What Motivates Antagonists To Act?

The antagonist in your screenplay places obstacles to your main character’s goal. They need to provide formidable opposition to your protagonist rather than being an inconvenience to make these obstacles meaningful.

But what drives your antagonists? Most of the time they have a specific goal in mind, but other times, their motivations are less clear. Let’s take a deep dive into what makes villains tick:


These characters often hold great political, corporate, or military power. They have knowingly gained their status by dubious (or even criminal) means and will attack the protagonist if they feel they will reveal their secrets.


These characters could be escaping a curse, a destiny, a trauma, a monster or an undesirable past life. They perceive the protagonist as blocking their passage to safety.


These antagonists are driven by both actual or perceived threats. They may be rational or irrational depending on the circumstance. The main character may not even be aware that they are the cause of the protagonist’s distress.


This is a “winner takes all” mentality. The antagonist must keep all the spoils for themselves, leaving virtually nothing for others. They don’t need it all, but they can’t bear the thought of missing out or others having more than them.


These antagonists often hold a deep-seated religious, political, or social ideology. They believe they are right and are uncompromising. Such characters are slaves to a higher power in the belief of a greater ideal. The end justifies the means.


These characters suffer a range of debilitating issues ranging from self-doubt to inferiority complexes. They cannot bear to see others succeed so they oppose everything the protagonist does to boost their self-esteem.


This is a common motivation. The protagonist feels that the current rules or laws have placed an undue burden on themselves or their communities and they must take corrective action.


These characters don’t believe that anything in the world has meaning or significance. They simply want to crash and burn. Alternatively, they may feel that humanity has lost its way so much, that the only solution is to destroy everything and start over.


This can be a burning desire to run the sorority or rule the world.


The antagonists must protect themselves and their loved ones from harm. They could be immediate family, friends or those loyal to their cause.


If the antagonist wants to avenge either themselves or others, they want to take down the protagonist (or their associates) who did them wrong.


This is romance, not love. Villains typically engage in these relationships to access wealth, social status, political or corporate power to outdo the protagonist.


These antagonists strive to maintain peace, order, and harmony in their communities. Think of the over-zealous thugs that want to preserve social cohesion.


These threats can be an actual being or a force of nature such as a fire, flood, or tornado. The only goal is to stay alive.

For comprehensive Film & TV feedback and script analysis visit Script Firm.

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