Today I wanted to do my own top ten list, my top ten antagonists. And perhaps because of the subject matter, I agonized over this list. I actually came up with a lot more than I anticipated, including ones that weren’t human (and I don’t mean aliens, though they made it on the list as well…), but I may save those for another day. And though there are several great antagonists out there in the world of stories and I know I could easily think of more than these, here are the ones I chose to spotlight. (These are from movies, TV, and books.)
Antagonist: a person who is opposed to, struggles against, or competes with another; opponent; adversary. (from dictionary.com)
#10: Carl Hanratty (vs. Frank Abagnale Jr.), Catch Me If You Can
Carl Hanratty is not who you would think of as a typical antagonist. After all, he’s really the good guy, chasing after the bad guy, Frank. But it’s Frank’s story, so he is the protagonist, which makes Carl his antagonist. I love a good cat and mouse hunt story, and this is just about the best in my opinion (the movie version more so than the more accurate book, since it’s been dramatized, though the book is a great read). I especially love how the two of them really have a respect for each other in a way, as well as how they secretly love talking to one another every Christmas because there is no else they can talk to. Carl may be the good guy, but he has own issues to wade through, and though they oppose each other for most of the movie, Frank helps him see that. Carl, in turn, helps Frank use his abilities more productively and cut his prison sentences short by helping the FBI better recognize fraud.
#9: Gollum (vs. Sam and Frodo), The Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Gollum is not the most obvious of antagonists, as he is not really evil. He’s more like a victim of a terrible curse who has just gone completely mad, allowing the power of the ring, the power of Sauron, completely overtake his being. But that being said, he is certainly an adversary of Sam and Frodo’s as Frodo bears the ring. Sam can see right through Gollum’s lies and tricks, but Frodo, under the weight of the ring, cannot. And we cannot forget of course that even before Gollum crossed paths with Sam and Frodo, he riddled with Frodo’s uncle Bilbo in a battle of wits. He may be sneaky, but Frodo and Sam prevail when the ring is thrown into Mt. Doom (and spoiler – Gollum along with it!).
#8: Javert (vs. Jean Valjean), Les Miserables
Javert is also the good guy, much like Carl, but the guy he’s after, Jean Valjean, has truly become a changed man since he broke parole. Javert cannot accept the good that Valjean has done, however, because being graceful to him means justice has not been served, and justice is what Javert lives for. He is an antagonist with the best of intentions, but is so set in his ways that he would rather sacrifice himself than see Valjean live in grace.
#7: The White Witch (vs. Narnia and Aslan), The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The White Witch (or the Queen of Narnia as she has deemed herself) has managed to make it only winter in the land of Narnia, and that, in my book, definitely makes for an evil person. She turns Edmund and several of Narnia’s creatures against Aslan and his ways, and believes she will continue to rule over the land. But of course, Aslan defeats her in the end, with the help of the four Pevensie children and other loyal Narnians.
#6: President Snow (vs. Katniss)/ The Capitol (vs. the Districts), The Hunger Games
The Capitol was evil long before President Snow came to power, forcing the children of the districts to compete in an annual fight to the death competition, The Hunger Games. However, throughout The Hunger Games trilogy, President Snow is the clear figure head of the Capitol who is quite determined to burn out the spark of rebellion Katniss started.
#5: “Father” (vs. John Preston), Equilibrium
John Preston lives in a society where feelings are not allowed, which are controlled by mandatory medicine. When Preston misses a dosage, however, he starts to see his world through new eyes. “Father” is the figurehead of the society’s government that everyone follows and listens to, and it is him that stands against everything John Preston has come to stand for, and he is the one Preston must take down in order for a revolution to begin.
#4: Bester (vs. Michael Garibaldi), Babylon 5
Bester is a prominent member of Psi Corp who antagonizes all the senior staff members of the space station Babylon 5, but it is Michael Garibaldi who he particularly goes to war with. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory because it is so good and you really need to watch it unfold for yourself, so check out Babylon 5 if you haven’t already. It’s completely dated-looking, especially in the beginning, but hang on because the story’s so good and it all really peaks in season 3.
#3: The Borg (vs. everyone), Star Trek (particularly The Next Generation)
When the Borg is first introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation, they are just about the creepiest villain ever. “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” For you non-Trekkies, the Borg is a cyborg collective that assimilates humans (and other alien species) into the collective. So essentially, you remain alive, but you will be completely Borgified and not yourself. There are a lot of great Star Trek episodes about the Borg, and it’s far more than I can get into here. But talk about a scary antagonist.
#2, The Joker (vs. Batman), The Dark Knight
I don’t think I can describe The Joker better than Alfred: ” Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” He is certainly a fascinating character of psychology. Though he was deeply disturbing, I sometimes wish I knew more. Sometimes I’m glad I don’t.
#1: The Dominion (particularly Dukat and Weyoun, vs. The Federation), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
I don’t even know how to begin to explain The Dominion to someone who has not watched Deep Space Nine. They are a group of aliens from another quadrant, really three different species who work together as gods, middlemen, and warriors. They join up with a species in the Alpha Quadrant, the Cardassians, to oppose the Federation, and Deep Space Nine is the front line. Gul Dukat and and Weyoun are two faces of the Dominion that Deep Space Nine deal with and know far too well. There is just too much to say about them, but while the two of them specifically have different methods when it comes to dealing with the enemy, they are both undoubtedly evil. And with all their schemes, they are amazing villains to watch.
Who are some of your top antagonists? What do you think makes an antagonist particularly threatening to the protagonist?