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Male protagonist vs female antagonist or female protagonist vs male antagonist: the format changes a thriller/romance significantly (Op-Ed)

While thriller-romance movies might seem like carbon copies of each other, that isn’t always the case. Depending on the gender of the protagonist and antagonist, there are interesting differences between the plot and the characters.

2009’s “Obsessed” and 1987’s “Fatal Attraction” both focus on a married man being stalked by a female antagonist. While the scenarios are different, “Obsessed” is a woman the man hardly knows, and “Fatal Attraction” is a woman the man had an affair with, both women use similar methods to get what they want.

Hiding their intentions from everyone but the protagonist for most of the film, the women played their cards carefully. Depending on the circumstances, they would disappear or make themselves known, the latter often done very dramatically. Meanwhile, the male protagonists try to deal with it alone, not turning to anyone until things nearly go too far. Ultimately, the female antagonists and the men’s wives ended up in a physical altercation, giving the antagonist a twisted “take out the competition” mentality and showing how far the wives will go to protect their families.

TV movies with female protagonists and male antagonists are done frequently by Lifetime, and the approach is quite different. Male antagonists are usually more direct and aggressive, yet still carefully executed. Often, their actions result in the police being called multiple times. Sadly, there’s never any proof to prove it was them.

Female protagonists, while often originally liking the male antagonist, will eventually realize that something’s up. Unlike male protagonists, though, they will reach out to others, though sometimes they are believed and sometimes they aren’t. Regardless, the final fight is always the same: the protagonist vs the antagonist. Sometimes a friend or romantic partner of the protagonist shows up but, ultimately this fight is much more personal, The antagonist gives off “if I can’t have you, no one can” vibes and the protagonist shows an extreme will to live.

No matter which gender the protagonist and antagonist are, one thing is for certain: thriller movies are one wild ride. Not labeling one gender as “good” and one gender as “bad” is both realistic and entertaining for movie viewers, giving us a look into how people think and act given their reasoning and, often, gender norms.   


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