It's a simple setup. The heroes on the one side, and the villains on the other. The story consists of their back and forth until the primary evil, the driving force behind the villainy in the story, the Big Bad himself, is foiled. That's a wrap, call it quits, everybody can go home. But what happens after that?
What happens in stories where the heroes continue to have adventure after dealing with their original Big Bad? Sure, the easy answer is that they'll have to deal with a new Big Bad, but what about the old one? After all, the Big Bad doesn't die in every story. Some of them lead lives in other sectors of the world.
This trope is for the figures in a work who once held the title of Big Bad, but no more. Maybe it's a case of How the Mighty Have Fallen, and they're struggling to claw their way back to the top; maybe this was the work of the The Man Behind the Man. Maybe they've decided to become a Retired Monster, and leave all the hard work to the next generation. Maybe they've only been Demoted to Dragon. Maybe they've undergone a HeelFace Turn, joined the heroes as their Token Evil Teammate, or even become The Atoner.
...Or maybe they just want you to think that, and some poor sap is about to have their plan Hijacked by Ganon.
Note Bene: In order to keep this trope from decaying into "Big Bads Who Lose But Don't Die", the Ex Big Bad must be shown or at least referred to as being no longer a Big Bad during a future point of an ongoing series. Villains who lose the status at the end of a story don't count, but if they appear in a sequel or a later season, they do.
Warning: This is usually a major plot point, so most if not all of these examples are unmarked spoilers.
- Dragon Ball:
- Piccolo is the final Big Bad of Dragon Ball, but in the Sequel Series, Dragon Ball Z, he reforms under Son Goku's influence and joins the good guys full-time, fighting a slew of new Big Bads alongside them.
- In Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta was the Big Bad of Saiyan Arc, bent on seeking Immortality and stuff like that. After he is defeated, he begrudgingly and gradually joins the Z fighters against other forces more evil than him, and settles down with Bulma.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Hayate is the "Big Bad" for most of the story (even if the Final Boss is the embodied Book of Darkness that Hayate used). After our heroes helped to deal with the whole problem, Hayate then got to get proper treatment for her illness, and some years later in StrikerS, she becomes the Big Good.
- MegaMan NT Warrior: Dr. Wily is, of course, the original Big Bad of the show, but after ultimately falling from grace, he spends the duration of Stream and Beast as a hobo on the streets, his ambition mostly depleted.
- One Piece: Because Luffy tends to leave the Big Bads of each arc alive but severely beaten, all arc Big Bads in the show are this. Some of them are given a side story to show what they do with their lives after their defeat (Wapol, Lucci and the CP9, Buggy, Enel), while some others are imprisoned and punished (Buggy, again, and Crocodile (through they escape just in time for the War Arc), Hody, Doflamingo) or at least implied to be as such (Arlong), and yet others are unknown.
- Lordgenome of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is the Big Bad pre-timeskip, but after he's defeated, he becomes our heroes' ally post-timeskip.
- Hiei of Yu Yu Hakusho, who was the Big Bad for the first real story arc in the series and later becomes a main character.
- In the post-TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, genocidal megalomaniac ex-Fire Lord Ozai is imprisoned but still trying to manipulate and corrupt his son and successor Zuko.
- Warren Mears, the Big Bad of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Six, is resurrected in the post-show comics to become a Smug Snake minor recurring villain. (Though he was lucky to have even temporarily achieved the status of a Big Bad).
- Negan of The Walking Dead serves as the Big Bad of the "All-Out War" arc, but survives it to be deposed as leader of the Saviors and become a Token Evil Teammate to the heroes by the time of the Whisperer War arc.
- Captain Barbossa, the Big Bad of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and Captain Jack Sparrow's Arch-Nemesis, becomes an Anti-Hero and Jack's (still selfish and treacherous) ally in the sequels.
- In the Transformers movies, Megatron is the sole Big Bad in the first but is Demoted to Dragon in the second movie and usurped by the real Big Bad Sentinel Prime in the third, where he is a broken-down shadow of his former self after suffering major injuries at the climax of the second film. Once resurrected in the fourth film, he's only a minor part of the Big-Bad Ensemble, and the fifth has him as part of a Big Bad Duumvirate.
- In The Dark Knight Trilogy, Scarecrow, who was one of the Big Bad Duumvirate of Batman Begins, turns up as the bad guy in the Batman Cold Open of The Dark Knight and again presiding over Bane's Kangaroo Court in The Dark Knight Rises.
- Examples in Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Loki is the Big Bad in Thor and The Avengers, but after his defeat by the Avengers turns into a reluctant Nominal Hero and a Token Evil Teammate to Thor and Jane in Thor: The Dark World, and then a Lovable Rogue who initially minds his own business but in the end arrives with The Cavalry to save the day in Thor: Ragnarok. Finally, in Avengers: Infinity War, he is brutally killed by the film's Big Bad, Thanos after attacking him.
- Throughout the series, Thanos had been on a quest to gather the Infinity Stones for the purpose of population control throughout the universe. Avengers: Infinity War sees him successfully gathering the stones, defeating the heroes that stood in his way, and — with one snap of his fingers — wiping out half of the population of the universe. He then retired to a far off planet. In the followup, Avengers: Endgame, the surviving heroes track down Thanos and launch a surprise attack, literally disarming him of his gauntlet. However, the Infinity Stones turn out to be missing, and Thanos explains that he had destroyed them shortly after getting what he wanted out of them to prevent his enforced status quo from being undone. He is then beheaded by Thor. The film's Final Battle is still against Thanos, albeit an incarnation of him circa Guardians of the Galaxy, who had witnessed the results of the future via the memories of a time-traveling Nebula, and decided that due to his plan resulting in the remaining populace of the universe unable to move on from the deaths of their loved ones, he will just Kill 'Em All instead and start life over from scratch.
- In the Discworld book The Last Hero, Cohen and his crew of octogenarian barbarians team up with "Evil Harry Dread", a former Evil Overlord with the vibe of a clapped-out old rock star, against whom they waged epic campaigns in their younger days. They reminisce about old times with a kind of camaraderie.
- Harry Potter: Downplayed. While the books are about Harry's clash with Voldemort, hanging in the backstory is Dumbledore's clash with Gellert Grindelwald, which figures prominently in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Only the "prequel" movies based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them feature Grindelwald as the villain.
- Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought
- This trope is downplayed in A Fire Upon the Deep. Emperor Scientist and Evilutionary Biologist Flenser is noted to have previously been in charge of the Flenserists (a faction which was, of course, named after him), but for all intents and purposes, his defeat prior to the events of the book have made him a (literal) fragment of himself, and Steel runs the show. At the end of Fire, Flenser undergoes a HeelFace Turn and becomes genuinely invaluable to the protagonists in the sequel, taking the trope even further.
- In The Children of the Sky, the pack Screwfloss is revealed late in the story to actually be the remains of Lord Steel, disguised and rearranged with a new member or two. He's still not the nicest fellow, but he seems to have undergone a HeelFace Turn since escaping from the Fragmentarium, a sanctuary for fragmented packs.
- In the Fairyland series by Catherynne M Valente, the Marquess, the Big Bad of the first novel, makes several appearances in later novels, and is eventually redeemed in the final one.
- Malcolm Merlyn in Arrow is the big bad of the first season. In the second season, he only has a handful of appearances, and in the third, he is a semi-good guy. He develops back to a villain by season 4's end, but doesn't regain his footing as Big Bad (on Arrow, anyway; he's part of the Big Bad Duumvirate in Season 2 of Legends of Tomorrow). At the end of Season 5, he returns to help the heroes against new Big Bad Prometheus and goes out in a Heroic Sacrifice to save Thea during the season finale.
- Farscape did this twice. The first season's Big Bad Crais rethinks his life after being tortured by Aeryn and Demoted to Dragon by Scorpius, and spends the second season as a Wild Card before joining the protagonists for the third season, and dying heroically at the end of that one. Scorpius himself is the Big Bad for the second and third seasons, but at the beginning of the fourth season, after being deposed by Grayza, he pulls an Enemy Mine with the protagonists against the Scarrans and remains their Token Evil Teammate for the rest of the show.
- King Richard in Galavant starts out as the main villain, kidnapping Galavant's girlfriend Madalena in the first episode and setting up the main conflict. But he turns out to be completely ineffectual and is replaced in short order by Madalena herself, as both ruler of Valencia and Big Bad of the series. By the second season, Richard has been reduced to being Galavant's sidekick.
- In Season 2 of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Season 1's Big Bad Rita Repulsa is usurped by her superior Lord Zedd, whom it turns out Repulsa was just acting as regent for while he was elsewhere. And then Season 3 and beyond has both demoted into downright comic relief.
- In Pretty Little Liars, after being revealed as A, Mona spends the third season as an ambiguous figure: is the "new" A actually still her, is she helping the new A, or is she actually reformed? It turns out to be the second, but A drops her at the end of the season. Ever since, she's been an ally of the main characters, if not an entirely trusted or trustworthy one.
- Once Upon a Time:
- Regina Mills, aka the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is the Big Bad in the first season, but undergoes a slow redemption process afterwards, with some setbacks.
- Her sister Zelena, aka the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, is the Big Bad of the second half of Season 3, and eventually ends up undergoing the same process.
- Subverted with Charles Logan in the long run of 24. After serving as the Big Bad in the fifth season, he seems to seriously regret his actions during Season Six and ends up as The Atoner aiding Jack, but ends up on the receiving end of a (non-lethal) HeelFace Door-Slam instead. This ends up having a nasty end result, as in the eighth season he ends up returning and retaking his position as Big Bad.
- In Ar tonelico: Melody of Elemia, Mir is the Big Bad who wants to wipe out all of humanity. In later games, she became The Atoner and tried to return the world to its original state. In the second game, she even joins the party, and the protagonist Croix can romance her.
- Art of Fighting: in the first game, Mr. Big was the Big Bad who kidnapped our hero's younger sister and forced their father to work for him. In the second game, he still appears, now as one of the regular fighters who wants to go against his boss, Geese Howard.
- Towards the end of Dragon Age: Origins, it is possible to recruit Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir — the Bad of the game's The Good, the Bad, and the Evil ensemble — into the Grey Wardens, instead of simply executing him for his crimes. If this option was taken (and he survived the Final Battle of Origins), Loghain appears in following games as one of the good guys, such as when he helps out the title organization in Dragon Age: Inquisition to fight the Elder One.
- The King of Fighters: the same Geese Howard above was the Big Bad of 2 of the Fatal Fury games, while his half-brother Wolfgang Krauser was also the Big Bad in one FF game. In KOF 96, they appear together as Bosses Team along with Mr. Big; they aren't the masterminds of the story (that'd be Goenitz), but they do act as mid-bosses who try to get their hands on the power of the Orochi. In KOF XIV Geese reappears, now along with his 2 henchmen as the participants for the tournament that year.
- In the very first game, Kirby's Dream Land, King Dedede was the Big Bad who stole all the food in Dream Land and Kirby had to take it back. In subsequent appearances, Dedede has been either mistaken for the Big Bad, possessed by the real Big Bad, or even a friendly rival for Kirby.
- In his first appearance, Magolor from Kirby's Return to Dream Land manipulated Kirby and his allies into defeating Landia for him so he can claim the Master Crown for himself and become a Galactic Conquerer. New Challenge Stages from Kirby's Dream Collection features Magolor returning to build Kirby a theme park in Dream Land to make up for the incident. He's more of a rival to Kirby in this instance, but at least they depart on friendly terms in the end.
- The first Knightfall game has Satan as the Final Boss. In the sequel, you find him Drowning His Sorrows in a tavern near the beginning.
- Mega Man Battle Network
- Original Big Bad Dr. Wily plays with the trope. Rather than appear directly in his capacity as an [Ex-BB] (like his NT Warrior self above), Dr. Wily is often presumed dead after his schemes, only to reappear and retroactively establish that he'd been acting as a Greater-Scope Villain of some kind or another. He plays it straight at the end of the fifth game, appearing to redeem the current Big Bad by force.
- Played straight by former Gospel head Sean in the third game, who appears and reveals he's been using his skills to help people, despite his tragic history.
- Portal. In both the first game and the first half of Portal 2, GLaDOS acts as the Big Bad of the game. But once Wheatley ended up getting uploaded into the facility, he becomes the new Big Bad of the second half while GLaDOS becomes the Deuteragonist as she teams up with Chell to stop the facility from being destroyed out of Wheatley's sheer stupidity.
- In Sengoku 3, there's Byakki and Okuni, two nukenin that ran away and became some of the first bosses the protagonist group fights. In the end, both join the group by Defeat Means Playable to defeat the Greater-Scope Villain.
- Street Fighter
- In the very first game, Sagat was the Big Bad and Ryu's final challenge. In his subsequent appearances, he becomes a part of Shadaloo to take revenge on Ryu, but then grows disinterested in revenge and then becomes a regular fighter.
- M. Bison, leader of Shadaloo, is the Big Bad in 2 and Alpha. In 4, the Big Bad is Seth, leader of one of Shadaloo's branches, and Bison goes to fight him (and anybody in-between). M. Bison regains the Big Bad status in 5, where he is Killed Off for Real.
- At the end of Tales of Xillia, Gaius is convinced by the party to stop his campaign of gathering all of the world's most powerful weapons. As an Anti-Villain, Gaius respects the party's strength because of his code of honor, and willingly stands down after he loses. Come Tales of Xillia 2, he's undergone a total shift in attitude, even joining the player's party to help stop the next crisis from occurring.
- In the Touhou series, each game only covers a single incident. Since each incident is usually separate, and Defeat Means Friendship is in effect, the Big Bad of one game can make a friendly appearance in the next. Sometimes they even become playable characters.
- Zeus from World Heroes 2 Jet is the Big Bad of the game, organizing the tournament in which the fighters are involved. In the next game, World Heroes Perfect, he appears as the "Big Bad", but after defeating him in one round, the real Final Boss, Neo Dio, appears and replaces him for real.
- Sarevok in Baldur's Gate. He's the final boss of the first game. Then in Throne of Bhaal you are forced to resurrect him and he becomes an optional party member who never betrays you. A good Charname can even convince him to change his alignment to Chaotic Good.
- Jackie Chan Adventures:
- Valmont is part of the Big Bad Duumvirate with a demon named Shendu, but after two different gambits lost, he ends up a poor beggar on the streets, desperate for cash and a chance to make his comeback. Shendu likewise loses his prominence, but he has much closer ties to the other significant villains of the show, and so his fall isn't quite as far.
- Also, Daolon Wong is the main villain for most of Season 3, until he decides to resurrect Shendu, which results in Shendu betraying Wong and upstaging him as the antagonist of the season finale.
- In The Legend of Korra, Zaheer and the Red Lotus were the Big Bad in Book 3, but by the end, Zaheer is the only known survivor after the Red Lotus were defeated. But due to their actions of killing the Earth Queen Hou-Ting, the Earth Kingdom is left in anarchy, and a new Big Bad arrives in Book 4 in the form of Kuvira, who ends up taking over the Earth Kingdom. Korra meets with Zaheer in his prison, where he realizes that his actions led to a new enemy rising up and he decides to help Korra deal with her fears.
- The end of the first season of Loonatics Unleashed revealed Optimatus as the mastermind behind two attempts to eradicate Acmetropolis with meteors. A seemingly lesser second season villain, General Deuce, attempts to abscond with Ace's Guardian Strike Sword, and recurs in the second season finale as an accomplice to Optimatus. However, Deuce is The Man Behind the Man, and betrays his cohorts as part of an Evil Plan to control all subspace travel in the galaxy. This stinging betrayal triggers Optimatus' HeelFace Turn in the finale.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Manipulative, reality-warping draconequus Discord was the Big Bad of the Season 2 premiere, causing chaos throughout Equestria. After being defeated by the Mane Six, he was then reformed by Fluttershy in Season 3, and after relapsing to villainy and being backstabbed by Tirek, Discord became fully, if not still causing chaos For the Lulz instead of For the Evulz, reformed by Season 5 onwards.
- Sunset Shimmer was Twilight's predecessor and the Big Bad of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls (2013). In its sequel, Rainbow Rocks, she transitioned to an atoning Deuteragonist and became their last minute Hero. By Friendship Games, she has become The Leader of the Humane Six and more or less the Hero Protagonist of the spin-off series.
- Starlight Glimmer was the Big Bad of Season 5 as the ruthless mayor of a town with equal sign cutie marks that she makes by the Staff of Sameness. After being defeated twice, first by restoring the townsponies' cutie marks and second by Twilight Sparkle and Spike via a time-travelling misadventure and some pep talk, Starlight became Princess Twilight's student come Season 6.