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Heel–Face Turn

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The Grinch, before and after a wondrous (and literal) change of heart.

"And what happened then?
Well, in Whoville, they say,
The Grinch's small heart
Grew three sizes that day."

When a bad guy turns good. This usually makes for a good plot, for three reasons:

  1. It lets the writer reintroduce the villain as a "darker, edgier" hero.
  2. It reinforces a desired notion of the inherent goodness within people.
  3. It prevents the Worthy Opponent from falling victim to What a Senseless Waste of Human Life.

There are also various in-story motivations for the bad guy to make the turn:

  1. An encounter with an All-Loving Hero or gaining a Morality Pet.
  2. Discovering that Being Evil Sucks or possibly that Good Feels Good.
  3. An Enemy Mine situation leading to Fire Forged Friendship or The Power of Love in the form of Deliver Us from Evil or Love Redeems changing their priorities. Conversely mistreatment by their boss or their fellow villains makes them rethink their loyalties.
  4. Realizing that they are a Noble Demon.
  5. A Heel Realization, if they had never considered their actions evil or wrong in the first place.
  6. They become friends with a hero after fighting them.
  7. A case of Even Evil Has Standards and/or Pragmatic Villainy taken to their extremes: A more sensible, honorable villain becomes a good guy to stop another, much worse villain from doing something so horrible that they just cannot allow it.
  8. A Sealed Evil in a Can has spent so long imprisoned that they come to realize that Being Evil Sucks and become Evil Redeemed in a Can.
  9. The Token Good Teammate in a group of villains has had enough and just decides to become a more straightforward and "official" good guy.
  10. A villainous mole is sent to infiltrate the heroes, but then they become the mask, turn into a hero themselves, and abandon evil altogether.

By definition, a villain who has genuinely undergone a Heel-Face Turn cannot be a Complete Monster, since a Complete Monster cannot show any remorse for their crimes nor can they seek redemption.

Sadly, it sometimes leads to Redemption Equals Death, and when it doesn't, someone still needs to draw their "Get Out of Jail Free" Card. Otherwise they may find the good guys unwilling to believe them; their conversion met with a Heel–Face Door-Slam (or they may "merely" find themselves Reformed, but Rejected). On the other hand, the bad guy may reject their chance at turning over a new leaf altogether, in which case it's Redemption Rejection.

The many reasons and the probability for a turn are listed in the Sorting Algorithm of Face-Heel Turning; probability is directly proportional to popularity. A very common act for the lone female character in any evil group, sometimes by a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal. Beware, some authors know the stereotypes of Heel Face Turning and will play with it accordingly.

The term "Heel Face Turn" comes from Professional Wrestling, in which an evil wrestler (a "heel") sometimes has a change of heart and becomes good, thereby becoming a "babyface". Magazines and other promotional material from the various wrestling leagues comment on various wrestlers' changes in alignment nearly as frequently as they cover events in the ring themselves.

Compare The Mole, who is secretly working for the other team all along. May be the result of a person that was Good All Along. When someone who doesn't care one way or the other is forced to fight they become Neutral No Longer. Also, to Personal Hate Before Common Goals, when the alignment changes, but previous rivalries remain.

This is the opposite of a Face–Heel Turn and is generally found in stories with Black-and-White Morality. It has two subtropes: Heel–Face Brainwashing, more or less the opposite of Brainwashed and Crazy, and High-Heel–Face Turn. See also Mook–Face Turn when the bad guy doing it is a Mook, and Heel–Race Turn when an entire faction does it. If a character keeps switching from one side to the other and back, they're in a Heel–Face Revolving Door. If they turn face, but still act like a heel, they're Reformed, but Not Tamed. If a character pretends to reform, only to be revealed as Evil All Along, they're a Fake Defector. If someone reforms because of faith, they're in a Heel–Faith Turn. Compare and contrast, also, with Hazy-Feel Turn, when is unclear and/or ambiguous the sincerity and/or the extension of the Heel-Face Turn of the character.

In Real Life, the nature of Heel-Face Turn and Face–Heel Turn is subjective (one person's "seeing the light" is another person's "heartless betrayal or fall" depending on what group the individual is going to or leaving). Therefore, No Real Life Examples, Please!


As this is a Betrayal Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • A meta example: the apple mascot from Apple Jacks commercials, once the "Bad Apple" who tried to prevent Cinna-Mon from reaching the bowl, now merely racing him there in a Friendly Rivalry. This was apparently caused by Executive Meddling from the self-regulating arm of the advertising industry, who objected to the negative portrayal of a "healthy" food.
  • Cookie Crisp mascot Chip the dog started off as a sidekick to the Cookie Crook, helping him try to steal Cookie Crisp. He later gave up his criminal ways and began giving Cookie Crisp to others and is now Chip the Wolf. However, he did go back to his original ways without the Crook at some point.
  • According to Quaker Oats, the Soggies finally got bored of losing to Cap'n Crunch and have now found honest jobs for themselves as quality control testers at the AFCO Sponge Company.
  • Front Row Joe: At some point, Elton stops mainly hanging out with Clyde and becomes closer to Joe. The transition probably happened in the "Let's Party, Let's Rock!" trailer, where Joe successfully gets Elton to toss his trash away after Clyde gets a hole sawed beneath his seat and plummets for failing to toss his- though even the trailers before implied that Elton wasn't really as bad as Clyde- the worst thing he ever actually did was try to sneak into another movie while his was showing. He might have only been hanging around Clyde because he was the only one who can drive him to the movies or something.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: The plot of Season 7 episode 26 revolves around one of Big M.'s monsters, Punk Monster, leaving him and swearing to help people instead of hurting them. Big M. doesn't take kindly to this, calling out Punk Monster for doing some nice things such as cleaning up some garbage and closing the door behind him before he leaves since that's not what villains do.

    Card Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: In the artwork of "Advance Zone", it's suggested that "Steelswarm Roach" was purified by the Vylons. This can be further proven by his idle and laid-back appearance in "Breath of the Valient"'s artwork as the "Divine Serpent" passes by. Later on, "Steelswarm Roach" becomes "Evilswarm Exciton Knight"

    Comic Strips 
  • Dick Tracy's allies B.O. Plenty and Gravel Gertie used to be crooks. (Who later married and had a gorgeous daughter named Sparkle.)
  • Flash Gordon: It would almost be easier to list how many of Flash Gordon's friends didn't start out as his enemies. Even Zarkov was pretty scary in the very beginning. To his considerable credit, Thun is one of the few people on Mongo who treated Flash decently from the word go. Thun's a cool dude.
  • The premise of Scary Gary is that Gary is a formerly ruthless vampire who had a change of heart and retires to the suburbs, with the series starting shortly after the move is complete.

  • The Megas' take on Proto Man starts out driven by bitterness, resentment, fatalism and an all-consuming rage, fighting Mega Man and planning to kill Dr Light. By the end of the History Repeating double album, after receiving a Kirk Summation from Mega Man, he acknowledges that Mega Man is the real deal, accepts that neither of them Just a Machine, and leaves to "make [his] own history".
  • Rhapsody of Fire:
    • In the Emerald Sword Saga, Dargor turns against evil, striking down The Queen of the Dark Horizons and summoning an army of gargoyles to stop The Dark Lord in their moment of triumph.
    • Played with later in the Dark Secret Saga when betrayed in turn by Tarish.
  • After spreading terror, the eponymous Ringo by Lorne Green shows the narrator mercy for a past kindness. He's paid back moments later by being shot to death in the street.

  • Foo Fighters (2023): The Overlord, of all people, goes from being a villain to getting redeemed after finishing "The Final Battle." Seeing him defeated and dejected, the band decides to give him a position in their group as a mascot of sorts, something which he wholeheartedly accepts.

  • In Interstitial: Actual Play, Larxene decides to help the party out after DiZ has her assassinated and Edith subsequently keeps her from fading away.

  • Christianity features a few canonical examples, possibly the most significant being Matthew the Apostle who used to be a tax collector before his conversion. Also, Saul, before he was renamed Paul the Apostle, was a Pharisee, a member of a very zealous Jewish sect, and he was on his way to Damascus to murder members of the early church when the Lord Jesus Christ came to him in a vision. (Acts ch. 9)
    • The German version of This Very Wiki has Saul as the Trope Namer: Vom Saulus Zum Paulus, or "From Saul to Paul".
    • Orthodox Christianity states before we die, we are not Face, as we sin for our entire life, either by thought, word, or deed. Everything can change, and only death solidifies Heel-Face Turn or damnation... and in the latter case, not completely until the Last Judgement.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Fifth Edition introduced the "Oath of Redemption" Paladin, which emphasizes that the path to redemption for evil-doers can be an arduous one, and that they should be given help along the way. The tenets also point out that there are some who can never be redeemed, and a Redemption Paladin should be willing to end the threat they pose.
    • The Book of Exalted Deeds featured two characters usually part of always-evil species: one was an orc paladin (the answer to the old question "would a Lawful Good paladin kill an orc baby" is apparently "raise her as part of his order") and another a Lawful Good illithid (who was enslaved by her former duergar thralls, found, saved and spared by adventurers, and joined a monastic order after discovering that Good Feels Good).
  • In Nomine:
    • While it's fairly rare overall, it's possible for demons to seek redemption and become angels. It's a very difficult process — a demon needs to first get over itself enough to recognize that its ego isn't the most important thing in the world, develop a genuine to desire to help others, and keep all of this secret from Hell's inquisition, then undergo enough personal growth to become a viable candidate for formal redemption, and then find an Archangel who will complete the transformation, which may very well kill the prospective angel. Successful redemptions, however, are greatly valued by Heaven.
    • By definition, Bright Lilim are all the result of such a turn. The Demon Princess Lilith is the only being who can create Lilim, and as such all Lilim begin life as demons on the side of Hell. Each and every Bright Lilim thus had to, at some point, make a conscious decision to abandon Hell and the ruination of humanity in order to seek Heaven.
  • Pathfinder:
    • The concept of redemption plays a significant role in the Wrath of the Righteous adventure path. One of the primary NPC characters, Aureshalae, is a succubus seeking to leave evil and the Abyss behind — she's managed to shift her alignment from Chaotic Evil to Chaotic Neutral by the time the adventure starts, and over the course of the story attempts to cement her Turn and become Chaotic Good. The players are also given the option of turning a traitor and a fallen crusader back to the light, and once they delve into the Abyss itself they can attempt to redeem Alderpash, one of the former Runelords of Thassilon and a very, very evil man. By the time the players get to him he's been trapped in Baphomet's Inelecutable Prison for millennia, and will do anything to get out — and if this entails him sticking to the straight and narrow in return for the players breaking him out of planar jail, he will give this an honest try.
    • Nocticula, the demon lord of seduction and assassins, is rumored by some of her more heretical followers to be seeking to cleanse herself of the Abyss' taint as part of her more widely recognized ploy for full divinity. As it turns out, this is entirely correct. If Nocticula ascends in Wrath of the Righteous she explicitly does so as a Chaotic Neutral goddess of outcasts and artists, something that Planar Adventures and later 2nd Edition establish as canon.
    • Balisse angels are formed from the souls of evildoers who forsook their former ways and embraced benevolence, and seek to help others undergo the same change of heart that they did.
    • A subclass in First Edition — "the Redeemer" — gives half-orc paladins the ability to invoke these in defeated enemies. Second Edition makes it the Neutral Good Champion name.
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse:
    • The villain Omnitron upgrades itself repeatedly, finally adding an empathy component. When it does this, it realizes the death and destruction it caused as a villain and travels back in time to join the heroes.
    • In the Iron Legacy dark future, Fright Train has taken over the role of Bunker.
    • After her defeat by the Freedom Five, The Matriarch gets some tutoring and magical training from Nightmist and joins the heroic Dark Watch as The Harpy. Sometime before Sentinels: Tactics, she takes the codename to Pinion.
    • A much Older and Wiser La Capitan, seeking to atone for her past self's deeds, becomes the hero La Comodora.
    • A promo card shows that Infinitor pulls one of these. The card specifies he is a hero target and his gameplay focuses on keeping him alive while taking down his rampaging Hard Light projections. In the end, he does a Heroic Sacrifice to save his brother.

  • Anastasia: In the stage version, Gleb, knowing now that this is truly the Grand Duchess Anastasia, chooses to not kill her and instead makes a deal to return to Russia and say she was nothing more than a rumor.
  • Heathers: While their movie counterpart didn't, Heathers McNamara and Duke both reform in the finale Seventeen, McNamara after Veronica offered her to and Duke after seeing how happy everybody else as they stop being mean to each other.
  • King Lear: Edmund goes from helping to plot the death of the play's most sympathetic characters to (ineffectually) attempting to save them: "I pant for life; some good I mean to do/Despite of mine own nature."
  • in Les Misérables: Javert has a brief one after his Heel Realization upon being freed by Valjean when the latter could have easily taken revenge. Conflicted, he makes to arrest Valjean when he emerges from the sewers, but when he sees Marius's body on his back, he lets him go instead. He's so shaken by his own Turn that he kills himself shortly thereafter.
  • In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock, partly because he wants to get out of his predicament alive and partly because Antonio suggested the order to convert to Christianity out of a desire to redeem his soul, agrees to become a Christian, departs from the court in poor physical health from what he had just gone through in his unsuccessful attempt to get the pound of flesh from Antonio, and signs the deed offscreen when the court delivers it to him.
  • Oliver!: Fagin gives serious consideration to this in a song called "Reviewing the Situation".

    • Brutaka, a traitor during the Voya Nui arc, has one in the following Mahri Nui arc.
    • Krika would have had one, if Gorast hadn't killed him.
    • Vezon, after the Mask of Life was separated from his body.

    Visual Novels 
  • Bionic Heart: The Corrupt Corporate Executive's brand new android henchwoman turns on him when the psychic human brain he placed in her head allows her to have visions showing the destruction that will result from his future plans.
  • In Fate/stay night, Ilya is the main threat for the first half of the series, but she becomes an ally when her monstrous Servant Berserker is killed in the Fate scenario (she couldn't keep fighting at that point, but that didn't mean she had to join the True Companions). In the Heaven's Feel scenario, she goes so far as to sacrifice herself for Shirou's life in the Good End.
  • Umineko: When They Cry: In Episode 8, Lambdadelta manages to do one, going up against Bernkastel .

    Web Animation 
  • HFIL: The whole point of the series and the titular HFIL is to try to reform the villains-oh, sorry, morally compromised malefactors-of Dragon Ball Z Abridged so they can make the turn. It's stated Cui was a successful case (but then again his worst crime was hating Vegeta), and it's implied that his time in HFIL is why Nappa had a Hazy-Feel Turn when he came Back from the Dead. King Cold, of all people, also graduated from HFIL and now works with them, but it's unclear if he truly made a Heel Face Turn or if he's manipulating everyone for his own ends.
  • HTF +: In HTF+CC 2 LG Creepybloom only wanted to cook Flippy into a cupcake so she could earn her cutie mark. But she realized having a cutie mark for murder does not seem to be a good look on her, so she decided to help Flippy to escape.
  • ETU - Animated Stories: Tina, Milton's sister turned over a new leaf over the course of the story and became a hardworking woman unlike her other sisters who continue to sabotage their brother's success.
  • RWBY: There's a running theme in the show of trying to save people from falling down the wrong path, even if they're under the sway of very dangerous villains. As a result, a couple of characters switch sides along the way, the most significant occurring in Volume 8 after Ozpin reveals what Salem's true end-game is, making a number of people rethink whose side they're on. Hazel and Emerald are so disturbed by this that Hazel sacrifices his life to ensure Emerald and the tortured Oscar can escape Salem's clutches; Oscar then convinces the heroes to give Emerald a chance, which they decide to do after Emerald unexpectedly helps them save a hacked Penny before admitting that she'll be super-pissed if they all give up the moment she decides to switch sides.
    • Prior to this, Blake's former friend (who liked Blake a bit more than that) Ilia Amitola, a member of the White Fang, pulls one after leading the attack on the Belladonnas, the former leaders of the Fang before it turned to evil. After a fight and an argument over ideologies with Blake, Ilia realized how far the White Fang had fallen and helped fight off Corsac and Fennec Albain. She later takes part in the Battle of Haven, fighting against her former comrades in the Fang and disarming Adam Taurus' bombs.
  • The Most Epic Story Ever Told in All of Human History: Epic Robot Guy, after turning evil and becoming The Dragon to Ridiculously Epic, eventually returns to the side of good in “The Most Epic Introspective Journey on a Nautical Voyage”.
  • In Battle for Dream Island, Blocky starts off as a sadistic "prankster" who kills the other contestants for fun. However, in Season 4 Episode 21, Blocky realizes that Woody, his number one victim, has grown a lot and is able to stand up for himself now, convincing Blocky to not be a sadistic "prankster". He even goes as far as to start doing more light-hearted pranks with Woody.
  • the first battle in Wolf Song: The Movie ends up boiling over to a one on one clash between Zar and Alador. Alador goes through quite a beating but decides to talk sense into his opponent before moving in the way of a snake that was about to bite his enemy. The wound is by no means fatal and the snake isn’t venomous, but this one selfless act is enough to convince Zar and his whole squad to side with the heroes from here on out

Alternative Title(s): Face Turn, Turn To The Light Side, Evil Turns Good, Bad Guy Turns Good


Joker Scout join the RED Team

Joker Scout join the RED Team after being mistreated by the BLU Team. BLU Medic, who is watching the event from the CCTV can only scream in absolute pure rage from the outcome.

How well does it match the trope?

4.9 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / MistreatmentInducedBetrayal

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