Arguably many a viewer's favorite part of a piece of fiction, whether book, comic, film, or video game, the villain is a feature in storytelling that has been explored and studied since the days of David and Goliath. Nowadays, villains are a trifle more complex than the standard evil-doer with a long black cape. They have more complex motives, relatable emotions, and some villains even have a great deal of heart beneath their hatred. But one of the most interesting things a villain of this caliber can do is switch sides and recant his wicked ways. Whether through redemption, an emotional story arc, or simply for means of personal gain, some villains have been known to shed their scales and turn a new leaf, as strange as that may sound.
You'd be surprised just how many villains have walked back toward the light side of the moral spectrum. It can be as simple as a change of heart or a means to an end, but it can also be as incredibly complex as an ego-shattering defeat or long suffered trials and tribulations. Whatever the reason for their shift in alignment, the changed villain is always a character of particular interest to many viewers. Are they entirely redeemed? Can they fully be trusted? What will their lives be like given their less than admirable reputation? These questions are what make changed villains so enrapturing, and that's what we're here to talk about today. Join us as we welcome twenty of fiction's former fiends to walk in the light.
Let's get the ball rolling with a more recent addition to the former-villain collective, Gru. The formerly despicable protagonist from Despicable Me and its sequels, Gru goes from the stereotypical supervillain with an army of minions, a mad scientist assistant, and gadgets galore, to a loving family man when three orphan girls enter his life. It takes a full feature film, but he does turn a complete 180.
With their saccharinely sweet adorableness, Margo, Edith, and Agnes manage to turn the scheming Gru into the super-bad super-dad he would go on to be in the following installments. Though he falls into the only-needed-to-be-loved category of villains, we thought he'd be a great way to kick off our list.
Disney's Mistress of All Evil certainly pulled the rug out from under us with her character shift in her 2014 film. Arguably the most famous villain of Disney Animation, the dark fairy certainly showed her lighter side when given her own film. We can chalk this drastic change up to reimagining a famous character, but it's so jarring we had to include it.
Though the film was breathtaking in its visuals and designs, the character arc of Maleficent was not at all what we were expecting. We see her heartbreaking backstory and desire for vengeance, but then we see the hard left turn that is her relationship with Aurora. We can understand why they went this direction, but it wasn't exactly in character for her.
And now, time for a better class of comedic criminal with Megamind. The Will Ferrel led comedy poked fun at a truckload of superhero stereotypes, but it also gave us a very complex and hysterical villain. Megamind fits all the typical comic book villain archetypes with his black cape, death rays, mutant sidekick, and a cornucopia of weapons. But he also shows that being the bad guy can get pretty blue.
Megamind is constantly thwarted by his superpowered nemesis, Metroman, and we see the effect it has on his self-esteem. The big-brained supervillain not only wants to win for once but wants the love and adoration he's never received. He serves as an interesting dive into the brain of your typical comic book criminal.
We know what you're thinking. No, this isn't the same cute and cuddly arboreal alien that hangs out with a machine-gun-toting raccoon. This is the giant creature from another planet who wanted to capture and study humans and sink his roots deep within the earth. Not exactly what we'd call a great first impression.
In his debut, Groot was more like something out of H.G. Wells than Marvel Comics. He was known as The Monster From Planet X and resembled a relative of Treebeard than anything else. He was later consumed by termites and reborn as the gigantic guardian we know today. A simple case of changed identity, but we had to add him to the list.
To be fair, Selena Kyle flip-flops alliances more than anything. She's not entirely evil, but she doesn't exactly fight for good. She's still Batman's main squeeze, but she's also still a notorious jewel thief. Let's just call it a 60/40 ration of good and bad.
This felonious feline is a fan favorite of the DC crowd, and she doesn't seem to keen on changing her spots permanently. Perhaps after caressing the Caped Crusader long enough, she might finally make the switch permanent? But we can't say we don't love her less than legal escapades. She's got nine lives to think about it, surely.
Not exactly the most friendly magic-user, but it's kind of interesting having a villain in your RPG party. The Demon King of the dark ages, Magus is one of the bosses Chrono and his friends face off against on their time-traveling adventure. Seemingly the game's antagonist at first, he is united with the party against their common enemy, Lavos.
Cunning, intelligent, and gifted in the mystic arts, Magus is a powerhouse of magic attacks and serves as the typical mage class for the party. Honoring the wishes of his sister, he leaves his realm to protect the party and destroy Lavos. Even the most stone-hearted wizards have a tender spot if one knows where to look.
Easily one of the most transformative characters with one of the most mature and incredible story arcs in animation history, Prince Zuko is nothing short of Shakespearean. Scarred by his own father, stripped of his rank and honor, he ventures out on a quest to capture the Avatar for the glory of the Fire Nation. Easily one of the most beloved characters of the Avatar fanbase, Zuko's character development is an odyssey in itself.
With Zuko, we see a rare occurrence in the villain cycle. We see real character development, the stages of anger, pain, acceptance, and reformation of a once feared foe. Seeing his struggles and relationships makes us all think differently about some of our animated antagonists.
13 BUCKY BARNES/WINTER SOLDIER
The fall and redemption of Bucky Barnes is one of Marvel's most nailbiting conflicts. Though Bucky Barnes is a former hero put under HYDRA's mind control, we still want to include him on our list. The dramatic conflict between him and his former friend, Steve Rogers/Captain America, is one of the most incredible stories presented in the MCU.
The emotional turmoil experienced by both Steve and Bucky is palpable and the ever classic conflict of friend vs. friend never goes out of style. Seeing the proud Captain America duke it out with his former brother, knowing how much Bucky was tortured and brainwashed and you've got an epic saturated in drama. At the end of it all, a good soldier never leaves a man behind.
Love it or hate it AVP: Alien Vs. Predator is actually a pretty good flick when it's actually focused on the Aliens and the Predators. Going toe-to-toe and nearly terminating with the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger is certainly an impressive addition to one's intergalactic resume. The former of the two is one of the deadliest creatures to come from beyond the stars. But can he fight for good and not sport?
The mighty hunter must band with a human ally against a common enemy in this monsterpiece as human scientists awaken ancient Xenomorphs within a predator temple in the arctic tundra. Seeing the predator on the side of good is unusual but refreshing. To say we didn't enjoy cheering for this brute would be totally untrue.
11 THE GRINCH
Whether you prefer Karlof, Carrey, or Cumberbatch, there's no denying that despite being one of the most famous creations of Dr. Seuss, the Grinch is nobody's hero. As if the song wasn't obvious enough, the green ghoul of Mount Crumpit doesn't exactly ooze wit and whimsy like the rest of his peers. He's a mean, vile, foul, sly, one, and he's got it in for a certain holiday in Whoville.
The Grinch is perhaps one of the first villains we're ever introduced to as children, so it makes sense he becomes a moral figure. He's a little one dimensional, but he doesn't need to be much else. He's a curmudgeon that experiences joy and is changed for the better. What more do you need?
Yes, the Merc with the Mouth is one of the most beloved and celebrated antiheroes the comic book world has ever known. But remember, children, Deadpool was first and foremost a paid assassin on the wrong side of justice. In his first appearance, he was hired by Genesis to take out Cable and the New Mutants back in 1991.
This wasn't his only walk on the dark side by any means. He took out several figures and faces on both sides of the law and let's not forget Deadpool did, in fact, kill the Marvel Universe. Many series and issues later, he evolved into the pop-culture-referencing, fourth-wall-breaking assassin we all know and love. A hero now, but he still had his darker days.
9 KNUCKLES AND SHADOW
We have two for the price of one on this spot as we look at some former nemeses of the fastest thing alive, Sonic the Hedgehog. Knuckles and Shadow were at one-time antagonistic forces against the blue blur, but now as familiar as Sonic himself. With Knuckles being the rival and Shadow being the series goth-phase personified, they've both been contenders with our favorite hedgehog.
Both have been under the influence of Dr. Robotnik/Eggman, and both have done battle with Sonic. Knuckles was only trying to protect the Chaos Emerald, but Shadow was a pawn in the doctor's game. Either way, both characters have found their homes in the series as well as a place on our list.
8 THE RIDDLER
Riddle us this: when is a villain a consulting detective? When he gets tired of getting bested by Batman, of course. Next to the Joker, the Riddler is one of the most colorful members in Gotham's Rogues Gallery. With his killer games and puzzles, he's boggled the brain of the Caped Crusader, but he's also been known to be a valued asset in solving particularly crafty crimes.
After his reformation, Edward Nygma became a sort of consulting detective, working with Gotham's finest and even tagging along with Batman and the Justice League as well. Of course, he doesn't stay golden for long. But he is one of the few villains who does turn over a new leaf and at least try to stick with it.
7 SEVERUS SNAPE
Talk about judging books by covers, this one blindsided many. Young witches and wizards everywhere were thrown for a loop when they learned the truth of this Hogwarts potions master. A Death Eater turned double agent for Albus Dumbledore, Snape had the readers and everyone else fooled while Lord Voldemort rose to power.
Snape was one of those characters that just reeked of villain. The black cape, vulturish qualities, and disdain for his young charges, all are markers of malevolence in YA fiction. But as the series progressed, we all learned what a tragic and complex figure Snape was. As the pages unfurled a story of love, loss, and lament, we found out just how much he sacrificed.
6 DONKEY KONG
He's the leader of the bunch, you know him well, and he earns a spot for kicking tail. Donkey Kong was once the barrel-throwing, girlfriend-stealing, girder-climbing nemesis of a certain plumber. Now his days of cruising around construction sites are over, and he's much more interested in adding to his banana hoard.
After his bout with Mario was over, DK's games took on a more lively, jungle-themed, platformer route. Joining up with his buddy, Diddy Kong, DK and the rest of his crew have been bashing Kremlings and Tikis with gusto ever since. But he'll still go racing with his former rival once in a while.
5 DARTH VADER
Cutting it a little close, but we're more than happy to include our favorite Sith Lord, Darth Vader. Like Zuko, we have another villain of Shakespearean proportions. The saga of Lord Vader is one for the space-opera ages, and we see it all in two trilogies of films.
Fear leads to anger, anger then leads to hate, and hate leads to pain, and Vader goes through all that and a bag of chips on his rise to power. He's torn asunder both physically and emotionally, he's committed unspeakable acts, but the fragment of the old Anakin Skywalker still lives and allows him to save his son, defeat the Emporer and return to the Light Side of the force. Better late than never, right?
4 HARLEY QUINN
Speaking of tragic sagas, there are few as brutal and heartbreaking as Harley Quinn's. The on and off girlfriend and henchwoman of the Joker, Harleen Quinzel has been through Hell and back again at the hands of her puddin'. In recent years, she's cut the clown loose and become an antihero of Deadpool's level, talk about moving up in the world.
She's been thrown from a window, a helicopter, and kicked to the curb by the Joker so many times sometimes enough is enough. Though she's no angel, she's a welcomed member to the Suicide Squad and has quite a loud fanbase. Though we're not all fans of the roller derby look, we can certainly root for Harley.
Now here's a character who likes to toe the line. It basically all comes down to who wears the pants in the Venom relationship, Eddie Brock or the Symbiote? If Brock's in control, it depends on whatever alliance he's leaning to, be that the side of right or whatever suits his needs. If it's his other half, it all depends on how hungry he is.
In recent issues, Venom has become Anti-venom, a super-soldier-like hybrid. A controlled amount of Symbiote helps Brock beat cancer, but also turns him into the superhero Anti-Venom. Though he is a more stable and monitored version of his black counterpart, he's still a Symbiote. That being said, we can't deny how cool it is seeing Venom on the good side.
2 TERMINATOR/ T-800
In his first outing in 1984, the T-800 was a cybernetic super-soldier from the future bent on the destruction of Sarah Connor. Like so many characters in sci-fi films, he came back in the sequel, but instead of terminating his target, his mission is to save John Connor from the elusive T-1000. Looks like someone had a change in programming.
The teaser trailers for the film were very mysterious, and it looked like the Terminator was back to cause more damage. Imagine the surprise when viewers discovered it was Robert Patrick in the role of the villain and Schwarzenegger as the heroic T-800. It was a welcomed change and became one of the most successful sequels to grace the screen.
Let's get real, it's no surprise that Loki makes our number one slot. And we're not just talking about his fan following. In accordance with his mythological history, Loki changes sides quite frequently. It all depends on what side would benefit him the most. All we can say is when he's good, he's extraordinary.
Maybe it's his charm and demeanor while doing his dastardly deeds, or maybe it's seeing him try to redeem himself, but we love our Loki? Whatever the reason, Loki has been sliding into more antihero territory than a pure villain. Perhaps he's maturing and growing as a character... or waiting for the tides to shift again. We'll see how Endgame turns out.