"If you continue with the villain as the center of the story, which is certainly the Nightmare paradigm, you simply have to introduce a new set of victims every time. And after a while that becomes quite repetitive when you have no real story continuity except the villain. So then you sort of have to continue to concoct things like Freddy's youth or Freddy's this or that... but I think it gets stretched thinner and thinner."A series linked by a recurring villain. The heroes and the locations may change or be dropped, but the central link remains the villain. The villain is frequently the Big Bad of the franchise and most or all of its installments, though this doesn't have to be the case to qualify for the trope. Not the same as a series with a Villain Protagonist. Each installment may introduce a whole new set of heroes, but they may still be the protagonists. Very popular with the Slasher Movie genre, probably because the heroes can die off in the end without ruining the series. Often though, the villain will appear to die at the end, to allow closure to the series if another one is not made. The End... Or Is It? ending optional. The idea started with Pulp novels and villains like Fu Manchu or Fantômas. If the franchise is named after the villain, do not confuse this with Antagonist Title. If the villain themselves appears as the mascot, they are a Mascot Villain. While the recurring villain in a Villain-Based Franchise usually features as the Villain Antagonist in the individual installments rather than as an outright Villain Protagonist, they are still the overarching main character in the series as a whole, disqualifing them from this trope.
— Wes Craven, discussing the potential pitfalls of this trope.
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Anime and Manga
- The Time Bokan series has the most focus on the villains than the heroes.
- Although most of the Puella Magi Madoka Magica spin-off works have at least something to do with the protagonists of the main show, this is not always the case. For those works, Kyubey's presence is by necessity what links them together, as he has to be there to make the characters magical girls, which is the focus of the franchise.
- Paranoia Agent does have recurring heroes and side characters with their own story arcs, but the show never focuses solely on one of them, while every single episode focuses at least somewhat on Li'l Slugger/Shonen Bat, the serial assaulter. (As well as fictional character Maromi, because it's eventually revealed that they are basically the same thing, or at least connected phenomena.)
- Magic: The Gathering has, for the last three years, had Nicol Bolas behind practically everything: The reunion of Alara, the rise of the Eldrazi, and he even dispatched his agent Tezzeret to aid the Phyrexians in overtaking Mirrodin.
- And before that, the first ten years of the game (well, once a storyline developed) featured the Phyrexians, the wars they created, and the aftermath of their invasion (to the point that the ultimate Big Bad of the Odyssey/Onslaught story actually traveled to the ruins of Phyrexia and met what remained of Yawgmoth the Machine-God). Then again several years later for the Time Spiral block. Then yet again as villains for the Scars of Mirrodin block. They have about fifteen years worth of storyline, while their most constant adversaries (the crew of the Weatherlight) lasted only four.
- The Tomb of Dracula comic, of course.
- The BBC attempted to give the evil Daleks from Doctor Who their own spinoff in The '60s, but all it ended up amounting to were a few Dalek comic books.
- The Joker had a short comics series of his own in the 1970s, and Eclipso had an ongoing one in the 1990s. While radical in their day, villain-based series have since gotten more common.
Films — Animated
- Disney Villains. Most animated Disney films that failed at the box office will inevitably become this.
- When The Black Cauldron failed, the Horned King became the only character from the film to ever appear in the merchandise.
- Although 101 Dalmatians did fine at the box office, this has definitely happened with Cruella de Vil. Since the original release of the animated film, she's become a Breakout Character. When the live-action films came along, Cruella de Vil was treated as the starring role, with Glenn Close's name written in big letters on all the posters, and she basically became the central character. There's also a Broadway musical, and again Cruella (played by Rachel York) was treated as the starring role.
Films — Live-Action
- The Predator and Alien vs. Predator movies. (The Alien franchise counts, but not the movie series due to Ripley.)
- The Friday the 13th series featuring Jason Voorhees. The first movie did not have Jason as the killer, but his crazy mom instead, while the fifth movie features a Jack the Ripoff killer imitating the dead Jason. Even so, however, Jason is so deeply associated with the series that the titles of the last three films before it was remade (Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Jason X, and Freddy vs. Jason) don't even have the full title of the series in them — but do prominently feature Jason's name.
- The A Nightmare on Elm Street series featuring Freddy Krueger.
- Not to forget, unlike some horror franchises, it features the same actor recurring as the villain throughout. Excluding the 2010 remake, Robert Englund has reprised his killer role as Freddy Krueger in 8 films.
- The Halloween series featuring Michael Myers. Notably, John Carpenter originally wanted to avert this and turn Halloween into an anthology series, making the third movie, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, about a wholly separate story from the first two. Fan and critical backlash to that film caused him to sell the rights to Moustapha Akkad, who brought back Michael with the fourth film, titled Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers to signify that The Shape was returning. After that, there was no looking back.
- The Child's Play series featuring Chucky the killer doll.
- The titular Living Dead are the only common link in the Romero/Russo Zombie Apocalypse movies.
- Godzilla, on the occasions that he's a villain.
- Dracula, with a host of books and movies based off the bloodsucking fiend.
- The Phantasm series featuring the Tall Man.
- Though the heroes return as well... sort of.
- The Maniac Cop trilogy featuring Matt Cordell, a deranged former cop who now kills innocents instead of protecting them.
- The Psycho Cop duology with Joe Vickers, a Satan worshipper who kills anyone whom he deems to be guilty.
- The Leprechaun series with the titular character.
- The Hellraiser films eventually became one with Pinhead.
- The sequels of original Prom Night (1980) tried to become one with Mary-Lou Maloney. She was dropped from the fourth movie.
- The Ring, especially in Japan.
- The Stepfather films with Jerry Blake.
- Shocker featuring Horace Pinker was an attempt to create one, but low sales ended these plans.
- The Warlock trilogy featuring the titular character. The origin stories of the character in each film are too inconsistent for it to be the same Warlock however, making it more a Legacy Character.
- The Final Destination series, where the recurring villain is Fate or Death itself.
- The Saw franchise. It's the same villain for the first few, then his apprentices take his place.
- The lesser-known Sleepaway Camp series.
- Angela in the original Night of the Demons (1988) was just another demon-possessed person. In Night of the Demons 2 and Night of the Demons 3, she is the leader of the demonic debauchery.
- The Doctor Mabuse series is one of The Oldest Ones in the Book, starting before talkies.
- The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again. Each gives the eponymous abominable doctor a new nemesis, with the only other recurring characters being a pair of ineffectual detectives.
- The Wishmaster series is centered around an evil genie, although the one in the third and fourth movie seems to be a different Djinn from the one in the first and second.
- In a way, the Terminator series, with SkyNet. The movies do have central protagonists in John Connor and his mother Sarah. But not only is the villain always a Terminator Killer Robot - even if it's not one that looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger - but some media only feature said machines.
- Tremors: While Burt Gummer is a recurring character in most of the franchise, he cannot really be said to be the primary one. The Graboids and their different life cycles are the center of attention.
- The Night of the Living Dummy series from the Goosebumps books.
- Hannibal Lecter, who became more and more the protagonist as new books came out, though he suffered from Badass Decay.
- Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu series — sure, Fu's nemesis Nayland Smith was in all of them, but who got title billing?
- Fantômas, from the series of French pulp novels written by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre (and later by Allain alone after Souvestre's death) starting in 1911.
- A lot of the Old Republic era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe is linked by the Sith. In recent years, practically every villain in every era has been a Sith.
- An in-universe example is the fictional Emperor Zhark series mentioned in the Thursday Next books.
- Kaiju Big Battel's Big Bad Dr. Cube is also the most recognized figure in the promotion. This is partially because his helmet is the logo. Though he eventually dies.
- The Fuyuki Army promotion was a bit of a mixed bag. The intent was pretty clear, given that it was an FMW spinoff and the wrestler it centered around, Kodo Fuyuki, was on his way to a Tyrant Takes the Helm plot in FMW, but fans who better knew Fuyuki for his work in All Japan Pro Wrestling were likely to cheer for him.
- WCW tried to do one with the nWo, to turn it into its own brand. However, people started to view the nWo as boring invincible villains at the time, so giving them their own show where surprise, surprise, the nWo won every match, turned out to be a turn off to many viewers.
- While the joshi fed GAEA was active, Mayumi Ozaki waged a personal war against it and founded an "Oz Academy" in 1998 to train new wrestlers to help her in this cause. When Chigusa Nagayo opted to discontinue GAEA and retire however, passing the torch to Meiko Satomura, Mayumi turned the Oz Academy into it's own full fledged promotion to rival Meiko's GAEA successor, Sendai Girls.
- Kai En Tai, a power stable with the humble origin of menacing Michinoku Pro Wrestling later expanded into the United States via ECW's bWo Japan, which lead to one half of the stable's Dream Chasers Tag Team, TAKA Michinoku, founding a "KAIENTAI Dojo" in Puerto Rico during the year 2000. A year after ECW closed, TAKA returned to Japan and started running his own shows with the students from said dojo.
- The Apache Army, a promotion primarily made up of former FMW wrestlers that primarily invaded other promotions while FMW was inactive.
- Los Perros Del Mal, a Card-Carrying Villain Power Stable who operated in CMLL and AAA, later founded their very own wrestling promotion, named after themselves, Perros Del Mal Producciones. They remain the bad guys even on their own show.
- Diablo is based upon the eponymous demon lord, who always seems to return to threaten the fate of the world. Diablo 2 and Diablo 3 bring in the other six Great Evils for some scheming of their own, but Diablo's still the one to take center stage by the end.
- Castlevania is linked by its main villain Dracula. This even extends to the Sorrow games, which are set in the future after Drac's Final Death. Who is the player character? His reincarnation!
- With the exception of the fourth game (though they still influence the plot to a degree), Resident Evil centers around the Umbrella Corporation and its successors.
- The heroes asking the question cycles depending on the series, but they're always asking the question "Where in |the World/America/Time/Hell/etc.| is Carmen Sandiego?"
- Possibly Silent Hill, if a place can be a villain.
- SHODAN is so synonymous with the System Shock series that the second game featured her on the cover despite her mere presence in the game being a massive spoiler at the time. Years later, SHODAN's voice would be one of the very first things revealed for the third game.
- In one way or another, the main stories of the Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting series seem to revolve around Geese Howard. By the time The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match comes around, he's also present in that as a secret boss, out-bossing a considerable cast of SNK Bosses. Also, in Capcom vs. SNK, Geese is ratio 6 when fought as a boss, since you fight him twice as ratio 3, when the highest a character goes in the game, Akuma (Gouki) as a secret character, is ratio 4.
- Command & Conquer: Tiberium revolves around Kane.
- Super Robot Wars is so named because the villains in the games start these, with the good guys having to end them.
- Every Kingdom Hearts game in the Xehanort Saga (Kingdom Hearts I-III and every spin-off or side-game released in between) is linked by the same mysterious evil figure who just won't stay dead. Whether a new villain will antagonize the next several games or if the series will move on to one-off villains is yet to be seen.
- The MOTHER/EarthBound series is a special case. None of the heroes ever return, but the Big Bad from the first one reappears in the next one, in which a Dragon for him is introduced. The third one then features only The Dragon from the second one, since the original Big Bad was killed in the second game. A couple of characters (how many exactly depends on the player) from the second game appear, though, and Ness, the hero from it, is referenced a lot.
- Doctor Wily of Mega Man is one of these. His declaring world domination pushes Rock to undergo the change to Mega Man. Wily is also influencing events long after his life thanks to his hand in the creation of the Maverick Virus.
- The Tale of ALLTYNEX of course focusing on the malevolent AI Alltynex.
- The main focus of the First Encounter Assault Recon series is its resident Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl/Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds Alma.
- In its final years, the arcade division of Irem produced several post-apocalyptic action games whose only real link was the villains, a terrorist organisation know as the "Dark Anarchy Society". The games part of this universe are (in order) Air Duel, Undercover Cops, Fire Barrel, In the Hunt and Gunforce II.
- The Five Nights at Freddy's series has a different protagonist in each game, but the central enemies are always killer animatronics of Freddy Fazbear and his friends - if not the original ones, then remade, phantom, nightmare or funtime versions of them.
- The Donkey Kong-Franchise is an interesting case. The title character starts out as a villain in Donkey Kong (with Mario aka Jumpman as the hero), reappears as Distressed Dude in Donkey Kong Jr. (with Mario as the villain) and again as a villain in Donkey Kong 3 (with Stanley as the hero). Later he becomes the hero in the Donkey Kong Country series and several other games. Meanwhile, the protagonist from Donkey Kong, Mario, got his own spinoff series named after himself. Donkey Kong reappears as a villain in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong-series, but this time his opponent Mario is in every one of the games.
- The When They Cry series centers around its villains, many of them as the result of progressing insanity. Also an example of a Villain Protagonist, not that the characters themselves realize it until it's too late.
- Dangan Ronpa has Monokuma, the sadistic robot Killer Teddy Bear who pushes the cast of each game into killing each other.
- Each season of Code Lyoko has a plot that focuses almost entirely on XANA's schemes, attacks and evolution. Which is kinda ironic considering he is never actually seen or heard in person.
- Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! couldn't exist without the eponymous killer tomatoes.
- Spiral Zone the name of the show itself is the thing that the heroes are trying to fight; the Spiral Zone created by The Overlord to Take Over the World.