Big Bad Wannabe

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The Big Bad Wannabe is a villain who is seen as a significant threat but can't back it up when it comes to the crunch. The absolute level of menace varies widely, from an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain having a good day, to a villain who could legitimately be Big Bad if the real Big Bad wasn't even more Badass than they are, but within a story they are (initially) presented as a big deal.

There are a lot of ways of building up a baddie. In a kids show a school bully might just talk tough. In a more adult work the wannabe might beat up a tough hero to look even tougher: the Worf Effect.

There are also many ways of revealing the villain is an over-inflated threat. A school bully might run from a real fight. In the second example Worf Had the Flu—an unfair circumstance gave the villain his early victory. Sometimes it's just a matter of scale; the heroes catch a murderer, but he's just a copycat, not the real mastermind serial killer he was thought to be. Alternatively the real Big Bad might outdo the wannabe or even kill the wannabe. Those that fall under this trope are also extremely vulnerable to the Wannabe Diss, both from actual Big Bads and their enemies.

The early victory can show the Badass in Distress. Fans might feel a Player Punch if a sidekick comes to grief.

Contrast with Team Rocket Wins. Compare with Smug Snake vs The Chessmaster or Magnificent Bastard, Eviler Than Thou, and Disc One Final Boss. See also Dragon-in-Chief. Subtrope of Paper Tiger.

(Some entries still link to this with "Evil Frog Who Wants To Be An Ox" which is a reference to the old fable The Frog Who Wants to Be an Ox about a frog who inflated himself until he exploded while trying to emulate an ox's size)

Examples of Big Bad Wannabe include:

Anime and Manga

  • Hol Horse from the Stardust Crusaders arc of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure. He even tries to kill Dio at one point, only to be given the first demonstration of Dio's Time Stop.
  • Marie from Flame of Recca manages to easily "defeat" The Smart Guy Mikagami Tokiya through a string of coincidences, but is later smacked around by Recca and Domon, and she's been a non-factor ever since.
  • Hodi Jones from One Piece may be the Big Bad of the Fishman Island arc, but compared to the post-Time Skip Straw Hats, even with his steroid abuse, he's nothing but fodder. It's particularly telling that he's the only Big Bad of an arc who was beaten before his minions. With, he's the most dangerous member of the three-man Big Bad Ensemble in that same arc, is the one whose minions actually fight with the Straw Hats, and came close to commiting genocide against his own people (twice, in fact). If he wasn't so hopelessly outmatched, he would have been the Big Bad, and he was at least stronger than everyone who wasn't a Straw Hat.
    • This even carries over into their eventual fate. Many of the villains are defeated and have to live with their dreams being crushed, but they're still around, and some of them are better off when they find something new to do with their lives. Hodi and his crew talked big about sacrificing their lives for the strength the Energy Steroids gave them (the steroids being the only reason they were ever a threat at all) but after going to jail, the toll of the steroids turns out to simply be turning them into harmless, wrinkled old fogies. The would-be conquerors of the world are too lame for even their defeat to have a modicum of dignity.
  • Mixer Taitei manages to be one of the only villains to ever straight up defeat Kinnikuman himself, but immediately afterward suffers the ignominy of being basically killed by Kinnikuman's milquetoast kid sidekick, Meat. To be fair, Mixer Taitei is a giant blender Choujin and his fight with Kinnikuman has literally knocked a few of his screws loose without him realizing it, making him extremely vulnerable to drops and suplexes... but the fact remains that after beating The Hero, he was in turn defeated by a preteen 1/8th his size. The only reason he won against Kin was because the 5 Evil Gods gave him a temporary power-up, meaning the match was 1 against 6. And even then Mr. VTR has to alter reality enough to reverse Kin's Finishing Move in Mixer's favor.
  • Gates from Full Metal Panic!! The Second Raid, who spends the entire season being set up as the Big Bad. In the climax, he kills a henchman of another villain and defeats Mao... And then Sousuke enters the arena and kills both Gates and his Elite Mooks in a matter of minutes.
  • In the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind anime, Kurotowa pulls the most half-assed attempt at this ever. When Kushana is missing and presumed dead, he plans to take command from her and use the Giant Warrior to carve out a position for himself—or even conquer the world, it's really not clear just where his ambition would end. Then, when she turns up alive, he just quietly gives up on this plan, complaining that his chance is gone now. It's even more jarring if you read the manga first, as there he shoots up to Not-So-Harmless Villain territory in record time.
    • To be fair to the guy, with Kushana presumed dead he would be left in charge of their forces and the operation to revive the Giant Warrior. Backing off when Kushana reappears just means he's basically just loyal to her and his complaining is more bemusement that actual bitterness.
  • Yuna Roma Seiran from Gundam Seed Destiny is a Smug Snake Jerkass who plots to seize control of his nation from its rightful ruler, Cagalli, and is generally a pain in the behind to the main characters. While he's initially a legitimate problem, he is quickly overshadowed by the competition for the Big Bad slot, unable to measure up to suave, Chessmaster Gilbert Durandal or the dumb and violent, but utterly monstrous Djibril. Heck, he's outmatched by Djibril's Dragon, the Criminal Amnesiac Neo Roanoke.
  • The original series of Gunnm has Bigott Einsenburg who seems to be a high ranking official in Zalem and has a smug disdain for scrapyard cyborgs who defile their bodies with electronics. He betrays Gally several times because he just sees her as a disposable tool. He also has access to the superweapon "Abbadon" which crushes a full scale rebellion led by a Humongous Mecha in seconds. However Desti Nova then reveals all citizens of Zalem have their brains replaced with chips when they come of age. Cue an epic psychotic fit which leads to the guy and all his co workers being eradicated by Zalem's true robotic rulers.
  • Jellal from Fairy Tail is built from his first appearance as the biggest threat the main protagonists have to face: he infiltrates one of the world's most influential ruling bodies so he can perfect a spell necessary to bring the series' established Bigger Bad Zeref Back from the Dead. Then it turns out that he's being manipulated by his underling Ultear, who is really The Dragon of Hades, who knows that Zeref is Not Quite Dead. Then he gets upstaged by Zeref himself.
  • Noah from Soul Eater He is thought to be the 3rd Big Bad of the series Until it turned out to be the Book of Eibon's table of Contents.

Comic Books

  • Komodo Dragon from Invincible singlehandedly killed Shrinking Ray and Dupli-Kate and tore out one of Rex Splode's arms, but Rex still kills him shortly thereafter
  • The original Saw Viper from the G.I. Joe comics killed (for real) four named Joes and with his battalion killed off some more (including some pretty prominent ones like Quick Kick) in the space of a single issue, whereas the Cobra organization had repeatedly failed to kill even one named Joe for years prior to that event. He then had the gall to point this out to Cobra Commander (a guy well known for being extremely dangerous and unpredictable) himself. Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow eventually hunt down and kill him offscreen for his heinous deed.
  • Mist II from Starman drugged and raped the male lead, set off a crime spree, and killed one of the two Crimson Foxes. In a Moral Event Horizon of epic proportions, the original Mist, sanity restored, berates his own daughter for what a shitty criminal she is. He then proceeds to shoot her in the head.
  • In the recent DC Comics Crisis Crossover Final Crisis, utterly obscure villain The Human Flame kills major DC hero Martian Manhunter (though it was only with help from an agent of Darkseid, who wanted to use him to win other villains to his side.) Now he's on the run from both heroes and villains!
  • In The Sandman the third rate villain Dr. Destiny gains godhood and that appears to be it. it's only temporary. Once unleashed Dream is a literal force of nature and beyond such combat. Another example are the minor nightmares Brute and Glob (originally from a much more child friendly DC comic that previously held the Sandman title) manage to make their own miniature Dreaming from a single child's mind.
  • The Skrulls in the Marvel Crisis Crossover Secret Invasion. To wit, they managed to capture three superheroes; including Spider Woman, Yellowjacket (one founding member of The Avengers) and Dum Dum Dugan BEFORE big events like House of M, all not through direct combat. To make it even more 'big', they also used the same method to capture Black Bolt of the Inhumans, considered as one of Marvel Universe's most overpowered characters. Their eventual invasion turns out to be an Easily-Thwarted Alien Invasion, although they still caused the death of The Wasp. Then, their queen Veranke (disguised as Spider Woman) was headshotted to death by Norman Osborn, and then Hercules kills their God with ease. Oh, and thanks to killing Veranke, Norman immediately kicked off the Dark Reign era.
  • Y: The Last Man has the Daughters of the Amazon and their leader Victoria who wields a ton of influence in the crazy time following the gendercide. Victoria gets an axe to the head by the end of the second arc and the rest of them are soon rehabilitated.
  • In Empowered, Irresistimmovable. That Byzanium-powered force-field generator that he won't shut up about? It's a rental.
  • The Yellow Bastard in Sin City. Sure he's a rapist and murderer (of children, no less) but in combat, he's a Dirty Coward and is eventually killed pretty easily.
    • Honestly, every villain in Sin City tend to fold like a wet towel in a straight-up fight, even built-up badasses like Manute and The Colonel. The only real exception is Kevin.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Anti-Sonic, Sonic's Evil Twin from Moebius, was this for a long time, as he liked to talk tough, only to be pushed around by the other villains and get beat up easily by the heroes (hell, a pre-Character Development Antoine once knocked him out cold. By accident.). Then, a dose of Chaos energy directly from the Master Emerald transformed him into Scourge, granting him several dozen levels of badass and making him one of the series' most powerful (and popular) villains. He's still not on the level of Dr. Eggman or Finitevus, but he's definitely a credible solo threat these days.

Fan Works

  • The Harry Potter fanfic Partially Kissed Hero by Perfect Lionheart states that Severus Snape's real reason to hate James Potter was that all of James bullying him during school time was what prevented Snape from being taken seriously enough to become a Dark Lord on his own right.
  • Queen of All Oni has Lung, Daolon Wong's former apprentice, who views himself as the only one powerful and skilled enough to take Wong's place as the Darkest Wizard. However, his master plan—to force Jade, and by extension her Shadowkhan, into his service—was too simple minded, and fell apart rather easily. More importantly, the fact that his only response to said plan failing was to not acknowledge that fact and keep bludgeoning ahead, and that his reaction to Jade's minions showing up was to slip into a Villainous BSOD bordering on a full-scale breakdown... yeah, he's really not in Wong's league. And then Jade's minions kill him, so he's definitely never going to make Big Bad.
    • Shortly afterwards, Drago arrives from the future in an attempt to change the timeline to his desire. However, while he has the strength to back up his plans, said plans are constantly derailed by every other faction he comes up against kicking his ass and he's eventually sent back to the future, where Future Jade has him restrained and beaten. He doesn't look so impressive at that point.


  • Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2 believes he's going to take down Tony Stark, especially since he just "hired" Ivan Vanko, a brilliant tech wiz that can create gear rivaling Iron Man's. The thing is, Hammer has absolutely no control over Vanko as the latter hacks into his system, derails his Powered Armor prototypes into unmanned drones, and so on. Vanko even plays up You No Take Candle for no other reason than to annoy Hammer, and get him out of his way. Hammer's is most clearly shown as pathetic when he tries to force Vanko into line... by taking his pet bird. And his shoes.
  • Buckingham in the 2011 version of The Three Musketeers. He humiliates the Musketeers, counts on Milady de Winter's allegiance, believes his war machine to be invincible and all but states to Cardinal Richelieu that France would have no chance against England in case of war. However... Milady is just spying on him and promply defects upon learning that the Musketeers are en route to London, he's the first villain to be taken out by the Musketeers and they even steal his invincible machine.
    • Averted in the end where Buckingham has not taken the theft lightly and assembled a large fleet of airships and a naval force to take vengeance upon the Musketeers.


  • Shamoke from Romance of the Three Kingdoms. A bit of a subversion, since the novel treats him as working under Shu, the good guys. He manages to kill a weakened Gan Ning with a shot to the head, but after Shu falls for a fire attack in a later confrontation, Shamoke retreats, and is then killed by Wu general Zhou Tai.
  • Draco Malfoy of the Harry Potter series. For the first five books he acts basically like a pro-Voldemort fanboy Sitcom Arch Nemesis to Harry, more of an annoyance than a threat. Then, when Half-Blood Prince comes along, he's starts actively working for Voldemort... and he's really not able to keep up the level of evil required of him.
      • To hammer in how pathetic Draco's attempts at villainy are, for most of Half-Blood Prince he tries coming up with plans to aid the Death Eaters, and they end up failing simply because of his stupidity. His mother was in fact terrified of him joining up because she knew he was in way over his head. Dumbledore infers that Voldemort only let Draco join the Death Eaters to punish his father's failures.
    • Also Draco's dad, Lucius. Lucius is a very smooth operator, and there's nothing he won't stoop to in order to cement his family's influence, and in his first few appearances he's treated as someone very dangerous- but when Voldemort is resurrected, Lucius is truly revealed for the Smug Snake he is in comparison to his revived boss. By Deathly Hallows, he's almost a complete nonentity.
  • Saruman from The Lord of the Rings is by all means a dangerous villain, and most likely could have supplanted Sauron as Big Bad had he managed to get his hands on the Ring- but as he never did, he got stuck solidly in this trope instead.
  • In The Russian adaptation of "The Shadow" by E. Schwartz, the titular Living Shadow is this. After successfully becoming king ,he gets played around by his ministers and then dethroned
  • Both the Harrow and Roger Covenant from The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant qualify. Of course, since the real Big Bad, Lord Foul, is a superintelligent Physical God of Evil, most villains look like wannabes next to him.
  • Annias in The Elenium is a Smug Snake who's out to become Archprelate (think Pope) through whatever means are necessary. For the first two books he is played as a dangerous, if overconfident adversary. Then in Book 3, it all falls apart on him, he's forced to flee for his life to the God of Evil he made a deal with, and his Dragon-in-Chief, Martel reveals that he is the real brains of the operation. It's all downhill from there for Annias.
  • Shift the Ape, from the last The Chronicles of Narnia book The Last Battle, cooks up a cartoonishly silly Paper-Thin Disguise scheme to con his way into assuming Aslan's authority (which actually works), then conspires to take over Narnia with the help of the Calormen Empire. Once the invasion is underway, his authority is quickly subverted by the far more competent and serious Calormen General, who promptly feeds Shift to the God of Evil.
  • Maridon in Salamander manipulates Coelus into making him the subject of the Cascade ritual in order to seize power, and then later attempts to assassinate Ellen. The first time the ritual is performed, it goes lethally wrong and he gets replaced as Big Bad by Prince Kieron and Lord Iolen.
  • Sol of Warrior Cats: Power of Three, who takes over ShadowClan, but then is easily defeated by Lionblaze, Jayfeather and Hollyleaf.
  • The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara: The Ilse Witch is without a doubt a dangerous young woman and is no one to be crossed lightly. Yet as The Morgawr's former Dragon she is forever the junior partner in their relationship, a fact that she resents enormously, as she believes herself to be his equal in power and skill. The Morgawr and his current Dragon, Cree Bega, see the situation rather differently, regarding the witch as little more than a dangerous tool, to be used and discarded as they see fit, and the bad news for her is, their view of things is more or less accurate. Soon after arriving at Castledown the Ilse Witch is sidelined as The Heavy by Antrax, and then by The Morgawr himself. Powerful and clever she may be, but she's just not evil enough to play at his and Cree Bega's level.
  • Several examples in the Codex Alera, considering the Big Bad Ensemble and Gambit Pileup the series has going on. Sarl is probably the most obvious, going from a supporting villain in the second book to the main bad guy in the third and screwing things up a lot before getting undone by his own hubris and inability to control his own followers. High Lord Kalarus does better, effectively holding the title of Big Bad for the middle three books (of six), but he still goes down hard just before the real Big Bad reveals herself.
  • The Shadowmasters, particularly their leader Longshadow, in the middle part of the Black Company series. Though they certainly do a lot of damage, they just don't stack up compared to the Lady, the Dominator, or the Ten Who Were Taken from the first arc, Kina from the later books, or even Soulcatcher, who operates throughout. Longshadow especially proves himself to be an incredibly powerful sorcerer and dangerous opponent, but he's just too erratic and paranoid to put his abilities and resources to their fll potential.

Live-Action TV

  • Warren (and his partners-in-crime, to a lesser extent) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer tries to kill Buffy, but does kill Tara. He brags to demons about "killing the Slayer" in order to impress them (they aren't impressed), and then discovers that Willow has become extraordinarily powerful and is trying to kill him. His position has become one of such helplessness that the Scoobies need to prevent Willow from killing Warren and his relatively innocent compatriots Andrew and Jonathan. He meets his end at Willow's hands.
    • It should be noted that Warren still managed to be the Big Bad for the majority of the season, and while treated as a joke, was still quite dangerous.
    • Harmony, a schoolmate-turned-vampire, thinks of herself as the Big Bad, much to Spike's amusement.
    • Also, the 5th season episode "Fool For Love" is dedicating to exploring this trope, after Buffy nearly gets killed by a random vampire that is easily dispatched later by Riley. When asked for advice, Spike tells Buffy that it is incredibly likely that her end will come at the hands of a random mook, just having a good day.
    • Spike himself is practically the Trope Namer; he repeatedly calls himself "The Big Bad" despite never really being so, he's The Starscream at worst. He's successful.
      • Actually, he was the Big Bad for about the first half of season 2 (after proving badder than the Anointed One), but then getting usurped by Angelus.
  • The Vardans in Doctor Who manage to temporarily conquer Gallifrey and the Time Lords with the Doctor's help, only for it to turn out that it was all a trap by the Doctor... and furthermore, they only turned out to be unwitting stooges of the Sontarans, who were using them to do all the difficult stuff and then were planning to wipe them out anyway.
  • As if fulfilling Batman's addressing in the Western Animation example, Choujin Sentai Jetman had Gai Yuuki/Black Condor, after surviving lots and lots of battles against the Vyram... gets stabbed by a random mugger and killed. Whatever happened to the thug is mostly unknown, most fans call him Karma Houdini.
  • Arthur Petrelli of Heroes, mentioned before in hushed tones, debuts by draining the previous Big Bad's power, then drains all of Peter's powers (including his ability to get and hold powers), and starts gathering people together for some evil scheme while easily stopping anyone who opposes him. Then after a few episodes before he can get his plan going or we even find out what it was, he is easily killed off by Sylar.
  • Prince Edmund in Blackadder tries to lead a group of the most evil men in England to take over the kingdom. Since he's cowardly and petty, they betray him the moment someone else shows up.
  • Vern on Dark Oracle spends the whole of Season 2 attempting to become the Big Bad. His magical power increases exponentially, and he becomes a legitimate threat, though he is thwarted at every turn by Lance and Cally. Then, just as it looks like he's going to achieve true Big Bad status, former Big Bad Omen returns, his bosses, Blaze and Violet break free from their Dark World in the mirror, and Vern is relegated to loser status again.
  • Smallville: Alexander Luthor talks a good game, and his Enfante Terrible (later Teens Are Monsters) status, and undoubted Evil Genius make him a legitimate threat to the heroes. Yet he's too fundamentally screwed up to replace the genuine Lex Luthor, and his Clone Degeneration causes him to slowly break down both mentally and physically, ultimatey resulting in total amnesia and a Heel Face Turn. A similar case could be made for the psychotic Lex Clone who escaped in the Season 10 premiere: he's incredibly dangerous, but is too insane to fully step into Lex's shoes, and is in the middle of The Last Dance anyway. They've got the same problem in fact: they're very capable opponents but are overshadowed by both their genetic source material and the season's real Big Bad.

Professional Wrestling

  • Many times when a popular face wrestler is on a title reign, a monster heel will typically be built up to challenge him. He'll start out by utterly smashing jobbers before plowing through the midcard with a few easy victories over established, popular superstars along the way, but by the time the big showdown at the pay-per-view rolls around, the heel will usually lose decisively to the popular face and will be booted back down to the midcard, rarely if ever seen again in the main event. Recent examples include the pushes received by Snitsky, Chris Masters, and Umaga, among many others.

Tabletop Games

  • The Dresden Files RPG introduces Domocles Ravenborn, something of a subversion because he is a very legitimate and deadly threat if you get into a fight with him, but also a bully who folds under pressure. He's the ultimate poser, but with actual power if he knew what to do with it.


  • Bordeaux from .hack//GU PK's Alkaid, but is later beaten by Haseo, and never heard from again.
  • Shinji Matou in Fate/stay night who tries to use his servant Rider to personally antagonize Shirou and Rin and use the school as a mass sacrifice to further his own power. However, no matter which route you take in the game, Shinji always manages to get killed before actually being able to do anything. In the Fate route, Shirou and Saber stop the sacrifice and defeat Rider, after which Ilya kills him; in UBW, Caster kills Rider, Shinji is partnered with Gilgamesh (here getting his Player Punch by killing Ilya), but Gilgamesh turns on him and turns him into a Grail... Okay, he didn't die, but he comes so close to it that the events scares him shitless that he finally calls it quits in the end of the route. Finally, in Heaven's Feel, he is humiliated twice, Rider leaves him for Sakura, and he is left to stew until he tries to abuse Sakura, which makes her snap and kill him, furthering Zouken's Xanatos Gambit.
  • Subverted by Taro Namatame from Persona 4 in the worst ending. He is revealed to be the one behind the kidnapping and his last acts ends up killing Nanako, though not a party member, but still a very well beloved character. The player can opt to throw him into the Midnight Channel where he will be killed by his own Shadow (which clearly DOES pose a worse threat than him alone...). The better endings, however, averts this as Namatame turns out to be a Tragic Hero manipulated by Adachi.
    • Played straight with Mitsuo Kubo, a mentally unstable student who propagates himself as the culprit behind the string of murders in order to gain attention, and who the party believe to be responsible for a short time. In fact, Mitsuo only kills one person, Mr. Morooka, and it is revealed that he was thrown into the TV world by Adachi to further his own goals; Mitsuo spends the rest of the game presumably in prison.
  • King of Fighters' has K9999, especially for those who like Foxy and Kula. He backstabbed and killed Foxy (at first) and seriously breaking Kula's heart as he and Angel bully her and would've killed her if it wasn't for K's Big Damn Heroes moment. Then he retreats, never to be seen again... then Foxy was later revealed to be Not Quite Dead. Hoping for a rematch for what he he did to them? Not a chance, when K9999 is eventually retconned into a different person, Nameless, who had a different backstory (and a much more sympathetic one at that).
  • Many games with The Empire, such as Suikoden always have some guy like this at first who targets you or your loved ones because he's a dick; plotwise in order to keep your characters in an adversarial relationship with said Empire. Once you've managed to beat him; you are now deep into "Enemy of the State" territory and will be dealing with the full might of the Empire.
  • Saleh from Tales of Rebirth is at first shown and described as a powerful enemy general, with a reasonless penchant for destruction and disgust on anything that is 'good'. Everytime Veigue tried to approach him during the first half of the game, he spends his time outwitting and overwhelming Veigue... in cutscenes. However, he is never seen in battle on solo compared to his partner Tohma, he's usually fighting with a friend. Veigue defeats him rather easily, and following Tytree's "The Reason You Suck" Speech, it would seem that Saleh would try to get his threat level higher. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time after that just annoying Veigue with words on how he's going to crush their 'power of hearts', without actually kicking ass, and when he's actually fought the second time (with all his allies, nonetheless!), he's beaten just as easily. In other words, Saleh barks as if the power of evil will triumph all the time, but he couldn't back up with actual prowess.
  • Alvis of Velthomer subverts it by also surprisingly being sympathetic in a way. While he at first starts as an amiable ally to Sigurd, he mostly stays behind the scenes when Sigurd was being accused... only to pull off the biggest Player Punch ever by taking in Sigurd's wife as his own... and then slaughters him and his whole army mercilessly and then becomes the next Emperor of Grandbell... only to realize after 17 years that he's been had by Manfroy who eventually made his son Julius into the host of Loptous and practically turns Alvis himself into a pawn ruler and the Empire he built goes from noble to downright tyrannical. By the time Celice comes to avenge Sigurd, it is widely known that Alvis, while he was a big threat beforehand, is now reduced into a pitiful man swept by fate and the true villain and evil is Manfroy.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn's Lekain is a straight example. The leader of the corrupt Begnion Senators, he's a failed Magnificent Bastard and The Man Behind the Man to almost every awful thing in the series. He's a vile, arrogant, SOB, and killing him off is truly one of the highlights of the game. Yet at the end of the day, he's not the Dark Messiah that he thinks he is, and is in fact just another one of Sephiran's pawns in his plot to reawaken the Goddess Ashera, and when he returns in Part IV of the game the audience and the main characters are fully aware of that.
  • Mac from Mega Man X 3. He used X's trusting nature to sucker-shot him with a stun bullet and captures him easily. Then Zero arrives and it only takes several shots and maybe one or two swings of the Z-Saber to kill him for good.
  • Delphi from Trauma Center. Played up as a nihilistic bio-terrorist group that sees modern medicine as unnaturally prolonging people's lives. To that end, they do end up creating the parasites that form the threat of the first two games... and completely fail to kill any real number of people. In one outbreak in Under the Knife 2, the current head of Delphi ends up turning the television off during a report happily pointing out that despite their best efforts, not a single person was killed. Compare to Trauma Team, where untold thousands of people are killed completely by accident, with no Big Bad behind Rosalia whatsoever. Pretty pathetic showing for such a feared organization.
  • Dr. Eggman has evolved into this starting in Sonic Adventure, since he constantly tries to use sealed evil in cans but fails to learn that Evil Is Not a Toy, so he constantly helps his enemies defeat it before unleashing the next evil. Sonic Colors rectified this though, as he does his old-fashioned scheme of using his Mecha-Mooks to defeat Sonic.
    • Except in the DS version, where he unleashes a brainwashed and Nega-fied Mother Wisp.
  • Bowser is this in the various Mario Role-Playing Games (save for the first Paper Mario), in which he is always upstaged by the day's Big Bad. Often, he is even put into a hero position to stop the villain.
  • Rieltar Anchev in Baldur's Gate. He seems to be the mastermind behind the Iron Throne's evil plans, but turns out to be just a puppet for his adopted son Sarevok, whose own plans have an even darker end.
  • Benny, your character's would-be-killer who jumpstarts the main quest line of Fallout: New Vegas, thinks he's the main event, but it turns out he's barely a Disc One Final Boss.
    • In his defense, he is aware that he isn't the Big Bad - getting to that point was the entire point of his scheme.
  • Saren in Mass Effect could have been a legitimate threat as a simple human-hating rogue Specter, but with Reapers added into the mix he becomes almost insignificant.
    • It doesn't hurt that you can actually talk him to death (well, suicide): not exactly the mark of the usual Big Bad, unless we're talking about Planescape: Torment.
  • If Loghain had pulled his coup during normal times in Dragon Age he'd be a pretty threatening Big Bad, but since there's a Blight going on he's just a distraction on the way to the Archdemon.
  • Wilhelm von Juergen from Super Robot Wars (or, more precisely, The ODE System that absorbed him)... is practically the God of this trope. His debut in the OVA involves effortlessly capturing the new Aggressors (Lamia Loveless, Arado Balanga, Seolla Schweitzer and Latooni Subota) plus Kusuha Mizuha, because all of them are not in any mecha. Then, while Lamia eventually resisted him, he still manages to overrode her mind one time before Kyosuke plugged her out, while the rest of his captives are subdued by the rest of the EFA and restored. It Got Worse in Original Generation Gaiden, whereas while once Lamia resisted he couldn't override her mind, instead he apparently killed her off, now while she was battered and naked on Alt Eisen's arm... only for seconds later (after the rest of the EFA weaken him) get killed off (and reabsorbed) by Duminuss. To add insult to injury/death, Duminuss "revives" her, then later Axel brought her back to her normal self, rendering Juergen's "victory" pointless.
  • President Shinra—first senior, then junior—in Final Fantasy VII. You start out fighting their corporation that owns practically the whole planet and is slowly killing it, until Sephiroth shows up, kills the old President Shinra in passing, and sets out to kill the Planet in a much more grandiose manner. Rufus Shinra becomes the new president of the Shinra Corporation in his father's place and promises to be even more ruthless, but he can never make it past the status of a secondary menace with Sephiroth around, and in fact tries to work in parallel with the heroes against him sometimes, though never with them. And in media following the game, he's mostly stopped trying to be a villain.
  • Azmodan in Diablo III wants so badly to be the Prime Evil. Too bad his competition is Diablo.


  • Two examples from Order of the Stick -- Nale and Daimyo Kubota. Both are pretty clever guys who can do some serious damage, but their inflated egoes cause both to spectacularly crash and burn (at least twice now, in Nale's case).
  • In Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi, we have several examples of this: First, Mojo Jojo—the Girls' canonical Arch Enemy—nearly succeeds in killing them with a monster, only for them to be saved by Jack, at which point Mojo is captured by Bell and forcibly "recruited" to work for the Darkstar Council. Then, when they arrive at the Council's base, they're greeted by Zim, who for a moment seems to be pretty high up in the organization, since he's sitting on a throne and giving a Motive Rant about their goals... then Dr. X, the real Big Bad shows up, and tells Zim to get out of his chair and get back to his janitor duties. Later on, Mandark shows up and appears to be a major villain, but it's quickly made apparent that he's nothing but a pawn that Dr. X is manipulating through his mental instability.

Web Originals

  • In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, Brainchild put together a criminal organization, attracted mercenary supervillains to work for him, and tried to take over New York City's underworld. He was arrested, and his organization dismantled, by Pamela Odd, a Badass Normal private detective.
  • Dr. Linksano from Atop the Fourth Wall appears from another universe and tries to take over ours, but pretty much all of his plans end up failing without Linkara even noticing. After the review of Warrior 2 and 3, he retreats at sight Lord Vyce's approach, which he said was reason he fled his universe. After Vyce's defeat, he makes another attempt to attack Linkara, but The Entity appears to kill him.

Western Animation

Megatron: You really thought that you could lead the Decepticons? You couldn't lead a parade.

    • Subverted by Cybertron/Galaxy Force Starscream and Armada Starscream. The first turned out to be a Magnificent Bastard that was only undone by a Deus Ex Machina, and the second was more of a Noble Demon.
    • There is of course Starscream in the original cartoon, repeatedly trying to kill Megatron and failing miserably, but always gets let off with a slap on the wrist. When Megatron turns into Galvatron after Starscream betrays him yet again, Megatron decides he has had enough and disintegrates Starscream.
    • The Transformers Prime Starscream seems like a big threat to start off with, killing one of the autobots in the first ten minutes, competently leading the decepticons and even showing some signs of beating his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder when he displays concern for Megatron’s wellbeing. Unfortunately he is extremely vulnerable to Villainous Breakdowns and thinks he’s far tougher than he actually is, the humiliation piling up until he’s left badly damaged with no allies and is forced onto a bus for the rest of the season.
      • Beast Wars had a similar character with Terrasaur, and while smarter than G1 cartoon Starscream, proved to be as big of a failure. His attempts to overthrow Megatron generally resulted in whoever he was working with manipulating him as part their own plan. Basically, he's an 80s Starscream Expy in a Darker and Edgier 90s series, and "Megatron has falle- oh, wait!" just doesn't cut it when you're surrounded by true Magnificent Bastards. As TF Wiki puts it, "Terrorsaur is always thinking two steps ahead. Unfortunately, the big guns of the Beast Wars are usually thinking at least four steps ahead, and Terrorsaur always ends up on the short end."
  • In Transformers: Robots in Disguise, this is Sky-Byte's entire life, especially after he loses his position as Megatron's second in command to Scourge. Sky-Bite and his three Predacon underlings are hopelessly outclassed by just about everyone else in the series, but Sky-Bite keeps on trying.
    • Scourge could also be considered this, and comes pretty close to controlling Fortress Maximus which would have allowed him to get rid off Megatron/Galvatron, but his attempts are thwarted and lead to Galvatron mind controlling him into his fanatically loyal slave.
  • Justin of Total Drama Island starts of the second season as being the Manipulative Bastard who'd use the girls to his advantage. Over the course of the season however it becomes highly obvious that he has no real skills outside of his looks and quickly becomes Out-Gambitted when Courtney returns.
  • As seen in the page quote, Long Feng of Avatar: The Last Airbender. He had a pretty good conspiracy going in Ba Sing Se, managing to keep the Earth King under his control by not letting him know there was a war going on. He manages to delay the Avatar and his friends, even brainwashing and killing Jet. Once Azula enters the city, however, it's clear that she's way out of his league, and he gets thoroughly Out-Gambitted when she turns his own Dai Li against him.
  • Killer Moth from Teen Titans is a Mad Scientist with dreams of conquering the city, and the skill to probably make it happen—if he didn't have a ridiculous gimmick, and wasn't completely cowed by his Bratty Teenage Daughter. She's as evil as he is, but not very bright, and when she hijacks his scheme as a means to get a date for her prom, well... things go downhill pretty fast.
  • Jack Spicer from Xiaolin Showdown actually started out as something of a Big Bad during the show's first season, before getting unseated by Wuya. After that, Chase Young and Roy Bean came onto the scene, both more powerful villains, which started his decline into Villain Decay, until Jack was only an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain.


  • The Piraka of Bionicle are introduced brainwashing a whole village of Matoran to do work at a volcano in an attempt to get an Artifact of Doom, committing several Kick the Dog moments purely For the Evulz, and taking out the veteran Toa heroes who showed up. In addition, leader Zaktan knew Big Bad Makuta's Xanatos Gambit and swore to use it to his own advantage. Turns out they were manipulated by Makuta from day one, and eventually got beaten by a rookie team of Toa Because Destiny Said So. They were shortly afterward mutated into sea snakes and captured by the Hero Secret Service. They're imprisoned in a fishtank. Zaktan tried to offer his knowledge of the Gambit in exchange for parole, leading some other heroes to Makuta - but when they get there, Makuta blows him up.
    • Subverted later on, when a group of Skakdi (the Piraka's species) perfored a ritual sacrifice, during which they threw the remaining Piraka snakes and various other beings into a vat filled with Mutagenic Goo. The result is a god-like fusion who has become one of the several new Big Bad expectants. Or is this a Double Subversion, as we don't know for sure if this being can even be considered to be the same as the Piraka?
  • If he is not promoted as a hero, Akechi Mitsuhide is usually seen as this. He did plan his betrayal of Oda Nobunaga, but it depends mostly on luck about how Nobunaga suddenly came into Honnoji with minimal troops. Right after he defeated and forced Nobunaga to commit suicide, 13 days later, Nobunaga's successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi arrives and defeated Mitsuhide, forcing him to flee and get himself killed by peasants. Hideyoshi might not be a complete evil per se, but he is also often the recipient of Historical Villain Upgrade like Nobunaga.
    • Not applicable in the rare instances where Oda Nobunaga is portrayed as good, while Akechi Mitsuhide is portrayed as evil. In those cases he typically ends up being the Big Bad already. This is pretty rare since Oda Nobunaga is almost never portrayed as the hero.
    • These both seem to stem from two ill-viewed events, Hideyoshi's blunder of an invasion into Korea, and Nobunaga's hatred of Buddhism and burning of a temple of warrior monks. (It doesn't matter of course, that they tried to assassinate him first... only that they were monks and he burned the temple down to the last man.)

Real Life

  • In Real Life, basketball player Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers as a whole. Miller is a guy who posted game winners over Michael Jordan, utterly annihilated the Knicks, and even taunted Spike Lee with a choking gesture... but the Pacers have never. Ever. Ever. Won a championship; Late season collapses have become expected of them every season.
  • Golfer Greg Norman is most famous for pissing away incredible leads in tournaments. This was mocked on Saturday Night Live, where Mark McKinney played Norman, remarking that his nickname, "the Shark", is rather inappropriate; Sharks are one of the deadliest creatures in the world. Norman, on the other hand, is actually quite merciful to his opponents, and suggests the nickname "the Crab" instead. Sure, he might seem like a threat in the first few rounds of a tournament, but ultimately there's no reason to pay attention to it and the worst thing it can do is pinch your toes.
  • Benito Mussolini.
  • Pol Pot wanted to create a self-sufficient communist nation, that would surpass China. He also hope to surpass Mao's cultural revolution by forcing all urban inhabitants out of the city and into the fields. So far he never even succeeded in anything Mao didn't. The only thing he created was a horrifically backwards nation, where its only function was the persecution and senseless killing of its own people - approximately two million out of eight million.
  • The entire nation of North Korea.
    • A little less wannabe since that whole nuclear weapons train they jumped on.
      • Though, to be fair, North Korea's robust nuclear program doesn't mean a tick, as they lack any real means to deliver these nuclear weapons.
  • Leonid Brezhnev attempted to create his own personality cult in the Soviet Union, equating himself to Lenin and Stalin (and attempting to steal the glory from others who actually earned it—like the time he inserted himself into Georgi Zhukov's autobiography as a strategy advisor when in reality he was a low-level political officer during the Great Patriotic War). It didn't work very well and his efforts possibly set the stage for the USSR's ultimate collapse.
    • His two successors, Andropov and Chernenko, were too old and sick to each last much longer than a year as General Secretary.