!. In particular, historians now believe that the Goliad Massacre was perpetrated at the orders of Santa Anna and not Urrea. Also, while public opinion varies greatly on where Wyatt Earp lies on the scale of heroism and villainy, Edson always portrays him as a petty and vindictive thug with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  • In The Divine Comedy, Brutus, Judas Iscariot and Cassius are depicted as the ultimate traitors, being gnawed upon by Satan for eternity. Judas being there is understandable (being the betrayer of Christ) but Dante considered the assassination of Julius Caesar, the crime committed by the other two, to be the second-worst crime ever committed, as it represented the destruction of a unified Italy and the killing of the man who was divinely appointed to govern the world. (Again, this is Dante's personal opinion.) In fact, the book has a lot of historical figures - many of which are obscure to modern readers - suffering in Hell; for example, Cleopatra VII is among those in the Second Layer, devoted to the Lustful, while The Prophet Muhammad - described by the author as a schismatic - is in the Ninth Bolga of the Eighth Layer, the place for Sowers of Discord. The structure of the layers of Hell and who belonged there is entirely based on Dante's opinion of what is perceived as sin and who he believed belonged there. Another thing to be noted is that Dante could only be as accurate as his sources were, so often what seems him using this trope is really just his sources being unreliable. For example, the reason Muhammed was between the schismatics? It's not a judgment on Islam: Muhammad was sincerely believed by Dante to have been a Christian prophet. The common belief then was that Muhammed began as a Christian, but had been angered by not being able to become Pope and thus set up his own religion with himself at its head, hence the schism.
  • In Kim Newman's Anno Dracula short story "Vampire Romance", the villain turns out to be a vampirized Richard III, who is worse than Shakespeare portrayed him. He resents Will for saying he sent someone to kill the Princes in the Tower; he dealt with them personally.
  • A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes novel, includes a mild case with Brigham Young. He doesn't serve as an antagonist for Holmes, but he's portrayed as a crazed religious zealot with zero sympathy for anyone outside his devoted group of followers, and he turns out to be directly responsible for the events motivating the sympathetic vigilante who commits the murders.
  • In Musashi, the titular character's Foil and Worthy Opponent Sasaki Kojiro is given this. Although not without noble qualities, he is for the most part arrogant, sadistic, and only interested in his innate talent so much as it can make him rich and famous. In Real Life, the main thing against him is that he was killed by Folk Hero Miyamoto Musashi. Debate still rages as to whether or not Musashi cheated or if he had been ambushed and murdered by a group, with or without Musashi's knowledge.
  • In Gideon Defoe's The Pirates series:
    • The first book makes Archbishop Samuel "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce into a mad scientist who kidnaps women to turn them into a facial scrub that gives him his astonishingly youthful appearance. (He is in his late thirties, but looks like he's in his mid-thirties.)
    • The third book makes Wagner into an unrepentant smear artist, working for Nietzsche, who has constructed a huge robot suit in order to crush Europe beneath his boot. He is doing this because he thinks it will impress girls.
    • The fourth book features Napoleon Bonaparte, and while he's not given much of a "villain upgrade", he does become the Pirate Captain's Sitcom Arch-Nemesis.
  • The SPQR Series by John Maddox Roberts, which is a series of murder mysteries set in the last years of the Roman republic, almost always has a historical figure as the murderer and frequently has the murder reveal an underlying scheme for world domination. Special recognition goes to the books' version of Julius Caesar, who as of the thirteenth book is just finishing up his elaborate plan to become God-King of Rome.
  • In Mark Hodder's Burton and Swinburne novel Springheeled Jack - Charles Darwin, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Florence Nightengale are all Mad Scientists trying to breed humanity into specialized castes and have been experiementing on chimney sweeps as their first subject.
  • Wolf Hall
    • The book is told from the point of view of Thomas Cromwell, and he does not view Thomas More in a positive light. Although Cromwell has respect for More as a jurist, More is portrayed as a bad husband with a cruel sense of humor. Whenever Cromwell is meeting with one of his Protestant friends, the specter of More hangs over the conversation thanks to the debated charge that More personally tortured heretics and the less-debated fact that he presided over the burning of six Lutherans, with each one noted in the text. Cromwell also gripes that More is probably going to give himself a Historical Hero Upgrade in his writings after Henry charges More with treason.
    • The author admits in a note at the end of Bring Up the Bodies that the view of Jane Rochford as a vindictive woman who hated her sister-in-law and sold her brother to the scaffold is a retroactive characterization applied after her involvement in Henry's disastrous fifth marriage to Catharine Howard. Jane was turned into Anne's nemesis because Mantel didn't want to add even more names than there already were (and the books already have Loads And Loads), and she points readers towards the book Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox for a better view of the historical woman.
  • In The Gods Of Manhattan, Willem Kieft is portrayed as a Sinister Minister. Also, Aaron Burr is the series' villain.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Double The Fist presents to us the man who discovered Australia, Captain James Cook, as an egotistical Space Pirate who barely flinches at the sight of the ballistic Fist Team. Cook is not generally regarded as a villain, but he fits the bill to some, having essentially taken over an already inhabited land (as with many explorers of the era).
  • I, Claudius shows Livia, wife of Augustus, as a manipulative, scheming Evil Matriarch who carefully eliminates all of Augustus's potential successors, and finally, Augustus himself, so that her son Tiberius would become Emperor. While it is true that Livia did lobby for Augustus to name Tiberius as his successor, even Suetonius note  admits that there is no real proof that she was behind any of the deaths of Augustus's adopted heirs. The circumstances of Gaius and Lucius's deaths, while quite sudden and shocking given their age, are also much less suspicious than most let on note . The accusation that she was behind Augustus's death seems especially flimsy when taking into account that he was seventy-five when he died, and had a history of sickliness that made his contemporaries wonder how he could even live to that age.
  • Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey occasionally does this in the animated segments when dealing with a case of science rivals:
    • The second episode is about Halley and Isaac Newton squaring off against Robert Hooke at the Royal Society. Although Tyson summarizes Hooke's genuine accomplishments, the episode is about the conflict between the three men, in which Hooke can't back up his claims and accuses Newton of plagiarizing his work.
    • Humphry Davy in "The Electric Boy" is portrayed as giving Faraday a futile project to replicate Josef Fraunhofer's perfect optical glass solely to keep Faraday from showing him up again. While Davy was not happy about his lab assistant inventing an electric motor (and indeed falsely accused Faraday of plagiarism), the British government was backing the glass project and it wasn't until a couple of years after Davy's death that Faraday ultimately quit the effort. On the other hand, the episode leaves out the time when Davy invited Faraday on a tour of Europe as a servant, during which time Mrs. Davy frequently mistreated and belittled him.
  • Another Roman example: seductive, manipulative Atia of the Juli in Rome who is essentially unrecognizable from the prim and proper and rather boring historical woman.
  • Sanctuary has Jack the Ripper as a time travelling teleporter, and Nikola Tesla as a electrokinetic vampire.
  • Although, as noted above, Prince John often gets this treatment in Robin Hood stories, The New Adventures of Robin Hood deserves special mention. In it Prince John, rather than merely being an evil king, gleefully sacrifices peasants to Celtic goddesses.
  • Common on "expose" made-for-TV movies about popular TV shows: the most controversial cast member will inevitably be depicted as evil incarnate, or very close to it. In a few cases, this has been at the direction of another cast member, indicating some bad blood there:
    • The Gilligan's Island TV movie turned Tina Louise (Ginger) into a selfish, primadonna diva who was furious that this broad slapstick comedy named for another actor's character was not all about her and how glamorous she really, truly was. Who was behind this portrayal? None other than Mary Ann herself, Dawn Wells.
    • The Three's Company TV movie likewise depicted Suzanne Sommers (Chrissy) as a stupid and self-centered diva with no regard for anyone. This one was even more blatant in its intentions, for who was always the biggest victim of Sommers's schemes? Why, Joyce DeWitt, who played Janet. And who co-produced the movie, as it happens. Even John Ritter was depicted as having spurned DeWitt (by passing her over for the short-lived spinoff, Three's A Crowd, as if that was his decision) and being 100% in the wrong for it.
  • Piero de' Medici is the Big Bad of Leonardo, leading The Conspiracy to use Leo's inventions to overthrow the Duke of Florence. In Real Life Piero was a fairly typical Renaissance nobleman, and the Medicis had been the de facto rulers of Florence since 1434 (since there wasn't a Duke until 1532, when the title was granted to ... the Medicis).
  • CBC's miniseries Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story met with criticism in Saskatchewan (the province where Douglas used to be premier) for its portrayal of his political opponent James Gardiner. They kicked up so much of a fuss that CBC stopped airing it on CBC. The other wiki has more on it [1].
  • Alice Liddell, of all people, in Warehouse 13. From a perfectly ordinary Victorian woman whose only claim to fame was that Lewis Carroll named a character after her when she was a girl, to an Ax-Crazy mirror-spirit.
    • Helena might count as well, if it wasn't for the Heel–Face Revolving Door. Although arguably she's sufficiently detached from the real H. G. Wells to count as an original character.
    • Season 4 gives us Paracelsus as the Big Bad. Granted, the real Paracelsus was not the most pleasant person to be around, but here he's not only evil enough to merit getting bronzed, but he's so evil that that the Regents expunged the records of what he did to merit getting bronzed.
  • Deadwood:
    • Con Stapleton. In real life, Stapleton was a popular, tall Boisterous Bruiser Irishman in his 20s that did his best to keep order in the growing camp for a year, until he was replaced by Seth Bullock and fell into obscurity. The TV show paints him instead as a pathetic, 50-something fat Butt-Monkey and Dirty Coward, that is in Al Swearengen's pocket before becoming the Bumbling Sidekick of the even worse Cy Tolliver. Con is even handpicked as Sheriff by Swearengen because he will suck at it (his first plan was to leave the position vacant) and renounces the job less than a week later after being confronted by Bullock.
    • George Hearst is changed from a successful mining magnate to a brutal tyrant who crushes all opposition, kills whomever stands in his way, and demands total obedience from everyone in sight.
  • The White Queen:
    • The show gives this treatment to both Margaret of Anjou and her son, Edward of Westminster. Margaret is repeatedly described as having ordered the brutal murder of Richard of York by means of having him torn to pieces. In fact, Richard died in battle at Wakefield. It is true that his severed head was put on display. More generally, the show more or less accepts uncritically the view of Margaret of Anjou as a monstrous tyrant. It is true that she was a bad ruler, but that was more because she was a foreigner who did not really understand English politics and customs, and who trusted the wrong people. She was not actively trying to cause harm. Of course, the only reason she had to run the country in the first place was that her husband, King Henry VI, suffered from some sort of mental disease that made him incapable of ruling. As for Henry and Margaret's son, Edward of Westminster, he is depicted as raping his wife, Anne Neville, on their wedding night. There is no evidence for this whatsoever.
    • Interestingly, the show gives a very positive portrayal of the Woodvilles, while at the same time portraying both Jacquetta Woodville, and her daughter Queen Elizabeth, as literal witches.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Spectre of the Gun", this Trope was applied in the complete opposite way as it was in the movie Tombstone. Here, the infamous Cowboys - whom Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, and Chekov are forced to portray-are regarded as simply Lovable Rogues, while the Earp Brothers and Doc Holiday are depicted as corrupt and tyrannical lawmen intent on murdering them. Of course, the whole setup is an illusion created by a group of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens called the Melkotians, used to punish the crew for trespassing by forcing them to reenact the famous gunfight at the OK-Corral on the losing side, but it is taken from Kirk's memory (and thus interpretation) of the event. (And Spock realizes that the whole thing is flawed when Chekov - who portrays Billy Claiborne - is apparently killed prematurely, remembering that the actual Billy Claiborne survived the gunfight.)
  • It is fair to say that Adolf Hitler was, by all measurements, a deplorable human being. However, CBS docu-drama Hitler: The Rise of Evil somehow manages to take this overboard. As a child, Hitler manages to kill his father simply by giving him an evil stare. Apparently deciding that this wasn't enough, the writers also twisted the incident of Hitler being awarded the Iron Cross-in real life, for several cases of genuine bravery-into a political farce. Furthermore, the film takes the relationship between Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal, and presents it as being one of sexual abuse-Hitler's political opponent once threw out such an accusation, but there is no historical documented evidence which supports it. In general, Hitler's every action is accompanied by ominous background music, and when he isn't violently stamping on a dog's head before emptying bullets into its face, he's behaving like the villain from a Saturday morning cartoon show. In addition, the only rhetoric he is ever shown as presenting is antisemitism, with anti-Communism having a brief mention.
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand: The pilot episode portrays the Getae people as inhuman savages, in comparison to the noble Thracians. In reality, the Getae were so similar to the Thracians that historians are still a little unsure what the difference was.
    • Given the perspective, this is done to several real Romans such as Batiatus and Glaber. The reality is that there is relatively little information about either outside of the former being the lanista of the ludus Spartacus escaped from and the latter being one of the first commanders trying to put down the rebellion.
  • Played for laughs in Blackadder II, where Queen Elizabeth (called "Queenie" by fans) is a ludicrously exaggerated version of Elizabeth I, using the extremes of anti-Elizabethan propaganda to produce a Psychopathic Womanchild who orders executions on a whim and never does any actual governing.
  • John Adams in its treatment of Alexander Hamilton, Flanderizing him from a big government Federalist into a power-mad, would-be dictator agitating for war with France. Understandable considering that Hamilton and the title character were bitter enemies.
  • American Horror Story: Hotel presents 1920s actors Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova, as well as F.W. Murnau, as vampires.
  • Wolf Hall gives a rare one to Sir Thomas More to go along with its rare depiction of Thomas Cromwell as not mindlessly evil. Specifically it brings to light More's treatment of heretics, depicting him as torturing them in his own house (the real More denied that he tortured them) and burning at the stake people who read aloud from Tyndale's English translation of the Bible, such as James Bainham (which is true). He still gets to be Defiant to the End as the real More was, but he's definitely not "the man for all seasons" here.
  • When We Rise: Though Charles Socarides indeed championed the idea homosexuality is a mental illness that can be cured, he never threatened to kill himself when his son came out. Richard said that, although angry at first, he wrote to him that if he was happy being gay, then embrace it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Rasputin in the Pathfinder module Reign Of Winter gets both this and a Historical Badass Upgrade. Pathfinder's Rasputin is a canonically Neutral Evil high-level divine spellcaster who is also the estranged son of Baba Yaga and has a sinister scheme to steal her power through occult means. He's the Big Bad of one of the major story arcs, and, appropriately, needs to be killed more than once for it to stick.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, Doombreed is one of Khorne's most ancient and powerful Daemon Princes, older even than the Primarchs, has a cloak made of a thousand Space Marine skulls, and was elevated for the slaughter he carried out on a massive scale. It is more or less implied that in life, he was better known by the name Genghis Khan.

  • Hamilton:
    • The play certainly makes Aaron Burr a sympathetic character, but the same can't necessarily be said about Hamilton's other rival, Thomas Jefferson, who's shown as a generally arrogant, annoying, and obstinate know-it-all. Possibly justified, seeing as he's pretty much comic relief.
    • Even Burr, who is given more character development here than in most portrayals, gets this, being portrayed as a typical lazy jealous co-worker who wants Hamilton's power and influence without having to work as hard—as well as being apparently against the Revolutionary War, and being somewhat obsessed with Hamilton's status as an immigrant. Note that the real Aaron Burr was a very hard worker and every bit as smart as Hamilton, and there is no historical evidence that he cared about Hamilton being an immigrant. In fact, Hamilton himself was, ironically, more anti-immigrants than Burr.
    • Burr is also here shown as an apparent backstabber who betrays both Hamilton and Jefferson, as well as openly trying to destroy Hamilton's career. In real life, Hamilton and Burr were never on friendly terms in the first place, and there is a lot of evidence that Jefferson abused (or at least exploited) him, meaning his betrayal of Jefferson could be justified. Not to mention, Hamilton actually did very nearly destroy Burr's career, repeatedly and for very vague reasons, by spreading completely false rumors about him (including a claim that Burr had raped his own daughter).
    • James Madison isn't outright vilified, but he does come off as Jefferson's bootlicking butler, with his own accomplishments either glossed over (writing 29 of the Federalist Papers and the Bill of Rights) or not mentioned at all (being the main formulator of the plan that eventually became the majority of the Constitution - note that Hamilton's plan, which was resoundly rejected and may in fact have been a deliberate Zero-Approval Gambit planned with Madison, is mentioned).
    • John Adams, despite never appearing on stage, is the biggest Butt-Monkey in the show.
    • Exaggerated with King George III, who is portrayed as an over-the-top cross between a mustache-twirling pantomime villain and a creepy ex-boyfriend.
    • The show's largest Villain Upgrade, however, goes not to any of the leads but to memorable minor character George Eacker, the man who killed Hamilton's son Philip in a duel. The fictional Eacker is depicted as a reprehensible coward who kills Philip by shooting him In the Back on "seven," but in real life, neither fired for over a minute after "ten," at which point Philip raised his gun (presumably to aim at the sky as his father suggested) and Eacker outdrew him, assuming quite understandably that his life was at stake.
  • In Knickerbocker Holiday, Peter Stuyvesant seizes power in New Amsterdam and becomes a corrupt, warmongering dictator with obvious fascist leanings. This glaring historical inaccuracy is lampshaded in the final scene where Washington Irving steps in to prevent Stuyvesant from killing everyone else, saying that's not how posterity would want to remember him.
  • Keating The Musical does this to every Liberal politician with a part. That's to be expected, of course, and its primary audience pretty much agrees. Less expected is the Historical Villain Upgrade of Labor PM Bob Hawke even if It Makes Sense in Context.
  • 1776:
    • John Dickinson gets something of an historical villain upgrade. While opposed to the Declaration of Independence, it was more a case of he thought it should not be done at that time, because the structure of government was too uncertain and the Americans had no European allies at that point. Rather than being John Adams' antagonist, he avoided attending the Continental Congress, while independence was being debated and voted upon. He went on to fight the British, in the militia-as a private and a brigadier general, on different occasions. He had a moderately successful political career afterward, including being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. A little of this is hinted at in the film in the character's last speech, but up to then, the musical presents him as a nascent Benedict Arnold.
      • He also co-wrote "The Necessity of Taking Up Arms" with Thomas Jefferson and wrote the line the play attributes to Jefferson.
    • Edward Rutledge, one of the delegates from South Carolina, is portrayed as a blowhard racist who gets Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin to remove the anti-slavery clause from the Declaration using blackmail and a seriously hammy Villain Song. While Jefferson did write that the South Carolina delegation, along with Georgia's, was the main proponent of removing the clause, he did not name Rutledge or anyone else as the leader of the effort. Who it really was, if it was indeed just one person, will likely never be known.
  • Alexander Pushkin's Mozart and Salieri was the first work to portray Antonio Salieri as a villain, written less than 50 years after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's death. The film Amadeus is based on Peter Shaffer's play of the same name, which is a spiritual descendant of Pushkin's play. In Real Life, their relationship was at worst a respectful rivalry, and some sources claim they were even friends.
  • William Shakespeare was a major purveyor of this trope out of necessity, writing histories to support the royal family's prejudices (not that he might not have agreed with them-but who knows?).
    • The Real Life Macbeth was one of Scotland's better early kings, and was especially known for his charity toward the poor. He defeated Duncan, a young tyrant invader, in a fair fight in battle, reigning successfully for 17 years before being defeated and killed in battle himself; he was succeeded first by his stepson, then by Malcolm III, the thane who had defeated him. Shakespeare's Macbeth is nothing like the original, partly because his source got a lot of things wrong, but also because Shakespeare was writing the play to appeal to King James I, who was descended from Duncan; portraying an ancestor of King James as weak, ineffective, and/or tyrannical (even if he really was) may have been tantamount to treason. The play echoes James's belief that kings were chosen by God and that God's will, no matter how thwarted in the short term by tyrants, could not fail in the end. Lady Macbeth's characterization is pure fabrication, as almost nothing is known about her beyond her name, Gruoch (?!).
    • Richard III in the eponymous play is written as having his two nephews murdered, for which there's little evidence (they simply disappeared, their fate unknown to this day). And while he likely committed some atrocities and heinous crimes, it can certainly be argued that he wasn't any more or less ruthless than kings who had preceded or followed him. But Shakespeare was writing in the time of Elizabeth I, whose grandfather Henry VII overthrew Richard at the end of the War of the Roses. Thus, the official party line was that Richard was a monster and not a legitimate king of England.
    • Unsurprisingly, Joan of Arc is portrayed as a whore and a witch in Henry VI Part 1, which was very much popular opinion at the time among her sworn enemies, the English. This is an especially ridiculous example when you consider the fact that what we known from her trial suggests Joan of Arc was a Badass Pacifist, and that it was proven she remained a virgin all her life. She was also not even accused of witchcraft, but heresy, by a Kangaroo Court put on by the Burgundians, England's allies at the time. The Pope later reviewed the case and exonerated her entirely.
    • There are actually a number of historians who believe that Shakespeare's later tragedies were set in more esoteric times so he could criticize the mores of his own time under the radar (at least occasionally; his play Richard II, about the overthrow of a childless king, was set late in the reign of Elizabeth I when the succession was much in doubt). In particular, Macbeth nowadays isn't seen as a political story (rightful king is overthrown by usurper; son restores rightful line), but rather a personal story (Macbeth and his wife's ambition overrides their own sense of right and wrong to the point that they are haunted by it).
  • Pope Pius XII got this treatment in Rolf Hochhuth's highly tendentious play The Deputy, a Christian tragedy (German: Der Stellvertreter. Ein christliches Trauerspiel) (1963), which was produced to undermine the influence of the Catholic Church, perhaps particularly in the Soviet bloc. Some revisionist modern historians, ignoring the testimony of former Soviet spies like the Romanian Ion Mihai Pacepa who say that the play was a deliberate (and successful) attempt to cast Pius and the Church in the worst possible light, ran with it and produced the idea of "Hitler's Pope." Pius' actions regarding the Holocaust remain a source of controversy, but most likely it was a case of, if anything, not doing enough to help Jews (and it was not as if he did nothing, or even wanted to do nothing, as the Vatican had made its opposition to anti-Semitism more than plain).
  • Boris Godunov, in reality, was a somewhat opportunistic but generally fair and even generous regent and tsar of Russia, but the play of his name by Alexander Pushkin, made into an opera by Modest Mussorgsky, depicts him as an Evil Chancellor consumed by a lust for power.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac defies this trope with a popular villain: Cardinal Richelieu offers his help to the protagonist instead of opposing him. In fact, it's Cyrano who coldly rejects his patronage. Edmond Rostand gives Dumas a metaphorical "What the hell, dude?" by including a scene where Richelieu can be observed patronizing a play written by Dumas that depicts him as a villain (in spite of dying 150 years before Dumas was born).
  • The Crucible:
    • A famous example is Abigail Williams, the first accuser in the Salem Witch Trials and main villain of Arthur Miller's play. In Real Life she was more or less an Unwitting Instigator of Doom, an attention-seeking teen who acted out, was accused of witchcraft, and accused someone else to take the heat off herself (then that person accused someone else, etc.). Miller turns her into a twenty-something Alpha Bitch whose goal in starting the witch hysteria was getting her ex's wife bumped off. Admitted by Miller in the prologue, as he needed the accuser to be actively malicious to complete the allegory to the Red Scare. Ironically, the actual Red Scare was more like the historical Salem witch trials than in his play-suspected Communists accusing others to save themselves, with a domino effect. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the House Un-American Activities Committee recognized the allegory, was not amused, and questioned Miller, who refused to name others and was held in contempt of Congress (his conviction was reversed on appeal). The Red Scare was critically different, in that there were no actual witches in Salem. On the other hand, every single one of the Hollywood Ten was a Communist or fellow traveler.
    • Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, the other major villain, also gets a Villain Upgrade as well as an Importance Upgrade thanks to being a Composite Character of several real people. While Danforth was indeed one of the judges at the Trials, he was not the tyrannical, fundamentalist head of the court that the play portrays him as, that was actually William Stoughton. The real Danforth disliked Stoughton and felt he went too far. The scene where Danforth crosses the Moral Event Horizon by ordering the accused witches executed despite being able to say the Lord's Prayer correctly (impossible for a witch, according to the beliefs of the time) also never happened; it was really Cotton Mather, one of the consulting ministers, who did that.
  • Yes Virginia: The Musical promotes Frank Church, the man who wrote the famous editorial in answer to Virginia O'Hanlon's letter, to such a role in the second act, portraying him as a curmudgeonly pessimist who takes glee in mocking Virginia and crumpling up her letter.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed:
    • Has this and its counterpart as its entire plot. The series' main draw is how the developers use the Rule of Cool to combine exquisite research with Historical Upgrades. Everybody of note in the past belonged to one of two Ancient Conspiracies, the Templars and the Assassins. The Templars work to eradicate free will in the name of peace. The Assassins hunt and kill Evil Aristocrats wherever and whenever possible "to safeguard Mankind's evolution" (and peace). If somebody in the past was awesome, he's in the series somewhere with his life examined in detail - with Hidden Depths because history was Written By The Templars.
    • For example, Rodrigo Borgia was certainly a murderous, conniving asshole in real life and as Alexander VI, generally considered to be the worst pope in the history of the Catholic Church; it turns out he was secretly the cackling leader of the Templars during the Renaissance. Oh, and he thought Christianity was bunk, but became Pope anyway just for the power.
    • Better yet, Thomas Edison was a proven jerkass who regularly stole ideas and performed grotesque "demonstrations" to smear his assistant-turned-rival Nikola Tesla. Turns out he was also a Templar who stole his rival's MacGuffin and gave it to Henry Ford, who in turn, gave it to Adolf Hitler for the express purpose of jumpstarting the Holocaust and World War II. Also, Hitler's conspirators? Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.
    • Girolamo Savonarola in the Bonfire of the Vanities DLC, although in fairness AC was hardly the first to come up with this portrayal. Granted he was definitely extreme by modern standards, but people forget that the reason Savonarola was able to carry out his famous Bonfire was because the people of Florence were sick and tired of watching wealthy Italian families flaunt their vast fortunes by commissioning ludicrously expensive sculptures and paintings while the rest of society was beset by plague and poverty. By the standards of the time he was practically a popular revolutionary. Hell, in the 1990s he was even nominated as a candidate for sainthood (he didn't win though).
    • In a more modern context: Antonin Scalia, long-serving conservative Supreme Court Justice, has, apparently, was instrumental in manipulating the Supreme Court's decisions since at least 2000, when he got the Templar-aligned puppet George W. Bush into the White House. In addition, since then he's had Templar-allied appointees filling up the court system. That's...yeah.
    • Assassin's Creed III has "The Tyranny of King Washington" DLC, which is an Alternate History that postulates a What If? storyline where George Washington accepted the offer to become King instead of President, and the United Kingdom of America becomes an even worse tyrannical power than England ever was at the time. In this case, it turns out to be a shared vision of both Connor and Washington's brought on by the Apple of Eden that ultimately convinces Washington that a democracy is the best form of government for the United States. Even though America was founded as a republic...
    • Assassin's Creed: Unity: Jacques Roux. An ultra-revolutionary radical he undoubtedly was, and he was indeed, as the game narrator says, "even too extreme for Robespierre". However, Roux's real extremism was not in personal bloodthirstiness or demands for heads to roll, but in his (for the time) incredibly left-wing economic and social views. While he was one of the few prominent revolutionaries to give approval of the recurring Parisian riots involving pillaging wealthy merchants and bourgeois, there's little evidence that he led such riots himself, and certainly none that he hacked people to death during them.
  • Oda Nobunaga tends to get this treatment in many modern things, especially Onimusha, where he kicks out the Devil himself and tries to take over the world as an undead demon lord; the Samurai Warriors series plays it far more subtly (by mostly only hinting, except for his Samurai Warriors 2 ending, at him being anything but a Badass Normal); Sengoku Basara makes him into an Evil Overlord which probably can compete for the title of the most Obviously Evil character ever; but Kessen III outright subverts it by making him a protagonist.
  • On the other hand, however, Kessen III gives Akechi Mitsuhide a Historical Villain Upgrade since Nobunaga got a more sympathetic portrayal there. Although in Basara, when Nobunaga gets a great dose of villain upgrade, Mitsuhide is also a nasty villain on his own.
  • Warriors Orochi does make Oda Nobunaga one the other group aside from Shu as one of those who fight to resist Orochi's army and he is the only major leader present in the game, most of the other major leaders were missing in action.
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi gets it even worse. Even though he's usually portrayed as evil, Oda Nobunaga is at least handled with a sort of respect. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, when he appears, is generally portrayed as a Smug Snake type — an incompetent would-be manipulator, and often a pervert to boot. May be class-based, considering that he was born a commoner (and couldn't become shogun for that reason). Even Samurai Warriors 2, which mostly portrayed him as sympathetic and basically a nice guy, had him as an only vaguely competent, concubine-loving goofball who was outclassed by his wife in intelligence and skill. Sengoku Basara attempts to partway avert this by turning the "mountain monkey" into an eight-foot tall Well-Intentioned Extremist and an Expy of Raoh from Fist of the North Star; he's certainly competent and quite awe-inspiring, but also very clearly a villain. Well, starting a war with Korea right after you're done with a civil war isn't going to make you popular.
  • Hell, the Sengoku Jidai period was chock full of this. Even Tokugawa Ieyasu is not safe from this. He comes off sympathetic in Samurai Warriors, but everyone else wants a piece of him, since there are more Western people than Eastern people, and Koei made them to be the ones 'fighting for honor'. And similar to Hideyoshi, he mostly won the battle through sheer luck or the help of other people. And Koei seems to take favoritism to the Western side, and in the upcoming DS game Saihai no Yukue (An Ace Attorney-like game featuring Sengoku Jidai), Ieyasu becomes a full-blown smoking fat villain whereas his rival Ishida Mitsunari becomes the Bishōnen hero. And if anything... He's probably the next in line of the villains for the Onimusha series. At least Sengoku Basara presents him as sympathetic (if extremely ineffectual).
    • And seemingly reversed in the third game when he has grown some balls, gets aged up and Took a Level in Badass. And when compared with the other new main character, Ishida Mitsunari, Ieyasu seems to be the more virtuous guy. Then Capcom subverts it in that while he looks virtuous, Ieyasu has taken some levels in hypocrisy and even Mitsunari's anger towards him seems justified.
    • Perhaps worth noting that this is largely averted in the original Kessen. While the enemy are generally depicted in a negative light, it depends entirely on which campaign your playing; as the East, Toyotomi is an ineffectual puppet, Ishida is a ruthless tyrant and Tokugawa is nobly attempting to fulfil Oda's ambition of a unified Japan, while as the West, Ishida is the noble protector of Toyotomi, the inexperience-but-willing true heir, and Tokugawa and the Easterners are dishonourable usurpers.
    • Also to note, while the Tokugawa seemed safe enough, villainizing Tokugawa and Ieyasu became rather standard practice once the Tokugawa Shogunate started to decline and they took liking to the oppositions of Tokugawa, the most prominent being Sanada Yukimura (and occasionally the aforementioned Mitsunari). Some series has followed this suite.
  • Yagyu Munenori in general is an excellent swordsman as well as a shrewd politician however, he's also a guy who dedicated his life and sword to protect others, he even wrote a book titled "Life-Giving Sword" to further boost that. Since politicians are often turned into Acceptable Targets and his son Mitsuyoshi are often romanticized as someone who disdains politics, Munenori is often turned into an antagonistic evil swordsman AND Sleazy Politician that was the cause of Mitsuyoshi losing an eye. This is an often widespread trope usage on poor Munenori, but the most exaggerated version is in Onimusha Dawn of Dreams, where Munenori is portrayed as a self-serving evil swordsman who eschews the virtue of the Jubei family (his father, Muneyoshi, was the protagonist of the 2nd game who defeats the Genma) and while at first serving the Genma, he has plans to usurp its power for his own.
    • Surprisingly averted or downplayed for Munenori's appearance in Samurai Warriors, where Munenori debuted in Chronicles 2nd and eventually appeared in 4. In there, Munenori is instead a friendly, laid back, middle-aged man Technical Pacifist who follows Thou Shalt Not Kill tenets, fighting with a long katana almost always sheathed in its scabbard unless he's in for a very strong attack. The downplaying come from the fact that in 4, he used to be a Noble Top Enforcer of an Obviously Evil person (Matsunaga Hisahide, see below) because the latter provided his clan means of survival and he eventually joined the Tokugawa clan, usually the more antagonistic role, but filled with people with noble intentions like him.
  • Fuuma Kotarou was, by all accounts, not a very nice man... but Samurai Warriors 2 exaggerates him from merely a ninja who turned to petty banditry after the fall of the Late Hojo to a chaos-worshiping madman who actively tries to extend the Sengoku period for his own amusement. Koei probably noticed this and decided that they'll expand the Hojo clan in future games, with addition of first Hojo Ujiyasu and Kai, and then Hayakawa, so Fuuma eventually mellows down and not exactly a madman who spreads chaos for the lulz, though he still loves to spout about chaos things and more like a minor Token Evil Teammate for the Hojo.
  • World Heroes portrays Fuuma as a cocky, arrogant and quite active sort of fellow, if that counts for anything.
  • Matsunaga Hisahide is given a historical villain upgrade in Sengoku Basara. Although his epithet of "Villain of the Sengoku Period" comes from Real Life (and was well-earned, given his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder), this incarnation is a Manipulative Bastard on the level of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in villainy. His act of dying defiance in real life, destroying a famous tea kettle that Nobunaga coveted, is up-played into him becoming a Nietzsche Wannabe with Walking Wasteland powers who wants to destroy all the world's treasures.
  • As much of a villain as Matsunaga is portrayed in Sengoku Basara, his Samurai Warriors 4 counterpart plays the evil Up to Eleven: here, Matsunaga is portrayed as an Obviously Evil Card-Carrying Villain who revels in his role as "the greatest villain of the era" and, after getting shanghaied into Nobunaga's army, takes every opportunity he can get to subvert his campaign of conquest before finally, in the game's own take on his dying act of defiance, uses a teapot containing dynamite to attempt a suicide attack on Nobunaga. Still, this version has its Pet the Dog moments: an event from Chronicle Mode shows him offering free meals to the poor while blasting the idea that people who don't work should starve.
  • Finally, there's the Sengoku Basara presentation of Otani Yoshitsugu. In real life he was known for being a leper and a courtier who was Ishida Mitsunari's best friend. In the game, he's a leprous Manipulative Bastard, an Evil Sorcerer and Misanthrope Supreme who hopes to plunge all of Japan into eternal misery by killing Ieyasu. His only redeeming feature is his strange fondness for Mitsunari, who in his own words is the only man in Japan more miserable than he.
  • Sengoku Basara also shows that you can take a usually minor historical person and make her villainous or being a complete bitch. Kyogoku Maria, sister-in-law of Azai Nagamasa, historically was known as a devout Christian, dedicated in spreading her religion after her husband's death and becoming one of the best Japanese Kirishitans (aside of the more famouse Dom Justo Takayama Ukon). In this game? Every notion of Christianity are removed and Maria is turned into a vain, manipulative, bitchy woman who thinks that the world and everyone revolve around her because she is a stunningly beautiful woman, and sees Nagamasa and to an extent Oichi as her playthings to be manipulated for lulz. The only hint of 'Christianity' in her is her exotic name, in here she picked the name because she's so vain that she decided that she deserves an exotic name. This is saying something considering Basara does include Christianity off-shoots in form of the Xavism and Otomo Sorin, and at worst they were just being sissy but comedic 'villains', Maria instead becomes a really malicious bitch.
  • The games Operation Darkness and Bionic Commando. Think Hitler can't be upgraded, villain-wise? Think again.
  • City of Heroes has Romulus Augustus, who is 8 feet tall, can wear what looks like hundreds of pounds of armor, can stand up to multiple super-powered punches, blasts, mental assaults, etc... and that's BEFORE he gets bonded with an evil alien parasite which makes him even stronger!
  • MediEvil 2 does this to infamous serial killer Jack The Ripper. Like in real life, he's a serial killer, but unlike in real life, he's a giant, green skinned demon with absurdly long claws, and he doesn't mutilate his victims here, he devours their souls. Oh, and just like the real Jack, he completely gets away with his crimes. The first time you meet him, anyway.
  • The arcade version of Double Dragon 3 (as well as the Famicom version) features a revived Cleopatra as the final boss.
  • The game Martian Dreams, the premise of which is pretty much "famous historical personages of the late 19th/early 20th century, colonizing Mars!", has a few historical villains, including the ever-popular Rasputin and anarchist activist Emma Goldman. To be fair, though, Rasputin turned out to be possessed by an evil Martian and Goldman didn't know what his plans truly were.
  • So, Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (Ieyasu's brother) did have a disproportionate love of dogs. He probably didn't destabilize politics in order to let wild dogs run people out of town, while simultaneously freeing a dog demon for its ultimate power.
  • Dante's Inferno takes many of the historic figures who were upgraded in The Divine Comedy mentioned above (except any who would be controversial, like Mohammed, who are omitted entirely) and upgrades them further, making them downright nasty. For example, Cleopatra becomes a succubus of titanic size cruelly goading Dante as he makes his way through the Lust Storm, summoning demons and her former lover Anthony (himself an example of this Trope) to stop him, finally trying to seduce him if all else fails. (Causing a Non Standard Game Over if he falls for it.) Of course, in this game, everyone from the original work is an Adaptational Badass.
  • Joseph Stalin is supposed to be this in Command & Conquer: Red Alert, except that, well... given the historical circumstances, it's actually a pretty accurate portrayal of the guy. The only major difference here is his voice, which is a Large Ham in the game; in Real Life Stalin hated his own voice because it was simply not threatening enough and hence it was ordered to not be recorded. Indeed, only a very few examples of his speeches exist in audio form.
  • The Hearts of Iron 2 Game Mod Kaiserreich: Legacy of the Weltkrieg does this to Baron Wrangel, a important White General in the Russian Civil War. In Real Life he was arguably one of the more liberally-leaning White Generals who favored Constitutional Monarchy and supported widespread labour and land reforms. The mod originally turned him into a Fascist dictator and an expy of Adolf Hitler to some extent, who can become the tyrannical and absolutist Tzar of Russia or a sinister prime minister/regent using a Tzar as a figurehead. A later version shuffled things around so the Fascist-y/expy elements fall to another potential military leader of Russia, while Wrangel's rule is a more mundane authoritarian military dictatorship that can bring back the Tsardom in either autocratic or constitutional forms. Though to be fair, it's implied ingame and by fan speculation that Kerensky's mismanagement of Russia in the backstory of the mod made him lose faith in democratic forms of governance and turned him into what he was in the game.
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein turns Heinrich I AKA Henry the Fowler, the first king of Germany (and a figure who was in fact revered by the Nazis) into a Nigh Invulnerable Evil Overlord who has to be sealed in a can so that his reign of terror can be stopped.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II does this to the Mujahideen in a level set during the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, possibly owing to current perceptions of such groups thanks to The War on Terror. The player helps the Mujahideen push the Soviets out of their territory, capturing and interrogating a Soviet character from the previous game in the process, and then the very instant he is executed after the interrogation the Mujahideen betray the player, stating that "you are, and always will be, our true enemy".
    • In the same game, Manuel Noriega. In actual history, he was a former US-aligned dictator who was later ousted by an American invasion. In the game, he's a Smug Snake who kills any and all witnesses to his shady dealings, gets away with his in-game actions more or less scott-free (but he's still arrested and imprisoned as per actual events), and is actually allied to the Big Bad Raul Menendez.
  • Fallen London: Played with a bit with Jack the Ripper himself. In the usual world, he was a vicious murderer. In the Neath, he's what appears to be a Body Surfing sadist that takes over the minds of people until they die, and murders everyone that he knows about. Problem being, Death Is Cheap down below. Everyone he kills just gets back up, which frustrates him to no end and turns him into a bit of a Harmless Villain. The local magazines even review his murdering techniques, and give him crappy scores for being "gimmicky".
  • The Big Bad in The Last Resurrection is Jesus himself, and has allied himself with Dracula and Hitler. To say that the game's creator doesn't like Christianity is a severe understatement.

    Visual Novels 
  • Some interesting cases in Shikkoku No Sharnoth. Any time you meet a historical figure, there's about a fifty/fifty chance that they're an antagonist, though not necessarily evil. The first is Josef Capek, oddly enough.

    Web Comics 
  • Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy Breaching Time and Space (yes) pretty much runs on this trope, which is of course inevitable.
  • In an extremely strange version of this trope, Grover Cleveland, U.S. President, in Casey and Andy. Even though the two main characters are set in current time, the story arcs have now coalesced in a situation where Grover Cleveland has hired a supervillain as his advisor, and is about to marry Satan (it's complicated).
  • Happens to Thomas Edison and others in the legendary Peter Chimaera's Book of Hsitorical Faffiction.
  • Guttersnipe portrays Stanford-educated president Herbert Hoover as a bumbling manchild — literally, with an oval office full of baby toys.
  • Played with in Hark! A Vagrant's Genghis Khan comic. An amiable Genghis Khan reassures a terrified man that he's more than a "scary warlord," informing him that he's a nation-builder who runs a meritocracy. In the last panel:
    Genghis: We still kill all our enemies though.
    Man: Oh, no doubt.
    Genghis: I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty brutal.

    Web Original 
  • The internet gives this treatment to Lewis Carroll. In real life, he was a kind, innocent and cheerful man, and Alice Lidell was one of his fondest friends. But, as far as the internet is concerned, Carroll was a drug-addicted pedophile, and Lidell was his number-one victim.
  • The three Thomas More stories at this site, being James Bond parodies set in an Alternate History version of 16th century Europe, inevitably rely on this as well, giving several prominent historical figures of the Reformation and the thereabouts a Historical Bond Villain Upgrade. Here's a quote to demonstrate:
  • Cracked:
  • Epic Rap Battles of History:
    • Tesla finishes his rap by saying "If they knew you prevented me from making power free, they would curse the name Edison with every utility". This is presumably referring to the Wardclyffe Tower, which didn't actually work in the first place.
    • Done intentionally with Walt Disney, who is essentially a super villain in the ERB-verse.
    • Downplayed in "Babe Ruth vs. Lance Armstrong"; although the ERB version of the character didn't do anything the real Lance Armstrong didn't, Armstrong in real life seemed genuinely apologetic once he confessed. The ERB version is practically bragging about the fact that he cheated.
  • Through his articles started out as arguably legitimate criticisms of US domestic and foreign policy ( and that's all we'll say about this), the articles of Progressive blogger Stephen Lendman eventually ended up as this, going as far to portray Barack Obama and the entire leadership of America and NATO as a bunch of Always Chaotic Evil omnicidal maniacs waging war on the entire planet and planning to start World War III and destroy the world by nuking everyone For the Evulz through the usage of Abomination Accusation Attack.
  • Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72 has Donald Rumsfeld become a psychotic POTUS who ends up creating the most oppressive government in US history, tanking the US economy with his crazed anarcho-capitalist economic policies, eliminating all forms of social welfare and consequently subjecting working-class Americans to truly dreadful poverty and working conditions, and privatising the US military and leading soldiers into many, many wars against "the communist nations" (which by Rumsfeld's reasoning is practically any country that's even slightly left-wing in any way — he even begins supporting the IRA just because Britain voted for a Labour government) with woefully inadequate equipment. It's hard to tell exactly when Rumsfeld crossed the Moral Event Horizon, but good candidates would be either holding up the genocidal apartheid government of South Africa as a bastion of freedom or ordering for wounded US soldiers to be executed to duck out of paying for their healthcare.

    Western Animation 
  • A time-travelling episode of the 1990s Fantastic Four cartoon has the eponymous heroes popping up in the middle of the Battle of Marathon. The Thing asks whose side they're on, and Reed Richards responds "The Athenians invented democracy, while the Persians were ruthless tyrants". Neither statement is particularly accurate.
  • In the Princess Sissi TV series:
    • The biggest victim is Duchess Helene of Wittelsbach. Oh GOD, poor Helene. In Real Life, Nene actually got over Franz and was Happily Married to Prince Maximillian of Thurn und Taxis, and not to mention she and Sisi got along well enough to have Sisi as the recipient of Nene's Famous Last Words. In the series, she's an ungrateful and clingy Gold Digger who wants to ruin Sisi and Franz's happiness at any costs.
    • Also Arch-Duke Franz's mother, Arch-duchess Sophie, who was less of an Evil Matriarch Rich Bitch and more of an Ignored Expert with her own set of problems. Blame it on the Sisi movies, which have been turning her into this ever since The '60s (whereas Helene was mostly spared there).
    • Not to mention that in order to make the villianousness complete they erased familiar ties between them. Nene was Elisabeths older sister, not some duchess from I-don't-know-where and Sophie was her aunt. (weeeeeell... I can see why they removed the hint of Sissi and Franz being cousins, kids show and all that). Sophie at worst was adamant on holding up tradition and tried her best to make her daughter-in-law a good emperess, which clashed with Elisabeth's own free-spirited nature. Most basis for the villainous portrayal of Sophie comes from Elisabeth herself, while other sources described her as stern and strict but very caring and actually pretty worried for her daughter-in-law.
  • Richard Nixon was corrupt, but his Futurama persona is one of the best examples of President Evil. Although in the show his evil is partially attributed to his going mad after having to spend a thousand years as a body-less head in a jar.
  • God, the Devil and Bob: Richard Nixon is such a despicable person that he actually made it in Heaven because the Devil himself was unwilling to keep him in Hell, arguing he was disturbing the others.
  • The Real Ghostbusters:
    • As stated above, the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday were clearly no angels; however, when they appeared in one episode as restless spirits in they were clearly evil, tormenting the living for no apparent reason other than the fact that they felt like it.
    • Al Capone was the villain in another episode, and... Well, despite the fact that he was ruling a hellish dimension that resembled Prohibition era Chicago with a gang of demonic mobsters (and had magical powers to go with it), this may have been a downgrade, given the things the real one was responsible for (his kill-count in the actual episode was zero, given the type of cartoon it was, even though it did borrow a lot from the one in The Untouchables, perhaps).
  • One episode of The Smurfs portrays a cabal of Druids as evil sorcerers, who had been imprisoned inside a tree by more benign wizards centuries ago. While there is evidence that the real Druids (a class of priests among the Celtic peoples of Gaul, Britain, Ireland, and possibly elsewhere during the Iron Age) engaged in Human Sacrifice and other sinister acts, they were certainly not demonic practitioners of black magic as shown here — the leader doesn't even seem human; he lookes more like some robed ghost with glowing, red eyes peering out of a hood that hide the rest of his face. That having been said, the Druids were pagans, and this portrayal was in a cartoon series produced in a country that was — and still is — overwhelmingly Christian, so go figure.

In-Universe examples

    Anime & Manga 
  • Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-. Princess Emeraude of the Country of Jade is remembered as a fiend who kidnapped children by luring them away to her castle with the power of one of Sakura's feathers, and the townsfolk believe her ghost is at it again when local children start going missing. In reality, Emeraude was a Friend to All Children who had used the feather's power to set up her castle as a safe haven for them during a time of plague. When Syaoran and the others set off to continue their journey, they leave behind proof of their discovery and ask the townsfolk to start spreading the real story of Princess Emeraude.
  • Naruto
    • Naruto has the Fourth Kazekage, who we only meet after his death and mostly showed up in flashbacks of the son he abused. By the time he actually showed up for readers to objectively see, he'd been solidly in the villain category for years. Turns out her was more along the lines of an extremely pragmatic ruler who faced a lot of sadistic choices in his life. Though most generally agree that his decision to force Gaara's caretaker to tell him that he hated him and that he was and never would be loved after attacking him in order to measure his worth was just downright stupid, which he later on came to acknowledge.
    • Madara Uchiha was primarily remembered in Konoha for betraying and fighting the first Hokage and summoning the Kyuubi out of jealousy, with his sole monument dedicated to that battle. The truth ended up being a lot more complex. His reputation was even worse in other nations, and the current Tsuchikage of Iwa remembers him as a war criminal (though that reputation may have been more justified).
    • Kakashi's father Sakumo Hatake was disgraced for botching a mission in order to save his comrades. A young Kakashi was seriously shocked when his peer Obito Uchiha admitted to admiring Sakumo's actions, and it's implied Kakashi had always pushed himself so hard to make up for his father's disgrace.
    • Intentionally done by Itachi Uchiha who wanted to be the villain so his brother could be the hero. However lately the truth's been starting to come out in-universe as well.

    Comic Books 
  • Lucky Luke:
    • Calamity Jane suffers this in the book Ghost Hunt, where a legend spreads about her being a cruel witch and demoness who died cursing a town, and is now haunting its ruins as a cannibalistic ghost. It's eventually revealed to be a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax created by a group of bandits who want to keep unwanted people away from a deserted town where they discovered a new gold mine. She is not amused.
    • This also happens to her in the very early story The Gang of Joss Jamon where Joss Jamon calls in a jury made of the worst people from the Wild West, including Early Installment Weirdness and unrecognizable versions of Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Calamity Jane, clearly made in a time that author Morris had no clue (or documentation) to see how these people looked on photographs. The inclusion of Calamity Jane as evil is particularly odd.

    Fan Works 
  • Xander in the prologue of Ship of the Line: The Death Star, provides a Mercy Kill for the whole of humanity on Earth once they've run out of time to evacuate after all Hell breaks loose (literally). However, it's acknowledged by several characters that despite his intentions, within a century he'd be known as the monster who killed six billion people and destroyed the Earth. This is part of why Xander insists on pulling the trigger himself.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos:
  • Fuuka in Eroninja has a few legends based around her time as a revenant, such as a wicked pirate who devoured the souls of her entire crew. In reality, she was still an Anti-Hero at the time and insisted on only attacking fellow pirates. Her crew mutined and tried to kill her, causing her to kill them in response.
  • Salazar Slytherin is known in the Harry Potter history as a bigot who advocated Pureblood Supremacy ideas and left the school after the other founders disagreed with him, though not before hiding a Basilisk that can only be controlled by his heir to massacre muggle-borns. In Izzyaro's Tales of the Founder series, Slytherin is a good person despite being highly suspicious of muggles (with good reasons). "Strange Visitors From Another Century" will presumably explain how his legacy would become so twisted in Harry's timeline.
  • crawlersout: Another Harry Potter example, though significantly downplayed. While Gellert Grindelwald is remembered as a monster in Fem!Harry's time, and rightfully so, when she meets the man herself she is left wondering if this is in play. Grindelwald's revolution was driven by legitimate concerns, specifically the stagnation of Wizarding Society, problems that Harry and her friends are still dealing with now in their own time and universe. She eventually comes to the conclusion that while his intentions and ideals were noble, they were also twisted by his megalomania and in no way justifies the many atrocities he will go on to commit.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The entire premise of Maleficent is that Fantastic Racism between humans and fairies has given rise to many widespread works of anti-Maleficent propaganda (namely Disney's own Sleeping Beauty) and the events depicted here are the story as it truly happened. Lord knows who at Disney gave the okay on this concept, considering how notoriously protective they are of their animated canon.

    Live-Action TV 
  • How I Met Your Mother. In season 4, Ted's fiancée, Stella, leaves him at the altar to get back together with her ex, Tony. Then, at the end of season 5 Tony, who has become a successful screenwriter, makes a movie called "The Wedding Bride" which is the same basic story but takes Ted's douche qualities Up to Eleven with the catchphrase "No can do's-ville, baby doll."
    • May also have been an In-Universe example of Executive Meddling as Tony had previously shown genuine remorse at hurting Ted, considered leaving Stella to atone, and got Ted his teaching job.
  • Used in the episode "Living Witness" of Star Trek: Voyager. The Voyager crew and an alien species they were trading with are depicted as a conquering and merciless group of sadistic monsters by the historians of another civilization, even engaging in massive genocide against their ancestors.
  • In Once Upon a Time, after the Curse is broken and everyone in Storybrooke get their real memories back, Doctor Whale increasingly begins to show up for work drunk, acting depressed and even contemplates suicide at one point. He reveals that the reason for his depression is because in our world, the name "Frankenstein" has become synonymous with Mad Scientist, or those who perform unethical experiments; when his sole intention was to prevent death and save lives. His "monster" was actually his own brother, who was accidentally killed whilst saving his life.
  • CSI: In the episode "It Was a Very Good Year", Tommy Grazetti is known for being a club owner and former ruthless gangster who murdered up and coming piano player Ledo Wright way back in the day. At the end of the episode the team learns that Grazetti and Wright were actually friends and Grazetti was the one who died, choking on a chicken bone listening to Wright and their friends. The Grazetti that was being investigated is actually Wright, whose friends convinced him to take Grazetti's identity in order to dodge the draft. The rumor was spread to dodge suspicion.

  • In Hamilton, Burr laments that, because of his historic duel with Hamilton, he will always be remembered as a villain, and Hamilton as a hero. The sad part is he's not wrong.
    When Alexander aimed at the sky
    He may have been the first one to die
    But I'm the one who paid for it
    I survived, but I paid for it
    Now I'm the villain in your history

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age:
    • Many fade spirits from the series view Loghain as a savage and power-mad betrayer who left King Cailan to die so that he could take the throne. The reality is that while Loghain was delusional and paranoid when he made the call to retreat, he honestly thought he was saving his soldiers from certain death. Other spirits take the opposite approach.
    • Played with, with Fen'Harel throughout Dragon Age: Inquisition and Trespasser. While definitely not the wicked, spiteful Trickster that modern elves portray him as, he is responsible for the creation of the Veil, and the subsequent loss of elven magic and immortality. Even though his motives were arguably noble when constructing the Veil, it was created, at least in part, because he wanted to punish the false elven gods who murdered Mythal. So the Dalish are technically correct when they accuse him of destroying Elvhenan out of spite, even if they got the story behind it wrong.
  • In Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, the Sun Saga, a... skewed account of the events of the first two games, does this to Felix. In the actual games, he started out as the Token Good Teammate for the forces trying to restore Alchemy, and after Saturos and Menardi died on Venus Lighthouse, became The Hero, while Isaac eventually wound up as The Lancer. In the Sun Saga, he is portrayed as one half of the Big Bad Duumvirate alongside Alex, and his heroism is only revealed towards the end, where he becomes a Sixth Ranger to Isaac.
  • Owyn Lyons of the East Coast Brotherhood of Steel suffer this between Fallout 3 and Fallout 4. Following the off-screen deaths of the Elder and his daughter, the Brotherhood reverted back to their xenophobic, tech-hoarding ways under the leadership of Arthur Maxson. Despite the massive Karmic Jackpot they enjoyed under Owyn's leadership, he was demonized by those under Maxson's command as a fool and a heretic that led the chapter astray from their true purpose.
  • Nero as portrayed in Fate/EXTRA is said to be an in-universe case of this, supposedly doing everything the historical Nero is alleged to have done but not deserving her (yes, her) reputation.
  • The Anti-Hero of Tales of Berseria Velvet Crowe will go down in history as a terrible Evil Overlord Lord of Calamity who slew the "heroic Shepherd Artorius Colbrande. That said, she really is hardly the nicest person and a good chunk of the rumours and lore that spread about her are based on some kind of fact. Not to mention she embraced the title and all it stood for for the sake of her goals. She makes such a legacy, that "Lord of Calamity" becomes the term of a particularly dangerous and vile hellion that the Shepherd must defeat to save the world.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series' backstory, Zurin Arctus was the first Imperial Battlemage of the Third Empire, serving under Emperor Tiber Septim. Septim has a Multiple-Choice Past, of which only the most heroic version of the events of his life is recognized by official Imperial history. In any case, Arctus was an invaluable asset to Septim, even being Septim's Hypercompetent Sidekick according to the more "heretical" tales of Septim's life. Arctus brokered the Armistice between Septim and the Dunmeri (Dark Elf) Physical God Vivec, and was then tasked by Septim to find a way to reactivate and control the Numidium, a Humongous Mecha of Dwemer construction which warped reality merely by being activated that Vivec traded to Septim in exchange for special privileges. In order to accomplish this, he either took the heart (soul) of Wulfharth, a Shezarrine, or gave up his own heart (soul) in order to create the Mantella, the new power source of the Numidium. (Or possibly both, as he was killed by Wulfharth after soul-trapping him, and it is possible that they merged into the same undead entity.) In any case, he would become The Underking, an undead wizard bound to the Mantella. He created the Totem of Tiber Septim to control the Numidium, so that only someone of royal lineage or a supernatural connection could use it. When Septim began to use the Numidium in a way that Arctus/the Underking did not intend, he tried to reclaim the Mantella. However, the process devastated both the Numidium and Arctus/the Underking, while blasting the Mantella into Aetherius. In order to prevent political unrest, Septim had the event covered up while claiming that Arctus betrayed him and attempted to assassinate him. To this day, official Imperial history sees Arctus as a villain, while it's highly likely that the Third Empire never could have came to be without his contributions.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius: Klaus Wulfenbach. Stories featuring him with the Heterodynes have depicted him as both a cowardly sidekick and a outright villain. This is also an in-universe example of Characterization Marches On. Before Klaus made himself hugely unpopular by... you know... blowing stuff up and invading places no-one could spell, he was portrayed as a more classic Side Kick, slightly naive and clueless and very accident-prone, but competent and unfailingly loyal.

    Western Animation 
  • Nightmare Moon of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Word of God is that Princess Luna's transformation into her was due to some form of Demonic Possession or similar outside influence, but this didn't make it into the legends we see in the show. On top of that, Equestria's equivalent of Halloween is based around a Historical Villain Upgrade which suggests she flies around one night every year looking for ponies to eat. Not surprisingly, she doesn't take this particularly well when she finds out.
  • In one episode of The Fairly OddParents!, Cosmo has to learn to be evil for a day, so Timmy asks Wanda to introduce him to the most evil person in history; she ultimately comes back with... Genghis Khan. Played for Laughs and blatantly due to the fact that anyone worse than him would be un-PC for a kids' show, but he's still not the usual figure most would apply that lofty label to.
  • In G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, this was taken Up to Eleven and then completely Inverted with Serpentor. He was a clone created by splicing the DNA of dozens of notorious historical tyrants and conquerors, and due to errors and incompetence involved in his creation, would likely have caused every one of them to be embarrassed to be associated with him. He was barely better than the guy he replaced.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang attends a Fire Nation school which claims that the Air Nation had armies. They in fact did not have a formal military system at all. Justified as this is Fire Nation propaganda.