The Twist Villain Cliche, also known Evil All Along is a cliche that occurs when a character who although seemingly kind and innocent at first, shockingly reveals their true colors as the antagonist. This particular cliche is named after Disney, who has been using this cliche in its movies and television shows frequently since 2013's Frozen. The cliche is seen as problematic due to its tendency to make stories feel predictable and uninspired as well as being capable of inflicting severe damage towards the character involved and their reputation towards fans and viewers.
Examples Of the Twist Used Poorly in Animated Disney Properties
- Miles Axlerod (Cars 2): The first example of a Poor Twist Villain in a Disney film, and he is considered one of the worst twist villains because he was revealed by Mater's convenient deduction, his voice as Lemon Kingpin did not help much since it was the same but lower pitched.
- Hans (Frozen): He is also considered a poorly done twist villain as he turned from a normal person to a murderer in the final 15 minutes of the movie.
- Yokai A.K.A Robert Callaghan (Big Hero 6)ː Basically the same as Hans, except his motivations make even less sense.
- Dawn Bellwether (Zootopia)ː While she has clearer motivations than Yokai, she is arguably the worst example of a Disney Twist Villain as there are no signs of her hating her job nor any kind of resentment towards the mayor and she turns evil only in the last 10 minutes of the movie.
- Evelyn Deavor (The Incredibles 2): Her true identity as The Screenslaver was very obvious due to her vague motivations to help Elastigirl promote superheroes. Her dead giveaways range from frequently giving weird, evil-looking faces and drinking wine often. Her name is pronounced the same way as the words "Evil Endeavor".
- King Andrias Leviathan (Amphibia): Andrias as a villain was excessively foreshadowed by the show with blatant indications such as kneeling down to a sinister entity, moving a piece with Anne on it on a chessboard, and being overly interested in The Calamity Box. Viewers have made many speculations about him since his first appearance and his betrayal of the girls was spoiled out by the season 2 finale’s episode name “True Colors”.
- Rhombulus (Star Vs the Forces of Evil): Throughout his appearances in season 2, he was depicted as an impulsive but well-meaning guy with a childish attitude, but his personality did come across as truly genuine. In the last two seasons though, he was derailed and flanderized into becoming a bigoted and prejudiced sociopath who hates monsters with his behavior coming to a head in “Coronation” where it is revealed to have freed Globgor. He then makes a scheme that puts lives in danger and celebrates with a pizza party.
- Tentacular (Rumble): This character had this cliche fall on him twice with the first occurrence happening too early on in the film during the beginning of its first act. It is obvious that he was the villain due to having the appearance of a shark and showing his self-absorbed behavior too early on with him hogging a selfie from a blimp from another monster reporter before his announcement that he is moving from Stoker to Slitherpoole. The film then advertised that Jimothy Brett Charley III was going to be the main villain only for Tentacular to be revealed that he was the one who orchestras the tear down of stoker stadium. The second occurance of this twist only seems to exist to shoehorn Tentacular into the role of main antagonist and make Jimothy forgotten in the film. The revelation of Tentacular as the villain derails the plot of the film and makes it completely unfaithful to its source material of the book Monster on The Hill. Even more insulting is that the trailers for the film promised that Tentacular was going to get a backstory, only for it to reveal Winnie and Steve’s backstories instead, which counts as false advertising. Even worse is that Tentacular has a more heroic counterpart from the source material, which tarnished the reputation of both incarnations.
- Quentin Beck (Spider-Man: Far from Home): Quentin’s identity as Mysterio is a dead giveaway that he is going to be the villain of the film given that Mysterio has been depicted as a villain in countless marvel comics, shows, and video games. His lie about the multiverse is also very obvious given that Mysterio has the power to create illusions.
- Wanda Maximoff A.K.A Scarlett Witch (Dr. Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness): Turns from a hero who cares about protecting lives to a selfish woman who wreaks havoc on the multiverse. Even though the MCU did try to explain Wanda’s eventual descent into madness through The Avengers Films and the Disney+ miniseries Wandavision, she still seemed to keep hold of her sense of morality. Unfortunately, she suddenly flies off the handle after Wandavision.
- Smiler (The Emoji Movie): The film’s sense of morality is not only all over the place but completely broken. Part of its infamy lies in its representation of heroes and villains. It is made obvious that Smiler is going to be an antagonist mainly due to having an unappealing character design that makes her look like a freak as she smiles all the time while her mouth has little-to-no lip sync.
- Guy Gagné (Turbo): He's that typical idol who turns out to be bad, his turn was very poorly executed as he never showed red flags before his abrupt reveal.
- Professor Rupert Marmalade IV (The Bad Guys): As the film focuses on bad guys turning good, it also blatantly features a supposed good guy being revealed evil all along. Rupert gives off so many red flags of being the villain such as acting egotistical, snarky, and condescending towards the bad guys he is supposedly reforming, despite the fact that he makes his big reveal well before the third act.
- Enik (Land of the Lost 2009): One of the biggest deviations this film makes from the TV show it is based on is that it turns Enik from a hero who is a bit of a jerk to a genocidal deceptive villain. The film makes it easy to depict Enik as a villain due to him being a Sleeslak, which are a race of reptoids that have proven themselves to be nothing but hostile to the heroes.
- Scrappy-Doo (Scooby Doo 2002): The film portrays Scrappy Doo as the mastermind behind the events with Emile Mondavarious being his robot dummy. This reveal is particularly egregious, as Scrappy only appeared in one scene and was shown to be horribly out of character. This is a dig at how disliked he was by the fandom.
- Dorian Gray (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen): The film changes the traitor in the comics from the Invisible Man to Dorian Gray, who wasn't a member in the original comics, possibly due to rights issues with the estate of H.G. Wells.
- Todd (A Dog's Purpose): While he started off as a friendly football player at first, he comes out as a manipulative bully who torments Ethan who believes Jim was drunk; this resulted in burning Ethan's house down before he was sent to his grandparents' house. This even makes Hans from Frozen and Bellwether from Zootopia, better characters in comparison.
- Otto Van Walrus (Arctic Dogs): Aside from falling into that category, his twist is poorly executed and he turned out to be a generic doomsday villain who wants to destroy the arctic because he's evil.
Live Action TV
- Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones): Even though the show focuses on morally gray characters with most of the heroes doing some questionable things, Daenerys was initially depicted as the oddball of the Targaryen family who wanted to free slaves and take back what was rightfully hers. However, the writers ran out of source material due to author George RR Martin taking too long to write the last two books for the series the show is based on and even though the show does try to foreshadow Daenerys’ descent into madness, she flies off the deep end in the episode “The Bells” when she torches King’s landing with a dragon and shows no remorse over it.
Western Animation Television
- Roger Smith (American Dad!): One of the plot lines the show commonly uses is that one of the members of the Smith Family, usually Stan or Steve often come up with an idea and have Roger participate in it, only for Roger to find some way to double cross them and use their ideas for his benefit. To make matters worse, the show does not waste any time in depicting Roger as a despicable sociopath and making him obvious due to him being an alien. This kind of plotline has been used so frequently that Roger’s villainy stops being a twist altogether.
- Ash Graven (Final Space): Although this show tried to foreshadow Ash’s turn to becoming a servant of Invictus in season 3 by killing off her adoptive brother Fox and having Gary be involved in this, she seemed to reconcile with Gary in the episode “Forgiveness” and be able to undergo healing through a relationship with Evra. However, she fully turns evil by kidnapping Little Cato after overhearing a conversation between Gary and Avocato about Little Cato’s parents and how they died at Avocato’s hands, realizing that they were the monarchs of Ventrexia. However, this does not make much sense due to her aforementioned reconciliation with Gary and the fact that she was present when Avocato confessed to killing Ventrexia’s king and queen in “The Ventrexian”.
- Ledge (Cyberchase):
- Courtney (Total Drama): Originally in her appearance as a contestant in the first season, she is depicted as a law-abiding, well-mannered girl who follows the rules of the show and acts like a fair leader of the Killer Bass. However, her personality becomes very chaotic after her elimination as she resorts to trying to kill contestants with a hot air balloon in the island special to win a million dollars and cheats by suing her way into Total Drama Action and getting Owen unfairly eliminated. She also becomes very bossy and mean towards other contestants as well as very vindictive towards Gwen in World Tour and All Stars after Duncan dumps her for Gwen.
- Dave (Total Drama): In Pahkitew Island, he is depicted as a jittery but level-headed boy who tries his hardest to be the leader of Team Maskwak, but after becoming infatuated with Sky, he becomes an obsessive wimp towards her, leading to his elimination. However, he suddenly becomes evil in the finale when he finds out that Sky already has a boyfriend, leading him to try to kill her and Shawn so he could win $500,000.
- Chef Saltbaker (Cuphead): In the game's DLC, The Delicious Last Course, Saltbaker directs Cuphead, Mugman, and Ms. Chalice to find ingredients to make the wonder tart, which grants those who eat it live. However, his ulterior motives and villainy are not foreshadowed and his status as the main antagonist is only revealed after the DLC bosses are all defeated and only right before the boss battle against him.
- Marx (Kirby Super Star/Super Star Ultra): In Milky Way Wishes, Marx asked Kirby to stop the sun and moon from fighting with each other, but then he has his wish granted from NOVA to become stronger and betrayed Kirby near the end.
Why This Happens
- Disney was known for making villains that were obvious and evil from the get-go since they first emerged as a company. They had been doing this ever since Snow White and the Seven Dwarves which was released in the 1930s. Since then, people have been complaining that the obvious villains have become cliched and stale, and as the result, these "traditionally evil" villains have been phased out from not just Disney animation, but Hollywood movies and TV shows in general, with Disney’s Moana having Te Ka being the last “traditional villain” Disney used in their movies before taking a break from villains altogether for years after 2016 until Disney’s “Wish” returned to the original villain for King Magnifico in 2023. This problem also extends beyond Disney animation itself, as even the Disney live-action remakes seem to go with this exact same problem of "cliche twist villain" and/or "sympathetic villain" route beginning with Maleficent (2014), which is all brought in as the result of the success of Frozen (2013).
- The writers mainly do this to pass their works off as good writing, with the mindset that by writing characters more realistically, they would appease modern audiences. This includes designing villains in ways they would not be normally designed.
- The moral these forms of media that use this cliché often try to teach kids is to be careful who to trust and to never trust strangers who do seem nice to them at first. This comes across as parents and moral guardians trying to persuade studios to teach children good morals to stay away from danger.
Why This Cliché Is a Bad Twist
- The cliché, when used on a character, has the massive risk of undoing everything the character was originally depicted as, taking away their original apparent identity and forcing viewers to suddenly get accustomed to the character’s true colors.
- When used improperly on the character, it can forcefully strip away all of the redeeming qualities of a character for the sake of a shocking twist and turn them into a one-note villain. It can also cause the character to undergo severe character derailment and/or flanderization.
- When the twist is excessively foreshadowed, it stops being a twist altogether and becomes something fans would expect making the whole plot predictable in the process. This excessive foreshadowing creates the trope known as the Obvious Judas
- This cliché often exists just to force the other obvious villains into often half-baked redemptions. While this can be facilitated to make them go through character development, the villains that often go through this often try to warn the hero of the twist villain’s intentions with them being dismissed just so the twist villain can go through with their plans and prolong the plot. Many of these villains also have their motivations just to try to stop the twist villain but often warn the heroes at the last minute. This makes their actions come off as abrasive and makes them jerks due to not thinking of a better solution to make the heroes trust them.
- The cliché is often accompanied by the “red herring villain” cliché, which is when a character, usually one from a movie, gets painted as the villain blatantly by the story, only for that character to serve as a bait and switch for the true villain. This makes the red herring villain look more like a butt-monkey that serves to be abused by the story through being falsely accused.
- On the other hand, when the twist has no foreshadowing and comes out of nowhere, it can result in character assassination for the character who falls victim to it. It also comes across as insulting towards fans of that character.
- It often makes the heroes and good characters who are duped by the villain look like major idiots when the villain has obvious red flags given off frequently. It goes to show that the heroes have a horrible judge of character.
- Speaking of which, it also sometimes gives out the unfortunate implication of depicting the heroes and good characters in a rather unpleasant light as well.
- When the character affected tries to explain their motivations for being a twist villain, it often comes across as very sloppy, rushed, nonsensical, and hard to understand, which is mainly due to these characters being revealed as the villain at the last possible minute.
- When it is done in an adaptation of a character who has a counterpart from that adaptation who is portrayed as a hero throughout, the cliche becomes nothing but an insult towards the original counterpart and it damages the reputation of both the twist villain and the heroic counterpart that villain is based on. It also shows that the adaptation is unfaithful and disrespectful towards its source material.
- The films, games, and shows that use this cliché go out of their way to point out that these kinds of villains are the worst and most irredeemable villains in existence as these characters. Who were originally depicted as nice people, are then shown to be depraved, selfish, arrogant, and unapologetic sociopaths.
- Even though the writers try to do this to make a villain more realistic and three-dimensional, this often does not work and instead not only makes the villain one-dimensional but also has way less dimension than the obvious villains. This can also cause some of these villains to turn into Generic Doomsday Villains.
- It causes these villains to have an utter lack of depth and backstory and causes the films and media to have depth and backstory reserved only for the heroes. This is mainly due to how everything the villain is up until the reveal turns out to be a big lie.
- Overall, most of these poorly written twist villains at times feel like nothing more than self-inserts of the greedy, corrupt studio executives behind the production of these medias themselves who keep expecting to be sympathized for by the moviegoing audience and are one of the many reasons that contributed to the death of traditional villainy in modern-day Hollywood media.
- The twist itself is not inherently bad and can make a story compelling if written and executed properly.
- The twist villain can be used effectively in genres such as the mystery genre.
- Some twist villains are actually decent at best, such as King Candy/Turbo from Wreck-It-Ralph (the only Disney Animated Canon twist villain which is good/decent), as well as almost every Pixar villain created before Frozen such as Stinky Pete from Toy Story 2, Henry J. Waternoose from Monsters, Inc., Syndrome from The Incredibles, and so on.
How To Make an Effective Twist Villain
- First, recognize whether your story needs a villain or not. Sometimes stories do not need an actual villain as internal conflicts within people like families can suffice well enough.
- Secondly, think about whether your villain should actually be a twist villain or not. Recognize the significance of the villain in relation to the plot and its structure.
- For foreshadowing, make sure you don’t make your twist villain reveal their true colors out of nowhere with little to no foreshadowing. At the same time, make sure you don’t foreshadow your villain too much and don’t make your foreshadowing too obvious for people to notice.
- Give your twist villain understandable motivation for their actions and their initial façade. You can't have your twist villain initially be nice to people out of nowhere. For reasons, make sure your villain has reasons for working in the shadows, such as a lack of trust in others or being shunned by people or society.
- Recognize the genre you are using for your twist villain. If it is of the mystery genre, then it will be easier to incorporate a twist villain in it. Just make sure your twist villain is as suspicious as everyone else in the crime. Even so, do not make your clues too obvious. Make sure the clues all line up correctly with proper pacing.
- Do not reveal your twist villain at the last minute. Doing so will result in rushed pacing for the villain and mangle up their character development and motivations. If you plan to do the reveal for your villain, make sure it is done earlier but not at the beginning.
- Make sure your twist villain does not give any obvious red flags in their appearance and mannerisms. Their design should not follow the cliches of other villain designs such as wearing dark clothing, looking like a beast or a demon, and not making suspicious looking faces a lot.
- The twist villain must blend in seamlessly with the plot and not cause contradictions. Anything in the plot that contradicts the villain such as an unusual change in the villain’s behavior in a scene or an action a villain does that contradicts their overall morality will result in plot holes.