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You all know the character: he's the Magnificent Bastard. That villain you Love to Hate. The one who baffles the heroes at every turn with his clever schemes, fights them to a draw with his sheer badassery, and generally speaking makes everyone else in the show, including The Smart Guy on the Five-Man Band, look like a total idiot. He's awesome. He's stylish. He's about as great as villainy can get. Or perhaps the Magnificent Bastard is an Anti-Hero, a hero befuddling the enemy with diabolical intellect and brilliance equal to that of a villainous mastermind, yet altogether not unwilling to resort to immoral means in their attempts to ensure their goals, whether those goals are heroic in nature or not.

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Now you want to write one. You want to write a genuine Magnificent Bastard, the kind that viewers will remember for years to come. They're not just some kind of Jerkass when it comes to acts of well-calculated evil or unscrupulousness, they're astonishingly good at putting the squeeze on their foes. Well, have no fear. TV Tropes is here to help you. This guide will provide you with a list of tropes to include (and exclude) in your creation of this type of character, as well as a few examples of the very best of this amazing lot. After that, it's all up to you.

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Related tropes

Necessary tropes:

These are the must-haves, the tropes without which a Magnificent Bastard cannot survive, let alone impress anyone. We’ll let the page description do the talking: "Capturing the audience with their charisma, incredible intellect, mastery of manipulation, and boldness in action, this character is a show-stealer, demanding your reverence at every turn."

These two tropes are generally essential to a Magnificent Bastard:

  • The Chessmaster: the Magnificent Bastard is, first and foremost, a planner. They have to be able to manipulate events with supreme skill. Characters like Lex Luthor may not be the physical match of the heroes they go up against, but their ability to plan things out beforehand ensures that they obtain victory more often than not. Bonus points if they actually play chess or any variation of the game.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Because sometimes controlling events just isn't enough. The Magnificent Bastard needs to be able to manipulate people, by reaching inside them and hitting them where it emotionally hurts. The best Magnificent Bastards have an intuitive grasp of a character's basic psyche and will use it against them at every opportunity.
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Other tropes:

    Supplementary tropes 
  • Affably Evil: One of the fun things about the Magnificent Bastard, is that no matter how bad they may be, the audience loves to watch them. Making them polite or even downright friendly can help to win them further audience sympathy. You shouldn't let it go too far, of course (unless you want them to get a set of leather pants), but making your bastard personally likeable is definitely a good idea. It can be even better if the hero likes them too, as it adds a whole new dimension to the relationship that you can play with.
  • Anti-Hero: When writing a non-villainous character as a Magnificent Bastard, the Anti-Hero archetype can prove essential. Heroic examples can run the entire spectrum of antiheroism, from a Pragmatic Hero who is willing to dirty their hands a little to an Unscrupulous Hero who is willing to use full-on immoral means to accomplish good goals. Even a Nominal Hero can count as this, and in fact they stand a very good chance of qualifying, as they may not have good motives at heart whatsoever.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: While not necessary, analytical skill can be a huge tool in ensuring a character is seen as magnificent. This doubles with Xanatos Speed Chess, as a clever villain will be able to figure out and break down a situation. This is very much essential in regards to intelligence rather than just charm.
  • Benevolent Boss: As written in Pet the Dog below, make your MB nice to their minions to give them more respect.
  • Beware the Silly Ones/Obfuscating Stupidity: This isn't required, but the Magnificent Bastard can really fool the hero and their team especially if they're The Mole. Once the Magnificent Bastard pulls this off, no one will ever suspect that they have done a horrendous deed. First trope can also give to your character more audience love, if under "Silly" means "funny".
  • Consummate Liar: This is another trope that your bastard not only can use, but should, since they're a master of trickery and deceit. Using lies to hide their real intentions, your bastard can be sure that no one suspects a thing about their hidden agenda. Of course, don't make the lies too blatant. If the lies are too obvious, it runs the risk of making the ones the bastard is lying to look like they're carrying the Idiot Ball instead of making the bastard look magnificent... Unless, of course, the whole point is for them to know they're lying so the Magnificent Bastard can play mind games while they try to figure out their next move, but this kind of layered deception can be very hard to pull off well.

    Or, as an alternative to lying, you could try making it so your bastard doesn't even bother to lie in the first place. While somewhat difficult to do from a writing standpoint, when done right, this can up your bastard's magnificent and bastard levels several fold. Expect any bastard that engages in this to be a master of False Reassurance, You Didn't Ask, Exact Words, and Metaphorically True.

    The two are not mutually exclusive; a villain with a keen grasp of when to lie, how to lie, and how much to lie can be very slippery indeed.
  • The Corrupter: As it says on the page, sometimes a character doesn't need to manipulate others into doing something. Perhaps they can make a character do something of their own will, and point out they had no hand in making them do so. It's a very hard ask - they've just made a person do something, without any obvious influence from another, and made them look it out of their own will. A character that can do this can be quite magnificent indeed, and it may not be too hard to suggest some of the most magnificent do not need to manipulate, only suggest. Never have a direct hand, but only guide. Do be careful with this one, though - don't make it seem too 'off-hand', and make a point to show what they've done. When it hits the one corrupted, show what happened and the bastard's magnificence can be shown.
  • Deadpan Snarker: It isn't essential, but the ability to dish out the snark goes a long way towards helping establish a Magnificent Bastard's magnificence, especially if it's used to get under the hero's skin and cause them to lose their cool. Then, when the Magnificent Bastard takes advantage of their distraction, it will all look like part of the plan even if it wasn't.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Though it will undoubtedly take much more effort to properly pull off, having your magnificent bastard as a product of their environment and upbringing can work wonders against them becoming a Mary Sue, and grant amazing sympathy from the audience on their actions and opinions. After all, both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan conquered very large parts of the world, but had different ways of going about it due to their differing upbringings (Disputed Heir of Greece vs. Unwanted Steppe Child), challenges faced, and opportunities presented. If you're trying to make them more aggressive than the standard MB, perhaps they grew up in a harsh warrior society; if they seem unreasonably accepting of others, perhaps they were a member of an outcast group themselves. Differing cultures between the hero and the villain can also help create a more morally grey setting, and set the magnificent bastard up for a defeat without some Deus ex Machina harming their intelligence because they didn't fully understand the rallying/disheartening/otherwise unexpected reaction of their opponent's allies and/or peoples simply because such reactions wouldn't happen in theirs.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Few things humanize a villain like people they genuinely care for. If your bastard has a strong romantic, familial, or even platonic bond with somebody else, it can go a long way towards both fleshing them out and making them more likeable to the audience.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: It's not necessary, but establishing that your bastard has standards can go a long way towards earning them audience sympathy and respect. Just remember to make those standards constant: if they're opposed to something but later reveals themselves to be a hypocrite about it, that hard earned respect will go down the drain.
  • Evil Is Cool: Few things earn a villain audience respect like coolness. Whether they're suavely sinister, greatly intimidating, or just have a commanding force of personality, being cool helps to earn a villain significant Magnificent Bastard points.
  • Evil Is Sexy: This can definitely help you earn points with the audience. It can also help your character in universe. Someone who looks like Quasimodo is going to have trouble getting people to trust them. Someone who looks like Brad Pitt in a nice suit on the other hand, will have a much easier time of it. Bonus points if they're good at seduction.
  • Evil Virtues: These are a good source of sympathy and depth. A Magnificent Bastard will have many of these, or sometimes all of them in some rare cases. In other words, inserting these into a Bastard makes them a much more three-dimensional character and could cement their Worthy Opponent status with their enemies.
  • Finger-Tenting: This is a common pose for the Magnificent Bastard. It's a great way to portray them as deceptive and confident. It's especially effective when combined with Psychotic Smirk, Kubrick Stare, or ominous lighting.
  • Gentleman Thief: The Magnificent Bastard, if a criminal rather than wide-scale schemer, can easily be a Gentleman Thief. Combining class, cunning, and criminality, the Gentleman Thief carries the charming edge as well as the intelligence and cleverness requisite of the archetype.
  • Graceful Loser: Since the Magnificent Bastard is usually motivated by romance, tragedy, and most importantly honor, whenever they lose to the heroes, having them face defeat with dignity is a very good idea. Rather than throw a hissy fit or respond in shock and disbelief, a character of their type can compliment the heroes whether it be for their skill, their strength, their honor, or something else they may have in mind (I.E. The Power of Friendship). If the Magnificent Bastard's defeat equals death, having them Face Death with Dignity wouldn't be such a bad idea either.
  • Heel–Face Turn: While redemption isn't essential for a Magnificent Bastard, it can be a good way to make sure your Bastard isn't too bastard, earning that extra bit of sympathy from the audience. Just be careful not to do the redemption too early, as there still needs to be a significant amount of time when your Bastard was being a bastard. If they go through redemption before they did any significantly morally dubious acts, then they may end up being too heroic to qualify. But once enough time has passed, your MB can turn over a new leaf and maybe even stay as a hero for the rest of the story, where so long as they remain smart and dignified they'll still have had a Magnificent phase. A good place to put their redemption can be near the end of a specific story arc like a finale, or maybe even in the form of a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Hero Killer: As the Magnificent Bastard always has a backup strategy just in case so that they win every time, making them this is another good idea as well. You can tell anyway that whenever a bastard who happens to be a Hero Killer shows up, the good guys are sure not to stand a chance, especially with the backup plans your bastard has in store for them. Just make sure not to make them too powerful, even if it's to the point of making them overpowered to the point of being nearly impossible to defeat, as it may just have a chance of landing them in Villain Sue territory.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: Generally speaking, this is another great trope for your Magnificent Bastard. Whether they are a Deceptive Disciple, a Treacherous Advisor, Bastard Understudy, or even a Big Bad Friend and it be being Faux Affably Evil or using Blatant Lies, you can make your bastard really good at hiding their true plans from everyone else. Just don't take too long in drawing out the reveal, or your audience's interest may give way to frustration.
  • Knight of Cerebus: Nothing illustrates a Magnificent Bastard better than having them played perfectly straight as opposed to the bumbling Harmless Villains that the good guys have faced before. Having a character that gives your goody-goody two-shoes a hard time and takes the show on a turn for the darker and more dramatic is a great way to show how your bastard means business. Just be sure not to make them head towards being an unsympathetic Complete Monster or even shove them across the Moral Event Horizon himself, as you most definitely still want to have your bastard's story using some sympathy from his audience, after all.
  • Large Ham: It says optional, and many Bastards aren't this everyday, but the truly magnificent have at least a small dose of this in them somewhere. The Magnificent Bastard has to be a magnetic character, drawing both other characters and the audience to themselves. There is something almost Shakespearean about this character, a sense of the grandiose, of the larger than life, and this trope can help to bring that out. Note that they don't always need to be going over the top, but a few Chewing the Scenery moments can definitely be helpful if carried off right, showing just how impressive the character is. Most villains are ultimately, on some level, failures, (though there are exceptions), but the Magnificent Bastard is a failure on a grand scale, the kind of person you simply cannot look away from. However, there are cases where hamminess can backfire; a writer should avoid making the character come off as annoying or ridiculous.
  • Laughably Evil: Even though there's not really any necessary need for this trope, a great way for your bastard to attract the respect of the audience is to make them laugh. Your bastard can throw in random funny scenes and even chew the scenery to provide laughs for the audience. Just be sure to pick their funny moments wisely; excessive silliness may end up costing him his dignity (especially if they're the butt of the joke too much) and having them chew the scenery too much may result in a Villainous Breakdown, but as long as the writer makes sure to avoid certain pitfalls, the audience won't mind.
  • Lovable Rogue: A dastardly outlaw who nonetheless has lovable and honorable traits tends to be an easy path to success for this archetype, whether hero or villain. The combination of their crimes and their sheer lovable tenacity mean that the audience is likely to sympathize with them while simultaneously admiring their brilliance in many ways.
  • Noble Demon: Making your bastard one is a good idea, since they are rarely, if ever, pointlessly cruel. It's always interesting to note that your bastard should speak in a polite and sophisticated manner quite often. Just make sure they're not too polite, unless you really want to make out of your bastard a Draco in Leather Pants, which, of course, is quite fun once you get used to it.
  • No-Nonsense Nemesis: A character who doesn't "play with their food" is sure to earn a good deal of audience respect for their pragmatism. Whether a villain or an anti-hero, a bastard who just tries to deal with their enemies as quickly and effectively as possible will appear intelligent and avoid coming off as arrogant or needlessly sadistic.
  • Pet the Dog: This trope fits really well with any Magnificent Bastard who has followers. As such, your bastard should act like a gentleman to their minions, and treat them with respect, even letting them live even if they don't succeed. Yeah, petting the dog is a fitting trope for bastards who have those doing as he tells them.

    Another way your bastard can Pet the Dog is to show kindness to others... and look magnificent while doing so. For example, they can return something that was lost by its owner and that's what gives your bastard the respect they deserve from those they performed his Pet the Dog moment for, especially if they're Affably Evil.
  • The Plan: Proficiency in all types of plans should be a part of every Magnificent Bastard's repertoire.
    • Batman Gambit: As stated in Manipulative Bastard, they know what those around them are likely to do and explot it
    • Xanatos Gambit: Named for David Xanatos, a perfect example of a Magnificent Bastard. He benefits even when his plans fail or someone thwarts them
    • Just be careful to avoid Gambit Pileups, which even the most careful of planners can fall victim to. While a Gambit Pileup can be beneficial for whoever ultimately comes out on top, it can also often lead one or more of the planners to lose their footing. If a character is meant to be seen as a Magnificent Bastard and gets involves in a Gambit Pileup, it's advisable to ultimately make their opponent a Smug Snake.
    • Xanatos Speed Chess: If the villain's plans don't go off the rails at some point, it's hard to argue for them being a Magnificent Bastard rather than simply a good planner. That is where Xanatos Speed Chess comes in; if the villain cannot improvise on the fly, they will likely fail humiliatingly. The mark of a true Magnificent Bastard isn't how they handle things when they're easy, but how they improvise when they're hard.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: A good idea is to have your Bastard's evil, whenever possible, be practical. If they start kicking dogs For the Evulz too often, there's a risk of both Motive Decay, Villain Decay, or, conversely, it might be a sign that your Magnificent Bastard is heading toward complete monsterhood. And no, since you're making them look dumber on the way down, they won't still be magnificent when they hit the Moral Event Horizon.
  • The Strategist: Everyone loves a good military genius, so making your Bastard skillful at planning and executing military strategies is a great way to earn audience respect. The virtues of a good commander are also great traits for a Bastard to have. Bonus points if the Bastard is a Frontline General or Four-Star Badass willing to personally take part in the action. One caveat, however: it's possible to take this too far; a Mary Tzu is more likely to annoy or irritate the audience than be respected by them.
  • The Trickster: While it applies more to the antiheroic version of the Magnificent Bastard, a cunning version of The Trickster has serious skill in matters of cleverness and in defiance of authority. The Trickster is extremely useful when writing many characters who are liars, scoundrels, or antiheroes who the audience nonetheless loves.
  • That One Boss: Not really applicable outside of video games, but a useful trope for any villain whom you want to be especially memorable, whether they're a Magnificent Bastard, a Complete Monster, or just an especially vile Smug Snake. Getting defeated again and again while in-play, will drive home to your audience just how badass your villain is in-story and reinforce the prowess he displayed in the cutscenes. Just make sure to avoid Fake Difficulty, and preferably, One-Winged Angel. A good MB can defeat the player using only their own strengths. Making them a Duel Boss isn't necessarily a bad idea either.
  • Übermensch: Living by one's own visions, philosophy and moral code can be quite a help: see also Even Evil Has Standards, Evil Virtues and Visionary Villain.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: This is often linked to Affably Evil and Hidden Agenda Villain. Giving your bastard good publicity isn't such a bad idea, either, as they can attract the respect of civilizations with their sophisticated manners. Making them act overall kindly and friendly with others is also supplementary, as well. Just be careful to avoid making others care for them too much, as it may make them too magnificent and even run them the risk of becoming a Villain Sue. Nevertheless, making them more friendly than expected can place them into Draco in Leather Pants territory, if that's what you want.
  • Villainous Fashion Sense/Badass in a Nice Suit: How the character dresses is very important. In real life, this is one of the signs of a deceiver.
  • Villainous Valor: Fitting with how the Magnificent Bastard is not a Dirty Coward, having them display some real bravery and cunning in a corner can be key to endearing a bastard to the audience.
  • Visionary Villain: Like the main page says; "He has a goal, he's not going to stop until he's completed it. To that end he will do almost anything. He'll move heaven and hell, and we want to see him succeed." Having the bastard explain their vision may also give them an opportunity to chew the scenery.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Intentions behind ones crimes are among the most important for if the audience is meant to sympathise or revile your Bastard. In fact sometimes it is just down to intent that makes the difference between a destructive Magnificent Bastard and a Complete Monster, even when the crime in question is equal or greater. Though be careful about making the well intentions too extreme, as this may risk them falling into Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist territory and costing sympathy.
  • Wicked Cultured: Culture and sophistication can make the Magnificent Bastard look classy and intelligent by having them quote William Shakespeare frequently or as part of a Hannibal Lecture. It could even make him look like a Cultured Badass by having them kick ass to Mozart without spilling a drop of their fine wine.
  • Worthy Opponent: This is another way that you can make your Magnificent Bastard appeal to the audience: if they consider the hero a worthy adversary, or is viewed as one by the hero. Also, one the bastard's strengths is that they rarely, if ever, underestimates their opponents, so keep this trope firmly in mind when you write their plans. They knows that the hero (or villain if they're playing on the heroic side) is bright, and plans accordingly.

    Tropes to avoid or be careful with 
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: It's true that we all respect our bastards in many ways possible. Of course, being arrogant is one thing that our bastards want to avoid or be careful with. Sure, they're badass, all-knowing and cool, and make other people look like idiots, but you just don't want to make them too arrogant about their badass, awesomeness, high intellect and immense power, because chances are, their arrogance might just be their fatal flaw. That said, a Magnificent Bastard can still be this, as long as they don't get blandly smug or fall into Smug Snake territory.
  • Ax-Crazy: This trope should generally be avoided, as making the bastard too violent and taking sadistic glee in inflicting harm will immediately cost them sympathy and sometimes even dignity. Remember a good Magnificent Bastard tends to be a Pragmatic Villainy who avoids unnecessarily cruel actions.
  • Bad Boss: It's true that some characters tend to kill their minions either for failing them or just because they no longer have a need for them as a reminder that the character is truly a bastard - there's just a good reason why your bastard wants to be careful around this. Nothing damages or destroys the respect of the audience like killing the character's mooks too constantly. Remember, a good Magnificent Bastard is extremely careful when it comes to telling their mooks what to do, so using this trope at your discretion is a very smart idea.
  • Berserk Button: Another trope to be careful around is the Berserk Button. Naturally, nothing causes respect for your bastard to fall than doing something to make them suddenly fly into a rage over and over and over again. As long as your bastard's Berserk Button isn't hit too many times, the audience won't mind. In fact, having a specific Berserk Button that's only pushed once or twice can show a Bastard lose control, giving a good scare to both other characters and the audience, while still letting them keep their cool most of the time. Pushing the button far too often, though, may result in your bastard's Villainous Breakdown.
  • Boisterous Weakling: Often coming as a combination of a Smug Snake and a Dirty Coward, a Boisterous Weakling is a trope that you want to avoid when writing a Magnificent Bastard. If a bastard is physically weaker than their opponent they should be more subtle and quiet and should only act confident and arrogant if they have the skills to back it up. If they don't, they will be easily defeated for greatly underestimating the opponents they mercilessly taunted while losing the respect and admiration of the audience.
  • Butt-Monkey: While it's fine for a Magnificent Bastard to be Laughably Evil, be careful about overdoing it to the point where they end up being humiliated. If a villain is constantly treated as a joke, then there's a high chance this will cost them magnificence. A funny Magnificent Bastard should be on the delivering end of the joke, not the receiving end.
  • The Chew Toy: Similar to the Butt-Monkey above, this is a trope that you are going to avoid at all costs. A villain who is constantly humiliated or the butt of the work's most sadistic jokes will lose all of their aura of respect, dignity, coolness and/or badassery. A good MB will never allow this, let alone allow themselves to be seen as weak.
  • Complete Monster: Although some of the MBs listed below in "Particular examples" may cross the line into this, generally speaking this is a trope you want to avoid. The Magnificent Bastard evokes awe in the audience, and grudging respect from the hero (for example: even Superman has acknowledged Luthor's intelligence); while the Complete Monster evokes fear and loathing, and a certain level of disgust from both. Granted, characters can indeed count as both (and some do!), but they're still a pair of tropes that are very hard to mix together. This isn't to say that the Magnificent Bastard doesn't frighten the hero, but it's in a "I'm not sure I can defeat them" way, not a "Oh my God, I have to stop them before they start raping nuns in the street" way. There's a difference there, and it's very important. If you manage to write your Magnificent Bastard correctly, the audience will (on some level at least) want them to stick around. All they want a Complete Monster to do, on the other hand, is die a satisfying death as much as possible. For further information about what can lead to this, see the Write a Complete Monster page.
  • Designated Villain: All these suggestions about ambiguous morality and avoiding typical villainous behavior can be overdone. Remember, if you want them to be a villain, your Magnificent Bastard is still a bastard. If they lose their bastard...ness, then they end up being simply magnificent. This can leave the heroes with Motive Decay, cause, why are they fighting such a magnificent guy? This can be useful, though, if you want a work with Grey-and-Gray Morality.
  • Dirty Coward: If there's one thing a Magnificent Bastard is not, it's this. Like the Hate Sink, a Dirty Coward is obviously something not to be liked or admired as they make their fear obvious, screw people to save themselves, and would abandon their plans if said plans mean putting themselves in danger, all of which negate any magnificence from the bastard. That's not to say an MB should never be afraid or flee from danger, but their response should be proportionate to the situation and they should have more reason for doing so than simply being craven. Ideally, they would remain at least somewhat composed and rational.
  • Evil Gloating: This is a trope that can be done well, but is somewhat dangerous when writing a Magnificent Bastard. Sometimes, you may feel the need to have the villain unleash their appetite on the setting around them, preferably at a time when they have the hero at their knees. A well-placed Hannibal Lecture or "The Reason You Suck" Speech, done right, can show that your Bastard is, at least for the moment, superior to their hapless opponent. However, too much Evil Gloating can make this character lose their original flair, as the audience begins to stop admiring the character's competence and begins being annoyed by their arrogance. Losing your character's charisma in this manner means that you will likely create a Smug Snake out of a Magnificent Bastard.
  • Evil Is Petty: Gratuitous dickishness tends to diminish the respect the audience has for a bad guy, especially if it's small-minded in nature. It's not an automatic disqualifier, but it's definitely something a writer should be careful about using if they want to write a Magnificent Bastard.
  • Fantastic Racism: While Politically Incorrect Villain is listed below, Fantastic Racism has a more dubious standing with the Magnificent Bastard archetype. Provided the racism has a motive and is fantastical enough, with minimal parallels to real-world racism, a character can succeed in charming the audience while still bearing some hatred for another fantastical species.
  • Fashion-Victim Villain: Dressing in an exceptionally ridiculous way can and does detract from the audience's ability to take the character seriously. No matter how brilliant your bastard is, if they come out in a tutu and a gorilla mask, the audience is going to laugh (and laugh at them, not with them). That isn't to say that the character cannot wear a ridiculous costume on occasion (such as when moving around in disguise), but generally speaking the better dressed they are, the better the vibe they're going to give off and the more the audience is going to be intimidated by their presence.
  • Flat Character/Generic Doomsday Villain: If there is one thing a Magnificent Bastard is known for, it's the charming and distinctive personalities that they bring. If a bastard is not given a lot of personality or any at all, then they'll come across as boring, uninteresting and certainly not magnificent.
  • For the Evulz: This is a trope that a Magnificent Bastard should definitely avoid. Committing evil acts just for the sake of it can diminish the magnificence of a villain and therefore the respect the audience has for them. A good MB should have a clear motive behind their actions along with some logic.
  • Gambit Roulette: This trope can prove a character is audacious and daring, but it can also lead to highly improbable occurrences leading to victory. It's easy to fall victim to writing ridiculous plans that will make the audience feel as though the character is succeeding solely by the merits of the plot rather than their own.
  • Hate Sink: Similarly to the Complete Monster, this is obviously one trope you want to avoid using. The Magnificent Bastard is known for attracting admiration from the audience and respect from the hero. The Hate Sink, on the other hand, has a role clearly designed to be so hateful that the audience wants to see them fail as much as they want to see the hero take them down. Also, a Hate Sink is often defined by either arrogance, selfishness, bigotry, douchebaggery or cowardice, making it even more obvious that we're supposed to hate someone labeled as one. Since the Hate Sink is often labeled as a Smug Snake, it's already obvious that people who want to write their own Magnificent Bastard will want to stay away from this trope as often as possible, as they want to see their bastard succeed. All they want the Hate Sink to do is fail as miserably as possible. If you feel that your character is headed towards Hate Sinkery, it's time to think things through and re-evaluate your character.
  • Hypocrite: An MB may be hypocritical, but they should never become so hypocritical that they defeat the purpose of whatever they seem to aim for. This can reduce their magnificence greatly, and can make the audience far less endeared to them than they should be.
  • Kick the Dog: As stated in the Moral Event Horizon entry below, the Magnificent Bastard should never do anything so horrible that they lose the Magnificent part of their status. That said, there's a reason why Bastard is also a part of the title. A few well-placed kicks can remind the audience that yes, they are the villain of the piece. Too many, though, may well cost them any audience sympathy. Use actions like this carefully, and make sure they never go so far as to cross the Moral Event Horizon.
  • Memory Gambit: Not everyone is cut out to beat a Lie Detector or Living Lie Detector, this can extend even to magnificent bastards. Utilizing this trope can be a great way to overcome this obstacle. But it should be used with caution, not remembering plans can be quite an obstacle, especially if that includes not remembering you had plans in the first place. As such this plan should be treated as high risk on the Magnificent Bastard's part. In order to minimize risk the Magnificent Bastard must try to set up circumstances so that after the gambit is set in place, it does its job, and following that the return of his memories. This is really tricky to pull off with his magnificence intact if circumstances prevent him from being able to reduce the risk.
  • Moral Event Horizon: This is linked to Kick the Dog. There are lines that the Magnificent Bastard should not cross. To be effective, they must always remain at least somewhat sympathetic to the audience. After crossing this line, all sympathy vanishes. The Magnificent Bastard should of course do terrible things. That's part of the job. But they should never be so terrible that they lose their audience appeal. If this happens, it's a decent sign that you’re doing something wrong. Unless of course, you want the character to lose sympathy as the story goes along (which is a perfectly legitimate plot idea). If so, this is how you do it.

    If you do cross the Horizon with your character, remember that this is not something you can back out of later on. The character will be altered permanently by the event, probably becoming a Complete Monster. Any attempt to turn the character back into a Magnificent Bastard after crossing the Moral Event Horizon will reek of Karma Houdini.
  • Obviously Evil: How your Magnificent Bastard appears is important - you obviously want to use this trope at your discretion. Whether it's a character with Too Many Skulls, Hellish Pupils, or Spikes of Villainy, you just wouldn't want them looking way too freaky to truly be a Magnificent Bastard. Now if that sort of appearance fits the setting, it can be all right, but be careful.
  • Oh, Crap!: Generally speaking, your bastard should remain calm and collected at all times. Though it's likely there will come a time where the Bastard gets caught off guard or comes across a point where their plan goes wrong. It's only natural to be shocked sometimes, especially something they had no way of anticipating. What's important however is that they are able to recover and remain dignified. Having said that, if the shocked response is too emotional it may verge on Villainous Breakdown which may cost them their magnificence.
  • Only the Author Can Save Them Now: For both the bastard and the people they're opposing. While a successful gambit is well and good, creating a situation where the bastard has so many advantages and their plans reach so far that the characters they oppose have no chance can do real harm to your bastard's credibility. Similarly, if the bastard is so cornered that they're unable to make it out, it's often better to let them Face Death with Dignity than to try and give them an Ass Pull to get out.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: This is a trope you want to avoid. A racist villain, for obvious reasons, tends to create unnecessary controversy, both In-Universe and out.
  • Pride: Giving your Bastard a healthy dose of confidence is necessary, since they are, after all, magnificent. However, this needs to be handled with caution; if their natural confidence and belief in themselves devolves into unwarranted arrogance, the character is in very real danger of losing their polish and flair, and this can devolve your charismatic, threatening, Magnificent Bastard into an insufferable Smug Snake. Remember, a Magnificent Bastard's confidence must stay within reason; their assumptions about their own competence should be more or less the same as the audience's own perception of them. Pride also tends to define the Magnificent Bastard's primary Fatal Flaw, especially in tragedies.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: We've extensively covered the subject of costing yourself audience sympathy, and this is the big one. It's a line that no character can cross without also crossing the Moral Event Horizon. Any character who commits this crime, will automatically be hated by every sane member of the audience. No matter how dark your story is, you can't do this and still be writing a Magnificent Bastard. The buck stops here. Besides, between their manipulation skills, natural appeal, and "bad" reputation, a real Magnificent Bastard should have no trouble bedding any woman (or man) they want, without doing something as un-magnificent as forcing themselves on them. And that's assuming, of course, that they're even interested in the first place.
  • Sadist: While this trope doesn't automatically disqualify someone from becoming magnificent, but it's nonetheless a trope that you should try to avoid. A sadist will try to commit pointlessly cruel acts just to take pleasure at their victims suffering. If your MB becomes too sadistic, torturing and tormenting their enemies for For the Evulz, that bastard would become too unsavory to be considered magnificent, especially when their victims decide to make them pay for all the abuse that the bastards subjected them to.
  • Smug Snake: This trope is the culmination of numerous other tropes that one should be careful with. A character who is overconfident, overly arrogant, and utterly convinced of their own superiority will not earn the audience's respect, no matter how much of a Chessmaster, Manipulative Bastard, or improvisational mastermind they may be. This isn't to say that a Smug Snake cannot be a great villain and a serious threat, but if you really want your character to be an MB, stay away from this. If you feel you are approaching Smug Snakery, it's time to seriously reevaluate your character.
  • Sore Loser: This doesn't necessarily automatically disqualify a character from qualifying for this trope, but consistently getting overly angry or upset at defeat can really hurt a character's chances of being seen as magnificent. While there's nothing inherently wrong with somebody occasionally taking a loss badly (it might even make them more sympathetic under some circumstances, such as if the loss involved losing someone they care about), doing it too much will just make a character look thin-skinned and pitiful, which are not traits that garner audience respect.
  • Stupid Evil: If there's one thing a Magnificent Bastard is not known for, it's being stupid. They must always be smart and make the most intelligent and pragmatic decisions no matter what the circumstances might be. If a bastard starts making idiotic decisions, magnificence from your character starts to diminish.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Due to the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II, this is a trope that almost NEVER goes with a Magnificent Bastard. The only leniency that can be afforded is if the character in question is a Nazi in-name-only and it is clear they do not display allegiance or conform to the Nazi ideology. Generally though, it is far more likely to go with a Complete Monster.
  • Too Dumb to Live: This is one that should be avoided at all costs. Separately, blundering or being killed can hurt a Bastard's magnificence, but together they are an instant disqualification. No matter how charming or smart a Bastard is, if they end up getting themselves killed as a result of their own stupid actions, then that's going to lose all of an audience's respect. On occasion there are some exceptions where their death is agreed to be beyond the scope of their control, or a mistake that anyone in their situation could have easily made, but these are quite rare and generally best to leave out. Remember, if a Bastard is to die, it must either be on their own terms, or from something that they cannot feasibly be expected to counter.
  • Villain Sue/Mary Tzu: The one thing you probably want to avoid more than anything else is making your Magnificent Bastard too magnificent. Yes, this character is typically built up as a "perfect villain", but more than anything a Magnificent Bastard is human, which means they have flaws. A character whose plans always succeed, who always correctly predicts how everyone will react, and who curb-stomps everyone they fight will quickly become an object of fan hatred, and drive the story into Only the Author Can Save Them Now territory. Of course, as mentioned several times, one of the defining traits of the Magnificent Bastard is that the audience likes them, despite their Bastard-ery; it is therefore only natural that you, the writer, might like them quite a bit too. But you mustn't show that. If the universe is too kind to the Magnificent Bastard, or they're too perfect, then they'll automatically lose the audience's respect; so, give them their victories here and there to show their magnificence, but make them work for it and suffer setbacks too.
  • Villainous Breakdown: In addition to having the audience's sympathy, the Magnificent Bastard must also maintain a certain level of audience respect. We know they're brilliant, and that's why they frightens us. Nothing will destroy that respect like watching them Freak Out because things didn't go their way. A badly done breakdown can reduce the character to a pitiable ruin in the eyes of your audience. As a general note, a Magnificent Bastard who has been foiled will either shrug it off, or attack the hero, finishing things with grace. Now, this is obviously subjective, and a Villainous Breakdown for a Magnificent Bastard, can be and has been, done well. A lot depends on how long your story is. If it's a one hundred episode show and they have a breakdown in the middle, and then recovers from it with panache, the audience probably won't mind. In fact, such a breakdown can add depth to the character and keep them out of Villain Sue territory. On the other hand, if it's one movie or book, and the last part before their battle with the hero is just one long breakdown, that may be all the audience remembers. Use this one wisely, and at your discretion.

    As above, that doesn't mean that you can't have your character have a Villainous Breakdown, you just have to bear in mind that once it happens the character will have been fundamentally and — unless you're a genius writer — permanently changed. It's an opportunity for character development, for sure, maybe they'll go on to become a Harmless Villain, or maybe they could even start on the road to redemption afterwards. Just don't try to have a character have a villainous breakdown and then expect them to retain their magnificent bastard status. A good Bastard knows when to fold 'em.
  • The Woobie: We are certainly not going to deny that you can write your MB with a tragic backstory in order to add elements of sympathy to the character. However, overusing of Woobieness will inevitably backfire and you will end up seeing your character as weak and helpless. A good MB will always impose an aura of respect, coolness and/or badassery.

Story-telling hints

So, now that we've looked at some of the tropes you might employ, let's get down to the meat of the matter: story-telling. How exactly do you want to use your Magnificent Bastard? A favorite will always be as the Big Bad. Even then, though, there are questions you need to ask yourself: What kind of Big Bad are they? A Corrupt Corporate Executive, out to make a buck no matter who gets hurt? An Evil Overlord, who’s read the list and is thus far more confident (and competent) than they should be? An army general, who gives Napoleon a run for his money in the brilliancy department? Who are they?

One of the nice things about this character type, of course, is that they don't have to be the Big Bad. They can be The Dragon, the leader of the Quirky Mini Boss Squad, or an outsider with their own agenda (maybe even The Starscream). They can even be an Anti-Hero, who assists the main cast for their own reasons. A warning (see Treat With Caution below): using this guy as your main character is not recommended, at least not on a first try. What makes a Magnificent Bastard scary is that they never appear to lose their cool, or even be defeatable before the end. What makes them cool is their ability to counterbalance their evil with sheer audacity. Main characters are different. We're with them when they succeed, and when they fail. We want to see them struggle, and we want to like them. A Magnificent Bastard who fails a lot, is no longer a Magnificent Bastard. They're just a Jerkass Anti-Hero with too many Kick The Dog moments, and will probably receive little empathy from viewers. On the other end of the scale, a hero who never fails… well, there's a name for that: it's Mary Sue. That's not to say it's not doable, but it's hard to get right.

Assuming that this character is a villain, their defeat needs to be a major part of the plot. Initial attempts at defeating them should likely result in a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, or the heroes being mobbed by their henchmen while the Magnificent Bastard themselves escape. As the story goes along, their plans may start to unravel, forcing them to improvise constantly, before ultimately being stopped at the end. If they're an anti-hero, they will likely be even harder to deal with, manipulating every member of the cast, hero or villain to their own ends. It wouldn't be unusual for an anti-heroic Magnificent Bastard to force The Hero and the Big Bad into a confrontation with one another, ensuring the latter's defeat while the Magnificent Bastard watches from a safe distance. Below are some other possible plot threads, and subversions.

  • Death: Let's face it, this character, whether hero or villain, is probably going to die (otherwise you've got a Karma Houdini on your hands, and that screams Villain Sue). If so, some possibilities are a Death Equals Redemption plotline following a last minute Heel–Face Turn (for villainous Bastards) or a Taking the Bullet moment for the anti-hero. However the Magnificent Bastard dies, they should do so with grace and/or style. Having them Go Out with a Smile is a good idea, as is It Has Been an Honor, and/or a successful Taking You with Me. Heck even just a plain Graceful Loser moment can show just how far above other characters your Bastard really was.
  • Romance: More than any villain (save perhaps the Noble Demon), the Magnificent Bastard is likely to possess some genuine human qualities, of which the capacity for love is one of them. It can make an interesting subplot, and help to humanize the character. The classic villain/villainess-falls-for-hero/heroine thing can be a lot of fun. So too though, can setting them up with another villain. Imagine what the marriage of Magnificent Bastard and a Manipulative Bitch could produce. Or, if you want to go for opposites attracting, how about a Magnificent Bastard Big Bad and their Blood Knight Hero Killer Dragon (because who says those roles can’t be female?) or even a Dark Chick Evil Genius Motherly Scientist? There are a lot of possibilities.
  • Pairing with a Complete Monster: Speaking of opposites, how about partnering this guy up with someone? Like a genuine Complete Monster. This would be a nice way of showing how great your character is in comparison to others, and would provide a lot of potential for black humor. You know the scene: the monster is in the village, torturing children, while the bastard waits on the sidelines, rolling his eyes in disgust and saying "Could you hurry up? We do have a schedule you know."

    Alternatively, try putting this guy against a Complete Monster. This can showcase your bastard's good qualities even better, and is a great way to invoke Black-and-Gray Morality and A Lighter Shade of Black- what better way to make your audience root for your bastard than by having them fight an even bigger bastard who lacks any magnificence? This way, you can have the monster be a Hate Sink who makes the bastard look sympathetic in comparison. This can work if a) the bastard is the Anti-Hero and the monster the Big Bad, b) the bastard and monster are two sides of a Big Bad Ensemble, or c) the bastard is the Big Bad and the monster the Greater-Scope Villain, or vice-versa. Bonus points if the monster is just as skilled a planner and manipulator as the bastard.
  • Potential subversions: Typically this character (when villainous) is the Big Bad or The Dragon. Why not make them appear to be The Brute, using simple, straightforward, unsubtle tactics against the heroes as a distraction while their real plans come to fruition? Better yet, maybe they're relying on these kinds of tactics because they actually work against the untrained (and currently insignificant) heroes. Then, when they Take A Few Levels In Badass they reveal what they're really capable of doing. Or hey, how about a female Bastard, preferably one who doesn't overlap with Broken Bird, Femme Fatale, or The Vamp? Far too many female villains derive all of their popularity from either a sympathetic backstory or a good dose of Evil Is Sexy. Why not create a Dark Action Girl who is popular for the same reasons as the male examples on this list: because she's manipulative, tricky, plans ahead, and is a lot of fun to watch? And oh yeah, is immune to the hero's wiles?

Particular examples

    The Greats 

Note: Please don't put a character here because you like them, or because they happen to be on the Magnificent Bastard trope page. The purpose of this section is to provide inspiration to would-be writers of this character type. Only put a character here if a) they are more or less universally agreed upon, and b)-the show itself is considered very good. Also, please refrain from entering Complete Monsters as well. It just gets confusing.


  • Lionel Luthor, in Smallville: A Trope Codifier and one of the very best (before Villain Decay set in at least), he begins as the Big Bad, becomes a major supporting character, and never stops being magnificent. An abusive dad who loves his son, a crooked businessman who will not cross certain lines, a mentor figure who will compulsively lie to his charges, Lionel is everything this trope is supposed to be, absolutely dominating every scene he's in. You’re never sure just what to make of him, and that's the point. Props to John Glover for his superb performance.
  • Lex Luthor, in many, but not all, versions of Superman: Like father like son. Lex has been one of these in most of his incarnations since the eighties, remaining the one man who even Superman cannot imprison. His comic book and DC Animated Universe versions are probably the best examples of this (the Smallville one is a little too whiny and unimpressive to successfully escape Manipulative Bastard territory), with the DCAU version running the full gamut from Big Bad to Anti-Villain, ultimately saving the world at the very end. His team-ups with The Joker also provide an excellent demonstration of the difference between this character, and a Faux Affably Evil Complete Monster.
  • David Xanatos, in Gargoyles: Full stop. This is the man the Xanatos Gambit and Xanatos Speed Chess tropes are named for. Throughout the entire show he remains one step ahead of the main cast, outsmarting them at every turn, and controlling his events so that no matter what they do, it turns out in his favor one way or another. He manages to get away with it most of the time, all without ever feeling like a Villain Sue. Throw in a refusal to cross certain lines and a strong desire to protect those close to him, to the point of willingly giving up a priceless magical artifact to save his then-fiance, and you have one of the most iconic examples of this archetype in all of American animation.
  • J.R. Ewing, of Dallas: Before Lionel Luthor's fans truly brought the term into the public consciousness, J.R. was the undisputed Trope Codifier for the character type that would later gain the title "Magnificent Bastard"—and to be honest, he still may be: as befits only the most Magnificent of Bastards, he became the show's Breakout Character, overshadowing the intended protagonists. (Take note: J.R. is the prime example of a true Magnificent Bastard actually succeeding as the main character! As the "Treat With Caution" section below indicates, that is really hard to pull off....) The quintessential "villain you Love to Hate". A Corrupt Corporate Executive who delights in the manipulation of others to secure his power base. The Chessmaster, and isn't afraid to revel in it. He anticipates business associates double-crossing him: "I'd have been disappointed if that thought hadn't crossed your mind, already!" His actions have constantly enraged the more "moral" characters in the show, often making their lives so much harder—to the point where, when we got to the immortal "Who Shot J.R.?" storyline...part of the thrill was that anyone could have had a viable motive! And yet, he's charming as heck, always classy, quite the Gentleman Snarker, and in his own way, rather likable. He also has his share of Pet the Dog moments, too: he does stick up for his more moral brother, Bobby—and he genuinely loves his son, John Ross...mentoring him in the TNT relaunch in how to be a true Magnificent Bastard, repeatedly expressing his pride in John taking the lessons to heart: "Now that's my son...from tip to tail." He even molded his own death before-the-fact into part of an intricate plan that he predicted would be his "masterpiece"—and it arguably is, achieving a final, permanent defeat of his greatest nemesis.
  • Toranaga from Shogun (the book, not the miniseries, which regrettably gave him much less screentime,) is an absolutely quintessential Magnificent Bastard. He is so patient when it comes to setting up events for the long-term game that he plans generations ahead (and a sequel set hundreds of years later shows he was right about everything except the Outside-Context Problem of the Westerners' technological advances). In-universe, other characters who are excellent puppeteers in their own right say that he specialises in getting people to think they've come up with an idea on their own when they're actually doing exactly what he wants, and he plays everyone for fools, whether they're his allies or enemies, treats his own family and friends as expendable, and does so with regret for the necessity of doing so, but no actual remorse. He avoids becoming a Villain Sue because he does actually make mistakes, but always thinks of a way to stay on top, sometimes improvising on a second-by-second basis. Even his final internal monologue, which suggests that to some extent, he's been Evil All Along only makes the reader root for him more, and many people who have read the book set him as the standard by which all other Magnificent Bastards are judged.
  • Grand Admiral Thrawn from The Thrawn Trilogy: A brilliant tactician who eschews fancy superweapons in favor of precise timing, gambits, and clever uses of more mundane technology. He's Affably Evil and also managed to weaponize the Wicked Cultured trope by combing it with Awesomeness by Analysis to create a unique way of deciphering a species' strengths and weaknesses by studying their art. He averts We Have Reserves and You Have Failed Me as he doesn't waste the lives of his men recklessly and is even willing to withdraw if further combat won't benefit him. However, Thrawn also avoids being a Villain Sue as he does make mistakes that are minor on their own, but all these miscalculations ultimately add up to cause his downfall in the endgame.
  • "My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the "who". The "where" could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The "what" is easy: Recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the "when". As for the "why": Beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple... because I can. Which leaves us only with the "how"; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub." So opens the film Inside Man. This movie is what happens when a Magnificent Bastard (Clive Owen), a Manipulative Bitch (Jodie Foster), and a Guile Hero (Denzel Washington) go head to head. Manipulation abounds, and nothing is what it seems. Clive Owen's character is a truly great example of a criminal Bastard, particularly when all is revealed in the final act, as the nature, depth, and motivations of The Plan are all revealed.
  • Mayor Wilkins and Mr. Trick from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The only thing potentially trickier than an MB partnership is an MB Big Bad/Dragon duo. By definition, one of the two needs to be more powerful than the other, which is a recipe for the weaker of the two to be disqualified. In the case of these two, however, they both manage to count for several reasons. First, a lot of effort is put into making clear that the power disparity between them is physical, not intellectual; while the two are supposedly boss and underling, they both bounce ideas off of each other and contribute equally, giving the impression of an imbalanced partnership instead. Second, it's made clear that Trick can very well survive on his own without the Mayor's help - before the Mayor contacts him, he already has several personal schemes under his belt, mitigating the issue when he then joins the Mayor (who then gets just as many plans executed as well), and during his time with the Mayor, he front-runs the operations. Third, and perhaps most important, is the fact that they specialize in such different ways. Trick shines through due to his pragmatism, quick thinking, and personal showmanship, while the Mayor stands out with his long-term thinking, his relationship with Faith, and his constant affable demeanor no matter what is thrown his way. In essence, while they are a boss and underling, they are both equal threats in their own ways and there is no intellectual disparity between them, allowing them both to count at once.
  • Arsène Lupin is a classic example of the Gentleman Thief and the Trope Codifier for the Phantom Thief. Lupin is known primarily for the duality of his eternally-polite "gentleman" personality and his nature as a master thief. Not only is his criminal talent a great jumping-off point, but his inimitable class and suave demeanor are accompanied by great displays of audacreaity, such as his signature Calling Card gimmick of sending letters informing his targets what he will steal from them. Lupin is not only an iconic display of the Gentleman Thief archetype, whose restriction to stealing and fooling his targets keeps him far from slipping into outright vileness, he is also an excellent example when it comes to balancing a healthy ego with proper class and charisma to ensure a character comes off as charmingly confident rather than foolishly arrogant; while Lupin is capable of being extremely boastful, he backs up his bragging every time and his confidence is never for a moment unwarranted due to the utterly incredible crimes he commits. If one is looking to write a brilliantly suave criminal, it's advisable to start with the original.
  • Lupin III may not embody the class and suaveness of the Gentleman Thief like his inspiration and grandfather, but he embodies the free spirit of the Lovable Rogue. Despite being a criminal whose morality ranges from light to dark gray throughout his many adaptations, Lupin is a brilliant man who has charmed audiences for decades. Lupin is not merely worth examination when trying to write a chaotic and sympathetic outlaw, but also because he pushes exactly how silly a Magnificent Bastard can be. Despite having the personality of a buffoon and often receiving comedic misfortune, Lupin deliberately uses his seemingly idiotic demeanor to dupe adversaries and disguise brilliant crimes, with a veiled intelligence to be reckoned with. With Success Through Insanity in spades, Lupin is great to take inspiration from, both for his comical charms and his stylish criminality.
  • L Lawliet from Death Note: L is a fantastic character to take inspiration from for multiple reasons. First, he is the Trope Codifier for a Magnificent Bastard Anti-Hero; intelligent and well-meaning yet ruthless and manipulative, L checks all the boxes for an MB even though he's unambiguously on the side of good. Even when he deliberately gets someone killed to test Light's powers, his quirky behavior makes him incredibly endearing, and his Xanatos Speed Chess against Light is truly a thing of beauty to watch. Second, L is also a great example of how to make multiple versions of the same character count within the same story, as three of the five L's all count for different reasons (the 2017 version is far too emotionally unstable to count, while the series gives him Adaptational Jerkass). In the manga, L ultimately dies, but he leaves behind enough information that his successors, Near and Mello, are able to succeed where he failed and defeat Light once and for all. The 2008 film series changes this so that he actually doesn't die, instead pulling a Thanatos Gambit to trick Light into outing himself before he goes out on his own terms. The stage version, meanwhile, still dies at Light's hand, but he manages to rack up his canon list of successes despite having less time, resources, and allies, allowing him to stand out among the other L's. Overall, if you're looking for ways to make your Anti-Hero an MB, look no further than the Great Detective with the Sweet Tooth.

    Treat with caution 

Please note: A character's being listed here is not an insult or a jab at the show they appeared in. If it was, it would be labeled Epic Fail as on the writing pages. Characters here are those who are generally regarded as Magnificent Bastards, but don't quite meet the archetype, or who alternately may not make the grade, but provide excellent inspiration for what a true Magnificent Bastard might be capable of. Don't add shows or characters at random; this is a How To page, not the Magnificent Bastard home page.


  • Code Geass:
    • Lelouch Lamperouge/vi Britannia: There are many, many fans of this show who will hold Lelouch up as the ultimate example of what the heroic version of this should look like. To a degree, they're right. Lelouch is doubtlessly intended to be the heroic version of this, and outsmarts most of the cast with commendable brilliance. Unfortunately, he also demonstrates many of the problems with making this guy the hero. His relentless dog-kicking, temporary freak outs and Heroic BSODs, combined with his childish personality can, and do, cost him a lot of audience sympathy, with some regarding him as just a Jerkass Anti-Hero. His ability to hypnotize people, and the fact that they turned his Large Ham tendencies up to eleven in a serious show does not help. That said, the show can and does remain a good source of inspiration, with the Xanatos Speed Chess between Lelouch and his brother Schneizel being intricate and fascinating to watch. Lelouch's counterpart from the compilation movies, however, has his numerous breakdowns and massive Kick the Dog moments removed or at least downplayed in severity, which allows him to serve as a better example of the anti-heroic MB in action.
    • Schneizel has his own problems. There's no doubt he is a Magnificent Bastard, but he was so Affably Evil that at least half of the audience (and most of the characters) was fully convinced he was a legitimately good and principled Anti-Villain variation of the trope. Throughout the show he showed concern for the common man, had no personal ambitions of power, wished to limit bloodshed as much as possible, and viewed diplomacy as a far more valuable and effective tool than war. At one point he rescinded a potential political alliance because the leaders of the other nation involved were recorded saying their citizens amounted to nothing more than parasites to be exploited. He consistently espoused the belief that the job of a ruler was to ensure the welfare of his people, and his younger sister Cornelia believed he would be "the perfect king" because of these traits. So what was the problem? When he was finally outed as the Big Bad with three episodes left in the entire show, his goals were so completely opposite of his "mask" that the audience wasn't able to really reconcile the two, and the sudden switch was a drastic Mood Whiplash from who we thought he was to who he actually was. It seemed like two different characters, and he lost quite a bit of audience sympathy and admiration as a result.
  • Villain Protagonists in general have several issues they run into with being a Magnificent Bastard, even when they're iconic characters who are smart in their own right. With the amount of time an audience spends with a protagonist, we are going to scrutinize them heavily, and thus it becomes incredibly easy for a protagonist to lose any charming qualities overtime, alongside the fact that they're going to wrack up a long rap sheet that will very quickly add up. For instance, Walter White's genius "Heisenberg" persona is revealed to hide a prideful egomaniac who explodes over minor slights, while the likes of Frank Underwood slowly reveal themselves to simply be petty bullies lashing out at everyone around them as time goes on - the Magnificence is slowly stripped away while the Bastard is overplayed, killing any charming qualities they once had. Even when they're not outright sadistic or petty, it's still easy for a protagonist's actions to disqualify them when they show a repeated behavior, such as Light Yagami's frequent Freak Outs and temper tantrums (especially his downright pathetic Villainous Breakdown after being outplayed for the final time) proving that he's just a Psychopathic Manchild at his core rather than a true Magnificent Bastard - a single loss or freakout might be recoverable, but when it becomes a pattern, there's no turning back. Overall, there are ways to make your Villain Protagonist into a tried and true Magnificent Bastard, but with the sheer amount of time we spend with protagonists compared to other characters, it is an incredible balancing act between the lines of "charming yet amoral" and "disgusting monster", and it's very easy to cross that line without intending to.
  • Gendo Ikari in Neon Genesis Evangelion: Gendo's problem is different from the above. He counts as a Magnificent Bastard easily, no doubt. The issue is that he’s in a show that’s half Psychological Thriller and half Mind Screw, making it very hard to tell what he actually did, what he didn’t do, or even what the hell is going on half the time. His personality, motivations, and relationship with his son are all excellent fodder for aspiring writers, even if the show itself ultimately leaves everything about him in a state of ambiguity.
  • Tywin Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation Game of Thrones: The Dragon-in-Chiefnote  to his grandson Joffrey and his successor Tommen and the head of the Lannister family, Tywin is ruthless, cunning, and an expert politician and manipulator. Despite his ruthlessness, he isn't above the odd Pet the Dog moment from time to time, though such moments come rarely. It is quite clear to everyone in the Seven Kingdoms that Joffrey may be the king, but Tywin is the real power behind the throne, and he backs it up and then some. His ruthlessness, however, can cross over into Moral Event Horizon territory, though. His machinations inflame the Northern Lords against their liege, culminating in the infamous Red Wedding, for which he suffers no blame due to allowing the Frey family to take all of the credit. He is also vicious to his son Tyrion, where his petting quickly becomes yanking on a moment's notice, and will suffer absolutely no japes or slights against himself or his house lest he bring down Disproportionate Retribution on the perpetrator (as the Reynes and Tarbecks learned when Tywin wiped out their houses for refusing to bend knee to Tywin's father Tytos).
  • Iago from Othello: He uses his influence to get his pieces into place, effortlessly manipulates the titular character's "green-eyed monster", all while carrying the nickname "honest Iago". Unfortunately, while his actions may seem Magnificent, his personality is as vile as can be. He's been described as a "motiveless malignity" and his true motives ultimately remain unclear with his Last Words essentially being a Take That! to anyone trying to decipher his ultimate goal. He takes the concept of Villains Act, Heroes React to an extreme by essentially being the only character who "acts" while everyone else in the play is merely "reacting" to his actions, making it a case of Surrounded by Idiots. It's easy to derive inspiration from him, but your Magnificent Bastard should probably have more sympathetic traits and the pawns he's manipulating shouldn't be so gullible.
  • Batman from most Batman continuities: On paper, the Dark Knight may seem like one of the quintessential anti-heroic magnificent bastards. He's brilliant, determined, darkly charismatic, and an iconic Badass Normal to boot. His MO involves being a figure of terror, he's willing to manipulate friend and foe alike, and he's certainly not above bending or even outright breaking the rules if he feels the need. So what's the problem? Well, ultimately, he has the exact opposite problem faced by many on this list: at the end of the day, he's a bit too morally clean to really meet the "bastard" part that this trope requires. While he's certainly more gray-shaded than many other A-list DC heroes, his no-kill rule and unwillingness to cause harm towards people who aren't villains or criminals holds him back from being bad enough to genuinely qualify as a bastard. Further complicating matters is that his more ruthless moments are not only fairly out of character, making them outliers from his normal behavior, but generally either born out of desperate situations or moments of weakness on his part, making it hard to find them "magnificent". While he's often fairly antiheroic, he demonstrates being an antihero doesn't necessarily make one bad enough to fall into this trope. However, he still makes an excellent Guile Hero, and if one were to amp up his ruthlessness and make him a bit more willing to get his hands dirty, even if only in pursuit of justice, it would be easy to make a case for him; multiple versions of him from alternate continuities have counted due to darker characterization.
  • Obito Uchiha from Naruto. Although he does indeed count as a Magnificent Bastard, several factors can make him appear to be an example of how not to write one. His Freudian Excuse, the death of his childhood Love Interest, can feel poorly executed. His atrocities, such as unleashing a monster onto a village, can clash with his good intentions. His redemption, gained after a talking to from the titular character, can come off as unearned. These attributes have made Obito a rather controversial figure within the eyes of the fandom, with large portions of the fandom finding him Unintentionally Unsympathetic and others finding him to be a tragic Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. One should keep in mind that, even if all of the traits of a Magnificent Bastard are filled, how they are executed and portrayed to the audience is just as important as having them. A mistake from the author can make a mess of how a character is seen by the audience.
  • Adam from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Much like Obito, Adam counts as a Magnificent Bastard while remaining an example of how not to write one. Unlike Obito, however, most of the issues with Adam can be traced back to a single problem: his onscreen presence. Between being introduced late in his season and being kept offscreen for most of his run, there is nowhere near enough time for Adam to properly connect with the audience, and while his philosophical nature makes him unique, it's also rather dull for the fantastic setting. Complicating the issue is that the few times we do see him, he's largely reacting to what the heroes are doing, so his retaliatory acts, while present, are kept in the background. As a result, the fanbase's opinion of him could not be more divided; while some view him as intelligent, unique, and fulfilling the role he was meant to have, others see him as dull, wasted potential, and the worst Big Bad of the show. It's always important to remember that even if your villain has enough acts and appearances to make it, they also require a full onscreen presence in order to properly land with the audience; introducing a character and then shoving them in the background might not alienate everyone, but it will certainly not leave them with a good impression of the character overall.
  • Erik "Killmonger" Stevens/N'Jadaka from Black Panther: Killmonger is one of the most loved villains within the Marvel Cinematic Universe for many reasons that line up with a typical Magnificent Bastard. He is incredibly intelligent, able to manipulate both terrorists and Wakandans alike to take control, he has charisma in spades, and while he is ruthless and his goal is dangerous, he's still incredibly sympathetic and it's hard not to argue that he has a point. Unfortunately, the same things that make him understandable and sympathetic are also what disqualify him as an MB. Ultimately, Killmonger is emotionally stunted from discovering his father's corpse, and as we learn when he takes the herbs, he never truly grew up past that moment — at his core, he's still a traumatized child lashing out at the world that wronged him. Additionally, no matter how understandable his actions may be, that doesn't change that they're driven by racist motivations; no amount of charismatic style is able to overshadow such a strong disqualifier. Without all of those disqualifiers, he would have counted for sure, as shown by his What If...? (2021) counterpart. On the one hand, Michael B. Jordan deserves all of the praise he gets for making Killmonger such an entertaining and nuanced villain, but on the other, Killmonger is also the living proof that not all memorable or charismatic villains are a Magnificent Bastard by default.
  • The Joker from The Dark Knight: Heath Ledger's take on the Clown Prince of Crime is one of the most beloved performances in a comic book movie to date, and much like Killmonger, it's for reasons that line up with a Magnificent Bastard. He Crosses the Line Twice as easy as he breaths (especially with his "magic trick"), he has plans upon plans ready to go off at any moment, and while he succeeds most of the time, he's not unstoppable, preventing him from being a Villain Sue and making him a very entertaining character to watch overall. None of this excuses the fact that, at his core, he's a sadistic maniac who uses his "agent of chaos" philosophy as nothing more than an excuse to torment other people, largely innocents, just because he can. While he himself seems to believe that he's a Wild Card, all he really does is destroy and kill anything he comes across, proving that his philosophy is largely just a self-serving lie. Notably, the film's novelization features the Joker proving he genuinely believes in what he's saying; among other things, he gives a random woman $100 on a complete whim, proving he's willing to actually take his belief in chaos both ways instead of just the one he enjoys. Overall, if you want to take notes from any version of the Joker, take them from the film's novelization; while he's just as destructive as in the film, he proves he actually believes what he's saying and shows himself to be much more than the destructive madman he is in the original film.

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