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Our Top 10 Redeemed Villains} ?> There’s something special about a villain’s heel-face turn—whether it comes about because they start listening to their conscience, become friends with a hero, have a supernatural encounter, or realize the dark side doesn’t have cookies—some of our favourite characters used to be scoundrels. Here are our top 10 picks, and why they impacted us.
1. Prince Zuko, Avatar: The Last Airbender
Part of why I love Zuko’s story is because it’s not a perfect heel-face turn. Even though he changes his mind about what’s right and decides to fight against oppression, he struggles with his decision. His personality doesn’t magically change to humble/likeable, either; he’s still prone to angry outbursts and frustration. His redemption is messy, and I like the honesty because we live in a messy world.
2. Darth Vader, Revenge of the Jedi
Vader’s redemption is triggered by his son’s belief in him. Vader doesn’t believe there’s hope for himself or that he has the capacity for good, but Luke just won’t give up. If Luke had agreed with Kenobi that his father was no longer in there, he would have died or become a Sith. Vader’s change of heart due to his son’s faith reminds me that my belief in someone else isn’t wasted—maybe I can believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves, and it will make a difference.
3. Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I like Spike’s redemption story because it is messy, difficult, and slightly ambiguous. To me, Spike becomes a redeemed villain when he chooses to fight to get his soul back and, as a result, lives with the weight of the evil acts he’s committed during his time as a vampire. While the catalyst for his decision is his desire for Buffy, ultimately it comes down to his wish to regain some humanity. Spike sums it up himself when he tells Buffy before their final battle with the First: “I know you’ll never love me. I know that I’m a monster. But you treat me like a man.
4. Black Widow, The Avengers
We never see her as a villain, but a staged confrontation with Loki and a vulnerable moment with Bruce Banner give us glimpses into Natasha Romanov’s past. I would love to know what Clint said to her that convinced her to join S.H.I.E.L.D. I admire how unashamed she is, even though there’s “red in her ledger.” She is well suited to comfort Clint when he comes out of his hypnosis by Loki and feels the weight of everyone he killed.
5. Venom, Spider-Man
Venom is forged in hatred and yet redeemed by a love for justice. Though Venom is bitter because Spider-Man spurns them, living on the outskirts of society helps them empathize with marginalized people—they become a bit of a champion for the weak. I love their story because the symbiote doesn’t dominate Brock and slip into hatred, nor does Brock have to assert his dominance and reject the symbiote; the two find peace together and take on responsibility for a rejected community.
6. Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Prior to his great revival, Miles Edgeworth (a.k.a. “Demon Prosecutor”) sends more innocent people to jail than a game of Monopoly. But when he ends up in the defendant’s chair, cowering in the shadow of childhood trauma and doubting whether or not he pulled the trigger on his own father, he’s shown the meaning of searching out truth. With new courtroom ethics, he spends an entire series of spin-offs defining what truth means to him—coming to understand its power to save and extend the freedom of others. When my back’s against the judicial wall, there’s nobody I’d rather see come to my rescue with an updated autopsy report in hand.
7. Regina, Once Upon a Time
The Evil Queen’s request for revenge is fueled by a broken heart when the stable boy she loves is killed in front of her. She dedicates her life to getting revenge on Snow White, the person she blames for his death, and becomes feared throughout the land. Later, when she adopts a son, he reminds her of the person she was before she turned evil. Her redemption is triggered by her love for him, a magic powerful enough to break any spell.
8. T-800, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
I know it’s a different machine than that in the original film, but as one of the same model, Sarah Connor considers this T-800 to be a villain until he proves himself and explains the future. Then for most of the film, it’s forgotten that his model was once the enemy until the end, where the T-800’s self-sacrifice is deemed a choice, not a command, by its once-most vehement adversary, as Sarah muses that he learned the value of human life. For a movie that as a kid shocked me with its violence, the message was all heart: if even a terminator can show it, we are all capable of the greatest kind of love.
9. Severus Snape, Harry Potter
Snape sacrifices everything in order to redeem the mistake that got Lily killed. One of the things I admire most is his choice to stay on the good side even though most people still hate him. Even when he fights for Dumbledore, he never has the luxury of people thinking well of him. Dumbledore is the only exception, and then he has to murder the Headmaster. Snape’s biggest flaw is bullying his students, but since his death protects them, I think he is redeemed.
10. Jack, Mass Effect 2 and 3
Jack is a super-powered prodigy who never fits in with society and she’s being kept in a mega-prison when—surprise—she breaks out and leaves a path of destruction longer than her list of “reasons why she’ll never be a good guy.” In Mass Effect 3, however, she finally finds a place to aim her energy that’s serving a real purpose—protecting biotic children. What’s so great about Jack’s redemptive turn is that she doesn’t apologize and undergo a personality change; she’s exactly the same aggressive and profane person, but is using her abilities for good instead of selfishness.