Compelling character development is often one of the hallmarks of good storytelling—few things are more satisfying than watching a character change and develop in an interesting and believable way as the story progresses. And one of the most favorite types of character development is the redemption arch.
Everyone loves good villains, but some of the best bad guys end up being good. When done well, redemption arcs can be some of the most exciting, emotionally meaningful aspects of a given story. Here are just a few classic arches of redemption on the big screen that resonated with viewers around the world.
Darth Vader (Star Wars)
It’s almost a cliche to start with Darth Vader discussing the iconic arches of redemption in movies. However, sometimes the most obvious example is obvious for a good reason. Darth Vader was introduced in 1977 as the worst bad guy of all—a terrifying and tyrannical Dark Lord who is said to be the killer of our hero Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker. Throughout the original “Star Wars” and most of its sequel, Vader is not portrayed with much more nuance. He’s not sympathetic or multi-faceted, just pure evil. And then the ending of “The Empire Strikes Back” turns the whole story upside down.
In perhaps the most famous plot twist in movie history, Vader reveals to Luke that he did not kill Anakin Skywalker — he is Anakin, turned into a monster by the Emperor’s manipulations. Although Luke is initially horrified by this revelation, in Return of the Jedi he sees him trying to bring his father back to the Bright Side. And although Vader initially remains loyal to the Emperor, he ultimately prefers his family to his master, saving Luke from Palpatine at the cost of his own life.
What follows is a heartbreaking farewell between father and son, as Anakin Skywalker finally briefly drops his Darth Vader mask before he becomes one with the Force. This is not only the perfect conclusion to Anakin’s storyline, but also the completion of Luke’s development, proving that he was right to believe in his father. This is a textbook example of the beloved arch of redemption, and it becomes even stronger after witnessing the beginning of Anakin’s story in the prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars.
Jules Winnfield (“Pulp Fiction”)
Despite the status of the main character and a likable personality, Jules Winnfield — the endlessly quoted character of Samuel L. Jackson from Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction — is not usually considered a villain. But despite his penchant for quoting the Bible, he is not a saint either. Jules is an assassin hired by crime boss Marcellas Wallace, who initially shows no remorse for killing his targets. But after a near-death experience, Jules becomes convinced that his survival was an act of divine intervention, a sign from God that he was destined for something better. Although in the end we will never see the results of Jules’ decision to end his life of crime, the scene in the diner in which he reveals his change of views is nevertheless one of the most famous scenes in the film.
The main character of the 2010 DreamWorks movie “Megamind” is also not a typical villain. Despite his over-commitment to the archetypal supervillain aesthetic, Megamind (voiced by Will Ferrell) more of a mischievous troublemaker than a truly evil force. But even if he is not dangerous in himself, he still begins the story as a purely selfish character, concerned only with proving his superiority over his sworn enemy Metroman. But as soon as his own mistakes create an even greater threat, Megamind is forced to confront his own selfishness and take on the role of a hero. “Megamind” is a clever, comedic and charming story of one villain who learns to change for the better. If you haven’t seen this classic animated movie yet, it’s worth watching.
Loki (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Speaking of superhero movies, there’s no shortage of villains in the MCU who see their mistakes. There are many other characters who could easily end up on this list, from Yondu to Wenwu and just about any Spider-Man villain.: there is no way home.” But the most famous redemption arc in the MCU is without a doubt related to Loki, the Asgardian trickster and brother of Thor. Loki is presented as an insidious, power-hungry villain, ready to destroy entire worlds if it means proving that he is a worthy heir to Odin.
However, after his defeat in The Avengers, Loki transforms from Thor’s nemesis into his troublesome ally, teaming up with him in The Dark World and Ragnarok before eventually sacrificing himself to save his brother from Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. But although this was the end of Loki from Earth-616, a minor setback with time travel in the “Finale” led to a multiverse version of the trickster going on his own journey of redemption in the series “Loki”.