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What is an Antagonist in Screenwriting?

The antagonist is a character in a story who opposes the protagonist (main character) and serves as an obstacle or adversary that the protagonist must overcome to drive the plot forward.

The antagonist can be a human, a wild storm, a scary ghost or any number of other things. The hero must fight this power all through the story.

It’s not just about being bad or good. The antagonist puts blocks in front of the hero. These blocks make it hard for the hero to reach his goal and add drama to our story! The characters we see most in movies are usually the hero and this opposing force.

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Creates conflict and obstacles for the protagonist

The antagonist in screenwriting plays a crucial role by creating conflict and obstacles for the protagonist. They are like the protagonist’s rival or enemy, always causing trouble and making things difficult.

This helps to drive the plot forward and keeps the audience engaged. The presence of an antagonist adds tension and excitement to the story, as the protagonist must overcome these challenges in order to achieve their goals.

Without an antagonist, there would be no conflict or struggle for the protagonist, which would make for a boring story. So, it is important for screenwriters to create a strong and compelling antagonist that poses a real threat to the protagonist’s journey.

Drives the plot forward

The antagonist plays a crucial role in screenwriting as they drive the plot forward. They create conflict and obstacles for the protagonist to overcome, which propels the story forward.

Without an antagonist, there would be no challenges for the protagonist to face, resulting in a lack of tension and excitement. The actions and motivations of the antagonist shape the narrative, guiding the direction of the plot towards its climax.

In this way, the antagonist is an essential component in storytelling, driving the progression of events and keeping audiences engaged.

Examples of Antagonists in Film and TV

Tracy Flick in “Election”, Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther”, and Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” demonstrate compelling antagonists that create conflict and challenges for their respective protagonists.

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Tracy Flick in “Election”

Tracy Flick in the movie “Election” is an example of an antagonist in screenwriting. She opposes the protagonist and creates conflict and obstacles for them. Tracy’s relentless ambition and determination to win the school election drive the plot forward and cause difficulties for the other characters.

She is portrayed as a troublesome rival who torments those around her, adding depth and tension to the story. Despite not being a typical villain, Tracy’s actions make her a compelling adversary that challenges the main character’s growth and development throughout the film.

Erik Killmonger in “Black Panther”

Erik Killmonger is the antagonist in “Black Panther.” He serves as a challenging opponent to the protagonist, T’Challa. Killmonger’s motives are complex – he believes that Wakanda should use its resources to help oppressed people around the world.

His moral-based beliefs clash with T’Challa’s desire to protect Wakanda and keep it hidden from the rest of the world. Killmonger’s presence in the story creates intense conflict and forces T’Challa to question his own leadership and values.

Ultimately, Erik Killmonger adds depth and tension to “Black Panther,” making it a more engaging and thought-provoking film experience for viewers.

Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

Nurse Ratched is the antagonist in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” She serves as a formidable opponent to the protagonist, creating conflict and obstacles for him. Nurse Ratched’s strict rules and manipulation exert control over the patients, causing torment and restraining their freedom.

Her actions drive the plot forward, intensifying the struggles faced by the characters. As an antagonist, Nurse Ratched adds depth and tension to the story while highlighting themes of power dynamics and oppression within a psychiatric institution.

The Difference Between Antagonists and Villains

Antagonists in screenwriting can have complex motivations, perspectives, and moral-based beliefs, setting them apart from villains who are typically portrayed as purely evil. To understand this distinction further, continue reading to explore the nuances of these contrasting characters and their roles in storytelling.

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Antagonists can have complex motivations and perspectives

Antagonists in screenwriting aren’t always just straightforward “bad guys.” They can have deep reasons for their actions and different points of view. It adds complexity to the story and makes it more interesting.

For example, an antagonist might believe they are doing the right thing, even if it goes against what the protagonist wants. This creates conflict and tension between the characters and keeps the audience engaged.

So don’t be surprised if you find yourself sympathizing with or understanding the antagonist’s choices, even if you don’t agree with them.

Villains are typically portrayed as purely evil

Villains in screenwriting are usually shown as completely bad or evil characters. They often have no redeeming qualities, and their sole purpose is to create obstacles for the protagonist.

Unlike antagonists who can have complex motivations and perspectives, villains are straightforwardly wicked. They exist solely to oppose the protagonist and make their journey more difficult.

Villains add an extra layer of tension and conflict to the story, making it more exciting for viewers.

The Importance of a Well-Developed Antagonist

A well-developed antagonist adds depth and tension to the story, allowing for character growth and development in the protagonist, ultimately enhancing the overall viewing experience.

Read on to learn more about the significance of an antagonist in screenwriting.

Adds depth and tension to the story

The antagonist adds depth and tension to the story. They create conflict and obstacles for the protagonist, making their journey more challenging and engaging. This conflict drives the plot forward, keeping viewers hooked and interested in what happens next.

The presence of a well-developed antagonist allows for character growth and development in the protagonist, as they are forced to confront their fears and overcome challenges. This enhances the overall viewing experience, as it creates a more dynamic and compelling narrative structure.

Allows for character growth and development in the protagonist

The antagonist plays a crucial role in the development of the protagonist. By creating conflict and obstacles for the main character to overcome, they push the protagonist to grow and evolve throughout the story.

With each challenge presented by the antagonist, the protagonist learns more about themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses. This allows them to develop as a character and become better equipped to face future challenges.

Without a strong antagonist, the protagonist’s journey would lack depth and their growth wouldn’t be as impactful or meaningful to viewers or readers.

Enhances the overall viewing experience

The presence of a well-developed antagonist enhances the overall viewing experience. By creating conflicts and obstacles for the protagonist, the antagonist adds depth and tension to the story.

This allows for character growth and development in the protagonist, making their journey more engaging for audiences. The interaction between the antagonist and protagonist drives the plot forward, keeping viewers invested in what happens next.

Ultimately, a strong and compelling antagonist can make a film or TV show more captivating and memorable.


In screenwriting, an antagonist is the character or force that opposes the protagonist. They create conflict and obstacles for the main character, driving the story forward. A well-developed antagonist adds depth and tension to a narrative, allowing for character growth in the protagonist and enhancing the overall viewing experience.


What is an antagonist in screenwriting?

An antagonist in screenwriting is a character or force that fights against the leading character or protagonist.

How does an antagonist add to the screenplay?

The opposing behavior of foes like the antagonist adds dramatic tension and sparks character development in a screenplay.

What motivates an Antagonist’s actions in the plot?

An Antagonist can be driven by various factors, such as competition with other characters or a moral-based belief that influences their actions.

Can there be more than one Antagonist within a screenplay?

Generally, a story only has one primary antagonist, but a story can have several troublemakers or competitors who form part of character arcs across different stages of the conflict.