Unintentionally Sympathetic

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A case of Misaimed Fandom... possibly with justification. A character who is supposed to be a villain draws our natural sympathies over the so-called hero. Possible reasons include:

Compare with Straw Man Has a Point, where you don't so much gain sympathy for the antagonists as lose it for the protagonists.

This can sometimes cause a bit of realism into it because after all, different people have different standards.

Note: The "un" part of the title is important here. Characters only belong on this lists if they were intended for the audience not to like them. Sometimes the writer(s) intend for the villain to be sympathetic, this would entail Cry for the Devil.

The opposite of this trope is Unintentionally Unsympathetic.

Examples of Unintentionally Sympathetic include:


  • The Trix Rabbit. Seriously, is there a person alive who didn't want to see him get his bowl of cereal? Case in Point: In both 1976 and 1990, Trix held a vote where kids could cut a ballot out of the box, write whether or not they wanted the rabbit to get some Trix, and send it in. The results? Overwhelmingly "yes" in both cases, with over 80% saying yes in 1990. Of course, the cereal was quickly snatched away again after a single bite.
  • The "ditch the old broom" commercials by Swiffer, which were filmed in such a way to make the "dumped" the broom/mop/wiping implement seem morbidly depressed and their human "ex" seem callous. Almost all the new commericals in the campaign feature the dismissed broom meeting a new house-hold implement partner.
  • Lucky from the Lucky Charms commercials. Given how constantly he keeps being harassed by the kids.
  • The Mac vs PC ads invoked this since the PC guy comes off as a lovable loser woobie, while Mac comes off as very smug, which ironically ties directly into certain stereotypes of Mac users. Mac is basically a particularly arrogant hipster, while the PC is a put-upon everyman, at worst he's a bit of a Small Name, Big Ego type in response to Mac talking about his own popularity. This ultimately meant that the ads backfired on Apple for the most part.
  • This gum commercial. The Anthropomorphic Personifications of bad breath are the cutest thing since the Adipose! Why would you chase them away with nasty ol' gum, you heartless bastard?!
  • There's a commercial for Frosted Mini-Wheats depicting a boxing match between a Mini-Wheat and a Honey Nut Cheerio. The Cheerio is half the size of the Mini-Wheat, showing it lacks fiber. As the match begins, the Cheerio faints before a punch is thrown. The problems? One: not just the boxer, but the announcers, the referee, the press and every single member of the audience is also a Mini-Wheat, so the odds of the Cheerio getting a fair treatment come across as nil; if it somehow won, the riotous crowd would probably kill it. Two: this is a boxing match, but the Cheerio has no arms or hands. Three: upon proclaiming his "victory," the Mini-Wheat tries to act modest but just comes across as smugly falsely modest. It's not hard to feel that the Cheerio either fainted from terror at being stuck in a match it can't win surrounded by a huge horde of enemies, or that it threw the fight to get out of there alive. Then again, it doesn't even have eyes or a mouth. It could have just fallen over because it was a regular, non-anthropomorphic Cheerio. Who the hell booked that match, anyway?
  • A line of commercials for Comcast's "Xfinity" cable TV/home internet/digital phone service features a tired, tangled, grumpy bundle of phone lines (representing ATT's competing "U-verse" service) who repeatedly advises a family complaining about his slow speeds to get a new, better service (i.e., Xfinity). Though we're meant to feel sorry for the family, they come off as incredibly Ungrateful Bastards who refuse to even acknowledge all the years and years of service he's given, whining because he can't instantly download movies and other petty complaints. In one ad, he wistfully talks about the good old days, and tries to tell the eye-rolling teenage son to enjoy his youth... only to turn around and find the impatient Jerkass walked out.
  • There's a cars.com ad with a grey car crying because it got a bad review while a red car with a good review was being a complete Jerkass. It makes you just want to go out and buy that poor grey car.
  • A recent ad for yogurt shows two women on an airplane. One is on a laptop doing work, the other is eating yogurt, saying that it's almost bikini season. The woman on the laptop tells her that with all the work they're doing, they're not likely to ever even go to the beach (nevermind that they're both Hollywood Pudgy anyway.) In the next scene, the plane has crashed, and as both women are sitting there looking shocked, a handsome, muscular man invites one of them to help get fresh water; the yogurt-eating woman jumps up, takes off her shirt, and smugly volunteers, leaving her friend to cope with surviving a plane crash on a desert island by herself while she goes off with some guy and "gets wet". It's hard not to feel bad for the woman who is apparently supposed to feel inadequate and embarrassed for not slacking off and sucking down yogurt.

Anime and Manga

  • Katsuhiko Jinnai from El-Hazard: The Magnificent World is either this or intentionally sympathetic, given his status as The Resenter, his tendency to wobble between impressive and ineffectual (often purely based on unforseeable chance events like the heroes deciding to climb a cliff instead of taking the path he expected because one of them is a crazy mountain climber), and the fact that his bug-like allies are more funny than threatening. It's really the fact he tends to lie and cheat that causes one to wonder if this sympathy was not meant to happen. Admittedly, for some viewers the fact that Jinnai is leading an invasion and unleashed an ancient Weapon Of Mass Destruction first undercuts the sympathy somewhat.
  • Yuzuha in Tenchi Muyo! Manatsu no Eve, you could spend days drawing up alternate character interpretations due to the disappointingly short runtime of the movie, which allows for quite a bit of freedom since so much is raised and so little actually touched upon, and 70% of them would either result in Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds or an angry petulant demon child without the proper understanding of emotion.
  • Ursula from the Pokémon anime. She does get a fair bit of Draco in Leather Pants, but even many of those who won't deny that she's a Jerkass think she would have been an interesting character, and would have liked her to get more development. Plus, some disgruntled fans don't understand why they're supposed to boo and hiss at the girl (who is at least shown to love and respect her Pokémon) and, at the same time, to admire Paul, who is a much worse person than she is.

Comic Books

  • Rayek in Elf Quest gets stuck with this a lot.
    • In the first book, when Cutter is ruled the winner of a mental trial over Rayek, despite the fact that he cheated by using a lodestone (a potent magic item to the elves). The reasoning for this is that Cutter didn't know that his good luck charm had magic properties, but he did know, he was just too dim to remember it at the time. Rayek lost a trial of wits to an opponent who was not only less intelligent, but didn't solve ANY of the puzzles by thinking, and won by being rewarded for stupidity. This is even Lampshaded by Rayek himself, saying that he could have used his own magic but did not; his complaint is utterly ignored by everyone but Leetah, who agrees, but doesn't stand up for him. Meanwhile, the rest of the Wolfriders continue laughing at him for being beaten in the test so easily.
    • In one of the Hidden Years comics, a scene detailing Rayek's birth, the Suntoucher gives a prophecy: that Rayek will walk "the shadow path" and come between Sorrow's End and harm a number of times. He also advises the infant not to seek to outshine the sun... which appears in the form of Cutter, years later, who is unstoppable and unfailingly right all the time. It sucks when your village's soothsayer tells you the day you're born that you're a side character in someone else's story.
  • Both supporters and opponents of the Mutant Registration Act in the Civil War storyline of X-Men somehow manage to fulfill this trope. These things happen when the writers can't even agree on a weekly basis which side is supposed to be sympathetic and which isn't.
    • This is really the biggest elephant in the X-Men's living room when one thinks about it. People who support the Registration Act and distrust mutants are meant to be thinly-veiled analogues to racists and homophobes, but the problem is that real-life ethnic and sexual minorities don't blow things up with their minds or shoot fireballs or whatever, so fearing and distrusting them is neither justified nor reasonable. Fearing somebody who can do that stuff is quite justified and reasonable, so it doesn't make one a bigot whether or not the guy with those powers promises not to hurt anyone with them. Really, if a man with a machine gun growing out of his arm walked into a bank you were patronizing, how at ease would you honestly feel if he said he's just there to make a deposit?
      • Reacting to people because of what they are, as opposed to reacting to what they have done or immediately intend to do, is the root of every racism, nationalism, and other -ism in the history of the planet. There is a reason the X-Men comic chose the original metaphor that it did, and it ain't because the author picked it out of a hat.
        • And no, 'because the mutant is actually more dangerous than the average person!' doesn't work either. That same logic applies to every concealed-carry permit holder, martial artist, military veteran, and cop on the planet—they all have the power and ability to kill you in ways that most people don't know how to and aren't able to. Why aren't we afraid of them? Gee, I dunno, probably because of the part where we treat them like people, and where rational people don't automatically react with paranoid fear to every stranger they meet unless the guy is acting suspiciously?
  • Many Strawman Political in Chick Tracts. Particularly those who end up in hell when they have not done anything really wrong.

Fan Fiction

  • How I Became Yours does this to Mai. She was supposed to be the bitchy Woman Scorned standing in between Zuko and Katara's Super True Love, but she did have a good point as a reason for keeping the news that Katara was pregnant with Zuko's kid (namely, that the Fire Nation would collapse if news of the Fire Lord having an illegitimate child with a Waterbender, and Zuko was cheating on her when that poor kid was conceived), and there's still no discussion on how Mai didn't deserve to be bloodbended to death by a badly Out of Character and God Mode Sue-ed Katara, when she could've easily restrained her with said technique so she could be sent to trial.
  • Britney in My Immortal. After all, her only "crime" was liking Hilary Duff and not shopping at Hot Topic.
  • In the Naruto fandom, this phenomenon usually happens to Sasuke and Sakura when they're bashed. There are many instances in many different fics of this type where Naruto will get into a shouting match with Sasuke and inevitably brutally insult Sasuke's dead family. When Naruto comes out on top, you're usually on Sasuke's side, as Naruto has just brutally insulted somebodies dead family. Often, you'll find yourself cheering when Sasuke leaves for Orochimaru, as he's probably trying to get away from the horrible abuse the other characters pile onto him. Sakura ends up with a similar fate, except often, she doesn't get to leave. In her case, you end up wondering what horrific things she's done to deserve this treatment. Oh yeah, reject Naruto's advances in their youth and be mean to him (like all the other kids).

Films -- Animation

  • Tai Lung in Kung Fu Panda. Driven to mass destruction and slaughter because his father's master deems him unworthy of the final piece of martial arts wisdom. Tai Lung is made sympathetic thanks to his detailed backstory, flashbacks to him as a ridiculously adorable innocent youth, his motivating desire for respect from his adopted father, and the fact that he apparently spent twenty years in a Hellhole Prison.
  • Why were the hyenas villains in The Lion King? Because they were starving to death. Why were they starving? Because the lions didn't want them eating their food, basically. Small wonder that they're not exactly kind to Simba when he stumbles in to the only place that is actually theirs. Of course their starvation may have been their own doing considering what the Pride Lands look like when Scar lets them take over.
    • Particularly henious in that Mufasa made it very clear about the circle of life, where everyone had their place and so one didn't have to feel guilty about what one ate as they would effectively one day eat you.... apparently hyenas aren't part of this food chain.
      • There clearly isn't enough food to support both the lions and the hyenas (witness what happens when the hyenas take over), and the lions can hardly be faulted for being pro-lion.
  • Vincent from Over the Hedge. He's spent the entire summer hoarding food to get him through the winter, only for all of it to be destroyed when RJ the raccoon tries to steal it (who given his size, surely didn't need to take all of it). The two come to an agreement: RJ has to replace everything that he lost, or else Vincent will eat him. Sounds a fair deal to me, but Vincent is portrayed as the bad guy simply because he's trying to survive - just like every other animal in the movie. Everything Is Worse With Bears, but the fact that Vincent ends up in a Hannibal Lector gurney and mask feels like overkill for an animal that was just trying to reclaim what was rightfully his in the first place.
    • The filmmakers seem to have realized this late in the production and gave Vincent an out-of-the blue monologue about how he got where he is by selling out, betraying, murdering, etc. all of his former friends. This (and Vincent's praise of RJ for being just like him) is of course the the catalyst that starts RJ on the path to redemption, but remove those two lines and you've got no villain.
  • At test screenings for Toy Story 3, the filmmakers were surprised how many people sympathized with Lotso and wanted to see him to a Heel Face Turn. They responded by going back and adding in some things that increased his cruelty to show that, while he had a sympathetic Backstory, the way he reacted to it was no excuse, and he got what he deserved in the end.
  • Pocahontas: Percy the pug. He's supposed to be a spoiled and unpleasant purebred dog. The film does this so badly that the only thing that really counts against him is one growl in agreement with Ratcliffe. One growl. The rest of the time he's just enjoying the luxuries that come with being a governor's pet and getting justifiably angry at a raccoon stealing his food.
  • The two antagonist daughters in the My Little Pony movie. Even The Nostalgia Chick felt more towards them than the really boring titular ponies.
  • Ramses in The Prince of Egypt is technically the bad guy in the story, but in in order to make him more than a cardboard-cut-out villain the writers made a lot of efforts to humanize him, writing him as a "Well Done, Son" Guy and Well-Intentioned Extremist with a Freudian Excuse. They succeeded so much that later they had to change some scenes because he came off as much more sympathetic than Moses, the hero, and even in the finished product he's a pretty tragic character.
  • Soto, the first Big Bad from Ice Age, as he lost his entire pack/family because of the human hunters and may have been an amicable guy before and fans tend to ignore his bitter desire for vengeance against the humans.

Film -- Live-Action

  • The monster from the movie Cloverfield. It was big, it was scary, and it went on a rampage in New York City. But for some, the entire movie takes on a whole new perspective when they find out that the monster is a terrified, newborn baby looking for its mother. For others, that knowledge causes precisely the opposite reaction.
  • Iris, the kaiju from "Gamera: Rise of Iris", is actually pretty sympathetic because its motives aren't really explored. Sure, it's stated from the beginning that it would probably destroy the world, but the old lady who said that was quoting a legend with plenty of room for error, as far as we know. It does indeed suck the life juices out of people, but that's just how it eats, as it doesn't have a mouth. It tried to merge a schoolgirl with itself to become more powerful, but to be fair, she's the one who Named it and said she would never leave it. The reason it was in Kyoto was to merge with aforementioned schoolgirl, maybe to gain power enough to destroy Gamera, who was pretty much a lose cannon at this point, itself scoring massive human bodycounts left and right. Maybe Iris was even going to fight the Gyaos.
  • Kids movies tend to have these, particularly the cheesetastic ones. The Lizzie McGuire Movie, for example, had an "evil" teacher who was the only relatable character in the movie.
  • Godzilla in the film GMK was intended by director Shusuke Kaneko to be pure evil (Hence, why his eyes are a pure soulless white). Of course, considering that this is Godzilla we're talking about the fandom ended up rooting for him more than they did for the heroic monsters (IE: Baragon, Mothra, and, ironically enough, King Ghidorah).
  • Rotti Largo from Repo! The Genetic Opera. He's terminally ill, was betrayed by the love of his life, and has had to deal with Luigi, Pavi, and Amber for years, on top of the stress caused by being the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation. One could also argue this for his children—growing up with Rotti as a father couldn't have been easy, and their reactions when he disowns them are pretty sad.
  • Imhotep in The Mummy 1999 remake comes off as far more sympathetic than an Omnicidal Maniac who wants to Take Over the World has any right to be, considering he did it all for love. Likewise, his Love Interest is also rather sympathetic considering she's the unwilling sex-toy of the Pharaoh and dies (the first time) shouting: "My body is no longer his temple!"
  • A very minor example can be found in Return of the Jedi, when Luke kills Jabba the Hutt's rancor, Malakili comes out and mourns for his dead pet. The bloodthirsty, deadly pet used only for eating prisoners for Jabba's amusement. His four seconds of screen-time crying got an unintentionally large amount of the audience to sympathize with him, to the point that the man's story is further fleshed out in the tie-in novel Tales From Jabba's Palace, in a very A Boy and His X way. You won't be able to watch that scene without a sniffle again. In other EU material rancors are characterized as being rather like pit bulls, in that they're very sweet-natures creatures when well cared for (the specific rancor at Jabba's palace was deliberately starved and equipped so that it'd provide a good show when people got thrown into the pit). It doesn't hurt that Malakili was days away from smuggling the rancor away to a peaceful life when Luke showed up.
  • Sir Anthony Hopkins is said to have been shocked people liked his character Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs.
  • Some viewers of X Men First Class who were previously unfamiliar with the X-Men universe thought Magneto was more sympathetic than the shallow members of Professor X's team.
  • Prince Nuada and the Forest God of Hellboy II the Golden Army were both sympathetic characters. They are just trying to save the environment from pollution, and Hellboy comes and kills the last forest god so his precious humans can drive their SUVs to Wal-Mart. No wonder he causes the Apocalypse.
  • As noted on the Mean Character, Nice Actor page, although Michael Palin's character in A Fish Called Wanda spends much of the film trying to assassinate a sweet old lady, audiences invariably saw him as The Woobie. This is probably a combination of Palin being a nice guy, the fact his character is an an animal lover, and that he is more likable than the film's antagonist, Otto, who consistently torments him.
  • Dr. Noah Faulknerin Bio-Dome was probably meant to come off as the bad guy, but no matter which way you look at it, Bud and Doyle are ridiculously obnoxious, stupid beyond belief and they might as well have been actively sabotaging the experiment that it's no wonder he went psychotic in the end.
  • White Goodman from Dodgeball is a chauvinistic Jerkass who takes his fitness regime and business to extremes, but his backstory is that he was a morbidly obese man who decided to get his act together and used the means by which he lost weight as the basis of his business. His antagonism towards Peter is mostly because he slept with several of White's trainers, and sent a male stripper to the one-year anniversary of his gym.
  • Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2 comes off as unintentionally sympathetic because he is played as a comic relief joke villain. Where as he could have been played as an Evil Counterpart to Tony Stark, his utter incompetence — both in his profession and in his personal life as shown by his complete failure with women, begs the question of whether or not the writers really hated the character, or were simply parodying the Corrupt Corporate Executive archetype. Then again, they had already had a hyper-competent Corrupt Corporate Executive in the first movie, so perhaps they went too far the other way in not wanting to tread old ground.
    • He's pretty much a parody.
      • He's also not the main villain of the movie.
  • Ray Finkle, the deranged kidnapper and murderer of Ace Ventura. Anyone would turn out at least a little screwed up after what he'd been through. Seeing as he was the only professional athlete to come out of his small town, you'd think he'd be a beloved folk hero. Instead, he misses a field goal at the biggest football game of the year....and the townsfolk never, ever let him live it down. They even vandalize his parents' home, driving his mother to irreversible insanity and making his father so paranoid that he has to get his shotgun every time he answers the door! It's no wonder that Ray's room is covered with hateful graffiti and has Ray's traumatic blunder playing on an old movie projector at all hours of the day - or that Ray was eventually committed to a mental institution and suffered one hell of a gender-identity crisis.
  • The Orcs in The Lord of the Rings are bad guys, sure, but even Tolkien himself was a little disturbed looking back on how one-sided the story's view of them is. Just because they look ugly and fight the heroes doesn't mean they're all completely vile. They might have a good reason for hating the other races.
  • To some degree, Jade Fox from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yes, she killed Li Mu Bai's master, but she reveals her reasons for it: he slept with her, but then refused to share the secrets of Wudan, since he apparently couldn't stand a woman knowing them. Couple that with how badly she's been abused and insulted by her own student, Jen, and you get an unfortunate, broken old woman.
  • The villains in Star Trek: Insurrection can be divided into two camps: corrupt Federation officials who want to make the Fountain of Youth qualities of the Ba'ku planet generally available to the galaxy at large and former residents of the planet who were exiled and now need the planet's qualities to stave off death. Both groups come across as quite a bit more sympathetic than the writers intended, despite their dog-kicking ways. It doesn't help that the Ba'ku only appear to occupy a few hundred square kilometres at most.
  • Depending upon the writer's intentions, Loki from Thor could be this. To list his evil deeds, he brought Jotuns into Asgard, set up the assassination of his recently discovered foster father, sent The Destroyer to Earth which probably killed quite a few people, and attempted to destroy Jotunheim. Yet, all these actions had understandable reasons behind them and it all boiled down to his desire to prove to his father that he was just as good as Thor. This created an incredibly sympathetic character with a fanbase to rival the hero's.
    • On the one hand, he's way more evil in the Avengers movie; on the other, even his actor greatly sympathizies with him and in an interview said that he "just want(s) to make it all okay" for him. The fact that Loki is currently an adorable Badass Woobie child in the comics does not help.
  • In Caveman, Tonda is the bad guy, and no question he's a jerk ass... but at least he's looking out for his tribe, and he was also shown to be genuinely upset when he lost Lana to the river (despite that because of his status he would be able to easily get another mate), so did he really deserve the beating (and possible death), he got in the end?


  • Julian May's Galactic Milieu Trilogy has one of these on an organisational level. The language used in the finale and elsewhere clearly indicates that the titular Milieu are the good guys and the Metapsychic Rebellion the bad guys. However, the actual events of the story fail to relate this to such an extent that it's a horrific Downer Ending on first reading.
  • Hannibal Lecter was introduced in Silence of the Lambs as a cannibalistic Magnificent Bastard that once tried to eat the original hero but gained such a vocal and ever increasing unintentional fanbase that it appears to have led to inevitable Badass Decay in various sequels and remakes. Thomas Harris was against the Badass Decay, but the character was so popular that editors and movie makers basically said "Do it, or we'll find someone who will."
  • Too many characters in the Left Behind books to count, especially by comparison to the callous, mysogynistic, self-satisfied way the alleged heroes act.
  • Intentionally subverted in John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Because the poem starts off from his viewpoint, Satan comes across as more of a Designated Villain than an actual bad guy. However, as the poem progresses, the reader is shown the story from the point of view of the angels and God, and it becomes clear that Satan is rationalizing his behavior just like humans tend to do. The reader is supposed to sympathize with Satan, but they are not supposed to realize why they are doing so until God (literally) tells them why he is wrong. However, because of the eloquence of his passionate arguments, even many who have read the work miss the point, and so believe that “Satan” is in fact the hero of the story, making this a straight trope. This may be a case of Values Dissonance mixed with Cool People Rebel Against Authority.
  • Murtagh, for many readers of the Inheritance Cycle, due to his level-headedness, sympathetic backstory, and poor treatment by the rest of the cast even well before his involuntary Face Heel Turn, especially compared Eragon, who is an Idiot Hero at best, a Sociopathic Hero at worst, and shows signs of being a Canon Sue either way. This likely had a strong hand in Murtagh's decay from Anti-Villain to Card-Carrying Villain in the third book.
  • Rosaura de la Garza from Like Water for Chocolate was supposed to be seen as a selfish Jerkass bitch, but many readers ended up feeling sorry for her instead. Yeah, knowing that your husband only married you to be close to your little sister since the Evil Matriarch won't let him marry her is just the beginning to lots of humiliations coming from him, and once can't imagine how bitter such shit will make you in the end. Tita is very sympathetic too, and indeed a good part of the book is a genuien Break the Cutie for her, but it's very unsettling to see how the narrative takes Rosaura's more or less understandable objections and makes her look like she's stupid, bitchy or plainly evil in an attempt to make Tita and Pedro's deal better/worse, to the point of having her want Esperanza to stay there for her like Tita did to Elena... followed later by a ridiculously humiliating death and a And There Was Much Rejoicing. (Specially considering that Gertrudis, when she said that Pedro and Tita were meant to be, also added that Rosaura understood it to some point. Why did Laura Esquivel forget about that point)
  • In Robin Hobb's Liveships fantasy series, you are encouraged to hate the pirate Kennett, who does unspeakably evil things throughout. Then we are given his back-story and suddenly you find yourself getting all teary eyed over the fact that he is killed, instead of cheering wildly as should be appropriate for the scum.
  • Through most of the Twilight series, Leah is meant to be seen as a heartless bitch who didn't bow graciously out for Sam hooking up with Emily, uses the pack mind to think of various scandals, and tell Jacob he's being overly angsty about Bella. Thing is, with all of the shit that Leah goes through (her fiance is essentially brainwashed into loving her cousin, her father dies of a heart attack, she's the only girl ever to become a werewolf, the entire pack thinks she's bitter and weak, her own brother says that she ruins everything, etc), she comes across as an Iron Woobie. She comes across as this even more so when one considers that the same people who call her selfish and whiny all coddle Jacob for being even more self-centered and whiny over Bella, who he was involved with far less than Leah was with Sam.
  • In the Hush, Hush series, Marcie Miller is arguably the most complex character there is. We're supposed to hate her for having money, wearing short skirts, and dating Patch after he and Nora break up, but it doesn't change the fact that she's virtually the only one who sees Patch's stalking as disturbing, dealt with learning that her father never loved her, and comforted her mother after her parents got a divorce (which is more than Nora ever does for her own mother). Then, there's the fact that Nora goes full-on Yandere towards Marcie, and it's kind of hard not to pity the girl.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: A number of villains in the series end up as this for the following reasons: 1. Moral Dissonance, to an intolerable degree. 2. The supposed heroines are witches or/and jerkasses. 3. The Villain may not seem that villainous if you think about it, which the author didn't. 4. The villain gets their Laser-Guided Karma...and comparing what the villain actually did or was even trying to do with what happens to the villain, the "karma" feels more like Disproportionate Retribution. 5. The reasons you must sympathize with the heroines carry Unfortunate Implications.
  • In Harry Potter, there's the minor character of Marietta Edgecomb, Cho's friend who tells on the DA to Umbridge and gets Hermione's jinx of "SNEAK" pockmarked across her face for it. Any sympathy readers might have for Marietta's plight is completely unintentional on Rowling's part (when asked about her, Rowling said, "I do so loathe a traitor!"). Yet many readers did find themselves feeling sorry for her for several mutually reinforcing reasons:
    • In the first place, the fact that she is such a minor character makes it hard for her to even be unsympathetic, let alone, "loathesome". Marietta has minimal "screen time", even less characterization, and absolutely no dialogue. It can be tough to loathe a character who's such a total blank.
    • Marietta committed all of one bad deed that 1) didn't directly involve torture, murder, or any other crime, 2) failed completely in what it set out to do, 3) had little lasting impact (Dumbledore had to leave Hogwarts, but was back by the end of the school year), and 4) she might not even remember doing anyway. Yet Rowling insisted on showing us that that jinx was still on her face at the end of that school year and even at the start of the next school year (Marietta's final 2 appearances). Even some readers who might've agreed that Marietta deserved some punishment for what she'd done felt Hermione/Rowling went way too far on this.
    • Marietta has 3 basic plot functions: ending the DA lessons, driving Dumbledore out of Hogwarts, and being the final torpedo in sinking the Harry/Cho ship by being Cho's friend. But that last plot function adds a shade of grey in the Black and White Morality judgement Rowling wanted readers to have on her. Because whatever Cho's faults, however unsuited she may have been as Harry's girlfriend, she's still a genuinely Nice Girl. So it's only reasonable to conclude that to be Cho's friend, Marietta must have some good, likeable qualities even if Rowling never bothered to show us any.
    • Many readers felt they detected at least one such good quality in a subtle clue Rowling may or may not have intended. In Book 4, Harry notes (to his frustration, because he's trying to get Cho alone to ask her out), that Cho always seems to be surrounded by a Girl Posse of friends. When Harry first sees Marietta in Book 5 (before he has any reason to hate her), he recognizes her as being a part of that Girl Posse...and yet Marietta is the only friend we ever see Cho with in all of Book 5. This makes it look like Marietta was the only one of Cho's friends who stood by Cho and comforted her while she was grieving over the death of her first boyfriend, Cedric.
    • Even after Marietta's "betrayal", Cho tries to defend her to Harry and many readers felt Cho's arguments on the whole made more sense than Harry's angry retorts to them did.
    • Finally, there's the sheer Moral Dissonance of Hermione's jinx. Umbridge physically and permanently scars a teenager and she's supposed to be a repulsive Complete Monster we're all supposed to hate (most readers, even most Marietta defenders, have no problem with this and would agree that Umbridge is a monster). Hermione physically and permanetly scars a teenager (with bigger, more noticable, and more humiliating scars than the ones Umbridge inflicted on Harry), and judging by Harry's smirk at Marietta's final, still fully jinxed appearance, it's supposed to be funny.

Live-Action TV

  • Cole Turner from Charmed is very much this. He spent most of his life working for the forces of evil but became good because he fell in love with Phoebe Haliwell. After a great deal of work, he became a normal human. He ended up being possessed by the Source of all Evil and the Charmed Ones had to vanquish him. After he came back, the sisters just flat out dismiss him as evil and didn't trust him from the start. They didn't even bother finding out if he was possessed by evil by an entity that had possessed humans before. Cole tried over and over again to prove that he was good until he snapped and become evil. This caused a lot of Phoebe fans to hate Phoebe and feel sympathetic to Cole.
    • It gets even worse. When Cole was possessed by the Source he tried to get rid of it. It was Phoebe (gone temporarily evil) who stopped that from happening. To be fair, the Seer and a Fetus Terrible inside her were both manipulating her, and he did come Back from the Dead with acidic blood and demonic powers which also contributed to his madness and probably not just for being part of why Phoebe was too afraid to take him back. Still, though, she and the others didn't seem to make any real effort to treat him like an actual person. That had to factor into things a bit.
  • T-Bag at various points in Prison Break. This is partly because he had an egregiously awful childhood and partly because he was very well-acted by Robert Knepper. Late on in the show's run he ends up showing more compassion for a wounded foe than Linc but by the end he's turned despicable again.
  • Isabella from Robin Hood is clearly meant to be entirely unsympathetic by the end of the show's run, thereby justifying Robin and Guy's attempt to kill her (which ends up successful...at the cost of their own lives.) In that case, it probably wasn't such a good idea to have her back-story consist of Guy selling her into an abusive marriage to a sadistic rapist at the age of thirteen, or to have Robin constantly breaking into her bedroom at night to make thinly-veiled threats, flip-flopping in regards to his attitude and feelings toward her, and breaking every promise he ever makes to her. And any woman who is put into a Betty and Veronica Love Triangle with Kate as their rival is inevitably going to look good in comparison. Even Isabella ordering the execution of Meg, which is meant to be her Moral Event Horizon, is somewhat understandable, considering that she frees Meg from an arranged marriage only to catch her releasing a prisoner that has already made at least two attempts on Isabella's life. Likewise, the fact that she is one of the few characters on the show to avoid carrying the Idiot Ball earned her extra points, and even when she's batshit insane she manages to outsmart everyone around her.
  • Alfred Tomson from The Pillars of the Earth mini-series. He starts off nice and sympathetic enough, but starts going down hill quick and picking up speed. He becomes a jerkass to Jack early on, accuses Jack's mother of witch craft, starts stalking Aliena, eventually pushes her into marrying him, beats her when he can't get it up on their wedding night, screws up the construction of the church, accidentally causing over seventy deaths(though it is made to look like his fault due to his arrogance and incompetence), and throws Aliena out onto the street after she gives birth to a red headed son(Alfred and Aliana both have brown hair, Jack has red). All of these horrible things he does should put him damn near complete monster territory, and he certainly crosses the moral event horizon, but what makes him unintentionally sympathetic is that all of this comes off as horribly unnecessary. It is as if the writers were trying to make him look as bad and pathetic as possible specifically to make Jack look better. He basically becomes a meta example of The Woobie.
    • Note that apart from the witchcraft accusation, most of this is pretty much how Alfred behaved in the book. However, his motivation for all this was better handled; he was shown to have a somewhat legitimate grounds to feel that his father showed Jack preferential treatment, and Jack himself wasn't especially likeable as a teenager. Alfred doesn't come off as sympathetic by any means, but his antagonist status never feels contrived.
  • Paul Young from Desperate Housewives has this. In the first season, his wife commits suicide. As it turns out, she was being blackmailed by Martha Huber, who didn't even care, she just wanted money. Paul then murders her with the blender she stole from him. After this, we meet her sister, Felicia Tillman, who knew Paul from the past. Suspicious of Paul, but lacking proof, she cuts off her fingers and spills blood in his house. He's caught, arrested, and sentenced to life in prison. During this time, not a single one of his neighbors, who were best friends with his wife and had known him for years, came to visit him. When Felicia is discovered, he is released. Unsurprisingly, he wants to ruin the lives of those who betrayed him. And, when you consider what the housewives have pulled, involving leaving a man to die, and that they have forgiven far greater acts, like Katherine Mayfair, who can honestly blame him?
  • Scott Baldwin from General Hospital. He was portrayed as a bad guy because he hated two of the show's heroes: Luke and Sonny. Why did he hate Luke? Luke raped his wife and then ran off with her. Why did he hate Sonny? Sonny got his under-aged daughter hooked on drugs, slept with her and forced her to strip. Yeah, Scott did a lot of bad things but his grievances were very valid.
    • How were those two the heroes!?
  • Maria Joaquina from Carrusel. Granted, she was not always the friendliest person. But nobody would blame her for not liking Cirilo back. In no way is she obligated to return his love romantically for any reason. Sure sure, his parents donated blood to her mother. And he was always showering her with unwanted gifts and attention. But is she truly required to be anything other than civil and respectful towards him? That, and she is nowhere near as cruel as her other rich classmate Jorge.
  • A pedophile rapist kidnapper on CSI: Miami goes from pure evil to slightly sympathetic when he reveals that he was also molested as a child ("My 'Special Friend' took me here too!") -- unfortunately that was before the cops arrive and Horatio allowed the pedo/kidnapper to die after the latter was shot, hanging by one hand from a balcony, and begging for help.


  • Modern audiences usually view most of the gods of Classical Mythology as Jerkass Gods. Both of the gods often viewed as sympathetic by modern audiences, namely Hades and Hephaestus, were The Scrappy to the Ancient Greeks. Hades was so hated and feared, that there were no temples officially named for him, Greeks would avoid speaking his name, and they'd turn away if they ever had to make offerings towards him. Why? Because he's the god of death, and the Greeks didn't like dying. Hephaestus was hated simply because... He was an ugly cripple. Poor guy.

Newspaper Comics

  • Therese, Anthony's ex-wife in For Better or For Worse is portrayed as being a needlessly vindictive harpy toward Liz, openly expressing discomfort whenever Anthony even tries to speak to her for a few minutes. Her rudeness seems bad except...well, it's obvious to anyone reading between the lines that there's still latent attraction between the two, which is confirmed when Anthony asks Liz to "wait for him" when the marriage seems to be going south. Unusual among examples in that Lynn Johnston later devotes a few weeks to strips explicitly making her sympathetic- it's in these that we find out that Anthony and her parents pressured her into having a child when she really didn't want one, and that she had suffered from post-partum depression after the birth.
    • Note that the above was revealed by Anthony while begging Liz to wait for him—he even explains that he made false promises to Therese so she'd have his child, assuming having a baby would make her fall into line. He thinks this makes him more sympathetic.
    • As The Unfavorite, April also falls into this. Supposedly a rebellious teen, she constantly gets the short end of the stick and is supposed to be grateful for it. One week-long arc involves April deciding to skip eating dinner with her folks to focus on finishing her homework; Elly reacts like this is the end of the world and sends John to loom threateningly over April until she comes down and apologizes. She also gets blamed for falling into the river and causing Farley's Heroic Sacrifice, a guilt she lives with from the tender age of four.
    • Let's just say that the author's very bad at writing strawmen and very good at making the readers root for exactly who she doesn't want them rooting for.

Professional Wrestling

  • At the end of TNA Impact's "The Whole F'n Show," while the ECW EV2.0 group were gathered in the ring, Fourtune jumped them from behind as they delivered a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to them with Ric Flair yelling at Dixie Carter that it was her fault. While Fortune are supposed to come off as heels, even before hearing AJ Styles and Kazarian's comments on "Reaction" about Dixie bringing in Ring Oldies rather than using (established) home grown talent (they even got their own PPV that was a tribute to the old ECW), many fans believed that the "heels" were justified. The chants of "THIS IS AWESOME!" during said beat down didn't help at all.
    • More of a Broken Base type situation in some forums. Try debating how Fortune is actually in the right in this feud with EV2 to some diehard ECW fans who backs up EV2 regardless. Others also root for Fortune as they don't come off as whiny.
    • What else didn't help was the fact that that episode of Impact was the second time (behind the aforementioned PPV) the Hardcore Originals took center stage just "one more time" to say "thank you". What ELSE didn't help was the fact that the EV2 guys were being treated as faces for taking the spotlight out of the gate at the expense of TNA's homegrown and long-term talent, something that Paul Heyman never allowed outsiders to do in ECW at least without earning it in the company first - which is ironically part of the reason they loved worked for him.
    • Then Fortune joined Hogan and Bischoff's Immortal conspiracy upon The Reveal, which not many people thought would last and even fewer wanted to. Not only was Immortal was doing the same thing Fortune was accusing EV2 of, not only were Hogan and Flair always portrayed as enemies until that point, but there were a few subtle and/or inadvertent hints being thrown out there that TNA was at least thinking of having Fortune turn on Immortal somewhere down the line. Cue Immortal and Fortune working together to basically end EV2, Fortune grabbing a couple titles, Bischoff mistreating AJ Styles some (who is his own case of Unintentionally Sympathetic every time he turns heel anyway), and finally, Main Event Mafia members going to WWE instead of signing on for a plan to reunite as Crimson's "them" outfit…and Fortune finally got that Heel Face Turn, officially recognized as the good guys fans viewed them as all along, and went on to make 2011 a collection of awesome moments for themselves, mostly at Immortal's expense. Between this and Jeff Hardy's infamous issues, Immortal never recovered.
    • Fortune are actually a greater example of this trope. They went from just unintentionally sympathetic, to unintentionally the heroes.

Tabletop Games


  • Shylock from The Merchant of Venice to modern readers, who are much more prone to sympathize with an oppressed Jew getting some payback on an antisemitic society. While Shakespeare gave Shylock some sympathetic motivation, he very possibly did not intend the audience to root for him. Shylock is, after all, a heathen who wants to murder a Christian over injured pride.
    • In modern productions, he is often intentionally portrayed as sympathetic and sometimes even as the victim.
    • There are those who believe that Shakespeare may have intended exactly this interpretation, having written the play as a veiled attack on anti-Jewish bigotry.
  • Many fans of the musical Wicked think of the Wizard as sympathetic and think that Madame Morrible is the real villain. It's not entirely without reason; his songs are entirely about how he wants to make people, including Elphaba, happy and he's genuinely heartbroken when it's revealed that he was Elphaba's father.
  • It's really, really hard not to be sympathetic to Harry Beaton in Brigadoon, given that all he wants to do is leave a village where he is utterly miserable and in which he has been essentially imprisoned for all eternity without his consent.

Video Games

  • Kingdom Hearts II : The Nobodies. They are played as disposable monsters without hearts, incapable of any emotion. Still, despite their blatantly evil acts, some fans empathize with the Nobodies' desire to obtain hearts. It doesn't help that they act out what they remember of their emotions, making it easy to forget that they're technically uncaring. It also doesn't help that Roxas is a Nobody, and definitely seems to still have feelings, though he's said to be a special case because he was created with Ven's heart.
    • Interestingly, there are two scenes where the Nobodies straight out acknowledge that they are emotionless. Twice, one of them gets a big speech on how they're in the right, one talking about the pain of not having a heart...when Sora points out that they can't have pain, as they don't have a heart. The response? To completely shift out, and basically tell Sora, "Okay, ya got me." This behavior mimics that of real-life sociopaths.
    • This has been addressed by the creators; the nobodies got a game revolving around them (Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days), and in Kingdom Hearts 3D it has been confirmed that they all got their hearts back and became whole again after being defeated. Lea in particular seems to be playing an important role in the story.
  • Gears of War 3 barely averts this. While the Locust were portrayed as genocidal monsters in 1 and 2, 3 finds them as badly wiped out as humanity, struggling against an insane mob of their own mutated kin and a glitchy human superweapon that will render their entire species extinct. On top of this, there are strong implications that Adam Fenix initially cooperated with the Locust against the Lambent years before the start of hostilities between the two species and is now (albeit reluctantly) firing said superweapon because it will save his own species while it destroys theirs. Sympathy is averted only because of brutal, unrelenting hostility and disregard for human life shown by the Locust, both their loyal remnants and savage encampments, but especially by Queen Myrrah herself.
  • Faldio from Valkyria Chronicles was wrong to shoot Alicia and the game makes us very, very aware that we are not supposed to like him. Unfortunately, they didn't do a very good job of setting that up: it was bad, but there was no other way to save Gallia and it worked. This might have gone over better if his reasoning were faulty, but his logic was pretty sound, and preserving the game's moral stance and the titular premise could not have accommodated his simply asking, whether she agreed or not.

Web Comics

  • Angelica from Jay Naylor's Original Life was meant to be the personification of everything the author didn't like. She ended up being the most likeable character in the entire strip, especially because everyone else is such an unrepentant tool to her, she comes across as The Woobie.
  • Syphile from Drowtales is treated like The Woobie by many fans, despite her mistreatment of Ariel since the latter was only an infant and treating many of her friends and servants poorly. This is due in part to her background as a "Well Done, Son" Guy to her adoptive mother Quain'tana, who she was never able to satisfy, and the apparent abuse she suffered at the hands of Sil'lice, because she was tainted (and to top it off, the only reason she became tainted was to please Quain'tana, who then immediately rejected her). The author said that she was "not meant to have much redeeming features, she lost them all over time. I wouldn't portray her as anything else" but given her recent death it's obvious that a lot of people felt for her. This is further compounded by the Continuity Snarl of the canon, where certain elements like stories where Quain'tana explicitly beat her or Sil'lice and Mel'arnach raped her her are no longer considered canon. In other words, she certainly wasn't treated well, but not nearly as horrifically as was formerly portrayed.

Western Animation

  • Tom of Tom and Jerry fame is an even more gratuitous example. In this case, Tom is simply defending his home and getting abused by the freeloader when he tries to stop him. This has, in at least one occasion, resulted in Tom being killed. For trying to keep Jerry from stealing from him.
    • However, there were cases where he deserved the punishment. For example, in one episode a sympathetic Jerry lets in a starving Tom from the freezing outdoors and offers him food, wine, and comfort. When the owner of the home returns and is about to throw Tom out, he betrays Jerry by trying to get in her good graces by throwing him out (out of the highest room of a 12-story building no less!). It's any wonder the audience roots for Jerry when he gets back at Tom for being such an ungrateful bastard.
  • Many Looney Tunes villains fall under this category particularly Sylvester. Sure, they are willing to eat the good guy but in terms of eliciting sympathy the agony they go through far out ways any harm they want to do.
    • That is particually true for Elmer Fudd. The director Friz Freleng realized that he was more sympathetic than Bugs Bunny in some shorts. So Freleng created Yosemite Sam who is more jerk and unsympathetic than Elmer.
  • On the Classic Disney Shorts, Donald Duck's multiple failures are meant to be deserved, especially when he encounters the likes of Chip n' Dale. Nevermind that most of the time they are the ones who start the trouble by stealing Donald's belongings or messing with his attempts at, well, having a life. When he does begin the fights, he gets royally screwed by the cartoon's end. Yet, the audience is clearly meant to be rooting for Don's adversaries all the time, even if the duck has done no wrong whatsoever in the picture and the pests just felt like ruining his day for laughs and giggles.
  • Hoggish Greedly from Captain Planet, to some, because some of his motivation is humanly understandable. His grandfather was, we are told, a nature-lover who treated him harshly; he was a self-made man pig who turned against environmentalism in the process. Anti-environmentalists the world over can relate.
  • Swiper the Fox from Dora the Explorer is probably the most beloved character on the show, with some people feeling sorry for him due to his kleptomania and being shunned by Dora. This is probably why he ended up becoming less of an antagonist as the series went on.
  • Plankton from SpongeBob SquarePants. At the start, he was a sort of evil, yet mildly successful business rival of skinflint but basically good-hearted Mr. Krabs. Now he's a full on Woobie who can't catch a break and is routinely mentally and psychologically tortured by the now total Jerkass Designated Hero Krabs.
  • Ezekiel from Total Drama World Tour. If his treatment was meant to convince his disproportionately large fan base that he was unlikeable, it failed—instead you just have a lot of angry Zeke-fans.
  • Transformers Animated: Blackarachnia. She was written to be a pitiful character, but the writers went a little too far by making her Left for Dead by her True Companions, romance with Optimus Prime, and a poor girl driven mad by her freakish mutation and having to join the Decepticons just to survive, then told by an old buddy it would have been better if she died and hints that there was still some goodness in her. However, Word of God seems to imply the Heel Face Turn the audience was hoping for was kind of in their heads...
  • The Ice King from Adventure Time comes across as this a lot, even before he's established as a Tragic Villain, because in many episodes he's just minding his own business while Finn is the troublemaker. In addition, almost anything bad he did do was a misguided and desperate attempt to be happy.
    • The Earl of Lemongrab of Adventure Time is basically a complete asshole to everybody around him, yells at his butler for no good reason, makes a child cry, and sends everybody in his kingdom to the dungeon for one million years. But he's engendered a lot of sympathy from certain fans. Why? Because of his "off" mental state- thanks to Princess Bubblegum making a fateful mistake in her laboratory during his scientific creation. (Also, he doesn't have any friends.) Fans on his side will tell you that he's either retarded or just mentally unadjusted, the fact that he's a terrible ruler isn't his fault, and that Princess Bubblegum, his creator, was unjustified in tormenting him when it was her fault he's like that. He's a Tragic Villain and a Jerkass Woobie to his fans, in a similar way to the Ice King.
  • The Urpneys of The Dreamstone, the abused lackeys of Zordrak sent to steal the stone so as to make nightmares. They are abused regularly for any screw ups and contradictions to their bosses plans (multiple mooks have in fact been killed as punishment) and, as with many Harmless Villains, usually face humiliating and merciless defeats from the Land Of Dreams (which is saying something considering how sacharrine the place usually is). Especially applies to Frizz and Nug, who are shanghied into nearly every mission plan and spend a lot more time being pitiful Nervous Wrecks than doing anything particularly dastardly.
  • Many My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic antagonists and villains receive a pair of leather pants because of this. For instance "The Great and Powerful" Trixie, who (although she accidentally brings it upon herself with her boasting) ends up losing her reputation and probably mostly everything she possessed at the end of the episode, which some people believe was disproportionate to her wrongdoings. There's also Gilda the Gryphon, who loses her friend Rainbow Dash (though again, she brought it upon herself).
    • The show has pretty much redeemed Trixie in canon now, after her second episode showed that even after being possessed by and driven insane by an artifact of ultimate evil, Trixie still doesn't have it in her to actually seriously injure anypony. Of course, she was arrogant and powerhungry enough to put that amulet on in the first place, but presumably it didn't come with a consumer safety advisory of 'Warning: Side effects of using the Alicorn Amulet may include paranoia, megalomania, poor impulse control, irrational phobias, and being reduced to the common sense of a particularly thick doorknob.'
    • The high-tier villains also get this. Some people actually manage to sympathize with Discord's goals. It helps that he's a silly, goofy Trickster Archetype who spent 1000 years sealed in stone. (Even though he was sealed precisely for being evil in the first place, and his idea of fun involves copious amounts of Mind Rape and chaos.)
    • Nightmare Moon: even before she got better and turned into Luna, possibly the most beloved pony in the fandom, she came over as more of a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds than villain because at the very start of the pilot we are told that the reason she's been taken over by her evil alter-ego is because no-one appreciated all the hard work she was doing controlling night time. Sure, her Night That Never Ends would have killed everypony in Equestria when the food ran out, but all she wanted was a hug from her big sister.
      • Season 5's finale has a brief visit to an alternate timeline where Nightmare Moon won, and as it turns out endless night doesn't kill everypony in Equestria. OTOH, it also means that Celestia is enjoying an involuntary stay in the center of the sun, so Her Nocturnal Majesty comes across as just a bit creepier even at the same time she is revealed as being less omnicidal.
    • Basically, the franchise does this with virtually every antagonist it has—later on you will find out something that makes you go "OK, what you did was wrong, but I understand why you did it and I can't really hate you." The only exceptions so far are Lord Tirek[1] and Queen Chrysalis.[2] Everypony else—Discord, Gilda, the Flim-Flam brothers, Starlight Glimmer, even Diamond Tiara[3] of all ponies, have all face-turned or at least been given sympathetic backstories. The theme of the series seems to be that while genuine irredeemable evil can exist it is far rarer than we think and often the 'evil' person is just another schmuck acting in ignorance or with misplaced priorities, but is hardly beyond reaching.
      • Over in the Equestria Girls franchise we have Sunset Shimmer, who went from being the villain of the first movie to the heroine of the next two. Likewise we have Human!Twilight, the antagonist of the third movie, who was a sympathetic pawn of evil the entire time and didn't even need a face turn, just a way out of her predicament. The only exceptions so far have been the Dazzlings.
  1. Who is grandfathered in as the original villain of the original MLP franchise and the Satanic Archetype of the show, and so is vanishingly unlikely to ever get a nuanced portrayal.
  2. Whose subsequent appearances in tie-in comics and an alternate timeline episode were, if anything, worse than her original portrayal.
  3. Noteworthy in that while she hardly compares in villainy to any of the rest -- she's a schoolyard bully -- she was still so hated that fans have actually praised the CUPCAKES fanfic because Diamond Tiara died in it.