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Sometimes, what people call villains are just... misunderstood. They aren't necessarily evil or deliberately committing bad deeds, but rather, everybody around them assume that they are the "bad guy" simply because their ideas and goals might not mesh or because they mistakenly believe them to be aiming for bad things. A villain might be misunderstood because of their appearance (for example, the Beast in "Beauty and The Beast"), as a result of family, by the nature of their powers, or due to circumstances outside of their control.
Can also refer to characters who aren't deliberately portrayed as antagonists, but are still misunderstood in a negative light.
Dark Is Not Evil is a close relative of this trope; a character who is dark but not evil is likely to be mistaken for a villain due to their scary exterior.
Obliviously Evil is a subtrope (despite the name), when a character doesn't have the malevolent intent to really be considered an evil person, but causes serious harm anyway because they don't understand that what they're doing is wrong. Or, sometimes, that they're doing anything wrong in the first place.
See also Justified Criminal, Anti-Villain, Tragic Villain, Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold, and, for nonsapient creatures, Non-Malicious Monster. When the fandom makes dubious or obviously wrong claims that a villain is this, it's Draco in Leather Pants.
- Poor Gaara of Naruto started as this. All he wanted was to have a friend, but the entire village was convinced that he was a monster, and this upset him, which caused the real monster sealed in him to act up. Even after he finally lost all hope and gave in to Shukaku, deep down, he was just a lonely child who lashed out at the world to protect himself.
- In the same vein as Gaara, Lucy from Elfen Lied only wanted love and acceptance. However, she only received bitter contempt, which culminated in some kids beating a stray puppy she took care of, the only creature in the world she cherised, to death in front of her while mocking her misery. This, plus the apparent betrayal of the boy she fell in love with, plus the murder of her best friend at the hand of the man who imprisoned her for years in a research facility that could be better described as a new Auschwitz, lead young Kaede to become Lucy, a full-blown Omnicidal Maniac hell bent on the extinction of Homo sapiens, so that nobody could hurt, betray, or abandon her again.
- Poor, Poor No Face in Spirited Away. He's lonely, shy, and so desperate to make Chihiro happy. Sure, some of the things he did were a bit too far, but he had good intentions deep down.
- Lex Luthor, Depending on the Writer, believes what he is doing is right and honorable. From his perspective, he is the hero and Superman is the villain. He views Superman and most of the other heroes of the DC universe as the greatest threat to mankind, and is determined to "save humanity" at any cost.
- Ozymandias from Watchmen. Now there's a misunderstood villain. He single-handedly kills off half of New York City in order to avert a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union that would destroy the world. I'm still not sure whether Alan Moore was trying to portray him as the villain or the tragic hero of the story. If he's the hero, then that'd make Rorschach the villain, and he's definitely misunderstood as well.
- Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?:
"I'm not bad...I'm just drawn that way"
- The original 1954 Godzilla film shows that he's as much a victim of the atomic bomb as everyone else.
- While she isn't exactly a villain, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada certainly isn't portrayed as a good or nice person. But considering her career, can you blame her?
- Death to Smoochy:
[sings] "My stepdad's not mean, he's just adjusting!"
"But if he's ever abusive to you or your mother, then the magic number is 911!"
- Harry Potter:
- It's very easy to paint Snape as a 'bad guy' due to his personality and the ambiguity of what side he's on, but once you realize what he's been through in life, it's apparent that he isn't an evil character at all.
- In addition, Sirius Black was initially believed to be an unrepentent traitor to the titular character's parents. Sirius states that he is, in fact, not evil, and proves it as well, by revealing the real killer of Harry's parents.
- In For The Love Of Evil, we see an interesting side of how Satan is this. Although his job is to promote evil (and, according to Archangel Gabriel, he is one of the best at it), he himself is a good man. In essence, he is not his job.
- Frankenstein's Monster was rejected by his "father" and forced to run through the wilderness, his only friend was taken from him by relatives, and he can't even face himself in the mirror. He just wants a friend.
Live Action TV
- LazyTown's Robbie Rotten:
"They want me to be nice, they want me to be good
But I'm a simple rotten guy, tho's just misunderstood"
- In Supernatural, when the fallen archangel Lucifer (better known as Satan to most humans) escapes to Earth, his first order of business is to locate and possess a human vessel. Since he is an angel rather than a demon, he must acquire the willing consent of the human who will be his vessel. He claims himself as the ultimate example of this trope as part of his argument to persuade his chosen human to agree to become his vessel. Subverted as he is really evil all along.
- Pink's song "M!ssundaztood":
"I was taken for granted, but it's all good
'Cause I'll do it again, I'm just missundaztood"'
- Mocked in the Warren Zevon song "Excitable Boy", in which the 'excitable boy' starts off being just quirky, and then goes on to do some quite horrible things, with each act followed by the line "excitable boy, they said".
- If anyone knows anything about the musical Wicked, you know that the Wicked Witch of the West was pretty damn misunderstood.
- The same could be said for the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, too. All she wanted was her dead sister's ruby slippers back. Sure, she ended up being pretty nasty towards Dorothy near the end, but could you blame her?
- Inspector Javert from Les Misérables is not evil; he's more misguided than anything else. This is evidenced near the end of the show in his soliloquy.
- The Charr of Guild Wars have been revealed to be this in Guild Wars 2, now that their side of the story has been presented. Yes, they are ruthless and militaristic, but their war against humans in the first game was a struggle to reclaim their occupied homeland, and the human propaganda painting them as Complete Monsters who love to enslave and eat humans was precisely that - propaganda.
- Star Fox Adventures has General Scales, when meeting Krystal, claiming that he's not evil.
- The geth of Mass Effect. Most just want to be left alone, and the ones you fight in Mass Effect 1 are actually a splinter group that worship the reapers. This is especially true in Mass Effect 3, when geth memories of the Morning War depict them in an extremely sympathetic light, depicting the quarians as Neglectful Precursors or even Abusive Precursors. They spared the fleeing quarian survivors and even want peace with them. Unfortunately, the splinter group running around wreaking havoc, and their Blue and Orange Morality, mean they are all painted as Complete Monsters.
- Roan in Impure Blood. The general view of him is summed up in his nickname: the Abomination. Caspian, who's the leader, agrees with it, but needs him. Fortunately, Dara sympathesizes, Elnor gives him some Tough Love, and Mac is cheerfully oblivious.
- In Order of the Stick, the necrophiliac Tsukiko seems to believe this about the undead. In her mind, the living are bastards for being "prejudiced" against her; therefore, since the undead are the opposite of the living in every way, they must actually be good. She is completely wrong on both parts, as Redcloak eventually shows her.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters
- Animals recognized for a pattern of savage attacks on humans will always have some people come to their defense claiming this. Timothy Treadwell was one of the most famous - and according to Grizzly Bears, delicious - champions of this argument. Of course, such people are half-right; it stands repeating that such animals don't intend malice when they attack people, but they are still highly dangerous creatures and should never be trifled with.
- Related: Pit bulls. They were bred for dogfighting, so they attack other dogs a lot; however, for the exact same reason, they've also been bred to get along well with humans. The end result is that well-socialized pit bulls are often great dogs, but between dogfighters and the number of people who just want a "badass" Angry Guard Dog and Did Not Do the Research, they've got such a reputation for violence that the breed is actually banned in some point.