In works adapted from TV shows, books, or other media, the first film/season is getting an unfamiliar audience aclimated to the world, getting them to like and root for the protagonist, and proving that the adaptation can be successful. For this aura of uncertainty, a creator may hold off on the hero facing his major villains right away, and pit him against more B-list or C-list fodder, or even an original character. Then, now that a sequel has been greenlit, bring in the iconic Arch-Enemy that everyone knows. Or, it may be that the presence of such an impactful character is its own sort of Sequel Escalation, so including them is a natural progression to step things up a notch.
Note that this is not applicable for when the early villains are comparably iconic to the later villain, only when the second villain is considered more famous and iconic than the first.
May be a part of a Sequel Hook if the villain is set up in the first film, to tease the audience of what a sequel will bring. May be related to Saved for the Sequel or Refitted for Sequel. See also Superhero Movie Villains Die, in which the lesser-known villain would be killed off so that the more recognizable villain can take center stage for the sequel. Contrast and not to be confused with Iconic Sequel Character, when a character introduced in a sequel becomes iconic.
- The first major Batman storyline of the New 52 reboot, Night of the Owls, has the Bat Family facing off against a new enemy, an Ancient Conspiracy known as the Court of Owls. The second storyline of the reboot, Death of the Family, involves The Joker returning to Gotham to wreak havoc.
- The first major villain of The Ultimates is Herr Kleiser, a Canon Foreigner with no clear analogue in the main Marvel universe. The second series has the Ultimate Universe version of Loki, the first villain the Avengers fought together.
- DC Comics inspired:
- The 1948 Superman Film Serial starring Kirk Alyn featured an original villain, Spider Lady, as the main antagonist, herself being a Captain Ersatz of the Scarlet Widow, a similarly obscure villain from the Superman radio show. Its 1950 sequel serial, Atom Man Vs. Superman featured Superman's Arch-Enemy, Lex Luthor, as the main villain.
- Batman Begins focused on lesser-known Batman villains Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul. The sequel The Dark Knight brought in The Joker as the Big Bad.
- Green Lantern featured little-known villain Hector Hammond and the Eldritch Abomination Parallax. The Stinger shows Sinestro, typically considered Green Lantern's archnemesis, becoming a Yellow Lantern. Had the film not been a Box Office Bomb, presumably this would have been followed up on in a sequel.
- DC Extended Universe:
- While General Zod is fairly iconic since the Richard Donner Superman films, Superman's Arch-Enemy Lex Luthor was saved for the sequel to Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
- The Joker appeared in the second DCEU film to feature Batman, Suicide Squad, although none of them are central to the plot. Harley Quinn is definitely iconic and she does have a scene facing Batman, although here she's a protagonist.
- In Justice League, C-List villain Steppenwolf is the Big Bad (or rather The Heavy) of the movie to avoid using the more iconic and well-known Darkseid.
- Semi-averted for the above with Zack Snyder's Justice League, as Zack Snyder actually used Darkseid in his version of the movie (Joss Whedon and Executive Meddling cut him out of the 2017 theatrical version entirely), albeit not as main villain for the Justice League to fight against, again.
- Zigzagged in SHAZAM!, which uses Dr. Sivana as its villain. While Sivana is Shazam's traditional Arch-Enemy, he's much less well-known than Shazam's Nominal Hero Evil Counterpart Black Adam. Adam was considered to appear in the film, but was left out in favor of getting his own spin-off film, and it is planned that they'll meet in a future film.
- Also zigzagged with Wonder Woman. Ares is arguably considered to be one of Wonder Woman's Arch-Enemies but the more well-known Cheetah is featured in Wonder Woman 1984.
- Marvel Comics-inspired:
- The Amazing Spider-Man Series featured lesser-known Spider-Man villain Curt Connors, aka The Lizard, as its main antagonist. The sequel introduced Harry Osborn as an incarnation of the Green Goblin, one of Spider-Man's most famous foes, and laid the groundwork for the Sinister Six had the series not been Cut Short. This is noteworthy as an unusual example as while the Green Goblin is more well known than the Lizard, the latter is/was more well-known than Harry Osborn as the former due to his father Norman being the most famous Green Goblin.
- A non-villainous example with Deadpool. Smaller villains Ajax and Angel Dust were the villains of the first film, then Deadpool 2 brought in the Anti-Hero Cable, who functioned as an antagonist before he joined forces with Deadpool and X-Force in the third act.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Iron Man had the lesser known Obadiah Stane / Iron Monger as the Big Bad. Iron Man 2 featured Ivan Vanko who is a Composite Character of Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, the latter being a more high-profile Iron Man villain. Then in Iron Man 3 The Mandarin (widely considered Tony's Arch-Enemy in the comics) is billed as the main villain, though it turned out to be a fake Mandarin with the real one still at large, to be instead dealt with by Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
- The Incredible Hulk has the titular character face off against the Abomination who, while well-known among Hulk fans, is often overshadowed by Hulk's Arch-Enemy and Diabolical Mastermind, Leader. Sam Sterns (Leader's alter-ego) does appear in the film though, and there's a scene that sets up him to be the next villain for Hulk to face in the sequel... if said-sequel would ever get green-lighted. The failure of a follow-up meant that Leader fell into obscurity while the Abomination, by virtue of being the only Hulk supervillain featured in the MCU, is now regarded as Hulk's most well-known Arch-Enemy (not counting Thunderbolt Ross), showcasing one of the pitfalls regarding this trope in action.
- Doctor Strange had the minor villain Kaecilius as its Big Bad, while Strange's typical arch-enemy, Baron Mordo, was depicted as an ally of Strange who became disillusioned with the teachings of the Ancient One and left; The Stinger reveals he's undergone a FaceHeel Turn and Word of God has said he'll be the Big Bad of a future film.
- Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters:
- Dredd: Alex Garland wrote Judge Dredd's arch-enemy the Dark Judges into one of the film's early drafts, but since they're a subversion of Mega-City One's justice system itself, it would have made no sense to feature them before setting that system up, so they were saved for a sequel that did not materialize. Instead, the Big Bad is a slumlord named "Ma Ma", who is original to the film, but shares similarities with several minor villains featured in the comic.
- Godzilla deals with Godzilla fighting a pair of Kaiju called MUTOs, a species of Big Creepy-Crawlies original to the MonsterVerse. He would have to wait until Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) to fight his archenemy King Ghidorah. One major reason this happened is because Toho licenses out their creations on an individual character-by-character basis; the makers of the 2014 film had the legal right to use Godzilla, but not any other Toho monster.
- Sherlock Holmes (2009) had its Big Bad as the Canon Foreigner Lord Blackwood. The sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, brought in Holmes' Arch-Enemy Professor Moriarty.
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture has the crew of the Enterprise confront a mysterious alien probe called V'ger, an antagonistic character original to the film. Only in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan would they be reintroduced to a villain from Star Trek: The Original Series, Khan Noonien Singh.
- The first movie with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation was Star Trek: Generations, which featured as its villain the new character Dr. Tolian Soran (though he got some help from the returning Duras sisters). The second film, Star Trek: First Contact, featured the Borg, the most iconic villains of the TNG era.
- 2009's Star Trek had the original character Nero as its villain. Star Trek Into Darkness brought in the reboot's incarnation of Khan Noonien Singh, considered the most famous villain of the original series.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Iron Fist: Season 1 featured The Hand as the Big Bad. While they are not really minor villains, they are not typically enemies of Iron Fist and are actually a Rogues Gallery Transplant from Daredevil. Season 2 however featured Davos / Steel Serpent as the main villain, who is typically regarded as Iron Fist's Arch-Enemy and Evil Counterpart.
- Cloak And Dagger: Both halves of Season 1's Big Bad Ensemble were Canon Foreigners, one being Detective Connors and the other Peter Scarborough. Season 2's Big Bad is Andre Deschaine, the MCU's equivalent of D'Spayre, Cloak & Dagger's Arch-Enemy in the comics.
- The first season of Transformers Animated focused on human villains and lesser-known Decepticons like Lockdown and Blitzwing. The season ended with the return of Starscream and Megatron getting his own body after spending the series as just a head, and they became the forefront antagonists of the rest of the series.
- The Batman contains a non-villainous example. Season 3 introduced Batgirl as Batmans sidekick, before his most iconic sidekick Robin debuts in season 4.