Follow TV Tropes


Villain by Default

Go To
"...And there's this Nazi, who's a bad guy! Why is it that Nazis are always the bad guys?"

Close relatives of Always Chaotic Evil, these characters are defined morally and narratively by what they are, rather than what they do. Inevitably, the Villain by Default is a member of an organization or class that society as a whole has agreed is evil. For this reason, they require little to no additional characterization to cement their position in the story or motives, and in fact, most Villain by Default characters receive none. Much of the time having to show a Moral Event Horizon for those characters might seem redundant, given that they were obviously beyond it with their whole criminal lifestyle.

Essentially, this is a way to supply ready-made antagonists and Evil Minions without sacrificing screen time. Evil Minions, Dragons, and members of the Quirky Miniboss Squad are more dependent on this trope than the Big Bad, since the Big Bad usually has enough screen time to more clearly establish their motives.

Nazis and neo-Nazis are possibly the ultimate example of modern cinematic Villain by Default characters, since these need no additional characterization - most of society agrees Nazis were evil simply by being Nazis, and neo-Nazis are even more evil because they've willingly devoted themselves to a lifestyle the rest of the world considers evil (as opposed to the occasional Nazi who was forcefully conscripted).

Other common examples of Villain by Default types:

If the protagonist of the story is an Anti-Hero, such as a vigilante or mob boss, or is wrongly accused, then any form of law enforcement will be the antagonist. Whether this is because they are ineffective, corrupt, vengeful, well-meaning-but-misinformed, or just in the protagonist's way depends on the specific story.

Naturally, whenever a group is cast as Villains By Default without additional justification, there will be a part of the audience that's going to disagree with the assessment. This is particularly true of works that are subtly or unsubtly pandering to one "fashionable" prejudice or another, or that are aimed at very specific audiences. This is where Values Dissonance will kick in: a work created by a fundamentalist Christian might have a "sinful" person (stripper, alcoholic, what-have-you) as an irredeemable villain, whereas a work by someone who despises Christians will want his/her audience to assume that Christians are the evil ones.

See also Acceptable Targets and Designated Hero. Compare Sympathetic P.O.V. and Designated Villain. Very likely to lead to Unfortunate Implications, especially if vilifying a specific religion, ideology, and/or ethnicity.

Contrast with Noble Profession, where a character is stereotypically good because of their career path. Contrast also with Lovable Rogue, a sympathetic (if not heroic) criminal character.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Abh from Crest of the Stars subvert this trope (though they seem to embrace it at first). They have an interstellar empire acquired through conquest and they ban space travel for everyone but the Abh, claiming it's all for good reason; i.e., trying to prevent a vast and destructive conflict.
    • Subverted only to a degree as the world of CotS is bit grey.
  • In Holyland, Yuu is repeatedly opposed by delinquents and gangsters. As time goes on, though, you see exceptions with formerly hostile characters who are at least honourable if not outright pull a Heel–Face Turn. Yuu also wonders at times how similar he is to them.
  • Subverted on JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Battle Tendency with Those Wacky Nazis! No, really! Have we already mentioned that this manga is bizarre? At first, the Nazis are seen trying to revive an ancient race of fossilized Mesoamerican vampires, most likely for the sake of harnessing their power. However, later on it's revealed that they were investigating them, from the very beginning, for the sake of finding a way to eliminate them, as their resurrection would mean the end of the human race. While they get some Kick the Dog moments, they ultimately cooperate with the heroes by virtues of there being a Greater-Scope Villain. They even give the hero, Joseph Joestar, a cool mechanical hand as a thank-you gift after he lost it in the final battle.
  • Aversion: One episode of Kino's Journey involves slavers who had eaten their "cargo" to survive in a snowstorm. However, the episode is devoted to showing that despite how wicked their profession, actions, and plan seem once revealed, they're people as well, with loved ones, hopes, and dreams. Which only goes to show that ordinary people, too, are capable of acts of astonishing callousness — and conversely, that no matter how callous a person is, they're still a person.

    Comic Books 
  • The Anti Heroes of Sin City have taken on many a Villain by Default in their stories.
    • Marv has fought hitmen, a police death squad, a corrupt cardinal, and a silent and deadly cannibal whose proclivities the cardinal shared.
    • Dwight took on a vicious abuser who turned out to be a hero cop, a team of Irish "rented terrorists", and a syndicate bent on enslaving the girls of Old Town.
    • Hartigan's primary nemeses were a pedophilic rapist/Serial Killer and his corrupt US Senator father.
  • The Ultimates: The first arc had Scary Dogmatic Aliens that used to work for the Nazis.
  • Intentionally averted in V for Vendetta, at least the comic book. Alan Moore initially intended to write his Nazi antagonists as straight-up cardboard villains, as per typical views of Nazis, before reflecting that Fascists are people, too, who usually have reasons for their actions a little more complex than evil for evil's sake. However, he does this without actually making them or their ideology any more sympathetic. They're mostly pathetic, insecure losers who use their ideology to compensate or ordinary people who were too cowardly to fight back, and instead just went with the flow. Inspector Finch, the most humanized of them all, ultimately realizes that he can no longer ignore his government's crimes, and, when given the opportunity to revive it, chooses to let it collapse.

  • The Nazis in the Indiana Jones series, naturally. In a scene from The Last Crusade, Indy's father tells the Big Bad that he is slimy and evil not strictly because he is a Nazi sympathizer, but because he is an American Nazi sympathizer (i.e., he is betraying his country). Unlike the German soldiers, he had a choice in the matter.
  • Star Wars:
    • Any military officer of the Galactic Empire is treated as thoroughly evil. Though one might assume that some are Punch Clock Villains, just about every one with any characterization kicks a dog in some fashion. For example, in A New Hope one Imperial officer refers to Chewie as a "thing". In the books, they enslaved his entire species.
    • The bounty hunters in The Empire Strikes Back, including Boba Fett, are portrayed (however briefly) as an unsavory bunch. Boba Fett, however, became unexpectedly popular, and has since been portrayed as a Villain Protagonist or even Anti-Hero in a number of spinoff works.
    • We occasionally meet a nice Hutt, but even they are generally only nice when it's convenient for them.

  • Grand Viziers on Discworld. Arguably, grand viziers everywhere, but it's lampshaded every time one shows up in Discworld, sometimes by the Vizier himself. To the point where a new emperor chose a Wrong Genre Savvy Cloudcuckoolander tourist to be his Grand Vizier on the rationale that someone who didn't know anything about the job would be good.
    • When the Unseen University hires a necromancer as a professor he is contractually obligated to do small evil things on a regular basis since necromancy is considered evil magic. He is actually a pretty nice guy.
  • Tortall Universe:
    • Used and then deconstructed in The Immortals with Stormwings. They desecrate bodies on the battlefield and feed on human fear, so they are universally hated by nearly all humans, and most other creatures. In Wild Magic they simply seem to be evil, helping Tortall's enemies and attacking Daine. She goes into Wolf-Speaker expecting that they're Always Chaotic Evil but several characters argue that she shouldn't. When she meets Rikash, who's taken on an older brother role for a neglected young girl, Daine is forced to grasp that Stormwings are individuals and some are outright good people.
      • In Tortall: A Spy's Guide she says that Stormwings' natures are opposite to that of humans but that doesn't make them all evil. In Protector of the Small a flock of Stormwings does nothing as a refugee camp is overrun and the children taken away, but during the Trickster's Duet, some entirely different Stormwings swoop down and rescue children imperiled by a riot.
    • It's played more straight with some of the other Immortals, who are simply monsters. Hurrocks, killer unicorns, and killer centaurs are clawed, predatory, bestial versions of winged horses, peaceful unicorns, and peaceful centaurs, though in A Spy's Guide 'peaceful' unicorns are quite fierce when crossed, and in Protector of the Small 'peaceful' centaurs are much like humans and some are quite repugnant. Tauroses exist to attempt to rape women and kill or be killed. Spidrens, Giant Spiders with human heads, are intelligent enough to speak and use tools and weapons but only see humans as food and are quite sadistic. In the Spy's Guide Daine mentions hearing that they have to be taught to be cruel but she doubts this.
    • Bandits are generally this, existing in Song of the Lioness as little more than a faceless enemy. They're less so in Protector of the Small as Kel, fighting them, understands that most bandits are driven to prey on others by extreme poverty rather than inherent evil, and sees starving children among their dependents. This doesn't make her hold back and more of her sympathy is for their victims, but she doesn't celebrate their deaths either. A bandit she fought in Page reappears as a convict-soldier forced to fight for her in Lady Knight. Kel, seeing that he's now serving his time and isn't trying to make a difficult situation any worse, holds no malice towards him and doesn't allow he and the other convicts to be whipped.


  • In Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues, the first antagonists that any of the characters face are a group of Neo-Nazis. Naturally, they aren't good people, and none of the characters hold it against Benjy when he attacks and kills them in self-defense.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons and most fantasy media, Necromancers (Or Necromantics) invariably abuse their powers for fun and profit. Even though it's a player accessible subclass of the Wizard, it's rare to see a "good" necromancer. After all, a necromancer who can't cast spells with the "evil" subtype loses most of the necromancer's best spells. The aversion is more common in 5e, where there are no morality restrictions on spells, although most necromancy spells feel somewhat evil anyway.
  • Quite simply everyone in Warhammer 40,000 fits into one of these categories. When every major race in a setting is listed in Scary Dogmatic Aliens, you know you're not looking at a happy galaxy. And it's not only human POV. For example, Eldars consider humans childish and ignorant at best while sharing humanity's views on other aliens.

    Video Games 
  • Templars in Deus Ex: Invisible War are neo-luddites with some legitimate concerns (especially those involving the technocratic conspiracies). Their modus operandi is quite simplistic however.
  • Darkspawn in the Dragon Age series are orc/zombie-like monsters seemingly created as The Scourge of God whose purpose is to wipe out all life on the world and spread a virulent plague that destroys the environment. While every other faction will have both good and bad people at best or seemingly work on Blue-and-Orange Morality at worst, Darkspawn are incapable of being good even the one exception who isn't a cackling maniac such as the Architect ends up causing a lot of disaster like causing the events of the first game, and as such, they represent an threat to everything or everyone, regardless of who they are fighting.
    • The third game is particularly egregious by featuring an Ancient Darkspawn who is also an Tevinter Magister as the Big Bad. Tevinters are probably the second most hated group in the universe since they rule an oppressive magocracy that thrives on slavery (the difference is that there are actually heroic Tevinters like Dorian, Felix and Maevaris).
  • The enemies in Max Payne games tend to be The Mafia or other gangsters, mercenaries, Corrupt Corporate Executives and Dirty Cops - all the sorts of nasty folk that few people would object to slaughtering.
  • You can count that any non-human robot in the Mega Man X and Mega Man Zero series are down-and-out Mavericks, no exceptions; they're always either infected by The Virus, criminally insane, or just plain fed up with humanity and aren't going to take it, anymore. Of course, this could also be considered a case of demonization; several Mavericks have called out the main characters as hunting them with little provocation, simply because the humans are paranoid and don't need a reason to point at a robot not doing what they think they should be doing and calling them "Maverick". And then they die at the protagonists' hands, anyway. Although, the animal Reploids of Zero were evil, they weren't considered Mavericks. You're playing on the side of the Mavericks, the bosses are fighting for humanity.
  • In Mirror's Edge you've got the police which you're more than welcome to beat up, steal their weapons and if the need arises push off the side of a 110 storey building. Fair enough you might think in an "evil" government setting but the main character's sister is also a cop.
  • Two of the bosses in The Suffering: Ties That Bind are the spirits of a slave hunter (Copperfield) and a misogynistic serial-murdering pimp (The Creeper).

Demonization: Oftentimes a character's occupation is not inherently evil, but has been demonized by Hollywood. Some examples would be hunters (because they're bloodthirsty killers), land developers (who "rape the environment"), dogcatchers (who hunt down innocent animals and lock them up), lawyers (who prey on others' misfortune, and just because they're lawyers) or corporate CEOs (because they're money-hungry). And don't forget scientists (especially those dealing with anything nuclear or genetic), who're often depicted as Mad Scientists. Once demonized in the story, these ones are treated just as evil as a Nazi, terrorist, etc. For positions of Gods, the ones involving the Dead and Death almost inevitably get this treatment. Note that this has a postmodern effect, in that many people may now actually see such professions as wicked in and of themselves; on the other hand (and in all fairness), these tend to be professions that annoy people in the first place.


  • In lighthearted works set in American high schools or similar adolescent environments, it's The Beautiful Elite (the Alpha Bitch, the Jerk Jock, etc.) who are usually automatically evil. This stereotype is so pervasive that even when a pretty girl or boy is not supposed to be a villain, or might even be The Hero, they will still tend to be depicted as deeply flawed.
  • The titular monsters from Bats were genetically engineered by a "mad" scientist. When asked why he would create such a creature, his response basically sums up the premise of this trope: "Because I'm a scientist! That's what we do!"
  • Victor Quartermaine from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is depicted as an evil hunter; even though his stated goal is the acquisition of the leading lady's fortune, it doesn't explain his pathological need to shoot bunnies.
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park movie featured a Corrupt Corporate Executive, although their big game hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite!) was rather sympathetic, and if a deleted scene had been left in, (3:16 in), he would have been a full out subversion. The novel had someone who wanted to do animal testing, and considered that dinosaurs would be the perfect test subject - they already went extinct, so who's going to argue?
    • By way of contrast, the original movie had a good hunter (technically a game warden), who died in a Heroic Sacrifice, as well as a kindly grandpa CEO - although he was, admittedly, The Millstone, and in the original book he was a standard Villain by Default instead, who outright states that he would never run any business that helps people, as people tend to get upset when you charge them high prices for something they really need. That's why he is building a theme park, because he can charge any amount he wants to. He makes a whole speech about how helping people is bad. He also ripped off the computer programmer, which gives the programmer another reason to betray him, which leads to the disaster. He also represents someone who is an intentional fool, someone who refuses to deal with inconvenient facts. He's much more sympathetic in the movie.
    • Of course, once we saw a lawyer appear in the first movie we knew he was going to get eaten; having him sitting on a toilet at the time was just lagniappe. Whereas in the book, the lawyer was a bit more of a Jerkass, but a severe badass who punched out a raptor in one scene in contrast to his Dirty Cowardice in the movie.
    • The Great White Hunter game warden in the first book also survives, and is much more useful. He actually kills a couple of the velociraptors, and indirectly helps Dr. Grant and the kids out when he shoots the T-Rex with a tranquilizer dart, which causes it to fall asleep long enough for them to get on a boat and escape downriver.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Most episodes of The A-Team start with a villain beating up shopkeepers or generally being a gigantic jerk. One memorable episode begins with the villains threatening to kill orphans if another character doesn't sign over an orphanage. Additionally, since The A-Team are fleeing from the military, and they're the heroes, the military is often portrayed as villainous for being after them.
  • CSI: Miami had a few NSA agents as foes of Horatio during the run since they cleaned crime scenes, took suspects or committed crimes and hid behind the Patriot Act.

    Western Animation 
  • Many of the villains on Captain Planet and the Planeteers are industrialists, whose sole motivation seems to be to produce as much pollution as possible. The exception is Looten Plunder, who is of course in it for the money. Hoggish Greedly was also in it for the buck, though he wasn't a billionaire like Plunder, but a less wealthy pioneer in dirty industry. However, their motives didn't remain consistent, and oftentimes, they would harm the environment out of sheer malice.
    • This was an Enforced Trope. The villains produce pollution For the Evulz so that children whose parents work in polluting industries didn't think their parents were villains. This turned the overall message into a Clueless Aesop by removing the real-world complexities behind environmental problems and turning it into a simple case of Black-and-White Morality.
  • Elmer Fudd from Looney Tunes is usually a classic "evil" hunter, albeit a stupid one. Often subverted when he thinks he successfully bagged Bugs, since he's always upset about having "killed the wabbit" afterwards.
    • Also the concern of some WB staff such as Friz Freleng. While Elmer was designated Bugs' main antagonist, they worried he was so meek and unthreatening that audiences would ultimately start to feel Bugs was bullying Elmer rather than thwarting him. Later foes such as Yosemite Sam, Rocky and Mugsy, Marvin the Martian, and the Tasmanian Devil were created to counter this by being far more self explanatory villains, while Elmer became more commonly cast in non villainous roles.