No work of fiction can exist without a conflict. Almost all works help accomplish this by having a villain of some sort. After all, if there's no villain, who will create the conflict? Who will the heroes confront in the climax? Who will sing the best songs?
But sometimes, writers encounter a problem. Sometimes, what the antagonist is doing isn't illegal, or even immoral. In a sports story, the antagonist would just be the leader of the Opposing Sports Team. If, say, you're writing an inspiring story about an underdog who aspires to be a great chef, the antagonist would be a tough-to-please food critic or the owner of a rival restaurant. Sure, their success would make the hero's life worse, but in real life, nobody would hold it against them. That's just the way the world works. Surely, these stories are going to be Good vs. Good, right?
Meet the Villainy-Free Villain, the very personification of a Felony Misdemeanor. To make sure that viewer sympathy is still squarely on the protagonist, the Villainy-Free Villain is an antagonist who compensates for their completely socially acceptable aspirations by being as much of a Jerkass about them as humanly possible. They're not a villain, but they sure act like one. It's as if they don't care about their own well-being, but see their actions as a wonderful opportunity to crush the protagonist's hopes and dreams.
In any work of fiction in which the protagonist is a Lovable Rogue or Justified Criminal or an innocent person who has been framed for a heinous crime, the law enforcers chasing after them are inevitably going to appear unsympathetic to the audience, even if their motives are beyond reproach. The hero may even end up fighting them as much as the villain. Authority figures who have to control children (teachers, especially) also make fine default antagonists even without being a genuinely malicious Sadist Teacher. So do any authority figures whose job requires them to be harsh: police officers, judges, and drill sergeants are all especially prone to this.
Still, this is a clear case of Truth in Television. A person doesn't have to kill or steal or do anything illegal to be unlikable. If you're a complete jerk and rub your victories in the faces of the people you step over, you'll still be seen in a bad light.
Note that a character cannot qualify to be a Villainy-Free Villain if they participate in unethical activities. As the name suggests, this antagonist has all the aspects of the villain except the actual villainy. Also, for a character to qualify, they have to actually be as unpleasant as a normal villain, enough so for the viewer to not sympathize with them, otherwise, theyre just a Designated Villain.
The character needs to keep a balance and be unpleasant without doing anything too unpleasant. On the other hand, if they are evil but barely even do anything to fill the "antagonist" role, then theyre a Plot-Irrelevant Villain. If they arent necessarily unpleasant—heck, they can be even downright nice — yet their actions are the cause of unpleasant effects for other innocents without their knowing, theyre Obliviously Evil. If the antagonist is morally good and intended to be so, they are a Hero Antagonist. Compare Hate Sink, who may not be the main conflict-maker but acts nasty so the audience has someone to root against. Contrast Anti-Villain, a sympathetic and generally likable villain who isn't outright villainous, and Affably Evil, for a villain who is downright nice. For the Fanon version, see Ron the Death Eater, where a character is good in Canon, but fans demonize them and cherry pick their actions to make them seem evil. If the fans hate this character more than other, legitimately evil characters, then you have a case of Jerks Are Worse Than Villains.
Compare and contrast The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, who similarly don't do evil despite their job title, but may not even be Jerkasses.
- Pokémon has several cases of Pokémon trainers who do nothing worse than being huge jerks and fighting against the protagonists with their Pokémon, which is perfectly normal in the Pokémon world. Quite often, they will become nicer by the end of the episode or the arc, whatever the case may be.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable: The Bank Teller during the "Shigechi's Harvest" arc ends up as a downplayed example. The heroes find a winning lottery ticket and try to cash it, but the Teller is suspicious of how a bunch of teenagers came across a winning ticket especially as the original owner's name is on it. He expresses a huge amount of joy at accusing them of stealing the ticket and tries to get them arrested which altogether isn't unreasonable given the information he has. Though after they successfully trick him, he apologizes, ashamed of the accusations, and happily pays them the money. They even agree to continue to use his bank to store their winnings and at the end of the day there were no real hard feelings.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Rex Raptor/Dinosaur Ryuzaki is little more than a pawn in Mais grudge against Jonouchi/Joey and is one of the few opponents in Duelist Kingdom who doesnt try to cheat or kill the protagonists. He even warns Jonouchi about Esper Roba in Battle City after he loses! Though, in the anime he forfeits any rights to this when he sells his soul alongside Insector Haga/Weevil Underwood for the power of the Orichalcos to join DOMA. Before this? Hes treated as just as much of an asshole as Haga.
- Mickey Mouse once opened a pizza parlor and its success led Petey to open a rival pizza parlor in front of Mickey's. While the readers were expected to cheer for Mickey, Petey couldn't realistically be called a villain until near the end, when he sicced some animals to eat a giant pizza made by Mickey (and even then, it's made clear he didn't like doing this and considered it as a last resort). Fortunately, some of the animals ate the rival's own giant pizza as well. After that, Mickey ran out of flour and his rival ran out of cheese and the two of them decided to share to avoid bankruptcy.
- John D. Rockerduck from Disney Ducks Comic Universe is Scrooge's main business rival, but while he often uses underhanded tactics, in some stories he competes entirely fairly (or at least, doesn't cheat any more than Scrooge himself does), but is still unsympathetic due to his smug attitude. In the only story Carl Barks ever used him, all he did was enter a boat into an upcoming race to prove his gasoline was better than Scrooge's.
- In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's tendency to see himself as a Designated Hero causes his teacher Miss Wormwood, his Badly Battered Babysitter Rosalyn, and even his mother to be portrayed as horrifying sadistic monsters in his overactive imagination. Of course, when you're only six years old, the adults in charge of you tend to look more menacing than they really are. His Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Susie Derkins also gets portrayed as an ugly alien monster in a few of his Spaceman Spiff fantasies, but even there she poses no obvious threat until Spiff starts shooting at her and her cries for help attract some larger monster.
- The sequel to Angel of the Bat, Times of Heresy actually uses this to increase the threat of one of its characters. Cameron Gram is an abrasive, bigoted, Holier Than Thou radio evangelist... And is threatening to Cassandra precisely because he isn't doing anything illegal or physically violent. Cassandra notes it was easy to write off the previous story's religious antagonist because he was so violent and clearly mentally unstable. Gram, while a major jerkass, is perfectly sane, successful and has been a practicing Christian much longer than she has. According to Cassie, Gram embodies her fear that she is the one being Egocentrically Religious, not people like Gram.
- The Shadowbolts of Crystal Prep High School from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Friendship Games aren't really all that antagonistic towards the heroes of Canterlot High School, save for some competitive smack-talking and bragging. Most of Crystal Prep's students are just good enough to beat the Wondercolts fairly, without any unnecessary cheating. If anything, they're the most antagonistic towards one of their own, the Anti Villainous Human Twilight, than the Wondercolts. All of them are still obnoxious in their own ways to prevent any sympathy from being given to them. And while they do convince Human Twilight to unleash the magic, that was more due to the toxic influence of the movie's Big Bad, Principal Cinch. But when under attack by the demonic Midnight Sparkle, they help save some people and turn against Cinch once Midnight is defeated.
- The human version of Filthy Rich serves a similar role in My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Legend of Everfree. He intends to buy out the titular Camp Everfree to build a spa and is generally unpleasant in his brief appearance, even to the point he doesn't really care about what happens to the camp, but it's well within his right to do so if Timber Spruce and Gloriosa Daisy can't pay the rent (which they can't) and that's simply a fact of the business world. He even gives Gloriosa one more week to either get the money together (which he figured was unlikely) or prepare her goodbyes to the camp. He also has no direct hand in Gloriosa becoming corrupted by magic and turning into Gaea Everfree; that was all on Gloriosa's part and he didn't even know about it. Hell, despite showing annoyance when she does get the money together, he still honors the agreement he made despite it being only verbal with no writing behind it.
- Anton Ego of Ratatouille seems to fit this trope to a T at first. He's a food critic. Food critics can and do give restaurants negative reviews. He also hates Gusteau's populist philosophy that "anyone can cook," so he's looking forward to hating the restaurant's food. Ego even lampshades it in his introduction to Linguini: "Pardon me for interrupting your premature celebration, but I thought it only fair to give you a sporting chance as you are new to this game... and you've been playing without an opponent, which is, as you may have guessed, against the rules." However, when being served a genuinely delicious dish, he gives the restaurant glowing praise even knowing full well that he'll be throwing his career away should anyone discover who is cooking the food. And they do. The actual Big Bad is Chef Skinner, who is also a Jerkass but only a slightly bigger threat.
- Well-meaning but prissy Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp. Sarah's main flaw is being a Horrible Judge of Character. She fails to recognize the only true villains of the film: the rat that Tramp kills and Si and Am, her two Siamese cats. She remains convinced that her cats are incapable of doing anything wrong and blames all of their misdeeds on Lady.
- Sid from Toy Story. He can't really be faulted for mutilating and destroying toys if he doesn't even know that they're alive. His worst actual offense is being a jerk to his younger sister and mutilating her toys. Sure enough, once he learned that they were alive, he never hurt another toy again (even if they let him know they were alive by scaring him).
- In Toy Story 2, the only truly villainous thing Al does is steal a kid's toy from a garage sale. Like Sid, this is a much more severe thing from a toy's perspective (since it's essentially kidnapping), but in the real world, it would probably be considered a misdemeanor. Aside from that, his villainous cred is pretty much entirely established by his status as an obnoxious asshole.
- Subverted in Turbo with Guy Gagné, whose original offence is being narcissistic and leaving Turbo a broken pedestal by implying he cant win but ultimately attempts to kill Turbo for having beaten him.
- Francesco from Cars 2. He's not an unscrupulous racer like Chick, the previous film's antagonist; indeed he's a very good sport, but he is just as obnoxious as Chick, enough to give McQueen a motivation in the otherwise Mater-centric story: McQueen really, really wants to beat this guy. By contrast, the actual Big Bad (the Lemon Kingpin) and The Dragon (Professor Z) are a pair of murderous terrorist leaders and two of the vilest villains in Pixar history.
- Sterling from Cars 3 is an arrogant Jerkass, but not only his actions make sense from a business standpoint, he also never does anything illegal and even accepts McQueen's deal to prove himself despite not having anything to win from said deal.
- Done amazingly in-universe with Mr. St. Peter in The Brave Little Toaster who's a good-natured, fun-loving, and likeable chubby little man who runs a shop that dismantles old appliances to sell their parts as replacements. Really, the only "villainous" thing he does is sell these parts under the pretenses of being new — the thing that makes him such a feared and horrid villain is that the film is from the viewpoint of the sentient appliances who have been locked in his shop and driven insane from watching him rip their friends apart one by one. Fittingly the scene of him dismantling a blender is framed like a scene from a horror movie, complete with a Gory Discretion Shot and a scene of the lifeless blender's corpse dripping "blood".
- Jonathan Poe, the final opponent of the protagonist, Josh Waitzkin, in Searching for Bobby Fischer. Quite possibly one of the most unpleasant chess players in all of cinema, this kid is just begging to get his head handed to him by Josh. "Trick or Treat" indeed.
- Dr. Jonas Miller, the protagonists' tornado-chasing rival in Twister. His sins? Taking corporate funding, creating a competitor to the protagonists' experimental prototype, being a Smug Snake, and riding around in a caravan of black SUVs. Jonas even has plenty of valid points that he and Bill are Not So Different. Both Bill and Jonas left their old crew for better-paying jobs (Jonas for his corporate sponsors, Bill as a TV weatherman.) Bill also abandoned his idea for the "Dorothy" system, and Jonas built a working prototype without him.
- The InGen corporation in The Lost World: Jurassic Park are intended to be a ruthless Mega-Corp who arrive to strip-mine Isla Sorna of its dinosaurs for profit. While it's perfectly legal for them to recapture a group of animals they themselves bred and to attempt to recoup their losses, the creators expect the viewer to gloss over this by simply making them out to be massive Jerkasses, even going so far as to deceptively edit the film to make some characters even more unpleasant.
- Jeanie Bueller in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Jeanie never does anything immoral - rather she counters several of Ferris' immoral acts. However, being entirely motivated by spite launches her straight into antagonist territory. And she does experience a HeelFace Turn of sorts.
- Big Daddy: Arthur Brooks (Josh Mostel), the social worker who takes Sonny to court. He really does care about the welfare of the boy Sonny has adopted, but the story still makes him out to be an antagonist when he shows up in Sonny's apartment and coldly drags away the boy, who is clearly frightened and can't understand what's happening. But he never actually acts maliciously, and when he loses his case against Sonny at the climax of the film, he realizes that Sonny really is a well-meaning family man.
- In Grumpy Old Men, Snyder of the IRS is just doing his job, trying to collect back taxes John owes. And (off-screen) he is actually fairly reasonable - Jacob talks him into waiving the late fees if the original amount is paid. Doesn't stop Max from insulting him and playing a few hilarious practical jokes on him.
- The Mayor and (especially) The Mayor's Wife from Rock of Ages want to shut down a poorly run nightclub that owes the city a small fortune in unpaid taxes and clean up a sleazy neighbourhood and are willing to do so through the completely legal means of a public protest. Luckily they turn out to be Straw Hypocrites when it comes to sex so it is okay for the audience to hate them.
- In Be Kind Rewind, film companies send a cease and desist order against the video store for presenting their "sweded" remakes as the original films, violating copyright. Their lawyers grandstand their actions by steamrolling all the films in front of the whole neighborhood, putting the struggling video store out of business. The lawyers even lampshade the trope as they look at the crowd's reaction, snorting, "Oh, now we're the bad guy, huh?"
- In The Fighter, Mickey Ward wins a championship by beating Shea Neary, who was arrogant and disrespectful during their press conference and does not touch gloves at the beginning of the fight.
- Miss Leavey (Jan Hooks) in Simon Birch is thought of as a villain by her students, but she isn't evil - just grouchy.
- Dean Wormer from Animal House is an unpleasant Jerkass Has a Point antagonist type who is merely trying to enforce campus rules without committing immoral actions against hilarious but admittedly proto-delinquents frat boys. Part of his problem is that he's under pressure from the town's mayor, a genuinely evil amalgam of Mafia don and authoritarian plutocrat, who goes so far as to threaten to have Wormer physically crippled if the Deltas do anything to embarrass him. While Wormer never does anything illegal, he certainly bends ethics by enlisting one group of students to spy on another, runs a kangaroo court in which the spied-upon have no reasonable chance to address the charges against them (some of which are false), and to justify all this with "double-secret probation."
- The small-town mayor in Jaws means well, but he's at heart a pompous politician who cares too much about public image, and honestly doesn't believe the shark is dangerous: "My kids were on that beach, too."
- The mayor (these characters so often seem to be mayors, don't they?) of New York City in the 1998 American remake of Godzilla isn't a villain by any means (and, to the extent that he could be considered one, he's treated to a Karma Houdini at the end), but he's such an obnoxious blowhard that it's perfectly okay to dislike him.
- The concierge in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York has every right to be wary and suspicious of a ten-year-old checking into a four-star hotel by himself, so the film has him act as though his very life is consumed by a desire to nail Kevin for "credit card fraud": most of his "villainy" is just Tim Curry munching the scenery like Wrigleys to make his otherwise entirely justified actions seem villainous. Not to mention, he actually treats Kevin quite well in spite of his suspicions until he actually finds proof that the card was stolen, and does try to make things right with the family when the truth about Kevin's "stolen" card is revealed.
- Miles Edgeworth is this for the first part of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney movie. He's a Smug Snake who ruthlessly fights to win each case, but he is doing his job and even tells the defense at one point that all of his methods are perfectly legal.
- Lampshaded a bit in The Movie of The Fugitive, in which Marshal Sam Gerard's reckless actions in enforcing the law are questioned even by his colleagues. But Gerard earns our respect by his courageous determination to see justice done and his uncanny intelligence ("Never argue with the big dog, because the big dog is always right") - enough to be repackaged as the main hero of the sequel, U.S. Marshals.
- Team Zeus in Real Steel. Their evil acts consist of 1) building the absolutely strongest boxing robot they could via the means and methods available to them (which is pretty much what the protagonists do as well), 2) trying to buy the protagonist robot as they think it will make a good sparring partner for their champion robot (to remove any serious competition, and to their credit, they offered a fair price for it), and 3) not handling a win that isn't a complete rout well, as their robot takes an immense pounding in the final match but does not get KO'd and ultimately gets the technical win on points. The film seems to recognize this and includes a secondary antagonist figure who does more straightforward villain acts.
- 12 Angry Men:
- As the primary advocate for a "guilty" verdict, Juror #3 is the closest thing the film has to a villain, even though he honestly does think the kid is guilty. The fact that he's an aggressive, irritable Jerkass who refuses to listen to the opposing side keeps our sympathy on the "not guilty" lobby through the duration of the story.
- Juror #10 is even more of one. Like Juror #3, he is only trying to prevent someone he honestly believes is a murderer from going free. However, he's also a lunatic who assumed the defendant must have been guilty because of his race and openly admits that he doesn't want to hear any fact-based arguments otherwise. Unlike Juror #3, there is never any hint of his having a hidden sympathetic side.
- The Judge has Dwight Dickham, the prosecuting attorney, go after the Judge ruthlessly. In his first appearance, he seems like an asshole because he's got a metal, retractable water cup with a pin-up girl on the lid that he dramatically extends with a loud "THWANG!" sound in court. It's also implied that he's taken a special interest in the case because of his feelings of moral superiority to the Judge's son and counsel, Hank. In spite of all that, he's still just an honest prosecutor doing his job.
- Max Baer in Cinderella Man is just the boxer who happens to be opposing our hero, and happens to be a very good boxer. He's made the villain by seeming to take a perverse pride in having killed opponents in the ring, and publicly warning that Braddock may not survive his bout. (This contrasts the real Baer, who was apparently a very nice guy who felt terrible when one of his opponents died, to the point of donating money to his family. He also beat a Nazi champion boxer while wearing the Star of David on his boxing shorts.)
- Over the Top: Mike Hawk's grandfather never delivered his wayward father's letters to him, sends him to a boarding military academy, and tries to take custody of him away from his father. He comes across like an overbearing jerk, but he seems to be acting in an honest attempt to do what he feels is best for his grandson.
- Rocky III has Clubber Lang, who is an incredible Jerkass and unparalleled Trash Talker, but trains hard and fights clean in the ring. Lang's single-minded focus (as contrasted with Rocky's distraction from proper training by fame and fortune) is a key plot point. Truth in Television; Lang's behavior is not unlike most professional boxers before a match in Real Life.
- "Pretty" Ricky Conlan in Creed is extremely abrasive and deliberately antagonizes Adonis at a press conference, almost to the point of being a wrestling heel. However, he is also a clean fighter and, after narrowly winning on points, tells Adonis that he is the future of the division, and his abrasiveness is somewhat justified by the fact that he's being forced into retirement in his prime, and that Donnie is getting a title shot on his second professional bout off the strength of his name, while Conlan had to scratch and claw his way up from nothing. He is being sent to jail for punching someone at a weigh-in before the events of the film, but that has nothing to do with his conflict with Adonis.
- The Sovereign fall into this trope as they fulfill the role of secondary antagonists in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: they have every reason to be angry that the Guardians stole their batteries, given that not only are those batteries incredibly valuable, but the Guardians were actually hired to protect them, and ran off with the payment on top of the batteries. But they're such absolute pompous jerkasses that we really don't care. It helps that they only attack the Guardians with drones, so the titular anti-heroes don't actually kill anyone in their heist.
- Golden Boy: Fuseli is obviously supposed to be the villain he's a mobster, with all the brusque, gruff, scary attitude of a mobster. Joe the boxer's old manager Moody is appalled at the prospect of Fuseli managing Joe, Lorna recoils from Joe when he accepts Fuseli's mentorship, and in the last scene a repentant Joe calls Fuseli a "gutter rat". But Fuseli never actually does anything bad. He doesn't fix the fight or try to talk Joe into Throwing the Fight. He actually is a better manager than Moody, using his connections to get Joe big-time fight in Madison Square Garden and a shot at the title. He doesn't use force to muscle Moody out, instead paying him fairly for his interest in Joe. And he doesn't even try and stop Joe from quitting boxing at the end, although he's pretty pissed off about it.
- Lt. Kellaway in The Mask has every reason to want to arrest the Mask and Stanley, but is pretty much obsessed with it to the point that he ignores Dorian Tyrell's very existence. When Dorian's goons drop a tied up Stanley with a fake mask on his feet, he arrests Stanley on the spot and never questions what was actually happening.
- Arguably the whole point of Parasite (2019). The Parks, especially Mr Park, hardly do anything wrong...but they also never really do anything right, either. Mr Park is a snob with a cruel streak, who ignores his daughter and snubs the dying Geun-se and, at the same time, automatically acknowledges his smell for the final time. He is the epitome of the selfish, parasitic, but not meaningfully or purposefully evil upper class.
- The Hunt for Red October: Viktor Tupolev may be an arrogant asshole, but his actions, even when viewed in the worst possible way, are those of a patriotic Soviet citizen attempting to prevent his former mentor from dropping a state-of-the-art submarine, encyclopedic knowledge of his country's submarine warfare capabilities and a non-trivial portion of his country's nuclear arsenal into the hands of his country's arch-enemy. If one is inclined to be more generous, one could see it as Tupolev genuinely believing Ramius has gone rogue and intends to kickstart World War Three, and Tupolev merely doing doing what was necessary to stop him.
- Similarly, the saboteur is another Soviet patriot, willing to kill and die to ensure that his country's military secrets don't end up in American hands.
- Rivers of London has Tyburn. She's a Rich Bitch Jerkass who really takes far too much pleasure in one-upping Peter and while she might be a bit of The Starscream to her mother, her real intentions are to modernise how London (and the rest of the United Kingdom) deals with magic, get everything systematised and above board, and do away with the tangles of "arrangements" and "agreements" that have accumulated over the years. Something that Peter himself is pretty keen on, she just goes about it all in a really arsehole-ish ways.
- Les Misérables has Inspector Javert, who pursues Justified Criminal Jean Valjean because...he broke his parole. How sympathetic he is depends on the adaptation, but as Valjean acknowledges when he saves Javert's life, Javert's actions are completely in accordance with the law, even if he's cruel in doing so.
Valjean: "You've done your duty, nothing more."
- Brom Bones in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is an older example of this. His crimes are trying to get with the same girl as Ichabod Crane, and (almost certainly) tossing a pumpkin at Ichabod's head to scare him out of town. This seems rather mild, even before one realizes that Ichabod is basically a scumbag who's actively drooling over the idea of the girl's dad dying and him inheriting a fortune. The Disney version just narrowly avoids this, as he's presented and animated with the air of a big mean bully who is quick to blow off and threaten any competitors and its only because of incompetence and bad luck that he suffers the physical abuse instead of his target Ichabod.
- Most "villains" on Survivor or any other reality show are bound to be this (the casting department should've weeded out the actual psychos). Villainy isn't defined by dirty play here - "heroes" have also done their share of deceptive moves, and villains don't noticeably break the rules lest production kick them out. The villains are the ones that are mean-spirited about it and annoy everyone with bragging and the like. For Survivor, this inevitably led to complications in their Heroes vs Villains season when half the contestants on the villains' team weren't even villains anyways. It's incredibly tough to determine in a series like that who is a hero or villain because everyone does something underhanded eventually. Even one of the quintessential "heroes" of the series, Rupert Boneham, stole the entire other tribe's shoes in the first episode of his first season.
- Skyler on Breaking Bad only wants to know what her sick husband was up to while she was at home struggling with a disabled son and another kid on the way. Her notable offences include returning an unattractive piece of jewelry she got from her sister, faking labor to avoid being arrested (for something she didn't do), and being lukewarm to her husband's sexual advances. She later becomes a typical shrewish, visitation-denying ex-wife and an adulterous white-collar criminal, but her main function from early on is to put more pressure on Walt's already stressful double-life, making her somewhat unsympathetic by default. Vince Gilligan has stated that he's disturbed by the level of hatred some of the fans have for her, and if they're still keeping it up by season three it's probably just pure misogyny (Anna Gunn has defended the character from the hatedom as well for the same reasons). Then subverted, as she starts getting involved in Walt's business and proves to be far more level-headed than him.
- Steven Spreck of Community isn't quite evil, but he is shown to be rather underhanded (and creepy) in his attempts to get rid of Greendale.
- Captain Sharon Ryder on The Closer is portrayed as an antagonist to Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson, but in fact she's just doing her job, and at one point she actually tells Johnson she's only investigating her because she has to, and tries to hint to her to be more careful (hints which Johnson doesn't seem to pick up on). She's also had several Enemy Mine moments with Johnson, eventually forming a mutual respect with her, and eventually taking over her team after Johnson retired.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- Bruce Maddox from "The Measure of a Man" wants to disassemble Data in order to find out how to replicate his design. Although his goal is noble, Data refuses when it becomes obvious that Maddox doesn't have a very good idea of what he is doing, and Maddox spends the rest of the episode trying to legally force him into compliance. This is mostly because Maddox does not see Data as a self-determining individual and does not believe he has the right to refuse. He comes around at the end.
- Admiral Nechayev and Picard never saw eye-to-eye on matters of policy, since Nechayev was far more hawkish than Picard. Whenever she appeared in an episode, it was usually a sign that she was about to browbeat Picard over his latest command decisions in the most condescending and jerkassy way possible.
- Captain Edward Jellico could be considered a subversion of this trope. He is given command of the Enterprise during the "Chain of Command" two-parter and obviously doesn't get along well with the crew. His brusque and demanding style of command makes him easy to dislike (both for the crew and the audience), he appears to lack diplomatic savvy, and he even relieves Riker of his position. Despite this, Jellico is vindicated by his success in resolving the crisis of the day, saving Picard from the Cardassians, and averting an armed conflict. Perhaps an example of Good Is Not Nice by the end.
- Romulan Commander Toreth was the villain of "Face of the Enemy" but throughout the episode, she showed concern that her orders would endanger her crew (the same concern Picard would have undoubtedly had in her situation), she expressed discontent for the Romulan government and contempt for the Tal-Shiar, she told Troi (who she thought was a Tal-Shiar officer) to her face that their propaganda was all lies, and was genuinely horrified when Troi seemingly killed eighteen innocent non-Romulans.
- Most Romulan commanders fall into this trope, going all the way back to TOS, in which the first Romulan commander ever introduced said he and Kirk were "of a kind". Even though the Romulan government spreads propaganda designed to make the population see all aliens as inferior, hate them for the crime of existing, and believe that the Romulan Empire will inevitably conquer the galaxy, it seems that anyone who rises to the rank of Commander will have enough life experience to know that the government's propaganda is all crap. All the Romulan Commanders the Enterprise faces all seem to be loyal soldiers carrying out their duties.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine introduced Solok, an insufferable Vulcan captain obsessed with demonstrating his species' physical and intellectual superiority over humans. The one time he appears on the show, it is to challenge Sisko to a not-so-friendly game of baseball and humiliate him with a Curb-Stomp Battle. He then throws a hissy fit when Sisko's team scores a single run (and another when he sees them celebrating it).
- Parodied on How I Met Your Mother with the Story Within a Story, The Wedding Bride. It's based on events that happened during How I Met Your Mother's fourth season but recasts Ted as the villain of the story rather than the victim; to make up for the fact that Ted never did anything villainous, the character based on him just acts like the most over-the-top asshole imaginable in every single scene.
- In Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, there's Kegler- a harmless alien who only starts working for Trakeena when his best friend Villamax started working for her. He never fought, he never did anything really evil- the closest he got was constructing a laser device that got blown up anyway- but got killed just because he was onboard the Scorpion Stinger when it crashed (Trakeena had killed Villamax earlier for showing mercy towards the evacuating citizens of Terra Venture).
- Mark Metcalf's characters in Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock" (the high school teacher) and "We're Not Gonna Take It" (the father) videos. They act harshly toward his students/son, yes, but they aren't exactly cruel to them; they actually seem to believe that they're "bad" kids and they really need their help. But their behavior is so angry and unreasoning that it's still a pleasure to see the "cool" kids finally shut them down.
- Unless they Kick the Dog all the time, many of the heels in WWE (and to a lesser extent TNA) aren't all that villainous. Many times, all it takes for them to get booed is to be a little whiny or contrary, or to say something that nobody wants to hear. The worst instances are when a wrestler is a heel simply because he or she is a Foreign Wrestling Heel from a country that Americans don't really like, and has the balls to praise his or her own country instead of automatically bowing down to worship the United States of America.
- Sentinels of the Multiverse: Villain The Dreamer isn't, in fact, a villain — she's the 6-year-old version of one of the heroes from the future, whose psychic visions are manifesting and causing havoc. The heroes actually lose if they bring her to 0 HP, and instead have to fight her specters.
- In David Belasco's The Girl Of The Golden West and its opera adaptation by Puccini, Sheriff Jack Rance represents the law, so it makes sense that he'd torment a man who, after all, is a wanted criminal. His Establishing Character Moment, punishing a card sharp with a Mark of Shame, shows him to be less bloodthirsty than the other miners who were calling for a hanging. He also acts possessively towards the Girl and tries to push her into a bigamous relationship with him, but doesn't really go lower than a common Jerkass, despite the opera's attempts to play up his second-act advances as an I Have You Now, My Pretty moment. In the end, he even joins in the miners' decision to let Johnson go free for the Girl's sake.
- The Music Man has Charlie Cowell, who aggressively (though truthfully) denounces Harold Hill to the River City public as a Snake Oil Salesman, driving them to hunt him down with Torches and Pitchforks. He's otherwise hardly a vicious antagonist, though his trade of selling anvils does make him a literal "heavy."
- In Bells Are Ringing, Inspector Barnes follows Ella throughout the show, under poorly justified suspicions that she and Susanswerphone are involved in prostitution or kidnapping or drug-running or something, because he's desperate for a promotion. "She seems such a nice girl," his assistant Francis keeps saying, and in the final scene Barnes has to admit that he was wrong to suspect her.
"Is it a crime for a man to have made a human mistake? I misjudged you."
- In The Magic Flute, the Queen of the Night has only two really villainous acts: ordering Pamina to murder Sarastro, and later trying to lead a Kill 'Em All attack on Sarastro's temple and then force Pamina to marry Monostatos. Otherwise, she's just trying to reclaim her power and her daughter, both taken from her for flimsy (and sexist) reasons, and most of her actions are surprisingly helpful. She's the one who gives Tamino the magic flute and Papageno his magic bells, her Ladies save Tamino's life at the beginning, they're the ones who direct the heroes to the Three Boys' wise guidance, and even their attempts to lure Tamino away from Sarastro only prove his strength and earn him points in Sarastro's trials. It's no wonder that some modern productions portray her as secretly Sarastro's ally, who only plays the villain to test the young heroes.
- In The Phantom of the Opera Carlotta is spoiled and bad-tempered, but she also doesn't really do anything wrong. She just wants to continue to do the job she loves and isn't happy that the Phantom has decided to replace her with Christine Daae as lead soprano of the opera house ; plus he's been sabotaging her for ages and at one point drops part of the scenery on her, which could have seriously injured her and which she only narrowly avoids. Also, while the audience knows Christine wants no part in the Phantom's plot and isn't to blame, it's not hard to see how Carlotta came to the conclusion that she was in on it, given the limited information she had.
- Ensemble Stars!: during the Main Story, Akatsuki is presented as The Dragon, an intimidating and ruthless foe that must be overcome before Trickstar can face fine. However, Akatsuki never actually does anything really villainous: they take advantage of the fact that the public fears voting against the student council, but there's no hint that Akatsuki itself enforces this. Eichi also explicitly states that Keito had nothing to do with his scheming against Trickstar and wouldn't approve of it, and both Souma and Kuro explicitly decry Eichi and the student council in general. However, this is actually explained in the backstory: Akatsuki was actually created solely to carry out Eichi's will, and Kuro and Keito were both directly involved in the sabotage of several of the Oddballs, more than earning the enmity of the rest of the cast. But Souma, who was oblivious to these acts, truly believed that Akatsuki could become a good unit that could bring joy to people in its own right, and so he inspired Kuro and Keito into becoming better people. By the time of the Main Story, only Keito's friendship with Eichi keeps Akatsuki aligned that way, and even he expresses regrets to Mao about having reached this point.
- In South Park: The Fractured but Whole, the Raisins Girls and the Vampires are enemy factions, but are so due to you antagonizing them. You beat up the Raisins Girls to help Clyde/Mosquito get out of paying his tab, and you beat up the Vampires because Kenny/Mysterion thinks they're lame and doesn't want his sister joining them.
- Overly Sarcastic Productions makes this argument about Ares in Classical Mythology: there really aren't any stories where he acts worse than any other god—indeed, there are few myths that really focus on him at all—but he represents the worst aspects of war and is thus hated by both the Olympians and most of their worshipers.
- Heather from Misfile fits very nicely here. She is a complete ass but has actually played fairer than our heroes when it has come to her races.
- The comic later subverts this. Heather isn't actually a cruel person, she's just vindictive and dislikes Ash, Emily, and Missy simply because she's Yandere for James (which is, admittedly, just a bit stupid considering Ash and the others only dislike her in retaliation). She actually has something of a Hidden Heart of Gold but prefers to have a reputation as an unapproachable bitch. She even tells Ash off for believing her to be inherently nasty and even states that she just doesn't want to make good with Team Misfile.
- Played straight when one of the villains from CharCole is attacked by the titular character. Later, his conscience lambasts him for throwing the first punch in a situation that could have been avoided by talking or even just doing nothing, when the guy is just a complete douche, "which isn't illegal, by the way."
- Teresa from Exiern has genuinely meant well, but is the designated antagonist due to her being a(n unwitting) racist snob. It is a good job she is though because otherwise having our hero(ine) make unfounded accusations of pedophilia towards her and verbally bully her simply because she enjoys being an attractive woman, while our hero is all mopey about it, could have been a real moment of Moral Dissonance.
- A Loonatic's Tale: Van Parker is only doing his job when he captures Riley and Flint, chronic escapees of the Mercia Sanitarium and Straitjacket Emporium. He's not exactly discriminating about when he tries to grab them, though, so he might be interrupting important work at the time (bearing in mind that the two men are under the employ of the King of Mercia himself).
- Miko Miyazaki from The Order of the Stick is The Paladin and has to be Lawful Good, or she'll stop being a Paladin. She's initially sent to arrest the protagonists knowing nothing but that they're charged with a vague but serious crime, and only acts accordingly. She'll attack anyone and everyone she thinks are Evil without considering mercy, but not others without reason. Yet she has no respect towards others — at least when they don't fit her standards, which almost nobody does, especially given the way she communicates with them first — and assumes they just have to do whatever she tells them to because she's in the right. In the end even Roy, who's also Lawful Good and could perfectly well have understood her mission in principle, simply refuses to go with her because she's awful. In later Story Arcs, Miko starts going so close to Black-and-White Insanity that she finally loses the "Villainy Free" part, although even then, she thinks she's doing what's right and that any objective evidence to the contrary is either part of an elaborate conspiracy or a test of her devotion from the Gods.
- While capable of being a straight-out villain, Pete from the Classic Disney Shorts often fell into this category, particularly in his shorts with Donald Duck. Shorts like The Riveter, Timber! and most of Donald and Pete's wartime cartoons feature Pete in perfectly legit professions, but still acting like a bullying Jerkass. In Goof Troop, he isn't even played as a villain at all (with a few exceptions) and is more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold on many occasions in contrast to his standard Jerkass personality.
- Sapphira in Pearlie, whose ultimate evil goal is to discredit her cousin Pearlie and have a lot of people come to her spa... Yes, somebody has loads of ambition. Subverted in that she has no ethical reason for discrediting Pearlie; however, her goal in most episodes involves exposing Pearlie's screw-ups, rather than frame her for anything.
- Gargoyles has Oberon, who merely tries to reclaim Avalon from a gargoyle clan that has taken up residence in his absence. One of the squatters even notes that he's within his rights to do so, but her concerns are quickly dismissed. (As stated in a creator commentary, "good thing our heroes are sympathetic and Oberon isn't".) Of course, then he tries to take Xanatos' baby son a few episodes later and the "Villainy-Free" part goes out the window. He's still more Chaotic Neutral than anything else, though.
- The Simpsons
- In the episode "The Twisted World of Marge Simpson", the Investorettes weren't really doing anything wrong by kicking Marge out of their investment group (Marge herself admitted she didn't like "the whole idea of 'investing'"), and they were well within their rights to compete with her when they both started up mobile snack businesses. But they're such jerks about it that you're not sad at all when Marge's Mafia goons blow up their truck. Keep in mind, Marge didn't know that Homer had gotten the Mafia involved for her. The Investorettes on the other hand, knowingly hired the Yakuza to compete and take down Marge (though, to be fair, they genuinely believed Marge had knowingly gotten the mob involved).
- When Homer returns to college to complete a nuclear science class, he immediately assumes that the Dean is automatically a student-hating villain while in fact the Dean is laid back, friendly and the most understanding man you could ever meet. Homer still treats him as a villain, though, since he needs one to fulfill his college fantasy.
- Futurama: Professor Farnsworth's Jerkass rival scientist, WERNSTROM!! Both men are frequently called to come up with solutions to various world-threatening calamities, and the fact that he keeps being called back proves that Wernstrom is just as much of a Science Hero as Farnsworth... the only difference is he's a colossal dick about it! Their rivalry actually started over something ridiculously trivial, back when Farnsworth was Wernstrom's college professor and he (very slightly) deducted points on a test to penalize bad handwriting, and Wernstrom swore he'd get revenge even if it took a hundred years. This revenge usually comes in the form of criticism, skepticism, and trying to be the better scientist. However, when Farnsworth meekly asks for a team-up, Wernstrom states it would be his honor.
- This happened in the Martha Speaks episode "Martha Out West"; Alice's Big Brother Bully Ronald didn't want to play an outlaw in the western movie they were filming (since outlaws do illegal things) so they made him a guy who buys the town and forces everyone to leave.
- The Fairly OddParents
- Remy Buxaplenty Deconstructs this concept. Remy isn't really doing anything wrong by one-upping Timmy, and his backstory makes him easy to sympathize with, except that he's such a huge jerk about it. He starts out like this, but we see that get pulled apart when we see him attempt to bribe Timmy from his fairies and later enter a magical duel with him. After they tie, Timmy tries to get Remy to just call it a draw, mentioning he doesn't care if Remy has fairies. However, it's an issue for Remy because he doesn't view it as fair for Timmy to have both loving (if not idiotic) parents and his godparents. He ends up losing his (but returns in a later episode and a few more times.) He became a full villain the moment he decided that he'd risk losing his fairy just for the chance for Timmy to lose his.
- The Dinkleburgs too, who are, for the most part, completely harmless, but enjoy rubbing their accomplishments in Timmy's dad's face. That being said, the show does portray Timmy's dad in a less-than-flattering light for him hating them so much. However, one episode had Mr. Dinkleburg humor being a straight-up villain just to make Timmy's dad appear Properly Paranoid (though we discover Dinkleburg did it to try and cheer Mr. Turner up).
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has its fair share of these — though, admittedly, it also has plenty of genuine villains, too.
- Prince Blueblood in "Best Night Ever" is a Royal Brat, and although genuinely unpleasant he is never anything more than a self-centered snob who probably would have never approached Rarity if she had not done so first.
- Trixie, who is often regarded as one of the show's more memorable characters, yet was only guilty of showboating and humiliating three of the protagonists in "Boast Busters" (who actually started the fight by heckling and then challenging Trixie to best them). When a giant beast trashed the town, Trixie's only real involvement was that she had made claims of being able to stop such a threat when this was not actually true. The later episode "Magic Duel" subverts this at first, when Trixie returns to Ponyville armed with immensely powerful magic, boots Twilight Sparkle out of the town, and reigns over the city. However, her newfound evil is revealed to be the doing of the Artifact of Doom she used to obtain power. It is not hard to surmise that Trixie got the Amulet in an attempt to simply show up Twilight, but The Corruption took it from there. By the end of the episode, Trixie is remorseful for the horrible things she has done under the Amulet's influence and makes amends to Twilight.
- This trope is actually addressed and made a plot-point in later episodes where Trixie laments how her reputation has suffered due to the events of each episode (which as a traveling performer means it directly affects her livelihood), despite the fact that she didn't technically do anything illegal. "No Second Prances"'s conflict is started when she forms a friendship with Starlight, who points out the hypocrisy that she was given a chance to turn over a new leaf and forgiven of everything she'd done, despite committing several actual crimes, while Trixie was still a pariah hated by the Mane Six despite her only "crimes" being boastful and using a dangerous magical artifact (though as Twilight herself points out, that doesn't excuse Trixie still acting like an annoying Jerkass despite ostensibly turning over a new leaf, which isn't helped by how in this very episode Trixie lets slip she was using her friendship with Starlight to get back at Twilight before it became genuine).
- Jet Set and Upper Crust from "Sweet and Elite" are snobby elitists who walk around with their muzzles in the air and disparage Rarity because she comes from a rural town — the moment that they go from admiring Rarity's hat design to dismissing it as worthless because they just found out she comes from Ponyville is the moment they get revealed as the "bad guys" of the episode.
- Chancellor Neighsay is one of the most maligned villains to ever appear in the show and often considered to stand alongside major antagonists like Lord Tirek, King Sombra and Queen Chrysalis, in spite of the fact he doesn't do anything definitively villainous apart from enforcing the policies of the EEA and closing Twilight's School of Friendship due to racially-motivated but otherwise valid reasons. He is just such an obnoxious, nasty, and unlikable individual about it though that he is hard not to hate. The Season 8 finale reveals that he was indeed Good All Along and simply misguided, and he lightens up and does what little of a HeelFace Turn he'd need to pull to firmly land on the side Twilight and her crew.
- Ranger Smith from Yogi Bear is by no means a bad guy. He's simply trying to do his job to keep Jellystone Park trouble-free and keep Yogi and Boo-Boo from stealing picnic baskets from the campers.
- Mr. Peevly from The Hair Bear Bunch is similar Hanna-Barbera instance. He's a punch clock butt monkey who is consigned to watching after a zoo full of animals who don't take him or his assistant seriously.
- SpongeBob SquarePants. While capable of being an outright villain Depending on the Episode, Plankton at times can be a legitimate competitor towards Mr. Krabs with no real malicious intention, once even offering to give up attempting to steal the formula for one single customer. Worst-case scenario in these situations, Plankton just wants to drive Krabs nuts.
- Squidward fits the role even better, simply being irritable and condescending about Spongebob's demeanor. A lot of the older fanbase has actually ended up sympathizing with Squidward over Spongebob, finding the former's irritation justified. Can you blame someone for disliking a neighbor who once blasted techno music for 12 hours?
- Done intentionally with the aptly-named fan-favorite Freaky Fred of Courage the Cowardly Dog, who despite being fondly remembered as one of the most disturbing characters in the entire series alongside legitimately terrifying characters like King Ramses and Katz, is ironically the least malicious and dangerous "villain" to ever appear. He's a truly freaky person, he's obsessed with cutting hair and can't help himself, but his intentions for visiting truly were to merely visit his Aunt Muriel and he's a polite, genuinely kind person who even speaks nicely about Eustace. Just don't make the mistake of getting locked alone in the bathroom with him like poor Courage, or you'll end up bald and scared shitless.