So The Hero has a spiffy office, title or position, probably with lots of cool benefits, like powers, technology or inside knowledge. He's been doing it for a while, so he's thinking he's the best there is.
Enter the Hero's Evil Predecessor. This is the guy who had that cool office, title, position, what have you, along with all its perks, before the hero probably even heard about it, and he often shows up right when the hero thinks he's got this thing figured out.
He's more competent and more experienced, and the only reason he doesn't have said job anymore is because somewhere along the way he Turned To The Dark Side. What's more, now our Hero has to attempt to take him down, a guy that knows all his moves, probably better than he does, knows the hero's organization inside and out, and probably has a fearsome reputation to boot. This will not be easy; he's probably one of the most difficult villains the hero will ever face.
The Evil Predecessor is a common villainous archetype who often acts as the Evil Counterpart to The Hero. Along with sharing a position with the hero, automatically making them similar, they tend to share certain abilities and powers the hero might have learned for his job as well, and what's more, he tends to be way better at them. While some of these characters were evil to begin with or seduced to evil out of their own weakness, it's also very common for this character to be a Knight Templar or Well-Intentioned Extremist who either didn't think his position allowed him to go far enough in whatever his office does (see also The Paragon Always Rebels), or he rebelled against his organization after finding out some terrible secret about them. Very often, this character gives some kind of Join Me or "Not So Different" Remark to The Hero, sympathizing with the hero based on having held the same position. Alternatively, they may just think The Hero sucks at their job and doesn't even come close to equaling the Evil Predecessor in his day, and may dismiss him entirely.
Ocasionally, the hero's evil predecessor is long dead, and the current hero has to deal with the ligering effects of the predecessor's misdeeds as part of being the successor. There are also cases where the predecessor is thought to be good, but then is revealed to be Evil All Along.
Often the Evil Predecessor is one of the more complex villain-roles, challenging The Hero to examine his own abilities, actions, and morals and make his own decisions on right and wrong. For this reason, the Hero's Evil Predecessor plot is good fodder for drama.
Compare Fallen Hero, which it often overlaps with. See also Psycho Prototype, for when the predecessor is also the prototype to an experiment. May be the result of Expose the Villain, Get His Job. When the protagonist is the Evil Predecessor, then he might be a Rogue Protagonist. Compare also Redeeming Replacement when a new hero is put into an established villain's identity and power; in this trope, it's the hero who's established first.
Doesn't actually have anything to do with a Predecessor Villain.
This trope usually comes out with The Reveal, so beware of unmarked spoilers!
- Played with in Ayakashi Triangle: All of the actual ayakashi mediums before Suzu (who were also her past lives) were just as kind as she is. However, the previous one, Mei, accidentally created an Evil Doppelgänger of herself, which even has very similar abilities and powers, and lived on into the present day.
- Bleach: Kugo Ginjo who was the Substitute Shinigami before the hero Ichigo, and his FaceHeel Turn prompted the anti-substitute law in Soul Society.
- In Fairy Tail, the leader of the dark guild Grimoire Heart, Hades, was formerly the guild master of the titular Fairy Tail guild, Pretch Gaebolg. His successor, Makarov, was shocked to learn the mentor he looked up to turned to the dark side and tried to defeat him. It didn't go over so well.
- In Gundam Build Fighters, Meijin Kawaguchi II had a winning-at-all-costs attitude, which is why Julian MacKenzie dislikes Yuuki Tatsuya/Meijin Kawaguchi III for carrying on the name (although Yuuki says he did it to honor the first Meijin Kawaguchi).
- In Karas, the Karas who protected Shinjuku before Otoha was Eko, the Big Bad.
- The Prétear anime. The Princess of Disaster is the previous Pretear, fallen to darkness due to Unrequited Love, and it's suggested it may have also happened before and could happen to any Pretear if they can't control their emotions.
- Inverted in Rurouni Kenshin. Big Bad Shishio became Kenshin's successor as the imperial faction's hitokiri ("man-slayer") after Kenshin retired, and is definitely more evil than him (though Kenshin was more ruthless as a hitokiri). Shishio lampshades this by mockingly referring to Kenshin as senpai on multiple occasions.
- YuYu Hakusho: Sensui Shinobu was the Spirit World Detective before the main character Yusuke Urameshi took the job. Seeing humans committing evil deeds against the demons he was fighting against, he had a FaceHeel Turn and started fighting for the demons instead.
- In The Authority, one of Doctor Jeroen Thornedike's predecessors, known only as the Renegade Doctor, was an Omnicidal Maniac. After Jeroen suffered a heroin overdose during a crisis, the Authority was forced to restore his predecessor's powers in order to fix the crisis. Luckily for them, in the intervening years, the Garden of Ancestral Memory had added "empathy with all living things" to the list of powers that came with the job, which overwhelmed the Renegade Doctor, distracting him long enough for the Authority to finally kill him.
- The Avengers: Nathan Garrett, the Black Knight who was an original member of the Masters of Evil, preceded his nephew, Dane Whitman, in the role. Whitman received a Last Request from a mortally-wounded Garrett to redeem the name of the Black Knight. Whitman (who, unlike Garrett, was deemed worthy to wield the cursed Ebony Blade of their 6th-century ancestor) took up the mantle and chose to infiltrate the Masters to bring them down from within, before being invited to join the Avengers.
- Birthright inverts this as Villain Protagonist's Good Predecessors with the Five being a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who fought against God-King Lore before fleeing from their world. Mikey Rhodes is summoned to fight in their place, but becomes a Fallen Hero in the process by siding with Lore and being charged with killing the Five so his master can take over Earth.
- The wearers of the Darkhawk armors were Space Pirates and quite evil. Darkhawk was basically the only good guy to wear one.
- Green Lantern:
- Sinestro is the Evil Predecessor to either Hal Jordan (greatest Lantern) or Soranik Natu (Former Lantern of Sector 1417 and current leader of the Sinestro Corps).
- Hal himself became this to Kyle Rayner after crossing the Despair Event Horizon with Coast City's destruction and Parallax possessed him, killing the Guardians in the process.
- The Green Lantern Corps as a whole has an Evil Predecessor in the Manhunters, robots that were built to police the galaxy before the Green Lantern Corps were founded. They decided to try to kill everyone.
- The Guardians of the Universe became this to the Templar Guardians after they tried to destroy the universe's free will with the Third Army, accidentally freed Volthoom the First Lantern, and their near-extermination at the hands of Sinestro.
- The 2021 miniseries Robins sees the various Robins- Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown and Damian Wayne- being attacked by an initially unknown figure who identifies themselves as "the first Robin", claiming to be Batman's first partner. The five eventually learn that the "first Robin" was Jenny Wren, a young woman who helped Batman solve the mystery of the villain the Escape Artist, a computer expert who who operated outside of Batman's existing experience. Jenny helped Batman confront the villain, but when she nearly killed their opponent, Batman realised that she wouldn't be a suitable long-term partner, and she ultimately faked her death. The choice of "Robin" as Dick's codename was ultimately a coincidence that Batman took as a sign that these partners would allow him to redeem his mistakes with Jenny, who was too much like him in the sense that both were consumed by their rage where a partner had to be better.
- In Shazam!, the Wizard Shazam's first Champion was Black Adam, back during the days of ancient Egypt; when he turned evil, Shazam got rid of him and waited 5,000 years before finding Billy Batson, a kid pure of heart enough to try again with.
- W.I.T.C.H. and its cartoon adaptation have Nerissa. Years before the current generation of the Guardians was born, she was the previous generation's leader until she became corrupted and murdered her friend Cassidy (the previous Water Guardian). Like current team leader Will, Nerissa was the Quintessence Guardian and keeper of the Heart of Kandrakar. A subplot has Will afraid of becoming like Nerissa (though more in the comics than in the cartoon).
- In Of Quirks and Magic, Dr. Strange took a pupil before Izuku named Ikiji Kokotsu. Like Izuku, Ikiji was Quirkless, desperately craved power and had a knack for magic. Unfortunately, he was tempted by Kaecilius' offer to become a follower of Dormammu to obtain salvation, delving into dark magics and becoming a power-hungry monster. Izuku is horrified when he learns of this and wonders if he'll ever succumb to a lust for power like Ikiji. But Strange assures his newest pupil that his heroic heart is too strong for that.
- The Sabbat establishes that the Guardians of Childhood were preceded by the Guardians of the Sabbat, who basically 'protected' children by encouraging fear of the dark until the Man in the Moon decided to change tactics. This fic establishes that Pitch Black, the Boogeyman- also known as 'Oogie Boogie' from Haloweentown- was essentially the predecessor of the Sandman, with the storyline beginning when North is attacked by his revised predecessor, The Krampus.
- Frozen II: King Runeard of Arendelle was the father of King Agnarr, and grandfather of Queen Elsa and Princess (later Queen) Anna. Unlike them, he was a dictator who built a dam to weaken the Northuldra tribe into depending on Arendelle to try and repress the Northuldrans' magic. He then killed their tribe leader, causing a war that resulted in his death and Northuldra to be isolated in deep mist for 34 years.
- Kung Fu Panda: Downplayed; Tai Lung, Master Shifu's former personal pupil, was a talented kung-fu fighter who trained since his early age, and Shifu thought he would take the legendary Dragon Scroll and become the legendary Dragon Warrior. Master Oogway didn't agree, though, leading to Tai Lung rebelling against the masters and then getting imprisoned for his troubles (as pictured above). Some years later, our hero Po is made the Dragon Warrior, and then he's informed that he's fated to defeat Tai Lung, the former candidate for the scroll.
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls has Sunset Shimmer, who was the prized student of Princess Celestia before My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic protagonist Twilight Sparkle, until her growing impatience and selfishness got her stripped of her rank. In a rare case for this sort of character, Sunset turns into The Atoner and even becomes friends with Twilight after a heart-to-heart where she proves that she's changing her ways, at which point she takes the role of hero protagonist for the rest of the spin-off franchise.
- Batman Begins has an interesting variation. Bruce Wayne is the disciple of Ra's Al Ghul, and being groomed to succeed him in leading the League of Shadows, but grows disillusioned with their ruthless and absolutist views and methods. After he escapes and returns to his home city of Gotham, he immediately sets about putting everything Ra's taught him about using fear, misdirection, theatricality, and psychology to work fighting crime, albeit in a more merciful and less ruthless way. All of these lessons are distilled into the creation of the Batman identity. When Ra's and the League of Shadows ultimately show up in Gotham, Ra's even hangs a lampshade on it: "You took my advice about theatricality a bit... literally." It's played with in this example, in that the evil predecessor comes looking to take down the hero and would-have-been successor, rather than the other way around, but the dynamic is otherwise the same.
- Madison in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle. She was a former Angel to Charlie. In the movie she turns evil and tries to expose Charlie and kill the current Angels. And unlike this incarnation of the Angels, she uses guns.
- The Bad Guys from Night at the Museum are the three previous night guards of the museum before the protagonist Larry.
- In Power Rangers (2017), a new backstory is added so that Rita Repulsa was once the Green Ranger, making her this to the team.
- Shazam: In the past, the Wizard Shazam and his peers chose a Champion (who remains unnamed in the movie, but appears to be Black Adam) with whom to share their powers, but, as he puts it, they chose "recklessly"; said Champion turned evil and unleashed the Seven Deadly Sins into the world, causing mass casualties and untold suffering. In an effort to not repeat this mistake, the Wizard Shazam goes to the opposite extreme when trying to choose a new Champion by holding any potential Champion to impossibly high standards that, inevitably, none of them are able to meet because Humans Are Flawed. Eventually, when he's at death's door, he's finally forced to give up and choose the very next candidate who arrives in his world, Billy Batson, a young man who otherwise never would have been able to live up to his harsh requirements, as the new Champion. Luckily for everyone, it does work out in the end; while Billy is careless with his powers at first, he grows into his role as a hero, and never considers outright turning evil like Black Adam did.
- Skyfall. The villain turns out to be a former Double-0 agent turned Rogue Agent, who wasn't so different to James Bond — maverick yet loyal to M (until he was betrayed), with an addiction to risk and beautiful women. As per this trope he's more skilled than Bond and is a step ahead of him for most of the movie.
- Speed: Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), a former member of the APD bomb squad unit turned mad bomber, to Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves), an LAPD bomb squad member. This becomes central to the plot as Payne not only uses his extensive knowledge of explosives and police procedure to stay two steps ahead of Jack and his friend, Harry. He tries to convince Jack that they're not so different. It doesn't work.
Payne (over the phone): Why are they messing with me, Jack? Do they think I'm doing this for fun and games?
Jack: Aren't you?
Payne: Oh! That's not fair, Jack. You don't know how I feel. You don't even know me.
Jack: I know you want a shitload of money you didn't earn.
Payne: Oh, I earned it. See, I was like you once. They gave me a medal too, Jack. A medal, a pink slip, and a 'sorry about your hand!'
- Before he fell to The Dark Side and became Darth Vader, Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars was once a Jedi Knight like his son Luke.
- Angel: In season five Angel & Co. are given the LA branch of the Evil Corporation Wolfram & Hart to run as they see fit. Their objective is to do good with this company that used to be in the evil business.
- In the 2007 version of Bionic Woman the Arc Villain is the previous bionic woman Sarah Corvus, who is trying to teach Jamie about how uncaring the Berkut Group is by attacking her and being generally evil
- In an episode of The Incredible Hulk (1977), David comes across a man who had been changed into a Hulk-like creature years and years ago, and had been cured. He has one vial of the cure left. However, the man (now an old man) desperately wants the power again in order to gain revenge on his enemies, so he reexposes himself to gamma radiation. The other man Hulks Out and David is forced to use the cure on the other man lest he start a killing spree.
- An episode of Legend of the Seeker deals with Kieran, a Seeker of Truth before Richard. Like many other Seekers, Kieran fell in love with his Confessor, Viviane. However, Kieran and Viviane chose to consummate their feelings, resulting in Kieran becoming Confessed. He strayed from his mission. Their wizard Amfortas convinces Viviane to kill herself in order to free Kieran from Confession. While the spell is broken, Kieran goes mad with grief and starts slaughtering innocents, forcing Amfortas to kill Kieran with the Sword of Truth. Amfortas then curses Kieran and Viviane's souls and falsifies the story to maintain the good Seeker name for future generations. Unfortunately, this becomes known when Richard and Kahlan end up being possessed by the spirits of Kieran and Viviane, who nearly end everything by trying to consummate their relationship in their borrowed bodies, which would result in Richard's Confession (or not, if the Grand Finale is anything to go by).
- The protagonist in the first The Librarian Made-for-TV Movie was replacing the Big Bad.
- Since Kamen Riders are often Phlebotinum Rebels, sometimes the previous wielder of the Rider gear wasn't so good:
- Kamen Rider Kiva: The previous Kiva, now known as Dark Kiva, is the Big Bad and his existence is the reason Kiva himself was a Hero with Bad Publicity at first. The Dark Kiva armor later finds its way into the hands of someone who makes a HeelFace Turn, making the first Dark Kiva the evil predecessor of the new Kiva and Dark Kiva.
- Kamen Rider OOO: The previous OOO was a greedy king who created the Medals to transform greed into power, and the OOO Driver to channel that power, thus serving as the show's Greater-Scope Villain.
- Kamen Rider Wizard: Wizard received his magical powers from the White Wizard, who turns out to be an alias of the show's Big Bad, playing both sides to achieve his goals.
- Kamen Rider Drive: Drive's predecessor is evil, but not by choice: he spends the first half of the show Brainwashed and Crazy as the villainous Chase. When he comes back, he makes no attempt to reclaim his old mantle as Drive, instead getting a new suit for himself.
- Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: While not technically going by the same name, Kamen Rider Genm is an evil palette swap of the title character, and often gets confused for Ex-Aid as a result. Genm's been in the game significantly longer than Ex-Aid has, though, and he's anything but heroic.
- Kamen Rider Saber: The previous Saber, Daichi Kamiyo, serves as the show's Starter Villain, having traded the Sword of Fire for the Sword of Darkness to become Kamen Rider Calibur. Upon his defeat, he turns out to have actually had very good reasons for his seemingly villainous actions, setting the main plot in motion.
- Knight Rider: KARR, the predecessor of KITT.
- Moon Knight: Arthur Harrow, the former Avatar of Khonshu who grew disillusioned with only being able to dole out punishment to those who'd already committed crimes, turning instead to Ammit, who seeks to punish those who will do evil as well. He opposes Steven Grant/Marc Spector, the current Avatar of Khonshu.
- Odd Squad: Otto takes the place of Todd, the main villain of the first season.
- Power Rangers has used this multiple times.
- Power Rangers S.P.D. has the A Squad of Rangers (the Ranger team the show focuses on is B Squad), revealed to be evil towards the end.
- Power Rangers Mystic Force has Nick's predecessor Leanbow, possessed by the Big Bad to become The Dragon.
- Power Rangers Jungle Fury has Jarrod, the original choice for the Red Ranger before he was kicked out for bullying, becoming the Big Bad through Demonic Possession.
- Meta example in Power Rangers Samurai, where Rick Medina, aka Cole the Red Ranger from Power Rangers Wild Force, is cast as Noble Demon Deker.
- In Power Rangers: Beast Morphers, Blaze and Roxy were the original candidates for the Red and Yellow Ranger powers but Evox created evil avatars of them during the process and the powers went to Devon and Zoey instead, with Cyber-Blaze and Cyber-Roxy wielding corrupted versions. Only the empowerment of the Blue Ranger, Ravi, went off as planned.
- Seven Days:
- There was an episode where the villain was a former test chrononaut, believed dead for years.
- Another has a man who wanted to be a chrononaut, and cracked after he learned he does not qualify. The problems started when he got out of madhouse early.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Gul Dukat, the main Big Bad of the series, used to run DS9 before the Federation took over. Also inverted in the final season. Benjamin Sisko has been the Emissary of the Prophets since the series premiere, and late in the 7th season Gul Dukat becomes the Emissary of the Pah-Wraiths, the Evil Counterparts of the Prophets. Naturally this leads to a duel to the death between the two in the series finale.
- Windom Earle in Twin Peaks is Agent Cooper's former mentor, an FBI agent gone rogue, possibly possessed by evil spirits, and definitely murderous.
- The titular Big Bad of Carmen Sandiego's Great Chase Through Time was an ACME agent, just like the player character, before she switched sides out of boredom. Her villainous subordinates never worked for the organization and are distinctly less competent than all the characters who have.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- Jagar Tharn, the Big Bad of Arena, served Emperor Uriel Septim VII as Imperial Battlemage before imprisoning the Emperor and usurping his throne. After Tharn's defeat, the Emperor named High Chancellor Ocato to the position, where he serves as a very Reasonable Authority Figure for the next several games in the series until his death prior to Skyrim.
- The Big Bad of the Dragonborn DLC for Skyrim is Miraak, the first Dragonborn to the Player Character's status as the last Dragonborn.
- Ulysses in Fallout: New Vegas is the original Sixth Courier. He's pretty darn evil, while your character may or may not be evil, depending on how you play.
- Ares is the titular God of War in the first game of the series. He's so bad that the other Greek gods recruit Kratos to kill him. When Kratos ultimately succeeds, his reward is to become Ares's replacement, though YMMV on how much of an improvement he is.
- The Arbiter in the Halo series is a title given to a shamed Sangheili who becomes the Prophets' exclusive hitman. The Arbiter introduced in Halo 2, set towards the end of the war, is a noble former commander who wants to atone for his errors and even is a bit of a Death Seeker; he later becomes a Reasonable Authority Figure working to heal the wounds of the Human-Covenant War. The previous Arbiter seen in Halo Wars, set towards the beginning of the war, was a bloodthirsty General Ripper who was cruel to humans and his own soldiers alike, and who didn't care at all about repenting for his crimes.
- I=MGCM: A rare multiverse example. In the final chapter of the 2nd arc, the Ultimate Magica self of Iroha is revealed to be a powerful Demon Slaying Magical Girl Warrior who have originated from the earlier universe and has Executor disappearing to another universe (because Vivian teleports him). Without the Executor's power, the heroines in that universe are stuck forever in a sort of dark dimension and eventually blipped out of existence. Iroha is the last one left, then the twin demons show up to give her the chance to kill the main universe Omnis (and other Executors she encounters) for abandoning them.
- Saren Arterius, the Big Bad for most of Mass Effect, has his Spectre status revoked during the same meeting where Shepard is made a Spectre.
- Centuries ago, Shang Tsung was Earthrealm's Mortal Kombat champion. At some point, he was caught eating souls, earning him exile and the curse of rapid aging from the Elder Gods, and he threw himself on the mercy of Evil Overlord Shao Kahn. Now he assists the Kahn in his endless plots to conquer Shang's estranged home realm.
- Years after the Umbrella Corporation collapsed in the Resident Evil series due to a class-action lawsuit in the wake of the public discovering its hand in the Raccoon City Incident, the remaining employees would form a PMC of the same name that would eventually aid the BSAA in fighting and developing countermeasures against B.O.W.s, all for the sake of atoning for their past crimes. While they officially retain their original name so that the masses will know they're working to fix the problem they helped create, to differentiate themselves from both their predecessor and another organization that went by the name "Neo Umbrella" note , this heroic version of Umbrella first seen on-screen in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is nicknamed Blue Umbrella (as their logo is the same, only blue in color).
- Yakuza 0 reveals that Kiryu was not the first man to claim the title "Dragon of Dojima"; the title was first coined by Keiji Shibusawa, the Big Bad of 0, who intended to crown himself "Dragon" after ousting Kazama, giving Dojima the Empty Lot, and killing Kiryu because he got a dragon tattoo as well. Kiryu throws this back in his face that a title someone comes up for himself doesn't mean anything, but claims it all the same after he defeats Shibusawa and cements himself as a true "Dragon".
- Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: Mac Antfee, who was the Ninja long before the titular character put on the mask, was forcefully stripped of the position due to abusing his power. As such, he didn't go through the Laser-Guided Amnesia ritual all ninjas normally perform upon ending their tenure, which left him embittered and wanting revenge. In the present, he seeks to reclaim the Ninja suit with his army of followers (dubbed Macolytes) in the present. Due to his greater knowledge of the Ninja's powers, he's one of the toughest opponents Randy has to fight.
- In the 2016 series Voltron: Legendary Defender, Emperor Zarkon, the evil leader of the Galra Empire is revealed to have formerly been a member of the Voltron Paladins before his FaceHeel Turn. Specifically, he's the evil predecessor of Shiro, The Leader of the current team, as he held the same title of Black Paladin and partner to the Black Lion.
- In the cartoon version of W.I.T.C.H., the Big Bad of Season 2 is team leader Will's predecessor Nerissa, as in the second arc of the comic book as described above.