Antagonists in Film. Meaning, Definition, and Examples.

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An antagonist is a character or force that opposes the protagonist in a story, creating conflict and obstacles for them to overcome. The antagonist can be a person, group, or even an internal struggle within the protagonist.

Different types of antagonists in film

Here are some examples of some famous antagonists from movies you might know:

Human Antagonist

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This type of antagonist is a person who opposes the protagonist, often driven by conflicting goals or values. They can be a villain, rivals, or enemy.

Examples:

  • Hannibal Lecter from “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) – Hannibal Lecter, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, is a brilliant psychiatrist and cannibalistic serial killer. He becomes an antagonist to FBI trainee Clarice Starling as she seeks his help to catch another serial killer.
  • Anton Chigurh from “No Country for Old Men” (2007) – Anton Chigurh, played by Javier Bardem, is a ruthless hitman who relentlessly pursues stolen drug money. He becomes an antagonist to Llewelyn Moss, a man who finds the money and attempts to keep it for himself.
  • Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) – Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher, is the head nurse at a mental institution known for her strict and oppressive methods. She becomes an antagonist to Randle McMurphy, a patient who challenges her authority and rallies the other patients against her.

Supernatural Antagonist

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These antagonists possess supernatural or magical powers or originate beyond the natural realm. Examples include vampires, ghosts, demons, or mythical creatures.

Examples:

  • Pennywise the Dancing Clown from “It” (2017): Pennywise, also known as It, is an otherworldly entity that takes the form of a clown to lure and terrorize children in the town of Derry. With its shape-shifting abilities, It exploits people’s fears and feeds on their emotions, making it a truly formidable supernatural antagonist.
  • Lord Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” series: Lord Voldemort, originally known as Tom Riddle, is a powerful dark wizard and the primary antagonist in the Harry Potter series. He seeks immortality and dominance over the wizarding world, using dark magic and his ability to possess others to further his evil plans.
  • The Witch in “The Witch” (2015): In this atmospheric horror film set in the 17th century, a family is terrorized by an evil witch living in the woods near their isolated farm. The witch possesses supernatural powers, manipulates the family members, and brings about their downfall through her dark spells and malevolent presence.

Nature Antagonist

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Sometimes, the antagonist can be the natural environment or elements such as storms, earthquakes, or wild animals. This type of antagonist creates conflict and obstacles for the protagonist to overcome.

Examples:

  • The shark in “Jaws” (1975) is a classic example of a nature antagonist. It terrorizes the characters and constantly threatens their lives as they try to navigate the waters.
  • The dinosaurs in the “Jurassic Park” (1993) series are another example of nature antagonists. These prehistoric creatures break free from their captivity and wreak havoc on the human characters, turning the park into a dangerous and deadly environment.
  • The bear in the movie “The Revenant” (2015) is a nature antagonist. It relentlessly pursues the main character, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, throughout the film, testing his survival skills and determination in the harsh wilderness.

Check out the best bear horror movies for more examples.

Internal Antagonist

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In some stories, the main character’s internal struggles or flaws may serve as the antagonist. This could be their fears, doubts, addictions, or inner demons.

Examples:

  1. Nina Sayers from “Black Swan” (2010) – Nina, the main character in the film, becomes her internal antagonist as she battles with her perfectionism, self-doubt, and the dark side of her psyche. Her internal struggle manifests in the form of hallucinations and self-destructive behavior, ultimately threatening her sanity and well-being.
  2. Tyler Durden from “Fight Club” (1999) – Tyler Durden, portrayed by Brad Pitt, acts as an internal antagonist in the film. He is a projection of the protagonist’s subconscious desires and represents rebellion against societal norms. The internal conflict between the protagonist and Tyler Durden drives the plot and explores masculinity, consumerism, and identity themes.

Society or Institution Antagonist

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In this case, the antagonist is a societal structure, an oppressive government, or an unjust institution that the protagonist must confront. Examples include dystopian societies or corrupt organizations.

Examples:

  1. “The Hunger Games” (2012): In this dystopian film, the society represented by the Capitol acts as the antagonist. The Capitol controls and oppresses the people of the districts by organizing an annual televised event called the Hunger Games, where children are forced to fight to the death. The society’s oppressive nature and disregard for human life make it the primary antagonist.
  2. “The Matrix” (1999): In this science fiction film, the institution known as the Machines is the antagonist. The Machines have created a simulated reality, the Matrix, to control and exploit humanity. They keep humans enslaved, harvesting their energy while keeping them unaware of their true reality. The Machines act as a formidable antagonist, seeking to maintain control and suppress any rebellion against their dominance.
  3. “1984” (1984): Based on George Orwell’s iconic novel, this film depicts a totalitarian society known as Oceania, which functions as the antagonist. The society is ruled by the Party, led by the enigmatic Big Brother. The Party monitors and controls every aspect of people’s lives, suppressing individuality and independent thought. Winston Smith, the protagonist, rebels against this oppressive regime, making society itself the main antagonist in his struggle for freedom.

Antagonistic Force of Destiny or Fate

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In certain narratives, the antagonist can be a force of destiny or fate that the protagonist must battle against, often representing an inevitable outcome or a higher power’s intervention.

Examples:

  • “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008) is a good example of a film where fate acts as the antagonist. The story follows Benjamin Button, a man born with a rare condition that causes him to age backward. His life is shaped by this force of destiny, which presents him with unique challenges and prevents him from having a normal life and relationships.
  • “The Adjustment Bureau” (2011) explores the concept of fate and free will, as a secret organization known as the Adjustment Bureau tries to control people’s lives and ensure they follow a predetermined path. The main characters, played by Matt Damon and Emily Blunt, defy the Bureau’s plans and fight against the force of destiny to be together.

Antagonistic Group or Mob

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This type of antagonist involves individuals who stand against the protagonist’s goals. They might have shared beliefs or interests that clash with the main character’s objectives.

Examples:

  • The Decepticons in “Transformers” form a group of antagonists who stand against the Autobots and their goal of protecting Earth.
  • Hydra – Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Hydra is a secret organization that infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. and plans to use its advanced technology to take control of the world. Led by the villainous Alexander Pierce, Hydra poses a significant threat to Captain America and his allies, testing their loyalties and skills.
  • Zombies – in zombie movies in general.

Is the Anti-Hero an antagonist?

Yes, the anti-hero can sometimes be considered an antagonist. The anti-hero blurs the line between protagonist and antagonist, as they possess heroic and villainous qualities.

They may have a personal code or skewed moral compass.

You can read more about anti-heroes in film here.

Conclusion

From the classic villain who embodies evil to the anti-hero with conflicting motives, each type of antagonists mentioned above brings a unique dynamic to the story.

Whether it is the psychological depth of a complex enemy or the sheer terror created by a supernatural force, antagonists serve as essential catalysts for conflict and growth for the protagonist.

They provide obstacles and challenges for the protagonist, driving the narrative forward.

Author

    by
  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns filmdaft.com and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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