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The Big Bad Shuffle

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"There's always someone stronger w8ing to 8e revealed. Jack showed up shortly after that, and he was MUCH stronger. Eventually the curtains get pulled 8ack, and you find out who was 8ehind every terri8le thing that happened all along. Someone who is invaria8ly stronger than all other adversaries 8y a wide margin. The supreme villain!"
Vriska Serket, Homestuck

The audience is presented with several candidates for the Big Bad, the true source of evil actions, typically in succession of each other. As a result, there are multiple Disc One Final Bosses.

The writers are playing the Big Bad Shuffle when Bob, the good guy, defeats Big Bad candidate Mr. Corrupton, but learns that Mr. Corrupton was really just being manipulated by Big Bad candidate Dr. Unethik. So Bob, the good guy, note  kills Unethik, but finds out that Unethik was secretly controlled by the Big Bad candidate Omniscient Council of Vagueness, which turns out to have Bob's scheming trophy wife as the chairperson and who is now — you guessed it — a Big Bad candidate. And then it turns out she is a faithful servant of the local Eldritch Abomination, who is giving her direct orders to spread its dark influence and is now yet another Big Bad candidate. And so on, with a few station breaks to sell you some of the aspirin you now need.

Tropes by which this can be invoked include The Man Behind the Man, The Man in Front of the Man, The Starscream, Hidden Villain, The Dog Was the Mastermind, Disc-One Final Boss and Hijacked by Ganon. May often involve the Sorting Algorithm of Evil as one villain is dispatched and the next, more powerful one takes its place. This may be the result of a Gambit Pileup.

Multiple reveals and UnReveals are mandatory. Contrast Big Bad Ensemble, which is when there are several Big Bads operating at once.

Keep in mind that this is about plot twists, so EXPECT SPOILERS.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Black Clover:
    • The role of the Big Bad of the second saga of the series was thrown around with multiple of villains who could have filled the role but were tossed aside to make way for Greater-Scope Villains to directly get involved or were just the Arch-Enemy of one of the main characters for the Arc. The first "Big Bad" was the devil Megicula who resided in the Spade Kingdom and just so happened to be responsible for cursing Acier Silva (causing Noelle's life with her family to be miserable as she was blamed for her death) and the Heart Kingdom's queen Loropechika. Then the Dark Triad ruling over Spade are revealed and split up to attack 3 locations that the main trio (Asta, Yuno and Noelle) happen to be currently residing at. At the Black Bulls' hideout, it's revealed that Dante Zogratis (their leader, the natural Big Bad) is the host to the Devil King Lucifero and the other members are hosts to the other highest ranking devils but he is defeated by Asta and Yami so his brother Zenon teleports to him to finish the job of kidnapping Yami while rescuing and mocking Dante for being defeated, maybe this ominous member of the trio is the real Big Bad?
    • In the next Arc, their Evil Plan to use the 2 captain's Arcane Dark and World Tree Magic to open the Hellgate is put into motion and the Clover Kingdom's raid team storm the Spade castle to fight the Triad. All is going well until Morris, the Mad Scientist from the Diamond Kingdom who joined the Triad, uses knowledge he took from Loropechika's mind (which contained the knowledge of every previous queen) after Vanica kidnapped her to accelerate the Tree's growth and the first level of the Underworld opens up, allowing the Dark Triad to power up to 100%. Surely Dante, the leader and the one who is the host the Devil King is still the Big Bad, right? Nope. His role is subverted after he is beaten by Magna Swing, the weakest member of the Black Bulls, before he can even fill his role as Asta's Arch-Enemy in a potential rematch. After Dante is gone, Vanica is next and Megicula takes the opportunity to partially manifest, finally the devil that started off the saga shows up and is... defeated by Noelle. Zenon makes a contract with Beelzebub in a final stand but is ultimately killed by Yuno, however, the Qliphoth ritual is still accelerating as Morris is the final remaining villain. Not only has Morris been built up since the start of the series but is also the new host to the Devil King and is armed with centuries of knowledge only to end up as a Big Bad Wannabe who is abandoned by Lucifero so he can manifest himself.
    • The "true" final villain, Lucifero, takes his place and curb stomps all of the Magic Knights present including Asta and the captains. A massive battle erupts ending with a Villainous Breakdown in the same fight that the "true" Big Bad finally revealed himself. It turns out that even the Devil King was susceptible to be an Unwitting Pawn to the fourth Zogratis sibling, Lucius, who had manipulated the events so that Lucifero would lose, allowing Lucius to gain the Devil King's heart, and now Lucius takes the role of the final villain.
  • In Code Geass, Emperor Charles is the overarching Big Bad for the series, but the title of main antagonist varies quite a bit. First is Starter Villain Clovis, who is killed three episodes in. Then Cornelia becomes The Heavy for the rest of the first season. Schneizel becomes the Heavy for most of Season 2 while Charles finally takes center stage in Episode 39. Charles bites it with four episodes and change left to go, leaving Schneizel as the undisputed Big Bad of the next three episodes. He is eventually outmaneuvered and Geassed by Lelouch, leaving Nunnally as the Final Boss.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • The Android Saga of Dragon Ball Z has an amazingly choreographed version of this, as a result of Akira Toriyama's former editor complaining about most of the villain's designs, forcing some last-minute introductions. First, it looks like Mecha-Freeza and his father King Cold, but then they get torn apart by Future Trunks, who tells the main characters about the real villains, the Androids. Then Androids 19 and 20 appear and are total jokes (Dr. Gero didn't level grind enough). But those two aren't the Androids Future Trunks was talking about, who do themselves appear... but turn out to be pretty chill and have no real desire to destroy the world or hurt the protagonists (except Goku because of programming, and Vegeta because the arrogant prat started it). And then Cell (who wasn't supposed to be ready for a while) shows up, having come back in time by stealing another version of Future Trunks' time machine to take the spotlight as the final villain.
    • Dragon Ball GT has a pretty extensive case of this between Episodes 9-16, where the series plays hot potato with who the main bad guy is. Each episode gives each character their own dramatic reveal as if they were the main villain, before finally landing on the first proper Arc Villain. In order, it's Bon Para, then Mutchy Mutchy, then his whip, then Dolltaki, then Luud, then Dr. Myuu, and then Baby takes over as the central villain.
    • The Future Trunks saga of Dragon Ball Super initially presents Goku Black as the main villain. Later on though, we learn that Goku Black is actually working with Future Zamasu to exterminate the mortals, though their relationship is left ambiguous. Whis theorizes that Black is actually a servant created by Future Zamasu to act as The Dragon to him. However, it is eventually revealed that Goku Black is actually an alternate Zamasu, and he is the one who came up with their plan in the first place. Despite this, the two seem to have a pretty solid Big Bad Duumvirate between them and they later merge into a singular Big Bad, Fused Zamasu.
  • Enigme: The story starts with the main characters believing that the person behind them getting stuck inside the school is a teacher that one of them had problems with. Then, it's later revealed that the teacher is just someone helping the actual person behind the game, Kijima. Kijima himself, turns out to not be evil, and is actually protecting and training the protagonists to face against the real villain, "Cannibal", who is coming after them.
  • In Fairy Tail, Jellal starts out as the apparent Big Bad of the series, trying to get Zeref to become the Big Bad. Then it turns out he's being manipulated by his right-hand woman Ultear, who is actually The Dragon to Hades, a villain with the same scheme. Then it turns out that Zeref wanted no part of being the Big Bad, but is forced into the position upon the emergence of two rivals: Acnologia, whom he wants to kill; and E.N.D., whom he wants to be killed by, and also turns out to be The Hero of the series Natsu Dragneel.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • The first half of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable has a bit of this. First, there's Keicho Nijimura, whose rampant use of the Stand Arrow creates most of the enemies that the heroes deal with early on. He's killed very early on though and the first half mainly focuses on tracking down his killer and the one who took the Stand Arrow, Akira Otoishi. However, Akira himself is dealt with at the end of the first half and doesn't really get the chance to do much. After he's dealt with though, the heroes learn about Yoshikage Kira, and the rest of the arc is spent tracking him down.
    • JoJolion does this too, to the point where the obscurity of the main villain has become a meme. At first, it seems like it's a toss-up betwen Jobin Hishigakata and the Rokakaka Cartel led by Tamaki Damo. Then Damo is forced to reveal himself as the Disc-One Final Boss, and another group of Rock Humans, led by the Head Doctor, show up in the plot, working against both Jobin and Josuke. And the Head Doctor is a decoy, being the stand of the Rock Humans' real leader Tooru.
  • As the Final Saga of One Piece unfolds, we gradually learn the top contenders for the primary villain role of the Big Bad. First up, there's Marshall D. Teach, aka Blackbeard, who rose to power as one of the Four Emperors after killing Whitebeard and taking over his territory by capturing Ace, Luffy's brother, thus instigating the Marineford conflict. Next on the list is Fleet Admiral "Akainu" Sakazuki, the head of the Marine forces, who is responsible for Ace's death. Finally, there's Imu, the mysterious true leader of the World Government who wields authority over the Five Elders. Who will emerge victorious in the end is yet to be revealed.
  • The Big Bad of Naruto has, at various points, been: Orochimaru (former Akatsuki member) -> The Akatsuki itself (Itachi being its most visible player) -> Nagato (with Tobi as the true Big Bad) -> Tobi and Danzo -> Kabuto and Tobi -> Madara and Obito -> Obito (after he becomes the jinchuuriki of the Ten-Tails and Madara leaves on the background) -> Madara (after Obito's defeat) -> Kaguya (after Black Zetsu backstabs Madara) -> Sasuke (after helping Naruto seal Kaguya) -> Toneri (when he tries to crash the Moon into the Earth) -> Momoshiki, (who is Kaguya's rival in monopolizing chakra).
  • In Rosario + Vampire the main Big Bad is thought to be Gyokuro Shuzen, comander-in-chief of the monster terrorist organization Fairy Tale, whose plan is to unseal the ancient Shinso Vampire Alucard. However, it later turns out that there's a person called the Masked King who actually runs the organization, and it seems that Miyabi Fujisaki, the leader of Fairy Tale's first sub-division, seems to have his own agenda. As it turns out, not only are Miyabi and the Masked King the same person, but he's also Alucard's mind, splintered off from the main body.
  • The 2007 Skull Man anime has quite a complicated villain situation. Initially, the Big Bad seems to be the titular Skull Man, a vigilante killing civilians seemingly at random. Then it's revealed that he's only acting in response to the actions of the Otomo Concern, headed by Gozo Kuroshio, who are secretly turning people into mutant monsters as part of a plan to remake humanity in their image. Within Otomo, Gozo's illegitimate son Masaki Kumashiro also steps up as a candidate, forming an alliance with corrupt military officer Kanji Isurugi behind his father's back. To make things more complicated, Otomo Concern's overseas business partners, Brain Gear, also get involved seeking to claim the Skull Man suit so they can study it. Things reach their head in the final episodes which see Gozo backing out of Otomo's Evil Plan, but his wife Sara and Masaki continuing to go along with it, the Skull Man being revealed as Yoshio and passing on the suit to The Protagonist Hayato, Isurugi attempting to pull a coup only to be shut down by Van Vogt of Brain Gear, and Masaki hijacking Otomo's Evil Plan for himself, killing Sara and his father in the process. To top it all off, the villain who comes out on top in the end is none other than Hayato Mikogami himself, who gets taken over by the Skull Man suit in the finale and remodeled into Skull, subsequently becomes leader of Brain Gear (which by that point has been revealed to be Black Ghost from Cyborg 009) and Big Bad of the Cyborg 009 manga. How's that for a twist?
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, the initial antagonists are Jack Atlas, The Rival, and Sector Security and their leader, Rex Goodwin. Then in the second half of Season 1 the heroes find out Goodwin has been recruiting the heroes to fight the Dark Signers and his brother Roman, the real villains. Then Goodwin becomes a Dark Signer as well and becomes the Final Boss of the season. Next season the Three Emperors of Yliaster become the main antagonists, and it is revealed Roman and Goodman were their puppets they manipulated. The Three Emperors in turn are working for the leader of Yliaster, Z-ONE. It is also revealed that the Big Bad of the 10th anniversary film, Paradox, was another member of Yliaster.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS has multiple Big Bads throughout the series. The first season had the Knights of Hanoi led by Revolver, aka Ryoken Kogami, who is following his father's will to destroy the Ignis due to believing they are a threat to humanity. They are competing with SOL Technologies Inc., who seek to capture Ai to regain access to the Cyberse, and the former becomes part of a Big Bad Ensemble alongside a mysterious faction led by Bohman, who is revealed to be the Dragon-in-Chief to Lightning, a rouge Ignis who seeks to rule over humanity in a new Cyberse World beyond the human's reach. Lightning is also the Greater-Scope Villain of the entire series, being the cause of all the strife due to his refusal to coexist with humanity. Once he and Bohman are taken out however, the final antagonist ends being none other than Ai, who goes through a Face–Heel Turn after deaths of the other Ignis and becomes the Final Boss of the series.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • White Snake (2019): The General is presented as the sole Big Bad for most of the film, but right after he's defeated, The Master takes over as the new Big Bad and orders the snake clan to slaughter all humans in the village, and later betrays all of her snake clan to drain their essences and power herself up.
  • In Turning Red, Tyler, Ming and Grandma Wu are all presented as the primary antagonist but this is ultimately subverted with Tyler just being a redeemed bully, and Ming and Wu, overprotective mothers.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Daniel Craig run of James Bond films has played with this.
    • At first, it appears to be following a similar pattern to the early films of the franchise, with Bond defeating various plots from the villainous organization SPECTRE (or this time, Quantum, in its first incarnation), ultimately leading up to his meeting and confronting the leader of the organization, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. However, for the final movie, SPECTRE is unceremoniously wiped out by a longstanding enemy with a personal grudge against them, Safin, who goes on to be the final (and arguably most successful) villain of the Craig era.
    • Further complicating things are the villains of Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall. In the former case, Le Chiffre is clearly working closely with Quantum, and ultimately disposed of by them, but it's never made clear if he's a member, or if they're simply one of the many organizations that use him to shelter and launder their money. In the latter case, Silva is never shown to have any ties to the organization or to the larger myth arc at all and his motivations are very personal - it's only one movie later that we find out SPECTRE was behind him too, though no specifics are ever given.
  • The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy goes through a few different Big Bads. In The Force Awakens, Supreme Leader Snoke is presented as the overarching villain. Then in The Last Jedi, Snoke gets killed by Kylo Ren, who declares himself Supreme Leader and is set up as the new Big Bad. And then in The Rise of Skywalker, it turns out Emperor Palpatine is Back from the Dead and was running things from behind the scenes all along. Kylo ends up having a Heel–Face Turn while Palpatine is the trilogy's Final Boss.
  • X-Men Film Series
    • Mystique and Bolivar Trask compete for title of villain in X-Men: Days of Future Past; it's Trask's Sentinels that lead to the Bad Future, but it's Mystique killing him and being captured for experimentation that leads to the Sentinels getting approved by the government, making her the one whose Evil Plan needs to be stopped. Additionally in the future Trask and Mystique are dead, making the Sentinels themselves the villains. And then in the past Magneto ends up becoming a third villain when he decides to kill Trask and the President.
    • At first Cable appeared to be the Big Bad of Deadpool 2, however, at the beginning of the third act Cable's target Russell is revealed to be the primary threat until his own redemption.

  • So, in the Molly Moon series, there's Primo Cell, who's really being controlled by Lucy Logan, the librarian. But then we learn that the real person with the strings is Cornelius Logan, crossdressing as his sister Lucy. Okay... And then in the third book, it turns out Waqt hypnotised Cornelius into his Start of Darkness. Wow.
  • The Chathrand Voyages, which could just as easily be called "Gambit Pileup — The Epic Fantasy", despite the action largely being confined to the eponymous ship.
    • Sandor Ott wants to start a civil war in the Mzithrin Empire by freeing the Mzithrini tyrant and war-criminal the Shaggat Ness and returning him to his followers.
    • Arunis tricked Ott into thinking it was a good idea as part of stage one of a plan to recover the Shaggat's Artifact of Doom and destroy the world.
    • His on and off co-conspirator and rival and sister Macadra wants the same artifact and sent him to get it, but she wants to rule the world rather than destroy it.
    • The Shaggat himself thinks fate is manipulating all of them to help him fulfill his destiny as a Dark Messiah.
    • Master Mugstur is the psychotic, sentient rat who wants to take over the ship at the head of an army of regular rats because he thinks Rin wants him to (and eat the Captain's tongue while he's at it).
    • Lord Talag is the eight-inch-high Chessmaster who wants to use the Chathrand to find his people's lost homeland, then scuttle it there and kill everyone aboard except his followers. He's aided and abetted by his son Taliktrum, who starts plans of his own that quickly spiral out of control.
    • The Swarm of Night is the entity Arunis ultimately intends to summon. It doesn't really make anything that can rightly be called "plans" of its own, but the threat it offers to the world is greater than all of the above combined and by the end of the third book, it's loose.
  • Warrior Cats descends into this in the Dark Forest storyline. Every major villain in the series, and a few new ones, team up to destroy the Clans. The story leads us to think that Tigerstar, Hawkfrost, Brokenstar, or Mapleshade is the villain, without ever giving a definitive answer on who's behind it all. Even Ivypool is confused, and the information she relays to the other characters reflects it. Not that this is a bad thing.
    • Very much so in Warrior Cats: Dawn of the Clans. The first novel sets up Clear Sky as a villain. This continues throughout the second and third novel. However, Clear Sky regrets his actions and tries to makes up for them. The fourth book introduces One-Eye and Star Flower as villains, with the former dying that very book. In the fifth book, we are introduced to Slash, and the story makes Star Flower's choice of side unclear. By the last book, Slash is the final boss, and Star Flower is good.
  • The Death Gate Cycle begins with one Big Bad, Lord Xar (though the main character is his Dragon), but as it goes on picks up more main villains with increasingly complicated relationships. The necromancer Kleitus is the ruler of the lazar and despises all life and seeks its destruction; when Xar encounters Kleitus he manages to defeat him and force him into servitude, but Kleitus hangs around mostly for the chance to kill Xar while his back is turned while trying to manipulate him for his own ends. The Serpents are a timeless force of evil who feed off chaos and negative emotions, and willingly subordinate themselves to Xar in the hopes of manipulating him into causing unprecedented destruction - their leader is the Royal One, but he rarely shows up and plays little direct role, leaving the position of The Face of Serpents as a faction to Sang-drax. Sang-drax and Kleitus don't get along and are seen to try and manipulate Xar in opposite directions, while Xar himself trusts neither of them and generally does what they want only insofar as it suits his goals. Then there is Samah (who is replaced by his son Ramu after he dies) who opposes Xar and is also working with the Serpents, who like to play both sides wherever possible. Needless to say, when they all crash into each other, the worlds barely survive.
  • In the Erebus Sequence, it takes until the end of the second book (of three) to be clear on exactly who the main villain is. The King and the Majordomo each seem dismissive of the other's belief that they're the one in charge, and apparent new primary threats (the reactionary Fonteins, the increasingly tyrannical Domina, etc.) turn out to be manipulated by the then-thought-dead Majordomo.
  • The Green Ember has a large amount of villains who all appear to be the "main" villain of each book, but turn out to be an Arc Villain at best, or a Mook Lieutenant at worst. Even Redeye Garlackson and Lord Falcowit, two dangerous antagonists in the series, are both killed relatively easily and have little screentime.
  • The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga has, at various points, Pentreath Reese, Vigus Quintrel or rather, the demonic being controlling Quintrel and Thrane as architects of different plots trading off the role of main threat; Lord Vedran Pollard works with or for all three of the above at various points to advance his own ambitions, and Nagok has a similar relationship with Thrane alone. However, several characters speculate that Thrane may have been responsible for the magical cataclysm that set the Myth Arc in motion; if this is true, that probably cements him as the Big Bad of the Saga.
  • Codex Alera combines this with Big Bad Ensemble, as some of them overlap: For the first book, it's the Atsurak (with the Aquitaines as the Greater-Scope Villain), then it's Sarl in book two, Lord Kalare and Sarl in Books 3, Kalare and Senator Arnos (with Lady Aquitaine pulling his strings) in Books 4 and 5, it's the Vord Queen.
  • Release That Witch: In order to survive and protect his lands, Roland has to go through his brother Timothy who appointed himself king, then The Church trying to kill all the witches who he's made his allies and finally the Demons who are hell bent on wiping out humanity.
  • In The Bartimaeus Trilogy the first book has Simon Lovelace, the leader of a group of magicians attempting a coup, as the main antagonist, only for the ending to hint that there was another powerful conspirator who escaped justice. In the second book Henry Duvall seems to be the Big Bad, only for the third book to reveal that Quentin Makepeace was The Man Behind the Man to both of them. Then it turns out his right-hand man Hopkins, has been possessed by the demon Farqual, Lovelace's top enforcer in the first book, and has been manipulating Makepeace for his own purposes. Then it's revealed Farqual is really the right-hand man of an immensely powerful spirit known as Nouda, who ends up being the biggest threat in the series.
  • Spinning Silver: The Staryk King is framed as the Big Bad, both threatening the protagonist Miryem's life and family and working to condemn the human lands to a deadly Endless Winter. His actions are then revealed to be an attempt to combat Chernobog, a demon who poses a deadly threat to humans and Staryk alike. Once the King is defeated and Chernobog attacks openly, Miryem joins forces with the Staryk against Chernobog and the King stops playing a villainous role.
  • A Chorus of Dragons has a complex web of antagonists going on, who sometimes work together and sometimes betray each other. The masterminds of the initial plot Kihrin finds himself enmeshed in are two evil wizards, Gadrith and Darzin, with Gadrith being the dominant of the two. Then it turns out they're working for a far more powerful wizard, Relos Var, except that Gadrith is planning to betray Var and hijack his plans for his own gain. Var in turn ostensibly works for Duke Azhen Kaen, but it's a fairly open secret that Var is by far more dangerous and the real driving force behind Kaen's actions. Then there's Gadrith's summoned demon Xaltorath who it turns out only pretends to work for Gadrith and is actually running their own web of centuries-spanning schemes. On top of that, Vol Karoth is the Sealed Evil in a Can whose power Var and Xaltorath are both trying to harness for their own purposes. Things get even more complicated in the third book, when Thaena, goddess of death, jumps off the slippery slope trying to stop Var and has to be defeated herself. Ultimately, though, Var and Xaltorath establish themselves as the architects of most of the series' conflicts, opposing both the protagonists and each other.
  • Star Wars Legends: The fate of the Empire after Endor turns the Bantam-era expanded universe into an extended application of this trope. With the Emperor and Darth Vader dead in Return of the Jedi, there are no longer any strong figures holding the Empire together. As a result, the whole thing flies apart; a couple dozen Imperial admirals or governors break off from the Empire to become warlords ruling large parts of the galaxy, while what's left of the Empire proper is paralyzed by various persons fighting over the throne. The Rebel Alliance/New Republic spends the next fifteen years slowly battling all of them (plus the various pirates, crime syndicates, or hostile alien factions taking advantage of the chaos) for control of the galaxy, with their primary target changing on a constant basis. Best illustrated in the Wraith Squadron trilogy, where the Wraiths infiltrating Warlord Zsinj's fleet by posing as mercenaries cheerfully participate in an attack on an Imperial facility (their leader explicitly reminding them that even though Zsinj is their overall target, any damage done to the Imperial government is good for the New Republic), only to immediately turn around in the following book and work closely with the Imperial battle group pursuing Zsinj.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 does this to at least some extent each season. The usual pattern is that the Big Bad at the start of the season will be replaced by someone else halfway through.
  • American Horror Story: 1984: The show starts with two Serial Killers haunting Camp Redwood, The Night Stalker, a satanist serial killer with interest in killing Brooke, and Mr. Jingles/Benjamin, the culprit of a massacre that escaped a sanatorium, and they seem to be the Big Bad Ensemble of the show. It's soon revealed that the camp director Margaret is the real Mr. Jingles, as she was the one behind the massacre of 1970 and framed Benjamin and she joins in the killing. Montana and Nurse Rita are then revealed to be in league with the respective serial killers. In the second half of the story, Lavinia Richter is introduced as the person behind the curse that traps ghosts in the camp, the first person to commit a massacre in Camp Redwood, and the one that influenced Margaret's own massacre. And that is ignoring the fact that Satan plays the role of Greater-Scope Villain as The Night Stalker serves him.
  • Angel: Darla wants revenge/reunion with Angel. Her actions prompt Sajhan to pull Holtz through time to kill Angel and Darla both. Holtz betrays Sajhan, who then seeks aid from longtime foes Wolfram & Hart, who play off both Sajhan and Holtz. Sajhan discovers this and banishes Holtz to another reality, then duels Angel. In the aftermath of that battle, Holtz returns with a new means of attacking Angel, while Wolfram & Hart lick their wounds. Who was the Big Bad? Not even Joss Whedon could tell you.
    • The writers, same as every season.
    • A later Big Bad takes credit for having set all of it in motion millennia ago as part of their plan to (re)enter and take over the mortal plane. The veracity of the claim is never tested but there's no evidence to dispute it either and several of the events involved would definitely make more sense with some otherworldly party pulling strings behind the scenes.
    • Before all that, Season 2 starts with Wolfram and Hart, represented by Holland Manners and his Dragon Lindsay McDonald, bringing Darla back as a human to mess with Angel. About a third of the way through the season, just as Darla is about to pull a Death Equals Redemption, Wolfram and Hart arrange for Drusilla to turn her back into a vampire. Darla and Drusilla then team up and kill Manners, only to be defeated by Angel in the very next episode with Drusilla Put on a Bus, while Lindsay and his rival Lilah Morgan take over Holland's old position and Nathan Reed is introduced as their new superior. During the final third of the season, Lindsay turns out to be working with Darla as well, Darla leaves town after another showdown with Angel, Lindsay ends up on the other side of the Heel–Face Revolving Door (leaving Lilah as the sole Head of Special Projects), and the last three episodes instead see Angel tackling evil priest Silas, who represents what seems to be his dimension's version of Wolfram and Hart.
  • Season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer starts with the Annointed One, who survived the previous season, taking the leadership of the vampires and posing as the biggest threat for Buffy and her friends. In the third episode, he hires Spike and his lover Drusilla but, at then end of it, Spike murders his master and then runs the show for most of the season. That is until the point where Angel loses his soul, joins Spike and Drusilla, takes the leadership and eventually is the Final Boss.
  • Burn Notice:
  • Game of Thrones: The multiple storylines that occur independently of each other, as well as the shifting morality and power structures of the various noble houses and other factions, results in there being several central villains at a time. Among the top contenders across the series are Tywin Lannister (the head of House Lannister and thus an enemy to the Starks and Baratheons), Littlefinger (actively instigated the War of the Five Kings), Roose and Ramsay Bolton (evil overlords of the North and enemies of the Greyjoys), the High Sparrow (religious fanatic who is taking over King's Landing), Mance Rayder (the leader of the Wildlings planning to attack the Night's Watch), and most unquestionably, the White Walkers, who are plotting to invade Westeros and kill them all. Come the final season, the only one left standing is the Night King and his zombie army. However, the Night King ends up being defeated half-way through the season, leaving Cersei Lannister as the Final Boss...until Daenerys Targaryen has a Face–Heel Turn and torches King's Landing to seize the throne, becoming the Post-Final Boss of the final episode.
  • Common in Kamen Rider, particularly in later seasons:
    • Kamen Rider Stronger starts off with the Great Leader of Black Satan as the Big Bad. Then, midway through, General Shadow goes rogue from the Black Satan organization and helps Stronger to take them down, before entering the fray with the Delza Army, whose executives are all competing to become leader by defeating Stronger. Despite this, Shadow remains on top until Marshal Machine arrives and uses Shadow's failures as justification to displace him as the leader. Machine is in turn eventually revealed to actually be a minion of the Great Leader sent to take control of Delza.
    • Kamen Rider 555: In a season where not all monsters are bad and not all Riders are good, multiple candidates are presented to be the main threat. At first it seemed that Kyoji Murakami was going to be the final villain, as he is the standard Corrupt Corporate Executive, but then The Rival Masato Kusaka is introduced and begins screwing up Takumi's friendship with Mari. After some episodes, the menacing Kamen Rider Delta appears, but its user is killed and the belt is given to Psycho for Hire Kitazaki, who was mentioned several times in previous episodes and was hyped up to be the series' most dangerous antagonist, until he gets bored and gives the belt to Aki Sawada, a victim of Love Makes You Crazy who desperately wants to kill Mari. With Sawada out of the way, Mad Scientist Masahiko Minami began experimenting on Orphnochs and terrorizing the protagonists, until he is killed by Takumi's Evil Former Friend Yuji Kiba, who becomes the new chief of Smart Brain. Kyoji comes to the spotlight once again as he attempts to kidnap Creepy Child Teruo, who is revealed to be the Arch-Orphnoch. With this revelation, Kyoji and Kiba sacrifice themselves, but not before the latter snapped Kusaka's neck. Jealous of the Arch-Orphnoch's power, Kitazaki tries to kill him but is finished off, leaving the Arch-Orphnoch as the True Final Boss. ...except, as he's a creepy kid's barely-sentient Superpowered Evil Side and not any kind of evil mastermind, maybe you want to consider Saeko, the highest-ranking member of Smart Brain left after Kyoji's death, to be the final Big Bad, especially since the series ends with the Arch Orphnoch dormant and Saeko, who is now cured of the reduced lifespan all Orphenochs suffer from, tending to him.
    • Kamen Rider Decade starts off with Narutaki as the main recurring antagonist up until the midway point when Dai-Shocker and their "chief of security" Apollo Geist take the lead with their plan to conquer the A.R. Worlds. The summer movie then reveals Decade himself was the leader of Dai-Shocker and the mastermind behind their plan before he got amnesia, only for him to be overthrown by Nobuhiko Tsukikage after he regains his memory. Returning to the series, Decade himself then briefly becomes at the end, before the shuffle continues on into the Crossover movie with Kamen Rider Double where Decade is revealed to have been Good All Along and Super Dr. Shinigami and Narutaki gather the remnants of Dai-Shocker under them, only for them to be supplanted the revived Neo Organism as the last major villain.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim starts off with Team Gaim competing against the other Beat Rider street gangs fighting among themselves until the plot shifts to Takatora Kureshima (Kamen Rider Zangetsu) and his Yggdrasil Corporation as they appear to be behind the Inves. Takatora then turns out to be trying to save humanity, only for him to be backstabbed by Ryoma Sengoku and the other members of his inner circle. Then the characters learn that the Inves have intelligent leaders called "Overlords", with whom Mitsuzane throws his lot in. In the end, The Rival Kaito Kumon (Kamen Rider Baron) is the "final boss" because his Social Darwinism clashes with The Hero Kouta's more benevolent attitude and they fight for ownership of the Fruit after every proper villain has fallen.
    • Kamen Rider Drive starts with Heart, the leader of the Roidmude uprising. After Medic jumps on, she takes the lead with her secret agenda. After Heart reins Medic in, Freeze becomes more directly involved with the plot and takes charge. Once he's taken out, Heart resumes the role he had at the start until Tenjuro Banno gets set loose and hijacks the Roidmudes to force them to aid him in his own mad scheme. While Banno gets killed in the penultimate episode, his ultimate creation Sigma Circular remains active and becomes the Final Boss the Riders and the Roidmudes have to face.
    • Kamen Rider Ghost starts off with a partnership between Chikara Saionji and Alain to gather the 15 Eyecons. While Saionji does himself in by trying to use them, the threat of the Gamma empire emerges by this time, with Alain being revealed to answer to his father Adonis, the emperor of the Gamma. Adonis is then usurped by Adel, who stays the Big Bad until his misuse of his new powers as king causes the Gammaizer golems that he controls to become sentient and hijack him at the end.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid starts off with the Bugsters led by Parado, who is then revealed to be in a duumvirate with Kuroto Dan. Kuroto becomes the more prominent of the two until he's betrayed and killed off by Parado at the halfway point. Parado then briefly becomes the sole Big Bad until it's revealed he and Kuroto were really being used by Masamune Dan.
    • Kamen Rider Build starts with Faust, a Nebulous Evil Organization that are a smokescreen for a renegade Touto government military project. Right when Faust falls, the nation of Hokuto invades Touto and becomes the antagonists. They then get conquered by the nation of Seito, who turn around and declare war on Touto next. This is followed by Namba Heavy Industries when they hollow out Seito and use it as a puppet state. All of these organizations have Blood Stalk working for them during their time in the spotlight, and sure enough, he turns out to be the actual villain. Once he regains his original power, he reveals himself as the Blood Tribe alien Evolt and becomes the undisputed Big Bad. Although if you count the New World movies, then the shuffle gets one more layer with Killbus, Evolt's older brother and the king of the Blood Tribe.
    • Kamen Rider Zero-One goes from the cyber-terrorist group looking to revive their master, the Satellite Ark, to the Ark's creator and ZAIA Japan CEO Gai Amatsu, then back to the Ark when it finally escapes Gai's control. After the Ark is destroyed for good, it leaves behind a successor in the form of As, who corrupts Aruto into Ark-One while Horobi becomes the Final Boss of the series itself. The shuffle doesn't stop there, as As then empowers S, leader of Thinknet and the villain of the epilogue movie. S gets usurped by his right-hand man Bell. As survives Thinknet's downfall and tries using ZAIA HQ's CEO Lyon Arkland as her pawn, but Lyon turns the tables on her and brings about Kamen Rider Metsuboujinrai before his own demise, which becomes the Final Boss for the saga of Zero-One overall.
    • Kamen Rider Saber starts out with Kamen Rider Calibur, who is aligned with the Megid executives Storious, Legeiel and Zooous. Calibur turns out to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist and points towards a hidden foe within the Sword of Logos, with the the Southern Base members of the Sword of Logos emerging as more dangerous villains than the Megid. They're usurped by their own boss when Master Logos turns out to be the traitor everyone's looking for and takes the lead until he's defeated and Storious swoops in and finishes him off, thereafter becoming the Final Boss.
    • Kamen Rider Revice begins with Aguilera, leader of the Deadmans cult and the fiancée of the Eldritch Abomination Giff. However, Aguilera is later revealed to be a figurehead for her underling Orteca, who attempts to sacrifice her to revive Giff. After the heroes stop their attempted awakening of Giff, Orteca is revealed to be working for Hideo Akaishi, but stays in the lead until Giff awakens and devours him. Akaishi takes over as the antagonist at that point and begins making preparations for Giff's takeover all while Giff himself lurks in the background. After Akaishi suffers several defeats, Giff begins to directly intervene until he's defeated by the heroes. George Karizaki, the scientist who developed the Rider Systems, then steps up as an Interim Villain and is defeated within two episodes, after which Vice becomes the Final Boss, although he's only doing it to save Ikki (it's complicated).
    • Kamen Rider Geats may take the cake for the Rider series with the most convoluted villain situation. It starts off with the Jyamato as the nebulous antagonists the protagonists need to fight, only for it to be revealed about a quarter of the way in that the Jyamato are being cultivated by Archimedel. Archimedel in turn is revealed to be employed by Girori, the DGP Game Master, to grow the Jyamato so they can be used as enemies for the Desire Grand Prix. Girori is then revealed to be a subordinate of Niramu, the Game Producer, who removes him from his position for meddling with the game. Not long after, it also turns out Archimedel is secretly working for Beroba, a DGP sponsor looking to hijack the game who ropes Michinaga into their cause. Niramu and Beroba then jostle for the position for a while until it turns out Niramu answers to Suel, who created the DGP in the first place, who quickly shuts down Beroba's uprising with his intervention. Niramu winds up getting killed and usurped by Samas, his assistant, when he goes against Suel, while Beroba partners with Kekera to continue pursuing their goals. Soon enough, Samas, Beroba, Kekera and a new Game Master sent by Suel named Zitt all align against the heroes, but after the latter three are taken care of Suel intervenes again and becomes the Final Boss.
  • Metal Heroes: Tokusou Exceedraft starts out with the terrorist group Spade, headed by Bunta Tazaki. Then he gets defeated 8 episodes in, with the role of the big bad being filled by Carlos Togo, an extraterrestrial with designs on Earth. And in the final third, Corrupt Corporate Executive Iwao Daimon actually the Devil reveals himself as the Greater-Scope Villain, aiming to cause the apocalypse in a battle with God.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • Season 5A starts with The Dark Swan and King Arthur as the Big Bad Ensemble of this arc. Eventually, it becomes apparent the latter (and Zelena who teams up with him) is just a Big Bad Wannabe. Then we are introduced to Nimue, the very first Dark One who is responsible for all other Dark Ones turning evil in a bid to fulfil her desires. Except it turns out Hook was turned into a Dark One and he and Nimue act as the arc's Final Boss.
    • Season 6 revolves around the search for a mysterious hooded figure destined to kill Emma Swan. It begins with Mr. Hyde and the Evil Queen as a Big Bad Ensemble. Hyde gets killed four episodes in, leaving the Queen as sole Big Bad. At which point the hooded figure (Rumple and Belle's grown up son, Gideon) shows up to usurp the role— except he is just a pawn for the Black Fairy, the Final Boss of the season. Even after she is defeated, Emma's death needs to be stopped completely, leaving Gideon as the Post-Final Boss since the Final Battle between them is one to ensure that neither of their hearts turn dark rather then a battle of good and evil.
    • Victoria Belfry/Lady Tremaine is the initial antagonist of Season 7, given she is in control of Hyperion Heights. Except she did not cast the curse that created the city, that was her daughter, Drizzella. The two proceed to swap between the Big Bad position for a while, with Mother Gothel acting as a consul to both of them. The real main antagonist is Gothel and her Coven of Eight. And things get even more complicated when two new antagonists are introduced, Doctor Facilier who wishes to harness the power of the Dark One Dagger, and the Candy Killer who is hunting down the witches living in Hyperion Heights. In the end, the Candy Killer is revealed as Facilier's pawn and is killed off, while Gothel dies in the penultimate episode before the two-part series finale, leaving Dr. Facilier as the last man standing... or so it seems, until he ends that same episode getting dispatched by Wish!Rumple, who is the show's True Final Boss.
  • Power Rangers Zeo: King Mondo is the Big Bad until he gets destroyed and Rita and Lord Zedd wrest control of the Machine Empire using Louie Kaboom, a robot they built. Then they lose the remote control and Louie goes rogue, only to be bumped out of the spot by Prince Gasket and Princess Archerina, who take over the Machine Empire and become the main villains. At least until King Mondo gets rebuilt and retakes the spot.
  • Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: Scorpius is the Big Bad for the first half, until Deviot's scheming leads to him getting killed. It then becomes something of a Big Bad Ensemble between Scorpius's daughter Trakeena and Deviot, who is plotting to betray her too, with Arc Villain Captain Mutiny also joining in for a time. In the end it's Trakeena who becomes the Final Boss, although Deviot still casts a shadow over the finale given his role in corrupting Trakeena via unwittingly fusing into her.
  • Dai Shi is the initial and eventual Big Bad of Power Rangers Jungle Fury, though the title shuffles frequently. Carnisoar, Jellica and Grizzaka all take their turns on the throne, and it initially looks like the Phantom Beasts are going to take over before they betray Jellica and Dai Shi takes back his title.
  • Power Rangers Megaforce has one, to the point where it's difficult to tell just who the main villain is supposed to be. First, it's Admiral Malkor, with Creepox and Vrak as his Co-Dragons, though Vrak is very much The Heavy for most of the season. Vrak also has ambitions of his own and once Malkor is defeated about three quarters of the way in, Vrak simply takes his place for the final episodes of season one, until he's forced to go into hiding by the arriving Armada. Prince Vekar, Vrak's older brother and heir to the throne, steps in as the Big Bad for the series, until he gets taken out himself two thirds in... then Vrak comes back again to claim the Big Bad title for the "Vrak is Back" two-parter, until he's finally Killed Off for Real. But that still leaves three episodes left, so Emperor Mavro finally steps into the stoplight as the Final Boss of the season.
  • Power Rangers Dino Charge sets the record for most complicated villain situation. We start with Sledge the alien bounty hunter, who wants the Energems that power the heroes, so he sends out the Monster of the Week every episode in the form of his captured alien criminals, who can have their freedom if they manage to bring him an Energem. Standard Big Bad yelling "Destroy the Rangers" and this year's version of "Make My Monster Grow" Once an Episode. However, for much of the early days, The Dragon Fury is taken much more seriously, is the cause behind several characters' woes as they happened to be in the way while hunting the Energems. He's why Ivan was sealed away for centuries and the mastermind behind the whole Pterazord plot, he's why Tyler's dad is the disappeared kind, and he has none of the charm and humor that makes Sledge a very fun character at the cost of some intimidation factor. You could take him for a Dragon-in-Chief situation until we learn Sledge indeed has a head on his shoulders and is the boss for a reason. ...Then Sledge is apparently taken out and the most fearsome of his outlaws takes over: Heckyl and Snide, with a Split Personality, Heckyl being a careful plotter and Snide being more heavy-handed, but they work together well enough to not get in each other's way too much (one will alter the other's plan, but not outright scrap it in favor of a different one or interfere enough to totally screw it up.) Who are dethroned by... Arcanon, the guy who hired Sledge to capture the criminals in the first place, as he wanted them to be his army. The guy with the biggest ambitions, who was the Man Behind the Man for Big Bad #1 and who easily cast aside Big Bad #2 and #3 comes in full force, is powered by the Evil Counterpart of the Rangers' Energems, and reveals that some things that happened long before he was hinted at were part of his plan.. so naturally he lasts five episodes before Sledge takes him out and snatches the Big Bad position back for the final episodes.
  • Resurrection: Ertuğrul: The first third of season 3 begins with Master Simon, the Bazaar proprietor, and Ural Bey, who serves as The Rival to Ertugrul that season. Then Ural murders Simon before the plot segues into Vasilius filling in the void.
    • This applies to some extent to all of the other seasons except season 2. Unlike season 3, though, they start off with a Big Bad Ensemble and whittle it down to the remaining antagonist over the course of the story.
  • Smallville: Season 8 starts off with setting up Tess Mercer as the new Big Bad, then establishes that Brainiac is still alive and an active threat. Then after he is delt with at about the halfway point of the season, it turns out Lex Luthor is also still alive and was manipulating Tess all along, so now the heroes need to finish things with him. Then after Lex is delt with, the show finally settles on Davis Bloome/Doomsday as the big bad for the remainder of the season.
  • Stargate SG-1: The overall villains are the Goa'uld System Lords, a very loose coalition of a dozen or so alien overlords that control most of the galaxy and maintain a very tense relationship with each other. Any one of these (or other minor Goa'uld) could serve as the villain of an episode; however, there were usually more specific shuffles even within the long-term story arcs.
    • During the first four seasons: initially, the Big Bad of the show was Apophis, a System Lord that most of SG-1's team members had a personal grudge against. In Season 2, he's defeated and apparently killed to make room for Sokar, an even more openly malevolent System Lord who takes over his territories and plots to take over the entire galaxy. However, Sokar is himself overthrown and killed by Apophis (who's revealed to have survived as a slave on his prison planet), who returns more powerful than ever, inherits all of Sokar's forces, and continues with his plans of galactic domination.
    • Seasons 5 through 8 have a similar back-and-forth between Anubis and Baal. Anubis is the Big Bad, and the most powerful Goa'uld in the galaxy, through the end of Season 7. After he's defeated, his territories and his superior armies and technology are taken over by Baal... who's eventually revealed to be taking orders from the still-alive Anubis... but eventually works against him when he realizes that his boss' plans to remake the galaxy would leave him dead as well. Anubis' downfall at the end of Season 8 leaves Baal the most powerful Goa'uld in the galaxy, though by this point they've been whittled down so little that it's not saying much.
    • Other factions also appear from time to time who can temporarily take center stage as the villains of the moment, and sometimes even force Stargate Command to cooperate with their Goa'uld enemies temporarily. The two most notable ones are the Replicators (who ultimately do the lion's share of dismantling the Goa'uld empires in Season 8) and the Ori (who take over the Goa'uld role as the primary antagonists in the last two seasons).
  • Stargate Atlantis: The villain landscape in the Pegasus Galaxy is just as multifaceted, with the Wraith, the Genii, and the Replicators (a different strand from the Milky Way variant) all playing a major role as antagonists to the heroes and to each other. Further complicating matters is that there are different factions within each of these with their own rivalries that can sometimes lead them to seek outside allies.
  • Supergirl (2015):
  • Supernatural:
    • Season 6 starts out with the Archangel Raphael and the angels whom follow him, as they want to free Michael and Lucifer from Lucifer's Cage and restart the Apocalypse, Crowley, who is rounding up the Alpha Monsters in order to find an entrance to Purgatory, and Soulless!Sam, who lacks a moral conscience without his soul. Midway through the season, Death retrieves Sam's soul, but his spot is soon taken by Eve, Mother of All, who wants to avenge the deaths of her children, AKA all of the monsters. Eve is killed by Phoenix Ashes, making her a Disc-One Final Boss, but her spot is soon taken by none other than Castiel, who is revealed to be in league with Crowley, as he wants to use the souls within Purgatory to stop Raphael from restarting the Apocalypse. Castiel soon double-crosses Crowley, who then goes over to Raphael, but they are too late to prevent Castiel from absorbing the souls within Purgatory. Crowley barely escapes, but Castiel destroys Raphael, and then declares himself as the new God.
    • Season 10 starts out with Deanmon, but he gets better in the third episode. His spot is then taken by Rowena, an immortal witch who is Crowley's mother, and soon forms an alliance with him. Metatron returns as a Big Bad Wannabe, and the Styne Family is introduced in the second half of the season, as a group who wish to get their hands onto the Book of the Damned. And above all of it, the Mark of Cain is still working its way onto Dean, who is trying to resist its effects until they can find a way to remove it. Rowena and Crowley's alliance falls flat, with Crowley kicking Rowena out after it becomes apparent to him that she doesn't care about him. Metatron's angelic grace is removed, leaving him human and stranded on Earth with not much to do, and the Styne Family is massacred by a Mark of Cain-powered Dean in the penultimate episode. Ultimately, the Season Finale makes it clear that the true Big Bad of Season 10 is Sam and Dean Winchester themselves, having long gone before into He Who Fights Monsters territory. Season 11 has them having a Heel Realization.
  • Super Sentai
    • Juken Sentai Gekiranger starts off with Rio, new head of Rinjuken Akugata, as the Big Bad. He later resurrects Kata and Rageku, two of the three original founders of Rinjuken Akugata, to help train him and they are more than happy to pass the torch onto him. After Rio resurrects Maku however, he winds up supplanted as Maku takes back control of the dojo and forces everyone to obey once more. However, after Rio manages to surpass Maku, Maku is destroyed by the Gekirangers and Rio takes back control. Rio also gains a new henchman in Enigmatic Minion Long, who offers to teach Rio a more powerful style than Rinjuken Akugata called Genjuken. However, unbeknownst to Rio, Long is the one who manipulated Maku into starting Rinjuken Akugata in the past and was The Man Behind the Man to Rio all throughout his life, manipulating him into becoming a "God of Destruction" to destroy the world. Once Long's machinations are revealed though, Rio turns against him and Long becomes the Final Boss.
    • Engine Sentai Go-onger has Yogostein, leader of the three Gaiark Pollution Ministers, initially. After Yogostein is destroyed halfway through, Cleaning Minister Kireizky arrives and takes over the Gaiark, becoming the Big Bad for two episodes before being destroyed. It is then that the true Big Bad, Yogostein's father Yogoshimacritein, arrives and reveals he was the one giving orders to Yogostein and Kireizky all along. The crossover movie with Samurai Sentai Shinkenger adds one more layer onto it, revealing that Pollution President Batcheed was the true leader of the Gaiark and that Yogoshimacritein was just a high-ranking member.
    • Tensou Sentai Goseiger starts off with Mons Drake, leader of the Warstar Army as the Big Bad. After Mons Drake dies a quarter of the way through, the Warstar Evil Genius reveals himself as a Yuumajuu and that he was only using the Warstar to locate the box containing the Yuumajuu leaders, Makuin and Kinggon. The two take over the Big Bad role after Buredoran unseals them, though Buredoran hints at several points he may have his own secret agenda apart from them. After Makuin, Kinggon and Buredoran are all destroyed, Robogog, ruler of the Matrintis Empire, surfaces as the new Big Bad and resurrects Buredoran as his Cyborg enforcer. However, Buredoran manages to turn the tables on Robogog and destroy him, before revealing his true identity to be the fallen Gosei Angel Brajira of the Messiah and that he was really using the Warstar, Yuumajuu and Matrintis all along to accomplish his own goal of remaking the planet in his own image.
    • Kishiryu Sentai Ryusoulger starts off with Tankjoh as the leader of the Druidon Tribe's invasion of Earth. After Tankjoh is destroyed, Wyzul arrives from space to take over the invasion. Later on, Gachireus arrives on Earth as well and causes Wyzul to leave out of annoyance. Gachireus holds the main villain role for three episodes before being destroyed, at which point Wyzul returns and takes over as leader again. However, several episodes later, Gachireus returns after regenerating from the damage he sustained and forms a Big Bad Duumvirate with Wyzul, though he hints that another power may also be targeting Earth. Said power turns out to be Pricious, who upon his arrival forces Wyzul and Gachireus into serving him. Pricious eventually reveals that he came to Earth in order to unseal the Druidon Tribe's creator, Eras. Upon her release however, Eras reveals her own plan to exterminate both the Druidon and Ryusoul Tribes and remake the planet, possessing Pricious and becoming the true Big Bad.
  • Tomica Hero Rescue Force begins with the Three Great Executives of Neo Terror, although its alluded to early on they have a boss above them. Said boss turns out to be Neo Terror's leader, Daen, who promptly takes center stage. Daen is eventually revealed to actually be possessed by a mysterious entity right before he's defeated, after which an AI backup of himself briefly over before its defeated and his "daughter", Maen, becomes Neo Terror's new leader. At the very end however, Maen turns out to be a puppet of the same entity who corrupted Daen, the ancient supercomputer Batsu.
  • Ultra Series:
    • Ultraman Nexus: The mastermind behind the Space Beast attacks at first appears to be Dark Faust, until he's revealed to be a creation of Dark Mephisto. Dark Mephisto then turns out to be a servant of Dark Zagi, the true mastermind behind the Space Beasts attacking.
    • Ultraman Mebius: Bogarl is the villain at first, but after she's defeated the main villain spot is vacant until Yapool arrives and begins terrorizing GUYS. Yapool is them revealed to be part of a group known as the Four Heavenly Kings, who turn out to be Co-Dragons of Alien Empera, who used them and Bogarl to herald his arrival.

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue establishes Yuuki Terumi aka Hazama as the Big Bad in Continuum Shift, revealing him to have been manipulating the events of the series from behind the scenes alongside his partner-in-crime, Relius Clover. At the end of the game the two are revealed to be working for the Imperator of NOL, Izanami, the goddess of death possessing Ragna and Jin's sister Saya. She later takes the position of Big Bad position from them in Chronophantasma after abandoning them to their fates. Later, in Central Fiction, Izanami's apparent Dragon Phantom makes her plans known and Hazama (who was split from Terumi's body after his apparent defeat) is revealed to have his own agenda as well. Ultimately, once those three are knocked out of the way, the role of final villain is taken over by Terumi in his true identity as Susanoo.
  • In Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, the less lucid members of the Circle of Nine have varying schemes, and are dealt with in succession along with their guardian Malek. The Nemesis then steps up as a bit of an Outside-Context Problem, invading from the north, and combating this fearsome tyrant consumes much of the late game... until it turns out that he — and, more importantly, you — are pawns on the board for Moebius of the Circle, who tricks you into assassinating the Nemesis as a younger man and thus give him the impetus to rally Nosgoth on a vampire-hunting crusade. Kain then slays him too, and returns to the Pillars to reunite with his maker, the necromancer Mortanius... who is revealed to have killed you in the first place, as part of a plot to unleash a vengeful Kain against the crazed Circle and thus allow a new generation of guardians, untainted by Nupraptor's madness, to take their place. But then it turns out that Mortanius is housing a demonic entity — identified later games as the Hylden Lord — who fought to possess his body and manipulated the circle into madness to begin with; this monster is your Final Boss.
  • The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games go through several Big Bads. In the first game, Al-Asad, the leader of a revolution in a nameless Middle Eastern country looks to be the Big Bad at first. Halfway through, it's revealed that his revolution was being funded by Russian Ultranationalist leader, Imran Zakhaev. After Zakhaev is disposed, one of his Co-Dragons, Vladimir Makarov, appears to fill the Big Bad role in Modern Warfare 2. It's eventually revealed though that Makarov was an Unwitting Pawn of General Shepherd. However, Modern Warfare 3 reveals that Makarov may have been using Shepherd as his pawn, and that he's the one who detonated the nuke that drove him mad. He also saved Zakhaev when he was shot, ultimately making him responsible for the events of the Modern Warfare series as a whole.
  • Criminal Case: Mysteries of the Past has the corrupt Concordian Police Department (led by Edward Whimple and Eleanor Halsted) as the main antagonists at the beginning of the game. Then Eleanor is arrested and reveals that a big portion of the corruption has been coming from the Irish gang (led by Finley and Fiona Flanagan) bribing the police to carry their illegal business in Sinner's End. Then after Fiona's death and Finley's arrest you learn from the latter that the Italian gang (led by Vittorio Capecchi) has a stronghold over Coyote Gorge, and is using said control to kick people out of their homes to sell their lands to a railroad company. And then you learn that Vittorio had been doing said business with the Rochester family, with its patriarch Horatio Rochester revealing during his arrest that he's the one who instigated the Mob War between the Irish and the Italians and the land theft in Coyote Gorge for his own benefit. Finally, Mayor Justin Lawson undergoes a Big Bad Slippage and becomes a dictator after witnessing the wave of crime and corruption brought by so many criminals, turning him into the main antagonist of the game's last stretch.
  • Kirby's Return to Dream Land: The role of Big Bad gets tossed around a lot during the climax. First, Kirby and the gang are attacked by the four-headed dragon Landia, who shoots down Magolor's ship the Lor Starcutter, sending Kirby and his friends on their mission to stop him. However, when they successfully defeat the dragon, Magolor appears and takes the Master Crown for himself, revealing him to be the true villain and having tricked the four heroes into fiving him the crown so he can conquer the universe. Then, when the heroes defeat Magolor at the end of the game, it leads directly into the Magolor Epilogue, where it reveals the Master Crown to ultimately the ultimate Big Bad of the entire game, corrupting Magolor and eventually trying to finish him off in one final battle in the depths of Another Dimension after taking control of a Gem Apple Seed.
  • The Metal Gear games, especially the Mind Screw of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and the non-canonical Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, where the terrorist general, his mercenary Dragon/manipulator, and the U.S. government all mock the others as fools who are just being played by whoever is doing the mocking at the moment.
  • Super Smash Bros. Brawl has numerous villains in the Subspace Emmisary mode. This stems partly from the nature of the game - as a lumping together of the respective Nintendo mythologies, all the key villains come with their respective heroes. It at first seems that the Subspace Army is led by the Ancient Minister, with Bowser and Wario working with them to take out the other fighters and collect them in their trophy forms. King Dedede is also collecting trophied fighters, but he's competing with the other villains, and it turns out he's Good All Along, as he was collecting the fighters so that he could give them timed badges that would revive them in case all the fighters were wiped out. Then it turns out that the real leader of the Subspace Army is Ganondorf, and Ancient Minister was Forced into Evil in order to protect the R.O.B.s. THEN it turns out Ganondorf and the other fighters working with the Subspace Army were working under Master Hand, who was in turn being controlled by the true villain Tabuu, the lord of Subspace.
  • Myst has this in spades. The game begins when you meet two imprisoned brothers, each of whom tries to convince you that his brother is the one behind the disappearance of their father. As you complete the various stages to slowly free the brothers, you encounter clues to help you finally decide which of the two is the actual Big Bad. Turns out, they BOTH are.
  • Final Fantasy has a few of those:
    • Final Fantasy VII introduces Shinra as the MegaCorp oppressing the world. The it turns out Sephiroth is Cloud's Arch-Enemy and the real threat. But it turns out the Shinra scientist Hojo created Sephiroth by experimenting on Jenova, but Sephiroth is still the bigger threat than either of them. And the party continues to come into conflict with Shinra throughout the game as they search for Sephiroth.
    • Final Fantasy VIII has the Galbadians and President Deling as the Disc 1 villains, only to kill him off and reveal Sorceress Edea as the real villain at the end of the disc. Then Disc 2 ends with Edea's defeat and Disc 3 reveals she was under Demonic Possession by the real villain Ultimecia.
    • Final Fantasy IX: Initially, the antagonist is the tyrannical Queen Brahne, until she gets killed by her weapons supplier Kuja. Kuja himself turns out to be working for Garland, but eventually betrays him and tries to destroy the world. After he is beaten, the Final Boss is Necron, a being with no involvement in the plot until then and isn't actually orchestrating anything (Necron is implicitly a personification of death/the reaper... probably).
    • Final Fantasy XIV. The game starts off with a series of Garlean superior officers on the surface - Nael van Darnus in 1.0, who along with Bahamut caused the Calamity; Gaius van Baelsar in 2.0 who acts as the Empire's General Badass as they invade Eorzea; Regula van Hydrus in 3.0 who replaces Gaius and even brings along Emperor Varis as the Greater-Scope Villain for the Empire. The Ascians, with Lahabrea, Nabriales (pre-3.0), and Igeyorhm (during 3.0), working from the shadows form the majority of the overall conflict of the story. Then 3.0 reveals that King Thordan of Ishgard is driving most of the plot and is the true Big Bad of the 3.0 plotline, manipulating the Ascians while they think they're manipulating him. Meanwhile, each of the city-states have their own minor antagonists (who are usually underlings to one of the above), but Lord Lolorito of Ul'dah has been orchestrating a lot behind the scenes and may be a step ahead of them all if he gets Omega in possession like he's planning to.
  • In Jak II: Renegade, there is Baron Praxis who is the tyrranical ruler of Haven City and whom Jak hates for personal reasons. There is also Metal Head Leader who tries to invade city and who is actually one of your allies - Kor, who also kills Praxis near the end of the game and happens to be Final Boss. One can also consider Krew, the boss of local mafia, as another candidate for Big Bad as he tries to outplay both sides and his actions actually do the most harm.
  • Trials of Mana has three possible Big Bads, each with their own dragons and Mooks. About halfway the game, one of them will eliminate the other two (which one depends on your choice of main character), but until that time the whole game is a tangle of their conflicting plots.
  • Assassin's Creed: The Templars/Abstergo are the oldest enemies of the Assassins and seem a lock for the position of Big Bads. But that's before you learn the Abusive Precursors who made the Pieces of Eden. Even then, it's a toss-up between Minerva and Juno until the end of III, which pretty clearly cements the latter.
  • Batman: Arkham City has Hugo Strange and The Joker competing for the position of Big Bad, with Ra's al-Ghul proving to be Strange's hidden benefactor. In the end, Strange is defeated by Batman and killed by Ra's for his failure, and then Ra's stabs himself while fighting Batman, leaving Joker as the subject of a Post-Climax Confrontation.
  • Kingdom Hearts: the first game starts off by portraying Maleficent as the Big Bad. Later in the game, it's revealed Maleficent was being manipulated by Ansem, a character mentioned several times before and whose reports you've been collecting this whole time. Then Kingdom Hearts II reveals that he wasn't the real Ansem, but the Heartless of his apprentice Xehanort, who stole his name; it also turns out that this game's main villain, Xemnas, is Xehanort's Nobody and the leader of Organization XIII. The games that follow set up Xehanort himself as the true Big Bad, who returns from his destruction and recruits vessels and past incarnations of himself—including Ansem and Xemnas—for a final showdown in Kingdom Hearts III. Once he's finally dealt with, however, all signs point toward Xehanort's minion Xigbar, a.k.a. Luxu, and the Master of Masters (Luxu's real master) who were both revealed to have been manipulating Xehanort the whole time and having some hand in the next arc.
  • Persona:
    • Persona 3 has this in spades. At first the Full Moon Shadows serve as the collective Big Bad of the game, being the source of the Dark Hour. Then you meet Strega, a fellow group of Persona users who want to stop you from getting rid of the Dark Hour, but they aren't affiliated with the Shadows at all, they just want to keep using their powers for petty reasons (which mostly involve killing people). Their leader Takaya eventually manages to inflict a Plotline Death on one of your party members and is the closest thing the game has to a human villain. Then you kill all the Full Moon Shadows and Shuji Ikutsuki, your Mission Control, reveals himself as Evil All Along and that he was just using the party to bring about The End of the World as We Know It. This character becomes the clear new Big Bad... for all of one cutscene, after which they're quickly killed off and the game has No Antagonist for a while. Then we meet Ryoji, who turns out to be the avatar of Nyx, a godlike being that will bring about the end of the world. Takaya becomes The Dragon to this new Big Bad, and said new Big Bad is the Final Boss. However, the Playable Epilogue added in the Updated Re-release reveals that Nyx wasn't really evil and the true Big Bad, Erebus, was just using her to destroy the world. Though Erebus is more of an animalistic force born from humanity's collective despair than an actual sentient being, complicating things further.
    • Persona 4 is filled with this as well. First it seems that Kubo is the killer but he only killed your teacher and wanted attention. The murder attempts continue and you eventually find out that the one doing the deeds was Namatame but then it turns out that he thought he was doing good and something made him snap. The person who made him snap was Adachi who did the first two killings while Namatame did the rest, plus he threw Kubo in the TV world. AND THEN he gets possessed by Ameno-Sagiri, a creature that had been causing the fog and was using Adachi to raise paranoia and chaos among the town to begin to create a world full of shadows. And finally, Izanami, one of the two gods in Japanese myth that birthed humanity, gave personas to you, Namatame, and Adachi to do what they did for her goals and is the master of Ameno-Sagiri.
    • Persona 5: Each Arc Villain was being pressured into The Conspiracy by someone in a "Black Mask". The Black Mask was in fact a police detective who has been making mental shutdown crimes himself and has joined the Phantom Thieves in an attempt to lure the protagonist to be arrested and his true boss is Masayoshi Shido, an ultra-nationalist politician who wants to unleash a facist regime via a soft coup. It turns out that both the villains and the heroes were being manipulated by the real Big Bad, Yaldabaoth, the God of Control who comissioned the protagonist to take down the villains because they are causing chaos in society, and once that is done for he blatantly turns on the heroes with his grand plan of control by melding his Palace into the real world, tricking everyone into thinking everything is normal and wiping out all the heroes.
      • Royal adds to the above with Takuto Maruki, your school's temporary guidance counselor, who awakened to his Persona and took on the power of the Holy Grail after Yaldabaoth's defeat. What makes him different is that his actions are thoroughly altrustic in motive, and you can choose to agree or disagree with his actions in the end.
    • Persona 5 Strikers: By the 5th Jail a corrupt politician named Jyun Owada will be built up as a major threat, being responsible for the death of Zenkichi's wife, covering it up and preventing its investigation, and issued a half-assed arrest warrant against the Phantom Thieves. However, he fades away after the game's Disc-One Final Dungeon and was promptly arrested by the epilogue. After saving Zenkichi's daughter, the attention turns to Owada's accomplice, Akira Konoe, the Maddice tech firm CEO who was suspected to be the true culprit, a Well-Intentioned Extremist who seeks to use EMMA to brainwash the masses so they no longer commit crimes. After defeating him, the party believes that they caught the real culprit and head back from Osaka to Tokyo — only for EMMA herself to spring right into action and merge the Metaverse with the real world, followed by her creator (which has been doing close to nothing by this point, despite being built up as a major character) Kuon Ichinose antagonizing the Phantom Thieves and quickly getting a Heel–Face Turn. Despite Ichinose was defeated before the Final Boss battle against EMMA, she was still EMMA's developer and is thus the Greater-Scope Villain and the true culprit proper.
  • The third game in The Second Reality Project series is slated to have this, according to this old thread at SMW Central. The first world takes its time to set up the game's premise. Bowser, the Big Bad of the first game, returns to the Second Reality with the intention to take back the Power Supply Switch from the Catgoom Kingdom. Then it was discovered that Zycloboo, the second game's Big Bad, has been revived, and he too wants the Power Supply Switch. With both villains vying for the switch, Mario and his friends have no choice but to go on a quest to destroy it.
  • Neverwinter Nights, the expansion Shadows of the Undrentide opens with a tribe of kobolds attacking your home and stealing several artifacts. As you pursue them you find evidence that they came into conflict with some bugbears and each made off with at least one artifact. The kobolds are employed by the dragon Tymofarrar, but he ordered the attack because he was in alliance with J'Nah, the leader of the bugbears. Then you find out J'Nah is collecting the artifacts for an unknown third party.
  • Chrono Cross winds up doing one in its final act, due to its enormous Gambit Pileup finally getting resolved. For most of the game, the apparent Big Bad is Lynx - who turns out to be an avatar of the rogue supercomputer FATE. Defeating FATE, however, allows the Dragon Gods to return to their true form and busily get to work on destroying humanity. And it's only after you defeat the Dragon Gods that you learn the entire plot was orchestrated as a setup by Belthasar, the creator of FATE, who himself did it to create a weapon capable of defeating the real threat who created the Dragon Gods, the Time Devourer (actually Lavos from the original game).
  • In Guild Wars Prophecies, the first campaign, the game begins with the Charr being set up as big bads and destroyers of the player characters' home kingdom. Then they travel through the Shiverpeak mountains with the Stone Summit Dwarves taking over their role as primary antagonists, especially when they kill Prince Rurik. When the PC's arrive in Kryta however, the undead and the Lich Lord pop up as a new bad until they find out the truth about and are betrayed by the White Mantle who then proceed to hunt them down for a good portion of the game. The player characters then go through a lot of trouble to Ascend and be able to see and fight their "gods" the Mursaat, when suddenly they're thrown back against the Stone Summit Dwarves and finally deal with their leader, then back to the Mursaat. Then out of the blue it turns out that one of their closest allies of the last half of the game was in fact the Lich Lord in disguise and he uses their actions to take control of the Titans, another race of superpowered baddies, and they end up facing him as the final big bad.
  • Halo 2 starts off with the three Covenant High Prophets in a Big Bad Triumvirate. However, the Prophet of Regret gets killed by Master Chief and the Prophet of Mercy gets devoured by the Flood, leaving the Prophet of Truth as the sole Big Bad. He soon forms a Big Bad Ensemble with the Gravemind, though in Halo 3 the Gravemind and the Flood briefly team up with our heroes to stop Truth from activating the Halo Rings. After this gets accomplished, the Gravemind takes over as the sole Big Bad.
  • In NieR: Automata, the initial leader of the machine lifeforms is Adam. After he bites it, a deranged and vengeful Eve serves as the Final Boss of the route. After he bites it, Terminals Alpha and Beta are revealed as the true leaders of the machines. You destroy them halfway through the final dungeon, leaving a deranged and vengeful 9S as the Final Boss (unless you choose to play as him, in which case A2 becomes the Final Boss).
  • In Life Is Strange, at least three characters are presented as candidates for being the Big Bad of the story:
    • David's paranoia and rudeness towards Kate make him look suspicious, along with a vague connection to Nathan. However, he turns out to be a misunderstood Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
    • Frank is shown wearing Rachel's bracelet which immediately makes him a prime suspect. However, the bracelet turns out to be a gift from Rachel who was dating him. This leaves Frank as an unintentional accessory through his drug dealing.
    • Nathan seem to be the most evident suspect of Rachel's disappearance due to his reckless gun usage on Chloe as well as Kate's testimony about the drugging incident at the Vortex Club party. However, as revealed in Episode 4, Nathan is only The Dragon to Mr. Jefferson, who manipulated Nathan.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising changes main antagonists like most people change socks. First Medusa invades the human world. Once Pit defeats her, Hades turns out to be The Man Behind the Man to Medusa. Once he steps up, nature goddess and divine eco-terrorist Viridi throws her hat in the ring and turns the game into a Mêlée à Trois. Then the Aurum show up, forcing the three factions to form an Enemy Mine against them. After defeating them, Pit's soul is sealed in a ring for three years, during which time Palutena pulls an apparent Face–Heel Turn and starts attacking humanity. Pit allies with Viridi to fight her, and learns the Chaos Kin is possessing her; he defeats it. Finally, Pit, Palutena, and Viridi all team up to face down Hades as the Final Boss.
  • Henry Stickmin Series: For the final game Completing the Mission, whoever the Big Bad is depends on what endings are used from Infiltrating the Airship and Fleeing the Complex.
    • Most of the pathways have a member of the Toppat Clan. If it diverges from the "Pure Blooded Thief" ending of Airship plus "The Betrayed" ending of Complex, it'll be Reginald Copperbottom, the Big Bad of Airship. If it diverges from the "Relentless Bounty Hunter" ending of Airship, it'll typically be the Right Hand Man, Reginald's Dragon from Airship, who takes the mantle after being rebuilt as a Cyborg; the exception is the "Little Nest Egg" pathway where the Right Hand Man is only heard on a comlink and Toppat train driver Mr. Macbeth takes The Heavy role. If both Reginald and the Right Hand Man are arrested after the "Government Supported Private Investigator" ending of Airship, then the role will be filled by Sven Svensson, who is trying to get the Toppats into space to avoid the world's governments.
    • If Henry chose to become a Toppat in the "Rapidly Promoted Executive" ending of Airship, General Galeforce leads the Government against the Toppats.
    • Dmitri Johannes Petrov, the Warden of The Wall (the prison Henry was escaping from in Complex), is the main villain in the "Thief/Allies" route.
  • Witch's Heart initially presents the witch Dorothy as the one who trapped Claire and the four men inside the mansion and summoned the demons to kill them. It is eventually revealed that she is both Dead All Along and Good All Along. Ashe Bradley, one of the men, turns out to be Ax-Crazy and seems like another contender, but he is clearly being manipulated by the four demon girls, who are the ones who really trapped the five in the mansion. Their leader, Rogue, would thus seem to be the villain, but she doesn't partake in the activities of the others and shows distaste for it. Instead, it is Lime, one of her subordinates, who is the ultimate villain, having manipulated events to ensure that everyone would be trapped in the mansion so she can manipulate them into killing each other. Further complicating this is the presence of Mayor Nicholas Levine, the deceased true perpetrator of the massacre, who is implied to have also been the one behind the imprisonment, torture, rape, and execution of Lime and several other "witches", which is what drove Lime to evil in the first place.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II has a quadruple one that starts with Bishop Alexandar, overseer of the Final Solution against Sourcerers like the player character. After his temporary defeat as Disc-One Final Boss, his Dragon Ascendant Dallis betrays him, takes over, and becomes The Heavy for the rest of the game. In the endgame, she appears alongside Lucian from Divine Divinity, now revealed as a Rogue Protagonist and the Hidden Villain who orchestrated everything with one "Master Vredemen's" help. Finally, the whole thing is Hijacked by Ganon when Vredemen is revealed to be a resurrected Braccus Rex, the Big Bad of Divinity: Original Sin, now enslaved to Dallis via Restraining Bolt; he disables the device, calls on the Greater-Scope Villain for power, and initiates the final battle.
  • BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm repeatedly shifts the position of main villain. In the main game, the antagonist is the Hidden Villain behind the storms that are destroying the Internet. It is soon revealed to be a giant botnet called STORM- but a little later, it turns out that it's being used by Arianna, the girl the party met in Chapter 2. Once the party travels back in time to the First Internet in Chapter 7, Legion temporarily takes on the role of villain until they manage to escape. Then Dr. Stephen Wolfram reveals he has been planning to betray Arianna from the start and take over the net himself, but he's promptly betrayed by his machine before he can do anything. Once Arianna and STORM are beaten, it seems everything is fine... until it turns out that the Pale Wraith, who masterminded the YouTube crisis, is Boxxyfan, the villain from the first game and is the one who awakened Arianna and STORM as part of his own plan to destroy the net. He becomes the villain of the post-game, but the DLC also brings back two previous villains as equally big threats; Mother Zoe, leader of the Social Justice Warriors who wants to enact Gendercide of all men, and Rcoastee, the other villain of the first game who wants revenge on the heroes for beating him. Boxxyfan ultimately becomes the last one standing... only for him to accidentally revive Legion, who becomes the True Final Boss and the definitive final threat.
  • Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time has quite a few main villains over the course of its story. At first, it's a Big Bad Duumvirate between Doctor Neo Cortex and Doctor Nefarious Tropy, having invented the Rift Generator to get revenge on Crash Bandicoot for trapping them in the past after Warped. But after Cortex gets defeated, N. Tropy reveals that he teamed up with another villain - namely, a Distaff Counterpart of himself - to use the Rift Generator to rewrite time In Their Own Image and rule it as a god, so Cortex forms an Enemy Mine with Crash and Coco to stop the two N. Tropies. After they get defeated and Team Crash decides to celebrate their victory with food trucks, Cortex decides to use the Quantum Masks to travel back in time and destroy Crash before he's been created in the first place, cementing himself as the sole Big Bad and the Final Boss.
  • Pretty common in Touhou Project.
    • Touhou Youyoumu ~ Perfect Cherry Blossom: Initially the winter youkai, Letty Whiterock, seems to be the one responsible for the everlasting winter, before it turns out to have actually been caused by Yuyuko Saigyouji and her attempts to uncover the body beneath Saigyou Ayakashi. In the extra stage, it's revealed that Yuyuko was being helped by Yukari Yakumo, the Youkai of Boundaries.
    • Touhou Kishinjou ~ Double Dealing Character: The game kicks off with a youkai uprising, and after fighting through several youkai bosses, our protagonists discover it was caused by Shinmyoumaru Sukuna using the Miracle Mallet to compel them to rampage. Sukuna in turn was being manipulated by Seija Kijin, who in an inversion of the norm is actually confronted and reveals her plans a stage before the protagonists get to Sukuna, the Final Boss.
    • Touhou Kanjuden ~ Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom: The main antagonist is at first Sagume Kishin, the one in charge of the Lunarian invasion. After she's defeated, it turns out that the Lunarians are invading because they're being driven off the moon by Junko, who turns out to be receiving help from a greater power — Hecatia Lapislazuli, goddess of the three Hells.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night does this over the course of the three routes.
    • In Fate, Illya is the initial antagonist, with Shinji becoming another contender once his plan is discovered. Then Illya kills Shinji, leaving her as the sole antagonist. Once she's beaten, Caster breifly takes the Big Bad position before Gilgamesh is introduced and knocks her away. Then he turns out to be working with Kirei Kotomine, and they summon the Holy Grail itself as a Greater-Scope Villain.
    • In Unlimited Blade Works, Caster appears to usurp the position from Kotomine, even seemingly killing him. Then once she's beaten, Archer betrays the party and kidnaps Rin. Then he joins forces with Shinji, Gilgamesh, and Kotomine. Eventually Gilgamesh is left as the sole antagonist with the others dead... until he summons the Holy Grail.
    • Finally, in Heaven's Feel, Zouken Matou is introduced, and he competes with Kotomine and Gilgamesh before Sakura becomes Dark Sakura and kills them all. But Zouken survives, and attempts to take over Dark Sakura- so she kills him again. Then, when she's defeated, Kotomine returns for one last battle.
  • Due to how morally complex the story is, Full Metal Daemon Muramasa is a doozy with it introducing Big Bad candidates left, right and center which gets even more complicated depending on the route. The common route already introduces the ruthless conquer Moriuji Ashikaga and his entourage, the mysterious and destructive silver star Ginseigo, the leader for the invading allied powers with General Charles Willow and finally the old yakuza Ichizo Sorimachi who seems just a little too on top of things. Moriuji and Charles are both Big Bad Wannabe's. The seeming ally Chachamaru is in reality allied with Ginseigo, a.k.a. the main characters sister Hikaru, and the real brain of the two. The two possible main love interests, Ichijo Ayane and Kanae Otori, become the respective Big Bad's of their own routes as they succumb to extremism. Ichizo stays mostly in the background but is ready to pounce on the main character when it will hurt the most and remains a personal threat throughout. And then the final reveal makes it clear that the true Big Bad of this entire thing was none other than the main character Kageaki Minto himself and that he had simply refused to accept it.
  • PARANORMASIGHT: The Seven Mysteries of Honjo: Fumichika Nejima is presented as the main threat throughout much of the game, as he is planning to use his curse echo to commit a massacre of hundreds in Honjo and get revenge on everyone who got him arrested, but it gradually becomes clear that he's being enabled by some third party. The heroes initially suspect said person to be Natsume Yamamori, the CEO of Hihaku Soaps, but it turns out that while she has her hand in some of the happenings, she has nothing to do with Nejima. Then, Ayame Tono is built up as the mastermind of the entire Rite of Resurrection, but she also turns out to not be Nejima's supplier. The game's true villain turns out to be Yoko Fukunaga, who orchestrated the entire game in order to resurrect Lady Ashino from the dead.

    Web Animation 
  • The initial Big Bad of Madness Combat is the Sheriff, though after Hank kills him, his Dragon Jebus briefly takes the role. Then Tricky comes in and kills him, stealing the role from him. It's eventually revealed, though, that the overall Big Bad was the Auditor, as he was manipulating everything through the Improbability Drive.
  • While RWBY makes it very clear that Salem is the Big Bad of the show and has Volume 8 be her Villain No Longer Idle moment, near the end of the Volume, she's blown up by Ozpin's cane. The rest of the Volume is Ironwood and Cinder practically competing to fill in for the short time she's out of commission.

  • While The Other seems like the ultimate villain of Girl Genius it is largely hands off. The role of primary villain in the comic aside from The Other jumps around quite a bit with the current set up seemingly having Zola, Martellus, Beausoleil and his masters, and possibly Queen Albia all seemingly playing things for their own gain
  • Homestuck does this quite a lot. So, the Big Bad and Final Boss of the Game is the Black King. Except before they can fight him, he gets killed by Jack Noir, who's the REAL big bad that all the heroes and other villains are trying to stop. Except the whole thing was a set-up by Vriska Serket. Until it Jack stops following her plans. And then it turns out that they were both under the control of Doc Scratch, even though Jack is actually more dangerous than him, except he's not because everything he does is part of The Plan, and it eventually turns out that Scratch was behind everything. BUT WAIT! He was doing everything to summon his Master, Lord English, whose actions also provoked the Horrorterrors, pretty much the only party not being manipulated by someone. But then, Act 6 introduces even more villains while still keeping one or two of the old ones around, but all of them can be traced back to Lord English.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Gargoyles featured six villains, each revealing one after the other that the previous villain wasn't actually that episode's Big Bad.
  • Masters of the Universe: Revelation: Skeletor is the classic archnemesis for He-Man and leader of the evil warriors. But he is killed along with He-Man in the first episode. The next Big Bad we're introduced to is Tri-Clops, who is worshipping a mechanical being called Motherboard and forcefully converting others, and Mer-Man, who attacks them with his Aquatican mooks. After that, Scare Glow menaces the heroes when they journey to Subternia, before Skeletor suddenly reemerges as the Big Bad and remains that way for most of Part 2. He is then co-opted by Evil-Lyn, who remains the principle antagonist for the remainder, although Skeletor still attempts to be a menace to He-Man on his own terms. The finale then reveals that Hordak is the real force behind Motherboard as a Sequel Hook.
  • Total Drama: Pahkitew Island ends up going through four Big Bads. First, you have Amy, who is eliminated in "Twinning Isn’t Everything" after her sister Samey outwits her and takes her place with almost nobody being the wiser until "A Blast from the Past" when Amy returns to fight Samey again. From there, Sugar becomes the new Big Bad, before being usurped in "Scarlett Fever" by Scarlett. After Scarlett is eliminated for her attempts to destroy the island, Sugar resumes her role as Big Bad before being eliminated in the penultimate episode. After that, the final episode has no Big Bad for the first half until Dave assumes the role after Chris reveals that Sky has been with someone other than him.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: The series starts with a pretty traditional set-up: Hordak is the Big Bad who spends most of his time working in the background, while his minion Catra is a more direct antagonist. Then things get a little complicated. Catra works her way up the ranks until she eventually forces Hordak to acknowledge her as an equal partner. Then it turns out that Light Hope was a bad guy the whole time, and she has her own evil plan independent of the Horde and directly at odds with them. And as soon as She-Ra beats Light Hope, Horde Prime arrives on Etheria, forces Hordak and Catra to get in line, and cements himself as the true Big Bad of the story.
  • South Park
    • Season 20 first presents a Big Bad Ensemble between SkankHunt42 / Gerald and Mr. Garrison, who are soon joined by the Memberberries. A few episodes later, they are also joined by Lennart Bedrager, head of, who eventually takes Gerald out of commission. Mr. Garrison, meanwhile, ends up becoming a pawn of the Memberberries, who are also revealed to be led by the Don Memberberry. However, the Memberberries become Out of Focus when Lennart and TrollTrace take center stage, leaving Lennart as the Final Boss of the season.
    • Season 22 does this again. At first the Big Bad seems to be whomever is causing the school shootings. Then they are pushed aside in episode 6 for ManBearPig whose revealed to be Real After All and is causing chaos throughout the town. However ManBearPig signs a contract with the Boys to leave the town 2 episodes later, and Eric Cartman takes over, convincing everyone in South Park to wear Buddha Boxes to "deal with their anxiety". Then an episode later Cartman gets pushed aside for CEO Jeff Bezos whose Amazon Fulfillment center is shutting down businesses throughout South Park making Bezos the Big Bad for the final two episodes.
  • In the second season of The Spectacular Spider-Man, Tombstone, Doctor Octopus and Silvermane all take Big Bad status for an arc or two and eventually literally end up fighting for the role full time. But they are all being played by the real Big Bad: the Green Goblin, who takes over all their territories after Spidey takes the trio down.
  • Young Justice (2010) presents multiple Big Bads throughout the series. While the most prominent threat is the Light, their membership is fluid and can change in and out, with the four constants being Vandal Savage, Lex Luthor, Queen Bee, and Klarion the Witch Boy. In Invasion, The Light form a Big Bad Duumvirate with the Reach, and the time is split between the two sides, until it's revealed both were just using each other, and the Reach try to destroy the world. They get dealt with, and The Light goes back to being the main menace in Outsiders, except they have a partnership with an even more dangerous threat: Darkseid, although the Apokoliptian agent assigned to the group, Granny Goodness, then goes rogue and has to be defeated. All in all, there isn't a single big bad, as the spot seems to vary depending on episode or arc. A given, considering the sheer magnitude of the cast. The fourth season, Phantoms, initially focuses on various threats connected to the Light or Apokolips, aside from the Lord of Chaos known as Child, but another major threat emerges with the arrival of Lor-Zod from the future to free his father General Zod, who is the climactic final encounter of the season.