Do You Know The Difference Between An Antagonist And A Villain?

Antagonists and villains are terms used to refer to characters that oppose the protagonist. While antagonists and villains often have similar characteristics in movies, novels, and other forms of storytelling, there is a subtle difference between the two.

The antagonist is not necessarily an evil character; they just want something different from what the protagonist wants. Each story has its own unique set of antagonists with specific reasons for being against the main character in their story world.

In this article, we’ll explore why it’s important to remember this distinction between antagonists and villains when writing stories as well as look at some examples of each type of character from popular movies that everyone should know about!

What is an Antagonist — 7 Types and How They Work
Understanding the difference between an antagonist and a villain is crucial for crafting compelling narratives.
An antagonist opposes the protagonist’s goals, often creating conflict and tension in the story.
A villain goes beyond mere opposition and actively seeks to cause harm, often exhibiting malevolent behavior.
Antagonists can be multifaceted characters with varying motivations, while villains may be driven by darker intentions.
Both antagonists and villains play vital roles in driving the plot forward and challenging the protagonist’s journey.

Villains Are The Evil Ones

The villain is the antagonist, the person or thing who is trying to stop your protagonist from reaching his goal. A villain can be a person or an inanimate object. It’s also possible for there to be several villains in one story, each of whom has his unique agenda and methods of trying to get rid of our hero.

When we talk about villains in literature, we don’t just mean bad guys we mean anyone who opposes your main character’s desires or wishes. Villains are not necessarily evil; they can just be obstacles standing between your protagonist and their dreams (or nightmares).

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Antagonists Are Not Always Villains

It’s important to remember that antagonists are not always villains. Antagonists can be heroes with a tragic flaw, for example, or even a hero who is simply trying to do the right thing even if it means making difficult decisions.

There are many examples of this dichotomy in literature and film. Darth Vader from Star Wars and Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher series are both protagonists at their core despite being antagonists for large parts of their respective stories.

Similarly, some heroes have the potential to become antagonists if they don’t overcome their tragic flaw or make an unethical choice by the end of a story (or sometimes even before). 

Frodo Baggins from Lord Of The Rings is an example of this type: he begins his journey as a heroic protagonist but is faced with temptations along the way that could potentially turn him into an antagonist if he gives in to them.

Antagonists Can Be Morally Ambiguous, Even Sympathetic

In a story, the protagonist is the main character and usually the hero of that story. He or she has a goal to achieve, often called an objective. The antagonist, on the other hand, is someone who stands in their way and prevents them from achieving their objective.

The antagonist can be many things: they could be another person (like a villain), or they could be nature itself (think of how many stories have been written about a storm destroying everything in sight). They don’t have to be evil sometimes they’re working toward something good as well!

Let’s look at an example: imagine you’re writing a book about someone trying to get home during wintertime when everyone else around her is stuck indoors because of bad weather conditions outside. Who would stand between her achieving her goal? 

Would it be another person who wants something different? Or would it just be bad luck with no one pulling strings behind closed doors?

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Villains Are Evil Characters And They Revel In It

A villain is someone who revels in their malicious deeds. The villain always has a plan and they are always planning to do something nasty. They are the villains because they see themselves as the dominant force in their story, from beginning to end. 

Villains don’t care about anyone else’s feelings; only about what they can get out of them for their benefit. They lack empathy for others and have no remorse for their actions, even if those actions are unnecessarily cruel or destructive towards others and/or themselves

Some examples: Darth Vader from Star Wars; Loki from Marvel comics; Hannibal Lecter from Silence of The Lambs; Lex Luthor from DC comics’ Superman series; Voldemort from the Harry Potter series (and many more!).

Antagonists May Have A Justifiable Motive

There are many different kinds of antagonists, some of whom are more villainous than others. An antagonist may have a justifiable motive. The villain is simply evil for the sake of being evil, but an antagonist might have a reason for doing what they do. 

They could be morally ambiguous, even sympathetic like Darth Vader from Star Wars or Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (though both of these examples are closer to anti-heroes). An antagonist can also be heroic but misguided, like Loki from Thor and Avengers: Infinity War or Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead.

Antagonists May Be Tragic Characters

Antagonists can be tragic characters. They have good intentions, but something goes wrong, or their plan to achieve their goal is flawed.  For example, in the movie Star Wars: A New Hope, Darth Vader’s attempts to bring justice to the galaxy are thwarted by Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia Organa. In The Lord of the Rings: 

In the Return of the King by JRR Tolkien, Sauron’s desire for power leads him down a path that results in his destruction at Mount Doom when Frodo Baggins throws the ring into its firey abyss.

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Antagonists Can Be Heroic But Misguided

This is the most common type of antagonism. The antagonist believes they are right, even if their beliefs are incorrect. This is especially true when the antagonist has a noble or good intention that their actions have led them to make some wrong turns along the way. 

An example could be an evil wizard who wants to become immortal and needs your heart as a sacrifice, but he doesn’t know how to properly perform spells so his intentions may not be well thought out; this makes him more anti-heroic than truly villainous because he has good intentions but is misguided in his methods.

Villains Do Not Change Throughout The Story

A villain is an evil character in a story who does not change throughout the story. A villain does not have to be malevolent or malicious; they just have to be mean, selfish, and/or power hungry. Villains are often ambitious characters who want more than they deserve. 

They can also be greedy or selfish people who refuse to see the good in others because they cannot see it themselves.

A villain never has justification for their actions because they do not care what anyone thinks of them or anything else but themselves, which is why villains are also called antagonist characters. 

A villain’s actions will make sense if we look at them through their own eyes (as opposed to looking at them from our point of view). For example.

If we think about how Darth Vader feels about Luke Skywalker killing his father Obi-Wan Kenobi then we would understand why he wants revenge against Luke by destroying everything he loves and cares about until he gets rid of him once and for all!

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Antagonists Might Change Throughout The Story

An antagonist can be a character who is opposed to the protagonist. This is true whether you’re talking about an external force (like a villain) or an internal one (like an inner demon). But there’s another way to think about this dynamic: as a tug-of-war between two opposing forces, with each side trying to pull the other in its direction.

In stories where this idea applies well, both characters will evolve throughout into more complex versions of themselves, and often by the end of the story they’ll be completely different people than they were at the beginning. 

So while early on your villain may seem evil and despicable, by midpoint it may become clear that there are reasons behind their actions that make them sympathetic; alternatively, maybe your hero isn’t so heroic after all!

Antagonists Live In A World Of Moral Complexity

Antagonists are not necessarily evil or even bad. They often have their reasons for doing what they do and may even be more sympathetic than the protagonist(s). Antagonists can be driven by a desire to do good or to achieve something like justice, knowledge, or love (or to avoid something like injustice, humiliation, or failure). 

Antagonist characters tend to be complex because of this moral complexity and the way that their goals can sometimes align with those of the protagonist(s), which creates interesting dynamics between them. For example:

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A Villain In One Story Might Seem Like A Hero In Another Story Depending On Your Point Of View

An antagonist who’s trying to save his family from poverty could become an ally for someone who wants justice for all; and

A character whose goal is revenge could help another character get revenge on someone else if they share some common ground.

Protagonists are motivated by a desire to do good or to achieve something like justice, knowledge, or love (or to avoid something like an injustice, humiliation, or failure). 

An antagonist is the main character’s opponent, who sets them up for conflict. Antagonists are motivated by a desire to do good or to achieve something like justice, knowledge, or love (or to avoid something like an injustice, humiliation, or failure). They usually work against the protagonist and try to thwart their goals in some way.

For example, Sherlock Holmes is the protagonist of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories; he investigates crimes and seeks out criminals with his friend Dr. Watson as his companion. The villains are Moriarty and Professor James Moriarty: they’re antagonists because they’re working against Sherlock Holmes’ goal of solving cases.


To sum up, the difference between antagonist and villain should be clear: villains are evil characters that don’t change throughout the story, while antagonists may change their ways over time. This can make for a more complex character who is more realistic and compelling than an outright evil person would be.

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to explore the difference between antagonists and villains:

Antagonist vs. Villain: What’s the Distinction? – Explore the nuanced differences between antagonists and villains in storytelling.

Understanding the Difference Between an Antagonist and a Villain – Gain insights into the distinct roles these characters play in narratives.

Deciphering the Antagonist and Villain in Fiction – Dive deeper into the various aspects that set antagonists and villains apart.


What is the main difference between an antagonist and a villain?

An antagonist is a character or force that opposes the protagonist’s goals, while a villain is a character who is actively malicious and seeks to cause harm.

Can an antagonist also be a villain?

Yes, sometimes an antagonist can also be a villain if their actions are driven by malevolent intentions and they engage in morally reprehensible behavior.

Are there any instances where an antagonist is not a villain?

Certainly, an antagonist doesn’t always have to be a villain. They might simply have conflicting goals with the protagonist, without being morally evil.

What are some examples of well-known antagonists and villains in literature?

A classic example of an antagonist is Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series, while a notable villain is Darth Vader from Star Wars.

How do writers create depth in their antagonists and villains?

Writers add depth to these characters by giving them motivations, backstory, and internal conflicts that drive their actions, making them more complex and believable.