Historical Villain Upgrade

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I'm sorry, Oda Nobunaga, I didn't recognize you there without the ominous storm clouds and spikes.
"...And every tale condemns me for a villain."

OK, let's say you're still writing that movie, which is Very Loosely Based on a True Story. You've chosen a period of history that involves a lot of exciting fight scenes and explosions so your audience won't fall asleep and now you need some main characters.

But there's a problem: most of the Real Life figures were morally grey and complex people. How are you going to make sure that your audience knows who the bad guy is?

Well, all you have to do is to pick someone who wasn't on your side. If you're American all you have to do is choose an evil Briton or German or Russian or Arab. Or failing that, an Italian or a Scotsman (just as long as they fought alongside those dastardly Anglo-commie-terror-nazis.) And if you're English you'll want to use one of the Anglo-Saxon bastards against the brave and heroic King Arthur. Or those treacherous English bastards against that brave and heroic King William the Con... Hey--wait a second...[1]

But hang on. There's another problem. Your new villain wasn't actually "evil" per se. Well, all you have to do is give your newfound villain a few Kick the Dog moments, adjust his appearance to something more recognizably evil and ignore anything of his life that doesn't fit your artistic vision.

A lot of sports movies do this to the coach of the Opposing Sports Team; turning him or her from a paid professional whose job is to ensure that his team wins to a callous bastard whose philosophy is "win at any cost".

Note that just because this happens to someone does NOT mean that he or she was a good person in Real Life; it is perfectly possible to make absolutely anyone seem even more evil than in reality (yes, even Hitler, as an example on this very page demonstrates).

This trope is the opposite of a Historical Hero Upgrade (though many figures often get one of those as well in works with a different viewpoint). May overlap with Beethoven Was an Alien Spy, Ancient Conspiracy and Flanderization. Contrast Historical Villain Downgrade.

Compare Hijacked by Jesus and Everybody Hates Hades, which do this to a member of a polytheistic pantheon. When Fanfic writers do this to a canon character, it's Ron the Death Eater. When an adaptation does it to a character from a previous story, it's Adaptational Villainy.

Subtropes include Stupid Jetpack Hitler, which is when the Nazis are technologically upgraded, Ghostapo, where they are given supernatural powers instead, and Soviet Superscience, where it's the Soviets who end up with the superscientific weapons.

Examples of Historical Villain Upgrade include:


Media in General[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Those Wacky Nazis already have subtropes.
  • At least in the US, Benedict Arnold, who is considered a vile, cowardly traitor, but started out as a very capable American commander during the American Revolution. However, he had made himself powerful enemies (many of whom were in congress) during the war, and it all ended when they managed to convince the congress and the upper brass that he would not deserve or need any of the promotions or additional wages for his military service (while he deserved them, there was often not enough money that the government could spare). To evade dishonourable consequences, he even attempted to resign, which Washington did not allow. In retaliation, he tried to sell the fort at West Point to the British, and now monuments that would depict him as a hero in the US only depict his boot, the foot that was injured in a major battle he had fought in for America.
  • Vlad "Dracula" Tepes (pronounced "Tsepesh") and Elizabeth Bathory have been upgraded from "cruel and barbaric" aristocrats to Undead Monsters. Elizabeth Bathory was in fact a sadistic and horrifically prolific serial killer in real life (though not a vampire pretty obviously), but Vlad Tepes may have been a better ruler than was the norm for the time. For starters, what many works of fiction and often historians fail to mention is the fact that Vlad was tortured all throughout his childhood by his Ottoman opponents, who often forced him to watch impalements. His lack of popularity was largely due to religious matters (he was a Catholic, ruling over an Orthodox country under the influence of the Ottoman Empire). In his time and place, that had a stronger impact than what execution methods he employed. As a sidenote, one of his greatest allies killed a few dozens of nobles during a feast and his favorite method of punishing rapists was by cutting off their penis (As opposed to the usual mediaval practice of having the rapist marry the victim). He is now considered a national hero.

In some ways, though, Dracula got off lucky: although not in Bram Stoker's book (where his personal history shows him to be a petty tyrant as well as an incompetent general, and the main advantage the heroes have is Dracula's lack of original thought) in many adaptations he's a borderline Magnificent Bastard, and far too suave and likable to do some of the horrible things attributed to the historical figure.

  • One of the most well-known examples is the composer Antonio Salieri, contemporary to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. History records that he was Mozart's friend and collaborator. Various works of fiction, going back at least to the mid 19th century, portray him as Mozart's rival and discreet murderer. The most famous example is the play Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film. This has created a bit of Reality Is Unrealistic. Salieri's talents as a composer have also declined in public perception due to the character's inferiority complex toward Mozart. While Salieri might not have been quite as good as Mozart by most reckoning, he was still a fantastic composer. This is, of course, part of the tragedy of the character in Amadeus. The scene in which he's shown examining Mozart's sheet music and listening to the composition in his head is actually quite a feat of musical ability in itself, which Salieri did indeed possess.
  • General Custer starts off as being idolized as a doomed hero, but later books and movies tend to paint him as a flamboyant, cowardly, and idiotic bigot that spends more time curling his hair for the camera than doing usual military actions. It ranges from him simply being a lucky idiot at the right place at the right time to being a cross-dressing (!) megalomaniac who cheerfully orchestrates massacres of Native Americans and got exactly what he deserved at Little Bighorn. The truth was that Custer was a capable, if somewhat flamboyant, cavalry commander who let his ego override his judgment and attacked a force that vastly outnumbered his.
    • Custer's original positive portrayal can be sourced to a trilogy of books: "Boots and Saddles", (1885), "Following the Guidon" (1890); and "Tenting on the Plains" (1893). Brilliant pieces of propaganda written by Elizabeth Bacon Custer (1842 - 1933), the widow of the military officer. She presented her spouse as a honourable leader fighting "against overwhelming odds", only for him and his men "to be wiped out while defending their position to the last man".
    • In "History is Made by Stupid People", a song by The Arrogant Worms, Custer gets off pretty easily—he's described as "very dumb" and "not knowing when to run", but never actually evil.
    • On an unrelated note about him, one of his descendants, John M. Custer III, rose up to the rank of Major General and became the Commanding General of the US Army Intelligence Center. He's still the CG.
    • The morality of some of his various actions was controversial, even in the standards of the time. He had in the past used human shields of women and children to win against superior numbers, which he had planned to do again in his last stand (but was repulsed).
    • If nothing else people can all agree that he was a pompous ass. Even his contemporaries thought so.
    • In addition, many of the Sioux were armed with repeating rifles. While the Springfield may have had the range advantage, weapons such as the Henry rifle more than made up for it with vastly superior rates of fire. Custer had been offered Gatling guns, but declined them. Whether or not they would've helped is debatable. Heavy and unwieldy to begin with, they weren't the most reliable of weapons.
    • Morality aside he was a capable military commander. He earned a good reputation as a cavalry general in the ACW and not for no reason. He wasn't incompetent but overarrogant by Little Bighorn and didn't think "mere redskins" could beat him.
  • The historical and legendary figure Ja'far ibn Yahya al-Barmaki, vizier to Harun al-Rashid, hasn't been given a Historical Villain Upgrade exactly... but try finding an evil vizier in a story set in Arabian Nights Days whose name isn't some spelling of Jafar. Likely more of a Did Not Do the Research. Ad Avis in Quest for Glory and the cartoon character Iznogoud could be considered a Historical Villain Upgrade of Ja'far.
    • Sort of in Quest for Glory considering there's another character in that game called Ja'far who's a good guy.
  • Rasputin is generally considered nowadays as a relatively harmless and eccentric religious figure, but during his life he was thought to hold the imperial family in thrall via strange supernatural powers. (This was more of a polite fiction among the aristocracy, as it allowed them to shift the blame onto him for all the bad decisions made by Nicholas II, who could not be criticized directly.) Therefore, in media he is usually depicted as a raving madmen at best, an evil sorcerer at worst. The fact that he was described as supernaturally resilient didn't help his reputation either. The original account of his murder was written by Prince Felix Yusupov, who supposedly organized the assassination; it was deliberately inaccurate (and changed whenever Yusupov was short on funds), but it's the one that everyone remembers.
    • In Don Bluth's animated film Anastasia, Rasputin is a mad undead sorcerer with animal sidekicks. The revolution that gets the heroine kicked out of the palace is given no other explanation than a rather poorly motivated sorcerous attack on the family. Lenin doesn't even get a mention. Most of The Nostalgia Chick review of the movie is dedicated to mocking this.
    • The second Shadow Hearts game casts Rasputin as an evil wizard who has fused his soul with a demon lord's, taken over a secret society of magic-users, and is manipulating the Russian royal family in order to raise said demon lord's invincible Doom Fortress in St. Petersburg.
    • The Hellboy comic series and movie turns Rasputin into an evil sorcerer in a Cosmic Horror Story.
    • In the Marvel Universe Rasputin was a mutant, which explains his Rasputinian Death. Furthermore before he died, Rasputin had transferred portions of his soul into each of the many women he impregnated and illegitimate children which would be passed on to their offspring. As part of a plot to escape death, as the number of his descendants decreased those that remained would accumulate a greater portion of his soul, and when there is only one left that person would effectively become Rasputin reincarnate. In the present, he only has a few descendants left—two of them? The X-Man Colossus and his Dark Magical Girl sister Magik.
    • Played with in Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army, in which Rasputin does appear as a villain, except this Rasputin is actually an android sent from the future who drops the "evil incarnate" shtick after his mission is complete.
    • The Blood Plus manga Blood+ Adagio turns him into a chiropteran cult leader.
    • On the other hand, German disco band Boney M gave him a historical anti-villain upgrade in the song Rasputin, which portrays him as being "Russia's greatest love machine".
    • World Heroes makes him a Love Freak hippie/killing machine. Oddly, this is a Fighting Game.
    • The HBO movie Rasputin: Mad Monk of Destiny tries to be as fair as it can with him. He's portrayed sympathetically, but is clearly a bit nuts. The fact that he's played by Alan Rickman helps make him more likable.
    • Neither of Rasputin's two operatic portrayals is flattering. Einojuhani Rautavaara manages a more rounded characterisation—his Rasputin is a religious ascetic corrupted by power, who despite his faults has a ring of Faustian poignancy. Jay Reise's Rasputin is downright sadistic and depraved.
    • In the Hammer Horror film Rasputin: The Mad Monk, he is a con man with Hypnotic Eyes who gets into the good graces of the Tsarina by Brainwashing her lady-in-waiting to push her son off a balcony so he can be called upon to heal him.
    • The portrayal of Rasputin by Lionel Barrymore in 1932's Rasputin and the Empress inspired a 1933 Warner Bros. cartoon, "Wake Up The Gypsy In Me," in which "Rice-Puddin' -- The Mad Monk," carries off the cartoon's heroine, until he is blown up by the peasants in "A revolution!"
    • Deconstructed in the Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel The Wages of Sin, where the time travelling heroes go back to pre-Revolutionary Russia and, upon encountering Rasputin, find their attitudes towards him coloured by the modern presentation of him as some kind of satanic monster, only to find him a lot more sympathetic and likeable in person.
  • King John of England, villain of the Robin Hood stories. While John certainly deserved some of his reputation (he was a bad general and very good at alienating the nobility), he was far from the craven usurper depicted in the later legends. He also wasn't an illiterate lackwit, as some popular folk lore depicts him, having written many books on law and was considered one of the premier legal minds of his age, so much so that his judgement had often been sought after prior to his kingship in regards to legal disputes. He is also recognized as the founder of the modern British navy. There's also the fact that he could never get away from being in the shadow of his brother, Richard I AKA Richard the Lion Heart. Richard I was seen as the pinnacle of knightly chivalry and a charismatic leader, but a decent peacetime leader he was not. When he was captured by the scheming Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who wanted to make himself look impressive after the death of his great father, Frederick Barbarossa, Richard was freed after only paying a huge ransom that left England bankrupt. Also, his being at war all the time left the nobles with too much free rein, so that when John came to power they were hostile to his attempts to take control again. There's a lot of evidence that John had an inferiority complex thanks to Richard; Richard was a military man whilst John was a bookish scholar, and when John learned of Richard's death he wept, not due to the loss of his brother, but because he didn't want to step into his shoes.
    • Doctor Who plays with this by portraying the real King John accurately and revealing that the stories of the villainous King John arose from when a shapeshifting android was impersonating him.
    • Lampshaded when the Doctor and Tegan get into an argument about King John's legacy; at one point, Tegan (rather snottily) points out that she knows her history, only for the Doctor to take some rather quiet pleasure in expanding on just all the ways in which she's wrong and how King John was a much better ruler than the history books make out. Lesson learned for Tegan; never try and claim you know more about history than a time traveller.
    • King John in the Robin Hood parody the Zany Adventures of Robin Hood actually points out his status as a Historically Upgraded Villain, claiming that he did pretty good while Richard was away by balancing the budget and making peace with Ireland.
    • Richard himself has suffered from Historical Villain Upgrade. His image as a poor peacetime leader has been the subject of considerable scholarly revision. Richard's ransom could hardly have bankrupted England, inasmuch as Richard was able to plunge immediately after release into a largely successful five-year military campaign in France. Richard can hardly be blamed for being kidnapped by Leopold of Austria, who handed him over to the Emperor Henry VI for a share of the ransom fee for reconciling Richard with Philip of France ― an act condemned even by Richard's critics.
  • Richard III, full stop. He probably didn't murder any of his family members, he probably didn't have a couple of children slain, and he definitely wasn't either hunchbacked or deformed. This view of Richard comes almost entirely from William Shakespeare's play about him, which was written over 100 years after his death and was basically created for the benefit of the direct descendant of the guy who overthrew him. But he's such a Magnificent Bastard that most people let the slander slide—if they even recognize it as slander.
    • Richard may or may not have murdered his nephews, but he certainly betrayed Edward V and usurped the throne—and is it such a long step from treason to murder? As to the "charge" of being deformed, he certainly was not gravely deformed, but there is some evidence, even from his lifetime, that he was called "Crouchback" as an insult, and it seems likely that some small deformity was Flanderized into full-on Quasimodoism by later gossip. (Shakespeare's Richard III, by the way, was heavily based on Sir Thomas More's book on Richard, and More's book seems to have been based on the contemporary personal reminiscences—of Richard's enemies.)
    • "Crouchback" was a nickname for Edmund Plantagenet (1245-1296), a collateral ancestor, and it did not refer to deformity but to prominently wearing a heraldic cross on his back because he had been on the Ninth Crusade. Richard himself apparently had one shoulder higher (larger?) than the other, which may have been because his favorite weapon was the axe. Swordsmen can change hands to even out the muscle buildup; axemen pick a side and stick to it.
    • Subverted in the Big Finish Audio drama The Kingmaker. Used straight for William Shakespeare
    • Subverted by the first Blackadder. The first shot shows Richard as a hunchback approaching his nephew with a knife...only to reveal that it's a toy knife and he has a pillow up his back, and they are just playing. Richard himself is portrayed as rather kindly (though his ghost is a Deadpan Snarker). The story takes place in an Alternate History where he actually defeated Henry Tudor's forces, only to be accidentally killed by his sniveling grand-nephew Edmund, whose father ended up ruling for 13 years (after which Tudor rewrote the history books to portray himself as the winner and Richard as a monster all along).
  • See more specific examples like 300 below, but in general, any portrayal of the Greco-Persian Wars of the 5th century BC will portray the Persian Empire as ruthless, tyrannical and belligerent in comparison to the freedom-loving Greeks. This is mostly because until very recently, almost all information on the Persian Empire came from the Greeks of the time, making this Older Than Feudalism. Still, this tends to ignore or gloss over:
    • The rulers of the Ionian Greek city-states (of modern-day Turkey) had rebelled against the Persian Kings who helped install many of them, with the support of Athens and other city-states of Greece proper, and the Persian invasion was partly payback for this.
    • The Greeks kept slaves just like everybody else in the ancient world (except Persia, see below), and their "democracy" was only extended to native-born, free Greek males of a certain age, often requiring a certain amount of wealth.
    • Sparta was a military dictatorship using The Spartan Way to keep its slaves in line, and definitely not a symbol of individual liberty. The Persians also considered Spartans to be the most easily bribeable of all Greeks, because their lifestyle of forced asceticism made them especially prone to corruption. The Athenians, on the other hand, who were well used to luxuries, resisted bribery and corruption efficiently.
    • Conquering your neighbours was standard procedure at the time; the Greeks would do it themselves shortly afterwards (the Athenian Empire and Alexander the Great).
    • The Persian Empire was rather tolerant of the local customs and cultures of its conquered peoples compared to previous conquerors, and they arguably advanced an early form of multiculturalism. Most successful empires that followed it (the Hellenistic Successor Kingdoms, the Romans, the Mongols) adopted similar policies. Really, the Persians aren't being given enough credit here. They freed the Jews from Babylon, respected all cultures and religions equally, improved life with great art, gardens, irrigation, and other public works projects, and even banned slavery (except for a few war criminals), to name a few Persian achievements. The Greeks, on the other hand, had such lovely, respectable institutions like pedophilia, drunken cults, slavery, extreme violence, and perpetual warfare. Alexander "the Great" destroyed the Persian Empire and didn't even preserve all the public works projects, opting instead to burn down beautiful cities, rob historically significant sites, destroy magnificent art, murder, pillage, and rape. Makes you wonder why Westerners don't learn about this in school...
    • Jews, on the other hand, do generally have a good opinion of the Persians. Zoroastrianism had a huge influence on the Monotheistic religions of the world, and Jews do equate Ahuramazhda to Yahweh. Much more importantly, the Persians, after conquering the Babylonians, allowed the Jews to re-establish Jerusalem and build the second Temple.
  • China's first emperor Qin Shi Huang gets this a lot, owing to his historical reputation as a brutal tyrant (albeit an effective one). He's the Big Bad in Bridge of Birds, in which he is also immortal and has magic powers. Additionally, the Emperor in the film Hero is based on him, and is sort of an uneasy mix between this trope and Historical Hero Upgrade- he wins, and many thought the film had the Family-Unfriendly Aesop of "If you mess with China's autocratic government you're screwed."
    • It's closer to "China's autocratic government is better than the chaos of the alternatives", but otherwise, yeah.
    • Likewise, while Empress Dowager Cixi is hardly a saint, the traditonal view of her is of a Complete Monster Evil Matriarch thanks to the media. There's still a lot of debate on how much of this is true and how much of this came from Chinese politics using her image as a scapegoat: more than one biographer depicts her as an Iron Lady who could be very cruel or selfish at one moment (like amassing a huge personal fortune in times when Imperial China was falling down, and being the number 1 suspect behind her nephew's death by poisoning) and very kind at the other (like thanking a nurse who took care of her when she was ill by releasing her from footbinding and making sure she healed completely).
  • In films featuring Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I gets this treatment. If the film is about Elizabeth, Mary, Queen of Scots, Mary Tudor, and/or Philip II of Spain will be treated this way.
    • Queen Elizabeth: The Golden Age bombed in Spain precisely because of this trope. Spanish audiences were insulted with its depiction of Philip II (a remarkably pious man) as—quoting one critic -- "a cackling, Spanish Dr. Doom." And its prequel, Elizabeth, certainly followed the formula insofar as both Mary, Queen of Scots and the Catholic Church at large were concerned.
    • Though the largest by far was probably Robert Dudley, who was involved in a major plot against Elizabeth, but actually confessed most of it to her when ill and his "great betrayal" of her was much later when he remarried long after his wife's death. The main reason he never betrayed Elizabeth was that up until that marriage, he had hoped to marry her and become king. He never converted to Catholicism and died a loyal citizen.
    • This trend stretches back to Schiller's play Mary Stuart (1800) and even earlier, making this Older Than Radio.
    • The BBC miniseries Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot treated Mary far more sympathetically than Elizabeth. Ironically, it portrayed James I, the main character, as quite a Jerkass. (It should be noted that depicting James I as a Jerkass may be more Truth in Television than it is this trope. Still, John Donne seems to have thought well of him.)
  • Louis XVI of France is generally seen as a tyrant, and few media will ever depict him as anything less.
  • The there are several conspiracy theories surrounding the Illuminati, who at their time (18'th century, not before, not later), weren't really all too different from your regular Brotherhood of Funny Hats. Their New World Order was in fact referring to republican form of government and legislation based on fundamental human rights (think of the French Revolution).
  • The Marquis de Sade was little more than an S&M enthusiast and pervy erotic fiction author, but he's often remembered as a shadowy, villainous rapist.
    • In Waxwork he's called "one of the most evil men who ever lived," apparently beating Hitler.
    • The skull of Marquis de Sade is called that of "the most evil man who ever lived" in the 1965 horror flick The Skull.
    • Much of the point of Quills is to avert this, showing the Marquis more as a liberated antihero who is brutalized by his intolerant times.
  • The 1932 novelisation of the Mutiny on the Bounty, and the 1935 and 1962 film adaptions, depict Captain William Bligh as a ruthless autocrat. The 1984 film version, The Bounty, took a revisionist and more historically accurate view of Bligh, depicting both his good and bad points.
  • Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first Commissioner of Baseball. Firstly for the allegation that he had dealt with the Black Sox scandal in a ham-handed and unfair manner (aided by pro-Black Sox portrayals in film like Eight Men Out or Field of Dreams). This ignores how hated the participating players in the Scandal were at the time, and the implications the scandal held for all of baseball. Secondly, it's often been claimed that Landis was the sole reason for baseball's "color barrier", even to the extent of claiming the Ohio-born-and-raised Landis was an old-school Southern racist. Landis himself stated that the question was up to the owners (most of whom at the time were against integration), and invited black sports reporters to make their case to them. There was also the rather important (up until Branch Rickey said "screw it," and all the other owners followed suit) question of what compensation would be due to Negro League teams in exchange for drafting all their best players; the Negro League teams were profitable business entities in their own right and at the time of integration were predominately owned by African Americans.
  • Just about any film made about the sinking of the RMS Titanic is sure to portray the relatively blameless J. Bruce Ismay. the president of the shipping lane, as an arrogant, bullying prick who forces the Captain to run the ship full speed into an ice field and then act like sniffling coward who hops aboard the first available lifeboat. While it's perhaps easy to see where this reputation comes from—jumping into a lifeboat to save yourself while there's still hundreds of women and children aboard the ship is perhaps not going to cast you in the bravest or manliest of lights—the truth is a bit more complicated, with eyewitness accounts suggesting Ismay was diligent in helping load and lower the lifeboats and only took his seat in one after making sure that there were no women or children there to take it instead.
  • Richard Nixon is an unusual example- he gets this treatment in many, many works but rarely ones that deal directly with his original term of office. We say "original" because the upgrade tends to occur in Bad Future alternate timelines where America has become a Dystopia (such as Watchmen or Back to The Future II). We know they are dystopias because one of the features is that Nixon is still President, usually on his totally unconstitutional third, fourth or fifth term, implying he's running a de facto dictatorship. While he's rarely the Big Bad of these settings (in fact he's usually The Ghost), it still fits this trope that the writers thought that Nixon would a) so much as attempt something like this, and b) use his Presidency as further evidence that the setting is a Crapsack World (they are Crapsack, of course; its just a bit much to think that Nixon is one of the main reasons for it). Played for Laughs in Futurama where in the distant future he's a Head In A Jar Large Ham Card-Carrying Villain (and once again, President, though this time via Loophole Abuse rather than outright corruption).
  • Oda Nobunaga has basically become Japan's go-to guy whenever a series needs an Evil Overlord. While Nobunaga was clearly not a very nice man in real life, it's very unlikely that he was ever literally the king of Hell like many series like to claim.


Anime and Manga[edit | hide]

  • Le Chevalier d'Eon turned several real life historical figures (including the title character) into heroes and villains of a life and death struggle for control of the world. The Big Bad of the series ultimately turned out to be King Louis XV.
  • Likewise, Rose of Versailles turned some historical figures (like Madame du Barry) into series antagonists, which result in some god-awful moments for people who actually know a thing or two about those characters.
  • In Vision of Escaflowne the Big Bad is eventually revealed to be Isaac Newton. Though to be fair, the real Newton was said to be kind of a dick and Dornkirk's ultimate goal was making everyone's wishes come true. He thought the ends would justify the means. One of his interests historically was Alchemy.
  • In Drifters, the so-called drifters are dead heroes from our world. They are sent to other worlds to battle the Offscourings: Also heroes from our world, but decidedly anti-humanity. Amongst the offscourings are people like Jeanne d'Arc (a Pyromaniac) and Anastasia Romanova (An Ice Person). It's implied that Drifters are generally less-than-stellar paragons of humanity who died as they lived (Oda Nobunaga is a drifter), while Offscourings are people who were noble and good in real life but died unjustly (explaining why they've obtained a violent hatred of humans). The leader of the Offscourings is implied to be Jesus.
  • Souten Kouro's Zhang Rang, leader of the 10 eunuchs. He manages to rape Shui Jing despite not having the necessary instrument
  • One Piece has many characters named after real pirates. Blackbeard for example is similar to... Blackbeard, except that One Piece's Blackbeard has the abilities of unholy darkness and earthquakes that can sink entire islands, and he is being set up as the most probable Big Bad of the entire series.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 1 turned Jack the Ripper into a vampire working for the Big Bad, Dio Brando. It also explains why he disappeared, The main character, Johnathan Joestar disintegrated him. To top it all off, he fights by shooting scalpels embedded in his muscles!
  • In Code Geass: Tales of an Alternate Shogunate, Matthew Perry uses Geass to force Japan to open its ports, oppresses Japan for his own selfish ends much like Britannia did in the original series, and in the final battle against the Black Knights and the Britannians, who have realized that he's acting in his own interests, fires the Hadron Cannons on his ship, hitting his own men along with the enemy.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • See the entry for 300 at Film.
  • The Graphic Novel The Five Fists of Science portrayed Thomas Edison as a Lovecraftian sorcerer attempting to summon a demon, opposed by Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla.
  • Atomic Robo also depicts a heroic Tesla (creator of Robo) as the opponent of a supervillainous Edison who, among other things, uses the ghost of Rasputin in an attempt to murder Tesla and nearly blows up Manhattan in an attempt to contain the "Odic Force."
  • Swedish superhero parody comic Kapten Stofil does this fairly regularly. For example, one issue features Jules Verne as an evil superscientist inventing a Mecha Queen Victoria to exploit colonial India, until it is defeated by Indra and Ganesh.
  • In the The Umbrella Academy's first story, they fight against a weaponized Eiffel tower controlled by... Gustave Eiffel.
  • In Neil Gaiman's Marvel 1602 ("Marvel superheroes in 1602 AD"), several historical characters suffer from this, most notably King James VI of Scotland and I of England, whose Burn the Witch tendencies become his main character trait in a world filled with superpowered individuals.
  • The Red Menace has Roy Cohn as a supervillain, the eponymous Red Menace (who doesn't appear until late in the series).
  • Chester Brown's biography of Louis Riel turns Sir John A MacDonald into a Machiavellian schemer who provoked Riel in order to raise publicity for his railroad project.
  • In the Divine Comedy, Brutus and Cassius are depicted as the ultimate traitors, being gnawed upon by Satan for eternity.
  • In Jonathan Hickman's SHIELD, the immortal Isaac Newton seems to represent Bad Science, in contrast with the time-traveling Leonardo da Vinci, who represents Good Science. Newton, in addition to torturing Nostradamus to get details about The End of the World as We Know It, which he then seems disinclined to prevent, also murdered Galileo to take his place as leader of SHIELD. The SHIELD Infinity one-shot reveals he even has his own Supervillain Calling Card—in the Marvel Universe Newton's rivals Hooke, Flamsteed, Pascal and Liebniz were all found dead with an apple beside them.
  • In Chick Tracts, Charles Darwin gets portrayed as a Nazi ideologist. Anyone who "believes in evolution" will turn into a strawman Nazi.
  • The Chilean comic book 1899 paints the Peruvian Manuel Grau as a mad scientist and cyborg, while it can be argued that he was not heroic it cannot be argued from a Chilean perspective; He was a traitor to Peru's cause because his gentleness lead him to rescue his adversaries from the water in which they had fell. Conversely there is a hero upgrade in Chilean characters. Furthermore, Chile was the invading army and Peru had involved in the war only to defend Bolivia that left the war early when Peru could no longer avoid the continuing conflict.
  • The Marvel Comics version of Louisiana Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau was initially a victim of circumstance but as time went on she developed into a villain desperate for immortality and later still for employing assassins.


Films -- Animated[edit | hide]

  • Governor Ratcliffe from Disney's Pocahontas. The real John Ratcliffe seems to have been more foolishly trusting than villainous. By the way, he was tortured to death (flayed alive, actually) by the Powhatan Indians, who seem to have received a bit of a Historical Hero Upgrade in the movie.
    • Ratcliffe was not a major figure in the original Virginia Company; he was the captain of one of the three ships and later became the second president of Jamestowne. Besides remaining alive where hundreds of others died (probably due to his higher position), he was not very villainous, and there are no records of him showing prejudice or hatred against the Powhatans. It's probably a case of Historical Villain Displacement - a Disney film needs a villain.
    • To add, the (historical) Powhatans obviously received an Historical Villain Upgrade from the British records. In modern-day standards, though, their lands were being invaded. Imagine how any nation or people reacts to that.
      • Considering how this page criticizes the Spartans for reacting to that, it seems a little hypocritical to let the Powhatans off the hook.
  • Granted, the Huns weren't all that nice, but Disney's demonic portrayal of them in Mulan (complete with inhuman yellow eyes) is pretty extreme.
    • And, indeed, they weren't even Huns. The history of Disney's Mulan is extremely messed up, partially because nobody is entirely sure if Mulan was even a real person, let alone when she was supposed to have been alive. However, regardless of the period, the Huns never made it anywhere near that far to the east, and the tribe that Mulan fought against were the Xiongnu, a tribe that were similar to the Huns in a lot of ways, but not actually the same group. So in this case it's not so much Historical Villain Upgrade as Historical Villain Displacement.
  • Fitting in with the other depictions of Prince John, listed above, Disney's Robin Hood portrays the guy as a Large Ham who is prone to childish tantrums upon mention of his brother and always begins sobbing at the mention of his mother. He also taxes Nottingham until most of the citizens are in jail because they invented a song that insulted him and plans to have Friar Tuck hanged to lure out Robin Hood.
  • Queen Victoria was not a particularly mean person. The version of her that appears in Aardman Animations' The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, on the other hand, has been described as "a fiend in human form."
  • In Don Bluth's Anastasia Rasputin is an undead evil sorcerer who sold his soul in exchanged for a demon powered reliquary, and sparked the Russian Revolution to kill the Romanov's, and is out to kill Anastasia.

Films -- Live-Action[edit | hide]

  • Cinderella Man depicts heavyweight boxer Max Baer as a brutish thug who brags about having killed two men in the ring. In reality, Baer is remembered for his lighthearted personality, and was celebrated as an American hero for his defeat of Max Schmeling while wearing a Star of David on his trunks. Although one of his opponents did die in the ring with him, the incident haunted him for the rest of his life. He regularly gave money to the man's widow. Baer's son was outspoken in his criticism of the portrayal.
  • Tavington from The Patriot. While Banastre Tarleton, the historical Colonel Tarleton, was notoriously ruthless (cf his actions at the Waxhaws Massacre and his fervent support for the Slave Trade as an MP), the film greatly exaggerates his actual misdeeds.
    • Some of the worst atrocities presented in the film were in fact inspired by the ones committed in WW 2 (erasing entire villages, locking all the townsfolk into their church and burning it down). This makes it even more controversial.
  • A perfect example of this is Dan Devine from Rudy. In the film, he was the Jerkass Notre Dame head coach who wouldn't let Rudy play at all, only relenting after the entire team threatened to walk. In real life, he was the one who suggested that Rudy play!
  • Done in Braveheart with Robert the Bruce and Edward I "Longshanks," although the Bruce quickly goes the way of The Atoner. The trope is possibly lampshaded given some of the narrator's first monologue in the film basically goes "Historians from England will say I am a liar, but history is written by those who have hanged heroes."
  • Done with President Martin Van Buren in Amistad. Although in reality he was almost an abolitionist, in the film he's a weak-willed coward who simply bows to political pressure.
    • Van Buren later ran on a quasi-abolitionist ticket, but during his presidency he was in fact pretty beholden to the south - no anti-slavery tendencies really emerged until much later, and even then it is dubious that they represented much more than political expediency - by running as a Free Soil candidate he was able to prevent his hated intra-party rival from winning. Perhaps the movie exaggerates somewhat, but it's not right to call Van Buren an anti-slavery president, much less "almost an abolitionist."
  • Tom Norman, who exhibited Joseph Merrick at his freak show, was by most accounts fairly humane—he was conflated, both in the David Lynch and Bernard Pomerance versions of The Elephant Man with a different manager (identity unclear) who robbed him and abandoned him in Belgium.
  • The old Universal horror film The Mummy and its later The Mummy Trilogy does this to Imhotep. The historical Imhotep was a priest, official, and architect most known for inventing the pyramid, not for messing with Pharaoh's daughter or mistress and being buried alive to torment meddling Westerners thousands of years later.
    • Though it has been noted that if the Mummy Trilogy has its timeline vaguely right, the Egyptian scenes take place well after the original Imhotep lived, making the original simply the villain's namesake, rather than the villain himself.
  • The Scorpion King, who gets both a Historical Hero Upgrade and a Historical Villain Upgrade throughout the film series, and resembles the real man only in name and general location—although very little is known about the real-life Scorpion King, even if he was real at all.
    • The Scorpion King's direct-to-DVD prequel gives this treatment to Sargon the Magnificent.
    • The Dragon Emperor was almost the same as the real Emperor of the Ch'in Dynasty, who was probably the same or much worse than the one in the movie. They simply added supernatural powers to him.
  • 300 does this with a lot of people. Word of God insists that these are all simply the embellishments of a Unreliable Narrator:
    • In reality, the Persian Empire was one of the most cultured and progressive civilizations of its era. In the film they're a numberless horde of Faceless Goons, containing an elite faction of monster ninjas, a Giant Mook cannibal ogre, and a demonic executioner with sawblades for arms, firebomb-flinging sorcerers, and a bevvy of unwholesome diplomats covered in gold piercings.
    • Xerxes himself is reimagined as a nine-foot androgynous Scary Black Man covered in gold chains, who spends his spare time in a smoky harem tent / opium den full of mutated freak show performers, amputee concubines and pot-smoking goat demons. Wow. The real guy just had a tall hat and a funky beard. Compare this and ... this. WHAT THE HELL, PRODUCER?!
    • The Spartan Ephors are transformed from the equivalent of five Senators who run Spartan government into deformed molester priests who betray their people.
  • Even in the Muslim accounts of the war, Guy de Lusignan was never portrayed as the foppish, racist douche-bag he was shown as in Kingdom of Heaven. Certainly, the historical Guy most likely held many of the views concerning Muslims he expresses in the film, but then so would have the vast majority of other figures, including those the enlightened heroes of the film were based on. Raynald de Chatillon, on the other hand, (by Muslim and several Western accounts) apparently was a bit of a mustache-twirling supervillain, although probably not quite as outright Ax Crazy as the film makes him out to be.
    • Raynald once had a man tortured by smearing him in honey and putting him on top of a tower in the hot sun, simply because the man refused to fund a military expedition Raynald was plotting. Oh, and the best part—the man was the Latin Patriarch of Antioch, a religious leader of the Crusaders—and the expedition was against Cyprus, an island held by the Byzantine Empire, inhabited by Christians. Of course, Raynald had what he thought was a perfectly good reason for this—he felt they owed him money. Or pretended he felt they owed him money. It's tough to be sure. So -- a "bit of a mustache twirling supervillain" is something of an understatement. Hell, it can be argued that the film downgraded him by turning him into Guy's Dragon—in real life the two men hated each other.
    • The Patriarch of Jerusalem, who is portrayed, as a cowardly, self-absorbed jerk, blinded by his faith, and mostly spending his time on spreading prejudice against the Muslims. In reality, while almost everything we know about him comes from the writings of his rivals, we still know that it was him along with Balian who negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem and they rounded up the money to ransom the citizens who couldn't afford to ransom themselves. As for his cowardice, he along with Balian offered themselves as ransom for those who they couldn't afford to ransom, which Saladin declined.
    • Word of God said they actually downgraded Reynald to make him believable, and Guy hated Raymond in real life (leading to the disaster at Hattin). Guy also tried to make Reynald apologise to Saladin in 1187. It didn't work. Balian is more of an enigma, though he tended to be pro Raymond, the real Balian was prone to taking power where he could find it, and his dynasty fathered most of the royal families of Europe. Despite his actions at Jerusalem in real life, he was no Saint.
  • The East India Company in Pirates of the Caribbean in so many ways, the first being that they had no authority to do anything in the Caribbean (here's a hint, their name). The company in the movies is called the East India Trading Company, not the real-life East India Company which the EITC is based upon. It has been confirmed by Word of God that the PotC universe is an alternate universe, and that these two companies are not the same. Still; to make it clear it is not the historical East India Company, they take that name and add another word to it, instead of, say The WEST Indies Company?
    • Its pretty obvious from the start that Cuttler Becket is overstepping his authority; Governor Swan immediately calls him out on it and is only forced to back down when he waves signed warrants for Will, Norrington and Elizabeths' arrest. Given that said Governor is thrown in jail for trying to leave Port Royal, his messenger to the King intercepted and murdered, Port Royal itself taken over and Swan himself eventually killed, its a fair bet that whether or not they had the "authority" to do what they did was largely irrelevant. This was a criminal enterprise; intentionally, they were worse than the pirates they were hunting down.
  • Among various other historical inaccuracies in U-571, the film portrays a German U-boat crew gunning down defenceless sailors that are stranded in the North Atlantic. Never mind that in Real Life such an instance had only occurred once throughout the entire war and it was far more common for German sailors to assist all survivors. (Which was only good sense: A captured enemy can be interrogated, used as a bargaining chip, or sometimes even convinced to switch sides; a corpse cannot.) Such a courtesy only came to an end when it became apparent allied forces would attack U-boats on sight, regardless of whether they were carrying rescued merchant men.
    • It was hard not to see this scene as a Take That to the similar scene in Das Boot where the German sub commander is openly distraught that the Allies aren't rescuing their own seamen.
    • Interestingly, Hitler had issued standing orders that all U-boat crews were to gun down survivors of sunken enemy ships. However, many high ranking U-boat officers ignored this order or conveniently forgot to pass it along, since they were afraid of their own crews being treated badly in the event of capture. There are also stories of how U-boat crews would assist survivors by giving them supplies and navigational aids.
  • Comparatively mild case in The Young Victoria, where King Leopold I of Belgium is portrayed as a pushy manipulator trying to use his nephew Prince Albert to gain control over the eponymous Victoria. In reality, Leopold was Victoria's favourite uncle.
    • Also, while Sir John Conroy was by no means a friendly personality, even he would never dare manhandle the future monarch of the United Kingdom.
  • This also occurs in the film version of Jesus Christ Superstar where, in addition to masterminding Jesus's death, the priests wear ridiculously large and garish hats.
  • In James Cameron's Titanic, pretty much every crew member not Captain Smith is depicted as, at best, incompetant or easily duped and evil at worst. Harold Lowe might be an exception, seeing as he is the one crew member who tries to make space in his lifeboat and rescue the people in the water.
    • Averted in A Night to Remember, in which it is made clear that the crew are just trying to act under difficult circumstances that they weren't prepared for. The only real instance of doing anything that could be seen as wrong is when one of the crew refuses to take a lifeboat to help the people in the water, and even then it's made clear that it's not so much out of cruelty as it is because of practicality (as he says, the people would probably swamp the boat, try to force their way into it, pushing others off in the process and possibly causing it to capsize, ultimately resulting in the survivors already inside dying as well).

Which, in fairness, is one justification used in Cameron's movie as well and was a legitimate worry. Meanwhile at least in Lightoller's case, A Night to Remember goes a little bit far towards Historical Hero Upgrade. Though as it was the only film made with input from any surviving officer (Fourth Officer Boxhall; Lightoller himself died before the film came out) and even if half his autobiography is true the man was indeed a Real Life it might not be too great an exaggeration.

  • The HBO TV film Conspiracy about the Wannsee Conference gives one of these to Gerhard Klopfer. Whilst undoubtedly a foul racist and war criminal in Real Life, Conspiracy turns it Up to Eleven: The film-Klopfer is morbidly obese, lecherous, ugly, does unpleasant impressions of gassed Jews, is so disgusting as to make the other Nazis uncomfortable and is even hinted to be a pedophile.
  • The scandal-ridden film Cleopatra (the one with Elizabeth Taylor) has Octavian as its main antagonist, and he's portrayed as pathetic, tantrum-prone to a homicidal degree and totally unfit to rule. This film did not earn many points with the historical community, to say the least.
  • Octavian was a Magnificent Bastard in Antony and Cleopatra - a scarily competent Chessmaster, a reasonably proficient strategist and the only man in Asia Minor who can resist Cleopatra. It is pretty much stated that Octy will rule the world better than Antony would have. It is his portrayal as totally inept that is objected to, especially when he was one of the more (possibly the most) competent Emperors.
  • Played with in Cold Mountain. One scene has several Yankee soldiers invade the farm owned by a woman whose husband is at the war and whose baby is ill. They proceed to leave the baby out in the cold, try to make off with her pig and chickens (essentially condemning her to starvation) and set to rape her. The southern protagonist saves the woman by killing them. In the group of soldiers though, there's one who wraps the baby up and tries to calm it down and seems genuinely sorry, explaining that he and the others were starving. He removes his boots and jacket and runs when the protagonist tells him to, and is shot by the woman. Of course, most people the protagonist comes across are pretty unpleasant, so perhaps this trope was applied to the war in general?
  • Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, receives a big one in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette. The real Orléans was a genuine believer in the principles of Rousseau and Montesquieu, who used his position to foster support for liberalism and democratic reform. He was initially supportive of The French Revolution, but eventually turned against its excesses, saved several people from being executed, and was eventually guillotined himself. In the movie, however, Orléans is, in fact, the primary orchestrator of the entire Revolution, which he cooked up as part of an insidious plot to seize the throne, after failing to seduce Marie Antoinette. During the so-called "Affair of the Diamond Necklace," he becomes a full-blown Diabolical Mastermind, using forgery and impersonation to frame the Queen for fraud. Eventually, he maliciously casts the deciding vote in favor of executing Louis XVI, before being executed offscreen by the rabble.
  • In a truly bizarre example, the 2004 version of Around the World In 80 Days has as its Big Bad Lord Kelvin, a physicist responsible for formulating the first and second laws of thermodynamics, discovering the concept of absolute zero temperature (and getting the resulting scale named after him to boot), and many other worthy scientific achievements. He received his knighthood for his work on the Transatlantic Telegraph Cable, including several inventions used in said project. The film turns him into a sniveling, conniving backstabber who attempts to stop Phineas Fogg out of little more than professional jealousy.
  • The 1996 made-for-cable TV movie Norma Jean And Marilyn gives this treatment to Marilyn Monroe, of all people. Biographers generally agree that, despite her many flaws, Marilyn was one of the most kind-hearted and generous people in Hollywood. Less commonly acknowledged is that she was unbelievably courageous at times, establishing herself as an independent producer at a time when movie actors (especially female ones) were considered human property and taking stands for civil rights and against McCarthyism in an era when it was not considered proper for celebrities to voice their opinions on political issues. But you see none of this in Norma Jean And Marilyn, which instead has Mira Sorvino portray the icon as a whiny, neurotic, borderline sociopathic bitch, with too many Jerkass moments to mention. While it's true that Marilyn could have a fiery temper, for instance, it's unlikely she ever screamed anti-Semitic slurs at Arthur Miller (her third husband), since she converted to Judaism as well and considered herself culturally Jewish. In another scene, Marilyn all but crosses the Moral Event Horizon when she tries to convince her sometime boyfriend, Frank Sinatra, to have his "acquaintances" assassinate someone she doesn't like!
    • Another HBO Biopic, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, is a less-extreme example of this. While the details of Sellers' unhappy marriages (including Domestic Abuse), overbearing and indulgent mother, professional and private tantrums, and prickly relationships with filmmakers are largely drawn from Real Life, the film also downplays/eliminates more positive relationships such as his lifelong friendships with his fellow castmembers from The Goon Show and his frequent supporting players David Lodge and Graham Stark. His mother also receives this treatment, hitting a low point with a completely fabricated take on her husband's/his father's death in which she doesn't inform Peter that he's dying until it's almost too late. (Curiously, the biopic is presented as a film-within-a-film Sellers himself is making and playing all the characters in; a Deleted Scene has "him" as both the producer and director discussing how it's impossible to make him sympathetic.)
  • While Frost/Nixon avoids casting the titular President in an overly negative light, his Secret Service agent Jack Brennan is not so lucky. In the film, he comes across as a humorless military man who has no problem bullying and outright threatening people in order to protect the image of The President. At one point, he even shuts down production to stop Nixon saying something bad and threatens to ruin Frost if he makes Him look bad. The real Brennan, a former Marine, is known to friends and colleagues for his friendly, good natured personality with Diane Sawyer describing him as "The funniest man You'll ever meet". Frost described him as a "Wonderful man" and even said Brennan and his colleagues could have talked Nixon out of Watergate in the first place had They been his staff.
  • One of the ridiculously numerous inaccuracies in Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine is a segment that demonizes the National Rifle Association, literally portraying them as being the KKK in disguise. The fact that the NRA was founded in large part to help black people protect their rights (primarily the right to own guns) is, of course, deliberately not mentioned.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms does this for Cao Cao. A capable ruler, well-versed in matters military (he annotated Sun Tzu's The Art of War) and literary (he was also an accomplished poet), simultaneously upgraded to the Big Bad of the tale (despite there being three kingdoms, remember?) and downgraded to a chump whose schemes to take over the whole of China get persistently foiled by Zhuge Liang.
    • As well as Lu Bu who in real life was a brilliant adminstrator as well a good shot with the bow, treated as a blood knight who is only out for himself while can't run an empire worth a damn, the reason why the story turns him to dumb villain is because he was the antithesis of Confucian ethics and the unpleasant fact he was easily manipulated by Diao Chan (who is believed to be fictional). His Chronic Backstabbing Disorder is considered historically accurate however.
  • In a particularly weird literature example, the villain of The Wild Road, who performs cruel experiments on cats to learn their magic, turns out to be Isaac Newton. He tries to ascend to godhood by trying to surgically add cat body parts to himself and wields an evil magical staff powered by cat skulls.
  • Alexandre Dumas does this with a few characters in The Three Musketeers, but still keeps the characters three-dimensional:
    • Cardinal Richelieu is something of an Anti-Villain and Well-Intentioned Extremist. Although he hires the main villain of the first book, Milady de Winter, uses underhanded methods, and stands in opposition of the heroes, Dumas takes some time out to note that he's still a loyal and skilled servant of France (and very grateful to D'Artagnan for disposing of Milady when she went rogue.) His overt villainization is reserved for condensed and simplified adaptations—especially the movies.
    • Eventually, Dumas had to write another novel (The Red Sphinx) portraying Richelieu in a sympathetic light just to reassure people he really wasn't trying to demonise him. To this day, Richelieu is considered one of the greatest statesmen of France who helped make France a superpower later in the 17th century.
    • Richelieu's successor Mazarin is portrayed as greedy, vain and cowardly, but he's also very shrewd. The stories emphasize how unfairly he's judged by the French for his Italian heritage.
  • Richelieu is one of the villains of Eric Flint's 1632 Series. Flint himself said that he would've liked to make Richelieu one of the good guys, but he needed someone intelligent to oppose the heroes.
  • It is argued that Eric Flint's Alternate History novel 1824: The Arkansas War subjected the new president Henry Clay to this. It is not likely that many would be willing to protest the depiction of Secretary of War John Calhoun though.
    • For reference, Calhoun is presented as a racist fanatic dedicated to the promotion and expansion of slavery at all costs (which describes most of his political career), while Clay is presented as a ruthless politician willing to ally with men like Calhoun, and worse, if that's what it takes to get him the White House. Which is more questionable; he was quite the political schemer, but that doesn't mean he was willing to sponsor brutal attacks on small foreign countries.
  • In Gone with the Wind, the "Yankees" (Northerners) are a faceless mass of soldiers and later politicians (the infamous "carpetbaggers") invading happy Southern land. The one Yankee soldier to appear onscreen was a deserter shot by Scarlett before he could rob and (it is implied) rape her. As you might expect, the film kind of glosses over the whole slavery thing (unlike the book).
  • In Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood: His Odyssey (as in the film based thereon), the British King James II has the title character and his rebellious fellows sold into slavery for a profit. As such with the story being from their point of view, they see that King as foul tyrant and treat the news of his deposing in favor of William of Orange as a moment of celebration, especially since the new King is eager to emancipate them and recruit them for his navy.
  • Count-Duke of Olivares became a Manipulative Bastard and/or a Chessmaster (although not a Magnificent Bastard) in Alatriste. In real life, he was the power behind a weak king, and of course not exactly a fan favorite of the peasants; however the author avoids Did Not Do the Research to provide Olivares with realistic opportunities to be a villain.
  • William Makepeace Thackeray's historical novel Henry Esmond has an extremely negative presentation of John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, presenting him as an amoral Magnificent Bastard willing to betray anyone to advance himself. His wife, Sarah, is presented as a social climbing bitch. Worth noting is that John's descendant, Winston Churchill was prompted to write about his ancestors in part to address the portrayal in the novel
  • It's hard to upgrade history's most famous serial killer, but Jack the Ripper gets a lot of the treatment anyway. In the short story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", his murders prove to be an occult means of extending his lifespan and he's still alive today to kill the narrator.
  • Not all of the Jury of the Damned in The Devil and Daniel Webster were really that evil in reality. In particular, Thomas Morton was only evil in the sense of being an enemy of Puritans and was an early proponent of treating Native Americans decently.
  • A lot in The Royal Diaries book series, which are fictional diaries about real princesses. An example is Mary I in Red Rose of the House of Tudor, who is portrayed as devious, cunning, and hateful towards her younger siblings. While her relationships with Elizabeth and Edward certainly cooled later in life, during their childhoods, the much-older Mary acted as a mother figure, and was on record as being hopelessly naive and guileless. The enmity between her and Elizabeth didn't really kick into gear until after Mary became queen; it's not until she starts burning Protestants that she really deserves this.
  • Historical Illuminatus Chronicles turns Count Cagliostro, historically a mountebank and fraud into the leader of a murderous conspiracy that would one day swell up to become the Illuminati.
  • Gregory Maguire's Mirror, Mirror combines history with the tale of Snow White and casts Lucrezia Borgia in the role of the wicked queen. Though the Borgias were not a nice family, there's little evidence Lucrezia had the expertise in poisoning she was later accused of (in fact, the attributes of the poison she was most famous for don't even exist in any real substance). And, obviously, the Snow-White-like events of the novel don't have much basis in real history either.
  • Bernard Cornwell does this on occasion in his historical fiction, but at least he's polite about it. In the Author's Notes for the books of his series The Saxon Chronicles, Cornwell apologizes to Æthelred of Mercia for depicting him as a weak and devious snake and terrible husband, a characterization with no support in the historic record, but which makes for a better story.
  • Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu in the Sano Ichiro series. He indeed ruined the currency system of the time, and instituted policies that did nothing to alleviate suffering under the shogun's rule, but nothing indicates he was as scheming, vicious and relentless as he is in the books. He was little more than a yes man to the shogun.
  • Nikola Tesla gets this treatment in Goliath. To elaborate, his real-world eccentricities are ratcheted up several levels.
  • The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel has a sort of variant. The villains are historical figures (specifically, they're John Dee and Niccolo Machiavelli), but it's implied that the way they got immortality made them worse. Their actual historical lives are portrayed at some points, with great accuracy and not a lot of undue villainy.
  • It is unlikely that General José de Urrea was anywhere near as black as J. T. Edson paints him in Get Urrea!. In particular, historians now believe that the Goliad Massacre was perpetrated at the orders of santa Anna and not Urrea.
    • While public opinion varies greatly on where Wyatt Earp lies on the scale of heroism and villainy, Edson always portrays him as a petty and vindictive thug with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
  • Averted in The Grimnoir Chronicles. Franklin D. Roosevelt is the tyrannical asshole he was in real life, just with a different target (his atrocities even take place in several of the same locations). This is listed here because the author notes he was frequently accused of this by people with a poor grasp of history.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Penn and Teller Bullshit portrays Mother Teresa as a Complete Monster who was only into charity For the Evulz: That she accepted money from Charles Keating and the Duvalier family, and that she enjoyed suffering and took in dying people to make their last days as miserable as possible by withholding medication and forbidding visits from the families. This season three episode, called "Holier Than Thou", also problematizes Gandhi's legacy a bit (although not sufficiently black-and-white to fit this trope) and insinuates that the Dalai Lama would have grown into a villainous dictator if the Chinese hadn't stepped in to take over that role. Of course, these character portraits of Mother Teresa and Gandhi are highly controversial, since a lot of people regard them as unambiguously good people - the Catholic Church even canonized her.
  • It is fair to say that Adolf Hitler was, by all descriptions, a deplorable human being. However, CBS docu-drama Hitler: The Rise of Evil somehow manages to take this overboard. As a child, Hitler mutilates some animals and then manages to kill his father simply by giving him an evil stare, despite the fact that Hitler was opposed to hunting and generally believed to be an animal lover and his father actually died while in the local pub. During World War One, Hitler has a literal Kick the Dog moment, again despite the fact he was an animal lover. Apparently deciding that this wasn't enough, the writers also twisted the incident of Hitler being awarded the Iron Cross—in real life, for several cases of genuine bravery—into a political farce. Furthermore, the film takes the relationship between Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubal, and presents it as being one of sexual abuse—despite the fact that there is no historical documented evidence which confirms this. In general, Hitler's every action is accompanied by ominous background music, and when he isn't violently stamping on a dog's head before emptying bullets into its face, he's behaving like the villain from a Saturday morning cartoon show. In addition, the only rhetoric he is ever shown as presenting is anti-Semitism, with anti-Communism having a brief mention. This carriers rather Unfortunate Implications, as it implies that Germans supported the Nazi Party purely because it was anti-Semitic, without taking into account all the other factors. Also, given that Hitler's war with the Soviet Union is often thought of as the climax (or at least a highpoint) of his destructive warmongering (with at least 12 million civilian deaths), skimming over his anti-Communist intentions isn't just bad history, it might be an unintentional brush aside. In general, it is Hollywood History at its very worst.
  • Double the Fist presents to us the man who discovered Australia, Captain James Cook, as an egotistical Space Pirate who barely flinches at the sight of the ballistic Fist Team. Cook is not generally regarded as a villain, but he fits the bill to some, having essentially taken over an already inhabited land (as with many explorers of the era).
  • Inverted in I, Claudius which essentially single-handedly rehabilitated the reputation of the Emperor Claudius, who while thought of a villain in the past is now positively viewed in the popular imagination. On the other hand, Evil Matriarch Livia would be a good example of this trope.
  • Yet another Roman example: seductive, manipulative Atia of the Juli in Rome who is essentially unrecognizable from the prim and proper and rather boring historical woman.
    • Her son Octavian from the same show is accurately depicted (aside from the Brother-Sister Incest) on the other hand. The blame for all the purges and massacres was put on Mark Antony in sources from that time, but something with Octavian's coldly calculating nature suggested otherwise.
  • Sanctuary has Jack the Ripper as a time travelling teleporter, and Nikola Tesla as a electrokinetic vampire.
    • Tesla then gets his Vampirism destroyed by his own device after creating a group of not very loyal minion vampires and turns into Magneto.
  • Although, as noted above, Prince John often gets this treatment in Robin Hood stories, The New Adventures of Robin Hood deserves special mention. In it Prince John, rather than merely being an evil king, gleefully sacrifices peasants to Celtic goddesses.
  • Common on "expose" made-for-TV movies about popular TV shows: the most controversial cast member will inevitably be depicted as evil incarnate, or very close to it. In a few cases, this has been at the direction of another cast member, indicating some bad blood there:
    • The Gilligan's Island TV movie turned Tina Louise (Ginger) into a selfish, primadonna diva who was furious that this broad slapstick comedy named for another actor's character was not all about her and how glamorous she really, truly was. Who was behind this portrayal? None other than Mary Ann herself, Dawn Wells.
    • The Three's Company TV movie likewise depicted Suzanne Sommers (Chrissy) as a stupid and self-centered diva with no regard for anyone. This one was even more blatant in its intentions, for who was always the biggest victim of Sommers' schemes? Why, Joyce DeWitt, who played Janet. And who co-produced the movie, as it happens. Even John Ritter was depicted as having spurned DeWitt (by passing her over for the short-lived spinoff, Three's A Crowd, as if that was his decision) and being 100% in the wrong for it.
  • In-universe example in How I Met Your Mother. In season 4, Ted's fiancée, Stella, leaves him at the altar to get back together with her ex, Tony. Then, at the end of season 5, Tony, who has become a successful screenwriter, makes a movie called "The Wedding Bride", which is the same basic story, but it takes Ted's douche qualities Up to Eleven with the catchphrase "No can do's-ville, baby doll"
  • Piero de' Medici is the Big Bad of Leonardo, leading The Conspiracy to use Leo's inventions to overthrow the Duke of Florence. In Real Life Piero was a fairly typical Renaissance nobleman, and the Medicis had been the de facto rulers of Florence since 1434 (since there wasn't a Duke until 1532, when the title was granted to ... the Medicis).
  • Used in-universe in the episode "Living Witness" of Star Trek: Voyager. The Voyager crew and an alien species they were trading with are depicted as a conquering and merciless group of sadistic monsters by the historians of another civilization, even engaging in massive genocide against their ancestors.
  • CBC's miniseries Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story met with criticism in Saskatchewan (the province where Douglas used to be premier) for its potrayal of his political opponent James Gardiner. They kicked up so much of a fuss that CBC stopped airing it on CBC. The other wiki has more on it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prairie_Giant#Response

Musical[edit | hide]

  • In Knickerbocker Holiday (1938), Peter Stuyvesant seizes power in New Amsterdam and becomes a corrupt, warmongering dictator with some resemblance to Adolf Hitler. This is Lampshaded in the final scene where Washington Irving steps in to prevent Stuyvesant from killing everyone else, saying that's not how posterity would want to remember him.
  • Keating! The Musical does this to every Liberal politician with a part. That's to be expected, of course, and its primary audience pretty much agrees. Less expected is the Historical Villain Upgrade of Labor PM Bob Hawke even if It Makes Sense in Context.
  • In 1776 John Dickinson get something of an historical villain upgrade. While opposed to the Declaration of Independence, it was more a case of he thought it should not be done at that time, because the structure of government was too uncertain and the Americans had no European allies at that point. Rather than being John Adams' antagonist, he avoided attending the Continental Congress, while independence was being debated and voted upon. He went on to fight the British, in the militia—as a private and a brigadier general, on different occasions. He had a moderately successful political career afterward, including being a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. A little of this is hinted at in the character's last speech, but up to then, the musical presents him as a nascent Benedict Arnold.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In Warhammer 40,000, Khorne's greatest champion, Doombreed is heavily implied to be Genghis Kahn after his death. In fairness, a bloodthirsty warlord is exactly the kinda guy Khorne would take to.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • Alexander Pushkin's Mozart and Salieri was the first work to portray Salieri as a villain, written less than 50 years after Mozart's death. The film Amadeus is based on it.
  • William Shakespeare was a major purveyor of this trope out of necessity, writing histories to support the royal family's prejudices. (Not that he might not have agreed with them -- but who knows?)
    • The Real Life Macbeth was one of Scotland's better early kings, and was especially known for his charity toward the poor. He defeated Duncan, a young tyrant invader, in a fair fight in battle, reigning successfully for 17 years before being defeated and killed in battle himself; he was succeeded first by his stepson, then by Malcolm III, the thane who had defeated him. Shakespeare's Macbeth is nothing like the original, partly because his source got a lot of things wrong, but also because Shakespeare was writing the play to appeal to King James I, who was thought by historians to be a descendant of Banquo (who actually never existed, but neither James nor Shakespeare could have known that). The play echoes James's belief that kings were chosen by God and that God's will, no matter how thwarted in the short term by tyrants, could not fail in the end. Lady Macbeth's characterization is pure fabrication, as almost nothing is known about her beyond her name, Gruoch (?!).
    • Similarly, Richard III in the eponymous play is written as a hunchback, although there's little historical evidence to him being deformed. And while he likely committed some atrocities and heinous crimes, it can certainly be argued that he wasn't any more or less ruthless than kings who had preceded or followed him. But Shakespeare was writing in the time of Elizabeth I, whose grandfather Henry VII overthrew Richard at the end of the War of the Roses. Thus, the official party line was that Richard was a monster and not a legitimate king of England.
    • Unsurpisingly, Joan of Arc is portrayed as a whore and a witch in Henry VI Part 1, which was very much popular opinion at the time among her sworn enemies, the English.
    • There are actually a number of historians who believe that Shakespeare's later tragedies were set in more esoteric times so he could criticize the mores of his own time under the radar (at least occasionally; his play Richard II, about the overthrow of a childless king, was set late in the reign of Elizabeth I when the succession was much in doubt). In particular, Macbeth nowadays isn't seen as a political story (rightful king is overthrown by usurper; son restores rightful line), but rather a personal story (Macbeth and his wife's ambition overrides their own sense of right and wrong to the point that they are haunted by it).
  • Pope Pius XII got this treatment in Rolf Hochhuth's highly tendentious play The Deputy, a Christian tragedy (German: Der Stellvertreter. Ein christliches Trauerspiel) (1963), which was produced to undermine the influence of the Catholic Church, perhaps particularly in the Soviet bloc. Some revisionist modern historians, ignoring the testimony of former Soviet spies like the Romanian Ion Mihai Pacepa who say that the play was a deliberate (and successful) attempt to cast Pius and the Church in the worst possible light, ran with it and produced the idea of "Hitler's Pope."
  • Boris Godunov, in reality, was a somewhat opportunistic, but generally fair and even generous regent and tsar of Russia, but the play of his name by Alexander Pushkin, made into an opera by Modest Moussgorsky, depicts him as an Evil Chancellor consumed by a lust for power.
  • Cyrano De Bergerac: The play inverts this trope with a popular villain (see the Literature folder): Cardenal Richelieu offers his help to the protagonist instead of opposing him. In fact, it's Cyrano who coldly rejects his patronage.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Assassin's Creed:
  • Oda Nobunaga tends to get this treatment in many modern things, especially Onimusha, where he kicks out the Devil himself and tries to take over the world as an undead demon lord; the Samurai Warriors series plays it far more subtly (by mostly only hinting, except for his Samurai Warriors 2 ending, at him being anything but a Badass Normal); Sengoku Basara makes him into an Evil Overlord which probably can compete for the title of the most Obviously Evil character ever; but Kessen III outright subverts it by making him a protagonist. He may have been a ruthless Badass during his lifetime even among the already vicious Lords of Japan, but modern works tend to take this to ridiculous (and often evil) extremes.
    • Many of his positive actions include:
      • Tolerating Christians
      • Open borders
      • Projects to rebuild Japan. He was basically trying to kick start a Japanese Renaissance.
      • Modernizing the military
  • On the other hand, however, Kessen III gives Akechi Mitsuhide a Historical Villain Upgrade since Nobunaga got a more sympathetic portrayal there. Although in Sengoku Basara, when Nobunaga gets a great dose of villain upgrade, Mitsuhide is also a nasty villain on his own.
  • Warriors Orochi does make Oda Nobunaga one the other group aside from Shu as one of those who fight to resist Orochi's army and he is the only major leader present in the game, most of the other major leaders were missing in action.
  • Toyotomi Hideyoshi gets it even worse. Even though he's usually portrayed as evil, Oda Nobunaga is at least handled with a sort of respect. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, when he appears, is generally portrayed as a Smug Snake type—an incompetent would-be manipulator, and often a pervert to boot. May be class-based, considering that he was born a commoner (and couldn't become shogun for that reason). Even Samurai Warriors 2, which mostly portrayed him as sympathetic and basically a nice guy, had him as an only vaguely competent, concubine-loving goofball who was outclassed by his wife in intelligence and skill. Sengoku Basara attempts to partway avert this by turning the "mountain monkey" into an eight-foot tall Well-Intentioned Extremist and an Expy of Raoh from Fist of the North Star; he's certainly competent and quite awe-inspiring, but also very clearly a villain.
    • Well, starting a war with Korea right after you're done with a civil war isn't going to make you popular.
  • Hell, the Sengoku Jidai period was chock full of this. Even Tokugawa Ieyasu is not safe from this. He comes off sympathetic in Samurai Warriors, but everyone else wants a piece of him, since there are more Western people than Eastern people, and Koei made them to be the ones 'fighting for honor'. And similar to Hideyoshi, he mostly won the battle through sheer luck or the help of other people. And Koei seems to take favoritism to the Western side, and in the upcoming DS game Saihai no Yukue (An Ace Attorney like game featuring Sengoku Jidai), Ieyasu becomes a full-blown smoking fat villain whereas his rival Ishida Mitsunari becomes the Bishonen hero. And if anything... He's probably the next in line of the villains for the Onimusha series. At least Sengoku Basara presents him as sympathetic (if extremely ineffectual).
    • And seemingly reversed in the third game when he has grown some balls, gets a relevant age increase and Took a Level in Badass. And when compared with the other new main character Ishida Mitsunari, Ieyasu seems to be the more virtuous guy. Then Capcom subverts it that while he looks virtuous, Ieyasu has taken some levels in hypocrisy and even Mitsunari's anger to him look justified.
      • But you gotta admit: who are you gonna trust more at face-value? Prettyboy Ieyasu Altair, or Screaming Emo Iori Yagami Ishida Mitsunari?
    • Perhaps worth noting that this is largely averted in the original Kessen. While the enemy are generally depicted in a negative light, it depends entirely on which campaign your playing; as the East, Toyotomi is an ineffectual puppet, Ishida is a ruthless tyrant and Tokugawa is nobly attempting to fulfil Oda's ambition of a unified Japan, while as the West, Ishida is the noble protector of Toyotomi, the inexperience-but-willing true heir, and Tokugawa and the Easterners are dishonourable usurpers.
    • Also to note, while the Tokugawa seemed safe enough, villainizing Tokugawa and Ieyasu became rather standard practice once the Tokugawa Shogunate started to decline and they took liking to the oppositions of Tokugawa, the most prominent being Sanada Yukimura (and occasionally the aforementioned Mitsunari). Some series has followed this suite.
  • And let's not even talk on how they always butcher Munenori Yagyu from a virtuous badass swordsman into a disgrace of the Yagyu clan. EVERYTIME.
  • Fuuma Kotarou was, by all accounts, not a very nice man... but Samurai Warriors 2 exaggerates him from merely a ninja who turned to petty banditry after the fall of the Late Hojo to a chaos-worshiping madman who actively tries to extend the Sengoku period for his own amusement.
  • World Heroes portrays Fuuma as a cocky, arrogant and quite active sort of fellow, if that counts for anything.
  • Matsunaga Hisahide is given a historical villain upgrade in Sengoku Basara. Although his epithet of "Villain of the Sengoku Period" comes from Real Life (and was well-earned, given his Chronic Backstabbing Disorder), this incarnation is a Manipulative Bastard on the level of Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi in villainy. His act of dying defiance in real life, destroying a famous tea kettle that Nobunaga coveted, is up-played into him becoming a Nietzsche Wannabe with Walking Wasteland powers who wants to destroy all the world's treasures.
  • Finally, there's the Sengoku Basara presentation of Otani Yoshitsugu. In real life he was known for being a leper and a courtier who was Ishida Mitsunari's best friend. In the game, he's a leprous Manipulative Bastard, an Evil Sorcerer and Misanthrope Supreme who hopes to plunge all of Japan into eternal misery by killing Ieyasu. His only redeeming feature is his strange fondness for Mitsunari, who in his own words is the only man in Japan more miserable than he.
  • Fate Stay Night gives us Gilgamesh an example: While he's still almost every bit as impatient, self-aggrandizing, misogynistic and above all as prideful as he was in his original myth, his virtues and Character Development after meeting Enkidu are almost entirely glossed over and he's presented as an outright villain (and a real Jerkass on top of it). Fate/Zero and Fate/hollow ataraxia, though, imply that a lot of his behavior is due to being hit with a heavy dose of The Corruption.
  • The games Operation Darkness and Bionic Commando. Think Hitler can't be upgraded, villain-wise? Think again.
  • City of Heroes has Romulus Augustus, who is 8 feet tall, can wear what looks like hundreds of pounds of armor, can stand up to multiple super-powered punches, blasts, mental assaults, etc... and that's BEFORE he gets bonded with an evil alien parasite which makes him even stronger!
  • Medi Evil 2 does this to infamous serial killer Jack The Ripper. Like in real life, he's a serial killer, but unlike in real life, he's a giant, green skinned demon with absurdly long claws, and he doesn't mutilate his victims here, he devours their souls. Oh, and just like the real Jack, he completely gets away with his crimes. The first time you meet him, anyway.
  • The arcade version of Double Dragon 3 (as well as the Famicom version) features a revived Cleopatra as the final boss.
  • The game Martian Dreams, the premise of which is pretty much "famous historical personages of the late 19th/early 20th century, colonizing Mars!", has a few historical villains, including the ever-popular Rasputin and anarchist activist Emma Goldman. To be fair, though, Rasputin turned out to be possessed by an evil Martian and Goldman didn't know what his plans truly were.
  • So, Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (Ieyasu's brother) did have a disproportionate love of dogs. He probably didn't destabilize politics in order to let wild dogs run people out of town, while simultaneously freeing a dog demon for its ultimate power.
  • Joseph Stalin is supposed to be this in Command & Conquer: Red Alert, except that, well... given the historical circumstances, it's actually a pretty accurate portrayal of the guy.


Visual Novels[edit | hide]

  • Some interesting cases in Shikkoku no Sharnoth. Any time you meet a historical figure, there's about a fifty/fifty chance that they're an antagonist, though not necessarily evil. The first is Josef Capek, oddly enough.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Girl Genius:
    • Has a example of a fictional character getting this treatment in the case of Klaus Wulfenbach. Stories featuring him with the Heterodynes have depicted him as both a cowardly sidekick and a outright villain.
    • This is also an in-universe example of Characterization Marches On. Before Klaus made himself hugely unpopular by... you know... blowing stuff up and invading places no-one could spell, he was portrayed as a more classic Sidekick, slightly naive and clueless and very accident-prone, but competent and unfailingly loyal.
  • Frederick the Great: A Most Lamentable Comedy Breaching Time and Space (yes) pretty much runs on this trope, which is of course inevitable.
  • In an extremely strange version of this trope, Grover Cleveland, U.S. President, in Casey and Andy. Even though the two main characters are set in current time, the story arcs have now coalesced in a situation where Grover Cleveland has hired a supervillain as his advisor, and is about to marry Satan. Yes, Satan. It's complicated.
  • Happens to Thomas Edison and others in the legendary Peter Chimaera's Book of Hsitorical Faffiction.
  • Guttersnipe portrays Stanford-educated president Herbert Hoover as a bumbling manchild—literally, with an oval office full of baby toys.
  • Played with in Hark! A Vagrant's Genghis Khan comic. An amiable Genghis Khan reassures a terrified man that he's more than a "scary warlord." In the last panel:

Genghis: We still kill all our enemies though.
Man: Oh no doubt.
Genghis: I'm not gonna lie, it's pretty brutal.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • The internet gives this treatment to Lewis Carroll. In real life, he was a kind, innocent and cheerful man, and Alice Lidell was one of his most fondest friends. But, as far as the internet is concerned, Carroll was a drug-addicted pedophile, and Lidell was his number-one victim.
  • The three Thomas More stories at this site, being James Bond parodies set in an Alternate History version of 16th century Europe, inevitably rely on this as well, giving several prominent historical figures of the Reformation and the thereabouts a Historical Bond Villain Upgrade. Here's a quote to demonstrate:

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  1. fun fact: William the conqueror's original title was "William the Bastard"