This is one method for avoiding doldrums from having an Invincible Hero
. Scenes of Villainous Valor show the antagonists to be outmatched, forcing them to rely on daring, cunning, skill and determination to hold their own against the heroes, or at least go out with a little dignity
. They sometimes even continue a hopeless battle
for higher reasons than spite! This often results in a tense back-and-forth as the heroes' raw power is set against whatever the villains brought.
Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but the mark of Villainous Valor is that it sees the "bad guys" using tropes that you wouldn't expect from them. In fact, if you were just tuning in, you might even be confused about who you're expected to root for. A fight between the Knight in Shining Armor
and The Dragon
with his Spikes of Villainy
will often leave you cheering for The Hero
, but what if The Dragon
locks swords with the hero
and gets between the hero and his master
, to allow him time to escape
? The scene changes completely. Even if the villains are still bad guys, you might even find yourself pulling for the underdog anyway
This often appears in shows where the villains are sympathetic
or the heroes questionable
. Nevertheless, this is not
a trope about viewer sympathy
so much as bravery, ingenuity and skill
on the part of a villainous underdog. If the villains are acting more like the soon-to-be-slaughtered protagonists of a horror film, we might be looking at a Mook Horror Show
instead. Contrast David Versus Goliath
, where the hero is the weaker one.
Compare Worthy Opponent
. See also Evil Virtues
This trope also has a complicated relationship with Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work
, wherein villains are capable of being depicted committing actions that are from a logical point of view beneficial to the protagonist and also entirely necessary, but would conflict with a protagonist's moral code; when the villain does this in a self-sacrificing or at the very least supremely badass
manner, then it combines the two tropes. However as often as not, the villain really is doing actually reprehensible things that just also happen to require astonishing resolve and bravery to pull off.
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Anime and Manga
- Greed's chimeras in Fullmetal Alchemist are unswervingly loyal to him since he not only freed them from prison but is also surprisingly good to them. Two of them end up taking on Lust and Gluttony knowing full well they won't last a minute just so Greed can escape, and the rest are killed taking on the State Military for pretty much the same reason.
- In the early engagements against the Combat Cyborgs in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers, we're presented with a small group of specialists carrying out a daring mission against a whole world full of mages led by a pair of warriors who could mop the floor with them in a straight fight. (The Numbers who can stand up to Fate and Nanoha are introduced later.) Nevertheless, through a series of hair-raising encounters and desperate escapes, they finally win through and make off with the Macguffin's box.
- Mitigated by the fact that they are backed up by a very literal army of robotic drones armed with state-of-the-art antimagic technology and show no compunctions about being willing to open fire on an unarmed transport carrying, among other things, a helpless child; later revelations about said child's nigh invulnerability notwithstanding.
- For instance, and before switching to the good side, Fate Testarossa shows an exceptional amount of bravey, particularly when it becomes evident the Time-Space Administration Bureau is going after her and her own mother and boss using the girl almost like an expendable soldier, she still presses on in finding the Jewel Seeds.
- This is one of the lesser-observed common threads often found in Nanoha. The Wolkenritter in A's start out stronger on an individual basis than the protagonists, but they're massively outnumbered and, by the middle of the series, outgunned as well. They still carry on their fight, though, until The Reveal.
- This appears many times in the Gundam series. Given the nature of the universe, it makes sense.
- Several versions feature enemy aces piloting machines that are no match for the Gundams, but able to hold their own thanks to superior skill.
- Early on, Zechs Marquise of Gundam Wing managed to disrupt Heero's descent despite him being in a 15-year-old mech while Heero was in what may have been the most powerful Gundam at the time and just curb stomped his two wingmen. Then there are the characters like Walker and Otto, who perform Heroic Sacrifices because they're that loyal to Zechs.
- And then there's the final battle, where the Earth's forces exclusively use said 15-year-old mech despite the fact that their enemies are state-of-the-art Mecha-Mooks that give even the Gundams a hard time.
- Char was introduced this way: the Gundam had been shown invulnerable to the Zaku II used by Zeon at that time, then Char arrives in another Zaku and makes clear the only thing SAVING Amuro is said invulnerability of the Gundam. Later lampshaded by Ramba Ral, who, upon having his Gouf destroyed by the Gundam, remarks that Amuro only won because the Gundam was more powerful. Later inverted in the final battle: Char finally has a mobile suit that is superior to the Gundam, but the only reason Char pulls a draw is that Amuro dragged the fight so the rest of the Federation armada would be able to attack Zeon's space fortress without having to deal with Zeon's most capable shipkiller.
- Another UC example, from the original series: right after Ramba Ral's introduction, the White Base is sighted by a group of Zeon soldiers who, knowing that the Gundam was on board and hoping to be allowed to return home, decided to take on the Gundam in spite of knowing well they were underequipped. They nearly destroy the Gundam after nearly dying placing time bombs on it, and after Amuro narrowly disarms the last they decide to be good sports and, dressed as civilians, come to the White Base to say hi (Bright sees right through it but allows them to leave). Nobody will ever be more successful than them against the Gundam until Amuro use it as a bait to take down Char.
- Garma Zabi kamikaze-ing his ship into the White Base and Dozle Zabi's One-Man Army attack with the Big Zam on The Federation.
- The early parts of Gundam 00 have this in spades, as the pilots of Celestial Being crash around invincibly and the rest of the world scrambles to keep up. You even see Mooks making Heroic Sacrifices.
- Zeta Gundam has Captain Ben Wooder an Elite Mook and Mauve Shirt who appeared in episodes 17-20. Initially little more than a Smug Snake, Wooder quickly proved to have an intense dedication to carrying out his orders, no matter what he had to do to make them possible. When supremely powerful Cyber-Newtype Four Murasame deserted, leaving the Tsudori without a pilot for the Psyco Gundam, Wooder climbed into the cockpit himself, despite having no experience with it and no Newtype powers. That alone would probably qualify him, but it's his exit in Episode 20 that really cements his status. With Four defeated, and the rest of his ship's mobile suits out of commission, Wooder orders the rest of his crew off the Tsudori and prepares to ram the Audhumla with it. When Four returns and tries to stop him, he shoots her himself. When Kamille tries to stop the Tsudori and steal a rocket booster off of it, Wooder climbs into a gun turret and tries to shoot the Mark II Gundam down himself, despite the danger this presents to the ship. His bravery is such that it inspires a number of his men to stay behind and make the Heroic Sacrifice with him.
- Given that he's a Badass Normal in a mook suit facing down a telepathic and telekenetic hero in a Super Prototype with whom he Can't Catch Up, one could argue that Villainous Valor is Jerid Messa's entire shtick. One could also make the case for Yazan Gable, who while unsympathetic, earns the respect of the audience and the undying hatred of the main cast for the ingenuity that he brings to his attempts at taking them down. Like Jerid, he's a Badass Normal, yet he still manages to be a Hero Killer in a show full of psychics.
- Fights in Hellsing are often shown more from the villains' perspective, and we get to see their horror/resolve while Alucard goes One-Winged Angel and cackles like a madman. You may even feel a whisper of sympathy for the Nazi Vampires as a SR-71 Blackbird crashes down on their heads and a shadowy Eldritch Abomination bursts out of the flames to destroy them.
- Sure, some bad guys keep their cool and go out like protagonists, but others, such as Lief and Jessica or Luke Valentine can't quite manage it. While Anderson seems to be a triumphal example in Volume 8, he equalizes the power difference by using the Nail.
- Take a look at the opening scene of the third Inuyasha movie. Setsunano Takemaru, a normal samurai with a simple sword, charges into a flaming castle missing one of his arms to confront a powerful Demon Lord wielding freakin' Sounga. He was unquestionably a wretched punk who deserved everything that was coming to him, but damn.
- Cell from Dragon Ball Z shows this from time to time, as he's pitted against near impossible odds, yet finds ways to still outsmart his opponents. When he finally reaches perfection and realizes he's no longer the underdog, he gives the heroes more time to prepare as a concession that someone may prove to be a Worthy Opponent. It's later subverted when Cell breaks down and runs out of all his tricks but one to defeat Gohan.
- Frieza puts up a valiant effort in battle against Super Saiyan Goku, refusing to admit defeat.
- Frieza is arguable, as when he ends up cut in half by his own attack, he begs for mercy. And when granted it, he promptly turns Smug Snake again, and then tries to launch another attack against the guy who at this stage could effortlessly curb stomp him. His dialogue at this point suggests that this last decision is less of a refusal to go down without a fight and more of a pathological inability to process the fact that he is not "the most powerful being the universe". In the end he seems more pathetic than praiseworthy.
- At times, this might apply to Majin Buu as well. In terms of raw power, he frequently ends up outclassed, and there's often a back-and-forth between the protagonists and Buu over who is actually stronger. Come to think of it, that's what much of the battles in Dragon Ball Z revolves around. Even matches are rare.
- Much of Vegeta's popularity and various trips around the Heel-Face Revolving Door are fuelled by the fact that he is genuinely courageous in a fight, and is a true Determinator when it comes to pushing himself harder and further to achieve the standards he sets himself.
- Here's a simple one. In the final episode of Noir, Kirika is attacked in close-quarters by a knife-wielding battle nun. After her first attack is dodged, the nun finds a gun in her face while her knife is poised too far away to stand a chance of killing Kirika first. Does she give up and beg for her life? No. She steels herself, tenses and gets shot in the face.
- In Naruto when Gaara and Rock Lee fight Kimimaro, the latter displays a respectable sense of honor throughout the fight. In the end he is trapped underground, outmatched, when in a final dramatic effort he is stopped dead inches away from killing Gaara by his own disease.
- Actually a lot of the bad guys in the Naruto universe show traces of this. Bad guys like Haku, Zabuza, Nagato, etc all fight with a level of determination that earns the respect of the good guys.
- Kisame is possibly the best example of this trope. Ax-Crazy kidnapper that thinks nothing of cutting limbs off Jinchuriki so they can't get away he may be, but when backed into a corner, rather than let his enemies forcibly read his mind, he bites off his own tongue to end the mind reading, and commits suicide. Say what you will about the cause itself, Kisame was ready to die for it.
- Obito regains control of his body and mind from a potential world-destroying Eldritch Abomination through The Powerof Love. If his status as Big Bad wasn't so cemented through all the horrible things he's done, this could be mistaken for the hero's climax.
- Seen in episode 4 of Katanagatari with the Maniwa Insect Squad and Nanami. Sort of. It was quite scary.
- Almost certainly intentional, at the end of the first season of Code Geass, Lelouch finally gets the upper hand over the arrogant, racist Cornelia... in the most douchy way possible, and inspires her and her men to put up a valiant defence against overwhelming odds that ends up making her look like the hero. Cornelia might qualify as this before as her greatest virtue is her valour, but this is the first time she's truly outmatched.
- Zero fought her in a Knightmare 10 times more powerful than hers, and she still held her own against him right up until he used a Conveniently Timed Attack From Behind to disable her.
- One of the reasons Jeremiah Gottwald became so ridiculously popular was that, much like Cornelia, his racism and arrogance was tempered by genuine courage on the battlefield, and his loyalty to those he served. Consequently, his Butt Monkey Chew Toy status at the start of the series seemed somewhat unfair, and fan demand turned him into something much more.
- It's possible to overlook the fact that Shirabe is actually the bad guy for her fight in Mahou Sensei Negima! considering A. she has a legitimate reason for her behavior B. was outnumbered six to one C. has good intentions and D. showed some awesome Plucky Girl and Undying Loyalty credentials since hse was fighting for the guy whom she owes her life to. The fact that this resulted in Asuna being put back on the ritual altar without any means of getting her back off of it only hits you a moment later.
- Made even better by the fact that the good guys' victory would have resulted in the magic ritual activating improperly, which would have wiped out almost all life on Magicus Mundus.
- There's also Fate's first fight with Jack Rakan. Going into the fight, Jack is clearly show to be much stronger than Fate, but Fate keeps fighting despite clearly losing, and actually managed to hurt him, which is defiantly impressive outside of flashbacks to the war and Negi absorbing one the energy from one of his attacks, everything thrown at Jack is treated as No Sell.
- Viral in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Constantly.
- Uchuu Senkan Yamato has some, starting from Domel, who, after his master plan to destroy the Yamato backfires at the last moment, try to stop it and the doom it brings for Gamilas by blowing up himself with the ship, to Deslar, who, in spite of being the Big Bad of the first series and The Dragon in the second, is an extremely brave character (and, in spite of inferior technology, much more effective against the Yamato than the generals of the White Comet Empire) who later pulls a Heel-Face Turn. Later the third season gives us one combined with Rooting for the Empire: we are first introduced to the Bolar Federation as one of their fleets try and fails to fight a Galman fleet (shown crewed by Gamilas people, usually the villains), and, later, one of their officers, Ram, is shown as a sympathetic character who dies in battle after apologizing for unwillingly involving Earth in the war between Bolar and Galman. Only later we find out that the Bolar are space Nazis, and then that the Galman soldiers that attacked the Yamato are Well Intentioned Extremists working for the post-Heel-Face Turn Deslar.
- In One Piece: Hannyabal versus Luffy in the Impel Down Arc. Hannyabal knew he was outmatched by Luffy but never gave up trying to prevent Luffy from escaping Impel Down. The touching "World of Cardboard" Speech he gave during the fight certainly helped too!
- Kunzite in the anime version of Sailor Moon. He's shown to be stronger than the main five Sailor Senshi, and is arguably stronger than Queen Beryl (unlike the manga which clearly showed her to be stronger than him), but when Usagi gets the Silver Crystal, she clearly has Kunzite overpowered and he has no chance of beating her, but despite that show an amount of determination rivaling the series' heroes' when things are hopeless for them.
- Yami Bakura in the Memory World Arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! isn't facing that bad a disadvantage in the RPG they were playing. He only has a handful of characters against Yami Yugi's entire army, all seven Millennium Items, and all three Egyptian Gods. Bakura's only advantages were a handful of one shot gamebreakers and knowledge of what was actually going on, but considering one mistake would have led to a quick defeat and it was well known he was evil at that point, it was still a delicate operation until Zork was finally summoned.
- Marco of Eyeshield 21. Unlike most villains in the series, Marco is fully aware of his own limitations, and of the fact that the opposing teams pose a serious threat to his own continued health. Yet he continues to risk his neck, operating as both safety and quarterback, because he refueses to make his team do anything he wouldn't do himself.
- Starscream of Transformers Cybertron initially frequently employs his Villain Teleportation for a "tactical retreat", but later grows to almost embody this trope. Notable moments include taking on the entire good guys' team in a Foe-Tossing Charge in his first Crowning Moment of Awesome, growing to giant size and takes on everybody at once soon after in an Awesome Moment of Crowning, growing even bigger (to the size of a planet) to take on a Physical God, and living up to his name in a massive Beam-O-War against his former boss Galvatron as a Dying Moment of Awesome.
- Haguro from Wolf Guy - Wolfen Crest. Morality aside, he fights off and kills a horrifically transformed Chiba with a katana. His goal is to kill a super-powered werewolf after crying like a baby the first time seeing it.
- King Bradley/Wrath in Fullmetal Alchemist. OK, he's a genocidal bastard and more than a bit of a Blood Knight, but he took on a tank frontally armed only with a sabre and a stick grenade.
- A humorous moment in Digimon Xros Wars occurs after FlameWizardmon absorbs Tagiru's energy, and then proceeds to throw out every hot-blooded shounen quote in the book, because that's the spirit that empowers him now. Doubles as an example of Not So Different.
- Given that Superman is practically the poster boy for the Invincible Hero (at least according to some) and his arch-nemesis is an unpowered human, it would be a shock if this never happened in his stories.
- Admit it, it takes balls to go up against the Goddamn Batman when your motif is penguins because you have the physique of one.
- The Scarecrow's own phobia is the constant fear of Batman himself. That's right: the one and only thing in the world he himself fears is the thing he is most constantly willfully opposing, and someone whom he frequently seeks out and starts the fight with of his own accord. Although it may not so much be valor as a sort of emotional masochism... He *craves* fear.
- In the X-Men graphic novel God Loves Man Kills, Anne is one of the chief "Purifiers" (elite paramilitary soldiers) for the story's Big Bad, Reverend William Stryker. She's shown to be cool and ruthless in her attacks on mutants, who (as per Styker's preaching), she genuinely believes to be evil. There's a scene in which she and other Purifiers are in an elevator, taking captives to a basement level of their base, when Magneto yanks the elevator out of the building and through the air (they don't call him the Master of Magnetism for nothing, baby!) and his erstwhile allies, the X-Men, enter the little chamber, recover the captives, and take the Purifiers prisoner. All, that is, except Anne, who escapes by prying the door open, leaping out of the elevator, and (barely) catching herself on the edge of the base's roof. Wow. The lady may be whack, but she is brave, determined, and impressive. It's hard not to feel at least a little sympathy for her later, when she discovers she's a mutant herself, and Stryker, her revered mentor, casts her away because of it.
- Although his role as a villain is questionable, Secret Six 's Catman has gone toe-to-toe with the big black Bat every so often, and the fights usually end in a draw. Which may make Catman the poster boy for this, considering this is Batman we're talking about.
- It's an Evil Versus Evil scenario, but you've got to give Superman's pre-Crisis Evil Counterpart, Ultraman credit, flying into the Anti-Monitor's antimatter wave in a last attempt to save Earth-3 from destruction. When Power Ring demands to know what he's doing he gives a classic Superman smile and replies "What I have done all my life. I fight to the very end."
- Skurge the Executioner in "The Death and Life of Skurge the Executioner", a Thor graphic novel. Single-handed, he held off an army of the dead. "He had a grin and a gun and the grit to do it."
- And when a new arrival asks about the one to whom even Hela bows her head, the answer is always the same: he stood alone at Gjallerbru, and that answer is enough.
- Silver Age villain Whiplash I/Blacklash must have had solid steel cojones, given that he repeatedly goes up against Iron Man armed with... a titanium whip and nothing else, no power armour, no magic, no lasers, no nothing.
- In Dare Devil, Wilson "The Kingpin" Fisk is many things, but a coward is not one of them. For instance, when he is confronting a criminal committee who is trying to run his criminal organization, their hired killer, Bullseye, steps up behind Fisk and is ready to shoot him in the head. Without breaking a sweat or his cool, Fisk is able to persuade Bullseye to work for him to the point where the maniac happily lights his cigar and offers to kill his former employees.
- This is the focus of The TSAB Acturus War. The Democratic Republic of Acturus cannot win against the Bureau, but it will do its best to bleed the enemy out as far as possible.
- In The Service has more than one comment on the bravery and discipline of the common New Belkan soldier. No matter how badly the situation around them goes, no matter how little chance there is they will survive the effort, they will carry out their orders. Some characters think them brave far beyond the point of stupidity. Others think they're the finest soldiers the universe has ever seen, with some of the worst training and leadership.
- Inner Demons: One must give Trixie credit — she will do anything to fulfill Queen!Twilight Sparkle's orders, no matter what. This is best demonstrated during the Battle of Fillydelphia, where Trixie takes on all of the protagonists at once, invoking the Storm Avatar spell to fight them. Even after the spell drains her and she's been knocked down by the heroes, she — beaten and barely conscious — forces herself to keep going long enough to at least partially fulfill Queen!Twilight's orders by nearly killing Rarity.
Films — Animated
- In the film Mulan, there's a reason why Shan Yu is nowadays considered one of the most badass of Disney villains: he's strong enough to easily break down a barricaded door or effortlessly slice through a massive pillar with his sword. He's also very proud of his army, as shown at the beginning when he thought it was perfect that all of China knew they were coming after the signal fire was lit, and when he flatly refused to avoid the Imperial troops and instead opted to take them head on, knowing that they are the elite of China's armies.
- Frozen: Prince Hans of the Southern Isles saves two soldiers from the wrath of Elsa's cryokinetic death spikes, even as his real intent is to secure the throne of Arendelle by getting rid of Elsa.
Films — Live-Action
- Freddy Krueger in Freddy vs. Jason displays this, oddly enough, when the climatic battle finally goes down. Freddy is a lot more vulnerable and less practiced with killing somebody face to face than Jason is. Yet, even after being pulled into the mortal world, where he is at a severe disadvantage (for starters, he can actually be killed), he doesn't hesitate for a moment to stand his ground and start duking it out with Camp Crystal Lake's killing machine.
- In the film United 93 the youngest terrorist (who looks about 14) puts up a disturbingly valiant fight when he's rushed by half the plane's passengers at the end of the film.
- In Scanners, Revok plots a daring infilitration of ConSec headquarters to assassinate their last scanner, and then escape. As the head of a major scanner underground he could have sent in underlings, but he decided this was something he had to do himself. Also, toward the end of the movie, it's The Hero who pulls the Not So Different card instead of the villain.
- In Five Minutes To Live, the evil gangster played by Johnny Cash takes a hostage (six year-old Ron Howard) in order to escape from the police. He quietly tells Ron that he has nothing to fear; Johnny would never kill a kid. When this doesn't stop the police from shooting at him, he's outraged, and you can't help but agree with him.
- Colonel Miles Quaritch from Avatar is a killer who attacked a civilian (though the line between military and civilian among the Na'vi is very blurry) target with a massive firebombing. But some people can't help admiring his sheer determination when things don't go his way. At one point he is set on fire and he waits until his AMP suit is prepared to drop before putting the fire out.
- The Nazis in several scenes of Inglourious Basterds come across as very human. The Nazi officer who refuses to give up his comrades' positions even under the threat of torture is presented as brave. In another example, even Shosanna seems impressed by Zoller's tale of bravery, despite her burning hatred for Nazis.
- Even for the audience, as the film's primary target audience is Americans, given that Zoller is hailed as a hero for single-handedly killing hundreds of American soldiers.
- In Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus, "The Man" finds himself lying battered, lacerated and hacking blood before the newly energized hero. However, when the hero tosses him his sword, he rises and prepares to give a good accounting of himself even though he knows he doesn't stand a chance. In the Director's Commentary, Kitamura described that as the "spirit of Versus." Also, depending on how you take that business in the epilogue, it's possible that the whole movie was a case of Valiant Villainy.
- When Blonsky (with a little help from some Captain America serum) first fights the Hulk as a human in The Incredible Hulk, you can't help but be impressed by the guy. Sure, he's a creepy jackass, but this is an almost ordinary man going hand-to-hand with the friggin' HULK!
- Both the cook and Captain Tupalov in The Hunt for Red October.
- Both of them were merely doing their job, trying to prevent a hyper-advanced submarine, and an experienced naval officer, from ending up in the hands of the enemy. There's nothing inherently evil in their actions.
- The Nigerian gangster boss Obesanjo from District 9. You really need huge balls to laugh at the hero while he aims a Big Fucking Alien Gun at your head, that had just smashed your bodyguards through a wall seconds ago.
- Riley Biers from Eclipse. Fighting for his lover, and actually putting up a good struggle against a werewolf after losing a hand.
- The bomb maker from the beginning of Casino Royale probably earns quite a few fans with his skill at Le Parkour as James Bond chases him.
- The Jamaican gangster King Willie from Predator 2, who believes that the titular Predator is actually a demon spirit. Despite this, after it approaches him, he calmly whips a sword out from his cane and duels the damn thing, even though it had single-handedly slaughtered a large portion of his gang as well as the rival Colombian gang.
- Ironbar in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. At one point, while he's hanging from a pipe extended off the side of a speeding train, the train goes over a bridge, and he repeatedly has to hoist his body over metal substructures studded along the span's length. It's impressive that the actor/stuntman was even able to shoot the scene.
- Mutiny on the Bounty: Lieutenant William Bligh is a tyrant who terrorizes his men until the eponymous mutiny. He's then set adrift in a rowboat with some of the men who didn't join the mutiny, so many that the boat's sides are just inches above the water. In this seemingly hopeless situation, he manages to navigate them to Timor without losing a single man. This was Truth in Television. In spite of his Historical Villain Upgrade, Bligh was a brave and decent man, and a truly incomparable seafarer.
- The Sheikh's Number Two in Taken puts up quite a fight against Liam Neeson's character, even after being wounded by him. He's fighting for his Sheikh, after all.
- Uncle Les in Braindead spends most of the film as just a lecherous, repulsive Jerkass. Then the climax hits, and he surprisingly becomes quite a zombie-killing badass, with a Crowning Moment of Awesome where he single-handedly takes out about twenty of them with a pair of cleavers.
- In Battleship, the aliens show signs of this many times. Throughout the movie, they're clearly outnumbered and outgunned by the combined forces of Earth, and their mission seems to be "fight off the superior human fleets and try to send a distress signal back to the homeworld". The most apparent part, however, is when they launch a rescue mission to save one of their number who had been captured by the human heroes. The fact that they seem to be Noble Demons in a White and Grey Morality setting certainly helps.
- Scarface has a variation of this trope for Villain Protagonist Tony Montana. In by far the most famous scene in the movie, he gets high on cocaine, grabs a M16 assault rifle, and takes on a veritable army of goons alone. Even when badly injured by gunfire, he stands and taunts his assailants. It takes a shotgun shell to the back at point blank range to finally put him down for good.
- Captain Vidal in Pan's Labyrinth. A monster whole and through, but he's also capable of doing The Slow Walk into battle, without taking cover, while firing at the enemy. Vidal inherited a clock that his father crashed when he fell in battle to mark the time of his death, and he wanted nothing in life but to die in battle and do the same, passing the clock to his (unborn) son.
Live Action TV
- Almost certainly the reason for Spike's early popularity on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, being simultaneously the first vampire adversary of Buffy to be depicted as more than a soul-less monster, and the first to avoid the Curb Stomp Battles that were endemic in season one. Likewise, it's hard not to feel kinda happy for the random vampire mook who hands Buffy a lucky defeat in "Fool For Love".
- He's also just really, really cool.
- An episode of the classic World War II series Combat! called "The Cossack" had the most tenacious German soldier of all time. In the teaser, he fails to blow up a strategically important bridge during the German retreat, and tries to complete the task before the rest of the American army comes through. He infiltrates the local Church and disguises himself as the town priest. He manages to keep his disguise with all the Americans around him, making up cover stories for his German accent ("I'm Swiss.") and being near the bridge ("I'm going fishing.") on the fly, even managing to get away with killing the young Catholic GI who sees through him without anyone seeing. It was almost disappointing to see him fail in the end, he'd worked so hard up to that point.
- Happens to Davros, of all people, in the Doctor Who story "Revelation of the Daleks". Even though he's as nasty as usual, it's hard not to respect him for having apparently found himself completely alone on the planet, with none of his usual allies, and still got himself into the top position.
- This could apply to the Daleks themselves. No matter what The Doctor does to them, they still manage to keep themselves going.
- The villain team of every Power Rangers season usually has at least one member who gets this, although it's often during infighting. Several seasons have an evil General with a Dark Knight gimmick who takes his honor and principles very seriously.
- A good example is Treacheron from Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, who keeps fighting against Leo despite being been badly injured and having his sword broken.
- Bully Beatdown pits bullies against pro MMA fighters for the chance to win $10,000. Nobody likes bullies, but the deck is clearly stacked against them, and one can't help a twinge of admiration for those who hold their own and don't get stomped outright.
- In Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, once the villains' evil plans have been foiled, they often end up going on the run, and are usually quite ingenious in their attempts to get away. This sometimes makes them seem sympathetic, even if we've seen them acting like monsters earlier in the story; Gould was certainly savvy enough to play this up deliberately (such as when the injured Brow is taken in by Gravel Gertie, or when Sleet gets blackmailed while hiding out), but then the villains usually get a couple of Kick the Dog moments during the chase, just so we don't forget who we're supposed to be rooting for.
- Most people who face HHH or the Undertaker. Especially Undertaker. In general, this applies to whenever a beloved mid-carder with perceived superior skills goes up against an opponent they could not legitimately be expected to defeat for story reasons.
- The best example for pro wrestling has to be the match between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XIII, where Austin went in as the heel. The sheer balls he showed throughout the entire match, fighting dirty like a heel but never acting cowardly like one, earned the fans' respect. When he refused to tap out to the Sharpshooter, face covered in blood and eventually passing out from the pain, the fans switched, and in one night, a Heel-Face Turn and Face-Heel Turn were completed in one legendary match.
- Subverted with Muhammad Hassan in 2005. A radicalized Arab-American from Detroit (although played by Italian-American wrestler Mark Copani), he certainly had good reason to be angered by anti-Arab prejudice at the height of the Iraq War. He denounced other Arab-Americans as Uncle Toms for being ashamed of their native culture, and would enter arenas in a Bedouin headdress and wailing loudly like a muezzin just to outrage bigoted audiences. He even seemingly had the courage to challenge Undertaker to a match for the Number One Contendership to Batista's World Heavyweight Championship at the Great American Bash in July. But Hassan was a lot more cowardly than he appeared at first glance: he took on Undertaker, yes, but only after garroting him with piano wire and having several black-clad, faceless "sympathizers" beat the tar out of him. 'Taker finally punished him by powerbombing him through the Buffalo arena's entrance ramp, apparently killing him (which was actually a result of Executive Meddling, since WWE thought that the character was in bad taste after a terrorist bombing in London).
- Done twice with The Shield in 2013 alone; in both cases with Roman Reigns as a focal point:
- On September 23rd the Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon) essentially threw the Shield to the wolves by attempting to placate the aggrieved faces with an eleven-on-three elimination tag team match... though the Shield had tried to stack the odds by attacking members of the eleven-man face teamnote beforehand, they too had to recover from a pre-match attack by the Rhodes brothers as well. Nevertheless they almost evened the odds with quick eliminations of five faces, with Reigns in particular eliminating Titus O'Neill, Justin Gabriel and Zack Ryder with spears in less than a minute without tagging out. It would take Daniel Bryan dropkicking Ambrose and Rollins to isolate Reigns before the faces were able to outnumber him just enough to pin him, the sheer Oh Crap look on Ambrose and Rollins' faces at the sight of this — the only time that Reigns was pinned in his time on the main WWE rosternote — signalling that the tide had irrevocably turned; Ambrose and Rollins would go on to eliminate Darren Young, and after Ambrose's elimination Rollins eliminated R-Truth as well before finally being overwhelmed by the remaining Ziggler, Uso brothers and Bryan.
- On November 24th at Survivor Series, the Shield were paired with The Real Americansnote against Jimmy and Jey Uso, Cody and Dustin "Goldust" Rhodes, and Rey Mysterio. When Dean Ambrose argued with the ref over a call, Cody Rhodes rolled him up for a quick elimination after which The Real Americans were dispatched in short order as well, leaving Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins alone against a still-intact face quintet. Cue Reigns going on a tear by single-handedly taking out Cody Rhodes and Jimmy Uso with spears, Seth Rollins taking out Jey Uso with a curbstomp before himself going down, Reigns quickly avenging Rollins by spearing Goldust, and then intercepting an attempted 619 by Rey Mysterio with... you guessed it, a fourth spear, leaving Reigns the sole survivor.
- Though the Imperium is most often presented as crumbling, it is still the most powerful faction in Warhammer 40,000. In stories set from the 'Evil' faction's POV, we can often see just how much firepower the Imperials can bring to bear against them. And the fact that it's a Crapsack Galaxy for them too.
- In the Inquisitor guide Using Space Marines, the author recommends this as a way to deal with ludicrously powerful Space Marine PCs. We are reminded that Space Marines don't sneak about, so the enemy will likely have plenty of chances to lay ambushes and traps before the rampaging behemoth.
- Virtually any faction in Warhammer gets moments of this really.
- Tucker's Kobolds are a textbook case. Even though they were no match for the high-level adventurers in a straight fight, they used the terrain to their advantage and set up a variety of clever traps to make the PCs' lives hell.
- The title character in Macbeth gets a moment of this at the climax of the play. Despite being subjected to two No Man of Woman Born moments in rapid succession (including the Trope Namer) leading him to realize that his opponent would probably win and Macduff's offer of clemency, he refuses to stand down. This is appropriate since while it does not undo his horrific acts it does confirm his status as a Tragic Hero.
- While this is a series with Black and Gray Morality , the soldiers of the Brotherhood of Nod, the 'bad guys' of the game, show during Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars exceptional bravery, just consider the bulk of Nod military is formed of civilian militia from the ravaged and impoverished Yellow Zones armed with assault rifles, portable missile launchers and light vehicles(they are backed by some elite forces), these guys first manage to outmatch for some time the Global Defense Initiative, which is a coalition of the world greatest powers, and then they hold their ground against a massive alien invasion force with technology capable to disrupt the laws of physics and GDI's full operative military power.
- It helps that their leader, Kane, is a very cunning strategist, and most of their generals are competent as well.
- Speaking of Command and Conquer, an example from Command & Conquer: Generals: the GLA. Yes, they're absolute monsters and are in no way sympathetic, but they end up taking on both China and the United States, with only hideously outdated weaponry, guerilla tactics and vast numbers. The GLA even manage to bring a crushing defeat to the American forces in Europe, although they are soon crushed themselves by the Chinese afterwards.
- Maleficent in Kingdom Hearts, especially in Birth by Sleep. She never gives up on her ambitions, or allows herself the luxury of true failure. Evil as she is, you have to respect that. She even fought Sora face-to-face in the first game without hesitation or fear. Remember that Sora hasn't just defeated all her allies and most of her Heartless troops before the battle but also he had the help of Beast, a nine foot tall creature with claws and teeth who has no problems taking down even the strongest Heartless with just one punch. It takes guts to fight something like that.
- The Turks in Final Fantasy VII, who lack the mako-enhancements and materia arsenal of the heroes but still put up a good fight when confronted.
- Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn subverts this slightly, as the ones having villainous valor are good guys (well, one group of them) forced into being bad. 2 countries against 3? Even match for the enemy. 1 1/2 countries against 4 1/2? They absolutely DEVASTATED the enemy army.
- In some Fire Emblem games the player gets dragon units, in these cases one also has to admire the guts of the mooks for being able to stand toe to toe with (or even outmatch) a creature that is three times their size.
- In the freeware RPG Last Scenario, the Omega Team does this twice in quick succession. First, after the heroes defeat the Big Bad, they rally to defend him and fight as a full team for the first time, resulting in a Boss Fight many times more difficult than their leader. They manage to escape after losing, but the weight of their unconscious leader allows the heroes to catch up before long. So the alleged "Reliable Traitor" Helio stops to perform a Heroic Sacrifice, using a Psycho Serum that he knows will only allow him to stall the heroes while his comrades escape, and will kill him even if he wins. But not before delivering a combination between Villainous Breakdown and "World of Cardboard" Speech proving his unwavering loyalty to his team and their leader.
- The short roguelike Smart Kobold features a tribe of kobolds which your character could kill effortlessly in a straight fight - so, their cave has guards posted to raise an alarm the moment you walk in, and when it goes off the kobolds immediately start snatching up all their weapons, valuables, and babies, and retreat (setting traps as they go) to a large room where they can easily snipe you to death. Where this really crosses the line from cleverness to outright valor, though, is that if you corner one of their mages or archers, he'll often snap his wand or bow in half, so you can't use it when he dies (and you'll need a ranged weapon to have any hope of winning). The implications of this are profound.
- Several antagonists are quite valiant in their efforts to defeat the main party in Tales of Symphonia. The final boss in particular. Just before he dies, he states that he doesn't regret any of his actions and would do it all over again if he could.
- In Transformers: War for Cybertron, Megatron spends the first half of the game being outmatched and trying to accomplish "impossible" goals (such as controlling Dark Energon, storming Autobot City and defeating Omega Supreme) only to come out victorious in all three tasks, despite everyone (both allies and foes) pointing out that the odds are against him.
- Partially Subverted in God of War 2 due to the ways of Kratos. With Zeus being the King of the Greek Parthenon it would be hard for any one to defeat him unless you're the son of the god himself.
- Since the bad guys are depicted simply as soldiers serving their country enemies in the Ace Combat series often display this, be it going after the seemingly invincible pilot(s) to turn the tide of the faltering war, or to defend against an attack on a vital or sensitive installation. At one point in Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, the enemy stays in a vital munitions storage dump due to it's strategic importance despite it blowing up around them, since their comrades on the front lines need these supplies.
- Something of a subversion, since nobody is really a ''hero'', but in Saints Row 2, during the Boss' raid on the Brotherhood headquarters, The Boss ends up cornering their leader Maero. Matt, who was little more than the gang's tattoo artist jumps on him/her and tells Maero to run. it becomes something of a Heroic Sacrifice when The Boss cracks him in the head with a brick, killing him.
- In Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising, Eliphas is fought twice and both are difficult battles, even for Terminator-equipped squads. The Blood Ravens regard him as a dangerous foe because of this. In the next expansion pack, Retribution, Eliphas is a Villain Protagonist in the Chaos single-player campaign, and here he takes on several powerful armies and Bigger Bad Kyras, who respects Eliphas' strength and guile.
- Hazama, the Big Bad of BlazBlue, goes up against a number of people who can technically kill him rather easily. Hakumen is far more powerful than he is (As the Wheel of Fortune side material demonstrates, even at a small portion of his potential power, Hakumen is capable of curbstomping him, and he actually does kill Hazama off for real at the end of Chrono Phantasma), Rachel is stronger than him in Calamity Trigger and can still hold her own against him in Continuum Shift, and Ragna can beat him (and does at the end of Continuum Shift). Without his Gambit Pileups, he probably wouldn't last very long against them.
- In Cheshire Crossing, The Wicked Witch Of The West repeatedly faces off against Mary Poppins. Poppins is depicted as a stern, overpowered witch who flattens her opponents with brute force, and shows off in both magical matters and mundane with little flourishes that let others know just how in charge she is. The Witch of the West on the other hand is made out to be a bitter underdog, defeated before at least once, who spends her time in search of arcane secrets and power sources. When they encounter each other for the first time while in Oz, Poppins is able to knock the Witch of the West around until the Witch of the West gets the drop on her with a bucket of water. Oz has special rules, and Poppins hasn't done her homework.
- In A Miracle of Science, one may find it hard not to root for Doctor Haas as he strives to take over the world despite being hunted down by not only the police, but also a godlike Hive Mind.
- In Drowtales, althought not villains per se, the dvergar who choose to fight the drow rather than trading with them shows this. Even after being reduced to a remnant by the desperate, fleeing dokkalfar (and later outright invading drow) and having no mana, they still are a real danger to drow trade caravans and get in a few good blows against the highland raiders. The last is a bit like somali pirates attacking a US battleship.
- Caliborn in Homestuck. Though he may be a petulant, sociopathic Jerkass, he's also a Determinator who defeats his session of Sburb despite nearly impossible odds - including his own implied mental issues.
- The Salvation War has shades of this. As horrible as the demons might be, they fight heroically against the humans' modern technology and get pasted.
- Later causes divisions between those humans who respect this and those who do not.
- In this video that is violently opposed to the Skyrim arrow to the knee meme, a short, fat, nerdy guy goes to type the joke into a Youtube comment when the game's main character bursts out of the screen, kneecaps the nerd with arrows to both knees, then begins to strangle the nerd and tell him how much he sucks for liking meme jokes. He goes to make some gory and violent death threats should the nerd ever do it again. The nerd responds by making an arrow to the knee joke. Sure, it gets him Killed Mid-Sentence, but as the top rated comment on the video says "I have to admit, the nerd has balls."
- Displayed by Adolf Hitler of all people during his second appearance in Epic Rap Battles of History. He's ready to rap (against Darth freakin' Vader) only seconds after having been thawed from carbonite, a process that is agonising, debilitating, and blinding. He then goes on a veritable roll, hitting every single one of Vader's Berserk Buttons, culminating by declaring the Sith Lord's life to be a giant Epic Fail and referring to him as both "Annie" and "The Emperor's Whore." It gets him dropped into the Rancor Pit, but damn.
- In Worm, this is regularly displayed by supervillains who show up to battle the Endbringers, which are steadily killing humanity as a whole and generally kill one-fourth of the capes that join the fight against them per battle. Villains are generally less coordinated than the heroes, so they take more casualties, but they keep showing up.
- We often see Brock Sampson from the henchmen's point of view in The Venture Bros.. The most notable case of Valiant Villainy here would probably be Henchman Number 1's stand against him, or maybe the lightsaber thing.
- One could argue that the Zuko vs Azula fight at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender season 3 would count as this. Azula is clearly losing her mind, and the fight. It's hard not to feel bad for her all of a sudden, over the course of the last couple episodes, especially since even as he makes the challenge Zuko still thinks that if she were sane he wouldn't be able to fight her.
- In the same episode, after Ozai unlocks Aang's Avatar State, he manages to dodge Avatar State Aang's Sphere of Power for several minutes, even managing to get a few attacks off. Still doesn't work.
- Particularly amazing considering that he was fighting someone channeling the power of a thousand Avatars at once. He may have been the strongest and most skilled non-Avatar bender ever.
- There's Zuko's attempts at defeating Aang in the first season despite getting curbstomped every time they meet. This along with Zuko's woobie status can easily drive a viewer to root for him simply out of sympathy.
- Lesser villains get their share of valorous moments, as well. For example, the thoroughly unpleasant prison warden from "The Boiling Rock" declares that he would rather jump into the boiling lake surrounding his prison than let a single prisoner escape. When he's taken hostage he proves his boast true when he orders his men to drop the gondola they're riding into the lake, even though he would die as well.
- The Legend of Korra, Avatar's sequel, has the Equalists, nonbenders who regularly get into fights with not only benders, but the Avatar herself - who has mastered three elements at the series start - and hold their own. Two of them have an all out fight against Korra (said Avatar) and Mako (a firebender of formidable skill) and manage to match them for a bit, though they're eventually forced to retreat.
- In Justice League Unlimited, the Villain Episode "Task Force X" followed a band of Badass Normal Boxed Crooks employed by Well-Intentioned Extremist Government Conspiracy Cadmus to infiltrate the Watchtower and steal a magical artifact from inside. The episode goes to great lengths to show how the normal humans are awed by the Metahuman leaguers and how they (in their own worlds) "feel like they're infiltrating Mount Olympus". The episode commentary has the writers going into detail on how and when they were invoking this trope.
- It could be argued that it's deconstructed: Everyone in the team is The Sociopath and they really can't care for each other. Everything they do, is egoist, not heroic in a sense of helping others. Clock King plan counts with this: as long as everyone looks for himself, and only for himself, the plan will work and everyone will be safe (the heroes aren't going to kill them, after all). Unfortunately, Token Good Teammate field commander Rick Flag Jr. is not a Boxed Crook nor The Sociopath, he is a normal person who believes My Country, Right or Wrong. So he insists on deranging the plan because he believes No One Gets Left Behind. This causes the disfigurement, or death, of one member of the squad. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, indeed!
- The trecherous general from Sym-Bionic Titan. Yes he betrayed Galaluna, but he could have fought and killed Lance easily with his Power Armor or let the Mutrati tear him apart, instead he opts to fight him in a fair sword fight. Granted he was considered much more skilled than Lance, but it takes guts to take on a prodigy like Lance with just a sword when he could have finish him off without a second thought.