There is always a sense of excitement to be found a great, imposing villain gives even an inclination of goodness somewhere deep within them. It’s been done in standalone films, has become a reliable trope to evoke strong emotions from audiences in television, and it is no less effective when employed in some of the biggest movie franchises of all time.
From world-conquering supervillains to cold-blooded criminals, these characters may not have started out as heroes, but they did get there in the end. Whatever their reasons for changing sides were, fans relished the opportunity to cheer them on as they fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the heroes they once stood against.
Deckard Shaw – ‘Fast & Furious’ Franchise
Within the series which has come to be known for family and large-scale ridiculousness, one of the more consistent trademarks has come to be its eagerness to redeem its more noteworthy villains. Among the very best of them is Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw.
Beyond a post-credits scene in Fast & Furious 6, he made his first appearance in Furious 7 as an adversary to the Toretto crew seeking revenge for his brother’s death. While that didn’t quite go to plan, Shaw returned in The Fate of the Furious when he was enlisted to help Toretto’s outfit before saving the world in the franchise spin-off Hobbs & Shaw.
Norman Nordstrom – ‘Don’t Breathe’ & ‘Don’t Breathe 2’
Seeing a villain establish a terrifying skillset only for it to later be re-used in a more heroic light is something rarely seen in cinematic entertainment. But fans of the Don’t Breathe horror movies got just that from Norman Nordstrom (Stephen Lang) who was introduced as the menacing villain when three youths broke into his home in Don’t Breathe.
Given the horrific nature of his crimes (which ended up being even worse than murder), it was a surprise when Nordstrom served as the protagonist in Don’t Breathe 2. Retrieving his adopted daughter from abductors, the film becomes a case of bad guy vs even worse guys, and it was amazing how satisfying it was seeing Nordstrom wreak havoc under those circumstances.
Lucian – ‘Underworld’ Series
Following the vampire warrior assassin Selene (Kate Beckinsale) in her coven’s centuries-spanning war against the lycans, Lucien (Michael Sheen) – the oldest and most powerful lycan – started as the series’ villain. That all changed though with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, a prequel showing the origins of the eternal war with Lucian, a loyal servant to the vampires, as the protagonist.
Enraged by his daughter’s romance with Lucian, Viktor (Bill Nighy) sparks the unending conflict when he has Lucian’s lover executed upon learning of their unborn hybrid child. The film not only painted Lucian as the hero, but cast new light on the disdain he held for the vampire elders in Underworld.
Mystique – ‘X-Men’ Franchise
Throughout the X-Men movies, Mystique (played by both Rebecca Romijn and Jennifer Lawrence) has swapped between being a villain, a hero, and something in between several times. In terms of the film’s release order, the shapeshifting mutant debuted as one of Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) most valuable followers in X-Men.
While she stays on that trajectory throughout the original films, she did get a makeover in X-Men: First Class and became a complicated hero in her own right in X-Men: Days of Future Past. While her intricacies make defining her morality difficult, her actions in the franchise’s later movies show she has a heroic side to her.
Apollo Creed – ‘Rocky’ Series
While being the boxing heavyweight champion isn’t the most villainous position in the world, Rocky antagonist Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) plays the part comfortably. In the first film he is simply a great boxer with a penchant for showmanship, but in Rocky II he becomes more aggressive as he bullies Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) into taking a rematch.
As bitter as the rivalry grew, it was a delight to see Creed join Rocky to help him reclaim the title in Rocky III. His focus on fitness and speed proved to be instrumental to Rocky emerging victorious, and it saw Creed become a cherished family friend to the Balboas, a point which drives the drama in Rocky IV after Creed is killed in the ring.
Nebula – The MCU
With one of the most underrated character arcs in the MCU, Nebula (Karen Gillan) entered the franchise in Guardians of the Galaxy as Thanos’ adopted daughter, a ruthless assassin envious of her sister’s favor with their father. Defined by her searing hatred, Nebula was always a lethal threat, which made her eventual shift in loyalties all the more rewarding.
She fought alongside the Guardians in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and was an integral participant in the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. She has since become a core member of the Guardians, featuring in their Christmas special, and will play a major role in their third film.
Severus Snape – ‘Harry Potter’ Series
An imposing figure with an interest in the dark arts, Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) started out as a secondary villain in the Harry Potter films and served as an antagonist to Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) for most of the series. Even as late as the sixth film in the saga, Snape seems to prove his allegiance to Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) when he stands against Harry and kills Dumbledore (Michael Gambon).
However, it was revealed to be a ruse to entrench Snape in Voldemort’s inner sanctum. As it turned out, he had always been one of Harry’s greatest protectors and, while judgments over his morality will rage on, he eventually earned Harry’s respect as one of the bravest men he ever knew.
Captain Barbossa – ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Series
As an undead pirate whose appearance turned ghoulish in the moonlight, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) was a great adversary to Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and a perfect villain in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. While he didn’t appear in the franchise’s second installment (bar a cameo at the end), he did make a grand return in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
Recruited by the surviving crew of the Black Pearl to rescue Jack from the land of the dead, the resurrected Barbossa made for a brilliantly entertaining antihero. His wonderful rivalry with Jack Sparrow was even more enjoyable when they were on the same side, and he remained one of the franchise’s highlights through its later movies.
Loki Odinson – The MCU
With his cheekiness and charisma, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has become one of the MCU’s most universally adored characters, but he didn’t start out that way. Not only was he introduced as the main villain in Thor, but he also went on to become the major antagonist of the franchise’s first phase.
Marvel very quickly saw just how great a commodity they had in Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki and the character’s malicious villainy was soon scaled back. He became something of an antihero with his appearances in the following two Thor movies before revealing himself to be a true hero early in Avengers: Infinity War and consistently throughout Loki.
The T-800 – ‘The Terminator’ Franchise
There have been plenty of great villains who became good heroes and a number of good villains who became great heroes, but the T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the only character to have truly mastered both good and evil. The killing machine became instantly iconic as the relentless villain in The Terminator where he is tasked with going back in time to kill Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).
As one of the greatest movie icons to have ever graced the screen, the Terminator was phenomenal as a villain, but he was even better when he became the hero in T2: Judgment Day. Assigned the mission of protecting John Connor (Ed Furlong) from the more advanced T-1000 (Robert Patrick), the legend of the Terminator grew exponentially when he switched sides and started fighting for humanity.