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

Over 500 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of TV Characters Who Started Out As Bad Guys Before Joining The Team
Voting 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.

    294 votes
  • 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.  

    178 votes
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    149 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.

    149 votes
  • James 'Sawyer' Ford - 'Lost' 
    Photo: Lost / 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.

    146 votes
  • Spike - 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' 
    Photo: Buffy the Vampire Slayer / 20th Television

    How He Is Introduced: Spike is first introduced as a merciless vampire in Season 2. Proud of his record as a Slayer-slayer, he arrives in Sunnydale fully intending to finish off Buffy - and nearly succeeds. Indeed, until Angel turns evil, it looks as though Spike will be the Big Bad for the season.

    His Cruelest Moments: Tormenting people with railroad “spikes,” plus the aforementioned Slayer-slaying. In his pre-vampire days, he was also known to recite horrible poetry to his friends.

    How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? Spike ends up allying himself with Buffy to get back at Angelus, who has stolen his lover Drusilla, before the end of Season 2. His motivation, in addition to jealousy, is that he doesn't share Angel's desire to destroy the world; he enjoys living (or "unliving") in it. Thus begins his seasons-long journey as an antihero. He's still mostly evil throughout Season 3, but in Season 4, he is implanted with a chip that prevents him from doing harm to anyone else. In Season 5, Spike develops feelings for Buffy and tries to prove his worth to her by (among other things) being a fierce protector of her sister Dawn; by season's end, he's a full-fledged Scooby. He even endures the painful process of acquiring a soul. At the end of the series, Spike ends up sacrificing himself to prevent Armageddon - only to pop up again as a sidekick to Angel in the spin-off series's final season.

    184 votes
  • Jaime Lannister - 'Game of Thrones' 
    Photo: HBO

    How He Is Introduced: We meet Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones’ pilot episode, "Winter Is Coming." He's serving in Robert Baratheon’s Kingsguard when Robert visits Winterfell to ask Ned Stark to be his Hand. Jaime is the eldest son of Tywin Lannister, one of the richest and most powerful men in Westeros. Jaime is cocky and confident, concerned only with the interests of his family. The former Hand Jon Arryn was slain to cover up Jaime's incestuous relationship with his sister Queen Cersei (and its consequences for the succession), and Jaime is set to be a formidable antagonist to the heroic Ned, who sets about investigating his predecessor's demise - with Jaime as a prime suspect.

    His Cruelest Moment: At the end of “Winter Is Coming,” Bran Stark climbs a tower and peeks in on Cersei in bed with Jaime - who promptly gets up and pushes the 10-year-old out the window. This act not only cripples Bran and puts him in a coma, but also cements Jaime as the biggest SOB in Westeros. Worse, Jaime spends the latter half of Season 1 stabbing Jory in the eye and fighting Ned, ultimately contributing to the most shocking demise in Game of Thrones.

    How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? Jaime’s path to redemption begins when he is taken prisoner by Catelyn Stark. Catelyn frees Jaime (against Robb’s wishes) in Season 2, tasking Brienne of Tarth with escorting him to King’s Landing to exchange him for Sansa and Arya, who are both believed to be held hostage there by the Lannisters. Jaime and Brienne’s road trip is the catalyst for Jaime’s change. Despite their initial distaste for one another, Jaime comes to admire her bravery and honor - the two become friends and eventually lovers. Brienne reinvigorates Jaime’s faith in morality. He opens up about his past and we begin to see why he has become so callous. If it weren’t for Brienne, he arguably never would have turned away from Cersei and gone to fight the White Walkers alongside the Starks. According to Jon Snow, Ned Stark once said, “We find our true friends on the battlefield.” If that’s true, Jaime is certainly a friend when he defends Winterfell in Season 8 - beloved by the audience, his brother Tyrion, and Brienne.

    236 votes