What is a hero's journey? A path that takes a person from being who they were to being a shining example of good in the world?
Well, in cinema, there are several examples of people who have walked that road, but not without first leaving behind a trail of destruction and carnage before deciding to walk that better path.
"Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
In this article, we look at villainous characters throughout film history who turned from their destructive ways and became heroes.
7. Doc Ock (Spider-Man)
Doc Ock didn't start out as an out-and-out villain in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. It was the mechanical arms that infected his brain and made him lose touch with who he was.
But when those arms took control of his mind, Doc Ock became one of Spider-Man's most fearsome villains, and he nearly killed Peter during their iconic duel on the train.
His redemption came when he realized that Spider-Man was Peter Parker, when he finally understood that Peter wasn't lazy, that he was a hero—and that he could not let the boy for whom he had such affection die.
Heroically, Doc Ock turned around and sank his ultimate weapon in the East River, sacrificing himself in the process.
6. Loki Odinson (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
For a while, Loki was the MCU's ultimate villain. First, he almost brought Thor to his knees and took over Asgard. Then, he attempted to take on The Avengers with Thanos's scepter.
After that, he faked his death in Thor: The Dark World and again secretly tried to take over Asgard—and it worked for a time. And finally, he died a hero's death when he defended his brother against Thanos's torture.
But that isn't the end of his tale. In his own Loki series, Loki became the hero that was always within him when he defended Sylvie from He Who Remains's taunts and tried to ensure she was okay.
But he was too late to save her, and she banished him to an unknown universe, all in the name of their romance.
5. Severus Snape (Harry Potter)
Severus Snape was always a kind of hero in his life, but nobody (except for Dumbledore) knew it for the longest time.
The Harry Potter films start with him as a professor who appears to be obsessed with the Dark Arts and could possibly even be a servant of Lord Voldemort himself. He even appears to stand against Harry and Hogwarts when he kills Dumbledore in The Half-Blood Prince.
But it was all a ruse to maintain his undercover status within the Dark Lord's ranks. Snape was actually in love with Harry's mother, and his love for her is what brought him to the light and kept him fighting the good fight.
When Harry learned what Snape had always been—his ultimate protector who sacrificed himself for him—he named his son after him.
4. Boromir (Lord of the Rings)
Boromir's story in The Lord of the Rings is the tragic tale of a great soldier who struggles with servitude and desperation.
As one of the Fellowship, he was charged by Elrond to take Frodo to the fires of Mount Doom and destroy the One Ring for good. However, the more time he spent with Frodo, the more he was corrupted by the Ring's influence, and he even tried to steal the Ring in a fit of madness.
However, when the time came for Boromir to redeem himself, he did so as well as any character has in cinematic history—by taking three arrows to the chest while defending the lives of Merry and Pippin. He died a hero, an icon of his country, and as a man who had accepted his fate.
3. T-800 (The Terminator)
It might not have strictly been the same character that returned as the "good guy," but Arnold Schwarzenegger's most iconic role as the T-800 still sets the standard for villains-turned-heroes in cinema.
In The Terminator, the T-800 was a relentless, cold, unfeeling cyborg that employed every weapon and tactic to hunt down and kill Sarah Connor. But in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, all of that changed.
In the sequel, he became the fierce protector of Sarah's son, John Connor. He was the machine who learned to feel compassion for the boy it was protecting, so much so that he destroyed himself for his sake.
The impact of that twist—the villain in the first movie becoming the hero in the second movie—is lost on everybody now. But when it first played out in theaters? It was the biggest shock since Vader's reveal in Star Wars.
2. Ethan Edwards (The Searchers)
The racist Confederate Ethan Edwards started out as a detestable man in The Searchers. During the film, as he and his half-Hispanic nephew search for their lost family members, Edwards shows few signs of redemption.
But when the end of the film arrives and he finds his niece (who he thinks is an Indian after years of imprisonment), his nephew thinks he's about to kill her—but he instead hugs her close.
It's an act nobody saw coming. In that moment, Edwards stopped being the brutal one-man army who was intent on killing every Indian in his path and he became the man who chose a better path.
1. Darth Vader (Star Wars)
Darth Vader is cinema's ultimate redeemed character. After first, he's evil, he tries to lure his son to the Dark Side, and he even attempts to kill his son when he stands opposed. Meanwhile, he works with his master, The Emperor, in subjugating the galaxy to the will of the Empire.
For three movies, he was the villain who brought fear to the eyes of the audience as we watched him commit unspeakable acts of violence.
However, when he saw his son being tortured by his master, Darth Vader was overtaken in his soul by Anakin Skywalker, who stepped out to kill The Emperor and throw him down a shaft.
Darth Vader's redemption, his return to being Anakin, is one of the most engrossing and iconic storylines in cinema history. To this day, he is the embodiment of what it means for a villain to become a hero.