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Historical Villain Upgrade

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Grigori Rasputin, for all his faults, wasn't an evil lich... probably.

"... And every tale condemns me for a villain."
King Richard III, Richard III

OK, let's say you're still writing that movie, which is Very Loosely Based on a True Story. You chose a period of history that involves a lot of exciting fight scenes and explosions so your audience won't fall asleep and now you need some main characters, but there's a problem: most of the Real Life figures were morally grey and complex people. How are you going to make sure that your audience knows who the bad guy is?

Well, all you have to do is to pick someone who wasn't on your side. If you're American all you have to do is choose an evil Briton or German or Russian or Arab. Or failing that, an Italian or a Scotsman (just as long as they fought alongside those dastardly Anglo-commie-terror-nazis.) And if you're English you'll want to use one of the Anglo-Saxon bastards against the brave and heroic King Arthur. Or those treacherous English bastards against that brave and heroic King William the Con... Hey—wait a second... but hang on. There's another problem. Your new villain wasn't actually "evil" per se. Well, all you have to do is give your newfound villain a few Kick the Dog moments, adjust his appearance to something more recognizably evil and ignore anything of his life that doesn't fit your artistic vision.

Note that just because this happens to someone does NOT mean that he or she was a good person in Real Life; it is perfectly possible to make absolutely anyone seem even more evil than in reality (yes, even Hitler). Also note that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it is often done to make a better story.

A lot of sports movies do this to the coach of the Opposing Sports Team; turning him or her from a paid professional whose job is to ensure that his team wins to a callous bastard whose philosophy is "win at any cost".

This trope is the opposite of a Historical Hero Upgrade, although many figures often get one of those as well in works with a different viewpoint. They may also appear alongside each other when applied to different people, to make the Black-and-White Morality contrast even more obvious.

Usually this is a part of Politically Correct History, although it can just as easily be the exact opposite. When Fan Fic writers do this to a canon character, it's Ron the Death Eater. When an adaptation does it to a character from a previous story, it's Adaptational Villainy. Simply using bad people from history as villains goes under Historical Domain Crossover.

May overlap with Historical Badass Upgrade, Historical Ugliness Update, Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, Ancient Conspiracy or Flanderization. Compare with Hijacked by Jesus and Everybody Hates Hades, which do this to a member of a polytheistic pantheon. Contrast with Historical Villain Downgrade.

See Historical Relationship Overhaul for other changes a Historical Domain Character may receive.

Sub-Trope of Demonization.
And Super-Trope to:

Example subpages:

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Examples using real people

    Audio Plays 
  • In Big Finish Doctor Who Fifth Doctor story the Kingmaker, Richard III is actually confronted by his own Historical Villain Upgrade. The reason why this entry isn't under the In-Universe page is because: this story does the same to William Shakespeare, who became very bitter due to the way the Fifth Doctor treated him, and nabbed a Time Machine and was willing to assassinate him, and his companions, and due to a Timey-Wimey Ball ends up becoming Richard III at his last battle, and Richard III takes up the mantle of William Shakespeare.

    Fan Works 

  • Brazilian Folklore: Labatut is a man-eating one-eyed monster who goes out at night looking for people to eat, especially children. It is believed he was inspired by the real-life general Pierre or Pedro Labatut, who fought alongside Brazil in the Brazilian War of Independence. Supposedly, he would've been so harsh to his army that local folklore turned him into a cruel monster.
  • Japanese Mythology: Queen Himiko (c. 170–248 AD) was a semi-legendary shaman queen who ruled the semi-legendary state of Yamatai note . The only written records about her note  are from China (more specifically, from the Wei Kingdom) who describe her as having used her magical powers to stop a 70 year civil war and unite 30 smaller states into Yamatai. She sent ambassadors and gifts to Wei and was considered a "friend of Wei" who sent her gifts in return. Modern portrayals of her are all over the place, considering there's basically very little we know about the woman. She's sometimes portrayed positively as a wise old woman or a cute and/or sexy Benevolent Mage Ruler, but sometimes she's portrayed as a sort of Yayoi-era equivalent of a Femme Fatale, manipulating others with her magic powers and her good looks, when she's not outright an evil oppressive ruler.
  • Robin Hood: King John of England was deficient in moral character and had a remarkable talent for alienating people, but he wasn't the one-dimensional avaricious tyrant he tends to get portrayed as in these stories.

    Film — Animation 
  • In Don Bluth's Anastasia Rasputin the Mad Monk is an undead evil sorcerer and traitor who sold his soul in exchanged for a demon-powered reliquary, and sparked the Russian Revolution to kill the Romanovs, and is out to kill Anastasia. In real life, he was an eccentric but staunch ally of the Romanovs, and was murdered before the revolution broke out.
  • In the Spanish animation El Cid: The Legend, Yusuf ibn Tashfin is depicted as the Big Bad and is even more over-the-top evil than than his incarnation in El Cid, in contrast to his historical reputation as an honorable man. While the real Yusuf and Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar were in opposite sides, the two never even met with Rodrigo having fought mostly against Yusuf's nephew. He also does other things that never happened such as capturing Rodrigo's wife Jimena and giving her the Go-Go Enslavement treatment.
  • Granted, the Huns weren't all that nice, but Disney's demonic portrayal of them in Mulan (complete with inhuman yellow eyes) is pretty extreme. They shouldn't even have been Huns. The tribe that Mulan fought against were the Rouran Khaganate, a similar but distinct tribe.
  • Queen Victoria was not a particularly mean person, despite many atrocities across the British Empire including in India and Ireland during her reign. The version of her that appears in Aardman Animations' The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, on the other hand, has been described as "a fiend in human form", and being a member of a society that ate rare animals.
  • Governor John Ratcliffe from Disney's Pocahontas. The real John Ratcliffe seems to have been more foolishly trusting than villainous, as he wanted to trade with the Native Americans, not to rob them or commit genocide on them. By the way, he was tortured to death (flayed alive, actually) by the Powhatan Indians, who seem to have received a bit of a Historical Hero Upgrade in the movie.
  • Rameses II is portrayed as the wicked Pharaoh of the Exodus in The Prince of Egypt, in keeping with the precedent set by The Ten Commandments (1956). He's treated significantly more sympathetically than is usual for the trope, but gets worse after his son's death in the final plague. Similarly, his father Seti I is the Pharaoh who ordered the slaughter of all the Hebrews' firstborn sons and feels no remorse for it (his idea of comforting Moses over it is, disturbingly, telling him that they were only slaves).
  • Fitting in with the other depictions of Prince John, listed above, Disney's Robin Hood (1973) portrays the guy as a Sissy Villain-cum-Large Ham who is prone to childish tantrums upon mention of his brother and always begins sobbing at the mention of his mother. He also taxes Nottingham until most of the citizens are in jail because they invented a song that insulted him and plans to have Friar Tuck hanged to lure out Robin Hood so he can hang them both.
  • Hernán Cortés gets this treatment in The Road to El Dorado. Make no mistake, the real man was no Knight in Shining Armor, but he's portrayed as significantly worse than he was in reality. When he catches Miguel and Tulio aboard his ship, he says he'll sell them into slavery in Cuba. While the real Cortés did take Spanish prisoners after defeating a force sent to arrest him, the thought of enslaving fellow Christians would have horrified him. The real man was also a charming diplomat who forged genuine alliances with some native groups, while in the film he is a humorless hardass who uses the one native who submits to him as a tool to destroy and kill all the others, and betrays him the minute he doesn't get his way.
  • In Wolfwalkers, Oliver Cromwell, simply called "The Lord Protector", is sexist towards Robyn by making her work in the scullery, is bigoted towards the Irish people and sees the country as a wild land that he needs to civilize, and later outright tries to kill the heroes. While the real Cromwell was considered a major political figure in England, for the Irish (where the film was made and set) he is pretty much the Evil Colonialist due to his numerous atrocities against the Irish people so they would submit to English rule.
    • In the comic adaptation, he killed the King of England. which he didn't do in Real Life.
  • Lapu-Lapu in Elcano & Magellan: The First Voyage Around the World.

  • Tom Lehrer's song "Lobachevsky" has the eponymous Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky, the world famous Russian mathematician and one of the creators of the non-Euclidean geometry, as a great plagiarist who inspires the narrator to replicate his "secrets of success" in mathematics. Needless to say, there is no reason to suspect the real Lobachevsky in academic fraud. Tom Lehrer himself stated that the song isn't intended as a slur against Lobachevsky and his name was chosen for "solely for prosodic reasons".

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible: Ramses II is frequently depicted as the Pharaoh of the Exodus, more frequently than any other Pharaoh. Less commonly, he gets depicted as the Pharaoh of the Oppression. Scholarly consensus is that he was almost certainly not the Pharaoh of the Exodus (which is generally agreed upon to have happened earlier in the New Kingdom's history), and there's no evidence that an ethnic group was enslaved under his reign (so he almost certainly wasn't the Pharaoh of the Oppression either). Historical evidence says that, far from being a Nepharious Pharaoh, he was one of Ancient Egypt's greatest rulers.

    Nursery Rhymes 
  • Lizzie Borden, who was tried — and acquitted — of murdering her father and stepmother in 1892, is almost universally demonized in the media, where she tends to be portrayed as an unhinged psychopath. In truth, this perception of her was due to the brutal nature of the crime itself, ostracism from her community, and the intense media attention given to it. Despite the acquittal, an often-repeated nursery rhyme (frequently chanted while skipping rope) assumes she was guilty:
    Lizzie Borden took an axe
    And gave her mother forty whacks.
    When she saw what she had done,
    She gave her father forty-one.
    Andrew Borden now is dead,
    Lizzie hit him on the head.
    Up in heaven he will sing,
    On the gallows she will swing.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Atmosfear: Most of the Harbringers are taken from historical figures, with their qualities amped up to make them more menacing.
    • By all available accounts, Anne de Chantraine was naught more than a Belgian girl burned at the stake for supposed witchcraft. Here, she's a sniveling, cackling hag.
    • Elizabeth Bathory wasn't a vampire in real life, merely a notorious (purported) serial killer. Here, she's a a flirty, if grotesque, creature of the night who likes "bitting" people.
    • The "Beast of Gévaudan" most likely was just a catch-all name to refer to any unexplained killings in the area. Here, we have an actual werewolf named after the county itself.
    • Khufu in real life was a pharoah of Egypt's Fourth Dynasty. Here, he's an egomaniacal mummy who converted most of Egypt into a Vegas-like empire once he rose from his grave.
  • Pathfinder: In the Reign Of Winter module, Rasputin gets both this and a Historical Badass Upgrade. Pathfinder's Rasputin is a canonically Neutral Evil high-level divine spellcaster who is also the estranged son of Baba Yaga and has a sinister scheme to steal her power through occult means. He's the Big Bad of one of the major story arcs, and, appropriately, needs to be killed more than once for it to stick.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Doombreed is one of Khorne's most ancient and powerful Daemon Princes, older even than the Primarchs, has a cloak made of a thousand Space Marine skulls, and was elevated for the slaughter he carried out on a massive scale during the 1st or 2nd Millenium. Fanon has it that he was better known in life by the name Genghis Khan, or less commonly Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin
    • Another minor Daemon character, Uraka Az'baramael the Warfiend, is noted to have lead horsebound armies as a mortal, killing and plundering at his command. He ascended by massacring a city after defeating it in a siege and offering the butchery to the god Khorne. This matches accounts of the devastation the Mongol hordes wrought, all but stating that Uraka is Genghis Khan.

    Visual Novels 
  • Some interesting cases in Shikkoku no Sharnoth. Any time you meet a historical figure, there's about a fifty/fifty chance that they're an antagonist, though not necessarily evil. The first is Josef Capek, oddly enough.

    Web Animation 
  • Unbiased History:
    • Enemies of Rome (with a handful of exceptions like Hannibal Barca and Josephus) are generally portrayed in a very negative light. The various Germanic peoples and Persia-centered empires (especially the Goths for the former and the Sassanian Empire for the latter) are particularly hard-hit, being portrayed as Always Chaotic Evil and outright "uncivilizable".
    • While Dido was historically known for holding a grudge against Aeneas for leaving her and allegedy casting a curse on his descandants which would result in the Punic Wars, the series portrays her as an all powerful evil sorceress who casts an actual curse on Aeneas. Even after death she remains as a vengeful spirit and is directly responsible for the numerous deadly plagues that have struck Rome as well as occasionally reincarnating into prominent women who tried to sabotage the empire from within, such as Queen Zenobia.
    • Within Rome, senators from the time of the First Triumvirate on are generally depicted as cowardly schemers (with a few exceptions), while the Praetorian Guard from the time Sejanus becomes prefect has recurring problems with being made up of backstabbers who turn on their emperors over payment disputes or petty jealousy.
    • The Gracchi brothers are depicted as self-serving proto-communists only concerned with their own power, even uncritically repeating then-contemporary rumors that Tiberius — the elder of the two — wanted to have himself crowned king as acknowledged, objective fact.
    • Cato the Younger was a stubborn senator who refused bribes and opposed Julius Caesar's overtures towards power. Here, he is portrayed as an insufferable virgin who shoots down any attempt at compromise.
    • Cleopatra VII is a scheming sorceress who uses Sex Magic to enthrall Mark Antony and has a massive, throbbing lady-hateboner for Rome. In addition, she is portrayed as a reincarnation of Dido seeking to destroy Aeneas' legacy once and for all.
    • This series' portrayal of Livia takes cues from how she was depicted in I, Claudius. As a matter of fact, she's even worse; she kills even more people than that version of her, and has none of the Well-Intentioned Extremist qualities possessed by the version from the book and the show. She is also portrayed as an Evil Mentor to Agrippina the Younger, who "she taught how a Roman viper should get ahead in life".
    • Similarly, Commodus' characterization is a nod to how he was portrayed in Gladiator, only stripped of any nuances that version of him had and reduced to a one-dimensional monster who does utterly depraved and horrible things simply For the Evulz.
    • King Shapur is depicted as a demon lord who tortured Emperor Valerian for a long time, then had him executed by flaying. In reality, Shapur's mistreatment of Valerian probably never went any further than humiliating him. The idea that Valerian was flayed alive is an embellishment of an account by the church father Lactantius, who wrote that Valerian was flayed after his (natural) death and his skin exhibited in a Persian temple (though Lactantius is the only author of the era to claim that Valerian was flayed).
    • Manichaeism is portrayed as a "demonic Persian chaos cult" whose followers deserved to be persecuted by Diocletian.
    • Emperor Theodosius I is commonly regarded with respect by historians for his reforms and recognition of certain necessities. But here, he's a jackass who patronized the chaotic, uncompromising Goths even as he ordered them to slaughter several Romans in Constantinople, then heavily clamped down on all non-Nicaean religions and tore down the Statue of Victory from the Roman Senate. He then left his empire to his useless son Arcadius (East) and his cowardly son Honorius (West).
    • The Huns are depicted as a demonic horde of chaos incarnate who even the Sassanids and Germans are terrified by, with Attila the Hun as their dark lord who destroys all in his wake. Eventually Subverted when Pope St. Leo the Great meets them, with the Huns rendered harmless Spurdos who run back home.
    • Procopius is depicted as writing the Secret History (a slanderous account of Justinian's reign which claimed Justinian and Theodora were actually demons and that Justinian killed a trillion people) out of jealousy at Justinian and his achievements. In reality, he probably wrote the Secret History as insurance in case Justinian was overthrown.

  • Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy Breaching Time and Space (yes) runs on this trope, which is inevitable.
  • In an extremely strange version of this trope, Grover Cleveland, U.S. President, in Casey and Andy. Even though the two main characters are set in current time, the story arcs have now coalesced in a situation where Grover Cleveland has hired a supervillain as his advisor, and is about to marry Satan (it's complicated).
  • Guttersnipe portrays Stanford-educated president Herbert Hoover as a bumbling manchild — with an oval office full of baby toys.
  • Played with in Hark! A Vagrant's Genghis Khan comic. An amiable Genghis Khan reassures a terrified man that he's more than a "scary warlord," informing him that he's a nation-builder who runs a meritocracy. In the last panel:
    Genghis: We still kill all our enemies though.
    Man: Oh, no doubt.
    Genghis: I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty brutal.

    Web Original 
  • The three Thomas More stories at this site, being James Bond parodies set in an Alternate History version of 16th century Europe, inevitably rely on this as well, giving several prominent historical figures of the Reformation and the thereabouts a Historical Bond Villain Upgrade. Here's a quote to demonstrate:
  • Cracked:
  • Epic Rap Battles of History:
    • Elvis Presley talked a lot about how rock and roll stemmed partly from African-American music, frequently acknowledged black contributions to rock music, and believed Fats Domino deserved the title of "King of Rock and Roll" more than he did. But ERB's version of him proudly boasts about how he "stole from black culture".
    • Tesla finishes his rap by saying "If they knew you prevented me from making power free, they would curse the name Edison with every utility". This is presumably referring to the Wardclyffe Tower, which didn't actually work in the first place.
    • Done intentionally with Walt Disney, who is essentially a supervillain in the ERB-verse.
    • Downplayed in "Babe Ruth vs. Lance Armstrong"; although the ERB version of the character didn't do anything the real Lance Armstrong didn't, Armstrong in real life seemed genuinely apologetic once he confessed. The ERB version is practically bragging about the fact that he cheated.
    • George R. R. Martin is a fairly genial man (albeit something of a gadfly at times) who has deep respect for J. R. R. Tolkien. In his ERB episode, however, he's a rude, arrogant jerk who constantly insults Tolkien.
    • A minor case with Robert Oppenheimer in "Thanos vs. J. Robert Oppenheimer". In real life, Oppenheimer called himself "the destroyer of worlds" self-deprecatingly over the power of the atomic bomb. The Oppenheimer of ERB used it as a Badass Boast.
  • Through his articles started out as arguably legitimate criticisms of US domestic and foreign policy, the articles of Progressive blogger Stephen Lendman eventually ended up as this, going as far to portray Barack Obama and the entire leadership of America and NATO as a bunch of Always Chaotic Evil omnicidal maniacs waging war on the entire planet and planning to start World War III and destroy the world by nuking everyone For the Evulz through the usage of Abomination Accusation Attack.
  • Fear, Loathing and Gumbo on the Campaign Trail '72 has Donald Rumsfeld become a psychotic President who ends up creating the most oppressive government in US history, tanking the US economy with his crazed anarcho-capitalist economic policies, eliminating all forms of social welfare and consequently subjecting working-class Americans to truly dreadful poverty and working conditions, and privatising the US military and leading soldiers into many, many wars against "the communist nations" (which by Rumsfeld's reasoning is practically any country that's even slightly left-wing in any way — he even begins supporting the IRA just because Britain voted for a Labour government) with woefully inadequate equipment. It's hard to tell exactly when Rumsfeld crossed the Moral Event Horizon, but good candidates would be either holding up the genocidal apartheid government of South Africa as a bastion of freedom or ordering for wounded US soldiers to be executed to duck out of paying for their healthcare.
  • The Fire Never Dies sees President Woodrow Wilson adopt increasingly harsh (and racist) measures to try and deal with the civil unrest and subsequent Second American Revolution.
  • For All Time seems to make this a tradition, with some of the most marginalized figures in OTL becoming prominent figures here. Some prime examples include:
    • Jean Bedel-Bokassa: Becomes Emperor of France after the country suffers from a string of inept dictators and a civil war. He decides to solve famine by importing "equatorial pork," which is later found to be meat made from the flesh of slaughtered political prisoners.
    • Jim Jones: Becomes Governor of Pennsylvania and later President of the United States, where he begins locking his opponents in labor camps, ruthlessly crushing militants of all stripes, and creating a paramilitary force called the "National Volunteer Army" to help enforce his rule. He almost starts a nuclear war to fill a religious delusion, but he's quietly deposed in a coup before he can trigger it.
    • Andrei Chikatilo: Serves as the final premier of the Soviet Union, where he starts a nuclear war with China, launches an unprovoked nuclear attack on the Middle East, and later destroys his own country in a nuclear civil war.
  • The Magnus Archives
    • Maxwell Rayner, body-hopping leader of the Dark-worshipping People's Church of the Divine Host was originally 17th-18th century astronomer and namesake of Halley's Comet, Edmond Halley.
    • Wolfgang Von Kempelen, the real-life inventor of the hoax automaton the Mechanical Turk is portrayed as a servant of the Stranger, and the Turk and his Speaking Machine were to be used to enact the Unknowing.
    • The real-life Sampson Kempthorne was no saint (He was an advocate of the workhouse and specialized in designing them), but he wasn't serving a Fear God of claustrophobia like the TMA version.
  • Shipwrecked Comedy:
    • Edgar Allan Poe's Murder Mystery Dinner Party: As the plot deals with pastiches of real-world famous authors in a fictional murder mystery, one of them turns out to be a murderer, which they were not in real life. It actually turns out to be two: Charlotte Bronte and Anne Bronte get blackmailed into helping Eduardo Dantes/Edward de Vere VI with his revenge scheme, killing multiple people in the process.
    • Headless: A Sleepy Hollow Story: Henry Hudson in this version of events is accused of terrorizing natives in Nova Scotia and was not the one who settled the Hudson Valley — his wife, Henrietta, did. In his jealousy, he conspired with her first mate Anneke Storms to curse her, turning her into the Headless Horseman, effectively killing her and erasing her from history. The real Henry Hudson reportedly had mostly cordial trading relations with natives of the time (though there was some reported conflict in Nova Scotia) and the worst he did to his real wife, Katherine, was leave her destitute after he died from mutiny.

    Western Animation 
  • DuckTales (2017): While Ponce de Leon was pretty ruthless in Real Life, "The Forbidden Fountain of the Foreverglades!" portrays him as a psychopath who had been tricking people into swimming in the Fountain of Youth's waters (here depicted as transfering youth instead of granting it) for 500 years.
  • A time-travelling episode of Fantastic Four: The Animated Series has the eponymous heroes popping up in the middle of the Battle of Marathon. The Thing asks whose side they're on, and Reed Richards responds "The Athenians invented democracy, while the Persians were ruthless tyrants". Neither statement is particularly accurate.
  • Played for Laughs in Koala Man with the Emu "army". In real life, they happened to be particularly destructive to the crops of Great Depression-era Australian farmers, but they were still, of course, just a bunch of birds — albeit astonishingly hardy birds — who saw easy food. In Koala Man, they were an intelligent and organized force which committed horrific acts of violence against the people of Australia.
  • In the Princess Sissi TV series:
    • The biggest victim is Duchess Helene of Wittelsbach. Oh GOD, poor Helene. In Real Life, Nene actually got over Franz and was Happily Married to Prince Maximillian of Thurn und Taxis, and she and Sisi got along well enough to have Sisi as the recipient of Nene's last words. In the series, she's an ungrateful and clingy Gold Digger who wants to ruin Sisi and Franz's happiness at any costs.
    • Also Arch-Duke Franz's mother, Arch-duchess Sophie, who was less of an Evil Matriarch Rich Bitch and more of an Ignored Expert with her own set of problems. Blame it on the Sisi movies, which have been turning her into this ever since The '60s (whereas Helene was mostly spared there).
    • In order to make the villainousness complete they erased familiar ties between them. Nene was Elisabeth's older sister, not some duchess from I-don't-know-where and Sophie was her aunt. (weeeeeell... I can see why they removed the hint of Sissi and Franz being cousins, kids show and all that). Sophie at worst was adamant on holding up tradition and tried her best to make her daughter-in-law a good emperess, which clashed with Elisabeth's own free-spirited nature. Most basis for the villainous portrayal of Sophie comes from Elisabeth herself, while other sources described her as stern and strict but very caring and actually pretty worried for her daughter-in-law.
  • Richard Nixon was corrupt, but his Futurama persona is one of the best examples of President Evil. Although in the show his evil is partially attributed to his going mad after having to spend a thousand years as a body-less head in a jar.
  • God, the Devil and Bob: Richard Nixon is such a despicable person that he actually made it in Heaven because the Devil himself was unwilling to keep him in Hell, arguing he was disturbing the others.
  • The Real Ghostbusters:
    • As stated elsewhere, the Earp brothers and Doc Holiday were clearly no angels; however, when they appeared in one episode as restless spirits in they were clearly evil, tormenting the living for no apparent reason other than the fact that they felt like it.
    • Al Capone was the villain in another episode, and... Well, despite the fact that he was ruling a hellish dimension that resembled Prohibition-era Chicago with a gang of demonic mobsters (and had magical powers to go with it), this may have been a downgrade, given the things the real one was responsible for (his kill-count in the actual episode was zero, given the type of cartoon it was, even though it did borrow a lot from the one in The Untouchables (1987), perhaps).
  • One episode of The Smurfs portrays a cabal of druids as evil sorcerers, who had been imprisoned inside a tree by more benign wizards centuries ago. While there is evidence that the real druids (a class of priests among the Celtic peoples of Gaul, Britain, Ireland, and possibly elsewhere during the Iron Age) engaged in Human Sacrifice and other sinister acts, they were certainly not demonic practitioners of black magic as shown here — the leader doesn't even seem human; he looks more like some robed ghost with glowing, red eyes peering out of a hood that hides the rest of his face. That having been said, the Druids were pagans, and this portrayal was in a cartoon series produced in a country that was — and still is — overwhelmingly Christian, so go figure.
  • The Twins of Destiny is set during the closing years of Empress Dowager Cixi's rule in China. The Empress Dowager is depicted as a tyrannical sorceress who turns dissidents into statues, and is the Big Bad of the series.

In-Universe examples

    Fan Works 
  • Xander in the prologue of Ship of the Line: The Death Star, provides a Mercy Kill for the whole of humanity on Earth once they've run out of time to evacuate after all Hell breaks loose. However, it's acknowledged by several characters that despite his intentions, within a century he'd be known as the monster who killed six billion people and destroyed the Earth. This is part of why Xander insists on pulling the trigger himself.
  • Sonic X: Dark Chaos:
  • Fuuka in Eroninja has a few legends based around her time as a revenant, such as a wicked pirate who devoured the souls of her entire crew. In reality, she was still an Anti-Hero at the time and insisted on only attacking fellow pirates. Her crew mutined and tried to kill her, causing her to kill them in response.
  • Salazar Slytherin is known in the Harry Potter history as a bigot who advocated Pureblood Supremacy ideas and left the school after the other founders disagreed with him, though not before hiding a Basilisk that can only be controlled by his heir to massacre muggle-borns. In Izzyaro's Tales of the Founder series, Slytherin is a good person despite being highly suspicious of muggles (with good reasons). "Strange Visitors From Another Century" will presumably explain how his legacy would become so twisted in Harry's timeline.
  • crawlersout: Another Harry Potter example, though significantly downplayed. While Gellert Grindelwald is remembered as a monster in Fem!Harry's time, and rightfully so, when she meets the man herself she is left wondering if this is in play. Grindelwald's revolution was driven by legitimate concerns, specifically the stagnation of Wizarding Society, problems that Harry and her friends are still dealing with now in their own time and universe. She eventually comes to the conclusion that while his intentions and ideals were noble, they were also twisted by his megalomania and in no way justifies the many atrocities he will go on to commit.
  • In Inverted Fate, the monsters have a far more negative view of Chara than they did in Undertale as since Undyne was the Royal Scientist, she released the True Lab tapes to the Underground, revealing to monsters Chara's plan and the truth behind Chara's and Asriel's deaths.
  • In the Naruto fanfic True Potential, the people of Iwa regard Minato as a monstrous mass-murderer, due to him defeating a whole army of theirs on his own during the Third Shinobi World War.

    Film — Animated 
  • In Coco, Héctor is remembered in the present as a man who abandoned his wife and child to pursue his selfish dream of becoming a musician when he actually wanted to support his family and would have returned home quicker if Ernesto hadn't poisoned him. Miguel is later able to set the record straight.
  • In Moana, humans have forgotten everything Maui did for them in ancient times and he is only remembered as the one who stole the heart from Te Fiti and doomed the world. Also, everyone assumes he took the heart for selfish reasons, when in fact he intended to give it as a gift to humanity and didn’t know taking it would create the spreading darkness.
  • In Song of the Sea, Macha laments how the old myths and legends paint her as a Wicked Witch who steals emotions and has turned her son, Mac Lir, to stone all For the Evulz. In truth, the story fails to mention how she stole her son's emotions to save the world from drowning in his tears, which she couldn't bear to see, while the theft of other fairies' emotions stems from her belief that she's helping them, not out of pure malice. She's still doing wrong, but she at least has a somewhat logical argument to justify it all. She sees how wrong she's been after getting her own emotions back.
    Macha: Well, now, those stories always paint me as the bad one. But I'm not so terrible, you know. I'm just trying to help everyone.

  • In Dune, it is said that Dr. Yueh is despised by future generations as a Judas figure who betrayed and murdered Muad'Dib's father, Duke Leto. This is true as far as it goes, but ultimately the real Dr. Yueh was a tragic, sympathetic character who was only driven to do what he did because of the Harkonnens torturing his wife (who herself may have subtly mind controlled him to prioritize her over his loyalty to the duke and his pacifist mental conditioning as a doctor of the Suk School) and tried to help Leto pull a Taking You with Me on Baron Harkonnen.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ponyfinder:
    • The Tribe of Bones are depicted in the corebook as a depraved and power hungry tribe of evil necromancers whom Queen Iliana destroyed because they attempted to enslave ponykind, which reflects the opinion of "modern ponies". The e-book splats on Forgotten Gods and The Tribe of Bones reveals they were actually a gentle and good-natured tribe of ancestor-worshipping, ghost-quelling shamans who were suspicious of Queen Iliana's bloody methods for forging her empire and requested she come to them for ceremonial cleansing, to prove she was not a powerhungry tyrant, before they would surrender to her leadership. In response, she destroyed the tribe, erected her central kingdom upon the ruins of their lands, and demonized them as evil amongst the other ponies.
    • The Seekers of the One Herd receive this after the fall of the Empire, in part because their desperate efforts to find a new ruler to take Queen Iliana's place fueled the wars of succession that ultimately killed the Empire.

  • Girl Genius: Klaus Wulfenbach. Stories featuring him with the Heterodynes have depicted him as both a cowardly sidekick and a outright villain. This is also an in-universe example of Characterization Marches On. Before Klaus made himself hugely unpopular by... you know... blowing stuff up and invading places no-one could spell, he was portrayed as a more classic Side Kick, slightly naive and clueless and very accident-prone, but competent and unfailingly loyal.

    Web Video 
  • Critical Role: The four-part Calamity prequel campaign double-subverts it; in the time of the main campaigns, it's known that the Calamity began when Vespin Chloris unleashed the Betrayer Gods, led by Asmodeus, and they unleashed a massive war against the Prime Deities and mortals. However, when Zerxus meets Asmodeus, he comes across as a reasonable, even compassionate individual, who bears no real ill-will to the mortals, leading Zerxus to the conclusion that this trope is in play. It's all an act Asmodeus was using to trick Zerxus into helping him through to Exandria, and he promtply backstabs Zerxus to begin his plan of dammning all life to the Hells. In a double-subversion, however, Vespin Chloris turns out to have been a victim of Asmodeus, rather than a collaborator as history remembers, and his brief intervention allows Zerxus to help seriously cripple Asmodeus' goals, thus allowing the Prime Deities the room to fight back they wouldn't have had.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Aang attends a Fire Nation school which claims that the Air Nation had armies. They in fact did not have a formal military system at all. A downplayed example as it’s less about making the Air Nation villainous and more history making it look like the Fire Nation defeated them in a fair fight rather than a genocide. Justified as this is Fire Nation propaganda.
    • While not a full-on villain upgrade, Avatar Kuruk is remembered in history as a lazy, hedonistic, and generally mediocre Avatar who never took his responsibilities seriously, and Kuruk himself warns Aang to not act like him. But, as revealed in The Shadow of Kyoshi, it was actually Yangchen, Kuruk's predecessor who is commonly thoughtof as the greatest Avatar, who dropped ball. She actively ignored her duties to the Spirit World in favor of humanity, throwing it out of balance and creating numerous dark spirits. Kuruk spent most of his time as Avatar cleaning up the messes Yangchen left behind, which combined with his own Heroic Self-Deprecation, his early death (caused by the constant spiritual damage he took), and years of misinformation to give poor Kuruk a historical reputation as a Lazy Bum.
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Topsy", Louise creates a play about Thomas Edison for a science fair project. She portrays Edison as a ruthless animal-abuser who kills the titular elephant by electrocution. While parts of that story is true, Louise overemphasized Edison's bad characteristics just so she could spite her bullying substitute science teacher who was a massive Edison fanboy. When Gene takes over the project, he turns it into a love story between Edison and Topsy.
  • The Dragon Prince: Tiadrin and Lain were the only Dragonguard soldiers who didn't abandon Azymondias when he was still an egg, and Tiadrin convinced Viren to spare the egg instead of destroying it. However, in the setting's present, they're believed to have been cowards who ran from their posts because, for all intents and purposes, they've vanished.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: In one episode, Cosmo has to learn to be evil for a day, so Timmy asks Wanda to introduce him to the most evil person in history; she ultimately comes back with... Genghis Khan. Played for Laughs and blatantly because anyone worse than him would be un-PC for a kids' show, but he's still not the usual figure most would apply that lofty label to.
  • Family Guy: In "Ready, Willing and Disabled", Joe wins Special People's Games (thanks to steroids that Peter slipped him) and gets a Lifetime Movie of the Week made about him. The film's version of Peter, as played by Bea Arthur, is a Fat Bastard who mocks and belittles Joe for thinking he could be anything more than a crippled loser, which enrages Peter because he was the one who encouraged Joe to compete in the first place.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Exaggerated and then inverted with Serpentor. He's a clone created by splicing the DNA of dozens of notorious historical tyrants and conquerors, and, due to errors and incompetence involved in his creation, would likely have caused every one of them to be embarrassed to be associated with him. He's barely better than the guy he replaced.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: Queen Vexus propagandizes her attempts to conquer Earth as her defending the Cluster from Jenny. When Jenny ends up on Cluster Prime, nobody recognizes her because they only know of her through state propaganda that depicts her as a deranged monster. This leads to the Cluster citizens turning on Vexus when the lie is exposed and they realize that Jenny is actually a hero who cares more about them than their own queen does.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Nightmare Moon. Word of God is that Princess Luna's transformation into her was due to some form of Demonic Possession or similar outside influence, but this didn't make it into the show itself — all characters who comment on the issue, including Luna herself, consider her to have been culpable for her actions.note  On top of that, Equestria's equivalent of Halloween is based around a Historical Villain Upgrade which suggests she flies around one night every year looking for ponies to eat. Not surprisingly, she doesn't take this particularly well when she finds out after her return.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: When first mentioned, Eclipsa the Queen of Darkness is presented as the Buttefly family's Black Sheep and The Dreaded, who dwelled into The Dark Arts to the point she wrote a chapter about it in the family's grimoire, abandoned her husband to marry a monster and had to be trapt inside a crystal to stop her evil. When she is freed and actually starts showing up in person, however, we gradually find out that not only is she a perfectly nice, if quirky, woman, whose worst flaw is being slightly selfish, but she never actually did anything truly evil; while she did write the "evil" chapter in the family's book she didn't consider the magic described in it evil (people just assumed it was because she wrote it and never actually read it out of fear it'd corrupt them), and her husband was a colossal Jerkass who she left to marry a monster she genuinely loved; she then got crystallized immediately before she had time to do anything, on the sole basis her people have strong Fantastic Racism toward monsters, and her taking one as a lover was seen as a dishonor to her family.
  • Steven Universe: In Garnet's story, Pink Diamond was presented as a despicable monster who didn't care about the life on Earth, and openly mocked Rose Quartz for questioning her. She was also a Dirty Coward who called her fellow Diamonds for help when her back was against the wall. In order to stop the war, Rose was forced to shatter her. In reality, Pink Diamond was Rose Quartz. Everything Rose learned about humanity were actually things Pink learned. She created the Rebellion and faked her death in an elaborate scheme to save the Earth and free herself from her duties as a Diamond. Presumably, the story Garnet told was the version Rose gave the Crystal Gems, specifically Invoking this trope.
  • Wakfu: Nox, the Big Bad of the first season, is a Tragic Villain driven mad by the deaths of his wife and his children; and by his use of the Eliacube, an artifact that gave him powers far beyond anything he could have achieved on his own but at the cost of his sanity. His ulitmate goal is to go back in time to prevent the deaths of his family, and in order to do that he needs to amass colossal amounts of life energy, called wakfu. In the process, he devastates countries and threatens the world's balance, coming close to wipe out a people, though he operates under the assumption that, if he succeeds, all his bad deeds will be erased. However, In-Universe, only one character learns about his true motivation and he dies before revealing it to anyone. Therefore, after Nox's defeat, most of the world see him as a power-hungry madman, having no way of knowing his sympathetic motivations.


Video Example(s):


Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell (The Lord Protector) is portrayed in a very Mean-Spirited light here in WolfWalkers.

How well does it match the trope?

4.8 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / HistoricalVillainUpgrade

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