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The Heavy

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You don't see the Emperor slaughtering rebels —
you see this guy.

"Every search for a hero must begin with something that every hero requires: a villain."
Dr. Nekhorvich, Mission: Impossible II

In theatre jargon, the Heavy is the character that provides the most conflict in the story. The heavy is The Antagonist that creates obstacles for The Protagonist to overcome. At least to the audience, this character type is the face of the opposition to the protagonist.

In other words, this is the antagonist with the most screen time, the one that the audience is most familiar with as a character. This is the origin of the trope name, which comes as far back as the 1800s. The Heavy is a big role for an actor, sometimes the biggest role in the work, eclipsing even the main character. This means that the Heavy tends to have the most lines, and therefore the heaviest script.

The Heavy is an antagonist trope, not a villain trope, so this can be a Hero Antagonist standing in the way of a Villain Protagonist just as easily as being an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain all the way up to the Big Bad. The Heavy can act as The Dragon, as keeping the Big Bad out of the limelight makes them more mysterious, and thus scarier. That role often overlaps with a Non-Action Big Bad, where the Heavy is providing the muscle. But it is the relation of the Heavy to the audience that defines this type, not the interaction with the Protagonist. Because the audience is often intended to see the story from the eyes of the Protagonist, this trope may result in or be the result of It's Personal with the Dragon.

Not to be confused with the band of the same name, or the Heavy Weapons Guy, though a skilled player can certainly make him qualify. Also not to be confused with The Big Guy (or The Brute in this case), although the two can overlap, or with The Load or The Millstone (no overlap here). Any equivalent character in the form of your most reliable party member would more than likely qualify as a Game-Breaker.

Also not to be confused with a Dragon-in-Chief, although there is overlap. The difference is a Dragon-in-Chief by definition is the real main threat of the story, with the Big Bad they work for either too ineffectual or incompetent without the Dragon-in-Chief's aid. The Heavy could easily be a disposable pawn in the grand scheme of things, but still have the most screen time or largest role in the plot.

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Akame ga Kill! has General Esdeath. While she does work for Prime Minister Honest, she is the most frequent and dangerous threat to Night Raid, being leader of the Jaegers and having the most authority over the missions The Empire sets against Night Raid.
  • The Colossal Titan in Attack on Titan, appearing just long enough to quite literally kick off the plot. Ironically, when in human form he's actually extremely passive and merely a pawn of an unrevealed (at first) greater threat.
  • Berserk has the Deuteragonist, Griffith, aka Femto, of the Godhand. While he is not the only Big Bad, he is the one most directly involved in the plot and serves as the most personal foe of Guts, serving as the primary target of his revenge.
  • Bleach: Over the course of the story Sosuke Aizen is gradually revealed to be the direct source of nearly every single event. Long before the start of the series, Aizen experimented with Hollowfication, leading to the existence of the Visored. Aizen's creation of White prevents Ryuuken and Masaki's Arranged Marriage, allowing Masaki and Isshin, and Ryuuken and Katagiri, to Marry for Love. Without Aizen, Ichigo and Ishida would never have been conceived. It's revealed that he was the one who kickstarted the events of the series by deploying Rukia Kuchiki to Karakura Town, which lead to Ichigo obtaining Soul Reaper powers for the first time, Rukia getting arrested, Aizen arranging Rukia's execution, and later leaving Soul Society once he is exposed. Aizen would go on to serve as the main villain of the series until the time he is sealed.
  • Blue Reflection Ray: While not the main antagonist, Mio's relationships and past actions define most of the show. Lots of attention is given to both her motivations and what everyone else thinks about her. This becomes most apparent when it's revealed that it was her failure to help Shino in the previous timeline that drove Shino to create the Red Reflectors.
  • Daimos: Richter, Baam's Conquering Alien Prince who desires to exterminate all human life to avenge his father. He was assigned to invade the Earth by Emperor Olban. Because of his aforementioned grudge, he's more than happy to leave mountains of their charred corpses around. In an early episode, he (unintentionally) kills a child caught in the crossfire of battle, shocking Kazuya.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: Muzan is the firstborn of demons who was responsible for the death of of Tanjiro's family and turning Nezuko into a demon. He sends his minions to deal with the Demon Slayers until the final arc where he decides to deal with them himself.
  • Dragon Ball's Dragon Ball Z: The World's Strongest: While Dr. Kochin served as The Dragon to Dr. Wheelo, it was he who enacted the plot of the movie. He gathered the Dragon Balls, wished for his master to be free, and through the Bio-Warriors and Bio-Men he created, has kidnapped Master Roshi, Bulma, and Piccolo.
    • The titular Broly plays this role in the Dragon Ball Super: Broly being used by his father Paragus and Frieza to take down Goku and Vegeta.
  • Durarara!!: Izaya Orihara. Nearly every conflict in the series is somehow connected to him — and Shizuo, being Shizuo, is the only one who recognizes that. Despite this, it is Namie Yagiri who serves as the main antagonist, until Izaya, who has been using her, usurps her and makes her his secretary. Despite being the Season 1 Big Bad, it's questionable whether he actually is the overarching main antagonist, thanks to the actions of Yodogiri Jinnai, who, despite being in the background so far, is implied to be even worse than he is.
    • Season 2 has Kasane Kujiragi, who is hired by Yodogiri Jinnai to do his work and capture the Ikebukuro monsters. Like Izaya, it turns out she is the one really in charge, as Jinnai is long dead.
  • Eyeshield 21: Reiji Marco is this during the Kantou Regionals, with his obsessions and schemes driving most of the plot, and helping to totally upset the way the tournament was supposed to go. During the Youth World Cup, the Big Bad Duumvirate of Clifford D. Louis and Mr. Don take over as the main threat to the Devil-Bats, with their seeming invincibility driving the story for the remainder of the arc.
  • Zouken Matou in the "Heaven's Feel" route in Fate/stay night. While Kotomine is his rival Big Bad, he always sends others to do his work and runs out of those quickly in Heavens Feel. Kotomine isn't even seen as an enemy until the very end, and it's possible that no one even remembers that he was since Shirou is the only one who was there and his memory of the events is more than a little hazy, for good reason.
  • Genma Wars has Parome. Though her husband is the Big Bad, she is a constant thorn to Loof and Gin's side because they his bastard children, whom Parome absolutely despises as a reminder of his constant unfaithfulness. She sends many enemies to destroy them and ends up killing their real mother Non and Loof's girlfriend Meena, making her more of a personal enemy to the brothers.
  • Gundam:
    • Mobile Suit Gundam splits this role between The Evil Prince Gihren Zabi whose actions drive the overall plot and is the effective leader of Zeon, and Char Aznable, who drives the plot of numerous individual episodes.
    • Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam has Titans field commander Bask Om at first, until he's squeezed out by Paptimus Scirocco as he manipulates his way into more power within the Titans and slowly becomes their most prominent member, before outright stealing the Big Bad role.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ has Mashmyre Cello, who's the one commanding the Neo Zeon forces in the early stages of the show. He later gets supplanted by Haman Karn once she takes a more proactive role.
    • Mobile Fighter G Gundam has Master Asia, ever since his reveal as The Dragon to the Devil Gundam up until his death at the end of the Battle Royale arc (during which he formed a Big Bad Duumvirate with Prime Minister Wong).
    • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has Rau Le Creuset, who manipulates everyone in order to end the world. The entire plot is more or less his fault.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny has Neo Roanoke, the field commander of Phantom Pain and the face of their opposition to the protagonists.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam AGE has Decil Galette take this role in Generation 1, Zeheart Galette seize it in Generation 2, and Lord Ezelcant take centre stage in Generation 3, after having been portrayed as little more than a shadowy manipulator for the first two seasons. Though Decil takes the cake for causing Flit to go down a downward spiral to become the Dark Messiah. And all he had to do was play around with a friend that Flit took to liking until she broke as if it was one of his toys.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory has Anavel Gato, whose theft of the Physalis Gundam kicks off the plot and who remains the most visible foe of the protagonists throughout.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 has Alejandro Corner in Season 1, whose schemes to hijack Celestial Being's plan for his own ends slowly override the plot. Come Season 2 this role is taken by Arthur Goodman, who heads a State Sec formed in aftermath of the actions of Corner and Ribbons.
    • Season 1 of Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans has Gaelio Bauduin, the main Gjallarhorn officer pursuing Tekkadan on their way to Earth. In Season 2 this role is taken by Rustal Elion, who either by directing instigating things through proxies or providing cover to other villains in the show is responsible for most of the obstacles Tekkadan face.
  • Hingajima has Miyabi the man responsible for every tragedy in every installment.
  • Ingress: Even though the Collaborators are the ones pulling his strings, the one carrying most of the villainous plot is Liu. Even when his bosses take the reigns, they get swiftly dispatched by Brandt's scheme, and Liu ends up being the last known Collaborator villain to die in the end.
  • Belkman from Izetta: The Last Witch is the first antagonist introduced and seems to be the Kaiser's most competent and trustworthy underling, charged with coming up with a plan to defeat and (re)capture Izetta.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, not only is Dio Brando the Big Bad in two separate arcs where most antagonists get one, his actions in those arcs directly or indirectly lead to the events of the other four arcs before Steel Ball Run. And even in that arc an alternate universe version of him is one of the arc's main antagonists. Jojolion is the only arc in the entire series that can be said to be free of Dio's influence.
    • Kars and Diavolo qualify as well, though their influence is more indirect. Kars by creating the Stone Mask that turned Dio into a vampire, without which he would not have been able to menace the Joestars as effectively, and Diavolo by selling Enya the Stand arrows, without which Dio, Yoshikage Kira, and Enrico Pucci would have never gained Stands and thus would have been much less dangerous if at all.
  • Jujutsu Kaisen: Mahito played this role in the first half of the series and Sukuna takes over in the final arc of the series after taking over Megumi's body.
  • Kaoru of Kichikujima plays this role as the most active member of his family.
  • Satsuki Kiryuin of Kill la Kill claims to know details concerning the death of Ryuko's father and forces her to participate in her dictatorship-like high school to give her said details and making her life difficult at every turn. Late in the show, Satsuki makes a Heel–Face Turn and the real Big Bad, Ragyo Kiryuin and her Dragon, Nui Harime, share this role from thereon out.
  • Lady!!: Mary Waverly, Lynn Russell's former step-sister, becomes this in the second season. She is the root of the Russell's inability to gain wealth, from having her grandfather stop George from receiving money to barring Lynn from competing for an award that would resolve her family's financial issues. She even ruins Vivian's chances at being an Olympian just so she can pin it on Lynn, which ends up motivating Lynn further to compete and win no matter what.
  • Tomura Shigaraki in My Hero Academia. For most of the first hundred chapters, he's technically beneath All For One in the League of Villains' hierarchy, and All For One has more importance in the backstory, but Shigaraki is the one who interacts far more with the protagonists. Plus, even in the early parts of the story, the League's actions are driven by Shigaraki's whims and goals with All For One merely providing him with support. It's even invoked as All For One takes a back seat in order to facilitate Shigaraki's evolution into a great villain, only reluctantly stepping into the foreground when his apprentice is threatened with overwhelming force.
  • Tojuro Hattori in Nabari no Ou is the leader of the Iga clan and the Kairoushuu, and drives most of the plot, but he isn't actually the Big BadFuuma is.
  • Tobi aka Obito Uchiha from Naruto. He was responsible for the Nine-Tails attack on Konoha and therefore the deaths of Naruto's mother and father, as well as Naruto's life as a Jinchuuriki and as a consequence, Naruto's dream of becoming Hokage. Later this incident led to the Uchiha Clan Massacre in which he also participated, causing Sasuke's Start of Darkness, and he threw Kirigakure to hell by controlling the Fourth Mizukage, which, in turn, would be the beginning for two Starter Villains who would be the major influence behind Naruto's personal code. Also he was responsible for Kakashi's Sharingan, and his personality. He's the leader of the Akatsuki and is directly responsible for the existence and activities of the organization in the form in which we know it now. Also he's responsible for indirectly causing a ton of other problems, like determining the damage done in Orochimaru's invasion of Konoha because he killed Minato, who could've stopped him. Obito's "death" was a huge catalyst for everything in the plot of the series.
  • Noragami has the mysterious Shinki girl, Nora. Not only does she have a personal history with Yato, but she is the most recurring antagonist in nearly all story arcs and usually takes more direct action than Yato's "Father".
  • Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan has Sanmoto Gorōzaemon, leader of the Hyaku Monogatari clan. He was the one who manipulated both Shikoku and Kyoto, caused the death of Rikuo's father, and resurrects the Nue/Abe No Seimei, the true Big Bad, for his own purposes.
  • One Piece:
    • Blackbeard is the closest to one One Piece has due to its extensive use of Arc Villains. It's his actions that trigger the Marineford war, Ace and Whitebeard's deaths, the New Age of Piracy, and Luffy's decision to wait two years before entering the New World. Even after that, he's rapidly amassing power in the New World and has even come into conflict with Luffy's other brother due to Burgess's actions. Overall, Teach's presence has had more impact on the overall direction of the story than any other villain.
    • Akainu during the Marineford Arc. While Akainu's direct superior, Fleet Admiral Sengoku, is the leader of the Marines and the commanding officer of the battle, Sengoku spends much of the battle giving orders from the top of the execution platform, only getting directly involved late in the battle. Although Blackbeard caused the arc's conflict by handing Ace over to the World Government, he doesn't get directly involved in the fighting in Marineford until late in the battle (Although Blackbeard does cause a lot of damage once he does take center stage). Akainu, on the other hand, is actively fighting throughout much of the arc. He personally fights and severely injures Whitebeard, manipulates Squard into attacking Whitebeard as well, unleashes Meteor Volcano against the Whitebeard Pirates, kills Ace, critically injures Luffy, and spends the final phase of the battle relentlessly trying to kill Luffy.
    • Charlotte Katakuri is one in the Whole Cake Island arc, who's Big Mom's second son and strongest commander. Although Big Mom is the Big Bad, her strength is too much for any of the protagonists to overcome, so Katakuri is frequently the more direct threat to the protagonists, particularly Luffy, and receives significant development while Big Mom is sidetracked by a food rampage.
  • RahXephon: While Lord Bähbem and his Ancient Conspiracy are behind most of the things that drive the plot, the Mu are the primary antagonists fought throughout the series.
  • Finé from Symphogear. While the Big Bad in only the first season, the second season deals almost entirely with the fallout of her scheme and the leftovers from her research, and the next three seasons deal with the Pavarian Illuminati, who have had contact of their own with her. More importantly, she created the Symphogears that give the heroes their powers; without her, none of the villains would be effectively opposed at all.
  • Yatterman: Doronjo leads the Doronbo Gang on behalf of Dokurobei in search of the Skull Stones. In fact, the antics of her and her two henchmen usually take up an equal amount of screen time to the protagonists.
  • Yes! Pretty Cure 5 has Kawarino, He's responsible for the invasion and destruction of the Palmier Kingdom, he manipulates and abuses all other villains, and he's the one who makes Desparaiah's wish coming true. And if the Palmier Kingdom was never destroyed, the Pretty Cure 5 wouldn't even exist.
  • Kin and Gin in Yo-kai Watch serve as this, as every time warp which happens to reveal Whisper and Jibanyan's backstories is conducted directly by them, whereas 'the leader' spends more time behind the scenes until she serves as the Big Bad for the first movie.
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! anime and manga have one each arc, with Dark Bakura/Zorc as the overarching villain. Usually they are the Big Bad of that arc, but not always. They are:
    • Shadi in the Trial of the Mind arc, where he takes control of Anzu to test Dark Yugi. Not evil, but he has different morals.
    • Seto Kaiba in the Death T arc, forcing Yugi and friends to compete in a multitude of deadly games because an earlier match with Dark Yugi ended in a Penalty Game that left Kaiba sleepless for months.
    • The Spirit of the Millennium Ring in the Monster World RPG traps those who play the eponymous RPG with Bakura inside mini-figures. When Yugi and the gang get involved, Dark Yugi has to finish the game.
    • Pegasus J. Crawford during Duelist Kingdom, whose kidnapping of Yugi's grandfather and Kaiba's brother serves as the motivation for both of them.
    • Mr. Clown during the manga-only Dragons, Dice & Dungeons arc (the anime has this arc too, but it's completely rewritten as a filler and Mr. Clown is replaced by his own son), with his vengeful ambitions towards the Mutou family causing his son to battle Yugi in a series of games for the Millennium Puzzle and the title of King of Games, and nearly caused Yugi and Jonouchi to die in a fire.
    • Marik Ishtar during Battle City, with his plans to kill the Pharaoh and seize the power of the three Egyptian God Cards eventually dragging in everyone.
    • Noa Kaiba during the anime only Virtual Nightmare arc. While his father Gozaburo is the Big Bad, Noa is the actual threat, and does most of the work.
    • Dark Marik during the Battle City finals; defeating him is the end goal of Yugi, Jonouchi, and Kaiba.
    • Dartz during the anime only DOMA arc, as he's the one behind the entire arc.
    • Siegfried Schröder during the anime only Kaiba Corp Grand Prix; it's his plan to derail Kaiba's tournament, and he's the one who forces Leon to help him.
    • The Spirit of the Millenium Ring again during the Millennium World arc, both as The Chessmaster in the present, and by possessing himself in the past in the anime.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL has the Barian Emperor named Vector, an all-around menace whose ambitions are central to how the second half of the anime plays out. He's a selfish, mawkish, crafty bastard who works great under pressure or when things don't go his way, and he's not afraid to make bitter enemies out of everyone he knows (including the other Barian Emperors), only for power. He is also behind the evil doings of Dr. Faker and Tron in Season 1.

    Comic Books 
  • Arawn: Math is the most prominent antagonist in the series since his murderous rivalry with Arawn drives the plot, but he is under the influence of the Black Cauldron, who is the real Big Bad.
  • The Avengers: Ultron is the villain for most stories.
  • Batman: The Joker usually plays this role in most arcs.
  • Captain America: The Red Skull plays the role to torment Steve and his supporting cast most of the time.
  • De Cape et de Crocs: Mendoza is the series' most iconic and recurring villain. Much like Olrik, he usually works as the Dragon with an Agenda / The Starscream for other villains.
  • Fantastic Four: Doctor Doom most of the time.
  • The Flash: Captain Cold, leader of the rogues, plays this role.
  • Green Lantern: Sinestro, leader of the Sinestro Corps, former Green Lantern member, and arch-enemy of Hal Jordan has played the role in most of the series' long run.
  • The Mighty Thor: Loki back in the day.
  • Spawn: The Violator aka Clown plays this role for most of the series.
  • Spider-Man: Norman Osborn has played this role in most stories after his comeback.
  • Superman: Lex Luthor is usually the one causing trouble.
  • Wonder Woman: Cheetah aka Barbara Minvera has become the most prominent foe for Diana but never the big bad that role is usually Ares or Circe.
  • X-Men: Magneto back when he was the arch-enemy of the X-Men before siding with them in recent years.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Changelings Have a King, the eponymous King Carapace is this. While Queen Chrysalis created him (by transforming Prince Blueblood into a changeling) to serve as a progenitor of new "pure" changelings and a source of love/power, and the two of them nominally oversee the hive and the invasion together, he takes a much more active role in planning and carrying out the invasion, while Chrysalis is mainly concerned with her brood, and it's implied he's isolating and manipulating her.
  • The Bridge (MLP) has an overarching Big Bad Bagan with an Arc Villain for each story arc that is under its command, thus technically making them all this as said Big Bad has a case of justified Orcus on His Throne. Most prominent example would be Enjin for the Equestria Girls arc, who is a Scarily Competent Tracker and full blown Knight of Cerebus. The threat of it alone is enough to spur an Enemy Mine team-up.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Atrocitus and the Red Lantern Corps completely reshaped Earth's views on aliens and space. The destruction wrought during the Lantern War, a clash between the Red Lantern Corp and the Green Lantern Corp, turned public opinion against aliens and led them to call for the ousting or extermination of all extraterrestrials, even previously loved superheros like Starfire and Martian Manhunter. All investments into space travel were shunted aside as humans became terrified of what existed outside of their planet. In the present, it's precisely this level of Fantastic Racism that gives Izuku his incredible self-loathing and dysphoria, as he's constantly berating himself for what he did to Bakugou and for being an alien on a planet that hates them as a whole.
  • In Amazing Fantasy, the Prowler is All For One's liaison to Mysterio and the primary driving force of the plot in the early parts of the story. She's responsible for raiding an illegal biology lab, which let the spider that bit Izuku to escape. Her bungled attempt to assassinate Peter led Izuku to run in to help him, which in turn inspires All Might to give Izuku the confidence to become a Hero. Her new equipment also draws the eye of law enforcement, which gets them to start looking into Mysterio.
  • Parado and the Military Uniform Princess both share this role in Blood on the Hands of a Healer. While the powers of the latter are what causes the Serial Escalation, it is the actions of the former that allowed Kamen Rider Chronicle to be completed and allow said crossing over to occur in the first place.
  • Burning Bridges, Building Confidence: While Lila is responsible for turning most of the class against Marinette, Alya is the one who openly confronts and harasses her and Cole. Convinced that Marinette was actually secretly bullying Lila — and that Cole is a Jerkass who's been insulting everyone without reason, she constantly insults and belittles them. The only thing that distracts her from doing so? Rena Rouge being replaced as the Fox, which blows up into its own set of issues that she causes from her outrage. This reaches the point that Alya openly assaults both of them in class, after sharpening her fingernails in hopes of maximizing the amount of damage she does while trying to claw their faces.
  • The Magical Girl Crisis Crossover Shattered Skies: The Morning Lights features Chaos as its Crossover Villain-in-Chief, but since it's a Sentient Cosmic Force without physical form, it needs someone else to lead Dead End in the mortal world. Enter Joker, Dead End's field leader, a sadistic and psychopathic Villainous Harlequin who goes around causing as much suffering as possible. By the time the titular Morning Lights are officially formed, Joker has heroes from five different universes gunning for his head.
  • There's a lot of antagonistic figures waiting in the wings in Fate/Zero fanfic A Poisoned Chalice, but none have caused more havoc than Ibaraki Douji, who was small potatoes in her game of origin, but is more in her element here...which means terror and tragedy for the residents of Fuyuki. To put it simply, she starts her reign of terror by devouring every patron of a bar and just gets worse from there, dictating much of the plot through her ruthless actions.
  • In Pokémon: The Lost Child While Aegislash reports directly to his unknown boss, he is the most personally active threat to the heroes.

    Films — Animation 
  • Waternoose is the Big Bad of Monsters, Inc., but Randall is the main threat for the majority of the film, both in confronting the heroes and doing most of the work for his plan. Fittingly, Randall is confronted physically in a long, climactic chase scene, while Waternoose is quickly defeated afterwards via Engineered Public Confession.
  • My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) has Tempest Shadow, the Storm King's Dragon-in-Chief, being the one actively hunting Twilight and the Mane Six after they escape her invasion.
  • Namaari in Raya and the Last Dragon. The Druun are technically the main antagonists, but they're less a character and more a force that's in the background for most of the movie, while Namaari is the main foe opposing Raya in her quest to recreate the Dragon Gem.
  • Alma in Encanto is not a villain, but qualifies as the story's antagonist directly opposing Mirabel's quest. She means well and wants to protect the family, but is unaware that her toxic perfectionism is breaking the family apart and causing intense stress.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: In-universe. Fix-It Felix Jr. is unplayable without Ralph there to wreck the building.
  • In Turning Red, Ming serves this role for Mei creating the most drama for her.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Colonel Miles Quaritch of Avatar. He doesn't run the RDA, but Jake and the Na'vi must fight Quaritch and his army to save the day.
  • Loki does such a good job of driving the plot in The Avengers (2012) that it's easy to miss his brief conversations with "the Other" about the mysterious head honcho who gave him the scepter and a mission. The Stinger reveals he's actually a pawn in Thanos's scheme.
  • The 1955 version of Biff Tannen in Back to the Future. Half the conflict is trying to get Marty McFly back to 1985, the other half is Biff bullying Marty's father George, which directly threatens Marty because George might not have the courage to court Lorraine, which would lead to Marty being erased from existence. Biff graduates to Big Bad for Part II, while his Famous Ancestor Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen serves the same role for Part III.
  • The Joker in Tim Burton's Batman (1989). He appears almost as frequently as Batman does and in fact is the one who killed Bruce Wayne's parents, setting him up to become Batman in the first place.
  • The leader of the Replicants, Roy Batty, is the main antagonist of Blade Runner and in a way can be considered a villain, but along with his brethren whom he coordinates, he merely seeks his freedom and the chance to live like natural humans. Are they the real instigators of this conflict? No, that role goes to Dr. Tyrell and his Tyrell Corporation, who not only created them as slaves and gave them a soon-to-be expiration date, but also forbade their presence on Earth under penalty of death, no retirement.
  • Luv from Blade Runner 2049 has more screentime than Niander Wallace, tracks K down up to Deckard's hideout and fights K to the death at the end.
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: While the titular antagonist is not the Big Bad, he is the one who drives most of the action (to the point that the final, climatic fight is between him and Steve), and has the most emotional impact on the plot thanks to his true identity: a brainwashed Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers's long-thought dead best friend.
  • In Cube Zero, Jax is the most palpable human threat in the film as the evil organization's field man who directly cleans up after their experiment goes awry when one of the technicians revolts. He's shown receiving orders over the phone from people higher up in the chain, but they're never seen.
  • The Joker in The Dark Knight. The very first scene serves to establish him and while the film initially has Batman fighting The Mafia, it isn't long before the Joker hijacks the mob's resources for his own campaign of terror, becoming the face of crime in Gotham.
  • Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, acting as the leader of the resurrected League of Shadows. He has almost as much screen time as Batman and Catwoman combined, and his actions against Gotham drive the majority of the plot until he's revealed to be The Dragon to the true mastermind, Talia al Ghul.
  • While Dr. Howell is the instigator and the Big Bad of Death Warmed Up, his flunky Spider drives most of the plot in his (eventually personal) pursuit of the main characters.
  • Die Hard is something of a subversion. While Hans Gruber does set the events of the movie into motion, forcing other characters into action, and otherwise driving the entire plot of the movie, John McClane also sends the plot into other directions by being proactive and antagonizing Gruber. Their battle of wits, both men acting and reacting to the other, sets the general cat-and-mouse tone of the movie, with both taking turns in either role.
  • District 9: Although Piet Smit is technically the main antagonist of the movie, Koobus Venter is the one who commands all the mercenary soldiers going after the main character.
  • Kaecilius serves as the main antagonist of Doctor Strange (2016) as he is the clearly the main threat of the movie. But even then, he is little more than a servant to Dormammu who only shows up briefly during the climax.
  • Elysium: As the leader of Elysium's secret police force on Earth, Agent Kruger serves as Delacourt's primary instrument against Max and the band of freedom fighters with whom he aligns himself. He later replaces Delacourt as the film's main antagonist by murdering Delacourt in a plot to seize control of Elysium for himself.
  • Enola Holmes
    • For most of the first film, Enola is trying to evade her older brother Mycroft who wants to send her to boarding school, which brings her into contact with the young Viscount Tewkesbury and various attempts on his life. Eventually, Mycroft catches Enola and places her into boarding school, leading to Tewkesbury smuggling her out and kicking off the climax when they return to figure out who's been trying to kill him.
    • In Enola Holmes 2, Enola spends the film trying to find a missing girl and investigating a business conspiracy, but is pursued by Superintendent Grail, who believes she murdered a young woman. It turns out that Grail was the true murderer, with the conspirators sending him to snuff out anyone who had a hand in the investigation into the company.
  • While he's one half of the Big Bad Duumvirate in GI Joe The Rise Of Cobra, Destro's a bit more proactive than The Doctor. In the sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation, while Cobra Commander is the Big Bad, Zartan is the most prominent antagonist and does more to set Cobra's evil plan in motion.
  • In Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, there's a werewolf who's constantly stalking Brigitte, but even with the revelation of the true Big Bad, the werewolf's still the Final Boss.
  • While perhaps most slasher movie villains would qualify, few play this trope as straight as Halloween (2018) — from the start, before he's even let loose, Michael Myers is the focus of every main character's attention (specially our protagonist, who's seemingly been obsessed with him for 40 years) and everything happens either because of him or other character's efforts of getting to him.
  • The Hateful Eight: Jody is a special case of this. He appears only in one shot when he is revealed, then in a flashback, and is then immediately killed off in the next scene. However, while he appears the least, he has the biggest impact on the story, being the leader of the gang, planning the trap at Minnie's Haberdashery, and then escalating the situation by shooting Warren.
  • Hellraiser generally has Pinhead as its most prominent antagonist and the face of the franchise, though most films usually have a different villain driving the plot forward.
    • The first Hellraiser has Julia Cotton, who is the one seducing and killing men in order to use them to revive Frank Cotton.
    • Hellbound: Hellraiser II has Julia again, now sharing the spot with Dr. Phillip Channard, whom she’s formed a Big Bad Duumvirate with to unlock the secrets of the Lament Configuration.
    • Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth has Pinhead himself. Although he has to rely on JP Monroe early on to bring him sacrifices, Pinhead is the one most directly responsible for the conflict of the film.
    • Hellraiser: Bloodline has the demon Angelique, who appears throughout all three generations the film covers advancing the plot in one way or another.
    • Hellraiser: Inferno has the Engineer Serial Killer. Although he never appears in person for most of it, he is the one who Detective Joseph Thorne spends the movie pursuing and for a true Mind Screw is revealed to be Thorne himself.
    • Hellraiser: Hellseeker has Kirsty, the Final Girl from the original film, who made a deal with the Cenobites and caused them to go after Trevor. Although Trevor is actually the real Big Bad, as he was cheating on Kirsty and plotting to murder her, which is what led her to make the deal in the first place.
    • Hellraiser: Deader has Winter Merchant, head of the Deader cult.
    • Hellraiser: Hellworld has the Host of the event, who is responsible for all of the obstacles the protagonists face.
  • In Highway to Hell, while Satan is in charge of hell, the Hellcop is the most persistent force chasing Charlie and his kidnapping of Rachel drives the plot.
  • Mars Attacks!: The Martian ambassador gets more screentime and contributes more than his leader.
  • Mission: Impossible Film Series:
    • Mission: Impossible (1996): The IMF traitor known only as "Job". Despite being hidden until the third act, he's the one who set up the IMF team to be killed, framed Ethan for it, and is enacting the plan to steal the NOC list.
    • Mission: Impossible II lacks a straightforward example of the trope, but the page quote summarizes the plot brilliantly; the good Doctor spliced together every influenza strain known to man into a superflu he codenamed "Chimera" — in order to develop a perfect influenza cure. That worked out perfectly, and would have been worth billions. Unfortunately, he didn't realize he was working for an Evil Drug Company, resulting in the plot; the EDC realized that his superflu would be worth hundreds of billions to the right buyer, and that a superflu outbreak would make a universal cure worth trillions. In turn, an agent sent to rescue him and the cure goes rogue to steal them. In turn, the hero is sent after both the rogue and the EDC. All of it happens because of Chimera.
    • Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has Solomon Lane, head of the Syndicate and Big Bad of the movie. He makes his presence known at the very start and much of the film deals with the Battle of Wits between him and Ethan.
    • Mission: Impossible – Fallout has John Lark. He's working with Solomon Lane, and like Job up there his true identity isn't revealed until after the halfway mark, but he's the main orchestrator behind the Evil Plan of the movie and the one Ethan fights in the climax.
    • Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning has Gabriel, a terrorist mastermind recruited by the Entity to be its "messenger" and the main threat Ethan has to contend with throughout the film.
  • In The NeverEnding Story, Gmork fills this role in the first movie, being the one who gives the motivation of the Nothing or rather the power behind the Nothing, attempting to kill Atreyu before he can complete his mission, and give a tangible antagonist for Atreyu to fight. Justified due to the Nothing being an abstract concept of nothingness with no characterization, thus needing a physical entity with a personality for the audience to root against.
    Atreyu: Who are you, really?
    G'mork: I am the servant of the power behind the Nothing.
  • "Smith" in Nick of Time, the Psycho for Hire who kidnaps the daughter of the main character to blackmail him into assassinating a governor and threatens him continually, doing as Walken does. The apparent Big Bad behind the plot is an unnamed lobbyist who only appears once before riding away near the very end of the movie.
  • In Norbit, Rasputia takes this title. She is also the mastermind behind the plan to turn the orphanage into a strip club, having her brothers to pass it off as their own idea.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Barbossa in the first film, who leads the cursed pirates into getting rid of the curse and represents them, Davy Jones in the second (where his deal-making that is meant to take advantage of the mortal fear takes center stage) and third (where he is no longer in charge but is still a very forceful presence and the film is as much about defeating Beckett as much as dealing with Jones for Jack and Will) films, and Blackbeard in the fourth film.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark: Belloq, the archaeologist working with the Nazis to uncover the titular ark, is the prominent villain Indiana Jones faces and effectively the main antagonist.
  • Clarence Boddicker in RoboCop (1987). Sure, he takes orders from Dick Jones, but Boddicker is the person actively terrorizing the streets of Detroit whereas Jones avoids getting his hands dirty.
  • Although Billy Loomis works with a partner in Scream (1996), he's a much more personal antagonist to Sidney and has a bigger stake in the murders than said partner, who does what he does For the Evulz and out of "peer pressure."
  • In Serenity, the Operative is a secret government agent who represents the Alliance's interests and carries out their plans to use extreme measures to create a better world. The government elite who give him his orders remain unseen, so he's the closest to an overarching villain in the movie and presents the biggest threat to the heroes.
  • In Shredder Orpheus, while Hades and Persephone co-manage the Euthanasia Broadcast Network, it's the unnamed EBN producer who convinces Hades to recruit Eurydice, which kickstarts the plot, and he also provides the skateboard Orpheus uses in the second act of the movie.
  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Vader, especially The Empire Strikes Back, is the most famous example, the defacto face of evil in the Galaxy, but ultimately subservient to Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Sidious. In A New Hope, Vader is a direct participant in the Battle of Yavin, whereas Tarkin simply watches from the sidelines. Even in Return of the Jedi, where Emperor Palpatine takes a more direct role, Vader is the one who actually brings Luke before the Emperor after sensing his presence on Endor, which was something even Palpatine failed to notice, and Vader is the one Luke faces in a lightsaber duel. Palpatine only attacks Luke at the end of the film, during a Villainous Breakdown after his plans to corrupt Luke have failed.
      • In the novel Death Star Vader is even described as "the Emperor's wrist-hawk".
    • The Phantom Menace: Darth Maul, since Sidious (the true mastermind behind the invasion of Naboo) is operating behind the scenes, and Viceroy Nute Gunray (the leader of the Trade Federation, who the heroes believe to be behind the invasion) tries to stay as far away from the action as possible. Darth Maul hunts the heroes on Tatooine after Gunray can't find them, and the revelation of his existence alarms the Jedi Council so much that they send Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan back to Naboo with Queen Amidala just so they can draw him out. Maul's appearance at the battle prevents the Jedi from participating in the capture attempt on Gunray, and Maul is the final opponent in the film to be defeated after the capture of Gunray and the sabotage of the Droid Army.
    • Attack of the Clones: Count Dooku is the leader of the Separatists, the man who arranged the assassination attempts on Senator Amidala, and is later revealed to be the incumbent apprentice of Darth Sidious.
    • Revenge of the Sith: Palpatine/Sidious himself finally takes a direct role this time around. He influences Anakin throughout the film, including deliberately revealing his identity as a Sith to Anakin, resulting in a lightsaber duel between Palpatine and Mace Windu after Anakin informs the latter, which results in Palpatine killing Mace, convincing Anakin to become Darth Vader. Then he activates Order 66, establishes the Galactic Empire, duels Master Yoda concurrently to Vader's own duel with Obi-Wan during the film's climax, reconstructs Vader into the cyborg we see in the Original Trilogy, and drives the final nail in the coffin of Vader's fate by informing Vader of his role in Padmé's death.
    • Kylo Ren, Vader's own grandson, holds the position in The Force Awakens, as the public face of the First Order, but is in complete thrall to Supreme Leader Snoke. That is, until he gives himself a Klingon Promotion in The Last Jedi, and becomes Supreme Leader himself. In The Rise of Skywalker he's back in the position (until his Heel–Face Turn) doing the will of the resurrected Emperor.
    • Rogue One: Director Orson Krennic has the most direct connection to the Death Star saboteurs (being the one who separated Jyn Erso from her parents) but answers to the Imperial leadership...who are not shy about reminding him of it.
    • Solo: Dryden Vos acts as the public face of the Crimson Dawn and is the main antagonist to Han Solo during the film, but is merely a subordinate to Maul.
  • In Terminator, each Terminator sent back in time serves this role for the film they appear in. Special mention goes to the T-800 played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original film as he headlines the film as its star.
  • In Terror in a Texas Town, The Gunslinger Johnny Crale acts as the Big Bad McNeil's enforcer. He commits all of the dirty acts required so McNeil can keep his hands clean. So while it is McNeil's scheme that drives the plot, it is Crale's acts that put the match to the powder keg.
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Sawyer family collectively serve as the Big Bads of the series, but it's their mentally handicapped son Leatherface who's the face of the franchise and the one who's out there killing people and delivering their corpses to his Cannibal Clan family on their orders. In some films, it's implied that he's just Dumb Muscle for his family and too simple-minded to realize that he's doing anything wrong, while others make him actively malicious in his own right. In the remake, Sheriff Hoyt (who is really his adoptive brother Charlie Hewitt, Jr.) joins Leatherface in a Big Bad Duumvirate.
  • Transformers: Rise of the Beasts: Scourge is the leader of the Terrorcons and the chief servant of the Greater-Scope Villain, Unicron. Unicron sends the Terrorcons to Earth to acquire the Transwarp Key needed for him to go from one planet to another quickly, and since he's in another galaxy far away from Earth, it is Scourge who drives the plot acting in Unicron's interest to acquire the Key.

  • Diogenes Pendergast in Agent Pendergast books Dance of Death and Book of the Dead (2006). He is the driving force for both books and even manages to get more screentime than his brother in each of them.
  • In Animorphs, Visser Three is leading the Yeerk invasion of Earth, but the Yeerk Empire is actually ruled by the Council of Thirteen, who only appear in one book. He's also technically outranked by his rival, Visser One, who started the invasion but is only a recurring villain in the series. There's also a Greater-Scope Villain, Crayak, who is pulling the strings of the Yeerk invasion (and just about every other evil thing in the galaxy) but can't do much directly, being limited by the arcane rules of his game with the Ellimist.
  • Paolo Bacigalupi:
  • Bazil Broketail: Although Gog Zagozt is just a servant of the Masters, the latter do not appear in person in the second book, so it is he who plays the role of the Big Bad within the novel itself.
  • In The Behemoth, Stephen Burton kicks off the plot through murder, and evades capture at every turn, but is not actually the Big Bad.
  • The Codex Alera series has Lady Invidia Aquitaine. While never the Big Bad (though she does flirt with the position a few times), she appears in every book, either as the one pulling the strings of the book's main antagonist or in an Enemy Mine with the heroes in order to eliminate the competition and was responsible for engineering the death of the crown prince in the backstory, kicking off the main plot. Altogether, this makes her the series' most visible and prominent villain.
  • Daemon: The Major is technically just a (highly-placed) enforcer for the conspiracy. However, he's the most visible and active of the antagonists.
  • In The Drowned Cities, Colonel Glenn Stern is the Big Bad, but it's his Dragon, Lieutenant Sayle who moves the plot.
  • Several times in The Dresden Files, the most visible villain of a given book would be distinct from the ultimate mastermind.
    • Grave Peril: The Nightmare aka Leonid Kravos is Harry's most consistent opponent across the book, but the actual mastermind is the vampire Bianca.
    • Dead Beat: Grevane, who appears first and most often of the three villainous necromancers and is fought most consistently through the novel, but he's not the most dangerous or the Final Boss — that's Cowl.
    • Proven Guilty: The Scarecrow causes most of the bad things that happen in the book, but he's an enforcer for Winter Court royalty and doesn't act under his own initiative. The actual mastermind is left somewhat ambiguous.
    • White Night: Vittorio Malvora's attempt to overthrow the rest of the White Court serves as the book's primary plot, but the actual chessmaster behind him is Cowl.
    • Turn Coat: Shagnasty the Skinwalker is one of the most terrifying opponents Harry has faced to that point in the series and serves to stymie his search for The Mole on the White Council, but the mole himself is Peabody.
    • Changes: Duchess Arianna sets most of the plot in motion when she poisons the White Council and kidnaps Harry's daughter, but her dad the Red King, who doesn't show up in person until the climax, is the true Big Bad of the book and Disc-One Final Boss of the series as a whole.
    • For the series as the whole, the Red Court of Vampires are the most obvious and heavily featured recurring villains, though the Black Council is shaping up as series-wide Big Bad. With the Reds out of the picture, the Fomor look to be stepping into their vacated role.
  • Dune has House Harkonnen, led by the nefarious Baron Harkonnen. While they are but one of several factions involved in the conspiracy against House Atreides, including The Emperor and the Spacing Guild, they are the main muscle of the conspiracy and House Atreides' primary obstacle throughout.
  • Emir Abdulaziz in Eurico the Presbyter is merely one of the military commanders of the Arab invasion on Spain and the only authority figures he answers to are his own father Musa and the caliph. However, he drives much of the plot on personal level by kidnapping the noblewoman Hermengarda, who is Eurico's Love Interest, for his own Royal Harem.
  • Krait, the assassin in Dean Koontz's The Good Guy. He spends most of the book as the sole enemy hunting down Linda on behalf of a vaguely defined shadow government that is both explained and destroyed near the end of the book. Played with, as Tim also helps drive the plot by intervening in the hit, similar to the Die Hard example above.
  • In The Good, the Bad and the Mediochre, Mr. Antler drives the plot for most of the book, up until Maelstrom catches up and eventually overtakes him in this regard. Neither of them is the Big Bad — they both at least nominally work for Sapphire — and it's actually the tempomancer who is implied to be the most dangerous villain present, working for some sort of Greater-Scope Villain Nebulous Evil Organisation. Antler and Maelstrom are the Heavies because both Sapphire and the tempomancer prefer to work indirectly from the shadows.
  • Though Lord Voldemort is the Big Bad of Harry Potter, he's only directed the plot from afar until the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The role of the plot driver is therefore often taken by another character, who may or may not be working for him:
    • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: Professor Quirinus Quirrell, though not a Death Eater, wants to steal the titular Philosopher's Stone to help to bring back his weakened master who lives inside Quirrell like a parasite.
    • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Lucius Malfoy places the Tom Riddle diary, which contains a piece of Voldemort's soul, in Ginny Weasley's textbooks, causing her to free the Salazar Slytherin monster from the Chamber of Secrets to kill Muggleborns.
    • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Sirius Black, said to be Voldemort's right hand man. Until it is revealed to be a Red Herring, as the real traitor is Peter Pettigrew, "Wormtail", who was disguised as Ron's pet rat Scabbers, framed Sirius for selling Harry's parents' lives to Voldemort, and killed thirteen muggles in an explosion.
    • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Bartemius Crouch Jr., using the Polyjuice Potion to disguise himself as Alastor "Madeye" Moody, plots an encounter between Voldemort and Harry to help his master to regain his full body during the Triwizard Tournament. And he succeeds.
    • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Dolores Jane Umbridge is the only major antagonist in the series not related to Voldemort and his Death Eaters, at least until the seventh book. She is the villain during the first half of the book when she is proclaimed as High Inquisitor of Hogwarts, turning the school into some kind of a dictatorial state and she also sent the Dementors against Harry during the summer. The next half, when Harry and his friends enter the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries, the antagonism goes to Voldemort and his followers.
    • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Voldemort tasks Draco Malfoy to kill Dumbledore as a punishment to Lucius Malfoy for failing him in the Department of Mysteries, and Draco's increasingly frantic attempts result in several people having brushes with death throughout the year. Draco's mother, Narcissa, makes an Unbreakable Vow with Severus Snape to aid her son to fulfill his mission in case he fails. Snape does so and kills Dumbledore and he is revealed to be the Half-Blood Prince whose book had caused some mishaps in Harry's behaviour.
  • If you could really call him a "villain" per se, Pepe el Romano in The House of Bernada Alba manages to drive the story without even appearing once. His presence in the background causes sister to bitterly turn against sister, and eventually undermine's Bernada's authority over the house, as Adela rebels.
  • In the first book of The Hunger Games, Panem is ruled by President Evil Coriolanus Snow, but he's too big of a threat to deal with for Katniss. Instead, the main threat to her in that book is Cato, the leader of the Career tributes. After Cato is killed at the end of the book, his role is taken by former District 2 Tribute Brutus in the second book Catching Fire.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, the Empire is ruled by Sorcerous Overlord King Galbatorix, but for the first book in the series, Eragon, the main threat is personified by the Evil Sorcerer Durza, Galbatorix's right-hand man. After Durza is killed at the end of the first book, he is replaced by Eragon's friend and half-brother Murtaugh for the third book (the second doesn't have an active antagonist) and part of the fourth, until Galbatorix takes the central stage for the Final Battle.
  • Sauron is the Big Bad of The Lord of the Rings, but Saruman (and to an extent the Witch-King and the other Ringwraiths) are much more visible and involved villains, especially in the movies. Broadly speaking, each of the six "books" that the story is internally divided into has its own Heavy, with the exception of Book II and Book VI:
    • Book I: The Black Riders collectively, who pursue the hobbits across Eriador and are the first tangible representatives of the power of Sauron they encounter.
    • Book II: Here there isn´t a central antagonist, but multiple antagonists and challenges the Fellowship must face.
    • Book III: Saruman, though introduced in the previous Book, takes center stage here as the immediate threat to Rohan and Aragorn's side of the broken Fellowship, who must be dealt with before the heroes can take the fight directly to Sauron.
    • Book IV: Gollum, who is forced to serve as Frodo and Sam's guide while serving as a dark foil to both of them, while planning to betray them and take the Ring for most of that time.
    • Book V: The Witch-King, who is also one of the Black Riders from Book I.note 
  • The first arc of Magical Girl Raising Project has Ayana Sakanagi, aka Swim Swim. While she is not the Big Bad (with that role going to Cranberry and Fav), Swim Swim has the highest body count in the killing game (with two of her victims being Top Speed and Hardgore Alice), making her the most dangerous antagonist of the arc. She even outlives Cranberry, and her final fight with Ripple provides the climax of the first arc.
  • Nom Anor in the New Jedi Order series. He's not the leader or even a leader of the Yuuzhan Vong, being a mid-ranked but influential intelligence agent, but he's by far the most recurring villain in the novels, and by the last quarter or so the series is as much about him as it is about the heroes.
  • Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old Men, the most menacing and visible of those searching for the drug money. In theory, there is a Big Bad Ensemble of the major players who hired Chigurh and the various Mexicans (implied to be the "Matacumbe Petroleum Group" and real-life drug lord Pablo Acosta), but they're ultimately rendered irrelevant by Chigurh's inscrutable, single-minded rampage, a point driven home when Chigurh kills the guy who apparently hired both him and Carson Wells for interfering with his work, then negotiates a new contract with the man at the very top.
    Accountant: He felt, the more people searching—
    Anton: That's foolish. You pick the one right tool.
  • In the second and third Old Kingdom books, the necromancer Hedge is the most visible villain and the most direct threat to the heroes, though it's implied throughout that he's getting his marching orders from elsewhere. He's actually working for Orannis the Destroyer, a powerful Sealed Evil in a Can; because of said sealing, Orannis has very limited ability to interact with the world beyond sporadically taking over Nick and using him as a mouthpiece, therefore leaving most of the heavy lifting on evil's behalf to Hedge by necessity.
  • While Monks is the architect behind the hardships that Oliver Twist has to deal with after the first part of the story, he has thanks to his money and influence, Fagin and by extension Bill Sykes do his dirty work to the point that he is often forgotten by readers. They are so much more direct and iconic that lots of adaptations of the book forget his existence as well.
  • In the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series, Kronos is the Big Bad, but Luke drives the plot, as Kronos has no physical form until Battle of the Labyrinth, when he possess Luke, and can only plot and scheme.
  • In the Rainbow Magic series, Jack Frost's actions start the plot of every series.
  • The Redwall series has a few examples of the most prominent villain in the story being a little less prominent in terms of the setting.
    • Mattimeo has a good example in Slagar the Cruel. Though he's the one who instigates the conflict, he's relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. He's not in charge of the underground empire; it's ruled by Malkariss, and his right hand Nadaz helps to administer it. He's not even a particularly high-ranking minion. However, he does instigate the story's conflict through his kidnapping of the heroes' children, and he's the most prominent antagonist towards both his captives and his pursuers.
  • The Requiem for Dragons trilogy from Dragons of Requiem has Mercy Deus. Out of all the villains, she has the most screentime and is directly responsible for almost all of the death and destruction throughout the novels. However, she's Just Following Orders from her mother Beatrix, who is the actual Big Bad.
  • In most variations of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham is plot driver underneath Prince John's Big Bad.
  • For The Silmarillion, Morgoth is the Heavy as well as the Big Bad for most of the story, however the episodic nature of its mythical narrative allows other characters like Fëanor, Sauron, and Glaurung to all have their time in the spotlight.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle, Ash is the Big Bad of the story, but his minion Thorn is the main antagonist for the first three books — in fact, until book three, everybody thinks that Thorn is the Big Bad.
  • Utopia 58 has EQL61, the White General within the White Army. He doesn't show up very often in the book, but he's controlling the battalion hunting down Kay and his allies.
  • Hawkfrost in the second Warrior Cats arc, The New Prophecy. While his dad Tigerstar is the Big Bad, Hawkfrost's schemes to take over the Clans are the main driving point, partially because his dad is dead and only appears as a Spirit Advisor.
  • In the second book of Watchers of the Throne, the heroes come to blows with the Minotaurs and their Chapter Master Asterion Moloc; however, much of the book's plot is devoted to figuring out who the group works for.
  • In The Witchlands, the main opponent of the heroes so far is not the Big Bad (who's currently content with being The Ghost), but his Dragon Esme, who creates the Cleaved and sends them after the protagonists.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andor: Dedra Meero is subordinate to Major Partagaz (and Partagaz himself is a relatively minor player in the grand scope of the Star Wars Universe). However, while Partagaz's attentions are divided among his many duties as sector overseer, Dedra is a direct threat to Andor, and her hunt for him actively drives the plot forwards and affects the majority of the cast.
  • Angel: Lindsey and Lilah drive most of the conflicts related to Wolfram & Hart even though they're really only mooks to the actual higher-ups of the firm. Wolfram & Hart's actual director, Linwood Murrow, isn't even seen until Season 3 and then gets killed by Lilah a season later. Even then he was still below the Senior Partners who never actually show up.
  • Arrow: Malcolm Merlyn, the Big Bad of Season 1, is responsible for the events of the entire show, having sabotaged the Queen's Gambit and leaving Oliver stranded on Lian Yu. Nearly all the misfortune in Oliver's life can be blamed on that incident and the five years of hell that followed. Malcolm was also directly responsible for the events of Season 3: he brainwashes Thea into killing Sara, sending Oliver into a collision course with Ra's al Ghul, whose death at the end of the season plays a part in the events of Season 5. In short, nobody has had more impact on Oliver Queen's life, and by extension, the Arrowverse, than Malcolm Merlyn has.
  • Breaking Bad: The Cousins are this in Season 3. With Juan Bolsa being the Greater-Scope Villain, it is they who have the greatest prominence in the USA and who trigger the greatest conflicts during the first half of the season. Plus, it's they who trigger the biggest conflict between Walter White, Hank, and Gus, after all.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The First is intangible, which means all the physical jobs belong to Caleb. It first showed up in Season 3 as a Monster of the Week, and claims to have been the Greater-Scope Villain for the entirety of the series, but only becomes relevant in Season 7.
  • Chouseishin Series:
    • Chouseishin Gransazer has Logia, who starts off as the commander of Warp Monarch's assault in the second quarter of the series and becomes the Gransazers' most recurring foe thereafter.
    • Genseishin Justiriser has Doctor Zora, who is the one sending out Cyber Knights and coordinating the Hades Army's movements while Kaiser Hades himself is sealed. And who sets off the rest of the plot by unsealing Hades a quarter of the way in.
    • Chousei Kantai Sazer X has Grouza, whose arrival takes the plot in a more serious direction, and who becomes the one sending monsters to fight Sazer-X after she and Garade subordinate the Three Shoguns.
  • Cobra Kai: Each season has a Gen Z bully being the biggest threat to the protagonists.
    • Season 1: Kyler Park, being arguably the season's Big Bad — as his bullying of Miguel is what inspires Johnny to revive Cobra Kai with Miguel himself learning karate to fight Kyler off.
    • Season 2: Eli "Hawk" Moskowitz, being Cobra Kai's most vicious student and the one responsible for the a massive shake-up in the events of the series. He leads his gang in bullying Demetri (which results in him joining Miyagi-Do), leads a mass vandalism in the Miyagi-Do dojo (which results in a mass Heel–Face Turn from the Cobra Kais to Miyagi-Do), and escalates the West Valley High School fight with his war cry.
    • Season 3: Tory Nichols, eventually overtaking Hawk as Kreese's favorite, turning the tides in the Golf n' Stuff fight, and leading the assault in the LaRusso House Fight. With Sam's character expanded in this season as she goes through her PTSD, Tory's personal conflict with Sam as her Arch-Enemy expands as well.
    • Season 4: Robby Keene, being Miyagi-Do's former top student groomed by Kreese and Silver as their designated champion for the Cobra Kais who teaches them Miyagi-Do moves to their advantage, leads the Cobra Kais in a series of antics against the Miyagi-Fangs (including the shaving of Hawk's mohawk), and becomes Eli's Final Boss in the All-Valley Boys' division. Interestingly, Keene just happens to be the least vicious of the Cobra Kais as he only joined the dojo just to get back at Daniel and Johnny, tries to train Kenny not to succumb to his vicious tendencies (which fails after he goes all out on him in the Boys' quarterfinals), and eventually defects after seeing Kenny go way too deep in Kreese's and Silver's teachings as well as his hatred for Anthony LaRusso.
    • Season 5: Kenny Payne, as he eventually becomes Terry Silver's star student (explicitly shown in the leadership exercise where he overtakes Kyler due to the latter's incompetence) and the male champion for the Sekai Taikai qualifier. With Tory already disillusioned with Silver's Cobra Kai, Kenny becomes the dojo's most ruthless student — leading a series of antics against Anthony, as well as the Final Battle in the flagship dojo against the Miyagi-Fangs.
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • The first season has James Wesley, Wilson Fisk's right hand. It's not until the fifth episode that we start seeing Fisk actively do gangster activities, and Wesley is the one taking care of most day-to-day affairs on his behalf and acting as the biggest threat and obstacle to others. Later on, Wesley slides into a more standard Dragon role as Fisk begins to take more initiative himself.
    • In the third season, Ben "Dex" Poindexter is also this for Fisk. Since Fisk is on house arrest (for most of the season, at least) and can't directly go after his enemies himself, Dex essentially becomes his personal assassin and enforcer.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Cersei in Season 1. In the series' first story arc, Tywin entrusts her with the task of seizing the throne on behalf of the Lannister clan and ruling King's Landing while he crushes all contesting forces to their family's claim in the field; she performs well at first until her son Joffrey becomes king...
    • Joffrey takes the role at the end of Season 1 and carries it through Seasons 2 and 3, having set off the War of the Five Kings by killing Ned Stark, causing one of the biggest political upheavels in Westeros and laying the stage for seasons to come.
    • Tywin Lannister takes this role in Season 4. His machinations have the widest reaching effects and he's directly responsible for every action taken by House Lannister and King's Landing in the season.
    • Cersei Lannister steps back into the role in Season 5 and holds onto it for the rest of the series, having become the most influential antagonist in the series after crowning herself Queen of King's Landing, even if the power of House Lannister and the crown has diminished.
  • Henshin Ninja Arashi: Majin Sai is the head of the Blood Wheel Clan and the one leading their attacks. Midway through this role is alternated to Majin Sai's partner-in-crime Akuma Doujin, who takes charge of trying to kill Arashi and conquer Japan after Majin Sai steps Out of Focus.
  • The Cigarette-Smoking Man and the Bounty Hunter from The X-Files. While they're technically just agents of the Syndicate, they're the villains Mulder and Scully face the most and provide roles their bosses can't really fill. The Cigarette-Smoking Man provides hints about the extent of the conspiracy, is constantly manipulating the situation, and gives a face to the villainous force behind the plot. Meanwhile the Bounty Hunter serves as a physical archenemy for Mulder and Scully to contrast with CSM's role as a mental enemy.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Jeff Jarrett: In 2004, the Capitol+National Wrestling Alliance-TNA attempted takeover of the International Wrestling Association's Puerto Rican branch used a Big Bad Duumvirate; Ray González (The Mole with shares in the World Wrestling Council, looking to revive its old Capitol trademark) and Panda Energy (suits who were sore about IWA owner Victor Jovica lending money to WWC to prevent them from buying it up). Since none of the Panda suits were wrestlers, the face of the NWA-TNA side was Jarrett, and he had his own agendas.
  • Chris Hero was front and center of the CZW Invasion of Ring of Honor. Hero instigated the hostilities before Zandig and Necro Butcher's later involvement. Zandig was ultimately responsible, due to negligence causing the antipathy between promotions, and when Zandig did act, Hero and Butcher quickly became subservient to him. However, for most of of the "feud" he was nowhere to be seen, leaving Hero and Butcher to do all the heavy lifting and between the two, Hero acted as leader more often than not, had the most to say, had the most grievances, did most of the planning, etc.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Because the Gods of Chaos from Warhammer, Warhammer 40,000, and Warhammer: Age of Sigmar are far too powerful to manifest or act directly on the material world, they will often select a mortal champion or send one of their top lieutenants to do their bidding against their enemies. The two most recognizable ones are Archaeon the Everchosen from Fantasy and Age of Sigmar and Abaddon the Despoiler from 40K, both the most powerful Chaos-aligned mortals in their settings who will drive whole narrative campaigns by their actions.


    Web Animation 
  • The Meta in Red vs. Blue: Recollection. Out of all the characters, he doesn't talk, but is the most fearsome character besides Tex, he works for the Director of Project Freelancer, but everyone dreads of his presence the most.
  • RWBY:
    • Roman is the show's Starter Villain and the key villain of Volume 1. The media mentions the manhunt for him and the protagonists repeatedly encounter him. As their only link to the villainous activity, the heroes focus on him throughout Volume 2 as well. His pilot episode getaway pilot is revealed at the end of Volume 1 to be his superior, Cinder Fall. In Volume 2, the heroes don't know that Cinder is a villain and therefore don't realise she's the one pulling Roman's strings.
    • Cinder is the villain with the most focus in the overarching plot, and comes to the heroes' attention in Volume 3. From that point, she is the face of the villainous activity to the heroes, who do not learn about the existence of the Big Bad until Volume 4. During the Beacon Arc, Cinder uses Roman to carry out Salem's plans for Beacon Academy and Vale, and returns as the heroes' most significant villain for Volume 5, leading Salem's forces against Haven Academy.
    • Acting under Salem's orders, Watts is the primary driving antagonist throughout Volume 7. He spends his time masterminding a plot to subvert Atlas from within and prepare the terrain for Salem's arrival; his malevolent intent makes him directly responsible for all problems affecting the heroes, with Tyrian following his orders and Jacques being used to give him access to Atlas's highly secure network. He and Cinder clash in Volume 8 over what action to take in Salem's absence, ultimately ending with Cinder displacing Watts to regain her role as the Heavy.


    Web Original 
  • 330 Hours: Don Hunter, who is the primary antagonistic threat throughout the story though is ultimately just a pawn of his government.
  • Dark Dice: Although the campaign's antagonists include The Nameless God and the cultists trying to free it, the party mainly deals with The Silent One, the guardian of the Nameless God's prison.
  • Linkara bemoans the fact he doesn't get to play this role very often in a Channel Awesome Crossover review between him, Nash and Film Brain.
  • In Demo Reel, Tom Collins's only role is to move the Character Development along by kidnapping Donnie and letting him go through Break the Cutie into He's Back!, and therefore leaving Rebecca and Tacoma to talk about their issues and realize that they love the show.
  • Smirvlak's Stone has Lorko Maeliss. He's not the actual Big Bad of the novel, but he and his horde of gnolls are constantly chasing after the protagonists and razing the countryside wherever they go, forcing said protagonists to keep changing location.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Fire Lord Ozai is always the Big Bad, but he's off-screen for most of the action, leaving others to pick up the slack as The Heavy in a progressively more dangerous chain. Specifically, we go from Prince Zuko for the first part of Season 1 to Admiral Zhao for the second part to Princess Azula for the first part of Season 2 then Long Feng for the Ba Sing Se arc followed by Azula again from the end of the Ba Sing Se arc through most of the third season, and then finally Ozai himself during the Sozin's Comet arc, though Azula still remains an active threat along with him.
  • Beast Wars: Megatron, from the first episode, until the last episode of the sequel series.
  • Ben 10: Omniverse: Khyber; trailers seemingly established him as the Big Bad, he was the one chasing Ben for several episodes and seemed to have a motivation for that. Predators and Prey reveals he was actually The Dragon for Malware, a villain that has only had one episode and a cameo at this point, and Dr Psychobos, a guy we had never seen before, but Khyber still is the one acting while they are just waiting for him to do the job.
  • The Delightful Children from Down the Lane from Codename: Kids Next Door are the most prominent villains of the series, debuting in the second pilot, appearing far more often than Big Bad Father even after he is revealed to be responsible for their very existence and having a more active role than him in the series finale, where they are at the center of the final action sequence and seemingly die, which virtually no one else does throughout the series.
  • Most episodes of Darkwing Duck that center around the schemes of the terrorist organisation FOWL have Steelbeak as the main antagonist as he is their number one agent. Since he is often seen enacting the planning and ordering their private army around some may forget that he is simply following the orders of three shadowy figures on a TV screen who would easily kill him for failing them. But because they are unseen he is more of the face of the company than them.
  • The Urpneys in The Dreamstone. While Zordrak is the Big Bad, he has very little involvement outside threatening his soldiers into making a new scheme to steal the stone. Urpgor invents most of the plans and inventions, while Sgt Blob, Frizz and Nug act them out. Only two or three episodes feature Zordrak prominently as the main antagonist, with other antagonists such as Zarag and Urpgor's Auntie appearing for about the same amount. This expands even onto the heroes, who are often merely reactors to the Urpney's schemes and have only a limited number of side plots throughout the series.
  • In Gargoyles, Xanatos and Demona tend to hand this role back and forth depending on the given episode or story arc (and they're each half of the show's initial Big Bad Duumvirate). However, the Archmage takes over during the "Avalon" multiparter, and Oberon during the "Gathering" multiparter.
  • On Invader Zim, Zim is actually just a soldier of the Irken Empire, which is ruled by the Almighty Tallests. Kind of a partial example, since in reality, Zim's been Reassigned to Antarctica and the Tallests don't care if he conquers Earth or not.
  • The Avatar Sequel Series The Legend of Korra does not have an overarching Big Bad, changing major antagonists each season. Except for Book 4, each of them has a Big Bad and Big Bad Wannabe in opposition to each other, with the Big Bad being prominent enough to also snag the role of The Heavy:
    • Amon in book one; though he competes with his brother Tarrlok and his father Yakone's legacy for villainous screentime, it's Amon who establishes himself head and shoulders as the most dangerous threat and the one most central to the narrative.
    • Book two has Unalaq, who acts as The Dragon (or, considering his exclusive loyalties to his own ideals, possibly the other half of a Big Bad Duumvirate) to Vaatu, who was up to this point the Greater-Scope Villain for the franchise as a whole. Vaatu is sealed away in the Spirit World, so Unalaq drives the plot with his attempts to free Vaatu and merge with him into a Dark Avatar.
    • In Book 3, the four main members of the Red Lotus collectively function as the main antagonists, but of them Zaheer is the most dangerous, most intelligent, and most heavily featured in the season's story and climax.
    • Kuvira is this in Book 4, with her campaign to rule over the entire Earth Kingdom being the main source of conflict; indeed, she fits here even more squarely than any of the above, as she's the only one who doesn't have to share space with a competing Big Bad Wannabe like Tarrlok, Varrick, or the Earth Queen, meaning that there's never any doubt just who the main antagonist is.
  • The Legend of Vox Machina: Umbrasyl takes up this role for Season 2. While Thordak is the leader of the Chroma Conclave, he is way out of Vox Machina's league in terms of power and is content to sit in what's left of Emon as he consolidates his power. Umbrasyl, while still an unspeakably powerful ancient dragon, is the weakest (even if only in relative terms) and most isolated of the group. His focus on gathering the Vestiges of Divergence in defiance of his boss' orders also puts him in the most direct opposition to the team as they are looking for them in the hopes of gathering enough power to take him and his fellow dragons out. The fact that they still only barely defeat Umbrasyl thanks to a lot of luck lets them know that they will never be able to defeat Thordak without help, making Raishan's proposal of an alliance something they are willing to listen to.
  • Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja: The Sorcerer is imprisoned beneath Norrisville High and can only menace the characters on a situational basis (i.e., when they're in a vulnerable, humiliated, despaired state), leaving Hannibal McFist as the most direct antagonist toward the Ninja, with most of the weekly adventures pitting Randy against his various killer robots.
  • Samurai Jack: With Aku becoming the Greater-Scope Villain in Season 5 and the High Priestess in Big Bad Ensemble with Inner Jack / Mad Jack and Aku himself, we have Scaramouche the Merciless. Not only is Aku's favorite assassin, he spends most time in Season 5 trying to talk to Aku about Jack's lost sword. He also slaughtered an innocent town filled with men, women and children... just to get Jack's attention.
  • South Park:
    • Leslie serves as this for Season 19. While only one of an entire race of sapient Internet Ads, she is the one that is capable of having a human form and active in South Park.
    • Skankhunt42, Gerald Broflowski, serves as this for Season 20. His trolling is responsible for many of the plots to happen, including, the girls breaking up with their boyfriends, Heidi and Cartman's relationship, and Freja's suicide which give Lennart an excuse to create Trolltrace and kickstart World War III.
    • Eric Cartman serves as this for Season 21. His relationship with Heidi Turner is this season biggest plot driver where he emotionally abuses her and manipulates her into staying with him. This causes Heidi to become Cartman's Distaff Counterpart, which causes Kyle who liked Heidi to go on a moral crusade against Canada, which in turn caused President Garrison to nuke Canada and reveals to everyone who the bigger threat this season really is.
    • Randy Marsh serves as this for Season 23. Much of the season's plot is driven by Randy's antics where commits numerous crimes to preserve his drug business. Even when Santa serves as the Final Boss for the season, Randy's decision to sell cocaine to the adults is what drives the plot for that episode.
  • In Star Wars animated series:
    • Darth Sidious is the ultimate Big Bad of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but he rarely appears in person (at least as himself, rather than in his Reasonable Authority Figure guise as Chancellor Palpatine) and it's even rarer for him to do anything other than give orders. Thus the role of the Heavy for the series falls mostly to Sidious's apprentice Count Dooku as the official leader and public face of the Separatists, and to a lesser extent General Grievous as the commander of the Separatist droid army. Sidious's renegade former apprentice, Darth Maul, also takes this role in a few story arcs after he shows up again partway through the series, opposing both the Republic and the Separatists.
    • In Star Wars Rebels, Sidious is the Big Bad again, now as Emperor Palpatine, but once more only appears rarely with other villains directly opposing the heroes and driving the immediate plot. Specifically, the Grand Inquisitor serves as the Heavy for Season 1, Darth Vader for Season 2, and Grand Admiral Thrawn and Governor Pryce split the role in Seasons 3 and 4.
  • Slade, whenever he shows up in Teen Titans — even when serving under Trigon the Terrible (while not the Big Bad, Slade is a menace through the season, while Trigon is a threat only in three episodes.)
    • During Season 3, Brother Blood takes over this role (and Big Bad) while Slade is dead; though he appears in fewer episodes, when he does appear he hogs the spotlight a lot more than the shadowy Slade usually did.
    • Season 5 plays this one interestingly. The Brain is the Big Bad, but he's the head of the Brotherhood of Evil, and each of the core brotherhood members gets his or her chance to star as headlining villain at least once during the arc — except for poor General Immortus, who was introduced with much fanfare but ended up as little more than window dressing.
  • Transformers: Prime: Starscream plays this role for most of the first season, before Megatron returns and puts him in his place.
  • Dick Dastardly and Muttley in Wacky Races. All the characters are already in competition with each other, but it is Dastardley and Muttley's antics that drive the plot of each episode. Without them, every episode would just be a simple (if still highly unconventional) race.
  • Mystique in the first season of X-Men: Evolution. She runs the Brotherhood, and Magneto, usually only seen in shadow, runs her. Eventually, Magneto takes over the role himself, and later Apocalypse.
  • Zak Storm: With Big Bad Skullivar never leaving his base due to being the guardian of the waypoint located inside the base, it's left to his right hand Golden Bones to do his dirty work and engage the heroes in battle.

Alternative Title(s): The Villain Makes The Plot, Plot Driving Villain