Predecessor Villain

At some point in the backstory, a villain existed who was the forerunner to the current Big Bad—either because they were both part of a direct line of succession, or just because the Big Bad uses similar methods and espouses similar beliefs. The Predecessor Villain may appear in flashbacks, but will usually have no direct role in the story (unless it turns out to be Hijacked by Ganon, from an in-universe standpoint)—usually, though not always, they are a Posthumous Character.

May be used to reinforce a theme of history being cyclic, or just to give the current Big Bad a well of secrets and power to mine. Sometimes, particularly if the current Big Bad is the Evil Counterpart to The Hero, then the Predecessor Villain will be the same to the mentor—and may have been their Arch-Enemy at one point.

Villainous Legacy is a subtrope where the current plot is more or less the direct repercussion of this figure's past actions. Compare and contrast Bigger Bad for a somewhat similar idea, except that the Bigger Bad still exists during the story but takes little to no active role in it, rather than having existed in the story's past.

For cases where the Big Bad goes down and is replaced by a Bastard Understudy or underling during a work, see Dragon Ascendant.


Anime and Manga
  • In Naruto, it turns out that the real Madara Uchiha was this, as the current Madara Uchiha is just an impostor using his identity. We know this because the real Madara was resurrected by Kabuto, who is himself a Dragon Ascendant to another predecessor villain, Orochimaru.
    • It turns out that the impostor was actually Obito Uchiha, who had been rescued by the real Madara. In fact, Madara is the true originator of the Moon's Eye Plan, having left it to Obito to carry out after he died.
    • However, Madara's true impact on the world isn't evident until it's revealed that he's the one that caused Rin's death, which would facilitate Obito's transformation into Tobi and cause the plot of Naruto to happen. Essentially, everything can be blamed on him and his rivalry with Hashirama, making him the true Big Bad of the series and not Obito.
    • And then it turns out that Princess Kaguya, the Physical God ancestor of the Uchiha and Senju clans, was manipulating Madara (and the rest of the Uchiha) from behind the scenes through Black Zetsu, whom she created right before she was sealed by her sons.
  • Bibidi, Babidi's father and the creator of Majin Buu in Dragon Ball Z.
    • Freeza and King Cold receive one in Lord Chilled.
  • Bleach shows what happens when the Disc One Final Boss is given such a treatment.
  • Rau Le Creuset Big Bad of Gundam SEED is this to Gilbert Durandal, Big Bad of Gundam SEED Destiny. The two of them were friends, and the former's depression and disgust with the world are what ultimately led to the latter becoming the man he is today. Take Le Creuset out of the equation, and you take out Durandal, as all of his actions are rooted in Le Creuset's Nietzsche Wannabe Omnicidal Maniac philosophy.
    • Similarly, Blue Cosmos leader Lord Djibril inherited his position, power, influence, and raving racism from his predecessor, Muruta Azrael.
  • From Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha: In Sound Stage X, Toredia Graze turns out to have been Dead All Along, and Runessa is the real killer, following in his footsteps.

Comic Books
  • While believed to be dead, Norman Osborn was this to any other villain who wore a Goblin costume.

Expanded Universe
  • All the Sith Lords of the ancient Sith Empire(s) can be considered predecessors to Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader from Star Wars, Darth Bane especially.
    • In the films themselves, Darth Plagueis the Wise is mentioned as a predecessor to Palpatine. In fact, it's implied Palpatine was once Plagueis's Sith Apprentice. The novel Darth Plagueis greatly expands on this.

  • Inner Demons has the alicorn known as Midnight, who was the original Queen of Darkness. When defeated by Bayonet, the original Master of Harmony, she cursed Equestria with her dying breath. Hence her eventual reincarnation as Twilight Sparkle, who was therefore destined to repeat her fall from grace.
  • The Powers Of Harmony has Zemblani, whose attempt to force open the Gate of Tartarus twenty years ago is what set up the plot in the first place. Possibly subverted, however, as she was working for Cetus at the time.
    • And then, of course, there's the repeated references to Discord.
  • Discord again in My Little Mages: The Nightmares Return, where he's briefly mentioned by Celestia as being responsible for Luna's fall, as his last act was to plant within her the seed of dark magic that became Nightmare Moon.
    • Chrysalis is the Demoted to Dragon variant. Fifty years ago she led one side of a war between the living and the Undead, but was defeated and forced to go into hiding, before Nightmare Moon recruited her.
  • Queen Of All Oni has the Elders, the former rulers of the Shadowkhan who were overthrown by Tarakudo, and are thus this to both him and Jade. Speaking of which, since Tarakudo is reduced to Bigger Bad in this universe, he's pretty much this trope to Jade as well.

Game Book
  • Agarash the Damned and Darklord Vashna from Lone Wolf. Agarash was sealed away in a prison dimension by the Elder Magi long ago and never shows up in the series proper though he reappears as The Man Behind the Man in the World of Lone Wolf spinoff series, but he left behind countless servants and artifacts. Darklord Vashna was the mightiest of the Darklords and the first one to be slain by the Sommerswerd. Vashna is long dead, but he and his defeated army's spirits haunt the Maakengorge, awaiting any opportunity to come back from the dead to claim vengeance. Two of the books are centered on foiling plots to revive him.

  • In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is the Dark Lord, but the job was originally held by Morgoth, his old master, a God of Evil who was worse and on a grander scale.
  • Harry Potter has a few but neither were nearly as bad as current villain Lord Voldemort
    • Salazar Slytherin was once a friend of Godric Gryffindor, before becomming obsessed with wizard superiority. It is implied that he was not nearly as bad as people treated him.
    • Gellert Grindelwald, an evil wizard Dumbledore defeated, is given a passing reference in the first book. In the seventh, it turns he and Dumbledore were also friends, and imagined a world where wizards ruled over Muggles "for the greater good". This came to a rather sharp end when Gellert attacked Albus's brother and one of them killed his sister in the ensuing melee. In the end he was imprisoned after his defeat, and many years later he refused to help Voldemort when Voldemort called on him (Voldemort ultimately got what he wanted anyway, but Grindelwald still didn't help him).
  • From the Dragon Crown War series, the actions of a Sorcerous Overlord named Kirun play a large role in shaping the settings' history, but the Big Bad is his ex-Bastard Understudy, Chytrine.
  • In The Dresden Files novel Dead Beat, the necromancer Kemmler is the predecessor to a whole flock of lesser necromancers, most notably Grevane, Corpsetaker, and Cowl.
  • In Dragonlance, Fistandantilus is the predecessor or Raistlin, made more complicated when Raistlin travels back in time, kills Fistandantilus, steals his secrets, and usurps his place in the timeline.
  • Baron Ether in Soon I Will Be Invincible is an retired supervillain now living under house arrest. Dr. Impossible, one of the book's two viewpoint characters sees him as a mentor and visits him twice for advice while trying to get his Evil Plan set up.
  • The Wizard-King Xhum Y'zir is the forerunner of many of the villains from the Psalms of Isaak series, some of whom worship him as a god while others, like Sethbert just use his leftover weapons. For a while, it was implied that he was still alive and secretly the Big Bad but it turned out that it was his youngest son Ahm Y'Zir, also a Wizard-King, who was being kept alive with Magitek and has been actually pulling the strings.
  • Soundscape has Apocesis as the very first Eldritch Abomination to have ever existed, responsible for desolating Earth and forcing the humans to repopulate into another dimension. At least, that's what the rumors say.
  • The Authority on His Dark Materials lashed out against those angels who denied that he had created the world and is implied to have founded the church but at the time of the story he is so senile that he cannot speak and dies when his life-supporting cage is destroyed.
  • Thistleclaw of Warrior Cats. He was the mentor of Tigerstar (the primary antagonist of the series), the Arch-Enemy of Firestar's mentor Bluestar, and the cause of many major events in the series (such as the rise of Scourge, although he wasn't intending that). The Prequel Crookedstar's Promise gives Thistleclaw his own Predecessor Villain in the form of Silverhawk,note  who mentored Thistleclaw in the Dark Forest, and caused him to turn from an Anti-Hero into a full-fledged villain.
  • The Skulduggery Pleasant series has Mevolent. Responsible for the Great Offscreen War, onetime direct superior of the first two novels' Big Bads and Skulduggery's Superpowered Evil Side, a significant onetime ally of the Diablerie and the Church of the Faceless, and supreme Evil Overlord of a parallel universe where he's still alive. Notably, he himself had a literally-nameless Evil Mentor who was essentially the Predecessor Villain to him.
  • Greg Kawakita is this in Reliquary. At the end of the first book he undergoes a Face-Heel Turn and is set up to be the main antagonist of the sequel but is dead by the time of it, with Dr. Frock serving as the real Big Bad. However, none of that book's events could have happened if it wasn't for his actions at the end of the first book.

Live-Action Television
  • In Lexx, the Great Insect Wars are mentioned a few times. Humanity was once at war with a race of giant alien bugs known as the Insect Civilization. Led by the Brunnen-G, humanity's greater resourcefulness overcame their opponents' greater resources. The Wars never actually ended. The Divine Shadow was really the last survivor of the Insects. By passing on its essence to humans, it created the Divine Order that reduced humanity to its slaves and livestock.
  • The first season of 24 has Victor Drazen, a deceased Serbian war criminal whose sons are carrying out the terrorist plot in his honor. Subverted when Victor turns up alive and becomes the season's ultimate Big Bad.
    • 24: Live Another Day plays this straight with Mahmoud Al-Harazi, an Al-Qaeda terrorist whose death years ago motivates his widow to seek revenge.

Video Games
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's Big Bad Demise is not only the forerunner to the series' main Big Bad Ganon, but he actually created Ganon in order to curse Link's ancestral line for all eternity as revenge for defeating him.
  • Knights of the Old Republic has Mandalore and Revan.
    • Its sequel has the role thrown onto Malak.
    • Don't forget Exar Kun.
  • In Cave Story, Halda, Anacpohne, and Miakid preceded The Doctor in the line of Demon Crown-bearers. Miakid is particularly notable, as you discover (when you're on track for the best ending) that Quote and Curly fought him ten years ago. The damage they took from this fight was the cause of their amnesia.
  • Professor Gerald Robotnik, who was the Big Bad of Sonic Adventure 2 and grandfather to Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik. Eggman looked up to him as his role model and was the reason Eggman went into robotics in the first place, considering Gerald a more competent roboticist than himself. While already dead for 50 years by the start of the game, his plan to posthumously kill off humanity was so twisted and so difficult to stop that Eggman, in a major case of Even Evil Has Standards, formed an Enemy Mine with Sonic in order to avert the catastrophe. Eggman has since seen him as a Broken Pedestal.
  • Dr. Wily from the Mega Man (Classic) series is responsible for the creation of the Maverick Virus and hence the Big Bad Sigma in the Mega Man X series and all the events that come after, extending into the Mega Man Zero series. He does appear to Zero, the original carrier of the virus in a flashback and is officially given credit in X5.
  • The Bernhard family in the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. They are long gone in Gabriel's time, but their evil still haunts the world. One of their last acts, summoning the Forgotten One, is the sole reason Dracula even exists in the first place since Gabriel had to sacrifice his very humanity and steal its power to defeat it.
  • In Might & Magic X: Legacy, a war started by the now-dead Fallen Angel Uriel has caused most of the crisis currently happening in the Agyn Peninsula. (Uriel appeared in person previously in the Heroes of Might and Magic line.)
  • The former King of Ylisse in Fire Emblem Awakening. Every problem in the game ultimately traces back to his genocide of the Plegians, which he did just because they worship Grima. The current conflict begins when the new King of Plegia, Gangrel, invades Ylisse, now led by the former king's moderate daughter, as reprisal, which spirals into a war spanning two continents.

Western Animation
  • In Ben 10: Omniverse, Malware was this to Khyber The Huntsman, but it turned out that Malware was still the Big Bad all along, and Khyber was just The Dragon. Malware was just hiding while Khyber was working for him, but Malware comes back on the grid when Ben meets Malware five years later.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Fire Lord Sozin was the one who began the war of conquest that dominates the series, but by the time the series begins, he's long dead of old age, and the Fire Nation is ruled by his grandson, Fire Lord Ozai.
    • Also Sozin's son, Azulon. We don't know much about his actions during the war, but he was nasty enough to order Ozai to murder his own son, Zuko when Ozai ticked him off. He also ordered the extermination of the waterbenders in the Southern Water Tribe resulting in Katara's mother's death, and Hama's corruption.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Yakone in season 1 is a bloodbending gangster who clashed with Aang during his adult years, and was forced to Depower. Amon and Tarrlok are both his sons, and his cruel bloodbending training was what triggered Amon's vendetta against benders and Tarrlock's desire to rule Republic City.
    • Hama is this to Yakone, his sons, and any other villain in this series who bloodbends.
  • Beast Wars has a complicated case between this trope and Bigger Bad: The Megatron who lead the Decepticons in the original Transformers series was long dead at the time the main characters from Beast Wars came from. The leader of the Predacons (the antagonists from Beast Wars) was also named Megatron, albeit surviving Decepticon Ravage didn't see it as a reason to serve him like he used to serve the original Megatron. Then Predacon Megatron revealed he was acting with basis on a plan devised by Decepticon Megatron to alter history so the Autobots wouldn't have defeated the Decepticons. Decepticon Megatron intended to travel back in time to destroy the Autobot faction lead by Optimus Prime while the heroes were inactive and defenseless as seen at the beginning of the Transformers series but knew he'd not live long enough to see time travel being possible so he left coded instructions to be found by someone who'd implement the plan for him.