Heroes' Frontier Step

"Deep down you may still be that same great kid you used to be. But it's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you."
Rachel Dawes to the future protector of Gotham City, Batman Begins

Making a Heroes Frontier Step is the polar opposite of crossing the Moral Event Horizon. It means committing an act completely unexpected and so noble, that it shows true heroism.

A character that makes a Heroes Frontier Step is not automatically labeled pure, but it shows that they have a good heart, and that they try to make people, or even the world around them better. Even antiheroes sometimes make this Step. In other words, this is the path taken by the Reformed, but Not Tamed character.

A Heroes' Frontier Step is often a Crowning Moment of Awesome, and can shock both characters and viewers. Examples would be saving an enemy, making a Heroic Sacrifice, or actually saving the world, but this goes beyond. The action has to be so selfless, so heroic, that it makes you believe that there is some good in the world.

In some cases this may purposely act as an Author's Saving Throw, if a work's character is supposed to be the hero from the start, but has not been doing a particularly good job at their role, the writer may try to inflict this to make unambiguously clear they are the good guy.

Compare What You Are in the Dark, where a character surprises even themselves by proving how good they are deep down.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Can you count how many times Goku saved the Earth? Or the universe itself?
    • Vegeta starts the series as a villain, becomes a Kratos-like antihero on Namek, reluctantly helps Gohan finish Cell to avenge his son, then becomes evil again during the Buu saga. But he decided to pay for his mistakes and fight the monster he indirectly brought back, even if he had to sacrifice himself, to protect his family. From this moment on, Vegeta isn't a villain anymore, and because he later helps Goku defeat the evil Buu once and for all, he is resurrected along with all the "good people".
    • Way before that, Piccolo, the demon son of a pure evil entity, dies to protect Gohan.
    • Mr. Satan/Hercule is a buffoon who never has any clue about what’s going on, is excessively weak, and a complete glory hound. But this is one of the reasons that he is also one of the most heroic characters of the series. He became the best friend of a rampaging monster, whom he convinced to stop killing innocent without even fighting. He also convinced the earthlings to send their power to the Spirit Bomb, and got Vegeta to safety so Goku can attack. Hercule certainly has the heart of a hero, if nothing else.
  • One Piece:
    • Monkey D. Luffy saved many towns from tyranny, but wasn't called a hero before he saved the Fishmen. And he changed the life of each member of his crew, whom he helps to fulfill their own dream.
    • The whole crew made a frontier step when they declared war on the world to show how much they care about Robin.
  • Pokémon: In the pilot, you don't think much of this clumsy, bumbling kid, with a disobedient Pikachu. Until you see how far he'll go to protect a creature that scorned him: diving into a river, stealing a girl's bike, and finally putting himself between this creature, and a bunch of hostile birds that could kill him. Pikachu then redeems himself also when he dives in front of Ash to take out the entire flock in spite of his heavy injuries.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman went through so many horrors, so much loss and torture than any man would put the costume in the closet. But he keeps going, keeps fighting villains who hurt him in more and more personal ways, to protect a corrupted city, without anything in return. And he never kills anyone. Never. For these reasons, the mere fact that he keeps coming back to protect Gotham is a Heroes' Frontier Step. For a specific moment, his confrontation with Darkseid in Final Crisis where Batman Grabs a Gun, trumping his personal code for a "once-in-a-lifetime exception" to save the universe. Batman may be a man of principle, but he's willing to put it aside if it means saving everyone.
  • Sin City:
    • John Hartigan not only devoted his life and his honor to protect an innocent girl, he even commits suicide so Roark wouldn't hurt her to get revenge on him.
      John Hartigan: An old man dies... a young woman lives. Fair trade. I love you, Nancy.
    • Marv is a murdering juggernaut and has mental issues. But he killed only the criminals who made Sin City deserve its name. Yet, his Heroes' Frontier Step is when he accepts to take the blame (and to get executed as a result) for murders he didn't commit, that is the prostitutes and the woman he loved. Because if he didn't, his mother would have been killed. Oh, and like Hartigan, he saved a little girl (who was sold for sex) and brought her back to her mother.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Quasimodo didn't make a step when he saved Esmeralda. No. His HFS is when he holds Frollo by the cape and doesn't let him go. He wouldn't let the man who mistreated him for years, killed many gypsies, including his mother, fall to his death. This short moment definitely solves the riddle: "who is the monster and who is the man".
  • Hercules becomes a God the same way he became a hero: by saving the love of his life at the risk of his own.
  • The Lion King: Being inspired by Hamlet, Simba lost his father to his evil uncle. But unlike Hamlet, Simba doesn't have a dilemma. He makes his choice right away, despite the anger he feels.
    Scar: What are you going to do? You wouldn't kill your own uncle...?
    Simba: No, Scar. I'm not like you.
  • Aladdin is a poor street rat, who steals to survive. And what does he do after risking his life for a loaf of bread? He gives is to two little orphans. This one of the many selfless things he does along the series. One of the best is sacrificing his wish to become prince again to free his Genie.
  • In the original Bambi film, the title character rescuing Faline from Ronno and a pack of hunting dogs was to establish his evolution from a sweet but cowardly and oblivious kid to a selfless and bold young adult and future Prince of the Forest. The midquel, however, sets it even earlier into childhood, when, despite being broken over being sent to live away from his father, he chooses to rescue his adoptive mother by distracting a hunter's dogs onto him.
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven has the best Heroes Frontier Step of Don Bluth’ movies. After being a Jerkass for all the movie, Charlie goes to save Anne Marie from drowning. But his watch (which represents his life) falls also in the water. Since he cannot save both, Charlie takes Anne Marie to safety first, fully knowing that when his watch stops, he will be sent to hell. This act of pure heroism is enough to bring him back to heaven.
  • Sunset Shimmer was the Big Bad of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls and pulled a Heel–Face Turn at the end, but there were plenty of people both in and out of universe who had doubts she was being genuine about it. In the sequel Rainbow Rocks, she struggles with her school and friends distrusting her for majority of the movie while trying to be The Atoner and even being mocked by the Dazzlings for her failures at being a villain and trying to earn forgiveness, but in their Darkest Hour she finally gets the courage to come between the Rainbooms' arguing and tell them why their magic hasn't been working, and realizing why the Dazzlings have been getting stronger for the whole movie. At the end of the movie, she steps on the field with her friends when they're on the verge of defeat despite having visible doubts she can or has any right to try and help them, giving them their Heroic Second Wind and winning the day. This in turn cements her Heel–Face Turn as genuine and her place as The Hero of the spinoff series as a whole.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Back to the Future, Marty saved his father and made him a lot more self-confident, brought Doc Brown back to life, saved his timeline (well... he is the one who gave Biff the idea to change it), and attempted to save Clara, who he didn't know at all.
  • Forrest Gump saved many soldiers, gave his nihilistic lieutenant the will to live, and gave poor Jenny perhaps the only moments of happiness of her life.
  • In Pulp Fiction, Butch chooses not to escape and comes back to save a man from rape. The same man he had a deadly fight with minutes earlier.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Eddie Valliant risks his life to save a town of toons... and he hates toons!
  • Various heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have had their moments that signify that they are indeed true heroes.
    • Iron Man: After escaping from the clutches of the Ten Rings, Tony Stark travels back to Afghanistan to confront the terrorist group when they start using his company's weapons against an innocent village.
    • The Incredible Hulk: The Hulk is considered by many to be nothing more than a mindless monster. He is shown to be more than that when he saves Betty from dying in the crossfire between him and the military.
    • Thor: Thor is stripped of his powers and banished due to his arrogance and hot-headedness. While on Earth, Thor begins to learn the importance of kindness and humility. So when Loki sends the Destroyer to kill him, Thor offers to sacrifice himself in order to spare the innocent civilians. This is the act of selflessness that makes him worthy to wield Mjölnir again.
    • Captain America: The First Avenger: Steve Rogers wanted to serve his country not for the glory of war, but because of his instinctive need to stick up for the little guy. After receiving an experimental super-soldier serum, Steve is turned into little more than a public attraction. In spite of this, Steve heads into enemy territory and singlehandedly frees hundreds of prisoners from a POW camp. Once he returns to the camp with the prisoners marching behind him, the military realizes how great of a hero he truly is, turning him into an actual captain and allowing him to fight in the war with his own team of commandos.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill is an intergalactic thief who seems to be purely motivated by money and his own self-preservation. When Gamora is left floating in the vacuum of space however, Quill is willing to sacrifice himself when he gives her his helmet in order to survive. The rest of the Guardians later prove their worth when they are willing to fight Ronan and his forces despite the huge disadvantage they have.

    Fan Works 
  • In Aesir: Cross Wars, Leon, before he became Azrael, decided to be the one to take Loki's Galactic Chaos attack to stop the others from being killed. Keep in mind that, at this point, he is an entirely unaugmented human being, so there was no way he could have survived the attack, and he knew.
  • The Spectrum Game: Laven repeatedly entering the lottery until he won, and using his winnings to help Silas' family's poverty and debt problems definitely counts.

  • Harry Potter has many of this, to contrast with the numerous Moral Event Horizon of the saga.
    • Neville Longbottom, whose parents became insane, and got bullied for years by other students when his grandmother wasn’t ashamed of him, grew from an insecure and powerless kid to a handsome and fierce fighter for the Resistance in his school. He was brave enough to insult Voldemort and kill his snake with the sword of Grinffindor (that you can get only if you have the bravery of a hero).
    • Dobby is the only house-elf to fight for his freedom, which makes him not only a slave, but also an outcast among elves. Yet, even if he has to punish himself afterward, he never stopped protecting Harry Potter, his first true friend. He even saved his life and many others at the Malfoy manor, even if it lead him to face his fearsome masters, and get killed by them. Rest in peace, wonderful elf.
    • While James Potter (who still is heroic) has feet of clay, Lily Potter is an angel. She sacrificed herself for her baby, and gave him a powerful protection. This made Severus Snape feel so much remorse that he decided to reject the Death Eaters and join Dumbledore to protect her, and when she was killed, to protect her son.
    • Snape himself never stopped saving Harry's life, even though he hates him as much as he hated his father. Also, Snape was despised by everyone but Dumbledore until his death because no one knew that he was a double agent. Suffering so much hate and losing the love of his life, but still protecting people without letting them know, made Snape the bravest man Harry ever knew.
    • Albus Dumbledore is revealed at the very end to have been friends with a dark mage and share some of his views. He also had a weakness with power, and neglected his family. But the remorse pushed him to seek redemption, and to become not only the wisest, but also the most humanitarian of the Harry Potter universe. Dumbledore loves his school and treats his staff and students as family. He also tries to give chances to the villains, even to Voldemort.
    • And, of course, Harry Potter himself. Granted, he gets easily angry and often acts before he thinks. Can you blame him? He was bullied by his foster family for years. He had to face monsters, injustice, torture, loss of loved ones, and he wasn’t even an adult! Actually, he has much more Freudian Excuses than Voldemort to become a murdering psychopath. What does he do? He saves his bullying cousin's soul. He saves his rival’s life (twice). He treats every species, including elves and goblins, as an equal. He spares his enemies. He feels pity for the man who ruined his life. And he saves every… single… person… in danger. And to top it off, he willingly walks into his (temporary, as it turns out) death. He made lots of HFS before defeating the most dangerous wizard of all time!
  • Throughout Storm Front, the first Dresden Files novel, the Warden Morgan is presented as a ruthless enforcer bent on finding Harry doing something, anything wrong as an excuse to lop off his head. However, at the end of the book, Morgan charges into a burning building to save Harry's life; since Harry hadn't crossed the line into warlock-hood, Morgan was still duty-bound to protect his fellow White Council member. This was the first indication of Morgan's stance as a guardian of the order who felt that it was his duty to carry out the law exactly as written, but who nonetheless had a brave, even noble heart.
  • Commissar Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) generally tries to downplay his heroism and claim that it's all Pragmatic Villainy, but once a book or so he has a moment that even he can't fully explain away. Perhaps the most straightforward is in Duty Calls, when he and Amberley are investigating an outpost that suddenly comes under attack by Tyranids. When it looks like Amberley isn't going to make it to their shuttle in time, Cain charges back into the face of the horde to give her covering fire. He is also atypically devoted to the soldiers under his charge, looking the other way at their minor infractions and always looking after the wounded, though he ascribes this to a desire to avoid Unfriendly Fire.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor is an immortal alien, last of his species, who can go anywhere in space and anywhen in time. Does he try to conquer? To get more power? To get revenge for his destroyed planet? Nah, that’s the Master’s work. The Doctor didn’t choose his name for nothing: he wants to make people better. Anywhere he goes, he meets a threat, and stops it. For people he hardly knows. And he never stops to make a family, to settle, to have peace. He just keeps going, following his TARDIS’s will, and always saves as many lives as possible. But it goes beyond. The Doctor treats his enemies with respect. He gives them chances to stop, and doesn’t kill them if can be avoided (though sometimes, when pushed to the limit, he does punish them in a WORSE way). One of the best examples of the Doctor’s pure heart is in the "Last of the Time Lords", where after witnessing the world destroyed, the humans terrorized, and being humiliated and tortured by the Master, the Doctor defeats his worst enemy, who seems horrified. He goes to him… hugs him… and whispers three words that such a monster cannot bear: "I forgive you. " Being a Time Lord, he doesn’t have one, but two hearts. Two golden hearts.
    • Rose Tyler is perhaps one of the purest humans the Doctor ever met. Not only because she pities her enemies, or saved the world several times with him. She made a Dalek, YES, A DALEK feel emotions.

    Myths & Religion 
  • While the heroes of Greek Mythology seem less heroic today, they have their moments.
    • Perseus saved his future bride from a rampaging monster.
    • Orpheus went down to HELL to save his wife.
    • Oedipus saved a town from a Sphinx.
    • Hercules' twelve labors saved a whole bunch of people.
    • Odysseus went through a journey of misery to get back his kingdom and his family.

    Video Games 
  • Many of Final Fantasy heroes save their worlds.
    • Galuf from Final Fantasy V. He and all his friends are at the mercy of Exdeath, being pinned down by energy beams from crystals. Through sheer will power he breaks the beam and faces Exdeath, the final boss of the game, one on one. Exdeath throws everything at Galuf, from high-tier spells to Meteor, and the man takes it. Exdeath tears his lifepoints to zero and Galuf keeps fighting anyways. Exdeath suffers a near Villainous Breakdown because he can't comprehend how Galuf could possibly draw that much power from his hatred, and Galuf calmly remarks it's not hate that keeps him going, but the love he has for his friends and granddaughter. Then he delivers the finishing blow, wins the fight, and immediately collapses and passes away.
    • Terra, from FF6 deserves a special mention: after Kefka destroyed the world, she stopped at a village of orphans and took care of them as a mother. She even went back to fight for them.
  • In Oddworld, Abe saves his whole race from slavery and worse.
  • In Fallout, you can make a post-apocalyptic world better through various Heroes Frontier Steps.
    • One of the best is in Fallout 3, where you can sacrifice yourself to purify the water of the waste lands and give them a better future. After stopping the Enclave, of course.
  • Sora from Kingdom Hearts saves every world he goes in from Heartless. But also, he willingly became a heartless himself to save Kairi.
  • Two solid examples in Starcraft II Heart Of The Swarm from previously ambiguous characters:
    • Kerrigan is presented as a Noble Demon on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge who is, on the one hand, a far cry from her Brainwashed and Crazy time as the "Queen Bitch of the Universe", but still willing to turn her back on her humanity in order to have her vengeance. Her defining moment is on Char, where her forces overrun and demolish the fortress of General Warfield. With his last breath, Warfield demands that she let his wounded and noncombatants go, pointing out that Raynor (in whose name she is notionally rampaging) would disapprove. She complies, showing restraint for perhaps the first time ever.
      • This is especially formidable if she's already visited Zerus and been reborn as the Primal Queen of Blades — showing that sacrificing her physical humanity doesn't have to mean giving up her morality.
    • The second belongs to Crown Prince Valerian Mengsk, son of the Big Bad and a decidedly on-the-fence character who, on the one hand, wants to remove his father's government, but on the other hand is no stranger to lying and manipulating. When he ends up allied with Kerrigan to assault Mengsk's capital, he has a straightforward demand — that she give him time to evacuate civilians. In his case, it demonstrates not only that he has the moral fiber necessary, but the backbone to stand up to one of the strongest individuals in the galaxy and not request, but order her to do the right thing.
  • In Undertale, the main character becomes one in the Golden Ending of the Pacifist Run. No matter how many monsters fight them, they will not harm them back and win every single confrontation by either befriending, appeasing, or negotiating with them. Even Flowey, the Eldritch Abomination that Came Back Wrong and has spent the entire game manipulating and plotting to kill them, is spared in the end. The character single-handedly shows every single monster, most of whom believed Humans Are the Real Monsters and were more than willing to wipe humanity out, that not only are humans and monsters the same but that they can coexist peacefully. They don't stop there, either: they help break the barrier that keeps the monsters trapped underground and frees them to the world above so the two groups can coexist.

    Western Animation 
  • Aladdin has a better one in Aladdin: The Series. When Mirage turns Jasmine into a monstrous snake, instead of rejecting her, Aladdin chooses to become like her, because of true love. Because of this, Mirage is forced to face her defeat and turn them back to normal.
  • Bojack Horseman: For 3 FREAKIN' SEASONS, BoJack has tried time and time again to become a better horseman, only to be hindered by his flaws, his egocentrism and his inability to open up. After having destroyed most of his relationships and failing to get recognition for his work in Secretariat in "That Went Well", he leaves Hollywoo in an attempt to find himself. Upon his return, he meets Hollyhock, his possible illegitimate daughter. Developing a bond with her, this healthy relationship comes to an end after Hollyhock is (accidentally) poisoned by his senile mother Beatrice, making her adoptive parents to forbid him from contacting her. Despite the unfairness of the situation, BoJack decides to stop sulking and help Hollyhock find out about the one reason she came for his help: finding out who was her mother, even offering to remain anonymous to her parents as long as she gets the information. Being the most selfless action he makes in the series, Hollyhock calls him and accepts him into her life. His reaction says it all.