8 movie villains who redeemed themselves

The further someone walks on obscure paths in life, the more difficult it becomes to change direction radically. But we are always forced by characters who go on very difficult journeys. The journey of the villain who decides out of the darkness to aim back at the light is a timeless tale. This is the bow of salvation. Ranging from villains to anti-heroes, the characters on this list have it all somehow caused mischief around them. Good storytelling can let’s understand what led them there, the bitterness, as well as the difficulty of changing things. But that only makes it more remarkable when they finally make the right choice, sometimes at great personal cost.

Below you will find some character arcs that are very familiar in filmmaking, mixed with some more unusual choices that do something slightly different with the redemption motif. It’s such a captivating storytelling motif that when Wes Anderson brings it a quick and light-hearted tribute in Fantastic Mr. Fox, the scene works to great dramatic and comic effect because we are so familiar with it.

Related: These are the MCU’s most sympathetic villains

8 Chris McCandless – Into the Wild

The wild bus is transported by air from the land of Alaska by air

To start with someone who is definitely more on the “flawed protagonist” than “pure villain”, Chris, in In the wilderness in, is still a villain in this sense: as soon as someone becomes attached to him, he leaves them behind and goes back on the road. Educated in a household full of stress, bad parenting and violence, his past has taught him not to put faith in people or society and to seek happiness elsewhere. But he eventually causes the same pain he suffered for others. His sister, his companion in their shared hurt, feels betrayed by his disappearance and the fact that he never once wrote to her. His parents are experiencing a deep loss. In the end, motionless in a van in the middle of nowhere, Chris experiences a revelation. He sees the mistakes he and others have made forgiving and scribbling something that others will find after his death that shows a change of heart: he did not need to run away from people endlessly.

7 Rick Blaine – Casablanca

Rick Blaine in Casablanca (1942)
Warner Bros.

Rick runs a cafe Casablanca in a way that is as matter-of-fact and stand-alone as possible. Customers come and go, he will never drink with them and never talk about himself, except in witty deviant remarks. He is cynical. He “sticks his neck out for no one.” If it’s good for business, he’ll make transactions that hurt people who fight for good causes. The most important turning point in his character arc is when he finds out that what he thought was a previous betrayal by the woman he loved was in fact a difficult situation she was trying to resolve for the best. The film makes us think it’s too late for him to care more, but then, in a familiar ending, it turns out that Rick’s good side, encouraged by the knowledge that it’s not betrayed, does exactly what’s best for everyone is.

6 Jules – Pulp Fiction

Jules in Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino’s movies are about violence and our relationship with it. Sometimes it is handled responsibly, sometimes less. But he made one movie that is actually moral (and not in any forced or didactic way), and that is Pulp Fiction. The ending sees Jules, a contract killer, wrestle with his morality: he goes through possible interpretations of a religious text he was obsessed with, first as a cool verse to shout at his victims before killing them, then with increasing depth. It plays surprisingly organic, with a gun aimed at a few small robbers in a dining room. He comes to see that they are “weak”, he is “the tyranny of evil people”, but he tries very hard to be a “shepherd”. He lets them go.

5 Boromir – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Boromir and Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
New Line Cinema

What to do with the ring (power) has always been the central question of The Lord of the Rings. Boromir is among those who think it is better to use it for good than to entrust it to two Hobbits, taken to the land of the enemy and thrown away. But Hobbits are less likely to be lured by it. Men, stronger than hobbits, are more likely to think for themselves about the task of dealing with it, when in fact they are falling short. Boromir falls into that trap. He defies the community, goes against his stated mission, and tries to claim the ring for his people by force. Then he is devastated by doubt and guilt for betraying Frodo. His salvation comes in the form of his life daring to save what is left of the community, and before he dies, he recognizes Aragorn as the better man, calling him his captain and king.

4 Bob – The Drop

Tom Hardy in The Drop (2014)
Big screen productions

Nadia (Noomi Rapace) is a broken character defined by men who hurt her, a drug problem and suicidal tendencies. She can not have an angel. Bob (Tom Hardy) is no angel. He’s a killer under the harmless shell. But he seeks salvation. He goes to church every day but never takes communion. In the end, Nadia decides to trust that this guy is making difficult ethical choices, not out of an intention to cause more harm, but out of a pragmatic desire to put things right. Her decision to trust that such a guy will not hurt her forms his salvation: someone is willing to believe in the good in him. He himself was not sure if he was good, he did not force himself in any way, and she took him. As The Drop close, we can believe these two broken characters will help each other aim for the light.

3 Bob Ford – The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Casey Affleck in The-Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Warner Bros.

Bob, who has been bullied all his life, escapes in books about the legendary Jesse James, has a thirst for “big things”. The irony of the scene in which he recites the Beatitudes (“Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek”) that he is not one of those things. When he kills his idol, he expects to stand in his place. Instead, he goes down as the cowardly villain. In the memorable epilogue, Bob grows up. He can smile at his former self (“I was only 20 years old then.”) He feels sorry. His admission that there is nothing good for him in the cards he reads is a tacit acknowledgment that he has played the game of life the wrong way and will pay. By the end of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, he relies on his fate and seems to accept it.

Related: Every MCU villain who has to return and why

2 Beast – Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Walt Disney Pictures

Although he is not the villain of the movie, we are told in the prologue that Beast was someone with a black heart who was cursed, so his outward appearance reflects what he was inside (a monster). Throughout the movie, he slowly seeks redemption and transformation from it. He finally deserves this transformation once he has earned Belle’s full trust and love.

1 Darth Vader – Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983)

He was prophesied as the one who would bring balance in the Power. But first he almost destroys it. First, evil must walk its course. Balance is achieved only in the grand scheme of things. It’s an old idea. In the biblical stories, God tells Abraham that his descendants will have a good land, but only after they will be persecuted for four generations. When the sin of the persecutors “reaches its full measure”, then the balance will be restored. Although Obi-Wan Kenobi does not see it as he reluctantly fights his student in Episode III, Anakin’s descent to the Dark Side will go much further before fulfilling the ultimate act of salvation, and the Sith Lord in Return of the Jedi and save his son’s life, which will give birth to a new Jedi order.

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