Bob knows this trope.
Monsters and villains in works of fiction aren't usually made to invoke sympathy. Engaging a monster emotionally as someone would another person diminishes the terror and revulsion villains are supposed to evoke. However, this isn't the case if the villain has a Monster Sob Story
. Basically, this is a villain who gets a moment when, to everybody's surprise, he's cast in a somewhat sympathetic light. His motivations and emotional state are explored, and the audience finds itself pitying (if not identifying with) the villain. They may be a Smug Snake
or Magnificent Bastard
, but the reader/viewer feels sorry for them. The heroes themselves may even feel pity. The experience ends up giving the villain a level of characterization that goes beyond what a villain doing things For the Evulz
Unlike the Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds
, or the Anti-Villain
, this villain was already evil long before— and will likely remain so, despite anyone's pity. May be an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain
. May also bring about Badass Decay
or Villain Decay
if not done well. This is not to be confused with a Villainous Breakdown
containing a Motive Rant
, which usually occurs after the villain has suffered a setback or is almost defeated. Here, the sympathy is more triggered by the villain's goals or feelings rather than any pain the villain is going through himself. If the villain simply chokes out "I had a terrible childhood
!" and then dies, it's Alas, Poor Villain
See also Sympathy for the Devil
(where the characters feel the monster's pain) and Cry for the Devil
(where the audience
feels the monster's pain).
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Anime And Manga
- Told by both Souther and Kaioh to Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star right before their final battles, when there's no time left for the reader to watch them grow as characters or sympathise with them. Though the week-to-week short term plotting of the shounen manga industry is probably to blame here.
- He's never made 'pathetic' but Askeladd is made sympathetic in the revelation of his origins in Vinland Saga.
- In Monster, the revelation that Johan Liebert may just be the tragic result of military experiments and a seeming lack of affection on the part of his mother after all. Plus the redemption of any number of other characters throughout the series.
- Gendo Ikari after his Oh Crap moment in End of Evangelion.
- Both Jesse and James of Team Rocket gets quite a few in Pokémon.
- During the Eclipse in Berserk, Griffith gets a childhood flashback scene as he's alone with the Godhand, which serves as one last moment of feeling sorry for him after everything he's been through up to this point — and which serves to make his Face-Heel Turn all the more hate-worthy.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist, it's revealed that Envy hates humans because it's jealous of their ability to empathize with one another. He caused hatred and violence to fill their hearts so he could blot out that ability. When Ed expresses sympathy for it, Envy commits suicide.
- Sloth doesn't want to be one of Father's evil minions, he just wants to sleep all the time.
- The 2003 anime version's Lust gets an episode devoted to this. The anime Envy had one as well, but in the end it only reinforced what a truly vile being he had become.
- Yuca from Immortal Rain certainly does this, to the point of being a grade-A Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. He's a horrible, misanthropic, nihilistic sociopath; but then, he's lived for centuries through Reincarnation and experienced inconceivable pain in those many lives. He hates the world, simply because he's so sick of living in it.
- Suitengu from Speed Grapher.
- Yamamoto the Conwelian (and their race in the whole, really) in Level E. Having to eat your own females to fertilize their eggs is one thing, having the instinctive urge to do so triggered by romantic attachment — is another story completely. But continuing to do so after resettling on Earth as a refugee from the war that destroyed your own planet (and was fought over the cure to that urge, that some hard-liners viewed as abomination) with the local females — well, that's the prime The Woobie material.
- Katanagatari: Nanami life is one of continuous pain, alienation from her Martial Arts School, existential frustration and continued assassinations attempts (even from her own family!) that she would desire were successful. Even so, after seeing what she is capable of, is very difficult to empathize with her.
- Hansel and Gretel from Black Lagoon. They gleefully torture and murder through their story arc. They are also children who in the past were raped and forced to kill other children. They are eventually hunted down and killed.
- This applies to 3 of the original Shichibukai in One Piece. Boa Hancock's experience as being a slave and abused by male Celestial Dragons gave her a permanent distrust and disgust for men, saved later for Luffy. It also cause her to put on the act of a cruel and merciless tyrant in order to hide all her fears and weaknesses to others. Crocodile's dream got crushed in the New World, thus made him give up his dream and turn him into a bastard obsessed with military power instead. Gekko Moriah got it tenfold the nightmare. he technically watched his entire crews, companions and friends slaughtered by Kaidou without being able to do anything. Such event crushed him so severely it turns him into the fucked-up bastard we know today
- Arlong qualifies too. Although he was already a racist toward humans to begin with, Fisher Tiger and Koala's presence did shred a tiny light of hope for his attitude toward humans. Then shit happened. Koala's departure followed by Fisher Tiger's death totally busted all that hope and thus grant Arlong the motivation to unleash all his hatreds and cruelties on humans
- Many of Naruto's cast of villains, including Itachi, Nagato, Kabuto, and Orochimaru, have sympathetic backstories.
- Two-Edge the half-troll from ElfQuest spends half the time fomenting wars or designing death-traps and torture devices, and the other half soliciting (and sometimes getting) sympathy from the elves because of his mistreatment by Winnowill his mother.
- Some versions of Scarecrow. He's a nasty piece of work, but geez, try to read about his childhood in Scarecrow: Year One without crying. He was abandoned by his mother, ruthlessly bullied at school, was dirt poor and his grandmother used him for child labor and locked him in an old church to be attacked by birds over and over again for "sins" such as reading books besides the Bible. She's been dead for years, but he's still freakin' terrified of her.
- Alan Moore's take on the third Clayface takes this Up to Eleven. The character falls in love with a mannequin , has his home burned down, deals with insane paranoid jealousy (from his perspective it seems like his inanimate love is cheating on him), is attacked by Batman, put in an asylum, and finally grows to resent the one (imaginary) romance he has. In the end it's implied that he has come to hate his new life to the extent that he's just waiting for his wife to die...which she won't. Ever.
- In a classic Silver Surfer story, the Surfer goes to a planet after receiving a call for help. He finds a group of natives being attacked by a monstrous dragon. After a brief battle, the Surfer is surprised when the dragon proves capable of speech. The dragon explains that his race was actually a peaceful one, and after escaping their doomed planet, they arrived here in search of fuel. The natives, for no reason other than the dragons' monstrous appearances, gave them a chemical that destroyed them all - save him, who was on a scouting mission. The last dragon then stayed on the planet and vowed to punish the natives, being the monster they feared he was in the first place. The Surfer, indecisive over who to side with, decides to end the conflict by removing the dragon's powers - which is ultimately fatal to the dragon. The natives cheer the Surfer and thank him for defeating the "evil monster". The Surfer gives them all an epic chewing-out and vows to never again to come to their aid, even if it means they all die.
- Norman Osborn, after the failed Siege of Asgard that ended Dark Reign, gets a Motive Rant (spoken to his alter-ego, the Green Goblin) about how he knows the Hulk, the X-Men, or some other superhuman is inches away from completely wrecking the world. (It would be more sympathetic if he weren't one of those same superhumans endangering the planet).
- Transformers: Shockwave is, and remains one of the most powerful and dangerous of all Decepticons. He embodies the unfeeling machine, uncaring of everything but logic. He wasn't always this way Transformers: More than Meets the Eye showed that before the war he was one of the few good Politicians, opposing the cruel and unethical treatment and persecution of the commoners, and he risks his life and reputation to save Optimus, then Orion. He's lobotomized and has his appearance changed, becoming the villain everyone sees today.
- If you're wondering how they pull this off, it's because we don't actually find out he's Shockwave until the Empurata process is done on him in MTMTE #11, at least three issues after we see him as a former Senator.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Dracula, as portrayed by Gary Oldman in the 1992 version.
- Similarly, "Max Schreck" in Shadow of the Vampire, especially in his monologue wherein he explains why he identifies with the character he's playing.
- Brigadier-General Hummel in The Rock, who's something of a Well-Intentioned Extremist, takes over Alcatraz and threatens to kill most of San Francisco. He's not doing it For the Evulz or even for himself, but because he's lost a lot of men under his command who were sent on various covert missions and then abandoned when they got caught. He just wants the government to acknowledge that and give the families of the soldiers their dues. It turns out he was bluffing about nerve-gassing the city, but unfortunately some of the mercenaries he was working with didn't get the memo on that, and revolted when they realized he wasn't going to go through with it. Death wound up ensuing for practically everyone.
- The Moorwen from Outlander. Let's see; it's the last of its kind, it's stuck on a planet with a bunch of primitives, it loses its only offspring, and to top it all off, it's killed by the numbnuts who contributed to it's-oh, I'm sorry, the INCREDIBLY SYMPATHETIC GOOD GUY!...Not cool.
- In Abarat, Christopher Carrion's backstory. His entire family, except for his grandmother and absent father, died in a massive fire, he was brought up to be a perfect villain by his abusive grandmother who had sewn up his lips for saying the word love, fell in love with a princess who used and then shunned him...and his life didn't get better since then.
- The Vord Queen, in Codex Alera. In the first five books she is not sympathetic in the slightest, but in the sixth we discover that she is attacking the Alerans because the Queens she has produced in Canea are trying to kill her, so she fled. She's still quite clearly evil, but it's very sad, in a way.
- Even all-around treacherous bitch Invidia Aquitaine gets treated with a little sympathy in the same book, as she's managed to screw everything up so badly that even Isana is feeling sorry for her. For reference, Invidia arranged to have Isana's husband killed, repeatedly tried to kill her son, and is helping the Vord Queen hold her hostage.
- Gollum's Character Development in Lord of the Rings, though there were traces of this in The Hobbit.
- Older Than Radio: The "creature" from the original Frankenstein was an intelligent, gentle, fairly human person who happened to look like a hideous monster, so he was abandoned by his creator and rejected by society.
- Kallor from The Malazan Book of the Fallen was a son of a bitch long before he was cursed to a) live forever and b) fail at everything he did. Toll the Hounds however, spends a great deal of time demonstrating that not only did the curse fail to fix him, but the constant misery he has suffered over the millennia has only succeeded in making him even worse, transforming him from a standard Evil Overlord and into a Misanthrope Supreme who hates himself and all humanity with equal passion. An example of a character who you can both pity, and wish a horrible death upon all at once.
- In Ghost Story of The Dresden Files, Uriel says he kind of pities the Skinwalkers, as their rampages and the pain they cause is some desperate attempt to prove to themselves that everyone can be as screwed up as they are. His sympathies are far more toward their victims though.
- Virgil of Within Ruin spent centuries crafting a fake religion and setting nations to war against one another in order to harvest the souls of the dead. We soon find out that he did it to revive his Elven queen Ankaa whom he loved more than anything. Except she no longer loves the man he has become. He then falls in love with the soulless Descarta and continues doing evil in order to save her despite the fact that she hates him vehemently. It doesn't excuse his actions but it's clear why he ignores Descarta's wishes and goes through with the final process.
- Unusual for H.P. Lovecraft, in At the Mountains of Madness the protagonist only sees the aftermath of a horrific massacre at the hands of an ancient alien race. At the end, he finds several of the individuals responsible for that massacre dead, and finds himself comparing their actions to how humans would react in the same situation. They're still somewhat creepy, given they still look on humanity with cosmic indifference, but given an understanding of their motives makes it hard not to feel some sympathy for them. Same can't be said for the Shoggoths, though.
- Doctor Who:
- The original trope namer was the lone Dalek in the episode "Dalek", who tugged at viewers' heartstrings as it tried to come to grips with being the last Dalek left alive. A sorry fate for a being that believed absolutely in its race's superiority over all others. It started out as Narm when it seemed less upset about being the last Dalek in existence than about having no orders left to follow. But then it gradually got scared, which is a big jumping point since Davros programmed them to not feel any emotion but pride and hate. Even The Doctor felt sorry for this Dalek when he learned it had absorbed some of Rose's DNA and was impure — something it couldn't bear to live with when it found out. That fact makes it even more tragic: for the most part, the Dalek race is essentially damned to self-loathing, fear and finally suicide if it ever sees the light.
- Also from Doctor Who, The Master turned in this direction when it's revealed to him that he was driven insane (partially) by the High Council's plan to escape the Last Time War. And then he's cast aside, because he's "diseased".
- Invoked intentionally by Blon in "Boom Town". In her previous appearance she was just one of many Slitheen who planned to initiate a nuclear holocaust simply so they could sell the radioactive remains of the Earth as starship fuel. When the heroes meet her again, her motives haven't improved much; she intends to nuke Cardiff (tearing apart the rift) in order to escape the planet. She certainly never pulls any sort of Heel-Face Turn, but attempts to forestall her own execution by explaining how horrible her life has been (she would have been killed if she'd refused to be a killer like the rest of her family) and how unnecessarily cruel her death will be (dissolved in boiling vinegar). In the end she does get a sort of second chance, as she is regressed to an egg and can start her life over.
- In Smallville, Davis Bloome/Doomsday to Chloe in season eight, in a fashion.
- Veronica Mars: the season two Big Bad is like this - we all pay attention to the Freudian Excuse, and think about just how messed up someone like that would be, and if this villain ever really had a chance.
- Sylar, as of Volume 5 of Heroes. He hates what he is, he realises that no one will ever love him and he'll spend all of eternity alone and miserable and after spending all that time gaining new abilities he now wants to be rid of them because he knows that he'll never stop killing while he has them. He's still pure evil, but it's hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for him...like some takes on the vampire myth he's a wretched monster, controlled by his bloodlust and unable to change unless FORCED to.
- Total Monster Tate in American Horror Story: Murder House crying over Violet and making her puke because she's dying from too many pills.
- Kim Young of Dae Jang Geum. She did some unforgivable things to Jang Geum and Lady Han, but most of the time she was caught between a rock and a hard place and she was always miserable about her life and her situation.
- The Farscape episode "Incubator" is the Monster Sob Story for series Big Bad and Magnificent Bastard Scorpius. It didn't really work in persuading the neural chip copy of Crichton in the episode. However, when Scorpius later reveals his backstory to the real John, he seems fairly affected by it, though not enough to actually help Scorpius.
- This is practically the entire point of The Sopranos. Like it or not, we spend as much time watching these mobsters in moments of humanity and vulnerability as we do watching them violate nearly every moral code known to man. Most cross the Moral Event Horizon at some point (possibly even multiple times), but are still portrayed as human beings with relatable problems, which is what makes the show so fascinating and horrifying at the same time.
- Echidna, the otherwise utterly repulsive (and quite literal) "Mother of All Monsters" from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys got this treatment prior to her later Character Development. A loathsome she-beast with scaly green skin, snakelike fangs, a grotesque shriek of a voice, and tentacles that seemed to stretch out for miles, she nevertheless evoked sympathy: her hatred of Hercules was entirely justified, as he had slain all her children, even if it was in self-defense. She plotted Herc's demise on a number of occasions, but eventually underwent a Heel-Face Turn and enlisted the hero's help after her youngest child was kidnapped. Interestingly enough, she also married a fun-loving giant (who was very large but otherwise normal-looking), making their case a rare inversion of Ugly Guy, Hot Wife.
- The X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" made many a fan feel pity, if not sympathy, for the series' eponymous Big Bad, who has been until then presented as an utterly irredeemable Jerk Ass. It probably helped that it was the first (and only) episode where he wasn't seen from Mulder and Scully's POV and, thus, got a chance to show the more human sides of himself.
- Being Human has Cutler, who is revealed to have been tricked into drinking his murdered wife's blood by Hal.
- Teen Wolf’s Matt Daehler is a Jerk Ass Stalker with a Crush on the female lead and, once he becomes the master of a reptilian shapeshifter, murders several people along with taking over a police station and holding the parents of the main characters hostage. Well, as it turns out, his killing spree stems from a traumatic experience when he was only 9 or 10 years old – the 2006 swim team (his future victims) tossed him in a pool and ignored him when he started drowning. He was rescued by the coach only to be screamed at that his near-death was his own fault and to never speak of this to anyone. Still doesn’t excuse the stalking or killing all the cops, but you begin to understand his reasons for Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, and his murder (by drowning – the exact thing he fears most) is worthy of being a Tear Jerker.
- Peter. He may be a manipulative bastard but it's hard not to feel some sympathy towards the guy when you consider that nearly his entire family was burned alive and as a result of the same fire, he was stuck in a catatonic state for six years, slowly healing "cell by cell" and driven mad.
- Once Upon a Time: Most of the main villains have this, particularly Regina/The Evil Queen and Gold/Rumplestiltskin.
- A shape-shifting demon from the Supernatural episode "Monster Movie" gets this when he reveals how he was abused by his father and villagers, but he found refuge from the violence in old monster flicks that he re-enacted to a very serious degree (which involved killing people and kidnapping women).
- Several of the creatures on Series/Grimm come across this way.
- Babylon 5 gives us Mr. Bester, a telepathic Smug Snake Magnificent Bastard of the highest order, who revels in tormenting and manipulating others to achieve his ends. Also enormously dismissive of any Mundanes. Midway through the series, he enters an Enemy Mine arrangement with the heroes, and learns that his former lover, a Rogue Telepath who refused to join the Psi-Corps, was captured by the Psi-Corps and handed over to the Shadows to be changed into a control unit for the Shadow warships.
- Queen of the Wave by Pepe Deluxe. The villain Mainin was already seeking forbidden knowledge and black magic, but it was a pointless tragedy (the execution of his lover, based on false evidence) that finally drives him to outright supervillainy.
- Ney from Story of Evil. She causes Micheala's death, spies for Prim, and ends up as the reincarnation of Conchita. It was all for her mother, Prim , who merely views her as a tool, to praise her. (She doesn't). And then she dies in one of the most tearjerking ways possible...
- "Monster" by Meg and Dia. It tells the story of a boy who was abused during his childhood. When he grows up, he attacks and presumably rapes a woman. According to the short story that the song is based on, the boy then commits suicide in a bathtub full of kerosene.
- Clive Barker's The History of the Devil. He is the devil, but he just wants to go home. He seems to win at the ending, being allowed to return to heaven on the condition that he can never leave it again, but in a massive Downer Ending it's revealed that heaven is completely empty, abandoned by God and all the other angels.
- Makuta Krika of BIONICLE, who only went along with Teridax's plans seeing as it would just be a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. He longs for the old days when the Brotherhood of Makuta stood for something and helped the people rather then trying to enslave them and usurp the Great Spirit Mata Nui.
- Syphile, Ariel's abusive stepsister / governess in Drow Tales. She was once the proud heir to the clan, but lost her status immediately after she took on demonic tainting as a requirement for her studies at school. In attempt to redeem herself she continues her studies underneath Sillice, whose other job and hobby is torturing the tainted. Constantly being abused by Sillice and looked down upon by the rest of the clan, has lead Syphile to take out her anger on Ariel, the current heir.
- In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!—Fructose Riboflavin, when his most recent evil scheme fails in a really silly way, collapses in tears, and the strip's hero (still tied up!) tries to cheer him up a little.
- This trope is played much more straight when we finally learn Fructose's origin story, starting here.
- This comic here.
- Roommates is this (it has almost exclusively Villain Protagonists), but especially to Jareth, who got two arcs made from this trope. The Kid!Jareth one which deals with his terrible childhood and current (unwanted) crush on a heroine, and later Such Stuff... when the rest of the cast met his parents... let's just say in comparison he is positively cuddly. He, uncharacteristically for someone blessed with this, also tries to redeem himself, but unfortunatelly has very little clue, how the being good thing works.
- Vandal Savage in the Justice League episode "Hereafter," where the immortal megalomaniacal conqueror has become the guilt-ridden last man on Earth... because he won.
- Gargoyles Demona lived a long life full of betrayal and suffering, losing everyone and everything she ever cared about one by one until all she has left is revenge. When the "City of Stone" story-arc is wrapping up (where-in she turned every human to stone and went around blowing them up one by one with a laser gun) it is next to impossible to hear the reveal of her fail-safe password ("…Alone") without feeling some measure of sympathy for her even if she is beyond redemption.
- Lucius from Jimmy Two-Shoes is normally a completely unsympathetic Caligula. But you'd be hard-pressed not to see his flashback in "Happy Birthday Lucius" and not feel just a little sorry for him.
- Mr. Freeze from Batman: The Animated Series was splashed with cryogenic chemicals while fighting with his boss, from who he'd been stealing resources to find a way to cure his terminally ill wife Nora. He was even willing to kill innocent people to get revenge and/or find a cure. Things only get worse for him as the series continues.
- In The New Batman Adventures, Freeze's condition had worsened, reducing him to an immortal head without a body. Nora was revived but left him for one of her doctors. A comic tie-in expands on this. Nora's new husband, jealous over her love for Victor, hid the letters that Victor wrote to her. When Nora found out, she tried to return to Victor but could not accept his criminal past.
- By the time of Batman Beyond, his wife's gone, a woman he was falling in love with betrayed him, he's been rejected by society for the last time, and he just wants to watch the Wayne-Powers Corporation go before he does. His Famous Last Words with Terry, the new Batman, are one of the best done Alas, Poor Villain moments ever.
Terry: You gotta get out of here, Fries. The whole place is gonna go!
Freeze: Believe me, you're the only one who cares.