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Brains Evil, Brawn Good

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"As far as brains go, I got the lion's share, but when it comes to brute strength... I'm afraid I'm at the shallow end of the gene pool."

Heroes in fiction are held to higher standards of physical strength than villains, and villains are held to higher standards of intellect (or at least cunning) than heroes, (see also Villains Act, Heroes React) which suggests that evil uses brains while good uses brawn.

This often conveys the message that Dumb Is Good: the heroes are straightforward men and women of action, while the bad guys are smarter yet squishier, as if to imply that physical strength represents moral strength. Occasionally, the villain is Feigning Intelligence, the hero is playing dumb, or the hero just holds the Idiot Ball until the climax, when he passes it directly to the villain.

In many cases, this can be a corollary of Villains Act, Heroes React, wherein the Villain has time to set up the evil scheme, after which a Hero, often caught on the back foot, must overcome the odds with superior combative capabilities, in order to foil the scheme before it's too late. As a result, Villains tend to be schemers and manipulators, while Heroes tend to be more individually combative types.

A more idealistic interpretation is that this trope is the aftereffect or pre-establishing of Right Makes Might, i.e. "Right has already made might."

Since it follows that qualifications in fighting/military leadership are therefore nobler than academic ones, see The Good Captain and Morally Ambiguous Doctorate.

The most common Sub-Trope of Brains Versus Brawn. Often leads to Armored Villains, Unarmored Heroes and/or Polite Villains, Rude Heroes. This is the classic matchup in Sword and Sorcery and other forms of Heroic Fantasy, where the sword will typically be wielded by a Barbarian Hero (who, even if they're not outright stupid, will generally be at least Book Dumb) and the sorcery will be in the withered hands of an Evil Sorcerer marinated in forbidden lore. Contrast Guile Hero and Science Hero, who often overcome physically threatening foes with trickery or brainpower respectively; and Evil Is Bigger, where the villain is physically superior to the hero.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Captain America: M.O.D.O.K. and Captain America follow this trope as well. Although both are pretty smart, M.O.D.O.K. is essentially a living supercomputer. M.O.D.O.K. even mentions this trope in Marvel vs. Capcom 3.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Zig-zagged in one Beagle Boys story, where being zapped with Gyro Gearloose's brain-ray initially turns one of the Boys into an Evil Genius... but repeated doses cause him to get bored with perfect crimes and focus on a real challenge: ending all crime, poverty, and hunger forever. Naturally, his brothers immediately reverse the ray after that.
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog: The prequel comic reveals that this is the reason Billy decided to become a supervillain in the first place. Another one also reveals that Captain Hammer has deeply anti-intellectual beliefs, telling kids that anyone who is "different", such as being good at math or science, is a potential supervillain and should be reported to the police.
  • The Incredible Hulk: The Hulk and The Leader. Though some versions of the Hulk are smart. And Bruce Banner is a genius. Though more recent stories tend to play with Banner being a less than morally outstanding individual, himself.
    • This particular usage of the trope has been called out: "You're making the argument that Strong is good and Smart is evil to a bunch of comic book nerds? You don't really want to sell comics, do you?"
      • Memorably so in the Book of Ratings:
      Kind of obvious, really. Hero: Big green dumb strong guy. Villain: Small green smart weak guy. It's not really dripping with creativity, and the moral ends up being "clever planning and logic can never win against the sheer physical brutality of a guy who barely even knows where he is." This is not a moral that your average comic book reader wants to hear.
  • Invincible: This comes up a few times in contrast to Mark Grayson's Flying Brick powers:
    • D.A. Sinclair is a Mad Scientist who kidnapped homeless people to turn them into an army of cyborg zombie slaves. While his Reanimen are tough he shows no combat abilities whatsoever.
    • Angstrom Levy is Invincible's Arch-Enemy, a brilliant dimension traveler who merged his mind with all his alternate dimension minds and gained all their knowledge as well. He never needs to fight Invincible directly because he can draw on knowledge of unlimited alternate versions of Invincible to plan around him.
    • Robot averts it, but only when he is in one of his robotic shells.
  • Marvel Two-in-One: Annual #5 has the Hulk and the Thing foil a complicated, centuries-long plan by Pluto to destroy the universe, which even took out the Stranger, by smashing the ground underneath him really hard so he falls into his machine.
  • The Mighty Thor: Thor and his evil half-brother, Loki. Only in comparison to each other. Loki is actually super-strong (even by Asgardian standards) and Thor is not particularly slow on the uptake, either, he's just surrounded by too many geniuses like Loki, Iron Man, and Odin, for it to show. Loki on the other hand is also blessed with the inversion of the trope from his birth species' (read: father's) side, as in they believe true evil can only come from brute strength and hold more brainy solutions in sneering contempt, Loki really cannot win ever (except maybe if he managed to incarnate as a Dark Elf somehow).
  • Scott Pilgrim: Scott isn't very bright but he is the "best fighter in the province" according to Kim. Gideon, on the other hand, is a genius inventor who relies on his technology in a fight. Guess which one is the villain. Though calling Scott "good" isn't necessarily accurate until quite a bit in.
  • Shazam!: Captain Marvel and Dr Sivana. While Captain Marvel is not stupid, he is still a child at heart and solves his problems through the application of physical force. Then again, he does have the Wisdom of Solomon...
  • Spider-Man: Somewhat inverted by Spider-Man who has a lot of villains stronger and less intelligent than him (e.g. Rhino, Sandman, Carnage, Venom, Lizard).
    • Played straight by some of his more prominent foes (the Green Goblin and Doc Ock) where they tend to edge him out in terms of brains and he edges them out in strength. Though Doc Ock's arms are actually stronger than Spider-Man overall, and actually made his debut by defeating Spider-Man in single combat. Though Doc Ock himself is indeed somewhat physically frail.
      • Green Goblin's raw strength in proportion to Spider-Man also varies, when originally it was equal to an ordinary man, then slightly weaker than Spider-Man, and sometimes noticeably stronger depending on the Goblin Serum used.
  • Superman:
    • Superman is far from stupid, but Lex Luthor ("a tenth level intellect") is the smartest man alive, and, unlike Superman, can't solve problems through brute force.
    • Also the Ultra-Humanite, the first comic-book supervillain, was designed to be the opposite of Superman and was given "the most learned and agile brain on Earth" to contrast Superman's strength.
    • Brainiac zig-zags this. Pre-Crisis he was much weaker than Superman physically but much more powerful with the use of his technology, usually including a force-field belt that Superman couldn't scratch and beam weapons capable of killing him, so Superman always had to think smart to have a chance against his alien foe. Post-Crisis he was always smart but went back and forth in terms of physical ability before Superman: Brainiac settled on the "true" Brainiacnote  being more than a match for the Man of Steel in a fistfight on top of his 12th-level intellect. When combined with technology at least on par with his Silver Age self, he becomes something of a Story-Breaker Power who Superman usually needs help to even the odds against.
    • Zig-zagged with Superman's enemy Manchester Black. Black's powers are all mental in nature, being both psychic and telekinetic, while Superman's are still physical and he largely uses his super-strength. But in terms of behavior, Black is a violent thug whose psychic powers still get used for brute force and Superman eventually defeats him with intelligence; strategically beating him at his own game.
  • The Tick: Granted everyone seems to have a few screws loose, but The Tick himself is most definitely Brawn=Good.
    The Tick: My brain has always been my Achilles' Heel!
  • Watchmen: Averted, as Ozymandias is reputed to be the smartest man in the world, but he's also more than a physical match for most other heroes. Dr. Manhattan, in turn, is the most powerful hero and a scientist too.

    Fan Works 
  • Stray inverts this with the main couple. Adamska, who has the muscles and the combat skills, is decidedly the more morally ambiguous of the two. Hal, the skinny nerd engineer, is the Nice Guy Morality Pet. Adamska isn't a completely straightforward Evil(ish) Brawn, however, since he's a Genius Bruiser who relies more on his Improbable Aiming Skills than raw power.
  • This trope is zig-zagged in Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!. Neither Izuku nor All Might are inherently stupid, but they both have Super-Strength and are inherently heroic when compared to the super-genius Ultra-Humanite. But the Ultra-Humanite's Quirk, Over Man, lowers the physical abilities of any human within 100 meters of him by up to 75%. This allows him to manhandle both Izuku and All Might at the same time, forcing them to use their wits to gain any sort of advantage. The Villain is only defeated after Izuku discovers his ability to fly and takes him by surprise, deactivating the Ultra-Humanite's Quirk and playing this trope straight again.
  • In Amazing Fantasy, Mysterio fashions himself as the foil to All Might: a Villain who dominates his foes through trickery and illusions versus All Might's overwhelming strength. Mysterio also has this relationship with Peter, being a non-powered old man to Peter's spider-powers, albeit the gap has been narrowed by Mysterio's new super-strong robot avatar.
  • Resident Evil: A Brother's Promise has this to a degree between William "B.J." Birkin Jr. and his parents. William and Annette are Mad Scientists working for Umbrella who created the G-virus, and expected B.J. to follow in their footsteps. Instead, B.J. elected to join the Marines.

    Film — Animated 
  • This seems apparent in Disney Animated Canon movies, especially the later ones.
    • Averted in Aladdin, which pits a Guile Hero against a Manipulative Bastard. (Aladdin does have some musculature, however.)
    • Also inverted in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, with scrawny but brainy Milo up against muscley and only slightly less intelligent Rourke.
    • Sort-of inverted in Beauty and the Beast, which has the smart Belle on the side of good and the dumb, muscle-bound Gaston as the main villain. Still, Gaston is defeated in a physical battle with the Beast, who is not particularly intelligent.
    • The Emperor's New Groove's villains include Yzma, the main villain, who is Lean and Mean but clearly cleverer than the physically stronger Dumb Muscle Anti-Villain Kronk. Its "heroes" include Anti-Hero Kuzko, also skinny, and profoundly self-centered, and Pacha, a more unambiguously good character who is noticeably physically stronger and nowhere near as self-centered.
    • Inverted with The Great Mouse Detective as well. Basil and Ratigan are evenly matched in wits. However, Ratigan far outweighs Basil in physical abilities.
    • Disney's Hercules pits sleazy Manipulative Bastard Hades against naive farmboy-ish Hercules who trades almost solely on his superstrength.
    • The Hunchback of Notre Dame has Quasimodo, who is freakishly strong, quite kind, and if not dumb, at least poorly educated and very naïve, vs. Judge Frollo, who is physically weak and elderly but makes up for it with good tactics and military forces (though the climax shows he's quite handy with a sword). Interestingly, Phoebus occupies both a physical and moral intermediate spot between the two, possessing only average physical strength and generally well-meaning but also Innocently Insensitive.
    • Played with a good deal in The Jungle Book (1967): Mowgli is both puny and naïve, while Shere Khan is physically imposing (being a tiger, after all) as well as a Wicked Cultured villain fond of using big words. But Mowgli manages to defeat him by being a Fearless Fool, while Khan turns out to be a shameful coward.
    • The Lion King (1994): Zig-Zagging Trope with the strong and noble Large and in Charge Mufasa versus manipulative Lean and Mean Scar. Scar certainly is a great deal more fond of using manipulation and cunning to get what he wants, and he's very talented at both of these things. In addition, he admits that he is physically far weaker than Mufasa. When it comes to actually ruling a kingdom, however, he has no idea what he's doing, and the Pride Lands goes from a lush savannah to a barren wasteland in a matter of a few years, all because of his incompetence. It eventually gets to the point where even his hyena minions recognize that Mufasa was a much better leader. Upon Simba's return, however, he shows himself to be no less adept at the cunning manipulation that got him into power...and this trope is played with again when Scar proves himself to indeed be a viciously competent (if dirty) fighter when he's got no other options.
    • Inverted in Mulan, which pits the clever and much smaller Mulan against the hulking Shan Yu. Though he's far from stupid (one does not get to be leader of a Badass Army without some level of smarts), she still has to use her wits and not her fighting ability to come up with the plan to defeat him.
    • Captain Hook in Peter Pan is a triple subversion: noticeably taller than Peter (and appearing larger due to the flamboyant costume he wears), but unnaturally skinny and no physically stronger in proportion. He is, however, the superior swordsman for much of the movie, and Peter usually relies on his wits to trounce him.
  • Megamind has a zig-zagged example: Megamind is the brainy Mad Scientist villain who fights the muscular Superman-esque Metro Man, but he's the Villain Protagonist who's only a villain because he believes in a Balance Between Good and Evil. He would prefer to be the hero, but because he always came in second place to Metro Man, he chose to be the villain. It's inverted at the end when he has to take on Titan, who was never particularly bright even before Megamind gave him powers to have a new Arch-Enemy after the seeming loss of Metro Man, but Titan also has his smart moments, most notably when he catches on to Megamind's disguise by recognizing his mispronunciation of "Metro City."
  • In The Incredibles, we have brawny good guy Mr. Incredible who finds himself pitted against brainy bad guy Syndrome. It's played with in that Mr. Incredible is still quite clever and has tactical intelligence (his infiltration of Syndrome's base is a great example- he only gets caught because Helen activates the tracking device on his suit) that Syndrome notably lacks (note all the times he causes trouble because he fails to think through the consequences of some dramatic flourish). Continued in the sequel, where there are numerous heroes with superpowers, but the only true villain is a human inventor.
  • In Kung Fu Panda 2, Idiot Hero Po is up against the genius peacock Shen, who fights with the cannons he invented (and in personal combat with hidden knives). Though once again emotional intelligence helps save the day as it turns out that coming to terms with your demons allows you to catch and throw back cannonballs.
  • Inverted in The Nightmare Before Christmas, which pits Badass Bookworm Jack Skellington against Oogie Boogie, a rare villainous example of a Boisterous Bruiser. That being said, the way Oogie actually fights Jack is this trope played straight, using his lair and his traps to his advantage rather than face Jack directly. We never get to see much of Jack's power, but given that he's the lord of Halloween, he might very well be stronger than he appears. Also, Oogie is clearly a Dirty Coward and a Fat Bastard, and extremely vulnerable due to literally being a sentient swarm of disgusting bugs very patchily sewn up inside a gunny sack that promptly disperses when the sack is torn off.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • The original Dragonlance book series. Raistlin Majere was sickly and physically weak (his constitution score is 3, the lowest possible for an initial roll), highly intelligent, and gradually turned to evil. His brother Caramon is strong, slow-thinking, and a good guy.
  • Inverted in Jim Butcher's Codex Alera. Tavi, our hero, is physically unimposing and the only person in his civilization outside of small children not to have elemental powers, meaning that his enemies tend to heavily outpower him in terms of brute strength, and even after he gets military training and starts developing powers, his enemies scale accordingly. Consequently, he has to use his brain to get out of most of his problems and is a full-blown Guile Hero by the second book.
  • Devolution: "Evil" might be overstating it, but Dr Reidenhart, an intellectual philosopher, is a spoiled know-it-all and Straw Misogynist who gets everything wrong and hides food from the others, and the therapist Carmen is clueless, while the most useful and heroic characters are the strong, active ones who can build and hunt, like Dan, Mostar, and Kate.
  • A prime source of Alternative Character Interpretation when it comes to Odysseus, hero of The Odyssey. According to different sources, Odysseus' cleverness and wiliness were what set him among the greats of the Greek heroes, or else they were signs of a weak and cowardly nature too pathetic to fight like a real man.
  • In Paradise Lost, the rebellious angels use their brains and skill to invent guns and turn back the loyal angels for a moment. The loyal angels respond with brute force: ripping up mountains and throwing them at the rebels. Jesus ends the fight the next day just by charging at the rebels with his overwhelming power.
  • The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, played for laughs in Wally's superhero stories. The hero is normally too dumb to live and forgets he even has super strength. They will often mess with the villain's machine, and make it worse. The villain will then have to fix it.
  • Zig-zagged in Soon I Will Be Invincible, with the two POV characters being a Mad Scientist villain and a newbie superhero, who mostly relies on strength. However, said villain also has low-level Super-Strength himself. Additionally, the villain's arch-nemesis is a Superman Substitute (has Superman's abilities, not his intelligence). The Super Team, however, is made up of a mix of brains and brawn heroes. Black Wolf makes his money reverse-engineering and selling Mad Scientist inventions, while also being capable of beating pretty much any superpowered being, despite not having powers himself.
  • Harry Potter has this going on in the group dynamics. Gryffindor House's associated virtue is courage, while Slytherin's are cunning and ambition. Most of the heroes are in Gryffindor, while nearly every named Slytherin is at least an asshole and most are magic Nazis. Played with on an individual level: both sides have a mix of clever and stupid people, but Harry is a jock who relies on his friends for anything requiring thought, while Voldemort is a genius who excelled at school and mastered more of the Dark Arts than anyone else, even inventing a ritual to restore himself from being Not Quite Dead.
  • Two of Captain Underpants's most badass antagonists, Professor Poopypants and Wedgie Woman, are very intelligent, but other than the latter's hair with hands, neither has any superpowers. On the other hand, the captain himself is a bit dumb, but he does have superpowers.
  • Redwall: In The Long Patrol, the Big Bad is Damug Warfang, a cunning and Crazy-Prepared warlord who constantly sends out soldiers to scout out new locations, and keeps his followers in check by having his spies keep close tabs on them. The Big Good is Lady Cregga Rose Eyes, leader of the heroic Salamandastron army, a big and immensely powerful Frontline General who gets a thrill out of fighting head-on, and earns the respect of her soldiers rather than enforcing it through fear.

    Live Action TV 
  • Inverted with Doctor Who. As Craig Ferguson put it, the one constant of the show is the triumph of "intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism".
  • The Flash (2014):
    • The first season has Barry Allen battling metahumans with his Super-Speed. The Reverse-Flash has speed surpassing that of the Flash, but it's in a constant state of flux and he's forced to spend most of his time charging his body with a futuristic wheelchair while monitoring his future Arch-Enemy.
    • Season 4 has Clifford DeVoe, AKA The Thinker. He is a super-genius, who's power comes at the cost of his physical health. In his own words, he is "the fastest mind alive".
  • The selection of the two tribes during Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains' pre-production was geared toward this. Before the merge, the Villains won 7 out of 8 challenges on the merit of their cleverness—the only challenge the Heroes won over this stretch was an unprecedented 8-0 sweep in a purely physical, one-on-one sumo wrestling challenge.
  • In the Mini Series Beast (Jaws with a giant squid rather than a shark), hero Whip Darling is a brawny fisherman, while the villainous mayor is a classic bespectacled nerd—at one point, Darling even sneers at him about his "Harvard education" as though this is something to be ashamed of. Darling also sneers at him about how "you're still the same creepy little kid you always were", indicating that Darling bullied him back during their school days and has no remorse over doing so, or worse yet, protected him from bullies and now regrets doing so. All of which is presented as perfectly okay.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy's not exactly an idiot, but her main advantages are her superhuman strength and durability. The Big Bads were typically Evil Geniuses or Diabolical Masterminds who were nevertheless often physically weaker than Buffy (though Glory in Season 5 is a notable exception). This is most pronounced with Warren Mears in Season 6.
  • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid compares a straight example and an inversion. Kuroto Dan is more likely to use his wits than brute strength. Emu Hojo is a capable manipulator himself and can only throw a punch to save someone's life.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: The Piranha brothers. Dinsdale, the enforcer, is remembered with tremendous fondness and affection even by some of the victims of his ridiculously over-the-top violence. Doug, who used sarcasm, inspires only naked, haunted terror.
  • Wonder Woman: Wonder Woman faced very few foes who could physically match up to her, so many adventures were centered around her figuring out the diabolical plan and then stopping it. Bleaker in "The Girl from Ilandia" was a particularly notable example. He not merely only handled Wonder Woman through brains, but never even attempted to physically face off against her - and succeeded! Gault's brain in "Gault's Brain" is a literal example as the Brain in a Jar could only act through mental abilities.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Most face/heel rivalries in Professional Wrestling play out like this with most of the drama centered around the heel cheating and tricking his way to victory against a more powerful and/or skilled babyface. Whereas a heel who's legitimately skilled gets cheered a lot of the time, the heel gets booed because the fans know he doesn't "deserve" to keep winning and are waiting until he finally gets demolished.
    • Prominent examples (as heels, of course):
      • Ric Flair
      • Chris Jericho
      • The Miz
      • Jerry Lawler was pretty much the Ric Flair of Memphis.
      • Triple H is a perfect example of both. As a heel, he can't win a match clean to save his life (despite being for years the most physically dominating main-eventer on the roster not named Kane or The Undertaker), yet as a face, all he needs are his fists and maybe a sledgehammer in order to take out the rest of the roster.
    • The standard psychology of a tag team match suggests this trope. Typically, the heel team shows more skill at actual tag team wrestling, isolating one face and utilizing numerous tag team maneuvers. This builds tension for the Hot Tag, whereupon the fresh babyface finally tags in and demolishes the heels singlehandedly, usually until a pinfall is broken up, all parties end up in the ring, and anything goes from there.
  • Professional Wrestling also has the "intellectual heel" persona, such as Christopher Nowinski, David Otunga (both Real Life Harvard graduates), Molly Holly for a female version, and Damien Sandow, whereas there is no real "intellectual face," since the intellectual heel will usually be wrestling a big, powerful face.
  • As a heel, A.J. Lee was arguably a good example: outrageously insane (insanity often said to be a byproduct of genius) and fond of mind games, but so petite that the larger Divas could floor her with a single punch. However, AJ made up for it by being a superior mat wrestler, relying less on strength than on systematically breaking down opponents.
  • Christian. As a heel, it seemed like he could never hold his own in the ring without cheating.
  • Eddie Guerrero usually was an inversion, winning matches by being a Guile Hero - quite justified a lot of the time, since practically everyone he faced was more muscular or at least taller than he was.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This is actually part of Lizardfolk religion in Dungeons & Dragons. Their primary god, Semuanya, has a bestial mindset, driven solely by instinct and focused only on basic survival. Their creation myth, however, states that Semuanya once had a mate, Kecuala. Unlike Semuanya, Kecuala was a thinking creature and thought and pondered so much that its indecision split it into two creatures; the first male and female Lizardfolk. Lizardfolk thus demonize intelligence and believe that by casting off the burdens of thought, they will be spiritually purified and be reborn as Kecuala.
  • Part of the reason Khorne gets the Draco in Leather Pants treatment in Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000: his followers are warriors one and all, seeking only to spill blood in his name (their foes', their allies', their own...), and hating above all betrayal and sorcery. His opposite number is Tzeentch, whose hat is backstabbing, and his (non-Astartes) followers tend to be on the squishy side. Averted in the case of Space Marine Librarians and Chaos Space Marine Sorcerers: sure, they have Psychic Powers that can tear apart armies, but they're seven feet tall wearing inch-thick Powered Armor with a handgun that shoots rocket-propelled explosives or plasma.

  • Mostly inverted throughout Transformers. The evil faction, Decepticons, are largely the ones with more brute force and power in contrast to the more peaceful Autobots, who naturally have many scientists among their ranks due to their more civilian origins. Case in point, some continuities have Orion Pax start out as a librarian while Megatron rises to power as a fierce gladiator. Straight examples include the brutish Dinobots against Evil Genius Shockwave.

    Video Games 
  • Mega Man:
    • Mega Man is a naive little robot who can bench-press a small building. His greatest villain is the brilliant but maniacal Dr. Wily. Then again, Mega Man has at least two benevolent scientists backing him up (one of which is Dr. Light, being Wily's equal). This is arguably a subversion, as Mega Man frequently defeats his opponents by adapting to their tactics and using a more effective strategy as a counter. On the other side, Wily's robots usually attempt to destroy Mega Man through either overwhelming force or some extremely specialized tactics.
    • This tends to be a common occurrence throughout the franchise. Who's the villain of Mega Man X8? The genius overseer of the Jakob project, Lumine. The villain behind everything in the Mega Man Zero series is the erudite Dr. Weil. The man behind all the problems in Mega Man ZX Advent is the scientific mastermind Master Albert. While the people who fight these villains aren't generally stupid (Mega Man X is naive but has an overall good head on his shoulders, Zero has the benevolent Dr. Ciel to help him on his missions, and Ashe at least has street smarts), they're generally better known for their prodigious combat talents.
  • Most Final Fantasy villains are cunning, scheming, manipulative masterminds that rely on magic and trickery while the heroes are strong, courageous, stalwart warriors that charge into battle using swords. The Crisis Crossover Dissidia Final Fantasy highlights this — aside from Garland, Sephiroth and Jecht, all of the villains fight using magic and have strategic Difficult, but Awesome fighting styles, while the heroes aside from Terra are physical brawlers with Boring, but Practical attacks.
    • As more characters joined the series, the idea has been subverted in some specific cases, like with Yuna and Ace, both of which are Marksman-type magicians. Regardless, the heroes side still has very few characters that could be considered more strategic and cunning (lorewise), and specifically ones that do not rely on hand-to-hand combat, despite having several potential candidates in the main series.
    • Additionally, there are a few smart characters who, while on Chaos' side, are legitimately good people. During all of the games, there's Golbez, and, in Duodecim, Kuja, who ends up being brainwashed by Kefka and becomes much stupider in the process.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story we have the idiotic but strong Bowser as the Villain Protagonist versus the intelligent Fawful as the antagonist. That said, Bowser would have lost many times over in the first few hours of the game if not for the smarter Mario Brothers stimulating his muscles at key moments to save him.
  • This is the main dynamic between Sonic the Hedgehog and Big Bad Dr. Eggman. The latter is a super-genius who uses his intellect and technology to try and Take Over the World. Sonic is a laidback guy whose MO is run as fast as possible towards any danger that confronts him and has foiled many of Eggman's plans for world domination.
  • Bully: Gary Smith pits the School of Bullworth's many factions against protagonist Jimmy Hopkins, through manipulation. Jimmy solves this problem by beating up the factions back into submission with the help of his friend, an Implacable Man who joins him because Jimmy beat him up first, and a group of insane buff psychotics who joined because Jimmy beat them into cooperation. Jimmy beats Gary with ease because he wasn't nearly as Brawny as Jimmy.
  • Played with on multiple levels throughout the Resident Evil series. On the one hand, most games are about a Player Character of average physical strength outsmarting hordes of literally brain-dead but physically powerful zombies through means of puzzle-solving and properly managing limited resources. On the other hand, the human villains who create these hordes of mindless zombies tend to be of the Mad Scientist and/or Magnificent Bastard variety, against protagonists who often have backgrounds as former soldiers or similar fields that are more focused on physical strength. The most egregious example of the trope being played straight is Chris vs. Wesker in Resident Evil 5, in which Chris is muscled up to the extent of absurdity verses Wesker who has a much thinner physique (although enough science-based superpowers to overpower Chris anyway) and is way, way, way smarter than Chris. Easily the biggest subversion is Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, which pits the highly intelligent but physically small Jill against the huge hulking brainless monster Nemesis.
  • In Jade Empire, Master Smiling Hawk, the evil one of the two masters of the Black Leopard School, is described as a cunning bookworm who gained power through a Dangerous Forbidden Technique, despite not being as strong as Master Radiant, the good master.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic, there's the Wookie brothers Chuundar and Zaalbar. Chuundar was supposedly "the runt" of the two, according to Zaalbar, but he's a cunning Manipulative Bastard who was able to get his father and brother exiled to take over their tribe. Zaalbar, meanwhile, is stronger and less intelligent than Chuundar.

    Visual Novels 
  • Downplayed in Double Homework. While the protagonist isn’t stupid, he’s still a jock, while Dennis is still a nerd. And the protagonist doesn’t understand why Dennis calls him “Esau” (a biblical reference) until Tamara explains it to him.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • RWBY: Volume 7 has General Ironwood and Dr. Watts fight. Ironwood is clearly the superior fighter, but Watts' control of the environment by hacking the stage set-up keeps the General off-foot, and nearly kills him several times. Near the end of the duel, Watts comments, "I suppose in this instance my brains and your brawn are evenly matched." and traps Ironwood's flesh arm in a Hard Light barrier. Ironwood only wins by being reckless enough to rip his arm out, flaying his skin, to achieve victory. And it's strongly implied that Watts' true goal wasn't to win outright, but to destabilize Ironwood into Sanity Slippage.
  • Slightly inverted in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with the Evil Genius Dr. Horrible, who is actually, a nice guy when he's not doing evil things, and the superhero Captain Hammer, who is a dumb Jerk Jock. The prequel comic seems to indicate that brains and brawn are polar opposites here. When Dr. Horrible previously tries to inject himself with a Super Serum made from Captain Hammer's DNA, he becomes as strong and tough as Hammer but also just as dumb. They just keep Megaton Punching each other until Dr. Horrible decides to go back to being smart. Averted with the other heroes and villains in the related comics. For example, Johnny Snow (mentioned in the show itself) is smart enough to build himself a Freeze Ray, which he uses to stop the Evil League of Evil when Captain Hammer is out of town.

    Western Animation 
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Evil genius Mojo Jojo vs the girls and their superpowers. Chemical X is the cause of both; think about that. Downplayed in that the girls, especially Blossom are fairly clever themselves, not to mention the (largely) harmless and Reasonable Authority Figure Professor Utonium.
    • Inverted with Fuzzy Lumpkins, who is about as dumb as they come, and as STRONG as they come.
  • Played with on Gargoyles with Goliath (a hulking Proud Warrior Race Guy) and Xanatos (a Magnificent Bastard with no superpowers). Just to read the descriptions of the characters, one would assume this dynamic to be in place, but as the show goes on Goliath repeatedly shows off his Genius Bruiser and Warrior Poet sides, while Xanatos proves to be an expert martial artist who eventually has a suit of Powered Armor made that lets him match Goliath's physical abilities. Both hero and villain are no slouches in the brain or brawn department.
  • Played with in Masters of the Universe: While He-Man does possess Super-Strength (specifically he's the mightiest man in the universe), he's also quite intelligent and has to use his brains at least as much as his brawn. His nemesis, Skeletor, is a Sorcerous Overlord but he's no weakling, either- he's nearly as strong as He-Man is.
  • Thoroughly mocked in Dan Vs. season 3 finale, "Summer Camp", by making this the stated philosophy of the episode's villain. The summer camp in question is run by The Social Darwinist Mr. Tedesco, who, under the guise of "toughening up" the campers, divides them into two clans and makes them fight for a "spirit stick" which grants its clan privileges such as food. Dan recognizes that his clan can't win a straight fight, so he gains the spirit stick by setting a trap with a hornet's nest. Mr. Tedesco punishes the whole clan for this, explaining that the entire point was to win through brute force—that taking the stick with cunning was "cheating". Dan does learn something in regards to standing up for yourself... and proceeds to lead the kids into destroying the camp and taking down Mr. Tedesco. Said philosophy was decided during the first year of the camp when the two groups competed for the stick. One managed to get through cunning before getting it taken at the last moment through brute force, so it could've gone the other way.
  • The Simpsons played this straight quite often:
    • Artie Ziff was the villain to Homer's Designated Hero when they were rivals for Marge's hand in high school. Artie was a real Jerkass to Homer, even though Homer probably could have cleaned his clock with little trouble. Of course, Homer could be a jerk sometimes as well, but that was due to his being Innocently Insensitive, whereas Artie knew better and had no excuse.
    • On a few occasions Abe Simpson and Monty Burns have squared off, usually in connection to their days together during the war. Abe was a brawny sergeant in the 1940s, while Monty was - and continues to be - so physically weak that a baby is stronger than him. Monty is also scheming, while Abe comes off as The Fool more often than not. And even though Abe has gotten pretty feeble himself in his old age, he's got courage to spare - not to mention a powerful Papa Wolf streak when Monty almost kills his grandson.
  • Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?: As an ACME Detective, Carmen was an Action Girl on par with series co-protagonist Ivy. After becoming a thief, she eschews violence entirely. Averted with Lee Jordan in the finale, who uses Family-Friendly Firearms.
    Carmen: What's the matter, Lee? Afraid you can't defeat me with your wits?
    Lee Jordan: I'll win any way I can!