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Historical Badass Upgrade

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"So, all in all, just a normal day in the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Turn lead into gold, paint the most famous portrait of all time, and invent the first hang glider. And I bet it’s not even 9 AM."

Sometimes a Historical-Domain Character is portrayed by adding a copious amount of badassery and Stuff Blowing Up, that was either far lesser or non-existent with the Real Life person. The reasons could range from sloppy research to Rule of Cool.

Maybe a king, who was known for very little else but diplomacy, gets to be a war hero instead. Maybe Mahatma Gandhi gets to fist-fight grizzlies. Maybe a pope was a vampire hunter in his spare time.

Kung-Fu Jesus is a subtrope.

Compare Beethoven Was an Alien Spy for a possible justification of this trope. Adaptational Badass is when this happens to a character from a previous work. Memetic Badass is when the Badassery is upgraded through Memetic Mutation. Giving the same treatment to a living famous person would generally fall under Celebrity Power.

See also Historical Hero Upgrade and Historical Villain Upgrade, both of which this trope may very well overlap with if the character's more heroic or more villainous actions come off as Badass.


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Examples using real people

    Media in General / Common Persons 
  • Nikola Tesla was undoubtedly a major influence on the Mad Scientist trope, but what a lot of people either forget or choose to ignore is that after he got bored of sane science, his career totally bombed. Media depicting Tesla often give Thomas Edison (who, in all fairness, was by no means a particularly nice guy in Real Life) a Historical Villain Upgrade and posit some kind of grand conspiracy to suppress Tesla's discoveries, when in reality his attempts at creating a Death Ray or Weather-Control Machine or whatever else he was hoping to build that week just plain didn't work. He did some important early work on the physics of radar and may have been the first person to file a patent on a VTOL aircraft, but neither would actually be built until decades later with the actual nut-and-bolts engineering being done by someone else.
  • General George S. Patton has often been portrayed as a highly badass American general, a lover of general Nazi-asskicking and getting his hands dirty, and is simultaneously given a Historical Beauty Update in regards to his height and appearance. All of this was mainly due to the film Patton and to his very much real attitude of an all-American tough guy; however, despite being portrayed as youthful, tall, booming-voiced, and tough, he was actually fairly advanced in years and appearance when the War came around. He didn't enjoy public speaking due to his short height and raspy, very much non-booming voice, and he never actively went out in the field to get his hands dirty in combat, partly due to poor physical health. A good commander he was, Rambo he wasn't.note 
  • The battleship Yamato, in real life, was one of the iconic examples of Awesome, but Impractical for military historians; the largest battleship ever built, but so flawed in design, so mismatched against its opponents, and so badly outdated that it did far more damage to the Japanese economy than it ever did to the American fleet. It only engaged other ships in one battle (Samar), where it outweighed the entire force it was going up against and had 23 ships backing it up, but at most only managed to contribute to the sinking of three much smaller ships. In its final battle, it was shredded to death by aircraft that took fairly minimal casualties, never even seeing the carriers that sent them out. Yet because of its cool factor and the undoubted accomplishments in engineering needed to build the thing, it was a pretty firm symbol of Japanese nationalism for its entire lifespan, meaning that any depiction of it in fiction (most famously Space Battleship Yamato) will invariably show it as being a lot more powerful than it really was.
  • Whether it gets depicted in a positive or negative light, chances are that the Waffen-SS will be portrayed as Nazi Germany's Elite Mooks. This was not the case in reality. Waffen-SS members were "elite" only in a societal sense, and its members were selected for how well they seemed to fit Nazi ideas, not their capabilities. While some of its units and members were legitimately badass, the organization as a whole did not have a particularly impressive combat record. See Nazis with Gnarly Weapons for more on why their popular perception as impressive elite fighters is untrue.
  • Similar to the above (though far less likely to be portrayed in a positive light) is Werwolf, an underground network of Nazi military operatives who conducted sabotage and guerilla warfare in parts of Germany captured by the Allies, and spent some time as The Remnant after the war was over. Fiction tends to depict the organization as a terrifying "hidden army" that had a legitimate chance of reviving Nazi Germany. This is a far cry from what it was actually like. Werwolf was never seriously intended as an insurgency that would continue the fight after Germany's official defeat (since Hitler and other Nazi leaders considered even acknowledging the possibility that Germany could lose as "defeatist" and "cowardly"), and its propaganda value far outweighed its actual achievements. Even revisionist historians like Perry Biddiscombe who consider Werwolf to be more accomplished than the mainstream position says they were nevertheless generally insist it was no real threat to the Allied occupation after summer 1945 for a number of reasons.
  • Fictional portrayals of Joan of Arc tend to depict her as an Action Girl who's often leading troops in charges, if not a master swordfighter with physical strength to match a well-trained knight's physical conditioning. She's also often depicted as being singlehandedly responsible for changing the tides of the Hundred Years War in France's favor, leading to its ultimate victory in the conflict. Some works even depict her as having magical powers. While the real Joan's accomplishments were certainly impressive — especially considering her background, age and gender — she wasn't the Four-Star Badass and Knight in Shining Armor she's often imagined to be. By her own admission, she never personally killed anybody or commanded directly, although the individuals who did command considered her advice to be divinely inspired and didn't hesitate to give it at least partial credit for their victories. She also wasn't the only woman to serve in the French army — many widows had joined up after their husbands were killed — and not even the only woman to lead an army. But she was by far the youngest to do all these things.

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Manhattan Projects feature robot Wernher Von Braun, irradiated skull Harry Daghlian, cannibal Evil Twin of Oppenheimer, evil parallel universe Einstein, and FDR AI meeting aliens, discovering wormholes and fighting robots zen powered by death monks.
  • In Atomic Robo, virtually any historical figure to appear will get this unless they were badass already, but special mention has to go to Carl Sagan, who gets to take a break from talking about the universe to blast the crap out of an Eldritch Abomination with a lightning gun while talking about the universe.
  • The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck: Samuel Steele was certainly an exemplary officer of the RCMP who re-established order in the lawless Yukon during the Gold Rush, but writer Don Rosa tops this by making him The Ace. The meanest, orneriest prospector imaginable rides into town on a friggin' bear, but is so scared of Steele that he rushes off before the man arrives. In fact, Steele is SO badass that explosions can't even hurt him.
  • In Über, Alan Turing and General Patton are turned into Ubers, being the only historical figures so far in the comic to be enhanced.

  • William Wallace in Braveheart (possibly).
  • Leonardo da Vinci (post mortem), Buckingham and Cardinal Richelieu in the 2011 film adaptation of The Three Musketeers.
  • Qin Shi Huangdi in Hero, as befitting a character in the wuxia genre.
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
  • Jurassic Park: Many of the dinosaurs and recreated animals in this franchise are subjected to this trope, most notably the theropods. The Velociraptor is an intelligent and social killer, a far cry from the solo hunting, turkey-sized and not outright stupid but rather simple-minded ambush hunter, the Spinosaurus can now apparently kill large and dangerous prey such as tyranosaurs when it's anatomy is clearly that of a pisciverous water-lover,and Compsognathus is no-longer a solitary, cat-like predator of small prey and now a sort of land-pirhana with toxic saliva. Zig-zagged in the Dilophosaur's case, as she is shrank, but armed with toxic spraying powers and a menacing frill on her neck. Ironically, the Tyrannosaurus rex itself is something of an Adaptational Wimp, as she retains most of the real animal's power, she is slightly handicapped with terrible eyesight, when real tyranosaurs had excellent vision.
  • The character of Phillip Thomsen in Das Boot is very loosely based on Heinz Hirsacker, the real life commander of U-572. Hirsacker was not as noble or brave as Thomsen is portrayed in the film and was never awarded a combat decoration for his U-Boat service, much less the Knight's Cross. He was further accused in 1942 of cowardice before the enemy after repeatedly avoiding enemy ships and retreating to base at the first sign of pursuit. Hirsacker was convicted by a court martial and sentenced to death, but committed suicide in 1943 before the sentence could be carried out.
  • I Shot Jesse James: In this film, the character John Kelley is meant to represent Edward Capehart O'Kelley, who came into conflict with main character Robert Ford. In real life, O’Kelley had a history of drunkenness and only beat Robert Ford when he surprised him in Ford’s own tent. In the film, he’s able to take on two men at the same time and defeat Robert Ford in a duel by playing to Bob’s dislike of shooting men in the back.
  • 300: The film is a World of Badass, so everything is heightened. The Spartans are all One-Man Army superheroes. The Persians ride monstrous creatures. Xerxes is a giant.

  • Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. That is all.
  • Belisarius Series. You would think the Real Life Belisarius was badass enough, but this Belisarius defeats an evil cyborg Conqueror from the Future.
  • Almost everyone in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel who's a historical figure has taken a level or two in badass. This includes the ones who were badass already, like Joan of Arc, as well as the ones who weren't, like the Flamels and John Dee.
  • The Baroque Cycle portrays Peter the Great as a giant Boisterous Bruiser with enormous strength. While Peter was in reality extremely tall, especially for his era, he was also very thin and had health problems.
  • Roughly half the cast of The Pyrates, but particularly Calico Jack (who becomes an intelligent, level-headed, superhumanly strong leader of men) and Captain Avery (historical records are sketchy, but the real Henry Avery was definitely not a Master Swordsman Chick Magnet Canon Sue). The big exception to this is Colonel Thomas Blood, who in the book is merely a roguish, charming, highly capable antiheroic badass, but in real life was, if anything, a couple of steps up from that.
  • Older Than Feudalism: Goliath in The Bible is described as six cubits and a span (9'9" or 2.97 metres). In the Dead Sea scrolls (the oldest version of the story we have) he's a still impressive but much more plausible four cubits and a span (6'9", or 2.10 metres). Note that the tallest human whose size is reliably documented, Robert Wadlow, was 2.72 metres.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms: While many of the main characters were generals and war leaders, the romance heightens everything and turns many historical figures into Four-Star Badass front-line warriors who single-handedly turn the tides of battles with their fierce fighting prowess. Some commanders are also given more brilliance than historical records document. While Zhuge Liang is remembered as a talented strategist, the Romance turns him into an supernaturally gifted commander, giving him credit for a number of strategies not specifically attributed to him by history, as well as actual magical powers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Spartacus: Blood and Sand: Basically every historical person shown fighting is given a healthy dose of this due to the stylized combat. Marcus Crassus, however, is also portrayed as a tyrannical Magnificent Bastard. In real life, Crassus (by many estimates the richest person who ever lived) is believed to have simply bought his way to the top and eventually got himself killed in an ill-advised quest for military glory.
  • This is the entire premise of Warehouse 13. The emotion-based Magical Realism of the setting makes every last Historical-Domain Character ever mentioned into a terrifying badass and makes their belongings into Artifacts of Doom.
  • America's Founding Fathers are given this treatment in Sons of Liberty. In reality, they were mostly middle-aged and spent their time debating and writing pamphlets, contrary to the series' portrayal of them as a band of scruffy thirty-somethings who can jump between rooftops and excel in combat.
  • Doctor Who: Whenever a historical figure teams up with the Doctor, they will always prove very capable in a tight spot and help win the day.
  • Black Sails:
    • The show portrays Ann Bonny as a Dark Action Girl and a deadly fencer who bests everyone she fights and acts as the enforcer to her foppish boyfriend Jack Rackham. While Bonny was a real pirate who did participate in ship combat, there's no evidence that she was an exceptional fighter.
    • The historic Jack Rackham was a raging alcoholic pirate captain who met his end from being too drunk to help fight off attackers. The show gives him a completely different character as a brainy Dragon-in-Chief Non-Action Guy who is an ineffective fighter but devious.
  • Blackadder Back and Forth features a working Time Machine based on plans by Leonardo da Vinci.

    Video Games 

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Robot Chicken does this frequently:
  • Futurama has done this occasionally.
    • Benjamin Franklin invented a weapon he dubbed "The Franklin-ator": a live badger tied to the end of a club.
    • Harry Truman in "Roswell that Ends Well" can punch his way out of a crate.
    • Inverted and then played straight with Leonardo da Vinci, who is revealed to be an alien who is one of the least intelligent of his speciesnote , but designs and builds a giant killing machine to extract revenge for his ill-treatment.

In-Universe examples

  • * UHF: The Show Within a Show Gandhi II reimagines the passive resistance leader as a Death Wish-style vigilante who drives a Ferrari and fights thugs in the street.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Living Witness". The story focuses on the historical depiction of an encounter with Voyager by an alien civilization hundreds of years before. The actual Voyager crew were stranded in a distant part of the galaxy on a ship built primarily for exploration and diplomacy who were constantly outclassed by far more aggressive enemies. The biased depiction portrays them as a ruthlessly violent gang of Nazi-like thugs, and the Voyager as an impenetrable warship armed to the teeth with advanced weaponry, and containing a complement of Borg drones at the captain's disposal.

    Western Animation 
  • In Gravity Falls, we have Nathaniel Northwest, a supposed badass pioneer and the touted founder of Gravity Falls. In reality he was a waste-shoveling village idiot who was used to hide the existence of the real founder of Gravity Falls and America's most embarrassing secret, the 8th and 1/2 President of the United States, Quentin Trembley. Although later it turns out he wasn't so much an idiot as a Manipulative Bastard, making this more of a Historical Hero Upgrade.
  • Mayor Dewey tried to do this in Steven Universe with his ancestor William Dewey, but he wrote him as so over-the-top that he was a total Mary Sue — he gave his ordinary human ancestor the power to grow 50 feet tall at will, entirely to invoke this trope. Pearl, who was actually there for the events the play covers, rewrote the whole thing to be more historically accurate and less absurd.


Example of: