- "I've learned that, in every story, there is a big, bad something. An evil force that, no matter the size, corrupts the world of the story, and tries its best to destroy the hero. A wolf, a witch, a giant, a dragon, a knight... or an idea, a desire, a temptation... or even a book." -- Lullaby
A Big Bad is a character, usually with evil designs (though it may also be a situation, such as a comet heading towards the Earth), that is behind all of the other bad happenings. The Big Bad can (and often does) exert his effect across a number of episodes, and even an entire season, and sometimes over an entire series.
Note that Big Bad is not a catch-all trope for the biggest and ugliest villain of any given story. The Badass leader of the outlaw gang that the heroes face once or twice is not the Big Bad. The railroad tycoon who turns out to be using the gang as muscle is the Big Bad. In general if there is a constant Man Behind the Man story going on in order to reveal the Big Bad, then whoever is behind it all is the Big Bad, not every major villain in the lead-up. At other times if a new enemy shows up to replace the previous Big Bad, then they are the Big Bads of their individual storyline.
The Big Bad may be confronted frequently, but is too powerful to finish off until the last episode of the sequence. The Big Bad may work through Evil Minions and will almost certainly have The Dragon protecting him, to keep interest up and provide something for the good guys to defeat. When you look at a season-long story or a major Story Arc and you can identify that one villain as being the one in control of everything, that is the Big Bad. In many cases you will find that while the Big Bad may be in control, the Dragon in Chief would still be the greater threat.
The term "Big Bad" was popularized in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was characteristic of Buffy's Big Bads for their identity or nature, or even the fact that they are the Big Bad at all, to remain unclear for considerable time. Occasionally characters would even refer to themselves as "the Big Bad", whether or not they were; this is called a Big Bad Wannabe.
The Big Bad is also an integral part of the Five Bad Band dynamic. The role remains largely the same, but it should be noted that they are the Big Bad of that particular organization. They are not just the leader of a Quirky Miniboss Squad, but is a set group to counter the roles in the heroes' Five Man Band. Whether or not they turn out to be the Big Bad of the entire work of fiction is not set in stone (although more often than not, they will be).
If a show has a series of Big Bad jeopardies, they can function like a series of Monsters of the Week that take more than a week to finish off. If there is a Legion of Doom you can expect the Big Bad to be involved somehow. They're probably sorted by power, with the strongest for last, following the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.
Evil Overlord, Diabolical Mastermind, The Chessmaster, Arch Enemy, The Man Behind the Man, and often Manipulative Bastard are specific types of villains who are liable to show up as Big Bads. If he's a Magnificent Bastard, Complete Monster, or Hero Killer, the good guys are in big trouble. The heroic counterpart of this character is the Big Good, who will very often be the focus of this character's attention over The Hero at the beginning of a series. If a work of fiction is conspicuously lacking a Big Bad, it may be a case of No Antagonist.
See also Big Bad Duumvirate for two (or more) Big Bads working together (or not). Sometimes a Big Bad will get his start as a servant to another villain - if that's the case, he's a Dragon Ascendant. If the character who fills the role of Big Bad in most meaningful ways is nominally subordinate to someone else (someone significantly less menacing by comparison), he is a Dragon in Chief. If the story has many Big Bads, see Big Bad Ensemble.
Note that the Big Bad of a story is not always the most powerful or oldest existing evil force. Perhaps an evil presence along the lines of an Eldritch Abomination overshadows the work's setting, but is mainly divorced from the story's events -- that would be the Bigger Bad. The Big Bad is distinct from a character like that by being the main obstacle that the hero must contend with on the way to accomplishing his/her goal, though the Big Bad might try to harness the Bigger Bad in some way as part of their plan.
Anime and MangaEdit
- For most of Bleach, the Big Bad was Sosuke Aizen. That particular Reveal came as a Wham Episode.
- Death Note takes an unusual approach to this trope by making the main character himself the Big Bad.
- Father in Full Metal Alchemist.
- The Claw from Gun X Sword is a sweet old man, with a track record of crimes agains the protagonists as long as his artificial right arm. Every single bad thing in the series ultimately traces back to him.
- The DCU has a couple of common big bads:
- Darkseid, a Galactic Conqueror as well as a Physical God.
- Lex Luthor, a Corrupt Corporate Executive Magnificent Bastard as well as the arch-nemesis of Superman. If there's ever a Legion of Doom anywhere, you can bet top dollar he's the boss of it. In some continuities he's a Mad Scientist.
- The Joker plays Big Bad less frequently as he usually prefers getting right up close and personal to a certain someone.
- Brainiac, an evil robot and a being that seeks to control all information.
- The Anti-Monitor, responsible for starting the Crisis on Infinite Earths as well as the Sinestro Corps War. An Omnicidal Maniac.
- Nekron, Lord of the Unliving, who commands the dead to drag the world of the living into death. He usually confronts Green Lantern characters, and is arguably their most powerful recurring foe.
- In Marvel Comics, Dr. Doom has a big habit of being this, as does the Kingpin.
- In the Captain America comic the Red Skull almost always plays the role of the Big Bad. Whenever there is an evil plot in the Captain America comic, there is 80% chance that the Red Skull is behind it. And if it's not Red Skull, it's Baron Zemo.
- The X-Men usually have Enemy Mine moments with their main nemesis Magneto (and his followers, the Acolytes and/or Brotherhood of Evil Mutants) when confronting Apocalypse, so he could count, too.
- If someone is making The Hulk's life hell, it's The Leader.
- Ultron is the ultimate robotic Big Bad in Marvel. These days, when he pops up it's invariably on the final page of the build-up issue, usually after a few horrified whispers of the "Oh no - not him!" - "It can't be!" - variety.
- The Big Bad of the Doctor Strange title tends to be Dormammu, a Dimension Lord Eldritch Abomination who is the source of most of the conflict in Dr. Strange's life, either directly or through minions like Baron Mordo.
- In Fables the Adversary turns out to be Gepetto. FUCKING GEPPETTO! Better yet it was originally planned to be Peter Pan but the rights weren't available.
- Ozymandias of Watchmen is an interesting example as, while his deeds are certainly worthy of proper Big Bad status, he's occasionally a sympathetic character.
- Ernst Stavro Blofeld, from the James Bond movies (as well as the books they were based on), up until he was killed in the opening sequence of For Your Eyes Only.
- Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.
- Push has Henry Carver, and on a more broad scale, the Division itself.
- Rotti Largo from Repo! The Genetic Opera has Big Bad among his many diabolical credentials.
- The Ghostbusters have had to deal with two Big Bads: Gozer the Gozerian in the first movie and Vigo the Carpathian from the second.
- Star Trek has Nero, possibly the most pissed off Romulan ever, who is determined to destroy Vulcan and then the rest of the Federation because neither managed to save Romulus from being obliterated by a supernova. He's got a decent reason for being so angry, but good grief, he's got to be the new king of Disproportionate Retribution.
- The title character of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan.
- Superman and Superman Returns has Lex Luthor, while Superman II has General Zod.
- Batman has The Joker, Batman Returns has The Penguin. Batman Forever has The Riddler and Two-Face, and Batman and Robin has Poison Ivy.
- Iron Man has Iron Monger, while Iron Man 2 has Whiplash.
- Daredevil has Kingpin.
- Highlander has the Kurgan.
- Lord Cutler Beckett in Pirates of the Caribbean. Even though he didn't appear until Dead Man's Chest, you can make a pretty good case for Beckett being Big Bad all along, as he was indirectly responsible for the events of the first movie (branding Jack, initiating the chain of events that made Jack the captain of the Pearl, etc.) despite never appearing or being mentioned, and was pretty much pulling everyone's strings in the second.
- Sky High has Gwen "Royal Pain" Grayson.
- The Matrix series has Agent Smith.
- Animorphs: Though not the highest ranking member of the Yeerk Empire, Visser Three is the one the Animorphs encounter the most. The Council of Thirteen may be in charge of him, but they only appear once in a side-story, and it is ultimately the defeat of Visser Three that ends the war.
- Voldemort from the Harry Potter series.
- Morgoth in The Silmarillion. After he was banished from the world], Sauron, previously The Dragon, assumed his Evil Overlord role.
- As mentioned in the Film section, Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the latter part of the James Bond novels, finally receiving a more fittingly dramatic send-off in You Only Live Twice.
- Most individual books in The Dresden Files have one of these. That said, the driving force behind pretty much everything is the Black Council, which is believed to have been involved in setting up many of the Big Bads.
- The Dark One from The Wheel of Time is the living manifestation of evil in that universe. His real name also happens to be Shai'tan.
- With a blatant disregard for history, Alexandre Dumas made Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu the Big Bad of The Three Musketeers. And he does it again with Catherine de' Medici in Queen Margot.
- Count Olaf for most of A Series of Unfortunate Events, though we eventually discover that he's more like a The Dragon to a larger organization.
- Lord Foul the Despiser from the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.
- Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong competed for the honor of being the 20th Century's Big Bad.
- Stalin won by the way.
- Abbadon the Despoiler is perhaps the best example in Warhammer 40000.
- The entire Chaos faction seems to be the overall Big Bad of the setting.
- From the Mutants and Masterminds setting Freedom City, Darkseid-expy Omega may qualify as a possible Big Bad, due to his desire to drag the entire universe into the Terminus with him. There is also the mysterious Man of Wealth and Taste, Mr. Infamy, who grants wishes, for a payment to be specified later. His calling card sure has a lot of sixes on it.
- The Adventures of Brisco County Jr: The main Big Bad is John Bly, who is eventually revealed to be an even bigger threat than previously thought when it is discovered that he's actually a time traveler from Earth's far future who will institute a 1,000-year reign of terror if he isn't stopped.
- Angel has Wolfram and Hart as the main antagonist for the entire series, though they were not always the Big Bad.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer would occasionally introduce "decoy" Big Bads to set up a surprising revelation. Lothos was the Big Bad of The Movie, and each season of the TV series had a different Big Bad: The Master, Angel, the Mayor, Adam, Glory, Willow, and the First Evil.
- Supernatural's overall Big Bad has actually always been Lucifer, who takes the stage in Season Five.
- Gul Dukat is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's premier Big Bad. He starts out as a fairly bog-standard antagonist, becomes a sympathetic character (an Anti Villain if not Anti Hero), before crossing the Moral Event Horizon and becoming, effectively, the Antichrist. He's also the only recurring villain in Star Trek history to kill off a main character.
- Doctor Who has a Big Bad in every series finale to date: the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Daleks together, the Master, Davros and the Daleks (again), Rassilon, and "the Silence".
- Power Rangers. This might take a while: Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, Master Vile, King Mondo, Divatox, Dark Specter, Scorpius, Trakeena, Queen Bansheera, Ransik (who is eventually redeemed, a rarity for these villains), Master Org, Mandilok, Lothor, Mesogog, Emperor Gruumm, Omni, Morticon, Imperious, The Master, Flurious, Moltor, Kamdor, Miratrix, Dai Shi, and Venjix.
- In The Wild, Wild West, Diabolical Mastermind, Dr. Miguelito Loveless.
- The new Battlestar Galactica series had a convoluted myth arc, lots of Grey and Grey Morality, with much of the series concentrating on all the main characters trying to screw each other over rather than focusing on a central villain. However, John Cavil ultimately emerges as the ubervillain of the show, the main man behind the Cylons, and really the only guy on either side of the war who's having any fun.
- 24 had Victor Drazen, Peter Kingsley, Stephen Saunders, Habib Marwan, President Charles Logan, Phillip Bauer, Alan Wilson, Jonas Hodges, and Charles Logan again.
- Smallville initially has Lionel Luthor as the main antagonist of Seasons One through Three, although other major antagonists, like reporter Roger Nixon and Kal also took a stab at this role.
- Dollhouse had Alpha causing every problem the Dollhouse crew faced in Season One. Season Two has the Rossum Corporation as a whole set up this way, but only as of "Getting Closer" do we know who the Magnificent Bastard in charge of it is: Boyd Langton.
- Far Scape: A succession of Big Bads. First it's Crais, then Scorpius, then Grayza, who eventually shares the limelight with the Scarran Emperor. Note that each of these get progressively more epic and ambitious.
- In Dexter the hero is also the villain, in a version of the Villain Protagonist and Heroic Sociopath tropes, so in one sense Dexter is always his own Big Bad. Each season has its own exterior Big Bad as well. Season One had the Ice Truck Killer. In Season Two Dexter is clearly his own Big Bad, as he's trying to avoid being caught. Season Three had Miguel Prado. Season Four had Trinity. Season Fve had Jordan Chase.
- It is strongly implied in Firefly that the Big Bad was the Blue Sun Corporation, which apparently worked with the Academy.
- The Kingdom Hearts series has the scientist-turned-madman Xehanort serving as the main Big Bad.
- The Grand Theft Auto series: Catalina in Grand Theft Auto III; Sonny Forelli in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City; Frank Tenpenny and Big Smoke in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas; Massimo Torini in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories; Jerry Martinez and The Mendez Brothers in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories; Dimitri Rascalov for most of Grand Theft Auto IV; Billy Grey in The Lost And Damned; and Bulgarin in The Ballad Of Gay Tony.
- Gary Smith in Bully.
- The Ratchet and Clank series gave us a nice selection of Big Bads as well: Chairman Drek in the first game; Captain Qwark in Going Commando; Dr. Nefarious in Up Your Arsenal; Gleeman Vox in Deadlocked; Emperor Otto DeStruct in Size Matters; Klunk in Secret Agent Clank; Emperor Percival Tachyon in Tools of Destruction; Captain Romulus Slag and Captain Angstrom Darkwater form a Big Bad Duumvirate in Quest for Booty; and finally Nefarious again in A Crack in Time.
- Portal: GLaDOS. Not only does she place Chell in danger numerous times, half-way through the game she tries to kill her by placing her on a platform heading towards a pit of fire and at the end of the game, she almost kills her by flooding the Enrichment Centre with a deadly neurotoxin..
- The Halo series had two Big Bads: the Prophet of Truth (the leader of the Covenant), and the Gravemind (the leader/Hivemind of the Flood).
- The big bad of Fable is the demon Jack of Blades. Fable II has Lord Lucien.
- Rogue Turian Spectre Saren Arterius serves as the Big Bad in Mass Effect. Only, he's not. The real Big Bad is his Living Ship, Sovereign], who in reality is a fully-sentient member of an ancient race of "machine devils" known as the Reapers.
- And in Mass Effect 2 we have the Collector-General, but, again, it's a fake-out, and the real Big Bad is Harbinger, a Reaper merely useing the General to control the Collectors.
- City of Heroes has a number of especially powerful and influential bad guys that compete to take over the world:
- Lord Recluse, the Evil Overlord who rules an island nation with an iron fist, said nation being where City of Villains is set.
- Nemesis, Magnificent Bastard who may or may not be behind darn near everything in the game. [[Category:Memetic Mutation|It's all a Nemesis plot].
- Tyrant, the Dimension Lord of the Mirror Universe, Evil Twin of the game's biggest hero, Statesman.
- In World of Warcraft, the big bads are Kel'Thuzad in the original, Kil'jaeden in the Burning Crusade, in Wrath of the Lich King... well, take a guess and Deathwing in Cataclysm.
- The Street Fighter franchise has M. Bison.
- The Resident Evil franchise has the Umbrella Corporation, led by Ozwell Spencer, as the overarching Big Bad for the entire series.
- Many people argue the AI Director itself in Left 4 Dead is the Big Bad behind every possible bad thing that happens to the players, especially on Expert difficulty where all it does is punish players for doing badly and slaughtering them for trying to be good.
- The Big Bad of Epic Mickey is the Phantom Blot, retooled into an Eldritch Abomination made of paint and thinner. Oddly enough, he was created accidentally by Mickey Mouse himself!
- Darth Malak in Knights of the Old Republic.
- Lord Doviculus in Brutal Legend
- The Banjo-Kazooie series has Gruntilda.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum has The Joker.
- In Holiday Wars, the Easter Bunny is the Big Bad.
- Order of the Stick has Xykon, the comic's primary Big Bad. There is also Nale and Kubota, two wanna-be Big Bads.
- Sluggy Freelance: Hereti Corp and K'Z'K constantly take turns being the overall Big Bad of the comic. Other examples (mainly for mini arcs) include vampire queen Lysinda, demon general Lord Horribus, corrupt nobleman Sir John Jacobs, and a totalitarian dictator known only as "His Masterness".
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Franz Rayner, Dracula and King Radical have all taken this role in various arcs.
- Problem Sleuth had Mobster Kingpin, who was set up to be the game's Final Boss from the start. Problem Sleuth, Ace Dick and Pickle Inspector (along with many imaginary versions of themselves) spent more than half of the game fighting him.
- In the Whateley Universe, the unseen supervillain Nimbus seems to be behind everything.
- Michelle Clore from Kate Modern is responsible, either directly or indirectly, for nearly everything that goes wrong over the course of the series.
- Danya commands the terrorist organization in charge of Survival of the Fittest, and is therefore primarily responsible for the students being abducted and forced to kill one another, even though as of yet it is unknown if he has ever directly killed anyone. This makes his status as Big Bad inarguable.
- Fine Structure has Oul, an Omnicidal Maniac and all-around Eldritch Abombination.
- Bad Horse from "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog".
- The Emperor, leader of Tarot, has his fingers in nearly every criminal enterprise on Earth in The Butlerverse. Of course, he's also got his fingers in nearly every major legitimate business enterprise on Earth as well. But then, what do you expect of a villain who is secretly an immortal Niccolo Machiavelli?
- The Mysterious Somebody, Bracket Fungus and League of Mary-Sue Factories take this role for the Protectors of the Plot Continuum.
- Disney's Zeke, the Big Bad Wolf from the 1933 cartoon Three Little Pigs' and its sequels, was originally the Big Bad of his forest world, as befits his name.
- Vilgax, from Ben 10, is a textbook example. He's wounded grievously in the pilot, drives the plot of most of the first season from behind the scenes, and finally shows up in person in the first season's finale, bigger, meaner, smarter, and tougher than anything Ben's faced before.
- The Big Bad of the Cadmus Arc of Justice League Unlimited was constantly being teased. At first it seemed Amanda Waller was the mastermind, then Lex Luthor, until it was finally revealed in the next-to-last episode as Brainiac.
- Batman Beyond had Derek Powers, a Corrupt Corporate Executive who soon became known as the supervillain Blight, as its Big Bad for the first season.
- Superman: The Animated Series featured an ongoing arc of Superman's struggle with the Galactic Conqueror Darkseid, and his increasingly daring designs on Earth. (By contrast, Lex Luthor's schemes were almost purely episodic in nature.)
- Even Ra's al Ghul in Batman: The Animated Series arguably qualified, being introduced in the final moments of one episode, and following up on it later with a cataclysmic two-parter.
- There were several contenders for the title in the final season of Justice League Unlimited. At first it looked like Grodd, until he was deposed by Lex Luthor leading to an apparent Big Bad Duumvirate between Lex and the remnants of Brainiac's consciousness. In the end, though, the real threat turned out to be Darkseid. Again.
- Legion of Superheroes had a Five Bad Band led by the Emerald Empress as the most common villain in the first season.
- Scar from The Lion King.
- Teen Titans followed a Big Bad formula similar to Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender. He usurped the throne from his older brother, deliberately disfigured his son and kicked him out at age thirteen, and is the lead suspect in his wife's mysterious disappearance. And that's just his personal life in the Back Story. Professionally, he's an Evil Overlord.
- Megatron in almost every incarnation of the Transformers, only to usualy force an Enemy Mine when Unicron appears.
- The Spectacular Spider-Man featured Tombstone, The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom, The Master Planner (who was secretly Doctor Octopus), and Silvermane all taking their turn as Big Bad.
- Vlad Masters of Danny Phantom. He's introduced in Episode Seven, but his influence is felt as early as the opening scenes of the first episode. Until his Villainous Breakdown, only two people could claim to lay an effective hand on him: Pariah Dark and Jack Fenton, the latter aided with anti-ghost technology. Some have compared him to Deathstroke the Terminator in deviousness.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles usually has Shredder as the Big Bad, but in the cartoons he is often topped by some alien threat. In the 2003 version of the cartoon, he usually comes out on top, since he took about a hundred levels in badass.
- GI Joe has the Cobra Commander as their Big Bad. Sometimes, he is replaced by Serpentor.
- Thanks to the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, the Big Bad of The Fairly Oddparents has changed a few times. In the first three seasons, Crocker was Timmy's worst enemy, appearing as the bad guy in every special that had a true villain. "The Big Superhero Wish" was the first special where he was not the main bad guy, and "Channel Chasers" reduced him to a cameo. After that, Anti-Cosmo of the anti-fairies and HP of the pixies took over for the next three seasons as a Big Bad Duumvirate, especially in Season Six, where the characters never appear separate. Then The Darkness for the "Wishology" trilogy. With the birth of Foop, he took over for Season Seven (he's been confirmed as the villain in that season's finale).
- There are two main villains whose overarching schemes drive the plot of Gargoyles: David Xanatos and Demona.
- Aku on Samurai Jack. His destruction is one of Jack's two big goals.
- Futurama doesn't always call for a Big Bad, but when it does, it's almost always either Richard Nixon's Head or Mom.
- Mojo Jojo is the Big Bad of The Powerpuff Girls. He was the first and greatest. He might not be a blanket malevolent force like HIM is, but he has definitely proven to be the greater evil and challenge.