Science fiction is full of rivalries, of enemies, of villains, but frenemies--the sort of characters who are at once friend and foe--are less common. It is hard to find two characters who are at once locked in combat and embroiled in passionate friendship.
But they do exist. And, when done well, they come among the most fascinating, loathsome, and admirable characters in the genre. Sci-fi's greatest frenemies leave you charged up, both at once hoping to see them commit dastardly deeds and redeeming themselves.
Magneto - X-Men
Fewer rivalries have been as nuanced as that between Professor Charles Xavier and Max Eisenhardt (or Erik Lehnsherr... or Magnus... or any number of names he's had over the years). The mutant terrorist Magneto and Professor X both see that mutantkind is an oppressed minority, but their approaches on how to solve the problem differ.
The simple truth is that both Professor X and Magneto genuinely care for one another. But their differing ideologies pit them against one another time and time again.
Magneto sees himself the hero that can save mutant kind, and it is this sense of self-righteous determination that makes him incredibly likable--almost heroic, in his own right. But then he'll do something like rip Wolverine's adamantium skeleton out.
Professor X's greatest frenemy really came to life when Fox Studios released the X-Men films, cementing the character in the minds of sci-fi fans everywhere. Brilliantly portrayed by both Ian McKellen and Michael Fassbender, both actors perfectly relayed both Magneto's tragic sense of duty, love for Charles Xavier, and, at times, ruthless intensity. McKellen's "Gods amongst insects" scene in particular sells Magneto in a simple package.
Char Aznable - Mobile Suit Gundam
The war of Mobile Suit Gundam features heroes on both sides. Amuro serves as the Gundam pilot on the side of the Earth Federation, opposing the wrath of Zeon. Zeon's ace pilot to oppose Amuro and his Gundam? Char Aznable.
Military commander. Brother-in-arms to those who serve alongside him. Char may not be the main antagonist of the series, but he is the closest Amuro has to a rival. Char simultaneously respects and hates Amuro for killing his men.
And, yet, by the time the sequel series, Zeta Gundam, rolls around, Char and Amuro form an alliance to combat greater threats. Only for when the movie Char's Counterattack to return Char to the role of Amuro's ultimate adversary.
Both Amuro's companion and nemesis, Char serves as one of the most iconic characters in Gundam history.
The Master - Doctor Who
The Doctor has many enemies. Many alien species that seek to rip out both of his hearts. Few, though, seem to take such delight in that as The Master. The Master has taken many forms over many lifetimes, yet every time possesses a zeal to make the Doctor fail.
Whether it is thirst for world domination or just hoping to stop the sound of drums, the Master's plans are simultaneously well-crafted and loony. Unlike most other villains on Doctor Who, this means that the Doctor needs to really think outside the box to stop him.
And unlike other villains on the show, who either loathe or fear the Doctor, the Master [almost] loves the Doctor. Even more, in the revival, with Gallifrey gone, the Master remains the last bond the Doctor has to his old home world, which means that the Doctor longs for the Master.
Though the Master held a major role in the old series, it is this extra dynamic that really elevates the Master above the ordinary Who villain.
Vegeta - Dragonball Z
DBZ, once declared the greatest fighting cartoon on the planet, serves as a terrific introductory chapter to sci-fi without limitations. Aliens, energy waves, and bio-androids, the series has no parameters as to what is too over-the-top.
So yes, it is sci-fi... the same way that Star Wars is sci-fi.
Main character Goku has a tendency to befriend just about everyone he ultimately fights. Half of his reoccurring cast started off as Goku's enemies before he ended up charming them to the side of the angels. Yamcha. Krillin. Tien. Piccolo. 18. Majin Buu. Though, ultimately, only one of Goku's enemies-turned-friend seems completely obsessed with besting Goku in combat.
Vegeta, Prince of the Saiyan Race, prides himself as one of the strongest fighters in the universe. When he first met Goku, he felt assured of his superiority to the hero. His defeat at the hands of Goku and friends proved a great blow to his pride. In the following arc, Vegeta and Goku had to work together to stop the greater threat of Frieza. They went on to team-up against the Androids, Cell, Majin Buu... But never did Vegeta give up his goal of one day challenging Goku to a rematch to prove himself superior.
Even deep into the series, when it was "clear" Vegeta was a good guy, he still let himself get possessed by the wizard Babidi, ultimately killing hundreds and freeing Majin Buu from his eternal prison, just so he could have an excuse to fight Goku in the middle of a global disaster. Sure, Vegeta sacrifices his life to save the world, but Vegeta really only has one thing on his mind at all time: beating Goku.
Loki - Thor
Yes, Thor comes from a world where science and magic may be one and the same. It can be debated whether Thor's world is one of science fiction or fantasy, but that hardly matters. Thor and Loki's relationship is so complicated and so nuanced that it truly is hard to take a stand on it.
Loki is Thor's adoptive brother in Asgard, with a sense of entitlement for the throne of Asgard. The God of Mischief sometimes is content causing trouble for Thor or the heroes of Midgard, but, other times, his schemes are multi-leveled attacks upon Asgard, sometimes ending with people dead.
While the comics have always portrayed Loki as a terrific villain, it wasn't until the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off that the public had a taste of Loki's greatness as a villain. Tom Hiddleston brought a nuance to Loki that elevated him from another comic villain to almost Shakespearean levels of nuance.
Also, he's funny. And tragic.
Tetsuo - Akira
Tetsuo always admired Kaneda, the leader of his biker gang, but always felt like he stood in his friend's shadow. Never cool, never talented, and always outclassed.
When Tetsuo gains god-like abilities, he goes on a rampage, all while Kaneda chases after him.
It is easy to mislabel Tetsuo and Kaneda as enemies. It's clear that Kaneda chases after Tetsuo with the intent of putting him down, and it's clear that Tetsuo resents Kaneda for perceived slights. But the whole while, Tetsuo just wants Kaneda to respect and be in awe of him, and Kaneda is furious at Tetsuo because Tetsuo matters to him.
Even until the end of the film, Kaneda has a tough-love approach to Tetsuo, which sets the tone for their relationship. Even as the world burns around them, Kaneda still cares about Tetsuo, and the opposite, in its own twisted way, is also true.
Khan Noonien Singh - Star Trek
Sometimes opponents. Sometimes rivals. Sometimes locked in a death match. Khan remains one of Star Trek's most iconic villains, despite only appearing thrice in Star Trek's long history.
In Khan's first appearance, in the episode "Space Seed," the global conquerer bares Captain James Kirk little ill will other than the drive to conquer him. Granted, Khan is no nice guy, but it almost appears that Kirk admires him to an extent, and the two part on almost amicable terms.
Oh, how things change.
It is only by comparing Khan's appearance in "Space Seed" to The Wrath of Khan that one can truly appreciate the nuance and complicated relationship between Khan and Kirk. Khan's life has taken a turn for the worst, and he blames Kirk for it all. So he sets off with an obsessive drive to destroy Kirk and all he loves, which, ultimately, leads to both Khan's ruination and the famous death of [REDACTED].
Even though Star Trek Into Darkness is often dismissed as an inferior entry in the series, Khan once again proves to be both an adversary and, at one point, unlikely ally to Kirk. It seems regardless of which universe it is (or whether Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch plays him), Khan and Kirk will remain frenemies (emphasis, though, on enemy).
Harry Osborn - Spider-Man
A case can be made that many of Spider-Man's villains have complex relationships with the web-slinger. Venom, after all, is willing to help Spidey when a greater threat arises. Sandman doesn't bare Peter any real ill-will. Doc Ock even becomes Spidey for awhile.
But Harry Osborn best fits the description of "frenemy," if only because, before being Peter's enemy, he was Peter's best friend.
Harry Osborn's story is truly sad and depressing. Always under his father's thumb, Harry became dependent on drugs, lost everything, and blamed Peter for it all. When he became the Goblin, he took out his wrath on Peter for years, concocting numerous, fearsome plots to ruin Peter's life.
Yet, through it all, he'd bounce between Peter's friend and Peter's rival, almost without a real transition. He ended up dying saving Peter's life. For this reason--and many more--their relationship is hard to understand. Hard to map.
Wolf O'Donnell - Star Fox
Nintendo's pastiche of science fiction and furry fiction, Star Fox has something of a complex lore, full of heroes and villains with nuanced relationships to one another. Perhaps the most memorable of all of these rivalries, however, remains Wolf O'Donnell, rival to Fox McCloud himself.
Wolf is a hired gun who aligns himself with the man- er, pig -who helped take Fox's father down. Naturally, in Star Fox 64, Wolf and Fox do not get along. At all. But later games (most notably Assault) put them on better terms, with them starting as enemies before becoming allies.
Wolf is Fox's perfect rival. Cocky, ruthless, and a skilled enough pilot to back up his bragging.
Mothra - Godzilla
Godzilla is not a hero. He destroys Tokyo as often as he saves it from aliens and the like. Oddly enough, many of the kaiju in the Godzilla franchise serve as both villains and heroes over the course of the series. Rodan and Anguirus both start as villains who fight Godzilla before joining forces with him to fight the likes of King Ghidorah, Gigan, and Mecha-Godzilla.
But if any Godzilla villain takes the cake of being "Godzilla's best frenemy," it's Mothra. Of all Godzilla's frenemies, she remains both one of Godzilla's fiercest opponents and most determined alleys.
Yes. This sci-fi frenemy is the good guy.
There actually remain many Mothras, as Godzilla often kills Mothra before the end of their confrontations. Yet they all have the same general desires and personalities: protect the world that revers her as a Goddess. To that end, she fights Godzilla to save the world from Godzilla's wrath. When enemies come like Ghidorah, however, Mothra is the first to propose the truce, to redirect Godzilla's destructive power against the forces of greater evil.
Mothra has only the planet in mind. She does whatever it takes to protect Earth. Aside from Ghidorah, no other monster has appeared as frequently in the films as her. She even featured in four solo-films of her own. That's pretty awesome.
Kaworu Negisa - Neon Genesis Evangelion
It's almost hard to call the Angel named Kaworu anyone's "enemy." He really doesn't want to end humanity so much as understand it. To embrace it. Still, his existence means humanity's abrupt end.
But he is willing to put aside all that after meeting Shinji Ikari, the "hero" of Evangelion. A vulnerable child with tons of psychological damage, Shinji is at his lowest when he meets Kaworu.
Kaworu and Shinji's relationship is hard to pin down, even by Evangelion's ambiguous nature. Are the two friends? Lovers? Is Kaworu playing with Shinji's emotions for his own amusement? Is Kaworu genuinely infatuated with Shinji, to the point where he is willing to die for Shinji's sake?
The point of the matter is that Kaworu is a very, very bizarre character. As both a friend and enemy, how can he be anything other than Shinji's ultimate frenemy?
Darth Vader - Star Wars
Darth Vader. Arguably, the greatest villain in sci-fi history. There is little that can be said to re-enforce that. In the Galaxy Far, Far Away, Vader reigns supreme as the biggest badass around, able to clear rooms full of Rebels with a mere gesture.
It seems almost impossible that Vader could care about anyone.
Yet, he does. Not just once, not twice, but thrice.
Darth Vader ultimately has three frenemies over the course of the saga. In the prequels, as Anakin Skywalker, he trains under Master Obi-Won Kenobi. They fight together over the course of the Clone Wars, but the war breaks Anakin. When Anakin becomes Darth Vader, Obi-Won and him fight over the fires of Mustafar, culminating into a melodramatic declaration of Obi-Won: "YOU WERE MY BROTHER, ANAKIN! I LOVED YOU!"
But all the while, Anakin had his own pupil. Ahsoka. Ahsoka and Anakin remained close during the whole of the Clone Wars, until her unfair dismissal from the Jedi Order. Years later, between Episode III and IV, they would meet again, and Vader, unable to kill Ahsoka due to his suppressed feelings, leaves her. Proof that, despite being on opposite sides of the Force, Anakin can't bring himself to kill her.
He does kill Obi-Won, however, which leads to his most memorable frenemy, Luke Skywalker. His son.
Ultimately, by choosing not to kill his father, Luke helps bring Vader into the light, redeeming him in the finale of Return of the Jedi.
For such a bad guy, Vader sure has a lot of frenemies...
The Monster - Frankenstein
Perhaps more than Darth Vader, however, Frankenstein's Monster serves as the ultimate frenemy in sci-fi history. Why? Well, how can he not be?
The mad scientist Victor Frankenstein makes his nameless monster, only to abandon him in an instant. The monster is left to wallow in misery in its own existence. No matter which version of the story, be it the original novel, the Universal films, the Hammer films, or even Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein, the Monster and the Doctor share a strange, bizarre relationship. In Bride of Frankenstein, the Monster tells Dr Frankenstein to live. In the book, the Monster mourns Victor's passing. In Young Frankenstein, the monster even gives a compelling speech about Dr Frederick Frankenstein's mad ambitions.
The Monster craves for his creator's love and affection, but also resents the creator for abandoning him. This simultaneous admiration and loathing creates a nuanced character. It is not hatred. It is not love. It is both in equal measure. An overpowering, catastrophic thing.
Perhaps calling the Monster Frankenstein's frenemy is an ineffective way of articulating the nuanced interplay between them.