TV Characters Who Started Out As Bad Guys Before Joining The Team

List Rules
Vote up the reformed jerks you'd be willing to call a friend.

Nothing beats a good character arc, when heroes overcome the lies they've believed and change irreversibly. Character development is the cornerstone of any good television series, and there's particular satisfaction in the arc of a villain turned ally. Who doesn’t love watching someone become better?

Rather than villains who are introduced only to become superheroes or sporadic allies, let’s look at characters who were introduced as antagonists, only to somehow become a beloved member of their series’ inner circle. We’re talking Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z: characters we truly hated when we met them, but who arguably end up more likable than the flagship hero (especially Vegeta in Dragon Ball Super). 

So, take a trip down this list and decide for yourself which inadvertent rehabilitation was the most successful. Walter White breaks bad; these characters break good. (Be warned: Spoilers abound, so tread lightly on shows you haven't watched yet.)


  • Steve Harrington - 'Stranger Things' 
    Photo: Stranger Things / Netflix

    How He Is Introduced: Steve Harrington isn’t necessarily a villain in Season 1 of Stranger Things, but he’s a bully. He’s that stereotypical jock with great hair who is overly worried about how people perceive him. We’re rooting for Jonathan and Nancy, not Steve and Nancy. When Jonathan beats the crap out of Steve, the audience doesn’t shed a tear. 

    His Cruelest Moments: Slut-shaming Nancy and attempting to beat up Jonathan simply because he thinks he’s weird. 

    How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? By the end of Season 1, Steve realizes he uses cruelty to hide his insecurities. As he says, his biggest problem is that his friends are jerks. By Season 2, Steve has realized the error of his ways and commits to change: He babysits the younger members of the group and becomes arguably the series’ best character. On top of fighting off Demodogs with his signature bat, his relationship with Dustin (now a cornerstone of the show) catalyzes all this growth.

  • How She Is Introduced: We meet Cordelia in the show’s first season, as a student at Sunnydale High. While Buffy is more of an outcast, Cordelia is a popular, stuck-up, and materialistic cheerleader - the typical victim of the horror genre. Put simply, Cordelia's a Mean Girl, a clear foil to Buffy and her most persistent non-supernatural foe.  

    Her Cruelest Moment: Competing with Buffy for homecoming queen in Season 3. Throughout the episode, Cordelia sabotages Buffy at every turn, isolating her from her friends and belittling her role as a Slayer.

    How Long Does It Take for Her to Become Part of the Group? Cordelia’s interactions with the Scooby Gang soften her. In Season 2, she begins a relationship with Buffy's sidekick Xander. Even though she ends up dumping him twice (first due to her subsequent loss of social status, and later because she catches him kissing Willow), the arc makes Cordelia more a part of the team than ever. That said, Cordelia sporadically falls back into her brutally honest and borderline cruel tendencies. However, the more we get to know about her and her life at home, the more dynamic a character she becomes. In the long run, Cordelia becomes one of the bravest and most resourceful characters in the show, ultimately becoming a crucial member of Angel’s detective agency in the spin-off series.  

  • James 'Sawyer' Ford - 'Lost' 
    Photo: ABC

    How He Is Introduced: Sawyer clashes with the other survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 almost immediately. He’s a con man through and through, on top of cracking seriously mean jokes. 

    His Cruelest Moments: Accusing Sayid of being a terrorist before searching the plane for supplies that he then keeps for himself. Other survivors are forced to bargain with him for items. Oh, he also offs a man he believes to be the original "Tom Sawyer," the con artist who destroyed his family. However, the guy was innocent. 

    How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? Sawyer’s change arguably begins when he falls in love with Kate. Although the two don’t end up together, their relationship sets him on the path to becoming a leader in Season 3. Via flashbacks, we come to know of Sawyer’s background as a con artist, and that his initial cruelty was mostly an act. When the Oceanic Six escape the island in a helicopter, Sawyer even jumps from it to help them conserve fuel.

  • 4
    150 VOTES

    Captain Hook - 'Once Upon a Time' 

    Captain Hook - 'Once Upon a Time' 
    Photo: ABC

    How He Is Introduced: Killian Jones, AKA Captain Hook, is introduced in the second season of Once Upon a Time. The character is based on the infamous villain from Peter Pan.

    His Cruelest Moments: He partners with Cora (Regina’s evil mother) when we first meet him and helps her torment Storybrooke just to get revenge on Rumpelstiltskin. In Season 2, he shoots Rumple’s true love, Belle. Also, he takes out his father in cold blood. 

    How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? Hook starts to realize he was wrong to attack the citizens of Storybrooke near the end of Season 2. By Season 3, perhaps to repent, he offers to help Emma Swan and company rescue Henry from Neverland. Over the course of this journey, we see a different side to his character. Ultimately, it is the love he develops for Emma that helps him become an occasional hero and part of the Storybrooke crew.