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12 Greatest Hero-Villain Rivalries in Movies

December 27, 2017
10 min read

A Hero completes a Villain, and A Villain completes a Hero – These two are inseparable. Emerging in classical literature, the hero and villain relationship has been a primary source of inspection for one’s innate moral. “The Bad will be defeated by the Good” has always enthralled audiences.

Cinema, evolving through time and continued rigorous phases has seen some of the most gruesome yet endearing relationships. God and Satan have been reincarnated in the form of some brilliant portrayals which have knit a commanding allegory of hatred and contempt.

For this list, I have taken in account the most memorable and unforgettable hero-villain rivalries. These rivalries are not necessarily a part of any series and franchise, but still from an outstanding rivalry. It’s imperative to note that I have not considered hero-villain rivalries which contain certain “esteem”. So the rivalry between “Professor X and Magneto” is not included; as despite their differences in opinions, both have a mutual respect for each other. Also, the list looks into the rivalry between Hero and Villain, so duos like “James Hunt and Niki Lauda” from ‘Rush’ (2013) are not considered. Adding to further restrains, one character has to be a “pure” hero and one has to be a “pure” villain. So, the rivalry in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Prestige’ (2006) is not a part as both have a distinctive “grey area”. With that said, here is the list of the 12 Best Hero-Villain Rivalries.

12. Amsterdam Vallon and William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Gangs of New York)

‘Gangs of New York’ certainly isn’t Martin Scorsese’s best work. However, it arguably features an engaging rivalry between Amsterdam Vallon and “Bill the Butcher”. Essayed by veterans Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis, the rivalry is sparked off when Bill murders Vallon’s father in during the New York Draft Riots of 1863. The two actors bring out anger, frustration and a pure raw rage with the masterful weaponry of acting. The “grand American epic” juggled with a number of themes, yet maintained the central combat of the two butch characters.

11. Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort (The Harry Potter Film Series)

The “boy who lived” and the “You-Know-Who” eternalised their rivalry through the span of nearly seventeen years. Created by the magnetic J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter is the ill-fatted yet honourable son of Lily and James Potter, two wizards who were mercilessly killed by the satanic Lord Voldemort.

These two iconic characters represent the themes of “vice” and “virtue”, which makes their conflict such a treat to watch. While Potter resembles love, compassion, life and loyalty; Voldemort resembles hatred, darkness, treachery and anarchy – it’s just perfect. Brought to life by Daniel Radcliffe and Ralph Fiennes, their characters are brilliantly connected which makes it such an interesting watch. With a scar, their duo is firmly intermingled by the brilliance of Rowling, who wrote the book and Steve Kloves and Michael Goldenberg, who dexterously adapted it into the screenplay.

10. Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago (Rocky IV)

What would you do if someone killed your best friend? – Just ask Rocky. When Apollo Creed makes a classic comeback into the ring for his fans, Rocky is overjoyed. However, doom waited for him when his opponent, Russia’s feared boxer and a Red Army Infantry Captain, Ivan Drago crosses the line and brutally kills Creed in the exhibition match, piercing a hole in Rocky’s heart. With his surreptitious and unethical use of steroids and advanced training, the Russian poses a humongous challenge for Rocky, who is on the enraged pursuit of redeeming his friend’s death. What makes it such an invigorating rivalry is the fact that Droago’s obsession with challenging and beating Rocky leads his frustration to brutalise and torture the lovable Creed.

The brilliant performances of Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren showcased their unmatched understanding of the characters and their emotions. While Stallone was quite deft in his work, with him donning the role in ‘Rocky’ (1976) and ‘Rocky’ (1979); Lundgren showed his acting prowess with the required amount of robotic and stern demeanour which made Drago such a menace. With the contrasts of a blooming heart and a no nonsense killer attitude lacking empathy; the rivalry between Rocky and Drago was firmly established with perfection.

9. Sean Archer and Castor Troy (Face/Off)

With one killing the others son, an eternal rivalry had to be established. The characters of FBI agent Sean Archer and terrorist Castor Troy were the perfect creations to establish a formidable rivalry. Brought to life by John Travolta and Nicholas Cage respectively, ‘Face/Off’ is about FBI agent Sean Archer, who in order to dig dip into a terror coup, undergoes a facial transplant surgery and assumes the identity and physical appearance of the leading terrorist. However, the plan completely backfires when the terrorist chooses to impersonate the agent.

Archer’s and Troy’s enmity rises from the fact that the latter mistakenly shot the former’s son, scarring Archer’s life forever. Things seemed to have peacefully ended when Sean’s crusade against Castor takes him and his squad ambushing Castor and his younger brother and accomplice Pollux. A high adrenaline chase seen culminates with Troy seemingly dead, only to be later kept alive by doctors for classified information. With much annoyed Archer having to impersonate Troy with a highly experimental face transplant procedure, things go completely haywire when the terrifying terrorist comes out of coma and turn the tables with the same face transplant procedure, when essentially allows him to impersonate Archer. Intruding into the family and causing hazardous harm, these two characters make a blood oozing rivalry.

8. Shosanna Dreyfus and SS Colonel Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds)

Set against the backdrop of Nazi Germany’s political leadership, the film introduces Shosanna Dreyfus, a girl of the dairy farmer family; and SS Colonel Hans Landa, the German soldier. Fuelled by the murder of her family, Shosanna looks for avenging their deaths by killing Nazi soldiers, and especially the evil Hans Landa. Tarantino’s satirical war film is spearheaded by the exceptional performances of Mélanie Laurent and Christoph Waltz. The two actors knit the themes of the grotesqueness of war and the loss of life with some sensational inspiration.

7. Maximus Decimus Meridius and Commodus (Gladiator)

On one hand there’s Maximus Decimus Meridius, a proud and blistering yet compassionate general of the Roman army; and on the other hand is Commodu, an unscrupulous, power-hungry and darkly twisted son of Marcus Aurelius. These characters play the classic antiquities of “vice” and “virtue”. Commodus essayed by the charismatic Joaquin Phoenix kills his own father and slays Maximus’ family without an inch of remorse. With such a dark theme, revenge and hatred are to bud.  Maximus, reduced to slavery, upsurges through the gladiatorial rank and pursues to avenge the murders of his family and his emperor. The intense rivalry brims with slaughter, bloodshed and abhorrence; which moulds such an eye-boggling story of Ridley Scott’s Academy Award winning directorial venture.

6. Batman and Bane (The Dark Knight Rises)

There was a time when the Dark Knight thought that all are scared of what defines him – darkness. Then Bane beat the crap out of him. While most of Batman’s adversaries are unable to match him in either brains or brawns, Bane holds unsettling distinction in being a tormentor of Batman in both brain and muscle. Deftly brought to life by the enigmatic Christopher Nolan; Bane made Batman look like a broken toy – unable to do anything.

While the first two films of the trilogy marked the caped crusader as dominating entity, unafraid and undaunted. The films chronicled Bruce Wayne’s meteoric rise to gaining a physical, mental, spiritual and philosophical strength which could not successfully pursued by any criminal. However, with Bane being a fellow member of “The League of Shadows”, Nolan efficaciously presented a villain who could break the bat.

5. T-800 and T-1000 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)

Introduced in James Cameroon’s sequel to the ‘The Terminator’ (1984), this 1991 film presents John Connor, the son of Sarah Connor. Continuing the events of ‘Terminator’, John like his mother is now the target of rogue military supercomputer Snynet. John Connor is the future military figure who will lead the Resistance to defeat the empire of robotic Terminators created by Skynet. While his mother was the target of the time travelling Terminator T-800, he is the target of T-1000 and the former rogue T-800 is sent back to protect him.

Conceptualized by writers James Cameron and William Wisher, the T-1000 is far more terrifying than the T-800. While the T-800 is an android, built as a synthetic organism composed of living tissue over a titanium “hyperalloy” endoskeleton; the T-1000 is a much more advanced shape-shifting prototypical Terminator composed of liquid metal sent back in time to assassinate John. With James Cameron stating in an interview that he “wanted to find someone who would be a good contrast to Arnold…”, The two characters are brilliantly distinguished. The sequel humongously developed itself, with the visual effects in CGI building a strong foundation for their battle.

4. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader (Star Wars)

The relationship which Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader share is unmatched and unparalleled. A rivalry often considered one of the greatest; these two characters have evolved into pop culture phenomenon. Created by veteran George Lucas, Skywalker and Vader connect the treads of the Rebel Alliance’s struggle against the Galactic Empire. While Vader is considered one of the greatest villains of all time, Skywalker takes a commanding spot in being one of the greatest characters of all time. With a coherent writing as a strong establishing factor; Vader represents a man’s tragic fall from glory, and Skywalker represents a man’s scathing rise to glory – these two are just point perfect.

3. Neo and Agent Smith (The Matrix)

With the Wachowski Brothers establishing firm roots of philosophical and religious ideas, the rivalry of Neo and Agent Smith had to be an impressive one. A surreal experience for most, Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving deftly collaborated to create a relationship based on hate and disdain. The purpose defined these two, Neo the one searching the truth; and Agent Smith, the one disrupt the truth.

2. Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley (Heat)

No movie has ever been able to showcase such a professional rivalry encompassing hatred and the “hero-villain” relationship like Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’.  Essayed by the brilliance of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, ‘Heat’ portrayed a seemingly harmless cat and mouse chase while maintaining an engaging dual between the two characters. The movie bases itself on profuse research which made the cop-criminal story look to authentic. What makes the flick so unique is how these two characters are presented on-screen. Both De Niro and Pacino are separated throughout the movie, meeting only in the middle and at the end. ‘Heat’ is an apt example of the psychological warfare which engulfs the lives of officers and criminals.

1. Batman and the Joker (The Dark Knight)

The Batman-Joker saga is arguably one of the most dramatic, insightful and engaging rivalries of all time. This is the reason that both the characters are continuously drawn together throughout the ages of filmmaking. While these two have been reinvented in every analytical way, ‘The Dark Knight’ is probably the most memorable adaptation of the two oddly charismatic duo’s relationship. Conceived by Alan Moore, the Nolan brothers deftly brought these two men to life. The duo of Christian Bale and Heath Ledger perfectly created the catastrophic relationship. With crisp dialogues, memorable sequence and equated mental prowess – ‘The Dark Knight’ gave the true meaning to the phrase, “two sides of the same coin”.

Read More: Best Movie Villains

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