Every story includes a protagonist and an antagonist, whether apparent or not. We all have favorite heroes and villains, from paperback novels to Oscar-winning films. Some of the most memorable stories include such dynamic opposing characters that a rivalry is born. Great rivalries can inspire us to do great things.
And some of the most famous fictional characters ever would not be as popular without their adversary. These characters cannot help themselves; they share a natural hatred for each other and will attack at first glance. These rivalries have become the stuff of legend; they are the greatest fictional rivalries of all time.
10 Optimus Prime vs. Megatron
The mechanical alien race of giant, transforming robots first came to Earth in 1984 as a toy line. Two warring factions of Transformers traveled here from their home world 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 crossed lightyears.
Optimus Prime of the Autobots protects the people of Earth against Megatron and the evil Decepticons. These two warriors have battled countless times through animated series and movies, live-action films, comic books, and video games. Although they seemed to vanquish each other in the 1986 film, they have reincarnated and come back from death time and again. In every scenario across 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 so if not for his archnemesis. Created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Sherlock Homes has appeared in countless novels, comic books, TV shows, and movies for over a hundred years. He inevitably must confront Professor Jim Moriarty, his only intellectual equal. A constant and increasingly dangerous game of cat and mouse ensues between the detective and the criminal mastermind.
Doyle’s original series concludes with “The Adventure of the Final Problem,” in which Moriarty kills Holmes only 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 primary purpose as a literary device is to defeat Holmes. Their rivalry is absolute and eternal; the only one that can stop Moriarty is Holmes and vice versa.
8 Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd
Since 1937 Warner Bros. character Elmer Fudd has been hunting lead 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’s with W’s, and is known for saying, “Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits.” These two have a shoot-first-ask-questions-later type of relationship. No matter what Fudd does, though, he can’t seem to get the better of Bugs—and he’s 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 19th-century classical composer Richard Wagner’s operas. It borrows heavily from the second opera in the Ring Cycle, woven around the typical Bugs-Elmer feud. The short marks the final appearance of Elmer Fudd in a Chuck Jones cartoon and the only time the hunter gets the better of the rabbit. His victory is bittersweet, however, as he immediately feels remorse and sings the now-famous verse, “I killed the wabbit!”
By the mid-1960s, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd were household names, but crowds especially cheered when Elmer would shove his shotgun in the rabbit’s face only to get a nonplussed, “Eh, what’s up, doc?” reply. While this rivalry is more comedic than most, it is one of the most well-known in history.
7 Robin Hood vs. Sheriff Nottingham
Few fictional characters have enjoyed the fame that Robin Hood has. He was originally depicted in 13th-14th century English folklore and has continued to appear in literature and film ever since. Known to “rob from the rich and give to the poor,” he could not achieve this hero status if not 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 motion picture and everything in between. The Sheriff is the most recurring enemy of the well-known outlaw.
Sheriffs 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. Outlaws were hunted down without mercy. Historians and literary buffs have studied the mythos of Robin Hood 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 hatred for each other has transcended from non-fiction to fiction and survived for centuries.
6 Batman vs. The Joker
Perhaps the best-known rivalry in comic books is the one between the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, as a boy, watched his parents murdered by a street thug. As an adult, he becomes the vigilante Batman and protects the streets of Gotham City. He has trained himself to be the peak human specimen in body and mind. Time and again, he is plagued by the Joker, who is his equal, but opposite. The only DC character without a known origin, he is the unstoppable force to 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 is an unmistakable codependency to their conflict. While there are many examples of archnemeses in fictional lore, few hold the potency this one does. The two met for the first time in Batman #1, published in 1940. Since then, the two have appeared in every possible medium fighting each other to the death.
5 Obi-Wan Kenobi vs. Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker)
As one of the most iconic characters in film history, Darth Vader would never have become the dark menacing villain without his mentor Obi-Wan. Kenobi and the other members of the Jedi Council always sensed some darkness in young Anakin. Kenobi trained the boy anyway, as it was his mentor’s dying wish. Although Anakin does become a great Jedi and had 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 bring him back to the light, but his fall to darkness is inevitable.
The two engage in an epic battle on a volcanic planet, ending with Anakin losing three of four limbs and being burned to a crisp. After which, his transformation to Darth Vader is complete. Unbeknownst to Vader, Kenobi hides the birth of Skywalker’s children—the two don’t meet again until the children are about 19 years old. Once again, the two adversaries fight; this time, Kenobi allows himself to be cut down by Vader’s lightsaber to protect the unknowing children. Vader survives for years purely on his hatred for Kenobi, yet he could not exist without him.
4 Wile E. Coyote vs. the Roadrunner
While these Merrie Melodies may be slap-stick comedy at its core, this is one of the most violent of all rivalries. Coyote’s obsession with Roadrunner is absolute. Dr. Natalie Frank was hired by Warner Brothers to do a psychological work-up on the character. Her findings suggest that the Coyote’s seemingly obsessive focus is on eating not just roadrunners in general but a very particular Roadrunner.
Coyotes can chase and catch roadrunners in real life, which adds legitimacy to the rivalry. Coyote employs an endless string of Acme products to aid him on 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 end of these products. His constant failure seems only to motivate Coyote to try again. Meanwhile, Roadrunner is all but 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 streetfighter Rock Balboa to heavyweight champion. Before he gets the belt, he has to face the reigning champ, Apollo Creed. The first film ends with Creed winning by decision after the two fought for a full 15 rounds. Balboa is the first to “go the distance” with Creed. Balboa defeats Creed in the second film, but Rocky and Apollo eventually become the closest of friends.
Unfortunately, Apollo is killed in the ring during an exhibition match against Russian Ivan Drago. His son, Adonis, grows up without a father. The second generation of films was spawned as Rocky becomes Adonis’s mentor. Unlike most rivalries, these two become better friends than enemies, but their fights are the most memorable in fictional sports. Apollo’s iconic “ding ding” 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 undeniably Tom & 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 is ever successful.
Tom and Jerry have consistently appeared in animated films for over 80 years. Their names are synonymous with arch-rivals and violence, despite their comedic value. They are known to attack with no provocation, and the characters rarely, if ever, speak—it’s just nonstop violence. They are enemies by nature, but they have teamed up in the past to take on a greater opponent. The original series produced by MGM aired over 100 cartoons, and several won Academy Awards for best animated short. It seems that Tom and Jerry are destined to battle each other for eternity.
1 Betty vs. Veronica
Although their rivalry is rarely violent, it is the most well-known of all. Adhering to patriarchal stereotypes, the two compete over the affection of Archie Andrews. 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, reliable girl next door, while Veronica Lodge (brunette) is exotic, edgy, and dangerous.
The two had their own series as well: Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica. And they have gone from friends to adversaries and back again countless times over the years. The two women and Archie create the most famous and long-lasting love triangle in history. While the two may not be considered enemies, their rivalry is the most historic in fiction.