One of the best tropes in fiction is the villain who ends up righting his wrongs and coming into his own and turns out to be a hero at the end of a story. And that trope brings reality into a work of art, whether it’s a villain who doesn’t really believe in the cause he serves, or who realizes his path is the wrong one—or sometimes it’s even for self-preservation. Either way, these characters usually gain a cult following and audiences fall in love with their willingness to be better and even relate to the battle between good and evil.
Nothing is more exciting as an audience than watching villains in movies realize they could be doing something right, and in that split second decide it’s worth risking their lives and reverting to what they knew before. Now, unfortunately, that decision is sometimes followed by their death, but we are left to believe that it was worth it. This article lists villains in movies who became heroes through sacrifice or decision, and does not include morally gray heroes, or those who always straddle the line between hero and villain all the time, such as Harley Quinn, Mystique, or Thomas Shelby. From supervillains to zombie slayers to boxers, here are some of cinema’s greatest villains who have found their way to the good side.
8/8 Maleficent — Maleficent
From the Disney classic with the evil dragon lady who snatches sweet Aurora, the 2014 live-action film Maleficent turns history on its head. Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, sets out to punish her old lover and curses her only daughter with a death spell that will take place on her 16th birthday. She seeks revenge and has determined the theaters as an evil villain. As Aurora grows older, Maleficent becomes attached to her and tries to warn her about the curse, eventually searching for a way to reverse it. She ends up being the one to break the curse on Aurora, and in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, she sacrifices herself for her, proving to be the “good guy” whether she likes it or not.
7/8 Severus Snape—Harry Potter Franchise
Pictures from Warner Bros.
Now this character is very interesting. Fans of the Harry Potter series either love it or hate it. Severus Snape, the evil professor, initially sided with Voldemort, but had his reasons. Snape spent his entire Harry Potter school career practically bullying the boy because he hated James Potter, Harry’s father. But in the end, Snape sacrifices himself for Harry and reveals that he was madly in love with Lily Potter, Harry’s mother. So did Snape save Harry because he cared for him, like ., or just for his mother? Perhaps the Potterhead community will never know. That said, what we do know is that Snape was portrayed as the villain, but ultimately chose to be the hero and save Harry himself.
6/8 Kylo Ren — The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy
One of the most interesting characters in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Kylo Ren, also known as Ben Solo, is trying to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, join the dark side and wreak havoc on planets across the galaxy. To add to his anger issues, he destroys and murders, trying to prove himself to one dark leader after another. He tries to convince Rey, the new Jedi adversary, to join him and conquer the galaxy, but she refuses. Time and time again, Kylo Ren follows the villain’s checklist and side with the dark side. But ultimately, in a moment that ends up costing him his life, he makes the decision to answer Rey’s call for help and turn on his followers, helping the rebellion survive and saving Rey’s life by giving her his own life . -Strength. Beautiful and tragic, and a wonderful tribute to redeeming Star Wars villains.
5/8 Loki—MCU Franchise
Throughout the MCU, Loki has gone from trying to take over New York with the Chitari army, to creating the first Avengers threat, to unpacking his trauma, to saving his brother countless times, to getting his own TV show about time travel and falling. in love with himself, metaphorically and literally. From whiny villain to one of the most heartbreaking deaths (almost), Loki toes the morally gray hero line, but ultimately makes the list of cinema’s best villains who ended up being good.
Nebula 4/8 — Guardians of the Galaxy
One of the most misunderstood and overlooked characters in the MCU who deserves so much more hype, Nebula is the abused, half-bionic adopted daughter of the Mad Titan Thanos. She goes from being an evil killing machine, shaped to be the perfect assassin, in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies to one of the most important parts of Avengers: Endgame. Following in her sister’s footsteps, she learns that she can be a part of something much better and not have to endure Thanos’ torture. In a hand-to-hand “conversation” with Gamora, she airs out her feuds and vents her trauma, but ultimately she has the best character arc, learning to work with a team to help save the rest of the world from her evil adoptive father.
3/8 Anton Ego — Ratatouille
The food critic whose sole purpose was to be the menacing force that drove Remy and Linguini to be the chefs they were meant to be in Ratatouille made all his viewers nostalgic for a meal they had never eaten before. He starts out as the physical villain, the cause of the restaurant’s demise, but ends up as one of its main supporters and a seemingly happier man in the process. The third villain on this list, only because you can never forget the sign of relief after enjoying the dish and remembering his mother.
2/8 Apollo Creed – Rocky
In Rocky, Apollo Creed begins as the menacing adversary of the beloved Rocky Balboa, defeating him horribly. As a result, Rocky heaps that anger on the villain who carries the American flag and makes a grand entrance. Of course, when he learns that Creed may be his only hope to get back in the ring and fight again, he turns to Apollo for help and they form an unlikely and strong bond.
1/8 Darth Vader — Original Star Wars Trilogy
One of the most famous movie villains of all time, Darth Vader turns from his years of following the dark side and taking orders from the evil Emperor Palpatine, and kills him to save his son. It’s one of the most iconic villain redemption arcs in film history, and why it’s at the top of our list.