The tendency of relatively calm and composed villains to lose their cool over the course of the story. Usually happens to arrogant Chessmaster-type villains (especially if said villain is a Smug Snake), as control of the situation slips from his or her grasp and things come up that they Didn't See Coming. Most notable when it happens towards the end of the story to show how pathetic the Big Bad is when things are not going exactly as planned ("This Cannot Be!"). Especially apparent if they previously had Creepy Monotone or Dissonant Serenity, and suddenly start Chewing the Scenery (when they do this because their plan is succeeding, it's more of a case of Drunk on the Dark Side). Dirty Cowards also suffer from this, especially when they are cornered.
Similar to Oh, Crap!, though the difference lies in that Oh, Crap! moments involve a single moment where the character finds that they are screwed, while Villainous Breakdowns have them see it coming from miles away. The good-guy counterpart is the Heroic Safe Mode.
Note that this isn't necessarily an example of Villain Decay. On the contrary, some villains become much more terrifying and dangerous when their façade of cunning and civility crumbles. They might even end up dishing out a vicious No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to the Hero(es), engage in some Cold-Blooded Torture or, goodness forbid, drop the Villain Ball and Just FINISH HIM Already instead of playing around. It could even lead them to stop holding back their true nature and assuming their true form as the monster they actually were. Thus, a Villainous Breakdown is frequently a trigger for a One-Winged Angel transformation. Affably Evil and Faux Affably Evil villains are prone to becoming far more terrifying and disturbing when they undergo one of these because their fairly normal personality serve to emphasize their breakdown.
A somewhat less common, but not exactly infrequent, form of breakdown results in the exact opposite reaction: the villain lapses into a catatonic state as the shock of their defeat robs them of their wits. Another form of breakdown occurs due to Heel Realization causing a Villainous BSoD. Yet another is the impotent flailing of a defeated villain, left with nothing without power.
The scale of the breakdown generally depends on the nature — and overall impressiveness — of the villain. A Smug Snake, being generally inclined to rate their own abilities higher than everyone around them anyway and less equipped to deal with setbacks, will usually break down more frequently and over relatively minor spanners in the works, with the resulting tantrum usually being less-than-impressive. A Magnificent Bastard, on the other hand, is already the type of villain who's not inclined to sweat the small stuff, and will usually respond to most setbacks fairly calmly; however, this merely means that if their plans suffer a particularly impressive implosion, then this will usually make their resulting breakdown all the more epic. Similarly, a relatively minor or small-scale villain may have a breakdown on the level of a temper tantrum or explosive Cluster F-Bomb rant; a major or larger scale villain, however, will frequently have a breakdown with potentially (and quite literally) world-ending consequences. As the old saying goes, "The bigger you are, the harder you fall".
In another type, the breakdown won't be one, sudden explosion, but a gradual progression of smaller, gradually increasing breakdowns happening over the course of the story. As their Evil Plan comes closer to failing or their plans fail again and again, they simply get worse and worse as the breakdown continues, until finally, they lose it completely. This normally happens in the buildup to the final confrontation. This can overlap with Sanity Slippage, where a character gradually becomes more and more insane as time goes on. And as a special treat, when the villain finally goes so crazy and bat-shit insane that he completely loses it, other characters tend to hit him with a You're Insane!.
Another type of breakdown is when the villain becomes extremely furious when either something happens that isn't part of his plan or his plans end up being ruined, or both. Once pissed off, he may lose his temper and say such phrases as "Why Won't You Die?", "I've had it with you!", "You Bastard!!", or even "This Is Unforgivable!!". Either way, the villain will scream more and more at the other characters in fury before being bested by them. A string of Kick the Dog or Bad Boss moments is another subtle way of indicating this, if the villain had previously displayed paternalistic feelings toward his men.
One specific variation appears in some Video Games where the main villain is able to broadcast messages to the player over the course of the story, and they eventually lose it and start broadcasting more and more desperate pleas/insults/bribes to the player as they get closer to them.
For Anti Villains, or ones with a Freudian Excuse, a breakdown can either play Cry for the Devil (if their breakdown is pathetic) or cement them on the far side of the Moral Event Horizon (if they went Jumping Off the Slippery Slope during their breakdown). A subversion of this trope is Graceful Loser.
Note that this is usually done in a climax and just the fact that one occurs is a pretty big spoiler, so read with caution.
Not to confuse with Broken Heel, which is a literal application of the term.
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