Big Bad Ensemble

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The story features two or more Big Bads, each of whom has their own distinct agenda and resources. The result can be Evil Versus Evil, Eviler Than Thou, Enemy Mine, Villain Team-Up or Big Bad Duumvirate, but it may be the case that none of the villains have anything to do with each other. Played straight, each Big Bad should be of a comparable threat level to prevent one from overshadowing the other.

Having multiple main villains can bring new dimensions to the story and make it more complex and less predictable. It can force The Hero to face a range of different challenges, for example if one villain seeks to Take Over the World while another is a more personal enemy from his past, though it's possible for both to have identical goals without making the story any less interesting.

The success or failures of one Big Bad can affect the fortunes of another as they may have to consider each other in their plans, or might try to profit from another's defeat. The hero might defeat one villain before fighting another, or might regard one as more dangerous or important than the others. The Sorting Algorithm of Evil may be either avoided- if all the Big Bads are equally powerful and dangerous - or inverted, if some are more powerful and/or more dangerous than others.

Remember this must be simultaneous - if a new Big Bad arises only after another is defeated, then this does not count. See also Rogues Gallery, which is similar but usually forces established villains to act as Monster of the Week. When there are so many Big Bads involved that one needs a score card to keep them straight, this is The Big Bad Shuffle.

Examples of Big Bad Ensemble include:

Anime & Manga

Comic Books

  • Almost every superhero worth his salt has their own Rogues Gallery, so this is played several times. However, most comic villains can only be counted as Big Bads within their own stories. The best examples of Big Bad Ensemble are when dealing with crossovers and prolonged story arcs, which can feature multiple villains and can last several months or even up to a year. Some examples from the DC Universe include:
    • No Man's Land involves Gotham City being abandoned by the US and falling prey to the crazed villains of Gotham, who take over various parts and rule each as their on fiefdoms. The story climaxes with Luthor and the Joker initiating their own unrelated schemes simultaneously and Batman and co. having to stop them, a takeover under the guise of Villain with Good Publicity and a plot to murder new-born infants to break Gotham's spirit, respectively.
    • 52, Chang Tzu, Lex Luthor, Lady Styx, Neron and evil Skeets, courtesy of Mister Mind are all the Big Bad to a variety of heroes starring in a number of inter-connected stories.
    • Krona and an undead Swamp Thing, which believes itself to be Nekron, are the two biggest threats in Brightest Day, but Max Lord, Eclipso, Black Manta and Siren, the Queen of Hawkworld, D'kay Drazz, and Firestorm (who is actually serving the Anti-Monitor, are all causing all kinds of trouble.
  • And from the Marvel Universe, we have gotten:
    • Dark Reign is about Norman Osborn accumulating substantial political and military power after he is placed in charge of all superhuman matters in the United States. During this he forms The Cabal with Doctor Doom, Emma Frost, Namor, Loki and the Hood, while organizing and running a range of super-teams made up of anti-heroes and lower tiered supervillains. This was a year-long crossover arc that affected several titles, so many heroes in their own stories had to deal both the Monster of the Week and their own story arcs while also having to worry about Osborn or his minions.
    • The Messiah Myth Arc in X-Men, which covers a multitude of story arcs from Messiah Complex up to Second Coming over a number of years, has the X-Men dealing with anti-mutant activists eventually united under Bastion, traitor X-Man Bishop and Stryfe, Selene and her vampiric underling, and appearances by Apocalypse and Sinister amongst others, as well as the possibility that the child they are protecting will grow up to be a mutant Antichrist. All of these villains have their own agendas, most revolving around the girl, many of which impact on each other and affect the strength level of the X-Men. Some of this takes also place during Dark Reign, which means Osborn and co. factor in too, notably during the Utopia X story.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog comics, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman has always been the Arch Enemy of the heroes and premier Big Bad of the series. However, over the years, more and more villains of equal or greater threat have shown up to rival the doctor -- Ixis Naugus, Mammoth Mogul, Enerjak, Dr. Finitevus, Scourge, the Iron Queen, and most recently, the Battle Kukku—so you can't call him the sole Big Bad anymore. This has been most apparent in the issues leading up to and following the Genesis arc, wherein Naugus has currently become the villain most equal to Eggman for the position.
  • Simon Furman's run on IDW's Transformers comics set up a large number of potential villians from the Rogues Gallery. Nemesis Prime and the Dead Universe, The Machination, Shockwave, Doubledealer, The Decepticons, the Deathbringer and his Reapers, Galvatron, and even Ramjet all step up to the plate as the bad guys in the numerous plotlines Furman's run had. By the end of his run pretty much all of them except the Decepticons and Galvatron have been taken care of however.

Fan Fiction


  • Batman Returns is basically a chess duel between the Penguin, Catwoman, and original character Max Shreck. The Penguin is clearly the main villain and certainly the main threat as his plans increasingly escalate to mass murder and eventually destroying Gotham City itself, but the other two are formidable problems and all three engage in double-dealing, backstabbing and triple-crossing.
  • Lovers Lane features three distinct killers; Doctor Jack Grefe, his daughter Chloe, and sexual sadist Ray Hennessey. All three of them use hooks though.
  • On Stranger Tides, the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film, has a three-way one between Blackbeard, Barbossa, and the Spaniard. All three want to get to the Fountain of Youth, albeit for different reasons, and all oppose each other- with Jack Sparrow caught in the middle.
  • In Satan's Playground we get the psychotic Leeds family, a group of Satanists, and The Jersey Devil.


  • Robin Hobb did this in the Farseer trilogy with Prince Regal and the Red Ships.
  • The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara. There's the Isle Witch and her former mentor The Morgawr, who form a Big Bad Duumvirate, and are plotting against both the heroes and one another in their race to claim the books of magic that the Jerle Shannara is voyaging to find. There's also Antrax, the Knight Templar computer system that guards the books against all comers, and operates completely independently of the other two. Between them, they manage to do a whole lot of damage to the heroes' and one another.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has Littlefinger playing all the sides in the War of the Five Kings and the Others invading in force from the North, where a Wildling army is also assembling, and to the East is Daenarys Targaryen who has to face her own villains; she might be becoming a Big Bad herself. Participants in the War of Five Kings, such as Stannis Baratheon and the Lannisters amongst others, are themselves up to sufficiently no good- and have enough power and independance- as to be Big Bads in their own right; heck, even within the Lannisters, Lord Tywin, Cersei and Joffrey could be each be considered distinct Big Bads too, since though all on the same side they each have their own, sometimes conflicting agendas, and private bases of power. Tyrion would count too, except that he's not really a bad guy.
  • In the Codex Alera there are numerous Big Bads active throughout the series, mostly independent of one another if prone to making and breaking alliances at whim- High Lord Aquitaine, Invidia Aquitaine, High Lord Kalarus, Sarl and the Vord Queen are the biggies, and High Lord Rhodes is billed as one, despite very limited development and pagetime. In the end, though, it's the Vord Queen who surpasses everyone else and takes home the crown of primary threat.
  • In Everworld, there are several villainous characters (the majority of the gods actually fall under this), but the most prominent are Loki, Ka Anor, and Senna.
  • In the first Myth Arc of Warrior Cats, Tigerclaw and Brokenstar were this for a while. Then they teamed up and Brokenstar died. In the Power of Three arc, both Sol and Tigerstar were vying for the spot of Big Bad, and the arc ends with Sol leaving, however he has been confirmed to return in book five of the Omen of the Stars arc, and Tigerstar still around. And then you've got the end of the Omen of the Stars arc, which brings all the Big Bads back to try and get revenge from beyond the grave.
  • In Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix, the Big Bads are Lord Voldemort (OF COURSE!) and Dolores Umbridge, though they have nothing to do with each other.

Live-Action TV

  • The Negative Syndicate from Go Go Sentai Boukenger.
  • Done on occasion in Power Rangers, although not as often as the "one after another" format.
  • Angel was a master of this trope - at the height of Season 3, the Big Bads (Lila Morgan, Daniel Holtz, and Sajjhan) each got about as much screentime as the heroic main cast. Fans still debate over which of them "won" in terms of being the season's defining villain, while a few nominate a fourth character entirely.
    • The entire series is pretty much this, the big bads being Wolfram & Hart and Jasmine, who is directly or retroactively responsible for many events of the series until her death in season 4. After that point, Wolfram & Hart's Senior Partners stay as the undisputed Big Bads of the show.
  • Smallville loves this trope. While the second and third seasons had Lionel Luthor as a more or less consistent Big Bad (and the first season had sleezy reporter Roger Nixon), later ones got much more iffy and complicated, often featuring one human antagonist, and a superpowered one:
  • Supernatural tended to have more or less consistent Big Bads for its first five seasons, before using this trope in Season Six: early on in the season, to start with, we have Crowley - the new King of Hell - who wants to find Purgatory and take control of its souls, and the Archangel Raphael, who is trying to take control of Heaven and restart the Apocalypse. Then, midway through the season, we meet Eve, the "Mother of All", who wants to overrun the world with her "children". And then, a few episodes before the season finale, we find out that Castiel has been in a tentative alliance with Crowley to find Purgatory so that he can defeat Raphael and prevent his plans from coming to fruition. Eve is killed about the same time we find out about Castiel and Crowley's alliance, so that knocks her out of the competition. This all comes to a head in the season finale, where Castiel cuts Crowley out of the deal; Crowley retaliates by teaming up with Raphael, only for Castiel to Out Gambit them both. He absorbs the souls of Purgatory, kills Raphael, and sends Crowley running, all before proclaiming himself the new God.
  • Season 2 of Nikita is shaping up to this: in addition to the Evil Versus Evil rivalry between Division and Zetrov (the Big Bads in this case being their respective leaders Amanda and Sergei Semak), there are also the various members of Oversight, The Man Behind the Man to Division (to whom Amanda has become The Starscream). Oh, and former Big Bad Percy—despite his current condition of being locked in a maximum security prison—is still semi-active and plotting against everyone else.
    • Update as of the middle of the season: Oversight -- bar one member who pulled a Heel Face Turn -- have all been killed on orders from Percy, who's escaped prison and is plotting revenge. Meanwhile, Amanda is revealed to be in a secret alliance with Semak's Dragon Ari Tasarov; together, they're plotting against both Semak and the protagonists. So in some ways things have gotten simpler, and in some they've gotten even more complicated.

Tabletop Games

  • In Exalted, it's not a question of who's trying to destroy Creation — it's a question of who's pulling ahead in the race. The Deathlords want to feed the world into the great cosmic garbage disposal in the name of their eternally-dying-but-not-yet-dead god bosses, the Yozi want to make Creation indistinguishable from Hell on the very off chance that they might be allowed to move in then, and the Fair Folk view Creation the same way one would view a turd in the swimming pool and want it to stop ruining their beautiful chaos.
  • Warhammer 40,000, being a supremely cheery place, has entire armies of this trope. At the very top of the Sliding Scale of Villain Threat are the Chaos Gods, the C'Tan, and the Tyranid Hive Mind, and going down there are the Daemon Primarchs, Necron Lords, Chaos Lords, Ork Warbosses, and the various sundry madmen and psychopaths the galaxy breeds like mosquitoes.
    • Don't you need at least one "good" faction for this trope? The Imperium, Eldar, and Tau would be over-the top villains by the standards of any other setting too.


  • Batman: Arkham City has most of Bat's rogue's gallery vying for the position of Big Bad over the course of the game.
  • Street Fighter has this with Bison and Akuma, who both have their own agendas which revolve around the hero Ryu. Bison's goals revolve around his plan to Take Over the World, while Akuma is more of a Noble Demon and Blood Knight trying to goad Ryu into surrendering to the Dark Side to give him an ultimate showdown. In Street Fighter IV, Seth adds to the list, while in Street Fighter III (which chronologically takes place after IV) Gill takes the place of Bison.
  • World of Warcraft originally had this, with players having to fight several Big Bads of varying importance such as Van Cleef, Nefarian or Hakkar. Latter patches and expansions generally focus on one threat, but the ensemble is still technically present, mainly with the Scourge, the Burning Legion and the Old Gods.
  • The Disciples series of Turn-Based Strategy games has a number of major villains in conflict with one another, including Mortis, Bethrezen, Uther, and Gallean. None of them are powerful enough to claim the title of the Big Bad, but all of them are serious threats to the setting.
  • Knights of the Old Republic II featured the former Big Bad Triumvirate of Darth Nihilus, Darth Sion and Darth Traya. Prior to the story they led a massive assassination campaign against the Jedi still alive after the events of the first game, but Sion and Nihilus turned on Traya, the teacher and parted ways, though Traya survived; thus, all three are up to no good in the story and have to be deat with. Sion seeks to kill you; Traya seeks to corrupt you; and Nihilus, the most powerful, doesn't really care about you, but is the greatest and most imminent threat to the galaxy.
    • There are two more, actually - Atris, the one who summoned the Jedi to Katarr and unwittingly drew Nihilus into the universe; and GO-TO, the one who put a bounty so large that every criminal wants a piece of it.
  • The main Halo trilogy has the Prophet of Truth at the head of the Covenant and the Gravemind representing the Flood.
  • Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction had a definite Big Bad in the form of Emperor Tachyon, but Ratchet was also menaced by Captain Slag, who serves as the games second major villain.
  • Seiken Densetsu 3 has 3 different Ultimate Evil entities competing for the power of the Mana Tree. Which one succeeds and ends up becoming the main villain depends on which hero you choose as your main character.
  • Likewise with Legend of Mana, which has multiple plot-arcs running together simultaneously throughout the game, each of which features a world-threatening Big Bad behind everything.
  • In Dragon Age II there are many people that could qualify as being a Big Bad. In the framing story, one character thinks that it's you.
  • The Mortal Kombat series has multiple Big Bad characters, and in the later games (especially Mortal Kombat Armageddon) they ended up operating at the same time due to the series' tendency to keep old characters while introducing new threats. The most prominent would probably be The Emperor Shao Kahn, the God of Evil Shinnok, the preceeding and resurrected emperor Onaga, and (to a slightly lesser extent) the duo of The Starscream sorcerers Shang Tsung and Quan Chi. Shao Kahn would probably be the one with the best claim to being the Big Bad of the series, as he was the main villain in the largest number of games, and also the canonical winner of Armageddon according to Mortal Kombat 9.
  • God of War 3 has Zeus, Gaia and Athena.
  • Archie and Maxie, the leaders of Team Aqua and Magma, in Pokémon Emerald, and any adaptations of the plot of the Advance games (In the Anime and Manga), even though in Ruby and Sapphire only one of them was the villain while the other helped the protagonist.
  • In Resident Evil Survivor, we have a janitor Driven to Madness by the zombie outbreak, the leader of a mercenary group sent to cover up the outbreak, and the Umbrella executive responsible for the whole mess.
  • Lord Deus and the Gohma from Asura's Wrath.
  • Prototype has Greene and Randall being the big nasties of the Infected and the Military factions out to get each other.
  • Mass Effect 3 has this with Harbinger and the Illusive Man... initially. While The Illusive Man and Cerberus are a separate threat in their own right, and even fight the Reapers occasionally, by the end The Illusive Man is ultimately nothing more than Harbinger's unwitting pawn.
  • StarCraft II has Mengsk, Kerrigan, the Tal'darim Protoss, and The Dark Voice.
  • Sacrifice, the bad guys are Charnel, Pyro, Stratos, and Marduk.


  • In Order of the Stick, there are several factions, both good and evil, and most of the evil ones can qualify as independent big bads:
    • Xykon is the most prominent throughout the story, though he might not be the ultimate big bad. Redcloak pretends to be his Dragon.
    • The IFCC is a Big Bad Triumverate.
    • As revealed in Start of Darkness, the Dark One, the goblin deity. Redcloak is really his Dragon.
    • Elan's brother Nale probably doesn't count (though he certainly thinks he does), but his father Tarquin is shaping up to be one.
  • 8-bit Theater had a sort of "guess the Big Bad" thing going on with several characters being built up as potential "Final Boss" candidates:
    • Black Mage, Villain Protagonist and hinted at eventually (seriously) betraying his comrades. Which does happen before the plot gets Hijacked By Sarda.
    • The Dark Warriors. In the beginning, Garland seemed to be a joke villain who had a greater role in the story. It turns out their purpose was to become Fake Ultimate Heroes.
    • Sarda, the biggest threat whose motives were hidden, but came across as a Trickster Mentor. He turns out to be the "real" Big Bad but is assimilated by Chaos.
    • The Fiends, who were teaming up in Hell as they were killed. Killed by Black Mage.
    • "Darko," who was The Dragon to Bigger Bad Chaos and trying to manipulate Black Mage (and previously Garland) into bringing about his plans. He eventually gives up.
    • And finally, Chaos, said Bigger Bad the villains were destined to eventually face. They do, at a point in time they're woefully unprepared for it. Chaos is killed off-screen by White Mage instead, saving the world and setting up the Dark Warriors as the ones who defeated him.
  • El Goonish Shive, has Lord Tedd, Pandora Raven, and Sirleck and Magus.

Web Originals

Western Animation

  • The Spectacular Spider-Man started out with one Big Bad, Tombstone, but gained more as it went on in the form of Doc Ock, Green Goblin, and Venom. Hammerhead thinks he's another one in the second season's Gang War arc, but he was just Green Goblin's Unwitting Pawn all along.
  • Xiaolin Showdown starts out with only Wuya as the Big Bad, but adds Chase Young and Hannibal Roy Bean in successive seasons, with the various alliances between the villians changing almost every episode by the third season. Technically, one could call Jack Spicer a Big Bad in his own right after Wuya ditches him, but he mostly ends up getting manipulated by the other villains.
    • Taken in a literal sense in the finale, when literally all the villains line up at the heroes' doorstep.
  • Gargoyles initially had the Big Bad Duumvirate of Xanatos and Demona, but after they went their separate ways and new villains of Big Bad caliber such as the Archmage, Thailog, Oberon, and Castaway were introduced it ended up like this.
  • South Park has a variation: the Council of Nine from the Imaginationland episodes is a Big Good Good Ensemble (consiting of Jesus, Wonder Woman, Aslan, Morpheus, Luke Skywalker, Gandalf, Glinda the Good Witch,Zeus, and Popeye).
    • A true Big Bad Ensemble was the celebrity alliance in "200/201" (with Tom Cruise, Rob Reiner, and Barbara Streissand being the foremost of them), and the Ginger Kids led by Scott Tenorman.
  • Very much so in Avengers Earths Mightiest Heroes. The show starts with a mass supervillain breakout, and while most of these villains are essentially powerful mooks, several of them are of Big Bad calibre, such as Baron von Strucker, Baron Zemo, and the Leader- to say nothing of villains who weren't imprisoned at all, like Loki and Kang the Conqueror. All of these guys have distinct agends; sometimes they work together, more often at cross-purposes.
    • Ultimately, it was revealed that Loki was directly or indirectly behind pretty much everything except Kang, cementing him as the Big Bad.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: The most active villain throughout the first season was Professor Pericles, but the finale revealed that Mayor Jones was the true instigator of the plot, and had been manipulating the gang throughout the season.
  • Hot Wheels Battle Force 5 has had at least two Big Bads per season. Season one has Kalus leading the Vandals and Zemerik leading the Sark as the main villains. Season 2 introduced the Red Sentients lead by Krytus, Sage's Evil Twin brother, as a third Big Bad. While Zemerik was pushed aside somewhat, he still remained a main threat. Not, only the Red Sentients remain, but Sage states something worse than her brother is coming and a Sark Cult called the Alpha-Code has shown up, implying that season three will also have a Big Bad Ensemble with at least these two groups.
  • Elmyra and Montana Max in Tiny Toon Adventures.
  • Beast Wars has Megatron, the Tripredacus Council, and the original Megatron, though the latter two get far less screen time than the first.
  • In another Transformers example, there's Transformers Prime season 2 -- while Megatron is recognized as the main villain, Silas and Airachnid have taken on equal standing as threats, with the role of The Heavy shifting between them depending on the episode. Starscream is also running around independently, but with his recent string of bad luck he's more of a cross betwee a Big Bad Wannabe and a Wild Card.
    • Around the middle of the season, though, Airachnid has been put out of commission (for the foreseeable future) and Starscream has obtained armour which makes him a genuine threat, ending his Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain run.
  • Tzekel-Kan and Hernando Cortez in The Road to El Dorado. They meet and form an alliance toward the end of the movie, which ends in Cortez dragging Kan off to be executed after being fooled by the protagonists into thinking Kan was setting him up for a fall.
  • The Legend of Korra: Has two fantastical racial-supremacists slugging it out through proxies for control of Republic City. The first is Amon, a revolutionary who supports non-benders and views benders as being born with an inherent impurity. The second is Councilman Tarrlok, a manipulative Sleazy Politician who enacts McCarthyist policies against non-benders in order to improve his own power base among benders.

Real Life

  • Subjectively the world's long, long history of struggles between the world's great powers has looked something like a struggle against this from the perspective of minor powers, if not the great powers themselves. A recent example would be the position of Eastern Europe in the inter-war period, sandwiched between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia.
  • World War 2 had Hirohito of Imperial Japan, Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union, and Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany. Mussolini of Fascist Italy was Hitler's dragon of sorts, and Stalin did a brief Heel Face Turn after Hitler tried to double-cross him.