What is a Foil Character? Definition & Examples from Film.


Definition: A foil character is a secondary character in a story who contrasts with the main character, highlighting their traits and characteristics through their contrasting qualities. This contrast helps to emphasize the main character’s strengths and weaknesses.

A foil character is a secondary character who contrasts with the main character, highlighting their qualities, characteristics, or actions.

The purpose of a foil character is to accentuate the traits and choices of the main character by providing a clear contrast.

Foil characters often possess opposite traits or beliefs, and their interactions with the main character can illuminate different aspects of their personality or emphasize the main character’s growth or development.

See also What is Juxtaposition in Film?

The difference between a “foil character” and a “deuteragonist.”

A “foil character” and a “deuteragonist” are both supporting characters in literature or storytelling, but they serve different purposes:

  • Foil character: primarily used to highlight and contrast the main character’s traits,
  • Deuteragonist: a secondary character with their own storyline and importance to the plot.

Sometimes, the “foil character” and the “deuteragonist” are the same.

A character can simultaneously be a “foil” and a “deuteragonist.”

While these terms describe different roles and functions within a story, there can be instances where a single character embodies both qualities.

Here are a few examples of characters who can be considered both a “foil character” and a “deuteragonist”:

Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

In several Marvel films, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) serves as a foil to the main protagonist, such as Thor or the Avengers.

He contrasts with the heroes’ noble and selfless nature, often displaying cunning and manipulative qualities.

However, Loki also plays a crucial role as a deuteragonist, having his own character arc and contributing to the overall narrative.

See the best Loki quotes from the MCU.

Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series

Snape (Alan Rickman) is a foil to Harry Potter, constantly opposing him and challenging his actions.

At the same time, Snape plays a significant role as a deuteragonist, with his complex backstory and personal motivations essential to the plot’s development.

Gollum/Smeagol in The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Gollum (Andy Serkis) acts as a foil to Frodo Baggins, representing the corrupting influence of the One Ring.

He constantly struggles between his Gollum and Smeagol personas, highlighting the internal conflicts faced by the main protagonist.

Gollum’s role as a deuteragonist is crucial to the storyline, as his actions and relationship with the Ring heavily impact the plot.

You might also like: What is Epilogue in Film?

Other Examples of Great Foil Characters from Movies:

Here are some examples of great foil characters from famous movies:

The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008)

The Joker, played by Heath Ledger, is a foil to Batman.

While Batman is driven by justice and order, the Joker represents chaos and anarchy, emphasizing the contrast between their methods and ideologies.

Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings trilogy)

Samwise, played by Sean Astin, is a foil to Frodo Baggins.

While Frodo is often burdened by the weight of the ring and its corrupting influence, Samwise remains loyal, optimistic, and steadfast throughout their journey, highlighting Frodo’s vulnerability.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)

Hermione, played by Emma Watson, is a foil to Harry Potter.

While Harry is impulsive and often relies on instincts, Hermione is logical, organized, and book-smart. Her presence emphasizes Harry’s reliance on his intuition and bravery.

Tyler Durden (Fight Club, 1999)

Tyler Durden, portrayed by Brad Pitt, acts as a foil to the unnamed narrator, played by Edward Norton.

The narrator is a conformist and suffers from severe insomnia, while Tyler Durden represents rebellion, freedom, and a rejection of societal norms, highlighting the narrator’s suppressed desires.

Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars series)

Obi-Wan, played by Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor, is a foil to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.

Obi-Wan is composed, wise, and guided by the Jedi code, while Anakin is passionate, impulsive, and ultimately succumbs to the dark side. Obi-Wan’s presence emphasizes Anakin’s internal conflicts and tragic fall.


Foil characters in movies serve as powerful storytelling tools, providing contrast and highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the protagonist.

Through their contrasting traits and motivations, foil characters enhance the narrative and deepen the audience’s understanding of the main character’s journey.

Up next: What is an antagonist in film?


  • 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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