Foil

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
QuijoteYSancho.jpg

I’ll be your foil, Laertes. In mine ignorance
Your skill shall, like a star i' th' darkest night,

Stick fiery off indeed.
Hamlet, Act V, scene ii

Jewelers often put shiny metal foil underneath a gem to make the stone shine brighter. A literary foil is someone who highlights another character's trait, usually by contrast, but sometimes by competing with him, hanging a lampshade, making snarky remarks, or egging him on.

Sidekicks often serve as foils to the hero by being something the hero himself is not (a calm and pragmatic sidekick when the hero is hotheaded, for example). In the classic good-guy versus bad guy scenario, both the hero and villain can each be considered the other's foil, in that each acts to show how the other behaves in certain situations.

These are far from the only possible pairings, however, as virtually any story with multiple characters can contrast the characters to show greater depths to them, regardless of what side they are on in the good versus evil equation. Good versus evil doesn't have to come into the picture at all.

Sometimes a foil is a flat secondary character that comes on stage, sparks a response, then fades from the story. More often, though, the foil is a recurring character that has a personality, or an opinion of things, that is different from another recurring character. This character can be the opposite of the character in many ways—or perhaps very, very, very similar, except for a crucial difference.

Many intentional foils are depicted as physical contrasts to the main character. Thin vs. fat and tall vs. short are among the most common ways of setting up a contrast. Similarly, when the hero's Love Interest is blonde, the villainess tends to have dark or red hair; when the villainess is blond, the hero's Love Interest tends to be dark or red haired.

As implied earlier, virtually any two characters or character types can serve as foils to each other if they're put together properly and a little good writing goes into them. However, there is a surprisingly large number of character types that exist primarily for the purpose of being a foil, usually to the main character, or in the case of a set of characters, to each other.

If you're feeling a little poetic and look around at your surroundings enough, you'll probably discover that this trope is a bit of Truth in Television.

Nothing to do with fencing or the preferred headgear of a Conspiracy Theorist. See also Duo Tropes.

Common Foils

Compare Shadowland, which applies to settings.

Examples of Foil include:

Anime and Manga

  • Naruto and Sasuke.
    • Just the most obvious and longest lasting. There are many Naruto Foils. Gaara, Pain and Kabuto are foils of certain attributes that Naruto have.
  • Lina and Sylphiel, Zelgadis and Amelia, and Xellos and Filia, all of Slayers.
  • While most obviously, Lelouch and Suzaku are foils of each other, this editor thinks an argument could be made that Diethard is also a foil to Lelouch, being a Britannain aristocrat who at the beginning of the series expresses a similar dissatisfaction with Britannian society. However, whereas Lelouch is very active in enforcing change (for good or ill), Diethard is more of a cheerleader for change and pretty much joins La Résistance because it seems interesting and midway through R2 betrays Lelouch when Prince Schneizel seems to be a more captivating leader. In episode 24 of the series right before he is killed, he is shown enthusiastically supporting Schneizel's plan to nuke cities around the world in order to bring "peace".
  • Kyon and Haruhi have such opposing character traits, philosophies, attitudes, etc., that there are significant amounts of Wild Mass Guessing supposing that they are some sort of "foil-power". Or Haruhi chose Kyon exactly because he balances her out. Or opposites just attract. Or they are gods of chaos and order. Pick one, if you like.
    • However, when you add Sasaki, it looks more like Haruhi and Sasaki are foils whereas Kyon is the middleground. Haruhi believes in the supernatural and represents chaos but also creativity, freedom, spontaneity and change. Sasaki believes in logic and opposes emotions while representing order but also conformity, oppression and stability/consistency.
    • Kyon and Haruhi are foils to each other, but their characters are more complex than these arguments suggest, and the foil is correspondingly more elaborate. Kyon is always going on and on about how he'd like an ordinary world, yet he's secretly delighted at the fact that there are aliens, time travelers and espers. Haruhi acts like she's completely convinced that aliens, time travelers and espers exist, but this is a form of denial of her skepticism that they do, and a way of avoiding her disappointment at the ordinariness of her life.
    • Yuki and Ryōko, from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The former is an apparent Emotionless Girl who actually does posses deeply held emotions which she is just incapable of expressing; the latter is a bright and cheery girl who, beneath her stepford smile, is completely void of any real human emotions.
  • Gundam Seed Destiny's protagonist Shinn Asuka could be considered a foil to both main protagonists of Gundam Seed, Kira Yamato and Athrun Zala.
    • Who are themselves foils to one another.
  • Inuyasha and Naraku in Inuyasha are foils in every aspect. Inuyasha is hot-headed and impulsive, while Naraku is calm, level-headed, and generally avoids fights whenever he can. A more dramatic foil is that, at first, both of the wanted to use the Shikon-no-Tama (Jewel of Four Souls) to become full blooded youkai, but both ended up giving up that idea. Inuyasha gave up that because even though he wanted to grow stronger, he realized that it would mean he would lose his human feelings and likely kill everyone he cared about. Naraku, on the other hand, hated his human feelings but realised he needed them to be able to manipulate and destroy the bonds between people. Lampshaded in the manga itself when Inuyasha observes that while he used his nature to strengthen bonds, Naraku's used his to destroy them.
  • Pokémon has this as well. Ash is impulsive and governs with his heart, while Paul is always more in control and strongly favors cold logic. This was pretty much the basis of their rivalry, mainly with them disagreeing on how it was appropriate to train Pokémon.
  • Digimon has this all over the place:
  • Monster has several of the side characters with A Day in the Limelight subplot blatantly mirror the protagonist's quest in some way. The village doctor is what Tenma could have become had he married Eva. Richard Braun is what Tenma would have become if he had shot Johan without any question to his past. Milan Kolash is the Tenma who goes through with the murder. Johan also has foils in the form of Nina and Dieter.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion uses the mechanic a lot. The most obvious example is Rei and Asuka - their personalities are diametric opposites in a Red Oni, Blue Oni dynamic, which is further emphasized by their reversed appearances (red eyes and short blue hair, blue eyes and long red hair). Shinji falls somewhere between them in temperament, and so serves as a foil to both. Several scenes draw a parallel between Asuka's and Shinji's relationship and Misato's and Kaji's. Ritsuko contrasts directly with Misato. The series has a Geodesic Cast, with several similar groups set up to compare and contrast.
    • To an extent, the Angels as a whole are a Foil to the "Humans" that inhabit the Earth. They usually embody and symbolize either a trait that their opposition has in abundance or lacking in, or reveal a trait which they have suppressed. Fitting, since they're literally Humans that rejected our Human Forms which metaphorically took a different Path of Life since before Creation.
  • Most of the pairs in The World God Only Knows seem to be designed to be foils of one kind or another. Tenri is passive and shy while Diana is pushy and proactive. Vulcan highlights Tsukiyo's cool elegance and emotional reserve, while on the devil side of things you can make similar comparisons between Haqua and Yukie, Elsie and Keima and possibly even Nora and Ryou. (And between Elsie and Haqua, for that matter.)
  • School Rumble
  • Tsugawa and Kudo in Japan Inc. Tsugawa is your typical ruthless manager, Kudo is the social guy who thinks about the employees.
  • Rukawa and Sakuragi of Slam Dunk.
  • The two recurring antagonists of Yu-Gi-Oh's Duelist Kingdom arc are Maximillion Pegasus (tournament host, Manipulative Bastard, Chessmaster, Gentleman Snarker and Squishy Wizard) and "Bandit" Keith Howard (a Smug Snake and Jerkass who'd be The Brute if he wasn't self-employed). Keith's arrogance, underestimation of his opponents, reliance on beating people up, and his belief that the world owes him something contrast nicely with Pegasus, who plays a much longer game, knows he'll have to work towards his goals, and relies on magic and manipulation over brute force. They do not get along.
  • Guts and Griffith in Berserk.
  • Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni has Mion (tomboy with a hidden girly side) and Shion (girly exterior with hidden sadist within). Brought up most in Wataganashi-hen and Meakashi-hen.
  • The two main characters of Kuroko no Basuke serve as foils for each other: Kuroko, a short, physically weak specialist player and a stoic Deadpan Snarker; and Kagami, a tall, naturally talented power player and a Hot-Blooded Idiot Hero.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh ZEXAL has Gauche and Droite. Gauche is very Hot-Blooded and his dueling style is aggressive and relies on brute force. Droite is an Ice Queen and her dueling style is passive and relies on weakening and manipulating her opponent. Despite their differences, they care about each other very much and are a nearly unstoppable tag-team.
  • Given that they're both Ace Pilot Newtypes and technical designers with Ambiguous Disorders, poor social skills, and immense Psychic Powers it isn't hard to see Zeta Gundam's Big Bad Paptimus Scirocco as an older, more jaded, and cynical version of protagonist Kamille Bidan. The difference is in how they deal with their issues—Kamille slowly gets over his problems and learns how to deal with other people, while Scirocco simply develops his Mind Rape skills to the point where he doesn't have to be good at interacting with others.


Comic Books

  • In Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan acts as the Foil to both Rorschach and Ozymandias.
    • Watchmen is full of these. Rorschach and Ozymandias are very obviously foils, since their lifestyles, methods and ideologies are the exact opposite (Rorschach is apathetic while Ozymandias is empathetic, Rorschach is ugly while Ozymandias is handsome, Rorschach lives in squalor while Ozymandias is rich, Rorschach is Asexual while Ozymandias is homosexual {or ambiguously so} etc). Another obvious pair is Nite Owl II and Manhattan, enhanced by Laurie having had a relationship with both of them (Dan is receptive while Jon is distant, Dan is out of shape and middle-aged while Jon is in perfect shape and eternally thirty, etc)
  • Very common element in most Superhero comics is for heroes to have villains that are either their Foil, or are Not So Different. Even more common is for a villainous foil to be their Arch Enemy:
    • Batman and The Joker. The Joker is possibly the only villain who Batman cannot defeat through his M.O.s of reasoned deduction and intimidation.
      • The two are also philosophical foils in The Killing Joke. The Joker is a Nietzsche Wannabe who believes life is one big joke and the only way to deal with that is by giving in to madness. Batman is an Anti Nihilist who also believes life is meaningless but decided to create his own purpose.
    • Superman and Lex Luthor. They are the two most influential people in Metropolis by a long shot. Their differing attitudes (and forms of influence) towards their precious city are the reason why It's Personal between them.
      • Superman and Brainiac as well. The former is an alien who has allowed himself to become fully human. The latter is the very cold, remote alien that people like Luthor expect Superman to be.
    • X-Men and all anti-mutant organizations.
      • Charles Xavier and Magneto, as well. Former friends with similar goals (acceptance for mutants), but vastly different philosophies and methodologies (helping humanity and proving their worth in the process vs. warring against humanity and overthrowing or exterminating them).
    • The Cosmic Empires of Kree and Skrulls fit this.
    • Spider-Man and Green Goblin, where the foil occurs in their completely different characters and social status.
    • Black Bolt and Maximus. After Maximus' Heel Face Turn, Vulcan filled the void during War of Kings.
    • Interesting example comes from The Authority - while they are a big subversion of common superhero tropes, during Warren Ellis' era all their enemies were very typical and schematical.
    • Kherubins and Deamonites in Wild C.A.T.S., at similar level to the Kree and Skull example.
    • Captain America (comics) and Red Skull. One's a World War II hero and the symbol of the American Dream. The other is the ultimate Nazi.
    • Iron Man and Mandarin: Being opposites on the Tech vs Magic scale.
    • The Incredible Hulk and The Leader. Also Hulk and Thunderbolt Ross.
    • The Mighty Thor and Loki - again, one is Flying Brick, the other is trickster.
    • Silver Surfer and Mephisto. One is pretty much the personification of the devil, and hates the other just because he's so damn good.
    • Reed Richards and Doctor Doom. They have very similar personalities (bossy, arrogant, brilliant, fascinated by science, prone to Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness), with jealousy being the culprit for Doom's Face Heel Turn-inspiring hatred for Reed. The fundamental difference between them is exemplified by their divergent reactions to their respective Greatest Failures.
    • In The Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America (comics) can be seen as foils to each other. Especially in Civil War.
  • In Jeremiah, by Hermann: The protagonist's partner, Kurdy Malloy, is much more cynical, streetwise and childish than he is. Jeremiah is no fool by any means, and he is an action guy, but he is much nobler and more romantic than his friend, and puts more trust in others.
  • Corto Maltese, by Hugo Pratt: he does not have a permanent "sidekick", but many times he has adventure partners who are much crazier and more violent than him: Rasputin, an Ethiopian warrior, A Chinese Assassin girl. He also has had partners who are more of the "professor" type, which turns him into the guy who leads the action.


Fanfic

Film

  • Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in Star Wars.
    • Also Luke and Anakin. The "Luke, I Am Your Father" moment says it all. Of course, Luke does not want to accept any of this.
  • The Bride and Elle Driver.
  • Reservoir Dogs - Mr Pink to Mr White, as well as Mr Blonde to Mr White.
    • Also Mr Orange to the seasoned and experienced Mr White. Or, depending on how you interpret it, Mr Orange as a cop blessed with The Power of Acting, who ends up Becoming the Mask and Mr White, a criminal who is loyal to his beliefs and principles to the point of being ready to die for them.
  • Brent and Flint in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, especially in the first two acts of the film. At first, Brent is everything Flint is not: famous and well-liked by the whole town, if not the smartest fish in the school. But once Flint's invention gets going, their positions flip, with Flint being cheered by the crowds and Brent largely forgotten.
  • Will and Jack from Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Gru and Vector in Despicable Me. Gru was motivated by his "Well Done, Son" Guy from his mother and became a Jerkass With a Heart of Gold because of his desire to become an astronaut and go to the moon. Vector on the other hand isn't shown being motivated by anything and is a spoiled rich kid thanks to his father Mr Perkins. Gru struggled to get where he is and is legitimately talented and likes making friends (as seen with the Minions, Dr Nefario and eventually the girls). Vector doesn't have any real talent presumably getting all his technology from his dad, has a no non-aggressive contract with anyone except his father and no one is invited to his house. Even their houses play off of each other. Gru's house is normal, though slightly large and foreboding, with a secret underground lair and is between other houses. Vector's house just screams look at me! look at me! and is all alone.
  • The heart of much of the humor and drama in The Avengers is the similarities and differences of the leads.
    • Steve Rogers vs. Tony Stark: Both are tied to Howard Stark and motivated by a sense of American patriotism and to bring peace. But where Steve is idealistic, sweet-natured, well-mannered and uses his intelligence to defeat his enemies, Tony is cynical, snarkish, rude and rushes in to fight.
    • Bruce Banner vs. Tony Stark: Both are genius scientists with genuine respect for each other. They both have a dark side, they are different in personality. Bruce is mild and cautious to control his id while Tony's flamboyance and irresponsbility are the tip of his self-destructive behavour.
    • Steve Rogers vs. Thor: Both are old-fashioned in ideals and aesthetics, initially unease on modern Earth and are driven with a sense of duty for their homeland.
    • Loki himself has traits that resonate or clash with each of the Avengers. He's from Asgard and of royalty (Thor). He's clever and loves theatrics (Tony). He manipulates emotions (Bruce). He blatantly disregards human life and freedom (Steve). He lacks empathy (Black Widow) and disregards free will (Hawkeye).


Literature

  • In Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy is the foil to the titular hero; he has grown up with a rich family, has loving (and alive) parents, is arrogant and selfish and cold, all striking contrast.
    • Harry's other foil is, believe it or not, Ron, who is poor, has a loving family of six siblings, knows a lot about the wizarding world growing up in it since birth. He had a life like Harry would've if it weren't for Voldemort. Ron is also rather down-to-earth most of the time, almost never jumping to wild conclusions.
    • Harry and Neville, who was nearly the Chosen One that could have been Voldemort's equal in the prophecy. Hell, name any two of the Loads and Loads of Characters in the series, and likely as not they'll be foils to each other in some way.
    • Voldemort is also set up as Harry's foil; Dumbledore specifically comments that the two are very similar, except that Harry always chooses good while Voldemort chooses to only care about himself.
    • J.K. Rowling has also commented on Hermione and Luna being foils to each other: Hermione is rational and depends on firm knowledge, while Luna is intuitive and functions solely on faith.
    • Severus Snape and James Potter: While both are tall, thin, and have black hair, Snape is Slytherin, poor, and Lily's best friend; James is Gryffindor, wealthy, and initially disliked by Lily. James gets better; Snape gets a lot worse. Snape's other foil is Voldemort both had witch mothers and muggle fathers who sucked; both had pretty terrible childhoods; both became ambitious Slytherins; the main difference is that Snape cared about someone at one point while Voldemort only cared about himself.
      • Snape and McGonagall: Both are incredibly strict teachers, but while McGonagall is a actually a big 'ole softie, Snape is pretty much a Sadist Teacher, especially to Harry. Though he does have a heart; it's just buried under decades of angst and the fact that Harry is basically the embodiment of his biggest regret.
    • Dumbledore and Slughorn/Fudge/Scrimgeour/ Grindelwald, mainly due to Dumbledore's seeming lack of of ambition it bit him in the ass when he and Grindelwald got caught up in their Utopia Justifies the Means-mania. Also prime ministers Fudge and Scrimgeour (weak/ineffective vs. tough/combative, although both saw Harry as a threat to national security).
      • Albus and his brother Aberforth: Albus is a sophisticated child prodigy, has an exemplary reputation and is the headmaster of Hogwarts while Aberforth might not even be literate, did some magical experimentation to a goat, and tends bar in the seedier side of Hogsmeade. Then again, Aberforth doesn't have guilt of helping "Wizard-Hitler" make plans to subjugate muggles and then accidentally killing his little sister.
  • In JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Boromir might be considered the foil to his brother Faramir as well as to Aragorn, as while he had similar heroic goals, he is a Tragic Hero who is tempted by the Ring.
    • The more obvious foils are Saruman/Gandalf and Denethor/Theoden. Saruman and Gandalf are both powerful wizards, however, Saruman is seduced by power, whereas Gandalf refuses to take the ring. Denethor and Theoden are both kings who succumb to the influence of Saruman and Sauron (Denethor with the palantir, and Theoden through the influence of Wormtongue.) Both kings also struggle with despair. Ultimately, Denethor succumbs to despair and dies a dishonorable death, but Theoden triumphs over it and dies an honorable death in battle.
    • In JRR Tolkien's The Silmarillion, Tuor and Túrin might be considered each other's foil. They're cousins (though they -almost- never meet), are separated from their human families to be fostered by Elves, go live in hidden Elven cities, fall in love with Elven ladies... However, Túrin is a rash, not always sympathetic Tragic Hero Blessed with Suck while Tuor is an all out good guy who ends pretty well - what with being one of the few characters who actually survive to the end of the book.
  • Sancho Panza, Don Quixote's sidekick, is plump, realistic, and has a sense of humor, all of which contrast with his master.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are classic foils. In addition to physical attributes (Holmes tall and lean, Watson shorter and stout), Holmes leaps into plans without explanation and follows up on wild clues. Watson, as his namesake trope points out, tends to ask realistic questions and accept more conventional theories.
  • In a Romeo and Juliet story that's way way different from the original, the titular characters are a demon and angel respectively, whose physical appearances(he wore black spiked armor and had black demonic wings to contrast with her white dress and wings and personalities (he was stoic, quiet, and snarky and she was kind, spontaneous, and cheerful) differed. The places they lived in reflected this as well: Juliet's was a peaceful, well-lit, and beautiful realm as opposed to Romeo's gloomy, perilous, and quite frightening one. Despite the current war between the two races, this doesn't stop them from falling in love. Until Paris, Romeo's Evil Twin tricks Juliet into thinking that Romeo killed her father during the last war(which is actually proven to be true) and is just pretending to be in love with her so that he can find out the weaknesses of the Angels and kill her next, putting her in a Heroic BSOD until Romeo tells her that he is deeply in love with her because she is the only one that truly understands him and he proves his love by giving her the necklace her father wanted to give her and he had to kill her father, who was succumbing to fatal injuries that Paris caused. This, combined with Jessica's and Ron's words, makes her eventually forgive him.
  • Every character in The Stranger is basically a foil for the narrator, Meursault. Not surprising, of course, since the point of the novel is to develop a particular Exitentialist philosophy.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novels Deus Encarmine and Deus Sanguinius, Sachiel is used as a foil to Rafen, for his Pride. At his first appearance, Rafen remembers their rivalry and how Sachiel had always preferred to talk, and Rafen to let his actions speak for themselves. Most starkly contrast when Sachiel thinks Rafen dead (No One Could Survive That!) and gloats to the empty air -- "Rafen, you are dead."—versus when Rafen sees Sachiel's corpse and feels sorry for him.
  • In Suzanne Collins's Catching Fire, the reaction of Katniss's family and friends is neatly contrasted with that of her prep team, of whom Katniss observes that they never had to be strong for anyone else. (The District vs. the Capital, in small-scale.)
  • Rosamond serves as one to Dorothea in Middlemarch.
  • Quantum Gravity: The worlds serve as this. Interestingly enough, all of them are foils for all the other ones:
    • Otopia is mostly aetherically dead.
    • Demons of Demonia are very focused on knowing and being yourself, regardless of what that is, in contrast to the different social rules in all the other realms.
    • The Fair Folk of Faery, for instance, deliberately hide things from themselves and forget. They are also the strongest aetherically, throwing them that much farther from Otopia.
    • Elves in Alfheim are masters at hiding themselves, throwing them away from the demons; and also at self-control, in contrast with the generally more playful fey. Their system of alliances would also make anyone from another realm dizzy, and their True Names are very powerful.
    • Zoomenon is everything broken down into its pure state, meaning the creatures/beings there do not always have what we would call a consciousness, and it is a much harsher environment than anything you'd be likely to find in the other realms outside a volcano or something similar.
    • Thanotopia is The Nothing After Death. Probably.
  • In Robert E. Howard's "A Witch Shall Live", Conan the Barbarian's In Harm's Way reaction to victory is explicitly contrasted to Valerius's Home, Sweet Home.

But not all men seek rest and peace; some are born with the spirit of the storm in their blood, restless harbingers of violence and bloodshed, knowing no other path. . . .

  • Ayn Rand loves these, as her characters are archetypes more than they are people. In The Fountainhead, Roark is The Hero and all the others are those who could have been the hero, except for one minor moral failing, or deliberately choosing to be evil, soulmoney-sucking leeches, etc. At least for the men. Women get this treatment, too.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Brienne of Tarth is set up as a foil for Jaime Lannister. Unusually for foils, after some tension caused by being on different sides of a civil war, each quickly develops respect for the other's combat prowess, which evolves into mutual admiration and trust over time as they travel together and save each other's lives.
    • Jon Snow (ice) and Daenerys Targaryen (fire), though they have yet to meet.
    • Tywin Lannister can also be seen as a foil to Ned Stark. Both of them are powerful, competent, and highly respected lords with a lot of sway in Kings Landing, but their methodologies are almost complete opposites. Eddard rules with respect and justice, Tywin rules through fear. Eddard leads by example, Tywin delegates. Both men value their families, but where Eddard loves his children unconditionally, Tywin approaches paternal duties as a cold necessity. They also both place a high value on honor, but whereas for Eddard that means always doing the right thing, Tywin is more concerned with his reputation and is secretly full of shit.
  • Stolz to Oblomov. The latter is a fat, lazy and pessimistic Cloudcuckoolander; the former is industrious and optimistic.
  • Discworld has a few:
    • The earliest example is Rincewind and Towflower, who react to danger in completely opposite manners.
    • Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg. Both are powerful, smart, and tough-as-nails Lancre witches. But Nanny is easy going, has a huge family, behaves in a friendly manner, and is usually drunk and telling bawdy jokes. Granny is serious, stoic, never married, feared and respected by all, and has no sense of humor. Naturally they are best friends.
    • Vimes and Carrot. Vimes is a cynical, grouchy, dirty-fighting former drunk who has no respect for authority (especially kings). Carrot is an optimistic, ultra-friendly, honorable young officer who always obeys the letter of the law (and may secretly be a king). To make it more complex, Vimes is also clearly a true idealist deep down (his cynicism results from how disapointed he is at the world), while Carrot can show remarkable cunning and deviousness for someone so innocent seeming.
  • In Death: Blair Bissel in Divided In Death is this for Roarke, in that he is not brave, not particularly smart, is greedy, has no conscience, has a fragile ego, and has conquests rather than relationships, unlike Roarke. Eve puts a Lampshade Hanging on that. Magdalana in Innocent In Death is this for Eve, in that she is rich, a thief, loves no one but herself, is charming, speaks French and Italian fluently, and will use Roarke to achieve her ends, unlike Eve. Eve makes a comment about Magdalana being the "anti-me".
  • The Acts of Caine: Berne to Caine. To summarise a lengthy spiel, while both are vicious and skilled fighters, Berne is The Hedonist, while Caine has a cold discipline.


Live Action TV

  • Xena: Warrior Princess: Xena's companion Gabrielle acts as a foil as her compassionate and innocent nature contradicts Xena's bitter and ultra-violent disposition. This dynamic makes up for many of the show's subplots as well as main ones (usually when Xena's foes attempt to separate the duo by showing them the extent of their differences). See The Lancer also.
  • It's been pointed out that on Firefly, Jayne's character exists largely to show what a true Jerkass and amoral character would actually be doing every time that Mal is trying his best to pretend he's those things.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. Seven of Nine played this role for Captain Janeway (at least during her first year on the ship).
  • Professional Wrestling example: This trope was basically the angle of the Wrestlemania XXV match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid cast himself as the "Light" that is fated to defeat the "Darkness" embodied by the evil Deadman, and consequently end the latter's legendary winning streak.
  • In House, Wilson, and to a lesser extent, Cuddy and Foreman, are House's foils.
  • Daniel Jackson and Jack O'Neill often serve as foils to each other in Stargate SG-1. (Idealism vs. cynicism, brains vs. brawn (although Jack is not as stupid and Daniel is not as wimpy as they'd like you to think) naivety vs. experience, etc.) This becomes less apparent over the years.
  • This could just be me, but Parker and Sophie in Leverage seem to have this feel. Sophie is classy, social, and likable, but fake, while Parker is crazy, has No Social Skills and thus is off-putting, but honest (if blunt).
    • Peggy is also this to Parker as a normal citizen. She is also one of the nicest characters on the show.
  • While not on the same show, Ace of Cakess Duff and Cake Bosss Buddy. Duff is relaxed, has his friends as his coworkers, and is exclusively a cake chef while Buddy is considerably more tense, surrounded by family (including his mother and four older sisters), and runs a working bakery in addition to being a provider of amazing cakes.
  • The Wire loves this device. There's a lot of parallels between different characters, both those in direct contact with each other (like McNulty and Kima) and some from across different storylines entirely (like D'Angelo Barksdale and Nicky Sobotka). Most conspicuous are the duos of Herc and Carver and Bubbles and Johnny. Herc and Carver are both thuggish and brutal police officers, but Carver shows himself to be more sensitive and thoughtful over time. Johnny is Bubbles's protégé in the streets, but is much more blasé about their predicament and has an "us vs. them" mentality towards the police. Eventually, the underlying differences in both pairs lead the characters in very different directions.
  • Fifteen Love: High School Hustler Gary "Squib" Furlong and Dean Bitterman Harold Bates may spend the entire show opposing one another, but at the core of things they're very similar, being a pair of Manipulative Bastards with flexible attitudes towards the rules, no time for stupidity, and an amazing ability to convince others to do things for them. Don't tell Squib, but Bates is exactly what he is going to look like at thirty-five.
  • Arthur and Lancelot from Merlin. Everything from their temperament to their social standing to their hair/eye colour is designed to contrast with the other, as do their relationships with both Merlin and Guinevere. In the last case, even their kisses with Guinevere are shot as stark opposites: Arthur's is a Lip-Lock Sun-Block, whereas Lancelot's takes place in a darkened tunnel.
    • Also Guinevere and Morgana. At the beginning of the show Gwen was Morgana's haidmaiden and the two of them were close friends, only to be gradually estranged as the show went on, what with Gwen falling in love with Arthur, and Morgana falling to the Dark Side. Essentially, the higher Guinevere ascends, the lower Morgana falls.
  • 24 had Jack Bauer and David Palmer. Both are willing to do whatever it takes to save the world even if it means resorting to questionable means but David has the added ability to mask his true personality behind a face of amiability.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, Marshall and Barney are this to each other, as the Good Angel, Bad Angel advisors of Ted. Barney's mission is to have as many one-night stands as possible, and believes marriage is A Fate Worse Than Death. Marshall loves committing and being married. Many episodes revolve around Barney egging Ted on to live the single man's life and Marshall encouraging him to commit.
  • In Game of Thrones, Joffrey and Stannis, (rivals for the throne) become very direct foils to each other in the climactic Battle of the Blackwater. Stannis, instead of leading from the rear as he does in the books, becomes an Adaptational Badass who is Authority Equals Asskicking all the way and personally leads the assault on the capital. This shows that for all of Stannis' Lawful Stupid Jerkassery, he truly believes in his cause and is willing to fight and put himself in tremendous danger for it. Joffrey, meanwhile, is Dirty Coward who brags endlessly about what he'll do while being a useless, entitled Royal Brat who prevails because other people are doing all the work for him, and he chickens out at the first signs of a setback.


Theatre

  • Phantom of the Opera: Erik portrays dark and passion, Raoul light and clear thinking.
  • In Wicked, Galinda and Elphaba. Galinda acts like a stereotypical blonde, pretty, popular, and not much going on in her head. Elphaba is (viewed as) ugly and a bookworm. Elphaba is also much more responsible and mature, and when faced with a discovery that turns their world upside-down, one spreads the word, reputation be damned, and one uses it to her advantage.
  • Shakespeare has many, many foils in his plays (appropriate since he's going for dramatic effect):
    • In Hamlet, Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway is a foil to Hamlet, having none of the latter's introspection when it comes to avenging his father's death. Another classic example of Hamlet's foil is his friend, Horatio, whose level-headedness clearly serves as foil to Hamlet's rash nature.
    • Several other characters serve as a foil to Hamlet as well. Before they engage in the climactic swordfight, Hamlet describes himself as a foil to Laertes ("I'll be your foil, Laertes: in mine ignorance your skill shall, like a star i' the darkest night,stick fiery off indeed."). Of course, it is in fact the other way around, and Laertes can tell that Hamlet is mocking him. This passage may be the Trope Namer.
      • Hamlet is also making a play on words, since "foil" is the term for the flexible sword-like weapons used in fencing practice.
    • Macbeth has Macbeth and Macduff, and (more obviously) Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff.
    • Falstaff is the foil to Prince Hal in the King Henry plays. And oh, what a foil he is.
    • Mercutio is Romeo's foil: he's brash, upbeat and joking while Romeo is always moping and mooning around.
    • Arguably, Caliban and Ariel are foils for each other, or they're both foils for different sides of Prospero (id and superego, respectively). Caliban is ugly, crude, hated by Prospero, not too smart, and an unwilling slave; Ariel is airy, graceful, beloved by Prospero, and serves with his best efforts (at least until his contract is up).* In Antony and Cleopatra, the two nations of Rome and Egypt play foil to each other, with Rome with a superego, duty before self set of ideals while Egypt is far more hedonistic and leans towards the id.
  • In Sweeney Todd, Anthony Hope is clearly meant as a foil to Todd.. Also, to a lesser degree, Johanna and Mrs. Lovett. Both are madwomen, but have entirely different ways of expressing their issues.


Video Games

  • Fable III: Reaver is an Faux Affably Evil owner of an Industrial firm that uses child labor, and routinely shoots his workers for a variety of reasons. Once the player becomes the Ruler of Albion, Reaver recommends almost every evil option in the game. Page, the leader of the Bowerstone resistance, detests child labor and the abuse of the workers of Bowerstone. While Reaver disregards the lives of Bowerstone's citizens, Page fights for them. Page's Good Is Not Nice demeanor is the opposite of Reaver's Faux Affably Evil nature.
    • For many of the judgements as the ruler of Albion, its Page stating her case against Reaver. In the first half of the game, much of the antagonism between the two is shown, especially in the emansion sequence.
  • In World of Warcraft Varian Wrynn is a foil to Thrall. Thrall is an orc raised by humans, with the cunning and patience more associated with humans, while Wrynn was forced to fight in orc gladiatorial matches, giving him a bloodlust and vendetta against orcs, things found in orcs more often. Their histories also mirror each other's (Thrall had his clan destroyed when the humans defended themselves and had to rebuild it, while Wrynn had his kingdom destroyed by the orcs in Warcraft I and also had to rebuild it).
    • Back in Warcraft III, Thrall's story arc seemed to very strongly mirror Arthas'. Thrall starts off as a slave but eventually becomes the warchief and saves the world through his sheer charisma and decision to ally with his peoples' former enemies. Meanwhile, Arthas has everything going for him in the beginning but his single-mindedness and arrogance lead to his becoming a slave to the Lich King and the death of his people. Unfortunately, this relation doesn't get any spotlight in the game itself.
    • Word of God is that Garrosh Hellscream is also this to Thrall. Whether he replaces Varian as this or is just another to highlight different points has yet to be seen.
    • Also in Warcraft III, Arthas and Kael'thas are both princes who lost their entire countries to the Scourge invasion. Their desires to avenge their fallen people and save the survivors manifest in different ways -Arthas goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge while Kael'thas becomes a Well-Intentioned Extremist- but they both end in fighting too many monsters, making a Deal with the Devil, and becoming Drunk on the Dark Side.
  • Gorath and Owyn from Betrayal at Krondor can be considered this for each other, starting with their appearance - a towering menacing-looking dark elf warrior with greying slate black hair in armour and a cloak, and a very scrawny 19-year-old human boy mage apprentice with fair hair, innocent blue eyes and wearing a light robe in warm, sunny colours. Then there's the personalities - stoic, reserved, guarded and pragmatic vs. bubbly, expressive, emotional and generally trusting and eager like a puppy.
  • Final Fantasy games are fond of this.
    • Final Fantasy VI had Kefka and General Leo, the two main generals of The Empire. Kefka was a Complete Monster, whereas Leo was a Worthy Opponent. The two were more or less polar opposites in every way, the latter existing primarily as contrast to the former. Terra and Celes, fellow magitek knights and the main characters of the game, also are foils of Kefka...while Terra and Celes learn the value of human life over the course of the game, Kefka sees human life as more meaningless as the game wears on.
    • In Final Fantasy VII, the Arch Enemies Cloud and Sephiroth are opposites or mirror images in just about every way. Even their appearances were apparently designed on this basis. whereas Sephiroth was the absolute elite of SOLDIER apparently even as a teenager, Cloud never made it to their ranks at all. Both angsted at some point that they were the result of a terrible experiment. Sephiroth at first seemed to find out that it wasn't that bad after all, that he was merely built to be the last of the Ancients, but in fact it was if anything even worse than he had thought at first. Cloud seemed to find out that he was nothing but a soulless clone, but actually it was much less severe than that. where through the course of the game we find out how Sephiroth progressively stops caring about humanity, the Ancients and the Planet Cloud goes from Only in It For the Money to caring about AVALANCHE, the Planet's plight and everyone through the course of the story. For each, the time when they find out the whole truth is when they fully became the hero and villain they are.
    • To another extent, Aeris and Jenova are also foils in relation to their influence over Cloud and Sephiroth respectively.
    • In Final Fantasy VIII, almost the entire game revolves around the head-butting relationship between Squall and Rinoa. But that just makes it all the sweeter as the game progresses and the player witnesses Squall's multiple occasions of emotional 180. Also, THE ENDING SCENES.
  • The Mega Man Classic series has it. The most prominent is Bass and Mega. The coloring of there armor and armor, Mega perfering brighter colors and simplistic design to Bass's Darker and more complex looking armor. The reasons why they fight are different, Mega fights to protect people and asked to become a fighter, where as Bass was created to fight and continues only to prove that he is the strongest.
  • Two examples from The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess. The first example is Midna for Zelda. Midna is a Tsundere, whereas Zelda is a Proper Lady. Midna is a Deadpan Snarker, whereas Zelda is far less abrasive in her words. And let's not forget that they're both princesses. The second example is Zant for Ganondorf. Zant is secretly a Psychopathic Manchild who maintains a calm demeanor up until the very end, whereas Ganondorf is deathly calm inside and out. Zant borrows the power of another being in order to achieve his ends, whereas Ganondorf had gained his power by means of his own resourcefulness and deceit.
    • Word of God states that Ghirahim from The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword was specifically designed to contrast with Ganondorf. Hence, Ghirahim is a Bishonen, a Fashion Victim Villain, a Psychopathic Manchild, and an Evil Albino. Especially fitting because Demise, Ghirahim's boss, not only resembles Ganondorf, but is also the one who pretty much creates Ganon.
    • Ghirahim is also a foil of Fi. While she is stoic, subdued, reserved, and very technical, Ghirahim is flamboyant, lets all his feelings out, and is a drama queen. Turns out both of them are sword spirits.
  • In Iji, Iosa either serves as Iji's foil or is Not So Different, depending on the player's actions.
  • From No More Heroes, Henry to Travis, "Don't look at me. I'm just the cool, handsome foil, who also happens to be your twin brother."
  • Ryu and Ken. One is a world famous martial artist, the other a wandering warrior.
  • Kain and Raziel. One feeds on blood, the other on souls.
  • Villains Sergei Vladimir and Albert Wesker are foils to one another in the Resident Evil games. Both are undead gunmen created to serve as dragons to Big Bad Ozwell E. Spencer. Both are capable Chessmasters, and are The Man Behind the Man to numerous events in the series. Both are Large Hams who chew enough scenery that it's amazing there's any set left. Yet while Wesker is an Evil Brit Wild Card with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, Sergei is a delightfully cliche Renegade Russian, who serves as Spencer's Dragon-in-Chief until the very end and is characterised by his Undying Loyalty. Their battle at the conclusion of Umbrella Chronicles beautifully highlights their similarities and differences, while showing the audience just how bad Wesker is. At least Sergei has his loyalty. Wesker has nothing.
  • In Lusternia, all of the major organizations have a foil: Celest V Magnagora, Gaudiguch V Hallifax, and Serenwilde V Glomdoring.


Webcomics

  • The following quote comes from this The Order of the Stick Order of the stick strip, featuring Jirix and the Anti-Villain Redcloak talking about their Card-Carrying Villain partner Xykon. Coincidentally, this strip occurs just after several in which the paladin O-Chul and Redcloak had served as different but excellent foils for each other.

Jirix: But... aren't we all on the same side?
Redcloak: That is a complicated question ... Our alliance with Xykon is one of the most powerful tools we have, and we cannot afford to screw that up. That does NOT mean we should trust him. I know he seems funny and charming, but believe me, when you see for yourself the depths to which he'll sink, you will never sleep well again.


Web Original

  • Whateley Universe: roommmates and teammates Chaka and Fey are definitely foils for each other. One's black while the other's white, one's hyper and the other's calm, one's human and the other one's mostly Sidhe, ...
    • Also, Solange is a foil to Phase, since Solange is the Rich Bitch that Phase could have easily been.


Western Animation

  • Hank and Dean Venture of The Venture Brothers are an interesting example - they started out with identical personalities (parodies of eager Hardy-Boys type characters who were forever looking for mysteries to solve while having little to no real world experience), before becoming basically the complete opposite in every way. Where Dean is sensitive, Hank is masculine; where Dean is shy and afraid of girls (thus failing to win their affections), Hank is overeager and thinks of himself as a ladies man (while failing to win their affections); and most importantly, where Dean just wants to be normal, Hank just wants to be badass.
  • Aang and Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender. In a far more complex way, Zuko and his sister Azula.
  • The Legion of Super Heroes cartoon has a few of these:
  • In The Boondocks, Huey and Riley Freeman take Sibling Yin-Yang to new heights.
  • The cast of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic has a surprisingly complex dynamic with almost every pair of characters able to act as foils in some way.
    • Among the six main characters, there are two girly ponies (Rarity and Fluttershy), two tomboy ponies (Applejack and Rainbow Dash), and two in between (Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie). Each pair are foils for each other: Twilight (The Smart Guy) and Pinkie (the Cloudcuckoolander) make up a basic Adventure Duo; Applejack (the level-headed, reliable farm girl) and Rainbow Dash (the Hot-Blooded but lazy stunt-flier) are All Work vs. All Play with a major Friendly Rivalry; Rarity (glamorous drama-queen) and Fluttershy (Moe Moe Quiet One) are a Light Feminine and Dark Feminine Odd Couple.
    • Rarity and Applejack are a Tomboy and Girly Girl pair, and Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash are occasionally paired similarly.
    • Twilight and Pinkie can act as foils (or be foiled by) any of the other characters because they're both 'outsiders' - Twilight because she's the main character who serves as commentator to everything that happens, and Pinkie Pie because she's just inscrutably crazy.
    • Several of the ponies have pets that can be foils to them.
      • Introverted Fluttershy's aggressive Angel-bunny often pushes her beyond her (very small) comfort zone.
      • Ladylike Rarity owns an evil cat named Opalescence. (If you had a name like that, you'd have a bad attitude, too.)
      • As of Season 2, the high-flying speedster Rainbow Dash has acquired a pet tortoise (not turtle) named Tank.
      • Twilight's owl, Owloysius (or possibly Owlowicious), is not a foil to her, but rather a foil for Spike, who is himself a foil for Twilight.