How to create a “Bad Guy” in your movie? Developing the Antagonist

by Anthony Ho | May 15th 2020

Throughout film history, many have considered the antagonist as someone who has opposed principle or morality to the protagonist, widely addressed as the “bad guy”. That way of speaking is mostly correct as most protagonists stand as a figure or symbol of righteousness and justice in the movie while the antagonists act against the human law and nature, their misbehavior goes anywhere from stealing to destroying the world.

As screenwriters, we often ask or have been asked, “How do we create a villain?” The quickest way to figure out is by taking examples from masterpieces. Antagonist and Protagonist are always intertwined with verses and conflict. Meaning that we simply cannot examine one without the other.

As I mentioned, the antagonists hold values that the protagonists would strongly disagree with. In The Dark Knight, Joker brought chaos to Gotham, his philosophy was built upon pure frenzy and mania which are something that Batman disapproved of and did everything in his ability to stop. There is some minor detail we could dig deeper. Joker claimed that he and Batman were the same type of person who showed no respect for the law. Half of it is true as they did operate unlawfully, however, their motivations are contradicted. Joker broke the law for chaos or like Alfred said, “some men just want to watch the world burn” whereas Batman wants to make the world a better place. Before you develop an antagonist, ask yourself what value the protagonist is upholding. Then, we can come up with the opposed value.   

A brilliant antagonist usually outplays and weakens the protagonist physically, mentally or strategically for a long time except at the end of the movie. Make sure your antagonist is motivated to go after the protagonist as the story goes forward. The antagonist will confront the protagonist in a duel not less than twice. If the protagonist wins the first time, your audience might leave the cinema sooner than you expected. Remember how Thanos made his powerful entrance in “Avengers: Infinity War”? He and his fleet destroy the starship transporting plenty of people from Asgard. He defeated two of the most kick-ass characters in Marvel Universe, Thor and Hulk. The beginning alone already shapes Thanos as a fierce and invincible rival whom you find no chance of winning. Can you count how many times Thanos and his army fought against the Avengers? I simply can’t. And now the audience is desired to know how the Avengers beat Thanos.   

One final tip. Let’s put the sci-fi world behind for a moment. One of my teachers in the screenwriting class believed that a villain is nothing but a human being just like you and me. Most of the time, the villain would justify their act of crime as they deeply believe what they do is right whether it happens in real life or in movies. They just don’t believe they bring a bad guy in themselves. If you are finding the voice of the antagonist, write it like a protagonist who has a strong faith in his behavior, except he/she does something you believe is bad. That is one way to make your bad guy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Anthony Ho

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An Aspiring Screenwriter from Asia.

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