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Historical Downgrade

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Sometimes a historical figure is twisted from their original roots into something more grand or vile, as a Historical Hero Upgrade or Historical Villain Upgrade.

But sometimes a story isn't interested in either of these. It neither wants them to be lionized or necessarily vilified, but at the same time it can't resist taking some of the shine off of them. While this could easily be just an attempt to humanize these figures and try to be more historically accurate, it's often far too easy to go that extra step and stuff a bit of Straw Loser in there. The result is a Historical Downgrade: while either a heroic or villainous shift could be said to be an increase in status, this take is definitely a lessening of stature no matter where the figure started out.


Those who have been lauded by history are most often made the target of this, but those who got the short end of the stick aren't immune... especially when their villainous portrayal is more pathetic than intimidating.

Extinct animals have been hit with this trope too; see Dumb Dinos and Doofy Dodo for two of the most common targets.

Compare Historical Villain Downgrade. Contrast Historical Badass Upgrade.



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    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Death of Stalin:
    • While Gregory Malenkov was pretty weak-willed in reality, he wasn't quite as incompetent as he's portrayed. He was a charming conversationalist and knew about Beria's attempts to make him into a Puppet King, though he couldn't do much about them.
    • Anastas Mikoyan portrays as being a cowardly Yes-Man like the rest of the Presidium. By contrast, the real Mikoyan was something of an Honest Advisor who was actually ballsy enough to argue with Stalin.
  • Dick depicts Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as a couple of egotistical buffoons.
  • The 2010 Robin Hood movie was quite fond of this, the most obvious example being King Richard the Lionheart, who wobbles around the battlefield drunk and winds up being killed by a French cook taking a potshot. Prince (and then King) John meanders between this and the villainous version. The Sheriff definitely gets this, being rendered so laughably incompetent that even if he had been given a chance for villainy, he probably couldn't have managed it.
  • Time Bandits does this to every historical figure the heroes meet. Napoléon Bonaparte is obsessed with his height and barely pays attention to his conquests. Robin Hood is a clueless idealist who cannot control his thuggish followers. Even King Agamemnon, a nice guy and a brave warrior, would have died if Kevin hadn't saved him, and he allows Kevin to get kidnapped right under his nose.
  • Wonder Woman does this to Field Marshal Douglas Haig. In wartime and shortly thereafter Haig was considered as very capable strategist who was practically inventing modern warfare on the fly. Only after his death he became criticized as ineffective "Butcher of the Somme". In the film he is further reduced to the status of Ares' puppet.

  • The Masters of Rome series of novels does this to Brutus, who is portrayed as a basically decent person (at least compared to most of the other characters), but with the flaws of greed, timidity, pedantry and cowardice.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Blackadder thrives on this trope.
  • I, Claudius: History remembers Augustus Caesar as a brilliant statesman, one of the most powerful and successful monarchs in human history, who laid the foundation for an Empire that would last 1,500 years. In the series, however, he's depicted as an emotional and gullible Manchild who is also an incompetent statesman. His wife Livia easily manipulates him and states that she's been the one holding Rome together in the face of Augustus's foolish policies.

    Web Original 
  • Hitler Rants generally turns Adolf Hitler into a Butt-Monkey who holds negligible influence outside the Führerbunker and is a constant victim of antics generally (but not always) committed by Fegelein. It also makes a mockery of the vast majority of his inner cabinet as well.

    Western Animation 
  • Robot Chicken does this to Adolf Hitler.
  • Time Squad played with this. The usual mission of the eponymous squad was to correct an individual who had, by the cause of whatever temporal anomaly, been on the receiving end of a Historical Downgrade, and it was their job to fix them and save history.


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