Follow TV Tropes


Not-So-Harmless Villain
aka: Not So Harmless

Go To
"Perhaps you'll laugh, but I know him better than most, and this is the truth; Littlefinger is one of the most dangerous men in Westeros."
Varys, Game of Thrones

Okay, so you have a villain, and, for whatever reason, either because they're harmless, ineffectual or both, you do not take them seriously. You might not even think about them at all. They might have a lame gimmick or a weird name or maybe they just do not stand out among the Mooks. They are not exactly on your radar. Even if you do remember them, you think they are either a nobody or a total joke.

Then they go on to subvert your expectations. Some put themselves through Training from Hell. Others turn out to be the villainous kind of the Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass. And the rest may be Obfuscating Stupidity. Either way, the villain ends up as someone who is not only able to show the heroes exactly why they are called their enemy, but often even become the Big Bad or The Man Behind the Man. This is when a villain decides to become their own Sorting Algorithm of Evil, or at least be recognized as more dangerous.

Should they fail to do the former, they will become a Big Bad Wannabe. Often the result of a Darker and Edgier reinvention of a franchise.

The villain may become a Knight of Cerebus.

Compare Dead Serious, From Nobody to Nightmare, Beware the Silly Ones. Breakout Villains are prone to becoming Not So Harmless. Contrast Villain Decay and Boisterous Weakling. When applied to minor heroes instead of minor villains, it's Let's Get Dangerous!. See also Team Rocket Wins. If it is later revealed that the villain always was that vile and/or dangerous, but the heroes or audience were misled into dismissing or liking them, see Bait the Dog. If they were unpleasant or dubious before, but not particularly dangerous, see Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.

Not to be confused with The Not-So-Harmless Punishment.

Possible spoilers ahead — read at your own risk.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fan Works 
  • At The Food Court: Like in canon, Team Rocket starts off unthreatening and nothing Ash can't handle. Unfortunately, this means Ash counted his chickens before they hatched and assumed this would always be the case, making him totally unprepared for when they attack him instead of his Pokemon, beating him up so bad that he suffers permanent brain damage and is never the same again.
  • Autobot Academy: Bisk's talent makes reality like a video game, but it only affected his immediate surroundings. This made him be seen as a joke by Autobots and is only a minor thug in the Decepticons. But after getting his talent upgraded by Shockwave, Bisk is elevated to a full on Reality Warper, and in "Sinister Simulation" he turns the entire world into a video game realm that he has full control over, with himself as the final boss. The heroes only win because of a combination of Glyph managing to turn the coding of the virtual world against him and him falling prey to his own rules.
  • Boldores And Boomsticks: Tupp, Zipp, and Rapp seem to be generic Team Skull grunts in their first appearance, with Yang laying a comically mismatched beatdown on them. In a later chapter, they use a Garbodor's Poison Gas attack to disorient the group long enough to kidnap Nebby.
  • C Listers: A recurring theme is that the main characters are all amiable and often goofy C-list villains, but they're still ruthless criminals.
    • The Mad Hatter's whimsical attitude makes him come off as harmless, but the entire Gotham underworld is terrified of him because he's an expert at brainwashing people through Mind Rape. During his introduction, he manages to put almost the entire rogues gallery under his control all for the sake of a tea party.
    • Polka-Dot Man is a socially inept, sweet-natured dork who wears an absolutely ridiculous costume, which makes people prone to underestimating him. In fact, he's almost obscenely powerful and has a pretty good track record, frequently beating seemingly stronger opponents in a straight-up fight with ease.
    • Killer Moth is an archetypical Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: he's a cowardly, amiable loser with grand ambitions he can't possibly live up to, and absolutely terrified of his best friend and partner Firefly's habit of burning people alive. Chapter 19, however, reveals he's killed a lot of people; all of his cowardice and standards are the result of a weak stomach rather than any actual morals, and he's totally willing to resort to murder if it comes to it. Chapter 36 reveals he's a lot worse than previously thought; he's been manipulating Firefly the whole time throughout their friendship and has been basically using him as an attack dog, and is actively trying to sabotage any attempts to help him with his mental issues. Of course, he's also such a moron that his efforts to show off how dangerous he really is blow up in his face, which eventually leads to him turning himself into a horrific, cannibalistic monster in yet another stupid and reckless plan to get respect.
    • Ratcatcher is a grumpy loner who spends most of his time playing the straight man to the other rogues, which makes it all the more terrifying when he reminds the audience that he's a remorseless and misanthropic serial killer. At one point, he gleefully confesses to having his rats eat homeless children alive, proclaiming that he might as well since nobody cares about them anyway.
  • Challenge Of The Superfriends The End: The Legion of Doom After years of being a laughable band of losers, they encounter an Eldritch Abomination known as The Benefactor, who turns them into tormented, horrific things with the power to doom worlds.
  • Contraptionology!: When it first appears, the Nightmare seems almost comically pathetic and past its prime. This impression proves to be less than accurate when it manages to wear down Applejack enough to get her to agree to a Deal with the Devil.
  • Don't Haze Me: Falcon Sentinel is predominantly an annoying new villain who won't stop following Kim. But, when angered, he's dangerous. Shego learns this when he beats her up. Falcon Sentinel's increasing violence leads to Kim shooting him in self-defense when he tries to kill her.
  • The Dresden Fillies: In this My Little Pony/Dresden Files crossover the true mastermind of the whole affair is Novel Notion. This nervous, easily cowed pony goes on to activate a spell that sacrifices the entire Order Triune to summon a demon. Then he holds the family of the Mane 6 hostage.
  • Forever He-Man: While Skeletor's attacks are repelled, he does serious damage to the castle and He-Man at times, with his first attack since the loss being a catalyst for everyone finding out the truth.
  • GS-260: In the original Sailor Moon, Mimete is usually quite ineffective, especially in the anime. But here, she actually creates a growth serum, grows into a giant using said serum, destroyed Fort Hampton where she was working and kidnapped Colonel Ricther and is now being held by her and her boyfriend.
  • Hyphen: The unnamed Team Aqua Grunt who stole from Devon Corporation, abducted Peeko as a hostage, and then fled into the dead-ending Rusturf Tunnel. Unfortunately, he's still a cunning criminal: outnumbered three-to-one, he manages to give the heroes the slip by letting out a loud whistle, aggravating the local Whismur and summoning their Exploud patriarch, and cementing Exploud's attention on the heroes as he flees.
  • Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race has this in a big way with Dr. Wily. With most of his crazy plots from the show carried over, and how he had a tendency to foil his own schemes, Wily was generally seen as a foolish if evil old man by the readership. Even given his villainous breakdowns, rants, and increasingly dangerous plots, he didn't threaten the characters personally much post episode 4... until the episode 10 epilogue, where he personally and mercilessly tortures ProtoMan in cold blood. It ends with ProtoMan begging him to stop.
  • Mega Man Reawakened:
    • Glyde's Birdbots are cute and goofy and aren't dangerous in small groups, but in large numbers, they manage to capture Megaman.
    • Quentin Emerald may be a hypocritical madman, but in Arc 4 he had Robert on the ropes and would have killed him if not for Protoman.
  • Metastability lampshades this with O'Malley. In spite of being a parodic Laughably Evil Card-Carrying Villain, Church notes that he can still be a threat in the right circumstances and talks everyone into putting him in a place where he can't do any damage.
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: Zigzagged. While no one really thinks of the Wolf as harmless (curbstomping the Mountain will have that effect), the other characters believe he's nothing more than a loud, overbearing bully whose brute strength and admittedly powerful magic make him an invincible foe one-on-one, but not an overarching threat the way Varys or Cersei might be or that his "Gods of Chaos" are any threat (and they still have a trump card in the form of Daenerys' dragon). After he's caught stealing the Iron Throne, and later returns despite being thought drowned in Blackwater Bay is when he's taken seriously (and a delegation of Red Priests arrives to confirm that his gods are real). The reader, however, knows exactly what he's been up to from the beginning, and see him as the Villain Protagonist.
  • Murderer's Row:
    • Grif and Simmons seem like some of the more benign inmates. They're content just bickering amicably with each other, and they're prone to giving out advice and tips to newer inmates out of seemingly genuine altruism. This all belies how vicious they truly are when crossed; they're in prison for having beaten a man to death for nearly causing Grif's sister to OD, and they later beat Lopez within an inch of his life for unwillingly helping O'Malley mutilate Donut, with him noting afterwards that they could have killed him had they gone any further. Tellingly, even Church fears their wrath.
    Lopez stared Simmons down. There was not an inkling of pity or guilt in his eyes, and he knew Grif probably had the same look, even if he couldn't properly see it. An hour ago he'd considered them nothing but idiots. He still thought they were idiots. But he'd forgotten that they lived on the murderer's row for a reason.
    • Washington, Delta, and eventually Church become convinced that the seemingly ditzy and kind Donut is this because he killed Maine, an unstoppable juggernaut of a man infamous throughout the criminal underworld, armed only with a knife. Washington goes so far as to torture him repeatedly to figure out how he did it and why he pretends to be so harmless. In reality, Donut is a genuine Nice Guy who killed Maine in self-defense, and he frequently protests that he only won the fight out of dumb luck.
  • The Parselmouth of Gryffindor: For the first few years, Hermione and her friends don't even pay attention to Draco, who, being better at posing and poking poodles than actually harming anyone, is written off as no threat at all. Then it turns out she gave up too early too completely because he very nearly manages to kill her. With a snake.
  • Persona EG: Sunset Shimmer seems like just a regular bully. She targets Twilight and anyone close to her because Twilight is going to beat Sunset for valedictorian. In all of Sunset's appearances early on she just smugly taunts Twilight while her goons take embarrassing pictures and videos of her. After ZIT spends months fighting shadows and Eris in Zodiac, Sunset seems like just an annoyance to them and they can deal with her the same as any bully, by ignoring her. This is quickly proven wrong though, when Sunset sneaks into the dorm one night and rapes Flash while he is asleep. Then, not even a month later it is discovered that Sunset does know about Zodiac and what ZIT is doing because she is Mephistopheles, Eris' boss and the one responsible for everything that ZIT has been put through up to that point.
  • Pokémon Reborn:
  • Pokémon Rejuvenation: Angie's right hand-woman, Cera, seems much less intimidating than her boss, as she acts quite Affably Evil even while her boss is in the middle of a Villainous Breakdown. After Angie was defeated and turned into a Human Popsicle at the end of Version 5, most people assumed Cera wasn't coming back. Then came Version 6, in which it's revealed that Cera can teleport to any location where one of Angie's fliers is, she has limited Reality Warper powers, and is dead-set on freeing her master. Then she watches two of her companions die brutal deaths, goes crazy, and manages to successfully capture A FRIGGIN' GROUDON. The kicker? It's heavily implied by the ending of Version 7 that she's freed Angie!
  • running with lightning feet: Feral is utterly terrible at being a Sith to the point that Plo Koon thinks he could be a Jedi, mainly thanks to being a sweet, kindhearted, and awkward fellow who's merely loyal to his two genuinely evil brothers. This does not mean that he isn't dangerous, as he's dangerously competent at fighting and sabotaging, but he isn't as big of a threat as he could be because he's not willing to slaughter anyone in his way.
  • A Shadow of the Titans: Evil Dick is a total joke villain, whose only noticeable quality is that he gets his ass kicked in virtually every appearance. Then comes Chapter 12, which opens with him having somehow taken Starfire prisoner, and preparing to activate a Doomsday Device to destroy Jump City, with him only being stopped in time because Star Chan manages to (literally) pull the plug on it before it can activate. Afterwards, Robin states that this proves they can't ever underestimate a villain, no matter how simple they seem.
  • Tamers Forever Series: Despite their small size and low level, the Kurisarimon and DarkScubamon are vicious and numerous Digimon whose predatory and opportunistic natures make them a threat even to Mega level Digimon.
  • In Xenophilia and its spin-offs, Honeydew amounts to little more than a loud nuisance to Lero and his herd. Then comes Divided Rainbow, where we see Honeydew throw her lot in with a sadistic band of criminals...
  • You Got HaruhiRolled!: The Anti-SOS Brigade usually function as comic relief. Not so once Emiri joins them, giving them the strength to defeat the SOS Brigade and kill all of Kyon's friends.
  • You Obey: The protagonist is actually a sympathetic, though highly reluctant, interrogator in this My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic. When it comes down to it, it is frightening just how brutally effective he is at getting the information he wants.

    Films — Animation 
  • Zigzag, the grand vizier, in The Thief and the Cobbler seems to be a Small Name, Big Ego who spins Rhymes on a Dime at first. Then he steals the golden balls protecting the city, giving them to Big Bad and Evil Overlord One-Eye. One-Eye is unappreciative and has him thrown to the alligators. Zigzag tames them, rides them back to One-Eye's camp, and tells One-Eye "One mistake will suffice! Don't treat me lightly twice!"
  • The Lion King (1994):
    • Shenzi, Ed, and Banzai at first seem like Wile E. Coyote-esque villains who always fail every time, but at the end of the film, they all show their true dangerous selves when they kill Scar for betraying them. Even before that, the only reason they didn't kill Simba and Nala at the Elephant Graveyard is Mufasa's arrival, and they later make another attempt to kill Simba after Mufasa's death, only being stopped by a thorn patch.
    • Scar, while an effectively calculating villain, by his own admission, didn't really inherit the brawn of his family, and when confronted by Simba, starts to beg pitifully for his life. It turns out to be an I Surrender, Suckers however, and he gives Simba a legitimately epic Last Villain Stand which he very nearly wins. He really wanted to be king — and when that failed he pulled a Defensive Feint Trap on the hyenas and, Sore Loser that he was, went for The Last Dance — which, three fighters on one scrawny opponent, went about as well as one would expect.
  • Megamind: The eponymous Villain Protagonist, a super-intelligent Gadgeteer Genius and Mad Scientist. He seems harmless because he always gets defeated by that Flying Brick, Metro Man. But then he apparently finally kills Metro Man with a Kill Sat. Deconstructed unusually as he fully expected Metro Man to foil the plan easily and send him back to jail just like every other time, the success was caused by a fluke that wasn't part of his plan, and he doesn't know what to do with himself afterward and quickly comes to miss the routine of repeatedly being foiled by Metro Man. Then it's subverted as it turns out Metro Man was just Faking the Dead and Megamind never stood a chance against him after all. Then, it ends up somewhere between a Double Subversion of this and an example of Let's Get Dangerous!, as after his Heel–Face Turn he does manage to defeat Titan.
  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast has the villain Gaston, who starts out as just a vain, preening buffoon, certainly malicious, but more ridiculous than anything else. Then he threatens to have Belle's father thrown into an insane asylum unless she marries him, and incites a riot and leads a lynch mob against The Beast after learning that Belle has feelings for him, and very nearly kills him.
  • Cars has Chick Hicks, who is constantly losing to his rival Strip "The King" Weathers, and during the climax, he almost killed the King!
  • Cars 2 has Grem and Acer, a pair of bumbling villains who appear to be based on two of the worst cars ever made. But then we see them kill Rod "Torque" Redline...
  • The Jungle Book (1967):
    • Shere Khan, the Big Bad, in spite of his occasional hammy and whimsical nature, is actually an evil bloodthirsty tiger bent on killing any human that's still in his jungle, especially the man-cub he sees as Mowgli. In the sequel, he drops the hammy and whimsical aspect altogether.
    • Kaa is much more of a flamboyant bumbler than Khan, but still, there are few in the jungle immune to those hypnotic eyes. Even in the sequel, where his Butt-Monkey role is upped quite a notch, he was a mere second from devouring Shanti.
  • Wreck-It Ralph's King Candy initially seems like an eccentric and harmless old king, if cruel towards Vanellope. After Vanellope comes close to winning a race, though, he makes several attempts on her life, tries to have her eaten by Cy-bugs and force Ralph to watch after he's revealed to be Turbo, and nearly kills Ralph himself after he's eaten by a Cy-bug and fuses with it.
  • Robin Hood (1973):
    • Prince John. Snivelling, childish, cowardly momma's boy? Check. Ruthless, greedy, amoral tyrant with a vindictive streak two miles wide? Check. In hindsight, it was perhaps best if the civilians hadn't made a mocking sing-song about him.
    • The Sheriff of Nottingham is dim-witted and despite his size is easily manhandled by Little John and Lady Kluck. At the end of the movie, however, he completely snaps and comes after Robin with a torch, burning down the castle, and coming closer to killing Robin than anyone else in the film.
  • Trumper from the Shaun the Sheep movie looks and acts pathetic, but once he starts using an electronic grabber to chase Shaun and the Flock, is really business. It gets worse when he uses a tractor to trap them in a shed and throw them in a Quarry.
  • The Great Mouse Detective: Ratigan's henchman Fidget seems to be the usual bumbling minion, but turns out to actually be quite competent and even scary if the first scene is any indication. Notably, save for the one single screw-up of dropping the list Ratigan gave him, which serves as a clue to help Basil locate their evil lair, Fidget actually successfully does every single thing he's ordered to do without fail.
  • The Aristocats: Edgar. He's rather bumbling and somewhat of an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, but he still clearly has evil intentions. Sure, he doesn't kill the cats, but he tries to take them away from their owner by dumping them in the countryside (with some speculations that he was going to throw them in the river) and then ships them to Timbuktu.
  • Kent Mansley from The Iron Giant. He's initially portrayed as an incompetent, neurotic bureaucrat who's in way over his head. And he is. But he's also a cruel, sadistic government agent with enough power to make a little boy's life hell. And all these traits, combined with his ever-growing paranoia, leads him to put an entire town of innocent people (and himself) in jeopardy.
  • Dave from Penguins of Madagascar is a goofball but startlingly competent and ruthless, with a rather savvy handling of his minions. Even his plan to take away the penguins' cuteness was not as harmless as it seemed since he planned on it's doing so resulting in every last remnant of the species getting wiped out by terrified humans.
  • The Prophet: For all of the Sergeant's buffoonery he is still a threat and when a riot breaks out, his first instinct is to reach for his gun and to open fire on the civilians, an act which Mustafa manages to stop.
  • Jasper and Horace from 101 Dalmatians may seem like a pair of bumbling comic relief henchmen at first, but they're just as cruel and ruthless as Cruella herself. When they're ordered to kill the puppies, they hesitate not out of sympathy or squeamishness, but because they want to watch a game show. And during the final chase scene, they join their boss in attempting vehicular homicide on a trucker. Jasper, in particular, seems to genuinely like being cruel, seemingly getting his kicks from picking on Nanny, Sgt. Tibbs and the puppies.
  • Despite their Lighter and Softer tone, the sequels to The Land Before Time have a few of these:
  • Brutish and Oafish Guard from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney) are often subject to amusing humiliations, but they still enforce a brutal and corrupt regime. Among their misdeeds throughout the film, they initiate the public humiliation Quasimodo goes through, subdue Phoebus when he turns on Frollo and were inches away from executing him before Esmeralda interfered. Brutish Guard in particular is responsible for setting off the entire second half of the film when he discovers Esmeralda’s escape offscreen and reports it to Frollo.
  • Mr. Tweedy from Chicken Run spends much of the movie as a Henpecked Husband to Mrs. Tweedy, but he's also stopped every one of the chicken's escape attempts, and when Mrs. Tweedy tells him to get a chicken to test out the pie machine, Mr. Tweedy comes back with Ginger, having correctly identified her as the chickens' leader.
    Mr. Tweedy: [to Ginger] I've got a score to settle with you.
  • While not exactly harmless to begin with, the plot of Wizards involves The Horde becoming drastically more competent and ruthless upon discovering ancient footage of Nazi propaganda and being inspired by it.
  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The movie begins with a fight between Miles Morales/Spider-Man and the Spot. Miles constantly mocks Spot during this fight while Spot insists to be Miles' Arch-Enemy, which ends with Miles seemingly defeating Spot with ease. But then Spot finds out he has the ability to travel the multiverse. He then becomes a threat not only to Miles but the whole multiverse thanks to his powers.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future: Biff Tannen is a high school bully, who turns out to have a glass jaw. One good punch from George McFly and 1985-Biff goes from workplace bully to sniveling sycophant. Then in the sequel, 2015-Biff gives his teenage self a sports almanac from the future, and 1985-Biff becomes a Trumplica who murdered George and can commit whatever crimes he wants with impunity because he owns the police.
  • The Riddler in Batman Forever may have been a Large Ham and the most comical villain in the 1989-97 film continuity (down to being played by Jim Carrey), but all things considered, he managed to figure out who Batman was on his own and launched an assault on Wayne Manor that completely destroyed the Batcave and left Bruce Wayne for dead. If not for his need to utterly screw with Bruce serving as his downfall, the Riddler came the closest to killing Batman far beyond what any of the other villains in the pre-Nolan films achieved, not counting the amount of damage he inflicted alongside Two-Face and his successful gambit to play the people of Gotham City for saps with his brainwave-stealing Box devices. Indeed, his plans for what he would do once he destroyed Batman involved using the second-wave Boxes to gain specific knowledge from its users, which could allow for identity theft and blackmail on a grand scale if not world conquest.
  • The Big Hit: For the first part of the film, Cisco is an obnoxious but pretty comedic foil for Melvin. Yet when mob boss Paris compels him to hunt down Keiko's kidnappers, Cisco has little problem switching into genuine bad guy mode when he sells out and kills his former associates in the scheme.
  • In Blindness, The King Of Ward 3 is shown to be an obnoxious punk who simply disrespects the protagonists and loudly makes an ass of himself. Then he manages to find a gun and becomes the most powerful tyrant in the place.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
  • Yuen Wah's character in Eastern Condors at first seemed like a comic relief villain (mostly due to his weird laugh) but turned out to be an incredibly intense martial artist at the end of the movie.
  • Christian Winters, the Big Bad of Extra Ordinary (2019), comes across as a hammy hack who is trying to be a menacing threat, but his less than invested wife combined with his lackluster attempts at seeming like an evil mastermind make him look more like a dork. That being said, he is versed in the Dark Arts enough to perform a Gloating on two virgins, is perfectly willing to have said virgin (both of which were teenage girls) raped to death by demons and he kills his wife in cold-blood when he loses his patience with her.
  • Forest Warrior : Thorne's bumbling attorneys get him a temporary permit to clear cut the forest before the townspeople can vote on the lumber project.
  • Early in Get Shorty, main character Chili Palmer punks his rival in the mob, Ray "Bones" Barboni, several times, and between that and the tendency of Bones's temper and ways of saying things being played for laughs, it might lead the audience to completely dismiss him. Then we get to see him in action against someone who isn't the hyper-competent Consummate Professional Chili Palmer and watch in horror as he ruthlessly and brutally beats the crap out of Harry Zim when he gets tired of Harry attempting to bs him, blows Ronnie away with a smile and without any need or provocation when Ronnie walks in on the beating, then perfectly arranges the scene so that the police never even suspect that he was there and scares Harry into taking the blame for Ronnie's death rather than get another visit from Ray Bones.
  • Michael's arc in the first of The Godfather movies. As the initially straight-and-narrow youngest son of the Corleones, hardly anyone — even within the Corleone circle — take him seriously when he expresses interest in the family business after the failed assassination of his father. Sonny, Clemenza, and Tessio openly laugh when Michael offers to kill Sollozzo and corrupt police captain McClusky in retaliation, while the latter two arrange a truce meeting with Michael specifically because they don't see him as a threat. Towards the end of the movie, there's a plot to asassinate Michael when he takes control, perceived as a weak don that can easily be duped and disposed of. By the end of the movie, after Michael orders successful hits on the heads of the Five Families and the traitors who tried to sell him and his family out, everyone now takes Michael seriously.
  • Godzilla: Don't let Gigan's bizarre design, comical gestures, and cowardly nature fool you; he's a cunning, sadistic, cold-blooded sociopath of a Kaiju who kills for pleasure, enjoys hurting his enemies in the most painful ways available, and all that weaponry on his body isn't for show, as proven by feats like shoving Anguirus into his sawblade stomach face first, battering Godzilla to near-death with his arm claws, and brutalizing one version of Mothra so badly that it takes a Mutual Kill to bring him down.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: This trope shows up in regards to Mechagodzilla's partly-organic piloting system. The skull came from Kevin's head, but when its consciousness overtakes the system and grants Ghidorah's Soul Fragment to Mechagodzilla, the Mecha ruthlessly and efficiently murders and destroys all humans in its sights, then proceeds to mercilessly brutalize Godzilla and it almost succeeds in killing both him and Kong. Notably, Mechagodzilla exhibits none of Kevin's clumsiness, curiosity, childness, distractibility nor his fear of confronting Godzilla, whilst fully possessing Ghidorah's murderous and sadistic impulses.
  • Gus: Spinner and Crankcase spend about sixty percent of their screen time being a classic, slapstick-prone Bumbling Henchman Duo, but they do successfully make Gus and/or Andy miss several games or be in no state to perform at them.
  • Hocus Pocus: Sarah appears as a ditzy, childlike Butt-Monkey to her sister Winnifred. But then she creepily flies over Salem beautifully singing "Come Little Children" and every child in Salem mindlessly walks toward the sisters' house, where the sisters await to drain their life force. One realizes that she was the singer who originally lured Emily to her death at the start of the film. Moreover, Sarah Jessica Parker's delivery of her character's lines may make them funny, but really listen to what she is saying and try to say she doesn't sound like a Psychopathic Womanchild.
    Sarah (on a child) Ooh! Put him on a hook and let me play with him.
    • All of the Sanderson sisters are this; it's easy to forget as they spend so much of the movie being the butt of jokes and playing up their Fish out of Temporal Water gags, but the opening scene of the movie has them successfully murder a kidnapped little girl. Their current plan is to do the same, but en masse to all the children of an entire town. And they come terrifyingly close. To top it off, they are all but stated to have gotten their powers via a Deal with the Devil. Past the comic relief, these women are everything the victims of the original Salem witch trials were accused of, but very, very real.
  • Home Alone: Harry usually seems to be just as bumbling as his partner Marv, however, in the first film, he actually manages to gain information by impersonating a police officer. At the climax of the first two films, Harry and Marv manage to catch Kevin. In the first film, Harry was going to bite Kevin's fingers off. In the second film, he was going to shoot him in the face.
  • Chris D'Amico/The Motherfucker in Kick-Ass 2 is quite incompetent and Laughably Evil... until he has the Colonel killed. He then starts crossing the Moral Event Horizon repeatedly.
  • In the Kill Bill movies, Budd is the only member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to be down-on-his luck and there is some lip service paid to his lack of fighting ability. Bill has no doubt the Bride would be too much for him, Elle has a long list of insults for him, and the Bride herself seems overly confident when going after him. Despite this, he is the only member who defeats and captures the Bride since he's a Combat Pragmatist, saw her coming, and just blasted her with a shotgun the moment she got close.
  • In The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), Alexander Vinciguerra was initially written off as a playboy who does nothing but pursue his hobbies and flirt with other women while his wife Victoria did most of the work. But he is a Bad Ass Driver and uses those skills to take on both Solo and Kuryakin at the same time.
  • Men in Black: Defied when Jay is being tested and they hit the firing range; he ignores the military officers shooting all the alien targets and fires one shot... at the target depicting a small, human girl. When asked why "Tiffany" had to die, Jay completely dismantled the aliens' apparently threatening appearances as doing harmless activities and notes the books on advanced physics the girl was carrying, books way too advanced for a kid her age as well as the fact that she was hanging around a dark alleyway in the first place, concluding that she's there to cause some trouble. This impresses the testers, although it's not stated whether it's more due to his quick thinking or because he was actually right.note 
  • Star Wars:
    • By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, the audience knows the Emperor is extremely evil. The movie itself then shows him to be terrifying intelligent and cunning, but he still looks like a frail and harmless old man who needs Vader to do the fighting. Then he starts blasting Luke with Force Lightning, effortlessly defeating him and showing everyone all how deadly he really is. As Yoda had said earlier in the film: "Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor."
    • Similarly in Revenge of the Sith, the audience now knows just how dangerous Darth Sidious is in planning and using the Force, but he still doesn't exactly seem like a physically-inclined fighter. This movie then shows he is also a Master Swordsman, taking out three Jedi Masters in ten seconds.

  • Voltaire's "When You're Evil" is a cheerful show tune with a singer who's cartoonishly pure Evil-with-an-E.
    I'm the fly in your soup
    I'm the pebble in your shoe
    I'm the pea beneath your bed
    I'm a bump on every head
It takes about three verses to realize that he's serious.
... Lord Beelzebub
Has never seen a soldier quite like me
Not only does his job, but does it happily.
I'm a dagger in your back
An extra turn upon the rack
I'm the quivering of your heart
A stabbing pain, a sudden start.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Loki of Norse Mythology. Most of the tales starring Loki cast him as a harmless trickster. He gets into amusing antics with Thor, cheats Dwarves with a meaningless victory, helps the Norse gods swindle a giant by seducing his horse (giving birth to Sleipnir in the process), and cuts off Sif's (Thor's wife) hair as a prank. Oh, and he also fathers three of the most dangerous beings in the mythos; one becomes the ruler of (and namesake) of the underworld, one becomes a sea serpent big enough to encircle the world, and the third becomes the biggest wolf ever. But Loki only really gets nasty when he finds out that he's destined to suffer a horrific fate at the hands of the other gods, and decides that he might as well earn it. He does so by killing Baldur and ensuring that he stayed dead. Then when Ragnarok arrives, he breaks free of his imprisonment, leads an army of the damned, and kills the bridge guardian of the gods, Heimdallr (though he dies as well), doing his part to seal the Norse gods' defeat.
  • Coyote, in Navajo mythology, is never really a trickster god but varies between Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny! and Eldritch Abomination. Early on, he mostly just messes up First Man's work and gets tricked by blackbirds, the Navajo's real trickster-figures. Later, though, Coyote lets himself be murdered...four times...resurrecting himself each time, thus becoming the only Navajo supernatural who can use Corpse Poison without having gotten it from First Man. Then his wife, Woman Who Becomes a Bear, invents skinwalking (and to the Navajo, all skinwalkers are diabolically evil).

  • Hailey Solomanari of Kakos Industries becomes this more and more over time. At first, she seems like an Uncanny Valley Girl at best with her silly personality, cute voice, and her strange ability to discentegtste human bodies through making love with them. This could even be passed up as her being naive until she received her A Day in the Limelight episode and gleefully informs the listeners about the people she's maimed and killed when given just a small taste of power. Even the two main evil executives grow terrified of her.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The infamous "You will not look past me" rant from Chris Jericho to The Rock in the buildup to Royal Rumble 2002. Everyone assumed Rock would beat Jericho for the belt and go on to the WrestleMania main event. Nope. Nor did "Stone Cold" Steve Austin the following month.
  • A really bizarre case of this was Victoria, who first appeared on television as a happy ho who liked to dance but became a sadistic psychopath with Stevie Richards wrapped around her little finger with no explanation or foreshadowing whatsoever. Her entire career from that point on is unexplained shifts between fun-loving ex-ho and deranged loon, with very few exceptions (she once purposefully tried to make herself crazy in hopes it would help her beat Mickie James).
  • Chris Hero and Necro Butcher first appeared at Ring of Honor events as hecklers who were frequently removed from the premises by security. Little did anyone know that this was the beginning of a feud, one that would be considered a contender for greatest in ROH history, as it would progress to Hero having (nearly)the entire CZW locker room behind him and Claudio Castagnoli defecting from ROH to join them in their attempt to destroy the company. Even after the CZW incursions were put to an end The Kings Of Wrestling continued to cause trouble in ROH for years to come.
  • This was the whole basis of the 2009 feud between John Cena and The Miz. Cena is the top star on WWE Raw, and once Miz was traded to the brand he instantly started calling him out. The feud played out for months with the idea that Cena was much more focused on his other feud with Big Show and couldn't be bothered to care about Miz running his mouth — as things went on and Miz began to do such things as attacking him and Big Show alike any time he could, Cena began to take him more and more seriously. Then their match at The Bash didn't happen, honest, but in a showdown on Raw Miz put up a losing effort but dominated Cena through the entire match and showed that he was just as able to hang with Cena as Big Show is. Miz eventually became a long-running WWE champion. However, he suffered Badass Decay shortly thereafter and was relegated to the midcard once more; his title run mentioned only to boost the credibility of whoever was beating him up that week. While The Miz still seems to be playing this trope hard, he ultimately had his Championship reclaimed by Cena, albeit only to have it snatched by...
  • Alberto Del Rio. Much like The Miz, his "Juan Bradshaw Layfield" is incredibly narcissistic and will frequently balk from a match. When riled enough, however, he is disturbingly ferocious. Cena labelled Del Rio pathetic for cashing in his Money In The Bank match on a champ post-match (never mind that pretty much everybody who wins the Money In The Bank uses it that way) and swiped it back; a few nasty beatdowns later, Del Rio won it again.
  • The dancing Cloudcuckoolander Pinkie Sanchez proved how not harmless he was during Chikara's eighth season when he disguised himself as Carpenter Ant to win the Torneo Cibernetico and join Die Bruderschaft des Kreuzes.
  • Another example involving the BDK was Delirious, who wasn't even a villain until UltraMantis Black mind controlled him with The Eye Of Tyr. It was assumed by a repentant UltraMantis that simply removing Delirious of this control would solve all problems but instead Delirious wanted revenge, first against Black, and then against society in general, leading him to join what seemed to be an end of the world cult.
  • A good chunk of The Nexus became a lot more dangerous after they formed their group. Justin Gabriel began wearing black trunks and delivering stares of death before a 450 splash, Skip Sheffield became a lot more vicious in the ring. And Michael Tarver...well, actually became awesome, especially after the booking on NXT Season 1 did everything to make you think he wasn't.
  • Marty "The Moth" Martinez first appeared on Lucha Underground as a chubby, goofy, Cloud Cuckoolander fanboy convinced he was a descendant of the Aztec tribes and was treated as a Joke Character by everyone (and for the entire first season he was just a Jobber, although he did at least show himself as a pretty proficient wrestler). Then at the end of Season 1 he actually kidnapped his recurring opponent Sexy Star and held her captive for over half a year, showing himself to be completely insane and actually kinda scary.
    Marty: You thought I was amusing?!

  • Big Finish Doctor Who gives this to a couple of notorious joke villains from the TV show, like other expanded universe canons.
    • In "Seasons of Fear" the villains are given a major reveal as the Nimons. They were the monsters in the poorly-thought-of story "The Horns of Nimon", where their costumes were a laughable Special Effect Failure. However in a sound-only medium the Nimon are a credible threat, coming very close to conquering Earth and it is shown that if they succeeded they would have conquered many other worlds and become the masters of time.
    • The Meddling Monk was a rather comedic villain on his two appearances in the TV series. In Big Finish he shows himself to be dangerous, helping the Ice Warriors in a plan to kill 300,000 Martian colonists and in Lucie Miller/To the Death he helps the Daleks invade Earth again.


    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In the Forgotten Realms, Cyric, while undeniably evil, was always considered a minor threat at best because he's so freaking insane that most of his plans fall through. Then, in 4th edition, he orchestrates the death of Helm, personally murders Mystra (possibly for good this time), and unleashes the devastating Spell Plague, all without breaking a sweat. Wow. In 5th Edition, all of that got retconned into having not happening (like pretty much every other change 4th Edition made) but Cyric is still treated as a legitimately threatening god.
    • In the first Pathfinder adventure, Burnt Offerings, the players fend off an attack from goblins that act like pyromaniac 5th-graders who injure themselves as often as their opponents. But weeks after the raid, they discover a goblin who ran and hid under a house, where he slowly went mad from hunger and isolation and killed and ate a man who tried to stop him doing the same to his child. A definite case of Mood Whiplash.
    • Kobolds started out as cowardly little dog-lizard things and were even more cannon fodder than goblins... then came Tucker's Kobolds, and in Pathfinder they came back as Weak, but Skilled tactical geniuses that could utterly slaughter a party of adventurers without even directly fighting them.
    • "The Bandits of Bunglewood" from Dungeon Adventures 51 seems to be inspired by Tucker's Kobolds. The eponymous Bandits are kobolds who have gotten more training than the typical ones, and investigating their misdeeds is difficult because nobody is willing to admit they were beaten up and robbed by mere kobolds. As a result, their actions around the town the module takes place are clouded by stories of orcs, lycanthropes, trolls, and other "respectable" monsters.
    • Any monster can be amped up to a potential Total Party Kill in the hands of a Killer Game Master, or one looking for the ultimate challenge for his players.
  • New World of Darkness:
    • Humans are slow, feeble, ignorant, nearly powerless, and only an actual danger to supernaturals in significant numbers. Until the supernaturals find themselves facing the exceptions, who are very capable of fighting the supernaturals on their own turf and winning, by means as diverse as Task Force: VALKYRIE's plasma cannons and bullets that phase into the spirit realm and harm incorporeal entities, to the Malleus Maleficarum's habit of calling down the literal wrath of God, to an insanely brave and fiendishly clever group of everyday men and women who have gotten fed up with the things that go bump in the night and broken out whatever weapons or tools that are handy. To put it another way: most supernatural effects have damage, targeting, and so on that scale with "power" dots (gnosis, etc) plus stat dots plus "skill" dots (sphere ranks, renowns, etc) and occasionally some miscellaneous dots from a third pool. Until players hit the 'epic' point where their supernatural power is over 5, vanilla mortals use the vital stat + skill points + specialties system, which scales in exactly the same way, meaning that statistically a 0 XP mortal specialist using her specialty can likely do things that are more powerful than the supernatural players. A skilled DM refrains from pointing this out until the party has decided to take a shortcut through an active SWAT site to reach their "real" opponents or something similar. Then Hilarity Ensues, up to and including a Total Party Kill.
    • In fan-supplement Princess: The Hopeful, the All-Consuming Darkness, of all things, used to be this to the Princesses. Back when the Kingdom existed, they were treated as a nuisance the Nobles had a duty to take care of and were routinely curb-stomped. Then the Hopefuls grew self-righteous and suffered infighting, giving minions of the Darkness enough time to actually fester and come up with a plan. Once that was done, they completely obliterated the Kingdom, trapping most servants of the Light in the Dreamlands. Nowadays, they are by far the side with the upper hand.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Imperial Guard are generally portrayed as the Imperium's trillions strong Redshirt Army. A popular joke in the fandom goes "what do you call a lasgun (the Imperial guard's main weapon) with a laser sight? Double-barreled." But as Black Crusade reminds us, "The Legionnaire that scoffs at a lasgun has not charged across an open field against a hundred of them."
    • Abbadon The Despoiler is nominally the setting's Big Bad (or at least the biggest bad short of a Chaos God), but despite being trumpeted as the man who could succeed in finally toppling Terra, the fandom had problems taking him seriously because his twelve Black Crusades were either dismal failures or somewhat redeemed by having one of his plans out of many come to fruition. Then came the Eye of Terror event, and when it was over, Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade had ransacked Cadia, establishing a solid beachhead on the fortress-world that stood between the forces of Chaos and the rest of the galaxy. Later supplements did more to rebuild his reputation, explaining that the previous Black Crusades weren't attempts to conquer the galaxy, but to achieve certain goals which Abaddon met. The Fall of Cadia event took this even further by having Abbadon blow the whole planet to kingdom come despite the efforts of the Imperium, Eldar, Dark Eldar, and Necrons, with the added detail that the Imperium is effectively broken in half.
    • Perturabo, Primarch of the Iron Warriors. Before the Horus Heresy, the Iron Warriors legion got repeatedly shit on and disrespected, being treated as semi-expendable workhorses and given all the most brutal garrison and siege duties without being recognised for their contributions to the final victory or even really being thanked. When Horus turned traitor, the Iron Warriors followed; they gleefully dismantled the Imperial defences during the Siege of Terra and wrecked much of the Imperial Palace, and then nearly massacred their rivals the Imperial Fists. Now they're one of the most ruthless and terrifying Chaos Space Marine legions in the entire galaxy, valuing nothing beyond their hatred and their means of expressing it. Even Chaos itself is just another weapon in their Industrialized Evil approach to fighting war.
    • Orks are a wacky, silly comic relief faction with a tendency to be the warm-up villains in other stories before the Chaos Marines reveal themselves / the Tyranids start landing / the Necrons wake up. They wield crudely made guns and drive over-the-top scrap metal cars. They talk like English football hooligans. They think the biggest person in a force has to be the leader because that's how it works for them. However, during the War of the Beast, relatively early in the Imperium's history, they managed to rip the Imperium open and threaten Terra itself, and with Ghazghkull Thraka currently standing taller than a Mortis pattern Dreadnought, he could well be the Beast's true successor...
  • In Rifts, the Power Leeches introduced in Psyscape start out tiny and relatively weak, but have unlimited growth potential, frightening if assaulted by a friendly unlimited-ammo Cosmo-Knight or Machine Person.
  • In Nightbane, the Dream Ghouls introduced in Between the Shadows: are weakest of all the dreamthings, but unlike the others, they can receive an upgrade from absorbing PPE and it is not explicitly a 1-time thing, allowing them potentially unlimited upgrades in size and attributes.
  • Out of all the Ancient Ones in Arkham Horror, Azathoth the "Idiot Sultan" could be considered to be the most harmless one, since anything he does while he's still asleep is to make it harder for his cultists to wake him up. The catch is that, when any of the other Ancient Ones wakes up, you get a final chance to stop them via boss fight. But if Azatoth wakes up, you don't get the chance, as he destroys the entire world with his first and only attack.
  • In the Mutants & Masterminds Freedom City setting, there's the Toon Gang. The four of them look and act just like gangsters from a Golden Age of Animation cartoon: they're effectively immortal (anything that kills them only effects them for an instant, for example, a laser would burn them down to a pile of ash with a pair of blinking eyeballs, and then they'd suddenly reform, completely unharmed), they comedically skid on floors when running, and perform other animated tropes. Here's the thing, though: they're in a world that doesn't play by those rules, and they don't realize it. Their idea of "putting a hit" on someone is to drop a cartoon anvil on them, which is still completely lethal. They can't be caught for more than a few minutes at best since they'll escape due to Rule of Funny or via Offscreen Teleportation. And they don't realize that the cartoon bullets from their Tommy Guns will simply kill other people (not that they really understand what death is). Effectively, they're a collection of immortal Reality Warpers with kleptomania and no ability to comprehend the consequences of their actions.

  • In Julius Caesar the conspirators against Caesar consider Marc Antony no threat, saying, "He can do no more than Caesar's arm when Caesar's head is cut off". They're so unafraid of him that Brutus lets him speak at Caesar's funeral! Whatever speech he can make will pale in comparison to the unparalleled generosity of letting him speak at all, right?! Friends, Romans, Countrymen! The audience is privy to a bit of foreshadowing regarding Marc Antony's forthcoming badassness with this line:
    Marc Antony: ...And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch's voice cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war.
  • In Pokémon Live!, Jessie, James, and Meowth are this. Despite their zero-win track record and seeing themselves as incompetent, Jessie and James manage to capture both Pikachu and Ash. Delia also takes their threat very seriously, worrying that they may have hurt Ash and knowing that they answer directly to Giovanni.
  • In Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier, Prince Achmed, who only appears briefly in the original film, comes back after being laughed at and treated like a gag to enforce a war between their two kingdoms, proving that, yes, sending a tiger to attack a prince from a powerful and influential nation has consequences.

    Visual Novels 
  • Most Ace Attorney villains don't qualify, as they're not revealed as villains until they're past the not-so-harmless point. One exception is the culprit of 3-2, a standard quirky, self-aggrandizing side character who's outed as the Gentleman Thief Mask☆DeMasque within a single trial day (a feat usually reserved for the tutorial). Except this was all planned to give him an alibi for the murder he really committed and pin the blame on the real Mask☆DeMasque.
  • Rider in Fate/stay night spent the first route having even Shirou calling her weak and in the second route she got killed offscreen by a normal, non magus human. Fierce. But then she shows up in HF and starts turning people into stone by looking at them. (Surprise! She's Medusa!) Oh and then she makes a Heel–Face Turn (sort of...) so this overlaps with Let's Get Dangerous!. Her physical capabilities were significantly impaired in the first two routes due to temporarily being in the service of Shinji, who has no magic power of his own and can't reinforce her with mana. When her true master, Sakura, takes her back, her skills SKYROCKET.

    Web Animation 
  • In Deus ex Machina (2007), Patrick is obviously going to be a villain from the moment you see him, but from his nerdy voice and attitude, he doesn't seem very threatening. Then he gets mind raped by the covenant and dons his supersuit before weakening the earth's defenses to the point that the covenant can easily break through and kill us all WHILE killing off Michael, John's only friend, and making every single attempt to save the world meaningless before throwing him into a pit with two berserkers. Even PLAGUE didn't cross the horizon this much.
  • Helluva Boss:
    • Blitzo is a Villain Protagonist variant. Despite him being the head of an assassination company, it's easy to see him as no real threat since he's a kooky, socially inept, borderline-illiterate weirdo who makes some very questionable business decisions. But one underestimates him at their own peril: he's still a crack shot, capable of shocking ruthlessness, and physically skilled enough to casually catch arrows with his eyes closed.
    • Moxxie is a comically uptight Butt-Monkey, but he shows himself to be a very dangerous gunman, and it's implied he'd be even more dangerous if it weren't for his moral standards.
    • While Millie seems like an overly sweet Southern stereotype, she's a Pintsized Powerhouse par exellence, and at one point kills a gigantic mutated fish monster while armed only with a knife.
    • Loona largely comes off as a Bratty Teenage Daughter and is mostly left out of the field work due to her job as the company receptionist. However, she's a lot more dangerous than she seems at first glance. In "Spring Broken", she helps murder dozens of people by acting as a Honey Trap. And lest one think she's not a good fighter, "Truth Seekers" shows her holding her own in combat against a small army of The Men in Black.
    • Stolas mostly seems to be comedically pompus and perverted, but he's still a high-ranking aristocrat of Hell and is implied to be enormously powerful, as shown by his turning a would-be kidnapper to stone just by glaring at him. "Truth Seekers" shows a greater taste of his true power, where he appears as a terrifying shadow beast and demonstrates that he can possess humans and temporarily reanimate the dead.
    • A Hero Antagonist variant in Agents One and Two of D.H.O.R.K.S. Even when they were interrogating Moxxie and Blitzo, neither Imp took them seriously in the slightest, trying to annoy them into losing their cool to the extent that they give the Demonic Duo a chance to escape. Agents One and Two responded by leaving the room and then filling it with so much Truth Serum Gas that both Blitzo and Moxxie went catatonic in a matter of minutes. They then have all four members of I.M.P. completely at their mercy until Stolas comes in with with a villanous Big Damn Heroes moment, but Agents One and Two survive the whole ordeal with definitive proof that hell and demons are real: security camera footage of I.M.P.'s and Stolas's rampage through the facility. Considering that Stolas is able to predict the future, this feat of cunning is even more impressive than it sounds.
  • In Lackadaisy, the dryly annoying and annoyed bespectacled nebbish in the back of the Marigold Gang's car is some sort of Obstructive Bureaucrat out to ruin Siblings in Crime the Savoys fun, too Dirty Business-averse to put himself in the line of fire. At least that's how it looks, until one suggests he has Conflicting Loyalties. Then out comes the gun. Seconds later, he takes a Menacing Stroll out of the car, then wordlessly executes a freakishly sharp heel turn to line up a shot at Sniping the Cockpit of his fleeing targets. The heroes sight him in their rearview, an ominous ticking clock and tolling bell can be heard, and they begin to panic. Only their leader Rocky's lunatic driving temporarily saves them from their Mysterious Mercenary Pursuer, revealed in the stinger as Mordecai Heller, "ruthless, infamous hatchetman."
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Omega from the original series is an unusual example, as the viewer doesn't learn of his Not So Harmless moment until after he's been absorbed by the Meta, taking him permanently out of the picture. Despite being the Big Bad for the show's first five seasons, Omega/O'Malley was always far too cartoonish and hammy to be taken seriously, being more a parody of the Big Bad archetype. Then, at the beginning of Reconstruction, a shell-shocked Red soldier named Walter explained to Command over what went down after the Blues at Valhalla scavenged Tex's crashed pelican (see the ending to the Blood Gulch Chronicles). Walter's rather detailed description of an ominous 'infection' to the Blues and Reds, on top of how the Blues massacred one another, made Omega seem much more threatening as an antagonist than his previous incarnation ever did. And THEN we learn that he and Gamma were put in charge of torturing the Alpha until its mind disintegrated by trapping it in nightmare situations it couldn't escape from, transforming Omega from a Dastardly Whiplash into a genuine monster.
    • The Meta/Agent Maine gets this in Revelation, being reduced to comic relief for most of the series. Then in the climax he fights Tex mostly by himself (Wash helped a little), stabs her in the face with a giant spike and then gets his powers back. At that point, he's back to his usual Knight of Cerebus status.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • The lich sorcerer Xykon is an extreme example. His humorous dialogue and status as a Card-Carrying Villain along with the fact that he rarely fights directly (in anything but an instant win) initially led many people to believe he was much less serious or at least genuinely malevolent than he really is. Then he's pushed into exerting himself... As Redcloak puts it: "I know he seems funny and charming, but believe me, when you see for yourself the depths to which he'll sink, you will never sleep well again."
    • Qarr the imp is a definite case of playing with a trope. The first we saw of Qarr was an ominous red and black speech bubble speaking from just off-panel during a Cliffhanger. Fans went into a flurry of speculation about this mysterious new being, but nobody expected him to be a tiny imp with virtually no power of his own and who isn't even all that bright. However, Qarr's attempts to convince Vaarsuvius into a Deal with the Devil draws the attention of the IFCC, a trio of powerful evil beings bent on creating enough chaos, confusion, and disorder so that they can move ahead with their own attempt to seize The Snarl's Gate. Qarr is now working with them, and as a result after starting out as something of an inversion, Qarr is now much more dangerous than he ever was in his previous position.
    • General Tarquin initially comes across as an Affably Evil Noble Demon type of villain, combined with the same goofy sense of dramatic conventions as his sweet-natured son. While he can be funny and charming, not unlike Xykon, he's as monstrous as any other tyrant — particularly when he perceives a threat to his superiority and control. Even if it's from his own sons. His charm also belies a string of women he's coerced into marriage with torture.
    • Nale spent almost a decade (in real-world time) as the epitome of a Smug Snake and Big Bad Wannabe whose Complexity Addiction results in every plan he puts into action ending in failure. Then he casually kills the centuries-old vampire cleric Malack, revealing that he'd been waiting for the right opportunity to do so since he was 9 years old... then confesses the whole thing to his father (the Tarquin mentioned above), completely underestimating him and allowing him to pull off one of these himself when he murders his son in cold blood. A "scared old man protecting his rut" indeed.
  • 8-Bit Theater:
    • Black Mage, one of the Villain Protagonist main characters, spends almost all the saga doing nothing but things that are deleterious to himself in his efforts to kill everyone on the planet, starting with his teammates. Thief actually states that he would stop BM if anything BM did would hurt anyone more than himself. And then, towards the end he calmly takes out all 4 fiends (perhaps the most powerful and certainly the evilest creatures on the planet) AND the other 3 members of the Light Warriors (all also ridiculously powerful- a warrior who can block anything and kill anything that bleeds, a ninja who can dodge anything, including ethereal energies, and a mimic who can cast every spell the universe has ever seen) with simple ease. Course, then Sarda appears and reverts everything.
    • Garland is shown to be utterly incompetent as a villain- he simply has no idea how to hurt anyone, and for that matter really doesn't want to. His Dark Warriors consist of a dark elf who would be exceptionally useful if he had his swords (which were stolen by the Light Warriors and which take him almost the entire story to get back), and who is utterly useless without them; a pirate who can't read, write, do anything nautical, or really anything useful; and a goth vampire who is obsessed with roleplaying and spends his time writing poetry. When they tire of his inept leadership, though, we get a sight of the real Garland; he offers to cater the meeting they have about getting rid of him; when Drizz'l, the dark elf, asks him why he would cater a meeting specifically designed to screw him over, he delivers a "The Reason You Suck" Speech stating how useless the other Dark Warriors are, and informs him that all the food is spiked with amnesia peppers and that everyone will forget the whole idea in an hour or so. It was also shown that he could summon giant monsters (although not controlling them) and took part in killing the Yeti the Dark Warrior met.
    • Hilariously averted with the cultists; after their first plan to destroy the universe ends terribly at the hands of the Light Warriors, they come back a few hundred strips later seeming much more competent; they see through Black Mage's disguise like a window, lock up the rest of the Light Warriors, and actually set up the summoning ritual for the monster that will end the universe. It seems like a massive threat to the universe and the Light Warriors. Then Black Mage kills them all with his knives in a few seconds and summons the monster, who immediately dies to Red Mage (by accident, no less).
  • Walkyverse:
    • The Head Alien is a tiny purple guy with a flair for the over-dramatic whose preferred method of torture involves The Sound of Music. And then you find out it's his Evil Plan that's driving the entire strip, and that he's a lot more competent than he seems at first. Remember all those Brainwashed and Crazy friends you had to kill? Yeah, he set that up years in advance.
    • And then there's Galasso, and especially Faz in Shortpacked!!, and possibly the Head Alien again.
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • For most, Dr. Schlock was more or less a good guy, though he would sometimes betray the good guys on account of being a coward. It never mattered much, though, since his one skill (creating inflatable technology) can be neutralized quite easily (by anything with a sharp edge). Then he actually manages a hostile takeover of Hereti Corp, one of the series' main Big Bads, orders the assassination of several FBI agents to cover his tracks, and states, "If we're going to 'take over the world' we're going to do it right."
    • The Dimension of Pain. A bunch of incompetent demons, falling over themselves, scared of bunnies, and used as entertainment when they invade on Halloween, and the whole Meanwhile, in the Dimension of Pain... spinoff. Then, in the That Which Redeems arc, they become serious, powerful villains. They even kill a dimension's Zoe.
  • Emergency Exit: The villains seem quite harmless, more annoying than anything else. Until one of them rips off Karl's face.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic usually portrays Lewie the Lich as a Harmless Villain. When called upon, however, he points out an important fact about liches: no matter how silly they seem, you only get to be one by being very powerful.
  • Dead of Summer:
    • Alan Stone falls under this. While not physically imposing at first, he beats the tar out of a sympathetic character and is revealed to have Sinister Surveillance almost everywhere, which lets him know a lot of secrets. A crossing of the Moral Event Horizon later and it's hard to remember that he seemed wimpy at first.
    • Doug Fetterman and his lackeys fall under this too. His two henchmen don't even get names, all three are portrayed as Large Hams, and you figure they're no match for the good guys... Then they assault Commander with a swarm of insects, fry KILROY'S brain and reformat him into a time bomb, and reveal that Panther is apparently working for them. As Panther kills Dr. Light, ripping out his eyes. And then you realize the extent of Fetterman's plan.
  • Something*Positive: That Crazy Blue Thing. Second comic on this page.
  • Girl Genius:
  • Collar 6: Butterfly is an extreme example of this. She went from simply being a Jerkass in her early appearances to sheer horror in this strip.
  • Monster Lands: Marcus Rila has no fighting skills and his attempts at cheating are entirely ineffective until he manages to push Othera off a cliff.
  • Homestuck:
    • Okay, nobody considered Archagent Jack Noir to be harmless, but then he ascended to Big Bad status, killed off the previous Big Bads, massacred a huge army from both Kingdoms and wrecked two planets.
    • Another example is Troll Racist Eridan Ampora. After spending most of Act Five failing at genocide and wallowing in exaggerated emotional theatrics, he decides that his best chance of survival after everything goes to hell is to side with Jack. When Sollux and Feferi try to stop him, he knocks the first one out and kills the latter. Then, when Kanaya tries to stop him, he destroys the Matriorb, thereby destroying the last hope the trolls as a race had of surviving, then blasts a hole through her stomach.
    • While Eridan had his issues, no one ever suspected that Gamzee, upon becoming sober from his sopor slime, would attempt to kill everyone on the station as a show of his inherent superiority.
    • Courtyard Droll would like to remind you that he's Clubs Deuce's alternate by blowing up Jade to death. His post-scratch self does the same by murdering Jake's dream self in his sleep, although he does feel a little bad about it.
    • And undyingUmbrage. It was easy enough to write off his verbal aggression and death threats as non-serious - Dirk seemed to, after all. It got even easier in one conversation when uu hilariously demanded that Dirk draw porn for him...of people holding hands and reciting poems to one another, uu all the while acting as though normal human romantic behaviour was the most terrible of all weird fetishes, cementing him as a not-so-heroic Comedic Sociopath. And then he kills Calliope's dream self, thereby taking control of their shared body. And he eventually grows up to become the Big Bad Lord English, the most powerful and evil character in the story.
  • Zebra Girl: Lord Incubus. That little skull-headed demon Jack released from the book that wanted to take over the world, only to get flushed down a dimensional portal shaped like a toilet? Yeah, he's back. And he's genuinely frightening this time.
  • In El Goonish Shive, in the eyes of Raven, Abraham became this since initially he's viewed as merely infamous for his stupid and reckless action that resulted in the creation of the Dewitchery Diamond. However, Abraham managed to disarm and knock out Raven, a powerful half-immortal wizard in his own right, came very close to killing Ellen, and given that she's the first time he's baffled by a strange use of his diamond, it's implied he's had to put down many actual monstrous creatures over the centuries.
  • Hell Joe in Tower of God seems like a pretty comical villain — Evil Overlord or not — who spends his time with comic books and television and complains about how bored he is because he can't escape the Floor of Death. When the generally overpowered character Princess Yuri Jahad is asked to kill him, it seems like it would be a Curb-Stomp Battle as soon as she gets to him. Instead, he turns out to be the first character whom she can't beat — he's got a piece of the floor's dead Administrator within him, granting him both extraordinary power and the ability to manipulate the Shinsu around him, limiting others' powers.
  • Sweet Home (2017): Jay's monster form seems easy enough to deal with - just tell him he looks good and he'll walk away. Unfortunately, that need for attention is constant, and so much as running away when his back is turned is enough to set him off, and when he's set off, he unleashes a psychic headache on his victims. Despite trying to get him away peacefully, Hyun is forced to kill him.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe has Hekate. While she has a reputation as someone never to cross, she's not particularly successful most of the time and usually sticks to playing The Dragon to Don Sebastiano. And then it's revealed that the events that led Skybolt and Cavalier to become sex-slaves to the Alphas were her doing, using magic straight out of the Cthulhu Mythos. She came perilously close to making Fey into her mind-slave, and actually killed Jade, who got better. Sebastiano spent most of his career riding off the reputation her magic brought him and looks a lot less competent when the truth comes out. He's a rapist thug, but she's on a whole different level of villainy from him.
  • /tg/'s Drew the Lich, an incompetent, Card-Carrying Villain who can't even get the "villain" part right (his phylactery is a Skeletor figurine). Never forget about the lich part, or this may happen. And don't let him plot against you: "Whoever said I would act Lawfully?" after all!
  • The Big Bad mastermind of Gaia Onlines deicide storyline? Don Kuro, the perpetually five-years-old dark elf mob boss, about whom all we'd known previously was that he likes going to anime conventions (Gaia conventions, even), has an awesome big sister, is a huge Momma's Boy, and owes Devin favors.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • Of all the groups that the Foundation has to combat constantly, including a Mad Artist coalition with access to reality-warping, a Mega-Corp that sells ungodly artifacts to the highest bidder, machine-god cultists, and their Unfettered, more violent rival organization, a church that resembles a sillier version of the Church of Happyology crossed with New Age beliefs doesn't sound that bad. But then you get to read about their bible-slash-self-help book, Star Signals, and how an uncontained outbreak of copies of this book brought them closer than any of these other organizations to rewriting the world into an unrecognizable mess, and realize that they're just as dangerous as any of the aforementioned groups.
    • SCP-387 is a bunch of sentient, self-assembling Legos that enjoy being played with and playing with other Legos, and assimilate Lego products added to their toybox. Aside from somehow giving children highly detailed knowledge of WMD construction, they don't harm anyone and were even approved for recreational use by Foundation personnel. One time, someone left a pile of Micro Blok imitation toys in the room... [DATA EXPUNGED] ensued.
      Dr. Arch:' Jesus fucking Christ!
    • SCP-2006 is usually harmless, but efforts need to be made to keep it harmless by convincing it Nightmare Retardant B-movie horrors are the epitome of scary, so those are the forms it will try when scaring people; terrifying others as an apparent prank is all it ever wants to do. The site director remarks it should never progress to not-so-harmless stage because they have no idea what its upper limits for shapeshifting power are, or if it even has them, and to make sure that doesn't happen it must be kept ignorant of what truly terrifies humans. And in one tale, it proves it's aware of at least one of those things (the possibility the Foundation itself is the one being fooled into thinking it, and other objects, are genuinely contained) and genuinely terrifies a high-ranking doctor to the point of panic; it found it just as funny as its usual "scares".
    • The "Safe" designation. It is given to SC Ps that can be locked in a room and do not supernaturally escape or telepathically makes people interact with it or has other such abilities. It does NOT mean the SCP itself can't extremely dangerous if it is used or interacted with.
  • Stellar Ranger Dark Star Series Three: Initially, Dr. Lament seems to be less a real villain and more an actor (poorly) playing one. Their haunted house is built up to be Nightmare Retardant invoked in-universe, with an amateurish, barebones website, a Cliché Storm of a spooky backstory, and a dramatic voiceover by Lament that is simultaneously high-pitched and monotone, as if Lament themself was uninterested. The rangers go visit the house so they can laugh at it. Then Lament traps them inside and reveals thier knowledge of the Penumbra, sends traps and minions to kill them, reveals themselves to be an agent of Despair, and later is able to coerce Destiny into making a deal to save her life.
  • On the Dream SMP, Schlatt is an old, sickly, senile alcoholic who sinks like a rock and drowns in even the shallowest body of water. He almost never wears armor leading to him being an easy target for assassinations, and relies on others to protect him from mobs. It's very easy to underestimate him and doing so would be a very big mistake; he is much more clever than he lets on and keeps his cards very close. He is also a savvy businessman and has somehow convinced Dream to make a contract with him, mitigating any disadvantage he may have had in the manpower department.

    Web Videos 
  • Act III of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, when the titular Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain takes off the kid gloves and decides to Murder the Hypotenuse in response to Captain Hammer's merciless taunting over the theft of his would-be girlfriend Penny. Subverted when, even with all the provocation in the world and his Arch-Enemy helpless before him, he can't bring himself to pull the trigger. Double Subversion when Hammer turns the tables and the malfunctioning Death Ray explodes, handing Dr. Horrible the victory anyway.
  • The Nostalgia Critic
    • The Nostalgia Critic is a pathetic, miserable, useless waste of space, and this carries over to his time as a Villain Protagonist in Kickassia. Taking over "an acre of land" gives him far more trouble than it should, and even after he succeeds, he's mostly content to laze on a couch watching sitcom reruns... but it's eventually revealed he rigged his new country with dynamite just in case anyone wanted to take his finally-gained power away.
    • For all his hamminess, getting easily trashed in a fight, and inability to spell his own name, Terl from To Boldly Flee counts as this. Most of his plans (imprisoning the Critic in his house, kidnapping Cinema Snob so the Executor can turn him to the dark side, and duping the crew into disabling their weapons) actually work, and he would have finished them off for good in the finale if not for Linkara's Big Damn Heroes moment. And even though it didn't technically work the way he wanted, he's managed to survive (through clones) longer than the Critic's, uh, mortal existence, so technically he's achieved his goal.
  • Cancrelax from France Five is a simpering little toady who's only dangerous because he makes a destroyed monster big. Then in the fifth episode, he changes into a buff form and lets the heroes see those claws of his aren't just for show.
  • In the Hat Films Grand Theft Auto V series, Ross designs a course named "Mil-Truck Massacre". The premise is relatively simple- steal a military truck, escape the three-star security (which is not that difficult, for reference) and drive the truck back to an extraction point. As it turns out, the cops, who are armed with just handguns and not well armoured, might individually be useless, but Ross has their respawn rates set so high that they are essentially able to Zerg Rush anyone in the truck and kill them instantly. This forces the trio to angrily ally with one another as they get increasingly frustrated, yet they still fail.
  • When Vanilla Ice is first seen in Vaguely Recalling JoJo, he's doing a goofy pose in a spirit picture with DIO. During Joseph's scrying in episode 7 of Jotaro's Journey, he is struggling with a card game. When the heroes explore DIO's mansion, Vanilla Ice kills Avdol and Iggy in cold blood.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Not So Harmless


All-Powerful Crocker

After finally capturing a fairy (namely Wanda), Crocker fulfills his goal of becoming a supreme magical ruler.

How well does it match the trope?

4.91 (34 votes)

Example of:

Main / NotSoHarmlessVillain

Media sources: