An antagonist can be classed on three orthogonal parameters:
- How much danger they, or their plans, pose.
- How effective they are.
- How much the audience is supposed to hate them.
This is a method of quantifying the first one.
Superman is locked in a battle with Lex Luthor, who is threatening to melt the polar icecaps and flood the world. Meanwhile, in Gotham, the Joker is going to gas the city. Meanwhile again in space, the Green Lantern is getting ready to defend against the invading Sinestro Corps. All of these examples have villains that are exhibiting differing levels of threat.
You can class various villains on tiers of the type of threat they present to the world and the heroes. The Sorting Algorithm of Evil will usually ensure that the hero's successive opponents will each be higher on the scale than the last, but, due to the SAoE's caring about effectiveness as well as scope, not always. In general, the hero will also have the same potential for destruction as his villains, but usually is slightly below them, because underdogs are more relatable. Having a wild range of villains may help avoid causing a feeling that The World Is Always Doomed because Evil Only Has to Win Once. Having a hero with a Story-Breaker Power usually upsets this dynamic, or forces a jump in villain up the scale.
Most series that lean towards the realistic side of the scale do not venture beyond villains that are Planetary Threats, as villains that are Stellar Threats and above tends to put a lot of pressure on Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Shifting too far up the scale, especially over a short period of time, is an easy way to Jump the Shark.
When talking about some villains, this is very much related to how much they can abuse the Kardashev Scale for death and maiming. Contrast with Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness, when you're talking about the audience's reaction to a character rather than the threat they represent, and Sliding Scale of Villain Effectiveness when talking about how well they succeed. Villains who learn that they are rather low on the scale may aspire to climb higher. If a villain does keep climbing higher, they are a Snowballing Threat.
Local Area Threat
The villain poses significant harm to a small group of people or a localized area.
- Multiple: Most Red Dwarf villains, most serial killers from slasher movies, any normal person severely pissed off, the average vampire who doesn't refrain from drinking human blood, Joe Chill, Catwoman, Mad Hatter, Deadshot, Penguin, Man-Bat, Black Mask, Chameleon, Electro, Bullseye, the Scorpion, the Kingpin, the Vulture, the Green Goblin, Spike
- Anime & Manga: Most villains from the first season of Bleach, Death Gun/Sterben, All villains from Happy Sugar Life
- Comic Books: Most comic book Bad Ass Normals
- Film - Animated: Thraxnote , Dr. Facilier (although he slips into a city threat by offering the souls of New Orleans to his "friends"), the more mundane Disney villains (such as Cruella de Vil and Gaston) and the not so mundane but violently petty ones (like the Queen and Maleficent), Most Pixar villains such as Sid Phillips, Al McWhiggin, Stinky Pete, Lotso, and Gabby Gabby; Randall Boggs and Mr. Waternoose; Dr. Sherman and Darla; Chick Hicks, Jackson Storm, and Sterling; Chef Skinner; Charles Muntz; Thunderclap and his gang; Ernesto de la Cruz; The Curse Dragon
- Film - Live Action: The various Terminators, The Xenomorphs and Yautja note , Luther and the Rogues, the Trio, Kamen Rider Falchion.
- Literature: David from Animorphs, Hannibal Lecter
- Live Action TV: 24's first-season villains (Ira Gaines, the Drazens. Then again, killing David Palmer could trigger significant civil unrest), Holtz, The XPs, Basco ta Jolokianote , Cobra Kai
- Mythology and Religion: Satan in Judaism
- Video Games: GLaDOS, the Wizard of Yendor, Nyarlathotep from the Physical Exorcism Series note , William Afton, the Impostor(s),
- Webcomics: The Linear Guild
- Web Animation: Black, Blue, Brown, most of the BFDI villains
- Western Animation: The Diesels and Spencer, the Zed Stacks, the Pirates, and Johnny Cuba, Lil Gideonnote , most villains in Courage the Cowardly Dog, Most villains in Scooby-Doo
Villain possesses capabilities to do significant damage to or destroy a city.
- Anime & Manga: Team Rocket at their worst, Yoshikage Kira, most Digimon Ghost Game Monsters of the Week don't go beyond this level, most Inuyasha villains are either this level or Continental
- Comic Books: Riddler, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Captain Cold, Doctor Light, Parasite, the Fearsome Five, Doctor Octopus, Baron Blood, Deathstroke the Terminator
- Film - Live Action: John Doe, the Jigsaw Killers, Goldfinger, Cyrus (if his plan to unite the gangs had gone anywhere), Lord Humungus, Viggo Tarasov.
- Live Action TV: Syed Ali, Vladimir Bierko, Samir, the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart until its change of management, Rita Repulsa, The Others and Martin Keamy's mercenaries, Daenerys
- Video Games: Diego del Torro in 1701 A.D.: The Sunken Dragon, a typical Non-Malicious Monster (mitigated by the fact that, unless hungry, will never strike first and their True Neutral alignment, but increased due to their raw destructive power and being hard to kill), the alien ship from SimCity, and bad guys from Sin City could also count for that matter, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman (although sometimes a Planetary Threat as well), most Touhou "villains", the Enclave in Fallout 2, DJ Octavio
- Western Animation: Demona, some of Captain Planet's Rogues Gallery, most The Powerpuff Girls villains, the Disney version of Frollo, Slade, Hawk Moth
- Multiple: The Joker
- Villain wields the capacity to be a significant threat to a part of a continent or landmass. This consists of two types:
Examples of State/province threats The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, some of 24's Big Bads (Stephen Saunders, Habib Marwan, Abu Fayed, Jonas Hodges), the Defias Brotherhood, Prometheus, The Evil Hybrids, Heinz Doofenshmirtz, the Earl of Lemongrab, The Slaughterhouse 9, Akihiko Kayaba and Nobuyuki Sugo, Kamal Khan and General Orlov, The High Table.
Examples of National threats
- Anime & Manga: Devimon and Etemon, Satsuki Kiryuin and the Elite Four, Diavolo, King Hamdo
- Comic Books: Lex Luthor, Gorilla Grodd, the Mandarin
- Film - Animated: Hopper, Mor'du
- Film - Live Action: Godzilla and most other Kaiju, Elliot Carver, Janus
- Literature: Littlefinger and Varys, the Sennites
- Live Action TV: Blood Wheel Clan, Namba Heavy Industries Ltd., Adar, Monster Clan
- Mythology & Religion: Morgan le Fay
- Video Games: Bowser (before Super Mario Sunshine), Ganondorf, King K. Rool, the Horde and the Alliance in each others' eyes, most The New Order baddies, The Order of the EZIC Star
- Visual Novels: Kotomine Kirei in the Fate route
- Western Animation: Shendu and his Demon brethren, Phobos, many Disney villains such as Jafar, Professor Ratigan, Ursula, Scar, and Shan Yu, Silco
- Multiple/other: Often countries at war in both fiction and real life
- Examples: Black Adam, Madara, Obito, Sasuke, Orochimaru, the Akatsuki, The Red Ribbon Army and Piccolo Daimao, Quinella, Gustav Graves, The Other, Sauron, The Phantom Army, The Despar Army, Black Mantle, Dynagon.
Villain poses significant threat to the world at large, up to and including World Domination and/or Earth-Shattering Kaboom. In worst case scenario, is an Omnicidal Maniac. Usually via large army, colossal superpowers, or a Doomsday Device. Evil Overlord tends to describe them. A fictional Emperor is likely to be portrayed as a villain of at least this threat level. At this point, you should start checking out Apocalypse How.
- Anime & Manga: Rau Le Creuset, Light Yagami, Myotismon and the Dark Masters, AncientSphinxmon, Cthyllamon, ZeedMilleniumon and Regulusmon, the Homunculi, the Millennium Earl, Johan Liebert, SEELE, the D-Reaper, Quartzmon (Unlike most Digimon villains, he did successfully take over the world for a short while), Kars, DIO, Funny Valentine, the Kiryuin Conglomerate and the Life Fibers, Lordgenome, Corset, Gabriel Miller, Principality of Zeon, the Titans, Neo Zeon, Black Ghost, Lucius Zogratis
- Comic Books: Vandal Savage, Amazo, Brainiac, Doctor Destiny, General Zod, Doomsday, Bizarro, Ra's al Ghul, Doctor Doom, Apocalypse, Kang the Conqueror, Ultron, Red Skull
- Film - Animated: Syndrome, Evelyn Endeavor, AUTO, Miles Axlerod, Zurg
- Film - Live Action: The Gyaos in the 90s Gamera trilogy, The Thing, Karl Stromberg, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE, Hugo Drax.
- Literature: Achilles de Flandres, Morgoth and Sauron, Cthulhu, Visser Three from Animorphs, The Endbringers
- Live Action TV: the Cybermen, Jasmine, the Man in Black, Adam Monroe, SHOCKER, Masamune Dan, the Crown organization
- Mythology & Religion: Loki, Satan in Christianity and Islam, The Titans and Protogenoi, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
- Tabletop Games: the Deathlords, Warhammer 40,000 villains are this level on an absolute minimum and will likely go higher
- Video Games: Majora's Mask, Darkrai, Mother Brain, Ridley and the Space Pirates, the Black Hole army, Giygas, Lavos, Red Falcon, the Doctor, Team Aqua and Team Magma, most Final Fantasy villains, Utsuho Reiuji, possibly Flandre Scarlet, if she isn't lying, Yukari Yakumo, the Brotherhood of Nod and the Scrin, SHODAN, Weil, Omega, the Guardians, the Twilight's Hammer, Commander Tartar, Bowser (after Super Mario Sunshine), Doctor Robotnik, Demerzel, most Shin Megami Tensei and Persona Big Bads, Comrade Black, Volgin, Skull Face, and the Patriots, Haruchika Minase, The Toppat Clan
- Web Animation: The Dark Lord (Human threat),
- Web Comics: Trudy and Nega-Nick, Xykon and the Snarl, the Fallen Lords
- Visual Novels: Gilgamesh in Unlimited Blade Works, Kotomine Kirei in the Heaven's Feel route
- Western Animation: Zim and Tak, Brain, the Fire Nation, Unalaq and Vaatu, Dark Danny (albeit only implied), VILE, The Gumm-Gumms
- Multiple: Most major Nasuverse villains, most of the Big Bads of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Junko Enoshima
Forces able to credibly threaten an entire solar system up to even an entire star cluster, but probably not able to dominate a galaxy. Galactic Conqueror starts here.
- Anime and Manga: The Saiyans and the Ginyu Force, Atomsk, Helheim Forest, Gjallarhorn
- Comic Books: Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders and most other non-Sith antagonists in the Star Wars EU also fall somewhere in this category
- Literature: Ka Anor, the People's Republic of Haven, the Yevetha
- Live Action TV: All major races in Star Trek (Borg, Dominion, Klingons, Romulans, UFP, etc), the younger races in Babylon 5, the Cylons, King Ghidorah and Hedorah (Showa version), the Hades Army
- Tabletop Games: The Tau Empire and the ancient Eldar and Dark Eldar from Warhammer 40,000, The Successor States, the Clans and the Word of Blake
- Video Games: Bowser (Galaxy games), Dr. Eggman/Robotnik, who has actually conquered an alien planet and used its inhabitants as energy, the Combine, the Zerg, the Ur-Quan Kzer-Za and Kohr-Ah, the Phfor Empire, Notorious Mental, the Suul'ka Horde
- Web Animation: Felix and Locus from season 11-13 of Red vs. Blue
- Multimedia: Andross, the Union of Allied Planets, Grand Admiral Thrawn and the other post-Palpatine Imperial warlords of the Star Wars Expanded Universe usually blurred the line between this and Galactic Threat: their ambition was usually galactic, but aside from Ysanne Isard, Thrawn himself, the Emperor Reborn and perhaps at a stretch Warlord Zsinj they rarely had a credible chance of reconquering the galaxy, and by Admiral Pellaeon's time the Empire falls squarely into this territory.
The Villain has the capability to destroy or control the best part of the galaxy. Galactic Conquerors are this threat level.
- Anime & Manga: The Sailor Moon villains, Frieza and Cell
- Comic Books: Despero, the Skrull Empire, Sinestro, Parallax
- Literature: the Fremen, the Blight, the Excession, the Empire, Foundation, Second Foundation, Gaia, Boskone, the Solarian League and the Mesan Alignment (at least for the known galaxy from humanity's point of view)
- Live Action TV: The Borg (again), Species 8472, First Ones, the Dalek Empire, Neo Descal, Alien Empera, Galactic Imperial Army Zone, Imperial Alliance
- Tabletop Games: Several races from Warhammer 40,000 (the Necrons, the Tyranids, the unending tides of Chaos, the Orks, and even the Imperium of Man itself)
- Video Games: Most of the non-Heartless Kingdom Hearts villains (sort of), Purge, the Bacterions, the Reapers, the Governance de Magi, the W'rkncacnter (low-level estimate), the Metroids/X-Parasites, the Crisis Factions
- Western Animation: Trigon the Terrible, the Highbreed and the DN Aliens, The Covenant, Aku, the Irken empire, Lord Dominator and Lord Hater
- Multiple: Emperor Palpatine, most other Sith Lords, the Yuuzhan Vong, any major villain group in the Stargate-verse, the Decepticons
- Anime & Manga: Isaac Ray Peram Westcott, Majin Buu, Baby and Omega Shenron, Apocalymon, the Anti-Spiral Collective, (only at this level because it is uninterested in other realities. Power-wise, it can reach up to Multidimensional levels), Haruhi Suzumiya if she ever finds out about her powers, Kriemhild Gretchen from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Enrico Pucci
- Comic Books: Mr. Mxyzptlk, Darkseid, Galactus
- Film: Azrael, Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War
- Literature: the Xeelee and Photino birds, the Krikkits, Senna Wales from Everworld
- Live Action TV: Glory, United Alliance of Evil, The Master, Weeping Angels when given something big enough to feed on, Walternate in Fringe, Evolt, Space Ninja Group Jakanja
- Tabletop Games: Yawgmoth (while his creation Phyrexia steps into Multiuniversal), The Titans, the Balorean Crusade
- Video Games: Exdeath, the Ten Wise Men/Luther, Bowser in Super Mario Galaxy note King Boo as of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, The Flood, The Zerg (again), Deathborn, Cyrus, U-DO, the Gnosis, Hikari, the planet Meteo, potentially Alma Wade if she gets around to it, The X Parasites, the monsters from Evolve (though they initially appear to simply be on the Planetary scale)
- Web Comics: The Seer from Kid Radd
- Western Animation: Nerissa, Canaletto
- Multiple: Many Eldritch Abominations, Thanos when in possession of the Infinity Gauntlet
Just to one up those small-timers above, these guys won't stop at a single universe; they'll cross time and space to either take control over or just smash the entire Multiverse to pieces. See Multiversal Conqueror.
- Anime & Manga: Noein, Masami Eiri, Zearth
- Comic Books: The Anti-Monitor,Lord Drakkon, Judge Death and the Dark Judges
- Film: Gabriel Yulaw, Gozer, Jobu Tupaki, the Spot
- Literature: the Dark One, BKR, the Authority in His Dark Materials, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Version 2.0 in Mostly Harmless, Brand, the Lone Power, The Outsiders, The Mad Mind of Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars (who may not be able to do this alone, but the blowback of his clash with his benign alter-ego Vanamonde might well "ring down the curtain on Creation" when and if it happens)
- Live Action TV: Davros and the Daleks (in the series 4 finale of the new series), The Guardian of Forever, the Kromaggs, the Time Lords (pre-time lock), the Silence of Doctor Who, The Machine and First People from Fringe (although it was an unintended side effect, and is resolved in two episodes), Henry Creel/Vecna, Dai-Shocker, Ohma Zi-O, Swartz, Ultraman Belial in The Revenge of Belial
- Tabletop Games: the Mortiverse and Pun-pun from D&D 3.5, Rovagug the Rough Beast, the Nephandi as whole, especially the Aswadim, Nicol Bolas as well as Phyrexia (assuming each plane counts as a universe)
- Video Games: Bowser (after becoming Dreamy Bowser), Dr. Eggman again, not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES, Kaiser Ephes, Dark Brain, The Edel Bernal, Gaioh, Euzeth Gozzo, Regime Superman, Count Bleck and Dimentio in Super Paper Mario, the Heartless and Xemnas, Professor Calamitous in the Nicktoons Unite! series (not so much in his source material), Baal, Luther Lansfeld, Father Balder inside Jubileus and Loptr, Nyarlathotep (it has been said but never shown on-screen as being true or false), Giovanni, the Mega Bug from Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Xenos from Dragalia Lost, The girl in white (the world she unwittingly created affects multiple universes), Hyness and Void Termina from Kirby Star Allies, The Burning Legion and the Iron Horde, the Combine, Galeem and Dharkon
- Visual Novels: All the high ranked witches from Umineko: When They Cry, such as Bernkastel and Lambdadelta
- Web Animation: King Orange
- Web Comics: Pandemonium in General Protection Fault, Lord English and Jack Noir from Homestuck
- Web Original: Mary Sues, the League of Mary Sue Factories and the Enforcers of the Plot Continuum, Lord Vyce and the Entity, the Neverborn
- Western Animation: Ch'rell/Shredder, Galactouse, Abraxas, Infinity Ultron in What If…? (2021)
- Multiple: Unicron (somewhere between this and the above; he's a multiversal being that devours realities one universe at a time)
Just to go even further than those small fries above, these villains will not stop at a single Multiverse, but they will cross all of reality to take over or simply destroy the totality of The 'Verse/Series Franchise (if said totality exists beyond a Multiverse), taking control over or obliterating all alternate dimensions, planes of existence, parallel universes, possible universes, timelines, alternate continuities, realities, and Multiverses within said totality. This is often enough to put a villain firmly into Complete Monster territory regardless of the work's heinous standard, assuming they have no other redeeming/mitigating factors.
- Examples: The Crimson King in The Dark Tower, Featherine Augustus Aurora from Umineko: When They Cry (sorta), the Decreator, Azathoth, Bartleby and Loki from Dogma, Owlman, Deadpool in Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, Goku Black and Zamasu, Bill Cipher, Singularity, Vilgax, Spider-Carnage from Spider-Man: The Animated Series (who actually succeeds at destroying the entirety of reality, it's only because Beyonder returned back in time that the heroes can stop it), The Batman Who Laughs (After becoming The Darkest Knight), The Quartzers, The Dark Lord (Internet threat)note , the Ultimate Extermination God.
See also Super Weight, which is more about measuring characters (including villains) in terms of raw power.