Every story includes a protagonist and an antagonist, apparent or not. We all have favorite heroes and villains, from paperback novels to Oscar-winning movies. Some of the most memorable stories feature opposing characters so dynamic that a rivalry is born. Great rivalries can inspire us to do great things.
And some of the most famous fictional characters in history wouldn’t be as popular without their adversaries. These characters can’t help themselves; they share a natural hatred for each other and will attack at first sight. These rivalries have become the stuff of legend; are the greatest fictional rivalries of all time.
Related: 10 Intense Old Hollywood Rivalries
10 Optimus Prime vs. Megatron
The mechanical alien race of giant, transforming robots first arrived on Earth in 1984 as a line of toys. Two warring factions of Transformers traveled here from their homeworld of Cybertron; a benevolent group called the Autobots, and a sinister one, the Decepticons. The two group leaders have a bitter rivalry that has spanned decades and spanned light years.
Optimus Prime of the Autobots protects the people of Earth against Megatron and the evil Decepticons. These two warriors have battled countless times across animated series and movies, live-action movies, comics, and video games. Although they seemed to best each other in the 1986 film, they have been reincarnated and returned from the dead time and time again. In all scenarios of the cosmos, these two will always be opposite sides of the same coin.
9 Sherlock Holmes vs. Professor Moriarty
The greatest detective that ever lived could not have become if it weren’t for his archenemy. Created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Sherlock Homes have been featured in countless novels, comics, TV shows and movies for over a hundred years. He inevitably must face Professor Jim Moriarty, his only intellectual equal. A constant and increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse ensues between the detective and the mastermind of the crime.
Doyle’s original series concludes with “The Adventure of the Final Problem”, in which Moriarty kills Holmes at the cost of his own life. Years later, Holmes was brought back after an overwhelming outcry from fans in “The Adventure of the Empty House.” Moriarty’s main purpose as a literary device is to defeat Holmes. Their rivalry is absolute and eternal; the only one who can stop Moriarty is Holmes and vice versa.
8 Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd
Since 1937, the Warner Bros. character Elmer Fudd has been searching for the leading Looney Tune Bugs Bunny. Bugs is a mischievous carrot-munching rabbit who is seemingly invincible. Fudd has a funny way of speaking, replacing his R with W, and is known for saying, “Shut up a lot, I’m hunting wabbits.” These two have a shoot first, ask questions later type of relationship. However, no matter what Fudd does, he can’t seem to get the best of Bugs, and has been trying for almost 90 years. With one exception, the 1957 Merrie Melodies short, “What’s Opera, Doc?”
In this story, Elmer chases Bugs through a parody of the operas of the 19th-century classical composer Richard Wagner. He borrows heavily from the second opera in the ring cycle, woven around the typical feud between Bugs and Elmer. The short marks the final appearance of Elmer Fudd in a Chuck Jones cartoon and the only time the hunter beats the rabbit. However, his victory is bittersweet, as he immediately feels remorseful and sings the now famous line “I killed the wabbit!”
In the mid-1960s, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd were household names, but crowds especially cheered when Elmer shoved his shotgun into the rabbit’s face only to be taken aback: “Hey, what’s up, Doc?” reply. While this rivalry is funnier than most, it is one of the best known in history.
7 Robin Hood vs. the Sheriff of Nottingham
Few fictional characters have enjoyed the fame that Robin Hood has. He was originally depicted in 13th and 14th century English folklore and has continued to appear in literature and film ever since. Known for “stealing from the rich and giving to the poor”, he couldn’t achieve this hero status if it weren’t for his nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. The two characters have fought to the death in every medium, from Disney’s Fox and Wolf incarnations to the 2018 film and everything in between. The Sheriff is the most recurring enemy of the well-known outlaw.
Bailiffs were powerful men in medieval society. They were the king’s representatives in each county and were charged with keeping the peace and upholding the law. The outlaws were mercilessly hunted down. Historians and literary buffs have studied Robin Hood myths for centuries, and it is generally believed that the character was based on real people, as was his nemesis. If true, Robin Hood (Robert Hode) and Sheriff Nottingham (Eustace of Lowdham, Sheriff of Yorkshire) have accomplished something few rivalries have. Their mutual hatred has transcended from nonfiction to fiction and has survived for centuries.
6 Batman vs. the Joker
Perhaps the best known rivalry in comics is the one between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. Batman, also known as Bruce Wayne, as a child watched a street thug murder his parents. As an adult, he becomes the vigilante Batman and protects the streets of Gotham City. He has trained himself to be the best human specimen in body and mind. Over and over again, he finds himself harassed by the Joker, who is his equal, but opposite of him. The only DC character with no known origin, he is the unstoppable force of Batman’s immovable object.
A deeper look at their relationship shows that Bats and Mr. J share one of the most complex relationships in comics. Sure, they’re enemies, but there’s an unmistakable codependency to their conflict. While there are many examples of archenemies in fictional lore, few have the potency this one does. The two met for the first time in bat Man #1, published in 1940. Since then, the two have been featured in every possible media fighting each other to the death.
5 Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker)
As one of the most iconic characters in movie history, Darth Vader would never have become the dark and menacing villain without his mentor Obi-Wan. Kenobi and the other members of the Jedi Council always sensed some darkness in the young Anakin. Kenobi trained the boy anyway, as it was his mentor’s dying wish. Although Anakin becomes a great Jedi and won many victories over the evil Sith during the Clone Wars, his fear eventually gets the better of him. Obi-Wan desperately tries to save Anakin’s soul and return him to the light, but his fall into darkness is inevitable.
The two engage in an epic battle on a volcanic planet, which ends with Anakin losing three of his four limbs and burning to a crisp. After which, the transformation of him into Darth Vader is complete. Unbeknownst to Vader, Kenobi hides the birth of Skywalker’s children: the two do not meet again until the children are about 19 years old. Once again, the two adversaries fight; this time, Kenobi allows himself to be cut by Vader’s lightsaber to protect the unaware children. Vader survives for years solely thanks to his hatred for Kenobi, but could not exist without him.
4 Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner
While these Merrie Melodies may be slapstick comedy at their core, this is one of the more violent rivalries. Coyote’s obsession with Roadrunner is absolute. Dr. Natalie Frank was hired by Warner Brothers to conduct a psychological study of the character. Her findings suggest that Coyote’s seemingly obsessive focus is on eating not just roadrunners in general, but one very particular Roadrunner.
Coyotes can chase down and catch roadrunners in real life, which adds legitimacy to the rivalry. Coyote employs an endless series of Acme products to aid him in his quest to kill the Roadrunner. From rockets to anvils, nothing is too extreme or violent for Coyote, who usually ends up on the business side of these products. His constant failure seems only to motivate Coyote to try again. Meanwhile, Roadrunner is almost oblivious to Coyote’s attempts on his life. The duo first appeared in “Fast and Fury-ous” in 1949, and Coyote has been trying to catch and eat Roadrunner ever since.
3 Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed
Sylvester Stallone won an Oscar for writing his classic 1976 film Rocky. The film series depicts the rise of underdog street fighter Rock Balboa to heavyweight champion. Before getting the belt, he has to face the current champion, Apollo Creed. The first movie ends with Creed winning by decision after the two fought for a full 15 rounds. Balboa is the first to “go all the way” with Creed. Balboa defeats Creed in the second movie, but Rocky and Apollo eventually become the best of friends.
Unfortunately, Apollo dies in the ring during an exhibition match against the Russian Ivan Drago. His son, Adonis, grows up without a father. The second generation of movies spawned when Rocky became a mentor to Adonis. Unlike most rivalries, these two become better friends than enemies, but their fights are the most memorable in fictional sports. The iconic “ding ding” of Apollo at the end of rocky iii is one of the most quoted lines in movie history.
2 Tom vs. Jerry
The best-known cat and mouse duo of all time is, without a doubt, Tom and Jerry. Created by Hannah/Barbera in 1940 and debuting with “Puss Gets the Boot,” this iconic series features a cat (Tom) and a mouse (Jerry). The two constantly, violently and maliciously try to kill each other. Thanks to cartoon physics, neither succeed.
Tom and Jerry have consistently appeared in animated films for over 80 years. Their names are synonymous with archrivals and violence, despite their comic value. They have been known to attack without provocation, and the characters rarely speak, if ever; it’s just continuous violence. They are enemies by nature, but have teamed up in the past to take on a greater opponent. The MGM-produced original series aired more than 100 cartoons and several won Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film. It seems that Tom and Jerry are destined to fight each other for eternity.
1 Betty vs. Veronica
Although their rivalry is rarely violent, it is the best known of all. Sticking to patriarchal stereotypes, the two compete for Archie Andrews’ affections. Betty first appeared in pep comics #22, while Veronica made her debut a few months later in pep comics #26 in the early 1940s. Betty Cooper (blonde) is a sweet and trustworthy neighbor, while Veronica Lodge (brunette) is exotic, high-strung and dangerous.
The two also had their own series: Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica. And they have gone from friend to adversary and back again countless times over the years. The two women and Archie create the most famous and enduring love triangle in history. While the two may not consider each other enemies, their rivalry is the most storied in fiction.
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