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Big Bad

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"I've learned that, in every story, there is a big, bad something. An evil force that, no matter the size, corrupts the world of the story, and tries its best to destroy the hero. A wolf, a witch, a giant, a dragon, a knight... or an idea, a desire, a temptation... or even a book."

The cause of all bad happenings in a story. The Big Bad may either be personally responsible for the events, or the biggest force in opposition of the hero's goals. A Big Bad could be a character with Evil Plans or it could be an omnipresent situation, such as a comet heading towards the Earth. In a serial story, the Big Bad often exerts an effect across a number of episodes, and even an entire season. In a standalone cinematic story, their presence drives the plot.

This trope is not a catch-all term for the biggest, ugliest or even primary villain of any given story. The badass leader of the outlaw gang that causes the most personal trouble is The Heavy, not the Big Bad. The railroad tycoon who is using the gang as muscle is the Big Bad. The Man Behind the Man is very common for this trope, leaving the reveal of the big bad as The Chessmaster behind it all and proving themselves far more clever and resourceful than the Villain of the Week. Sometimes the Big Bad is the grand enemy of an entire franchise as an Overarching Villain. At other times, the Big Bad is an Arc Villain who causes trouble for a period of time only to be replaced by another Big Bad with ambitious plans.


The Big Bad may be confronted frequently, but is too powerful to finish off until the last episode of the story arc. The Big Bad may work through Evil Minions and will almost certainly have The Dragon protecting them, to keep interest up and provide something for the good guys to defeat. When you look at a season-long story or a major Story Arc and you can identify that one villain as being the one in control of everything, that is the Big Bad.

In its most general terms, a Big Bad will be at the center of the Myth Arc rather than just any Story Arc. At the same time, the Big Bad is not exclusively the most dangerous enemy of the arc. In many cases, you will find that while the Big Bad may be in control, the Dragon-in-Chief would still be the greater threat. In the grand scheme of things and the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, a Big Bad could even become a Sixth Ranger to aid the heroes against the next threat. The Greater-Scope Villain would be an enemy who is an extremely obtuse danger but nothing that directly concerns the heroes at that point in time.


The term "Big Bad" was popularized in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was characteristic of Buffy's Big Bads for their identity or nature, or even the fact that they are the Big Bad at all, to remain unclear for considerable time. Occasionally, characters would even refer to themselves as "the Big Bad". Whether or not they were, though, this is a Big Bad Wannabe. The structure of Buffy placed the Big Bad as being crucial to the Half-Arc Season, half the episodes are filler dealing with unrelated enemies while the other half involved the ongoing Myth Arc with the Big Bad. Each season can easily be defined by who the Big Bad was.

A Big Bad character is also an integral part of the Five-Bad Band dynamic. The role remains largely the same, but it should be noted that they are the Big Bad of that particular organization. They are not just the leader of a Quirky Miniboss Squad, but of a set group designed to counter the roles in the heroes' Five-Man Band (where either The Leader or The Hero is the Good Counterpart). Whether or not they turn out to be the Big Bad of the entire work of fiction is not set in stone (although more often than not, they will be).

If a show has a series of Big Bad jeopardies, they can function like a series of Monsters of the Week that take more than a week to finish off. If there is a Legion of Doom, you can expect the Big Bad to be involved somehow. They're probably sorted by power, with the strongest for last, following the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

Evil Overlord, Diabolical Mastermind, The Chessmaster, Arch-Enemy, The Man Behind the Man, and often Manipulative Bastard are specific types of villains who are liable to show up as Big Bads. If they're a Magnificent Bastard or Hero Killer, the good guys are in big trouble. The heroic counterpart of this character is the Big Good, who will very often be the focus of this character's attention over The Hero at the beginning of a series. If a work of fiction is conspicuously lacking a Big Bad, it may be a case of No Antagonist.

See also Big Bad Duumvirate for two (or more) Big Bads working together. Sometimes a Big Bad will get their start as a servant to another villain — if that's the case, they're a Dragon Ascendant. If the character who fills the role of Big Bad in most meaningful ways is nominally subordinate to someone else (someone significantly less menacing by comparison), they are a Dragon-in-Chief. If the story has many Big Bads at once who don't work together, see Big Bad Ensemble. The Big Bad Shuffle occurs when there are multiple candidates for the Big Bad position. If the Big Bad doesn't start out as bad but develops over the course of the story, it's Big Bad Slippage. If the Big Bad of one section of a work doesn't die on being defeated and stays around as a character in a different plot role (reformed or not), that's Ex-Big Bad.

Note that the Big Bad of a story is not always the most powerful or oldest existing evil force. Perhaps an evil presence along the lines of an Eldritch Abomination overshadows the work's setting, but is mainly divorced from the story's events — that would be the Greater-Scope Villain. The Big Bad is distinct from that by being the main obstacle that the hero must contend with, though the Big Bad might try to harness the Greater-Scope Villain in some way as part of their plan. (Whether or not this backfires may vary.)

It is one of the most well-known tropes on the TV Tropes community, being the first to have over forty thousand wicks, and is the most wicked trope. This is probably because it's incredibly common; it's Older Than Feudalism, and it applies to almost every villain in any multi-part speculative work.

If a story averts this trope, then the story has No Antagonist.

Not to be confused with Big Bird. Or Big Bag.


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  • Can churches have antagonists? If so, the Devil is a pretty safe pick for being the main driver of any evil present in the Sistine Chapel. Whether he's the beautiful serpent lady from the Ceiling Fresco or a much filthier bat-man from a wall painting, Satan can't help but try and coax people into doing evil so when they get to the altar painting, they'll keep him company as God throws every sinner into Hell for eternity in the Chapel's altar painting.

    Fairy Tales 

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • The Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus, enslaving the Israelites and doing everything he can to defy the will of God, even after accepting defeat. Serving as the greatest opposition to Moses and God outside of the personal flaws of the people of Israel, the horrid Pharaoh serves as the Ur-Example of the Big Bad, predating most examples of the trope by centuries or millennia. The age shows, as the Pharaoh is killed long before the end of Exodus, which details the travels of the Israelites from the Red Sea and God's revelation of the Mosaic Law, as opposed to more contemporary Big Bads who tend to provide conflict for the entire work.
    • Haman in the Book of Esther, who tries to convince the Persian Emperor to wipe out the Jews.
    • Satan in the Book of Job and the Book of Revelation. In the former, Satan attempts to get Job to denounce his faith and strips away all his fortune from him. In the latter, Satan (as the dragon with seven crowns) corrupts the world with the Whore of Babylon, attempts to get people to worship the Beast from the sea, is revealed to be the Serpent from Genesis and ultimately, battles the armies of Heaven until he is thrown into the Lake of Fire.
    • The Pharisees in The Four Gospels, who try to challenge Jesus at every turn and are the only people who Jesus gets mad at throughout his travels. Notably averted with Satan, who is a background character with minimal involvement in what happens.

  • Sequinox has the Sky Queen, who rules the stars and has exterminated all other life in the galaxy. She sends her stars and constellations out across the galaxy to do so, and when they arrive on Earth they meet resistance in the form of the Sequinox.

  • Annie: Daniel "Rooster" Hannigan and Lily St. Regis
  • The Crucible: Abigail Williams manipulates the girls of Salem into obeying her and gets them all to help accuse others of witchcraft, condemning innocent men and women to imprisonment and death in order to escape punishment for her own evils.
  • Faust: Mephistopheles
  • Gypsy: "Mama" Rose Hovick
  • Into the Woods: Subverted, as there is no official main villain in the show. The Witch might come off as the villain at first, but as the show progresses, we learn that her actions are very much justifiable, and eventually, she becomes extremely sympathetic ( mainly after Rapunzel's death). The Giantess, while being a major antagonistic force, simply wanted justice for the death of her husband, and the chaos and death that she had caused are often portrayed as accidents (considering that she was near sighted and had lost her glasses). The only character to be truly evil and despicable is the Wolf, and even he's given a hint of sympathetic light ("Ask a wolf's mother!").
  • Les Misérables: Javert. Being one of the only lawful characters in the entire show, he naturally opposes and antagonizes every main character: he tries to arrest Valjean multiple times, he defends Fantine's rapist by having her arrested instead, he threatens Eponine and the Thenardiers with arrest (and is presumably already familiar with the latters' antics), and spies on and directly opposes Marius and Enjolras's revolution. Curiously, despite being the main villain, he is not the most evil character in the show: that honor goes to the Thenardiers, who are full-blown Chaotic Evil compared to Javert's Lawful Neutral, and worst of all, get away with it all.
  • William Shakespeare has various antagonists in his plays. The comedies tend to lack them though; if a major antagonist is present in a comedy, they will rarely be legitimately evil. note 
    • Hamlet: Claudius usurped the throne that rightfully belongs to Prince Hamlet, who spends the play plotting to kill Claudius.
    • Othello: Iago misleads every character in the play so he can ruin the life of the title character
    • Macbeth: Macbeth himself kills the good king Duncan and ruins Scotland with his corrupt reign, acting as the main villain despite being the protagonist of the story.

  • BIONICLE has Makuta, the arch-enemy of the Big Good, Mata Nui, and he's about as much of a chessmaster as Palpentine or Voldemort. It's worth noting that he actually wins and usurps the "god" of the world and gains control of the universe.
    "Little Toa, you have not yet begun to see even the barest outlines of my plans. I have schemes within schemes that would boggle your feeble mind. You may counter one, but there are a thousand more of which you know nothing. Even my ... setbacks ... are planned for, and so I shall win in the end."
  • Star Monsters: It's heavily implied that the Star Monsters from the Shadow family are bad guys, as they are given different treatment than the other Star Monster families (for example, Shadow Star Monsters only come in black, whereas Star Monsters from other families come in four different colors).

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Two of the games in the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney trilogy have their own Big Bad, with the second game not having an overarching antagonist.
      • In the first game, the Big Bad is Manfred von Karma, who essentially set the entire series into motion with the murder of Edgeworth's father. A murder in the present that was orchestrated by him to get back at Edgeworth ultimately results in his comeuppance.
      • Damon Gant is revealed as the true criminal of the bonus case in the first Ace Attorney. Gant eventually states that he is responsible for controlling Lana Skye, the High Prosecutor who in turn was responsible for "helping" Edgeworth with cases, which resulted in the rumors of Edgeworth's backhanded deals and forgeries that DIDN'T already come about from Edgeworth's already established relationship with Manfred von Karma.
      • The third game has Dahlia Hawthorne, who on top of essentially being Morgan's Dragon during the final case for her own purposes, is the Big Bad for the game as a whole because of all the murders she conducted that had to be cleaned up by the end of the game, resulting in finally facing her spirit in court.
    • Apollo Justice has Kristoph Gavin, who uses every trick in the book, from forged evidence to outright murder, to take down Phoenix Wright and keep everyone quiet about it.
    • Then Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth has Ambassador of Allebhast Quercus Alba, who is the head of an international crime syndicate and is quite possibly the first ever Ace Attorney villain to be the The Man Behind the Man to nearly all the other murderers in the game. The lone exception is the culprit of the third case, and even then it's the criminal's father who has a connection to Alba's syndicate.
    • Ace Attorney Investigations 2 has the distinction of having both a Big Bad and a Greater-Scope Villain. The latter is the Fake President of Zheng Fa and his minions, who controlled both Zheng Fa and the prison and legal systems of Japan/USA. The former, however, is Simon Keyes, who killed his former best friend and the aforementioned president for personal reasons, tricked the president's cohorts into committing murder, and is the final boss of the game.
    • Dual Destinies has a Big Bad in the phantom, the man who bombed the space center seven years ago and again during the game, among other things brought on by trying to keep these crimes hidden. He's also impersonating your detective after killing him a year before the game, trying to lead the case away from himself.
    • Spirit of Justice has, for its overarching plot, Queen Ga'ran, who staged a fake assassination attempt on her sister which resulted in the death of Apollo's father and the disgrace of Dhurke. She would later hold her sister's daughter Reyfa hostage while raising Reyfa as her own and would later kill two of the victims in the final case. She was also responsible for the DC Act that killed and imprisoned so many lawyers. Her husband Inga comes close, being behind the villains of 6-1, 6-3, and the beginning of 6-5, as well as killing another of the victims in the final case, but is ultimately killed by Ga'ran when discovered.
  • Chaos;Head: Norose Genichi.
  • The Dangan Ronpa series has Monokuma/Monobear, also known as The Ultimate Despair and The Mastermind, who is the despair-obsessed, self-appointed headmaster of Hope’s Peak Academy and the one who traps the students in a Deadly Game. He is also a little black-and-white teddy bear who is being controlled by Ultimate Fashionista Junko Enoshima.
  • Death Room: Could be you.
  • Demonbane: Master Therion is the founder and leader of the Black Lodge, calls himself the Beast of the Antichrist, and happens to be the world’s most powerful sorcerer. Except he turns out to be a pawn of Nya, AKA Nyarlathotep.
  • While not the actual final fight, Temuorin serves this role in Eien no Aselia. Not the most powerful enemy faced, either. Just the one who was in charge all along.
  • Most Nasuverse works have one.
    • The vampire Serial Killer, Roa/SHIKI (whoever is dominant at the time) in Tsukihime.
    • The Night of Wallachia in the first Melty Blood, then White Len in the second. It's taken over by the Dust of Osiris, a future Sion, in Actress Again.
    • Kotomine Kirei and Gilgamesh in Fate/stay night (they didn't start everything, but are lying in wait). They did it in Fate/Zero too.
      • In Heaven's Feel, the Big Bad is Zouken Matou (who is directly or indirectly responsible for everything bad that happens in the entire route), although both Kotomine and (eventually) Dark Sakura could also be seen as this.
      • Gilgamesh, Kotomine, and Zouken are all working towards the same basic goal. While Kotomine is allied with Gilgamesh, Zouken is not. Said goal is unleashing Angra Mainyu. Kotomine simply wants to watch the world burn, Gilgamesh is helping Kotomine so that he can rule over those strong enough to survive Angra Mainyu's apocalypse, and Zouken wants to use the Grail to become immortal. Angra Mainyu wants to be resurrected by any means necessary, even attempting to use Gilgamesh as a host in Unlimited Blade Works after Shinji is rescued before its revival can be completed.
    • Araya Souren in Kara no Kyoukai manipulated all the other villains and is responsible for every single conflict Shiki faces. Notably, he was confronted about halfway through the series and never heard from again, leaving Lio Shirazumi as the Final Boss.
    • In Fate/EXTRA it's Twice H. Pieceman, but in CCC, the derailment of the War transfers the role to Kiara Sesshouin.
    • Archimedes for Fate/Extella, though he's working on behalf of the true enemy, the Velber.
    • The first arc of Fate/Grand Order has Beast I, Goetia.
    • On the other hand, in the overarching story about the struggle of humanity in the multiverse, the overall Big Bad is Gaia, the spirit that embodies Earth. Because humanity is growing out of their "nursery", so to speak, Mother Earth who can't stand that Alaya (embodiment of humanity) becomes independent from her, do her best to destroy humanity's progress. In one universe, she continues to do so despite being effectively dead by summoning her "siblings" to aid her.
  • Shining Song Starnova has Kamijou, Chief Executive Producer of the Quasar idol group and heir to Golden Calf Productions, who takes it upon himself to humiliate and destroy the much smaller and less-experienced idol group Starnova after learning that several of its personnel used to work for Golden Calf.
  • Sunrider: The leader of PACT, Veniczar S. Arcadius, aims to conquer the galaxy. His first order of business is capturing and marrying the Princess of Ryuvia to gain access to it’s secrets. His true identity is a Hive Mind of female Artificial Humans known as the Prototypes, led by what’s currently shaping up to be a Big Bad Duumvirate between Alice Ashada, Alpha, and, of all people, Claude Treillo.
  • Policenauts: There is a Big Bad Duumvirate of Gates Becker and Joseph Sadaki Tokugawa.
  • War: 13th Day: The clan of the Vi in most routes.
  • When They Cry:
  • YoJinBo has Harumoto, upstart clan-leader wannabe and would-be murderer of Hatsuhime.
  • The Zero Escape trilogy has, in each game, nine people kidnapped and forced to play a Deadly Game by a mysterious person calling themselves Zero. Each game has a different Zero, and the Big Bad often turns out to be hiding among the group.
    • Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors plays with this in a surprising way. The current Nonary Game is being run by a mysterious person in a Gas Mask, Longcoat getup known as Zero/June/Akane and her secretary Santa. As it turns out, they are actually Well Intentioned Extremists trying to punish the four men responsible for the first game and to get Junpei to save June's life. Time travel loops and all that. So the actual/other Big Bad ends up being Ace, or rather, Gentarou Hongou, CEO of Cradle Pharmaceuticals, creator of the original Nonary Game and murderer of Past!Akane as the person who set everything into motion.
    • Virtue's Last Reward plays with it again. This time, the game is being controlled by Zero III/Zero Jr./Lagomorph, a little bunny AI that controls the warehouse, but he makes it clear his creator, Zero Sr., is the real mastermind. Said person is Sigma himself, and K, Sigma’s future self/clone, but neither know it at the time; and Akane, the one who actually planned the game, is absent for most of it, and she is once again usurped by the true Big Bad. And both of them want to save the world, albeit through questionable methods. Instead the true/other Big Bad is Dio/Left, the foul-mouthed Jerkass who is a high-ranking terrorist leader sent to stop the project and ensure the world’s destruction, and the one who killed Akane and planted bombs around the warehouse to ensure his mission’s completion. Stopping him from killing Akane turns out to be the goal of the game.
    • Zero Time Dilemma: The role is taken by Zero (specifically Zero II) once again. And this time, it doesn't look like he's one of the players. He is also this for the entire trilogy, as he’s Brother, leader of Free The Soul, the boss of Ace and Dio, and the one who unleashed the Radical-6 virus catastrophe that the main characters are trying to stop. His true identity is Delta, Diana and Sigma's time-displaced son, who wishes to close the Stable Time Loop resulting in his birth and train the group to prevent a nuclear war without resorting to Radical-6. He was actually the "leader" of Q-Team and the only character known as "Q" (the boy with the helmet was actually known as "Sean" and was not once called "Q" throughout the game), but was intentionally hidden from view until the dramatic reveal. Unlike previous games, Akane is not behind him, and he remains the Big Bad to the end, although a Greater-Scope Villain exists in a religious fanatic he hoped to kill with Radical-6 before said fanatic nuked humanity.

Here's some comfort.

Alternative Title(s): The Big Bad