The syntheses and full retinoid receptor characterization of a novel series of retinoic acid receptor alpha (RAR alpha) antagonists, 1-5, are described. These compounds bind with high affinity to RAR alpha but were completely inactive in gene transactivation. They were also potent and effective antagonists of retinoic acid (RA) induced gene transcription at RAR alpha. Compounds 1-5 exhibited varying degrees of selectivity for RAR alpha relative to RAR beta/gamma, with compound 5 being the most selective in both binding and functional antagonism assays. These compounds will be invaluable tools in delineating the physiological roles of RAR alpha in development and in the adult animal and may themselves be useful therapeutic agents in human diseases associated with RAR alpha.