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 a Vicious Cycle, 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 Greater Scope Villain for villains that still exist during the story but take 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.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

Fanfiction
  • 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.
  • My Little Mages: The Nightmares Return:
    • Discord is 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.
  • Pony POV Series has Discord for the second and third parts. While he was the Big Bad proper in the first part, with Loneliness and then Princess Gaia/Nightmare Whisper the Big Bads for the second and third parts, Discord's actions in the first part (and the actual show) are the reason one, possibly both, of them even exists at all and everything in the entire fic can be traced back to Discord, even though he's been Sealed Evil in a Can the entire time. He is set free and becomes the Big Bad for the final arc.
  • In The Nuptialverse Queen Chrysalis serves as the Greater Scope Villain, while Discord serves as this, as he made Chrysalis what she is in the first place.
  • Discord again in Secrets and Lies. Twilight's fear that he is attempting to escape once more, and that he provoked her into killing another pony in order to weaken the Elements of Harmony, kick off the events of the story, and Topsy Turvy, said other pony, in fact planned it in order to sow enough chaos to release him.

Film - Animated

Film - Live Action

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.

Literature
  • 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:
    • Salazar Slytherin was once a friend of Godric Gryffindor, before becoming 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.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant:
  • 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.
  • Napoleon Bonaparte for two Paul Féval novels, John Devil (1862) and The Mysteries of London (1843-44) adapted for the stage as Gentlemen of the Night. The Big Bad of each claims to have met Napoleon on St. Helena in about 1815-1816. Both have their own reasons for the Wars against England however, and Henri Belcamp in John Devil could have actually benefited Napoleon (since the other's main narrative is set after he died), and Henri even more so is really about his own ambition, he really wants to be the next Napoleon; freeing the first is merely for a Passing the Torch moment. O'Brean in Gentlemen of the Night is motivated by liberating and avenging Ireland. Both are made in continuity with each other via The Black Coats.
  • Charles "Trout" Walker in Holes, the even worse deceased grandfather to the Big Bad. The entire plot ultimately stems from his racially-motivated murder of Sam the Onion Man, which caused Green Lake to dry up and Sam's lover Kate Barlow to cross the Despair Event Horizon and become an outlaw, ultimately burying treasure in the desolate lakebed. Trout became obsessed with finding the treasure, even forcing his granddaughter to help him dig, which is why she forces other children to dig in the present.

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.
  • 24:
    • The first season 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.
  • Kamen Rider OOO has The Original OOO, who had alchemists make the Core Medals, including the ones that'd give birth to the Greeeds, in an attempt to take over the world.
  • Power Rangers RPM: Alphabet Soup was a corrupt government facility that kidnapped child geniuses and forced them to work for them and drove them either to being near emotionless (Dr. K) or completely child-like (Gem and Gemma). Dr. K created Venjix for them, who broke free and began his assault on humanity. By the events of the series, it's members were either arrested, captured by Venjix or killed.
  • Stargate SG-1: Ra was the first Goa'uld to find Earth and use a human as a host, which gave him and other Goa'uld a massive supply of hosts, soldiers and slaves and allowed them to spread all across the galaxy, with Ra as the top System Lord for over ten thousand years. He's killed off in the original film before the series, but the lesser System Lords pose the main threat for most of the series.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40,000 has the C'tan, who created the Necrons, indirectly created Chaos with their war against the Old Ones (which in turn allowed the Chaos Gods to be born later), and indirectly led to the creation of the Orks and Eldar (as the Old Ones created them to fight against the C'tan). Originally they served as part of the Big Bad Ensemble, but then the 5th Edition Retcon had them be shattered into pieces tens of millions of years ago.

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 Exar Kun, both responsible for wars that led up to the Jedi Civil War, and Revan, who started the war himself. In the latter's case he's still around, but no longer on the side of the Sith. The sequel has the role thrown onto Malak, who's long dead while his subordinates continue the war.
  • 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.)
  • Lumine in Mega Man X8 picks up right after Sigma is defeated, who himself was a successor to Dr. Wily.
  • The Mass Effect 3: Leviathan DLC reveals the Leviathans, an ancient race who created an "Intelligence" to solve their problem of synthetics wiping out organic races; the Intelligence in turn created the Reapers, who even "reaped" the Leviathans themselves.
  • Knights of the Old Republic has Ajunta Pall, the founder of the Sith Order and thus the cause behind the vast majority of Star Wars media. Among Predecessor Villains he's fairly unique in that many of his successors are much worse than he was, and indeed it's possible within the game to help his tortured spirit find redemption.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time the Big Bad is Princess Shroob, the Shroob leader. Except she's only been the main leader since the beginning of the game; Peach sealed her older sister away offscreen at the very beginning of the game.
  • In Psychonauts, The Butcher is the primary reason his son, Coach Oleander is as screwed up as he is, and why he embraces the whole Take Over the World schtick. In a weird variation, defeating the former (or rather a mental projection of him) is key to defeating the latter.
  • Dragon Age as a whole had the four previous archdemons who led the four earlier Blights, most obviously the first archdemon, Dumat, in addition to the magisters who, according to legend, were responsible for invading the Golden City and creating the darkspawn and the Blights in the first place. Then one of those magisters, Corypheus, shows up in the present as the Big Bad of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and at least one other - the Architect - is known to have also survived into modern times.
  • Final Fantasy V has Enuo, a wizard who used the power of the Void to wreck havoc until he was defeated by twelve heroes. To prevent another from taking the power of the Void, the world's crystals were split in two, creating the Interdimensional Rift, and the power of the Void was sealed within. The re-releases on the GBA and mobile platforms let you fight him as a Bonus Boss.

Western Animation
  • In Ben 10: Omniverse, Malware was this to Khyber The Huntsman. But it turned out that was the Big Bad all along, while Khyber was just his Dragon. Malware comes back on the grid five years after being apparently defeated by Ben.
  • 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 the latter was forced to take away his bending. Amon and Tarrlok are both his sons, and his cruel bloodbending training was what triggered Amon's vendetta against benders and Tarrlok's desire to rule Republic City.
    • Hama is this to Yakone, his sons, and any other bloodbending criminal.
    • Zaheer, Arc Villain of season 3, plays this role to Kuvira, as it was his anarchist revolution that allowed her to rise to power.
  • Beast Wars has the original Megatron who led the Decepticons in the The Transformers, who is long dead by now, but the Megatron leading the Predacons is acting on a plan devised by Decepticon Megatron to alter history so the Autobots wouldn't have defeated the Decepticons.
  • The Simpsons has Wainwright Montgomery Burns, grandfather of Mr. Charles Montgomery Burns. He's the reason why Mr. Burns became a malicious and greedy old man, since Wainwright took Charles away from his parents and raised him to be selfish.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door has Grandfather, the father of the series-wide Big Bad, Father. He's the reason why Father is the way he is, and his actions prior to the series eventually facilitated the founding of the Seventh Age of the Kids Next Door by his other son, Numbuh 0 a.k.a. Monty Uno, Numbuh 1's father. He's eventually the Big Bad of Operation: Z.E.R.O..
  • Gravity Falls reveals Nathaniel Northwest in "Northwest Mansion Mystery", responsible for why the Northwest family are uncaring and unloving, to both their daughter Pacifica and the people of Gravity Falls. As revealed in Season One, his being the founder of Gravity Falls was a lie and was given money for the cover up. He abused his wealth by having the townsfolk build him his mansion in exchange for letting them be invited to his annual parties, a promise he gleefully refused to keep. This act is also what caused the Monster of the Week, a Lumberjack ghost, to threaten the lives of his successors. His cruel and uncaring ways were passed down for generations, with Pacifica's parents being the current heads of the family and emotionally abusing their daughter into following their legacy.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003: The Demon Shredder was the inspiration for Ch'rell, the Utrom Shredder, and his reign resulted in the creation of the Ninja Tribunal, whose servant adopted Hamato Yoshi, the Utrom Shredder's eventual victim, which in turn led to Yoshi's pet rat Splinter and four baby turtles to being mutated. Five of his minions were enslaved by the Utrom Shredder, but once he is defeated and they break free, they start reviving their master and he assumes Big Bad status for season 5.
  • In some He-Man and the Masters of the Universe continuities, Hordak is this to Skeletor. He existed as a powerful sorcerer in the distant past who left behind a well of secrets and power to mine, as well as serving as somewhat of a mentor to Skeletor in more recent times from his dimensional prison.