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The Dreaded

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"I fear no man. But that... thing. It scares me."

"Keaton always said, 'I don't believe in God, but I'm afraid of Him.' Well, I do believe in God... and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Söze."
Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects


A villain or Anti-Hero whose primary characteristic is the fear the other side has of them.

To be the Dreaded, a character has to be far and away the most feared person in the story. These are people who make you quail not because of anything they are doing at that moment, but simply because you know who they are and what they're capable of... and sometimes the latter part is optional. Maybe this character has a reputation as a Hero Killer; a person who kills the other side's strongest and noblest supporters. Maybe they use fear as a magical effect which triggers panic in others. Maybe they've done so many horrible things that nobody ever wants to speak of them again. Maybe they are simply so mind-breakingly horrible even the strongest of hearts falter. But the defining trait of the Dreaded is that they are feared. Probably has a scary name, unless they use a really scary alias instead. If their ability in combat lives up to their reputation, then the only choice one has when facing them may be to Run or Die. When/if the Dreaded character dies, his/her/its death will almost certainly be followed by much rejoicing...if he's actually dead, that is (see the entry from Vlad the Impaler under the Real Life section).


Although there are exceptions, (particularly on the other side of the fence) a key characteristic of this trope tends to be invisibility. In general, characters—villains, in particular—who conform to this trope will not be seen directly the first few times they are mentioned. The show will tend to work on building up their perceived threat in the minds of the audience: a dark, shadowy something that's out there somewhere, but you don't know where, who or what they are, or even whether or not they can be killed, at least at first. As such, it usually involves acceptable forms of Character Shilling. It is possible for them to remain this trope after they come out of the shadows, but if they do not then beware Villain Decay.

Additionally there is a heroic equivalent called the Terror Hero, when there is a hero so renowned that the enemy would rather flee than possibly encounter them. They tend to be anti-heroes of some kind though (ranging from grades 2-4), due to audiences seldom associating dread as an emotion a pure hero inspires. Some criminals also tend to go for this in order to prevent anyone from informing on them.


Note that it isn't the audience's reaction to the Dreaded that matters, but the other characters' reactions to the Dreaded. Other characters think this person is pure Nightmare Fuel, whether they deserve this reputation or not.

See also Mook Horror Show; when The Hero is the dreaded to his enemies, this is a common way of demonstrating it. For instances that mix this trope with Eviler Than Thou, see Horrifying the Horror. Not to be confused with characters who are merely dreaded, although both tropes may apply to the same character. Compare/contrast Respected by the Respected, where a character is defined by the respect other respected characters have for them. See Supernatural Fear Inducer for when a character can literally induce dread. See Hope Crusher where a character excels at snuffing out hope and/or spreading despair.

Examples subpages:

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    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who:
    • Zagreus. Even Death herself is frightened when she's suddenly humming his song, without any idea where it came from.
      Zagreus sits inside your head,
      Zagreus lives among the dead,
      Zagreus sees you in your bed,
      And eats you when you're sleeping.
    • The Dalek Time Controller is treated like this by the 8th Doctor, who considers them the most dangerous Dalek of all.
    • Then there are the Eminence, a Fog of Doom from the end of time who use the Breath of Forever to turn people into Zombies. They are so dangerous 8 is willing to work with the Dalek Time Controller against them, despite the Time Lords trying to use them against the Daleks.
  • Played for laughs in The Thrilling Adventure Hour; Frank and Sadie Doyle fear only one thing, and that is the bumblebee that got into their apartment through an open window. Whenever it is spoken of or remembered it is with horror and terror.

    Film — Animation 
  • Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty. Her mere presence strikes fear in the hearts of everyone present, the queen fears her enough to call her "your excellency" to avoid offending her and the palace guards back down from their order to capture her simply because she raised her hands and commanded them to stand back.
    • Maleficent is so dreaded, in fact, that even Disney crossover materials go out of their way to show it—with other Disney villains, the reactions from the heroes tend to be mixed and often times they're confident enough to take chances. But when Maleficent shows up the response from everyone is almost universally pure terror. For example, in Fantasmic!, Maleficent's presence inspires more fear in Mickey than that of the Evil Queen, Genie!Jafar or Chernabog (who is pretty much Satan!).
  • Rattlesnake Jake from Rango. Even the Big Bad's minions are deadly afraid when told to contact him.
  • Monstro from Pinocchio is known throughout the village and is famous for swallowing whole ships; even the mere mention of his name is enough to send other sea creatures fleeing.
  • Shere Khan from The Jungle Book. Nearly everyone is scared of him, and the rest are Too Dumb to Live. He's stripped of this status in the sequel, what with his humiliation at the hands of Mowgli, and goes full-blown Knight of Cerebus trying to get it back.
  • Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda, a rogue kung fu master so scary that an entire prison was built specifically to hold him. When he escapes from said prison, everyone in the Valley is afraid of him, including his former master and The Chosen One.
  • Played completely straight with Chakal from The Book of Life, but also parodied with a Running Gag where the same child announces that him and/or his bandits are coming to others, usually by bursting through a door and yelling.
  • Sharptooth from The Land Before Time series, especially in the very first movie. The very word frightens any other dinosaur who hears it.
  • Night Furies from How to Train Your Dragon. Some vikings do not believe they exist, but those that do dread the idea of encountering one. They outrank nearly every other dragon in speed, strength, intelligence, etc. despite its size and they blend in with the dark. No one has ever encountered one and lived to tell the tale. Even the dragon manual says that should one ever encounter a Night Fury, they should "hide and prey that it does not find [them]", and this is a book that tells you that dragons that spit acid, turns you inside out and roar so loud that your ears explode should be "killed on sight."
    Hiccup: This thing never steals food, never shows itself and... never misses.
  • One example would be in one of Don Bluth's Lighter and Softer works, The Pebble and the Penguin. It is one of the rare works that portray Orcas as extremely dangerous predators, and they have some very effective buildup. Prior to their appearance, we see Drake, the monsterous Leopard Seal, and even the narrator mentioning that humans are worse than leopard seals. And Rocko, being the tough penguin that he is, isn't too afraid of them either, teaching Hubie how to fight them back. Until he brings up the killer whales, who mentions that they are much worse than the seal, being twice as big, twice as mean, and they always hunt in groups. He goes into despair the moment the Orcas show up, and they very quickly prove to be the most terrifying and dangerous presence in the entire movie, almost comparable to Sharptooth. Hubie even abandons the titular pebble that he risked his life to protect just to survive against the killer whales.
  • An example that lives up to the hype, The Secret of NIMH features The Great Owl. He is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, a gigantic barn owl made even bigger by being introduced relative the the protagonist, a small field mouse.
  • The Horned King from The Black Cauldron: is ruthless and hideous, so all of his minions and everyone that sees the Horned King up close is almost paralyzed with fear. Considering he sought to turn all life into undead minions, so he can rule over them as a Physical God, it is not hard to see why.
  • In A Bug's Life, the ants live in fear of the grasshoppers, who in turn are all afraid of their leader Hopper. However, everyone, including Hopper, is terrified of birds.
  • In Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves, Abu Hassan is feared by the village he plunders. Even inanimate objects come to life to hide from him.
  • Sid from Toy Story to all of Andy's toys, for his tendency to blow up toys and the obvious glee he takes in doing so. Reversed by the end of the movie, with Woody and Sid's own toys scaring the living daylights out of him.
    • Sid's dog Scud, on the other hand, remains a terrifying, vicious threat through the entire movie. Which means when Scud backs away in fear at the sight of Sid's dad, it speaks volumes about what the man is probably like.
  • Toy Story 3 introduces us to the toddlers in the Caterpillar room by the veteran toys there cowering in fear under the shelves. Fear that is very quickly shown to be completely justified by... well, the fact that they're toddlers, and thus rather aggressive, shall we say towards the toys.
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns:
    • As he used to do in his Glory Days, a big strategy that Batman employs for his return is to terrify criminals and Mutants who have so far been enjoying a free reign of mayhem in Gotham.
    • Selina Kyle is absolutely terrified when the Joker appears in front on her.

  • A typical feature of the main characters of Memetic Badass sites. Examples:
    • The most famous one: Bogeymen scare their children with stories about Chuck Norris.
    • The only reason Chuck Norris is afraid of death is because he knows Bruce Lee will be waiting for him.
    • The A-Team was originally composed of 6 versions of Mr. T, but they changed it after every criminal in the world was immediately vapourized in the first episode.
    • Neville Longbottom is the only thing that Dumbledore ever feared.
    • Death had to take him sleeping, for if Theodore Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight.
    • When Ron Swanson eats, it is the food that is scared.

  • Mega Man is a figure of terror among some of the Robot Masters in the work of The Megas.
    Flash Man: Mega Man is so powerful/I feel my end is near.
    Quick Man: Is what they say true? Does death wear blue? Can he fall?
    Magnet Man: I am magnetically/Drawing my death to me/So why can't my body/Reverse polarity?
    Gemini Man: We're never gonna make it...
  • The first Sniper is a figure of terrifying myth in Act 2 of The Protomen. Joe is notable because he's not afraid of him:
    They say your eyes are on fire. They say you'd kill a man for walking the wrong side of the line.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Beti-Pahuin Mythology
    • Ntoutoume Mfoulou was the great terror of Oku. Entire villages would evacuate in a panic when he was on the warpath.
  • Classical Mythology:
    • Typhon likely doubles as the original Hero Killer, storming Olympus by himself and driving the gods into hiding. When he first showed up to fight Zeus, all of the other Olympians except Athena and Enyo immediately fled in terror.
    • Hades was this to the Greeks themselves; he's the yardstick by which terrifying creatures in myth (like Typhon) are compared to. Typhon is so bad that he was not only scarier than Hades, he frightened him.
    • Zeus was famous for always getting his way, but even he would not dare cross Nyx, the goddess of night. According to The Illiad, the mere thought of having to face her made him refrain from punishing Hypnos, the god of sleep and Nyx' son. Typhon might not scare the king of the gods, but Nyx certainly did.
  • Zombies are always depicted as this. A walking, living, brain-eating corpse—any normal/sane person would definitely fear these creatures. And to make things worse, think of how many people have died, historically, and lie as waiting corpses beneath the ground... yes, consider us humans screwed.
  • Norse Mythology:
    • The children of Loki, including Jormungandr, Fenrisulfr, and Hel, were feared by god and man alike. Of the three, one is a serpent that wraps entirely around the earth and will kill Thor, one is a wolf whose jaws open wider than the sky and will kill Odin, and one is the personification of ignominious, dishonorable death.
    • Thor was feared by many for his prowess in battle to the extent that in some tales his antagonists — usually giants — run screaming when they realize who they're really messing with. He was friendly to mankind, though.
    • The most dreaded being in all of Norse Mythology was Níðhöggr was an Eldritch Abomination that gnawed the roots of the world tree, would show up for Ragnarok (and evidently survive it), and was feared by everyone and everything, including the gods. If there is one Norse being you would rather never meet, it's Níðhöggr.
  • Egyptian Mythology: Apep/Apophis. He was so terrifying, the Egyptians built temples to prevent him from coming to them.
  • For centuries, many religions believed The Devil was especially this if not the original. Although mostly a story, one cannot help but think if there really is a creature of pure evil in this world. If so, then God help us all.
  • The Bogeyman is this trope personified. Every child that has heard of him fears him, he can appear as the thing you fear most, and if you've been naughty, God have mercy on your soul.
  • For generations, Vampires of all kind are personified as this trope too. They are based upon the fears of rape, sexual assault and cannibalism, which are all real terrors. To add more danger to the name, such beings possess powers of great intimidation from turning into wolves, to raising the dead.
  • Native American Mythology: Skinwalkers are this to the Navajo and other tribes of the American Southwest. Shrouded in mystery (their true nature is generally only known to tribal shamans and medicine men, who are reluctant to share such information with outsiders), skinwalkers are, depending on the tribe and story in question, anything from a shapeshifting sorcerer who has renounced everything good about humanity to a Nigh-Invulnerable demonic demigod who is an avatar of death and malice. Even asking about a skinwalker is a good way to get a Navajo to say Screw This, I'm Outta Here! and many stories of "victories" against skinwalkers merely involve the creature losing interest or turning away. In almost no stories can they be "defeated" conventionally like other monsters. Even outside of the tribes, skinwalkers have entered the folklore of the rural Southwest as the ultimate monster. If you live in a rural Southwest community (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, parts of Colorado) you will meet someone who swears to have encountered a skinwalker or to have had a friend/loved one who did the same. Such stories are considered happy if the person in question managed to escape, and always end with a few admonitions: a) don't take the legend lightly, and b) Don't Ask, Just Run is the only reasonable response to encountering one.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Monster heels are this by default, especially if they are inhumanly large. The definitive examples in the WWE would be The Big Show and Mark Henry.
  • The Great Khali was a special example, at least during his heel runs. It wasn't just his colossal size and strength, or his barely being able to speak; opponents also had to fear his Psychopathic Manchild tendencies, which could easily be exploited by his handlers. Khali could be told to do anything terrible - and by God, he would do it. Knocking down Undertaker with a single blow also helped his rep a great deal.
  • Brock Lesnar. As CM Punk put it, for all his physical gifts, Lesnar's greatest weapon was the sheer fear all of his opponents had for him, whether they showed it or not. Punk himself was not intimidated, because he wasn't after Lesnar — to him, Lesnar was just another obstacle in the way of his real goal, Paul Heyman.
  • Randy Orton is this for no other reason than his uncontrollable rage, his inability to be reasoned, and the fact that his finishing move can literally come out of nowhere. The fact that he Hates Everyone Equally means he's a danger to everybody, not just whoever has directly earned his ire at the time. He'll often RKO someone for no other reason than because they were hanging around the ring too long, or because the RKO has been banned at the next pay-per-view and he needs to get them "out of his system."
  • The Undertaker. It doesn't matter who you are, even if you're the owner and chairman of the biggest wrestling promotion in history — you do NOT fuck with the Deadman.
  • Vince McMahon is primarily this to authority figures, especially heel ones. For all their frequent abuses of power to stroke their own egos, as far as Vince is concerned, they are even more expendable than the talent on the roster and if they screw up, he has no issue making that very clear.
  • Kana/Asuka is probably the closest you can get to having someone be a Wrestling Monster without actually looking like one. She is feared for her notoriously stiff style which involves things such as reversing a simple slap into a flying armbar, a hip attack that has legitimately injured people, and managing to win multiple victories by straight up knocking the opponent out with a kick to the head. Also her creepy smile and primal screams mid match probably doesn't help. In her NXT run, she's also undefeated; the only person who has managed to even come close to being on her level was Bayley, and considering she was the NXT Women's Champion at the time, she had the best chance of any competitor there.
  • As far as stables go, The Shield. Comprised of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns, all three future world champions, the Shield dominated WWE for the better part of two years, from their debut in late 2012 to their breakup in mid-2014. Every time their music aired, it would illicit an immediate Oh, Crap! from whoever was in the ring at the time. Even after they broke up, the idea of facing the full cohesive strength of all three members still terrified roster members who survived their Reign of Terror. In late 2017, when The Miz realized his actions caused them to reform, he went into a Villainous Breakdown, left completely agape outside the ring as they proceeded to destroy The Bar, and the Miztourage before finally turning their attentions to him.
  • Braun Strowman has become this as well, having intimidated many superstars. The list of these superstars include Mick Foley, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, and Stephanie McMahon. Literally the second act of the reformed Shield was to take out Strowman, who had been a pain in the ass for all three members of the stable individually for months. That's how dangerous Braun Strowman is.
  • VERY few opponents are willing to take the ginormous and dangerous WALTER, with some preferring to opt out of the ring the very moment Antonín Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 Step IV hits.

  • Bill Sykes in Oliver!. He gets a Villain Song that's all about how no one dares stand up to him due to his brute strength, and how they daren't even speak his name for fear of what he'll do if he hears them. Even his ally Fagin is terrified of him.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Grisaia no Rakuen, during the climax, Yuuji invades the floating fortress of Heath Oslo. Heavily outnumbered and arriving almost unarmed, he goes out of his way to fight in as terrifying a way as possible in order to sow confusion. He baits people and then destroys them, completely crushing the morale of his opponents.
  • Just about every prosecutor Phoenix Wright goes up against has a reputation as a terrifying, unstoppable badass who has never lost in court and will do anything to keep it that way. Even Butt-Monkey Winston Payne has the title "Rookie Killer", presumably for good reason (though we never get to see it). This even extends to Phoenix's ancestor, whose own rival prosecutor has a similarly dreaded reputation, though unlike the others it isn't because he's undefeated. Instead, every defendant he prosecutes who is found not guilty mysteriously winds up dead.
  • Sunrider:
    • The PACT flagship Legion is a three-kilometre long dreadnought that dwarfs every other ship in the setting, has enough firepower to take on entire fleets singlehandedly, and is so heavily armoured and shielded as to be almost invincible. When it first appears during the Battle of Cera, the Ceran admiralty knows right away that they’re outmatched and urges the civilian government to issue an immediate surrender, not that it does them any good. During the Battle of Far Port it takes out most of the Alliance’s Second Fleet with a single shot, forcing the survivors to take cover inside PACT’s formation so that the Legion can’t fire on them again without hitting its own ships. Most characters are understandably reluctant to face the Legion in battle.
    • Sunrider Liberation Day has the Nightmare Ascendant, an ancient Ryuvian Ryder piloted by Veniczar Arcadius. While nobody from modern times recognizes this ancient war machine, Sola recognizes it immediately and reacts with fear to its sudden arrival—and for good reason, as it promptly devastates an Alliance fleet with one attack and No Sells a direct hit from the Sunrider’s Vanguard Cannon. She quickly explains that the Nightmare Ascendant note  was powerful enough to destroy a fleet of a thousand Ryuvian ships singlehandedly, and fears that the Sunrider and their allies won’t be able to defeat it. The Big Bad herself gleefully talks it up as being so powerful as to make all of PACT’s previous weapons — including the aforementioned Legion and the Paradox Core, a Doomsday Device that can destroy entire star systems — seem like toys in comparison.
  • Reinhard Heydrich from Dies Irae has a tendency to invoke the feeling of fear in everyone who meets him. Even Wilhelm wasn't afraid to admit that he almost shat his pants first time he saw him. In fact he is so dreadful that simply having a premonition of being observed by him caused Ren to flee in a panic.

    Web Animation 
  • In RubberFruit's videos, Painis Cupcake tends to play this role. This is most prominent in Heavy's Tiny Picnic Adventure - Part 6, where the introduction of Painis Cupcake causes everyone to panic and stop their current petty conflict to help each other run for their lives.
  • Dreamscape: Melinda! Even arrogant, prideful characters like Melissa and Ethan (who mistook Melissa for Melinda in 'Possessor of a Dimension') are terrified of her.
  • RWBY: Salem is a dark and dangerous humanoid who possesses mastery over the Grimm, monsters that are instinctively attracted to negative emotions such as fear, panic, hate and grief, and which are attempting to hunt humanity into extinction. Although the Grimm dominate the world, her existence is not public knowledge. Her arch-enemy, Ozpin, is so convinced the world will descend into panic and chaos - empowering the Grimm and therefore Salem - if they knew, that he has created a global conspiracy network that functions at the highest echelons of power, to both search for a way to defeat her and prevent her existence from becoming public. Of those that know, Qrow describes her creations as fear itself, Ironwood is obsessively building an army he hopes can obliterate her, and Raven has abandoned Ozpin's cause to disappear into the wilds of Anima because she's so convinced Salem is unstoppable. Her subordinates also fear her: Emerald and Mercury are constantly terrified of her presence; Tyrian worships her as a goddess but is utterly terrified of failing her; and even the sarcastic Watts and the stone-faced Hazel are very wary of incurring her deadly wrath. Leo, Haven Academy's headmaster and Ozpin's oldest ally, is so terrified of Salem that she is able to secretly turn him into a mole for her side simply by implying the continued existence of Haven and Mistral depends on his co-operation. In Volume 6, Ozpin is forced to admit that he actually has no plan to defeat Salem because even he believes she cannot be destroyed; the news so demoralises the heroes, that they are left estranged from a broken Ozpin and questioning the point of opposing Salem at all. In Volume 7, learning that Salem is both immortal and on her way tips the terrified Ironwood into tyrany, transforming him into a Hero Antagonist who is prepared to lash out at the heroes as well as Salem's forces in his desperate attempt to find a way to protect Atlas from her.
  • Hazbin Hotel: Known as the "Radio Demon", Alastor is feared by most as an all-powerful tyrant who destroys anyone who stands in the way of his cryptic goals. On his first day in Hell alone he slaughtered so many demons (not just rank and file, but high-ranking Lords of Hell that had been in power for centuries) that he was instantly catapulted into a ranking position among Hell's nobility, and most would rather give him a wide berth than catch his attention in any way.


Video Example(s):


Smart Goon

This guy knows better than to get involved with the goddamn Batman.

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Example of:

Main / TheDreaded

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Main / TheDreaded