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Offstage Villainy
aka: Offscreen Villainy

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"Why the hell do my plans always work when the camera isn't rolling?"

It's natural for works to follow the Point of View of The Hero, considering that the story revolves around them. Of course, that means that anything that the hero doesn't see isn't portrayed directly. This includes the villain's actions that don't occur in front of the hero.

The Chessmaster may be moving pieces that the viewpoint character(s) don't even know about (yet), or the Evil Plan could have been in motion long before the hero shows up to fight against it. Either way, a lot of the villainous actions that play a role in the plot aren't visibly apparent, although their long term consequences might be. Usually The Reveal of it is handled through Expo Speak, which raises the question of whether or not it's actually believable that these villainous acts happened.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. If handled well, it makes the Big Bad more credible, showing off the depth of the villain's effort and planning by showing that their reach extends beyond the lives of the heroes. A good villain is that much more appreciable as a threat, and the audience picks up on it. Relying only on Offstage Villainy, however, while not showing the villain do all that much evil onscreen, will turn their "bad guy" status into an Informed Attribute. It also disqualifies them from Complete Monster status, as a Complete Monster's actions must be visible, either directly or through their effects.

This goes hand in hand with Villains Act, Heroes React quite often. May result in a Spanner in the Works for either side, depending on the outcome.

Compare and contrast Gory Discretion Shot and Rape Discretion Shot, which may overlap with this, as well as Designated Villain / Villainy-Free Villain and The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, where the "villain(s)" don't actually do anything truly bad, either on-screen or off.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Assassination Classroom: Aside from his shameless perversion, Koro-sensei has not done anything that is morally wrong on-screen. And yet, he has all but destroyed the Moon in the backstory and will do the same to the Earth in the close future. No info is provided on whether he massacred the combined armies of the world trying to kill him or just did a No-Sell of their barrage. This is later subverted with the reveal that he didn't destroy the moon nor does he want to destroy the Earth; a massive explosion is simply what happens when the bodies of antimatter-infused creatures like Koro-sensei undergo critical failure. The plot started as a variation of Suicide by Cop combined with upholding the last wish of his love.
    • On the other hand, we find out that Koro-sensei used to be an assassin, no less than the previous "God of Death", and thus he's responsible both for countless victims killed for a price and for training the current "God of Death", who eventually turns against him. It's only after being transformed and losing his loved one that he takes a turn for the better.
  • Buso Renkin: It's implied that in order to transform himself into the homunculus Papillon, Chouno had numerous people killed for his experiments, including children. As the protagonists didn't discover his plans until the process was almost complete, however, these deaths are never seen, and once Papillon becomes an Anti-Villain they are never mentioned again.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Unfortunately, this is what befalls most villains in the movies as their worst actions are left completely off-screen, making them come off as simple, one-off, Generic Doomsday Villains that the heroes must defeat. The worst offenders of this are Turles, Lord Slug and Bojack.
    • For Turles, he had conquered several planets using the Tree of Might, resulting in the deaths of those inhabitants if there were any. While we see the effects that the Tree of Might has on Earth, we do not see the effects of the Tree of Might had on the other planets that Turles had conquered.
    • Lord Slug is one of the worst examples of this when it came to these films, he had invaded multiple planets so that he could terrafreeze them and turn them into parts of his Planet Cruiser, and tries to do the same thing to Earth. We don't see the former, we only see what the terrafreezing effect has on Earth, that's all.
    • Bojack suffers similarly, the worst things that he had done is told to us via King Kai's exposition, we don't actually see any of these worst actions at all.
  • Fire Force: Although stated to be a serial killer, Setsuo Miyamoto kills only three people onscreen at the courthouse, which is not enough to constitute a mass murder.
  • While Lt. Burning is one of the more decent and level-headed characters among the Military Maverick cast of Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, one of the sourcebooks depicting various scenes of the OAV characters during the time frame of the original Mobile Suit Gundam implies that he raped a female POW towards the end of the One Year War.
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi has this in spades in-story, concerning Evangeline. She has a 600 year long history of evil and bloodshed resulting a 6 million dollar bounty and essentially acting as the boogeyman of the magic world (eat your peas, or Evangeline will come and eat you). Despite all of this, she only does a few villainous things on-screen: sucking blood from students and attacking Negi. Other than that, she regularly helps out the heroes, going so far as to train them and let them use her magical resort for vacation. It's even hinted that her evil reputation is an exaggeration, and that she acted the part so that people would leave her alone. She still constantly tries to claim she's evil, but everyone who actually knows her claims that she's not that bad.
    • The way she tells her backstory suggests that her reputation as a deadly murderer is because people kept hunting her and getting killed in self-defense. Being a vampire in medieval Europe wasn't exactly the best situation for living a peaceful life. Eva, for her part, thinks that these excuses are flimsy and anyone who thinks she's not evil due to this is an idiot.
  • One Piece: In general, if a pirate is not meant to be a villain (like the Supernovas, or the similarly notorious Super Rookies introduced in the Dressrosa arc), their more unpleasant traits will be kept offscreen.
    • One of the aforementioned Supernovas, Trafalgar Law, aka The Surgeon of Death, gets hit with this trope. Thus far, we have seen him act very calm, insightful, reserved, and healing Luffy. None of that screams villainy. It might be played with; between how he acts and the reason for the bounties on Luffy and Zoro, he might be similarly wanted for actions that are, at the very least, justifiable. In which case, the offscreen behavior that is villainous is only towards the corrupt World Government (or a misunderstanding). And after he becomes a Warlord of the Sea, his darker side gets hinted at once again. How did he become one? By removing the hearts of 100 pirates and sending them to the World Government.
    • In a sense, Gold Roger also applies. Every flashback featuring him always seems to present him positively. By contrast, pretty much every villainous act he's done is always presented via word of mouth of his victims.
  • Any of the villains in Pokémon: The Series are a lot more effective when not sharing screen-time with the heroes. Notably, the Team Rocket trio were originally billed as ruthless and effective gangsters, and the larger organization still seems to be that offscreen, but almost all of their schemes that are actually shown tend to end in failure before anyone is hurt. And they're the lucky ones since most other villainous organizations that ever cross paths with Ash and friends completely collapses with their leaders either dead or captured by the authorities.

    Comic Books 
  • Gargoyles: Word of God says after the events of the comics, Prince Maol Chalvim betrayed his cousin and took the throne, and that he preferred Duncan to Macbeth because he saw Duncan was more like himself. In his appearances, the worst thing about him was that he was a case of Good is Not Nice.
  • Jango Fett: Open Seasons: When Jango Fett was forced to retreat, Tor Vizsla schemes to have him and his (Jango's) men framed for the murder of women and children, an action we never get to witness.

    Comic Strips 
  • What little mischief Dennis The Menace still gets up to anymore is almost entirely reduced to this. Most of the time we don't even get to learn what he did to land himself in the time-out chair.

    Fan Works 
  • Calvin & Hobbes: The Series: Holographic Retro orchestrated some of the events of Season 4. Also counts as Arc Welding.
  • Another Realm: Xerol Shaaryak built his enterprise on Illium through nefarious means, evident by his employing of asari commandos, and the no small measure of respect he gets from the underground. These acts are heavily implied to have been violent, particularly in batarian circles.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Twilight crossover Blue Moon features Bella Swan (after learning that she is one of the newly-activated Slayers) realising that she was actually indirectly taunted by the First during its campaign against the Potentials, guessing that the First was the reason she heard Edward’s voice speaking to her when the Cullens were away. Jasper and Edward confirm this was the case when Jasper reveals that he kept seeing some of his old vampire associates in the run-up to Bella’s birthday, Edward saw Bella while he was away (Bella having 'died' for a few seconds after James's attack), and the other Cullens report seeing various other deceased acquaintances around the same time.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Great Mouse Detective uses this very effectively. Basil mentions that Ratigan has been committing crimes for years, and Ratigan later names a few of them his Villain Song. Also in his Villain Song, his Mooks sing, "Even meaner? You mean it? Worse than the widows and orphans you drowned?"
  • In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Judge Claude Frollo has been persecuting Romani people for at least twenty years before the movie's present day.
  • In Mulan, the Huns are this for a major part - after they cross the Great Wall, their very next appearance is riding away from a ravaged and torched city. Then they find two scouts, intimidate the hell out of them, but the film cuts out right before suffering is inflicted ("How many messengers we need to deliver this?" *readies bow* "One."). The next scene with the Huns is just them planning their next attack. Of course, once Mulan's squad comes across the result of said attack, a thoroughly torched village next to a field full of bodies, it becomes pretty clear how vicious these guys are.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Douglas Milroy explored this (and the designated hero) in his review of The Beast:
    "In one fell swoop the movie has its would-be hero mocking and yelling at an essentially innocent villain. If a large number of truly despicable actions by Graves had been shown, perhaps we could accept our hero calling him names, or mocking his education. As it is, how many actual representations of villainy by Graves do we see or hear about: one. Raines and Marcus are discussing the position of harbor master, when Rains says "Schuyler Graves has expanded its scope. It's got a lot of people angry around here". And that, oh my Brothers, is it. Based upon that, we are to take him as a villain."
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has Luigi and Pavi, brothers stated to be a murderer and a rapist, respectively. While we see Luigi stab several people to death, all the girls we see with Pavi are quite willing. This could be because while violence is always fun, it's really hard to joke about rape.
  • Frank Miller for most of High Noon. The hero Kane threw him in prison for unspecified charges before the start of the film, but Miller gets pardoned and decides to take revenge on Kane. Kane runs around town insisting that Miller is a menace to them all, but people refuse to stand with him. Some even sympathize with Miller and insist that Kane is trying to drag them into a personal feud. When Miller finally arrives, he sports some evil scars to prove his villainy, but he still doesn't do anything except go after Kane.
  • The Chronicles of Riddick:
    • An interesting example is Richard B. Riddick, the Noble Demon protagonist who, despite being the protagonist, is considered by all to be evil incarnate. While in Pitch Black he certainly starts off as a sinister character, in all of his screen time across the number of games and movies he appears in, he never really does anything explicitly evil. Most of it can easily be recognised as a man with a strong survival instinct who just wants people to leave him the fuck alone.
    • The Lord Marshal's extermination of the Furyans to try to cheat the prophecy that Aereon gave him, which is only alluded to in the theatrical cut. Averted in the extended cut, which actually shows him committing these massacres.
  • Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs, at least for the first half or so. We hear that he's a psycho, sure, we hear that he shot a bunch of civilians, but whenever we actually see him, he's calm and cool and affable. The only evidence we have for his villainy is the word of Mr.'s Pink and White. Then the ear scene happens.
  • In Serenity, The Operative doesn't know where Serenity went to hide, so he has every place they've hidden in the past bombed to bits. The crew only finds this out when they try to contact all of them.
  • The library scene in Star Trek: Insurrection really goes out of its way to make the Son'a unlikeable, with records of conquering and enslaving worlds, drug dealing, and possessing illegal weapons. It makes the Federation look really stupid to have ever turned to them.
  • In Con Air, Garland Greene is presented as one of the most horrific and prolific serial killers who ever lived, and is certainly feared by the other criminals, but all his crimes occurred before his introduction. He boasts of killing a little girl and wearing her face as a Genuine Human Hide, yet he thankfully refrains from killing a girl he runs into. The end rather implies that he's gone good, but with his past crimes this still makes him an extreme Karma Houdini.
  • In Dracula Untold, the Elder Vampire makes Vlad admit that he butchered not hundreds, but thousands of innocents, but since it would be hard to root for him, we see him actually doing none of it.
  • Lord of War: When Andre Jr. is introduced, Yuri notes internally that this son of an African dictator is a psychopathic murderer, rapist, and cannibal. Though he does end up shooting at civilians, none of Jr.'s most heinous crimes are shown.
  • The Phantom Menace: After the Trade Federation invades Naboo, we keep being told that the people are suffering under the occupation and that the death toll is rising. The thing is, we never actually see any of the Nabooan citizens suffer, which makes the whole thing look more like Gunboat Diplomacy (albeit by a megacorp wilfully manipulated by a Sith lord) than a whole planet being "subjected to slavery and death". Qui-Gon suspects it's a lie to trick them into giving away their position when they hear it, and it doesn't profit them in any way. The Federation are explicitly unhappy about landing troops at all.
  • The film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, doesn't show any of the murders Ted Bundy committed, and instead focuses on his arrests, his known escapes, and finally the main trial that convicted him as a serial killer. The only violence in the film, is a flashback showing Bundy knocking out one of his victims with a crowbar, and a photo of the victim in the woods without her head, which he admits he cut off with a hacksaw to his heartbroken Ex.
  • We're No Angels (1989): Ned and Jim are escaped convicts who presumably did something to end up in jail, but nothing about their past crimes is mentioned, and they only commit a few petty crimes over the course of the film.
  • No Escape (1994): All of the generally benevolent Insiders presumably did something bad to end up in prison and then get sent to the island (Killian implies that part of the Father's sway comes from how they incorrectly believe he's the only wrongfully convicted man among them) but only the Father, Robbins (who killed an Asshole Victim), Casey (who was only an accomplice to an implied Felony Murder), and Dysart (a former bomb-maker) ever have their crimes disclosed. All of them express remorse as well.
  • Monster's Ball: Lawrence must have committed some very serious crimes to be on Death Row, but his character is introduced mere days before his execution, which shifts the focus to how his wife and son will have to deal with his death.
  • Gorr in Thor: Love and Thunder is stated to be a widely known god-killer and has killed multiple gods before Thor arrived. However besides the first one he killed in self-defense, we never saw him doing any of that on-screen and when he appears to confront Thor, Gorr ended up using the children to lure latter for the Stormbreaker before disappearing from the narrative until Thor arrived at his planet to get the hostages back.

  • In A Brother's Price, this is necessary as the heroes have no idea who the villain is, or, more precisely, who is paying the petty criminals they're fighting. Therefore, the most horrible crime (the rape and murder of a man) occurs offscreen, and the heroes only find the body.
  • Angel in the Whirlwind:
    • William suspects his brother Scott of transporting illegal arms and slaves during his decades as a smuggler, but Scott spends most of his appearances as a reliable (albeit cynical and mercenary) source of information about their enemies.
    • Speaker Nehemiah is a leader of a brutal and oppressive government waging a war of oppression, but most of his POV scenes have him being uncomfortable about the scorched Earth policy his peers are employing on their own home world and showing concern for his family (and even some reluctant So Proud of You moments for the rebellious daughter who derailed his nation's plan).
  • In Dragon Bones, most things the villains do are only hinted at. Justified, as no one really likes to read detailed descriptions of torture or rape, and the descriptions of the wounds are enough to show how evil the villains are. The murders are on-stage, most other things aren't, or if they are, we get to see them from the point of view of the (at that point) delirious victims.
  • The oni in most versions of the Momotarō folktale are said to be evil, but are never seen doing anything evil in the story proper. At its worst, the titular character is just a murderous bandit who plunders others for wealth.
  • In Sherlock Holmes, in Professor Moriarty's first appearance, we never actually read about anything he did; he just "has his hands" in villainy. This was remedied in the later The Valley of Fear. Granted, his villainy is still technically offscreen, but it's one hell of a punch in the gut all the same.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire,
    • Whilst Gregor "The Mountain that Rides" Clegane is one of the cruelest villains in the series, the reader only hears about the great majority of his deeds from other characters, rather than witnessing them directly (though there are often enough details included and enough reason to believe the various narrators to be reliable that it still gets the effect across, showing that this trope is not inherently flawed).
    • The same with Lord Roose Bolton and Ramsay Bolton, who like to flay the skin off their captives' fingers until the captives beg for the fingers to be chopped off due to the pain. Poor Theon Greyjoy, while not the nicest person, gets this treatment. For obvious reasons, this isn't directly shown to the reader. It's hinted that Roose has done a number of things that we never even hear about, as he complains that Ramsay has allowed his evil deeds to be well-known to the point that everyone is talking about them - thus harming House Bolton's reputation - whereas "no one ever talked about me."
  • Very much in effect in the novel From Outer Space. The villain only actually appears in the last ten or so pages and, although he is indeed both a colossal jerkass and a Dirty Coward, he doesn't come off as being anywhere near as evil as the Hunter claims him to be.
  • A common trait of villains in Septimus Heap is that most of their evil deeds are never shown, just discussed or narrated.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: The author mishandles this trope a number of times. This results in stories where the villains are just not as terrible as they're claimed to be, causing their punishments to come off as Disproportionate Retribution, and causing the protagonists inflicting said punishments to look like the actual villains of the series instead!
  • Wilmer of The Maltese Falcon is an absolute terror whenever he's not observed directly; he is confirmed to have killed three people over the course of the novel - at least one of whom was also a tough multiple murderer himself - and is implied to have done similar things in the past in his career as a hired gun. Whenever he appears in the main action, though, he comes off as more hapless than anything, gets repeatedly beaten up and/or shaken down, and the protagonist refuses to take him seriously.
  • Most of the terrible things Dorian Gray does are never gone into- probably because it was better to let the reader's imagination fill in the gaps than to try to fill them with what sins could be actually printed in 1890. There's much talk about the spectacular things Dorian collects over the best part of twenty years, then Basil turns up and comes out with a list of people whose lives have been ruined by Dorian's behaviour (and there are clearly a lot that Basil doesn't know about.)
  • In Kill Decision, Odin is reluctant to get the help of Mordecai because he's supposedly horrid scum even by Odin's loose standards. But apart from a not-entirely-unjustified attempt at calling the authorities on them and a throwaway mention of his porn being of the cephalopodic variety, we don't actually see him being the kind of absolute monster that deserves Odin's scorn.
  • The titular villain of Stephen King's It may antagonize the characters a lot but manages still to fit this trope quite well. It has been around since the beginning of time and as Mike Hanlon finds out, Pennywise has been present for every disaster and mass-killing in Derry's history. Not to mention It murders numerous characters off-screen during the story proper.
  • Villains by Necessity: Not one of the villain protagonists does anything really evil in the story, thus allowing us to sympathize with them. Anything like that is only mentioned as part of their past (for instance, Sam's apparently assassinated dozens of people). The worst is likely Valerie killing some dolphins with magic for sport, but much worse is mentioned as having also been committed by her people. Blackmail also destroys the Gnifty Gnomes, just for being somewhat annoying.
  • Because the protagonists of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows spend most of their time running around the country, all of the bad things the Death Eaters do happens offscreen.
  • Harry hates mobster Johnny Marcone with a vengeance in The Dresden Files and often refuses to call him anything more dignified than scum, citing his time as a mobster and the ways he hurt Chicago. But going strictly by what we see, Marcone's arguably more morally upright than Harry himself; a lot of what he does onscreen, particularly in later books, is genuinely helpful to the city, even if Marcone has his own interests front and center. Meanwhile, all of his more heinous deeds are only alluded to at best and he never actually opposes Harry.
  • Project Tau: The torture sessions are an established part of Tau - and later Kata's - daily routine, but are never described in the book.
  • Spy School: In Spy School at Sea, Ben and Mike are thrown off a cruise ship. They follow some sea turtles to shore and identify themselves as junior CIA agents, only to discover that they've blundered into the property of a drug lord known as El Diablo. While he's completely unapologetic about being a drug dealer, any villainy he's involved with remains entirely offscreen (save for later loaning his jet to the Big Bad, who is friends with El Diablo). El Diablo thinks Ben and Mike are just joking about being CIA agents and lets them leave unharmed after letting them eat and shower at his place. He also talks about how his estate doubles as a sea turtle conservatory, boasts about how he gives back to the community, and seems like a Benevolent Boss to his henchmen.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: Marcus from In the Dark had a reputation as a master torturer, but we neither get clarity about what techniques he created nor do we see other people aside from Angel get tortured.
  • Breaking Bad rarely explored the effects that Walt's meth cooking had on his average customer, save for one scene where Jesse and Mike break into a meth-house that is mostly Played for Laughs. Given how popular his "Blue Sky" meth is indicated to be, to the point that Walt's drug empire extended all the way to the Czech Republic with a cash flow in the tens of millions, it's easily in the thousands. Story-wise this is because Walt, who wants to keep his criminal career and private life separate, refuses to meet his customers, first using Jesse as his street dealer before making deals with organized crime groups when he decides to move into wholesale production. Presumably, if there were more emphasis on the number of lives that Walt ruined just by cooking alone, the audience would have turned against him long before he engages in his more direct, visible crimes in the later seasons.
  • Game of Thrones: Most of Ser Gregor's worst acts, and those of the soldiers he commands, have occurred offscreen. Though given the sheer level of brutality described, this is certainly a blessing. In his most infamous act, before the events of the series, he murdered and raped the Princess Elia Targaryen but not before killing her infant son Aegon in front of her.
  • This was a problem faced by the writers of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the villain Gul Dukat in the first few seasons. He was, in essence, a space nazi who directly oversaw the slave labour camps of the Bajoran people for years, and was by all accounts not a good employer. By the time the series begins however the Bajorans are free, and Gul Dukat comes across as a witty, intelligent (but admittedly egotistical), three dimensional Anti-Villain, despite the characters (more or less correctly) insisting that he's Satan's bastard offspring.
  • A completely offstage example is Maris from Frasier, Niles Crane's abrasive, manipulative, controlling, hysterical, nigh-sociopathic Jerkass wife. None of the outlandishly horrible things she does are ever actually seen onscreen, as she was The Ghost, but they had a major impact on the series all the same. The writers averted vilifying Maris via Unreliable Narrator by making Niles genuinely in love with her and often oblivious to her faults, as well as making sure that when the characters described her actions, they described them factually and in detail rather than complaining about what a lousy person she was. In fact, the act of describing her actions out loud to the other characters was often what made Niles realize just how nasty some of the things she did really were. As the series went on, Maris became less of an offstage villain and more of an offstage abomination; not only was she increasingly portrayed as a narcissistic sociopath, some of the physical descriptions of her make you wonder if she was even human. The characters don't always seem to be joking when they talk about her this way.
  • On Heroes, Noah "HRG" Bennet spent 17 years personally participating in the kidnapping, experimentation and mind-wiping of people with special abilities. He also lied to his family the entire time (for their own protection, but still putting them in danger without their knowledge or consent). However, this mostly took place before the pilot episode. This, plus the fact that Bennet was frequently shown onscreen being a Papa Wolf to Claire, caused many fans to be unsympathetic when his family (especially Claire) reacted with revulsion and horror to the revelations about his not-so-distant past.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Joseph Serumaga's various crimes when he commanded a rebellion were spoken of, but never shown aside from two accounts of attempted murder.
  • Wonder Woman (2011 pilot): In the failed pilot, the titular heroine is introduced brutally arresting a drug dealer, and later tortures him for information. Trouble is, we're only given her word that he's a drug dealer, and this Wonder Woman seems like exactly the kind of person who would go off half-cocked on the flimsiest evidence.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Abaddon", it's used for ambiguity factor when a genocidal warlord is unfrozen from a hypersleep pod. He claims to be innocent of the crimes he's accused of all while acting Obviously Evil. Since his purported human sacrifices and mass murder is all in his backstory, the crew of the ship that found him wonder if the MegaCorp they work for (and seized the land that belonged to the warlord's followers) actually did frame him, which is left unanswered.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003). Tom Zarek is accused of terrorism, abuse of office, political manipulation, and conspiracy to commit murder. By the time the series is over we've seen President Roslin commit every one of those crimes. When he finally does make his move, the writers had to give him a few Kick the Dog moments just to restore the balance (and even these are entirely Pragmatic Villainy).
  • Blackadder: Captain Edmund Blackadder from the fourth series is generally quite sympathetic, but he also makes mention of his career before World War One. Most notably, he mentions that in those days they only fought enemies that didn't carry guns, and preferred fighting those who didn't have spears either. He also makes reference to "massacring the pygmies of Upper Volta and stealing all their fruit", saving Field Marshal Haig by personally shooting a native armed with a sharpened slice of dried mango, and generally being a willing participant in the ugliest parts of late British colonialism. Of course, these comments are to indicate that Captain Blackadder, while not as machiavellian as his ancestors, is still a Dirty Coward and an Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist.

  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto — The prologue establishes Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia's reputation ("That unrefined jerk from Spain who walks around the Vatican like he owns the place!") and he says he'll do whatever it takes to become pope. Then his son Cesare, the protagonist, calls him a monster. But other than that, we don't see him doing anything but the same political scheming as all the other nobles in Italy, and it's his rival who's the one ordering assassination attempts on teenagers. It doesn't portray him as pure, by any means, but it still counters the family's usual Historical Villain Upgrade.
  • Don Giovanni is confirmed to be a serial womanizer, but none of his attempted seductions during the course of the story actually succeed in closing the deal. Not for lack of trying, though.

    Video Games 
  • Most of Pope Alexander VI or Rodrigo Borgia's most heinous acts in Assassin's Creed II were merely implied or stated in a video about him. While he does do bad things on camera, he mostly just skulks in the shadows until the very end.
  • Asura's Wrath: Sergei supposedly had a record of killing many people over the 12,000 years that passed. However, he was never shown to kill anyone aside from Durga.
  • Diddy Kong Racing: In the manual, it was stated Wizpig destroyed entire planets out of boredom.
  • DanMachi: Memoria Freese: Baldo from the Nightmare Academia event proclaims to have feasted on the flesh and blood of people he killed, but that was only mentioned prior to his boss fight.
  • Jables's Adventure pushes this to the point of parody. The final boss of the game is King Squid, who readily identifies himself as a villain and boasts that Jables is too late to stop his evil scheme. However, until the pre-boss-fight cutscene, there is literally no mention or foreshadowing of King Squid or his evil plan—until the boss fight, Jables doesn't even know the game has a villain.
  • The Authority in iD's Rage (2011) where throughout the game we're told just how evil they are, how they're out to get you and will kill you on sight...but we see precious little of them before the second disk. The first time we do see them is when we're attempting to break out a terrorist from a prison so their hostility to the player-controlled character is understandable.
    Zero Punctuation: Yeah, any governing body that calls itself "The Authority" probably aren't distributing free t-shirts to war widows, but I wish the game would establish that rather than just ask me to assume it.
  • Whatever it was that Big Bad Hector from Grim Fandango did in life, it was apparently so atrocious that he runs a massive scam to steal No. 9 tickets (only given to the most saintly of people,) sell fake copies of them to less morally-sound people, and hoard the real ones for himself in an attempt to balance it out for when he moves on to the Ninth Underworld.
  • Madarame, Kaneshiro and Okumura in Persona 5 are all touted as heinous criminals who had to be stopped by any means necessary, but their worst crimes are only mentioned in-passing by other characters. For example, the worst thing we do see Madarame do is to pull a Murder by Inaction on Yusuke's mom and create forgeries of her painting, but there's no proof that he had driven pupils to suicide other than testimonies from Nakanohara. Compare this to Kamoshida who explicitly leaves multiple students in bandages after the volleyball rally and one victim visibly jumping off the school roof after presumably being molested.
  • The police, military and MegaCorp from the Rockstar game State of Emergency are said to be oppressing the populace, but never shown doing anything particularly heinous to ordinary folks. The only aggression we see from them is their efforts to stop you from murdering panicked citizens or blowing up restaurants and storefronts which, thanks to the very slapdash backstory, are suggested to be, like, really evil restaurants and storefronts, or something.
  • The ruling MegaCorp body in Project Moon's works, also known as the Head or A Corp, is said to be a tyrannical corporate dictatorship who wields super-powered shock troops that can kill almost any individual on-sight and supposedly tried to obliterate the Villain Protagonists of the first two games because they are performing experiments that would break the City's cycle of death and human sacrifices. In the games however, they're really hands-off and won't even bother moving a finger unless someone fails to pay taxes or breaches some bizzare regulation that look less like formal restrictions but oddly specific Berserk Buttons. Anything else, including horrible experiments, mass murder and at least one explicit rebellion attempt are ignored entirely, and turns out they attacked our Villain Protagonists not because of the experiments themselves, but because of a potential sentient A.I. being built inside the City.
  • Likewise, it's never revealed in Planescape: Torment what the first incarnation of The Nameless One did that's so horrible that not even an entire lifetime's worth of atonement could make up for it, hence his search for immortality.
  • The United Earth Directorate in StarCraft. Canonically, they are a ruthless dictatorship who abolished cultural ethnicity and religion on Earth, banished 400 million humans to space for being considered "undesirable", and came to the Koprulu Sector with the intention of enslaving or eradicating the Zerg and Protoss. Unfortunately, very little of this is actually shown in-game, and all we get to see in their Brood War campaign is them trying to enslave the Zerg (who at this point were Always Chaotic Evil) and beating the crap out of Arcturus Mengsk, one of the most reviled characters in the franchise. This has caused plenty of fans to root for them, and not understand why the heroic characters chose to form an Enemy Mine with the much more Obviously Evil Sarah Kerrigan to fight them.
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, barring a few justified exceptions, Giants tend to be Noble Savage Gentle Giants who prefer to be left alone and will only attack if provoked in-game. However, Giants are known to raid farms, steal livestock, and attack settlements. This only occurs offscreen and in the backstory.
  • This is common with Dragon Quest games:
    • Dragon Quest VI's second half is mostly the heroes going through minions of Mortamor before he finally appears.
    • Dragon Quest VII's first disc with Orgodemir. The heroes go back in time to Set Right What Once Went Wrong, always arriving at just the right time to see what the villain of the week's actions have wrought, and then fix them. The main antagonist, Orgodemir, is not actually seen until the end of Disc one. Disc two on the other hand, is another story.
    • Dragon Quest VIII, for the first half, is all about chasing Dhoulmagus, but the heroes always arrive too late and gather what happened from the townsfolk.
  • In Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Dimitri's status as a villain depends on one's personal perspective and the route, but the trope applies to him on his route, Azure Moon. While he is disturbingly obsessed with taking revenge on Edelgard, enjoys killing enemy soldiers and once threatens to torture a defeated enemy to death, his significant body count during the Time Skip is often mentioned, but never shown. Said route involves his redemption, so perhaps the writers didn't want to make him too unsympathetic.
  • Mileena, who deposed Kahn of Outworld, from Mortal Kombat X is often referred too as a Mad Empress whose disastrous leadership nearly destroyed her empire. We see and hear nothing about what she did that was so bad. And the only people who bring it up are equally unreliable and biased. Ironically, when we do see her in the story mode she's a very successful commander leading an effective guerrilla campaign against the actual monarchy.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, after CJ shows genuine remorse for having to kill his childhood friend Ryder for betraying him, Cesar tries to snap him out of it by claiming Ryder tried to rape Kendl, which rings hollow for three reasons: 1) At no point is this even hinted at beforehand, 2) Ryder has not once even shown any signs of being attracted to Kendl, much less attempting to rape her, and 3) it would be strange for Kendl to even keep silent about this to her brothers since she was opened about the construction workers insulting her appearance. So Cesar's comment just comes out of nowhere and is only written for the sake of making Ryder even worse despite this alleged act not even being hinted at.
  • Scarface: The World Is Yours: Venus talks about how Nacho "El Gordo" Contreras was a rapist who throws his victims into the ocean where they get eaten by sharks, but we only see him try and kill Tony.
  • Used as a tool in Red Dead Redemption 2. Dutch's murder of Heidi McCort, the first notable event in his fall from grace, happens offscreen just before the game begins and is only nebulously described to the player by other characters. This is to keep the exact circumstances of the murder unclear and maintain a degree of ambiguity to Dutch's actions, as a central part of the game's narrative is the Alternative Character Interpretation of whether Dutch is a formerly good man gradually losing his mind to trauma and stress, or if he was always psychotic and eventually couldn't hide his true self anymore.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Few of the Neopets villains are actually seen doing anything bad. Deliberately invoked for Jhudora, who is free to do as she pleases because she's never been caught at anything.
  • For the first two years of The Questport Chronicles, the villains never appear until the final showdown, and the heroes learn of their misdeeds second-hand.
  • In Noob, Gaea eventually gets her reputation points so low that she gets kicked out of her faction due to the cumulative consequences of her Manipulative Bastard actions on both player and non-player characters. While she has been seen scamming or blackmailing two of her own guildmates and The Ace, the tricks she pulled on anyone else are shown only in two or three comic-only scenes.
  • In The Nostalgia Critic, while Hyper stalking him, breaking into his house and kidnapping him is bad enough, she had him for two weeks that we don't see and only get references to. This is more out of necessity than anything else, as (for example) they can't exactly show her lopping off one of his toes like he said she did.
  • While Dr. Gero was always villainous, Dragon Ball Abridged adds a level of offstage work. While digging through Dr. Gero's research notes about Androids 17 and 18, Bulma finds out that Gero only gave model numbers to successful creations. He had kidnapped and experimented on dozens of orphans over the years until he got results.

    Western Animation 
  • Ma Vreedle in Ben 10 is constantly shilled as a fearsome, skilled villain whose actions made her wanted in 12 systems, banned in 27 others, and somehow caused Vilgax (who is considered the most dangerous being in the Galaxy) to be terrified by her onscreen and right in front of Ben. The worst she is actually seen doing there, however, are cartoonish schemes in the same vein than the show's more comedic villains, making you wonder why everyone is so afraid of her.
  • Tuma, his Skrall legion, and the Bone Hunters in BIONICLE: The Legend Reborn. Everyone makes them out to be deadly threats, but when they are on-screen, they are revealed to be a bunch of goofy Mooks and a dumb Dragon, and are easily defeated. The only bad thing they do is plundering a village and beating up a good guy, however, we never see them do it, and only two villagers react with shock to the destruction of their home (even the Village Leader doesn't seem to care). Keep in mind this only applies to Legend Reborn. In other media, the Bone Hunters raided trade caravans and attacked the city of Vulcanus; while Tuma was a full Evil Overlord, manipulating the Bone Hunters and protagonist tribes and having the Skrall subvert the impending Tournament Arc by razing the stadium instead.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog: Despite being behind the deaths of twelve people, none of Benton Tarentella's murders were really shown.
  • Gargoyles:
    • Bodhe mentions that untold parties in England "rid their land of gargoyles years ago." However, it's unclear if they were actually slaughtered or actually banished from the country.
    • Most of the Mayan gargoyle clan's members were stated to have been slain by unseen poachers who stole an artifact from them. While we see the mask in the museum, neither the slaughter nor the remains were shown.
  • Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles has the Bugs successfully destroying the White House, the Eiffel Tower, and several other targets in an All Your Base Are Belong to Us moment. We don't actually see this, however, as that would probably have been a bit traumatic for a kids' show. Rather shockingly averted with the first appearance of a Brain Bug, though. The psychic "replay" we get shows quite clearly what it does to prisoners. The only thing we don't see is the man's skull actually being pierced; we see the proboscis rise and fall and watch the soldier's body twitching with his head just offscreen.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures:
    • When Uncle and Daolon Wong first meet, Wong reveals himself as the one who killed (though he uses the verb defeat) Uncle's teacher Chi Master Fong. This crime is never shown onscreen.
    • The Dark Hand are said to have connections to nearly every known form of criminal activity, and when Valmont, Finn, and Ratso allow themselves to be arrested, they get a fifty-year sentence in a maximum-security prison. However, most criminal acts that don't relate to magic artifacts or are otherwise relevant to the plot aren't shown, the Enforcers are mostly portrayed as Affably Evil and incompetent, and while Valmont does start off as a credible threat, he soon undergoes a major Villain Decay.
  • Jonny Quest:
    • Calcutta Adventure: Kronick's nerve gas was said to have caused some sheepherders to get sick, but we never get to see any of the victims of this ailment.
    • Devil's Tower: Klaus, a.k.a. Von Dueffel, was said to have been a Nazi who participated in concentration camps. All he is seen doing is taking the main cast captive and trying to kill them when they try to escape.
    • The Quetong Missile Mystery: General Fong's pollution of the swamp was said to have resulted in people dying from eating fish poisoned by the missile fuel. We only see him having one boat of two people blown up as well as making a standard kill the heroes moment when his missile plot is foiled and killing a mook for failure.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Discord's original rule is only mentioned in passing as "an eternal state of unrest and unhappiness," his stained glass window shows him dangling ponies over flames and he himself refers to an afternoon of reducing the world to complete chaos as only "his first changes." One must wonder exactly how horrific his original rule must have been, compared to the evil, but still mostly humorous and silly actions he's shown inflicting onscreen. Given that Discord's very nature is so chaotic, it is possible that the scope of his evilness would vary dramatically depending on how he feels on any given day.
  • In the 2018 reboot of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Hordak is the founder and leader of the Horde, but the first three seasons show him ruling from the shadows in the Fright Zone. His initial conquests upon arriving on Etheria, during which he would have taken an active role, are not shown on screen. In season 4, Hordak takes to the battlefield and leads his troops personally. Viewers see a few shots of Hordak firing on the Salineas Sea Gate and the Sea Elf Village with his arm cannon, but most of his siege takes place offscreen. Hordak also remarks that Entrapta is the only princess who has not yet faced him in combat, which implies that he has done battle with several princesses offscreen.
  • In SpacePOP, villainous things Geela does are usually offscreen, with most of her time being spent on self-promoting TV shows or reveling in her own evilness.
  • The Venture Bros.: In the Cold Opening of "I Know Why The Caged Bird Kills", The Monarch performs his best villainous entrance ever, slaughtering dozens and leaving pure mayhem in his wake... only to immediately find out that they're at the wrong address and he's raiding his accountant's office instead of the Venture compound.
  • Total Drama: Many of Julia schemes in the second season are done offscreen and she tells us about them after the fact such as orchestrating Bowie and MK's eliminations, stealing Damien's immunity idol, and blackmailing Caleb.
  • Magneto, in X-Men: The Animated Series is consistently presented as the heroes' Arch-Enemy, especially in the intro. However, it's only in his first few appearances (and the last episode) that he is actually doing evil and acting at odds with the X-Men. In every other appearance, he is just trying to find a peaceful place for mutants to live, and ends up working with the X-Men against a greater evil. Of course, his major villainous acts in those appearances included large-scale industrial and (attempted) nuclear terrorism, so they more than sufficed to establish him as a villain.

Alternative Title(s): Offscreen Villainy, Offpage Villainy