Follow TV Tropes


Heel Realization
aka: Heel Realisation

Go To
"Have you noticed that our caps have actually got little pictures of skulls on them? Hans... are we the baddies?"

Few things are more crushing than realizing that you're one of the bad guys. You might exclaim My God, What Have I Done? (or something like it) and perhaps shed Tears of Remorse. Or in some cases, you realize you're even worse than you thought you were. Either way, it's the moment you know you're in the wrong.

It may lead to becoming The Atoner, a Redemption Quest, or Redemption Equals Death, or, if the author is feeling particularly vindictive, to a Heel–Face Door-Slam. Conversely, may turn a Well-Intentioned Extremist Necessarily Evil, or force them to admit that there is No Place for Me There. There's also the possibility to ignore the realization and go for Redemption Rejection, which is what Complete Monsters would always do. Sometimes these people were just working for someone who turned out to be doing horrible things. A common form is to Kick the Morality Pet and/or realize that Being Evil Sucks.

Common when The Dark Side Will Make You Forget or when Big Brother Is Employing You. May be caused by a Corrective Lecture.

Compare Nice Job Breaking It, Hero (when someone has good intentions but harmful execution), He Who Fights Monsters (when someone became a heel by doing a dirty job for too long), Then Let Me Be Evil (when they realize they're a heel — but they embrace it), What Have I Become?, Jerkass Realization, Regretful Traitor (when their realization comes after a Face–Heel Turn), Guilt-Induced Nightmare, and Unwitting Pawn (when they've done bad things because someone was manipulating them). Contrast with Knight Templar who often never realizes that they are a villain (though there are plenty of exceptions) and Card-Carrying Villain (who never thinks he's a good guy in the first place). Also see Tomato in the Mirror, when one of the good guys realizes he was a sleeper agent all the time.

Compare and contrast Evil Me Scares Me.

For the direct opposite, see Face Realization. Or for the other direct opposite, see Obliviously Evil. See also You Are Better Than You Think You Are for where the character fails to see they are nobler than they give themselves credit for.


Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Audio Plays 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who: "The Fourth Wall" has a fictional character being brought into reality, and realising that in the world of his TV show (Laser, starring Jerkass hero Jack Laser), he's the villain:
    Krarn: It’s called... Laser.
    Scullop: The show, yes.
    Krarn: Why?
    Scullop: Because he’s the lead, he’s the hero.
    Krarn: I see.
    Scullop: Is something the matter?
    Krarn: [with horror] I’m the bad guy.
    Scullop: Yes.
    Krarn: He destroys my happiness, kills my wife. And yet I am the bad guy.


    Films — Animated 
  • In the film version of All-Star Superman, Lex Luthor has one of his only heel realizations in any continuity after he finally gets it. What is "it"? Everything.
    Lex Luthor: I could have made everyone see! If it wasn't for you, I could have saved the world!
    Superman: If it had mattered to you, Luthor, you could have saved the world years ago.
    Luthor: ... you're right.
  • All Dogs Go to Heaven: In the Christmas Special, it's revealed that Carface was thrown out of his home as a puppy because his owner blamed him for everything. Because of this, he's very sympathetic for the crippled young puppy Timmy, and is happy to see that he has a more caring family. He's thus horrified when he's shown the future and sees that his scam led to harming Timmy and his family. This causes Carface to reform and help stop Belladonna's plans to hypnotize every dog in San Francisco.
  • The Bad Guys (2022): Diane Foxington is revealed to have had this moment in a flashback sequence. As the Crimson Paw, she was an untouchable master thief, something she thought she was proud of. But when she steals the Golden Dolphin trophy (a Good Samaritan Award) and sees a reflection of herself, she feels guilty over living up to the Foul Fox stereotype, and leaves the trophy — and her life of crime — behind.
  • In The Boxtrolls, it eventually dawns on Trout and Pickles that they're not the good guys, and all it takes to get them to rebel against Snatcher is an Armor-Piercing Question from Winnie.
  • Amos Slade, the Big Bad of The Fox and the Hound, has one at the end when Copper prevents him from shooting Tod, who saved both their lives only two minutes earlier. He realizes that he is being an Ungrateful Bastard and spares Tod's life.
  • In The Emperor's New Groove Pacha tells Kuzco, "Someday, you're going to find yourself all alone, and you'll have no one to blame but yourself.". Later in the movie, Kuzco is all alone in the jungle, and he realizes what a jerk he's been to everybody... and that he's entirely to blame for everything that's happened to him (even Yzma wanting to kill him). His narration again tells the audience that he's the victim, but...
    Kuzco: [to narration] Hey, give it a rest up there, will ya?
    Kuzco's Narration: What? I'm just telling them what happened.
    Kuzco: Who are you kidding, pal? They saw the whole thing. They know what happened.
    Kuzco's Narration: Well, yeah, but... but...
    Kuzco: Just leave me alone...
  • Home (2015):
    • Oh has a major revelation that his own people themselves are entirely the cause of all their persecution problems.
    • After Oh saves the Boov using a Gorg Superchip, Kyle realizes that he should have accepted Oh as his friend and sides with him against Smek.
  • Claude Frollo of The Hunchback of Notre Dame seems to have one that lasts for about a second or two during his Villain Song, when he sings "God have mercy on her/God have mercy on me" and then follows up with "But she will be mine, or she will burn!"
  • Diego in Ice Age. He's confronted about the selfishness and brutality in his plans that set up Manny when the mammoth saves him from the lava, and after Roshan chooses to walk to him first. This culminates in his change of heart and the decision to do whatever it takes to make sure his new "herd" makes it to safety - even if it might mean his own death.
  • In The LEGO Movie, it's no secret that Lord Business is a Control Freak, but it's not him who has the realization. It's "The Man Upstairs", a serious LEGO enthusiast who builds only to the specified instructions and sticks his creations into place with Krazy Glue, and never lets his son Finn, a simple young boy who only wants to build creative experiments, play with them. TMU finally has the realization after he finds out that Finn based an imaginary supervillain on him. Of course, TMU isn't really evil per se, but he is, as noted, an Allegorical Character for TMU's own control freak tendencies.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part: Finn finds the broken remains of Queen Watevra/the heart he built Bianca in the storage bin, and the look on his face all but says My God, What Have I Done?.
  • In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, after falling for Kiara and hearing Simba's side of Scar's death, Kovu finishes Becoming the Mask and gets a My God What Did I Almost Do moment, deciding not to go through with the assassination plot he had been sent to do. Around the same time, this happens to Simba when he realizes that what he's doing to Kovu isn't what Mufasa would have wanted.
  • In Meet the Robinsons, after Bowler Hat Guy checked off everything on his villain agenda except the last entry, which he marked with a "?," he faced a "Now What?" moment and realized that whereas the Robinson family had vastly improved the quality of life in the world in the span of a couple of decades, Bowler Hat Guy's actions had been nothing but destructive for petty reasons. Without a direction for himself anymore, Bowler Hat Guy starts thinking about reforming. The bowler hat, Doris, figures this out (It Makes Sense in Context) and takes matters into her own robotic claws, and it takes the combined efforts of the Robinsons, Lewis, and Bowler Hat Guy to stop her.
  • In Monsters, Inc., Sulley gives a scare demonstration to some candidates, badly scaring Boo, which makes him realize how horrible it actually is to scare little children.
  • My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Sunset Shimmer gets one after the climax of the film. Whatever Sunset was expecting the Element of Magic to do once she put it on her head, it wasn't to turn her into a "raging she-demon". Before her transformation, Sunset hadn't been willing to threaten a puppy; after it, she tried to outright kill Twilight. After the Rainbooms stopped her, Sunset understood that she had been the bad guy even before this, and promptly repented. Rainbow Rocks shows us details; she's harder on her past self than the Humane Five are, and directs a great deal of scorn and sarcasm at herself.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games, the other members of Crystal Prep's Shadowbolts team are horrified that their determination to win led to the actual human Twilight Sparkle being transformed into the monstrous Midnight Sparkle. So much so that, when Midnight goes on a reality-breaking spree, the girls quickly aid the others in saving those dangling in the holes from falling in. Once everything is set back to normal, the girls are a lot more apologetic and friendlier and no longer care about winning (much to their principal Cinch's fiery disgrace).
  • My Little Pony: A New Generation: Phyllis Cloverleaf is the owner and CEO of CanterLogic, a high tech company that specializes in propaganda-based protection gear, since Phyllis believes that unicorns and pegasiare dangerous and want to harm Earth ponies. Her realization that she's in the wrong starts when Sunny Starscout reveals the other pony tribes don't have magic, meaning they can't do any of the spells or flying that supposedly makes them dangerous. It's cemented when Phyillis' son Sprout goes totally overboard in driving the earth ponies into war, and she understands how toxic her beliefs really are.
  • Jack's realization in The Nightmare Before Christmas crystallises in the song "Poor Jack".
  • RJ in Over the Hedge spends the first half of the film tricking the forest animals into stealing food so he can take it all and give it to Vincent, a bear whose food he caused to be run over. As he spends time with them, he starts to like being part of their family, so much so that he begins regretting his plan. When he finally goes through with and lets them take the fall, Vincent commends RJ for how he deceived them. RJ realizes he's made a horrible mistake and goes off to save them.
  • In life, the zombies of Paranorman were Knight Templar puritans who believed that they were doing the right thing by killing Agatha, who they suspected of witchcraft. In death, however, they feel ashamed of what they did and accept that it was utterly unforgivable.
  • Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe: Candace finally gets one, when she sees how the Big Bad treats her brothers, and how she plans to use her to take over Earth. When she sees her brothers again, she couldn't help but run off in tears, realizing just how ungrateful she was towards her brothers' inventing talents and thinking that she's ruining everyones' summer.
  • Ratatouille: Downplayed with Ego. Rémy's cooking and its effect on him forces him to reevaluate nearly everything he's preached his entire career, and makes him realize his criticism should not be taken as gospel like it has been. He was wrong, anyone, even someone from the lowliest origin imaginable, can cook.
  • The Rugrats Movie:
    • Tommy suffers this big time. Having been abandoned by his friends and left to fend for himself and his baby brother, Dil, Tommy finally snaps at Dil's greediness and attitude and plans to give Dil to the monkeys. However, as he's ready to dump banana baby food on Dil, the younger Pickles' demeanor changes to one of outright fear and Tommy sees himself in a puddle's reflection. This and Dil quickly clambering up to hug Tommy is enough to realize what he was doing was wrong. Even the monkeys are close to tears as they sadly look on as Tommy brings Dil back to shelter.
    • Dil as well gets this during this scene, realizing how much of a brat he was.
    • Chuckie later realizes he abandoned his best friend to fend for himself in the woods. He gets Phil and Lil to go back for Tommy and Dil because somebody has to take care of them and there's nobody else around.
  • In Turning Red, Ming is not an evil person. She never wanted to be a villain, and certainly never saw herself as a villain. But somewhere between getting One-Hit KO'ed by Mei and meeting up with the aunties and Grandma on the astral plane, she realizes that she is, in fact, the villain of the piece. That realization, plus the compassion and forgiveness shown to her by both her daughter and her mother, are enough to bring about a drastic change in her attitude.
  • In Zootopia, Judy gets one as she realizes the extent of her patronizing attitude and Innocently Insensitive comments towards predators has worsened the Night Howler situation.

  • HammerFall has "Last Man Standing", about a man who gave up everything and refused to budge in his beliefs, only to now see that he's just about out of time to make things right.
    Seeing clearer what I've done, I refused to let things go
    I could never once admit I'm wrong, and what do I have to show?
    Seeing clearer what's at stake, and the things I have to change
    I just hope I can, it's not too late to get a chance to end this pain!
  • Happens in "Cats in the Cradle" by Harry Chapin. Add a major tearjerker in that Chapin never lived to see his children grow up; he died in an automobile accident in 1981.
    And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
    He'd grown up just like me
    My boy was just like me
  • Happens twice in Razia's Shadow by Forgive Durden. First, when Ahrima goes into the darkness and Barayas (the Spider) convinces him that the only way to make people respect him is to make them fear him. He destroys the lamps and is banished. In Toba the Tura, he laments "Oh, what have I done?". Second, Pallis. After accidentally stabbing his brother, Adakias, he begs and pleads for him to fight and stay alive. Though he was aware of his evil intentions, he didn't mean to take things so far.
  • The second half of David Bowie's "Cygnet Committee", wherein the second narrator first gleefully describes the violence he and his allies have turned to but slowly sees it be antithetical to his ideals.
  • "Overburdened" by Disturbed features one for a Knight Templar waiting in line in hell:
    I was fighting for a reason
    Holy blessed homicide
    Seems I have committed treason
    All I've sacrificed
  • "The Truth beneath the Rose" by Within Temptation is sung from the Knight Templar's point of view as they realise how wrong their actions were, and wish to become The Atoner.
    I believed it would justify the means
    It had a hold over me
    Blinded to see
    The cruelty of the beast
    Here is the darkest side of me
    (Forgive me my sins)
    The veil of my dreams
    Deceived all I have seen
    Forgive me for what I have been.
  • Bob has a small one in "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton, which doesn't seem to affect him much.
    I'm not a monster, Tom
    Well, technically I am
    I guess I am.
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds song "The Curse of Milhaven"
    Since I was no bigger than a weavil
    they've been saying I was evil
    that if bad was a boot then I'd fit it
    that I'm a wicked young lady,
    but I've been trying hard lately
    Oh, fuck it! I'm a monster! I admit it!
  • "I Was Wrong" by Social Distortion.
    When I was young, I was so full of fear
    I hid behind anger, held back the tears
    It was me against the world, I was sure that I'd win
    But the world fought back, punished me for my sins
    I felt so alone, so insecure
    I blamed you instead, made sure I was heard
    And they tried to warn me of my evil ways
    But I couldn't hear what they had to say
    I was wrong, self-destruction's got me again
    I was wrong, I realize now that I was wrong
  • Happens in the middle of "Crusade" by Voltaire, after the narrator has slain one of the reportedly evil dragons he was crusading against.
    The dragon fell upon the ground
    'Twas then I heard a whimpering sound
    A dragonling to his father clung
    Who only fought to protect his young.
  • "Take This Bottle" by Faith No More is about an abusive alcoholic who wants his wife and child to leave him to stew in his own guilt.
  • "Stop!" on the Pink Floyd album The Wall is Pink having an epiphany about how far down the road of evil he is, which leads into the trial in the center of his mind.
    I wanna go home
    Take off this uniform and leave the show
    But I'm waiting in this cell because I have to know
    Have I been guilty all this time?
  • "Sorry" by Buckcherry
  • "Two Worlds Collide" by Inspiral Carpets
  • One interpretation of the Imagine Dragons song "The River" explains that the singer has realized his own selfishness, and decided to perform a spiritual cleansing.
  • "Criminal" by Fiona Apple is a girl realizing she's been a monster to the guy she loves and desperately searching for a way to fix it.
    I've gotta make a play
    To make my lover stay
    So what would an angel say?
    The Devil wants to know
  • Similar to the Fiona Apple example above, "Runaway" by Kanye West depicts the narrator realizing that he is an unrepentant Domestic Abuser with with no real way to redeem himself.
  •'s cohesive plot revolves around a man named Black, working for a government agency using increasing Orwellian methods. He realizes he's working for the bad guys when his boss, White, attempts to erase his identity.
    Everything that I did wrong was never my intention — At that time, I thought it was the right thing to do.
  • The Who's 'Behind Blue Eyes', while largely a straight-up Villain Song, has some moments of this.
    But my dreams
    They aren't as empty
    As my conscience seems to be
  • Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani. As she says "I know I've been a real bad girl, I didn't mean for you to get hurt.
  • The Megas: Proto Man starts out murderously angry that he was created to be The Hero and then taken apart so that Mega Man could fill the role instead. After a Kirk Summation shows him the error of his ways, he concludes that he wouldn't have been a good fit for the job anyway:
    If I'd been standing where you are, I think I would've done what Father wants...but now I know what I'd become.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Older Than Feudalism in The Bible:
    • According to Christianity, acknowledging one's own "fallenness" is the first step to receiving salvation.
      • And in the Orthodox faith, the right way of true living by Christ's commandments is to come to the state of this. And if not, that won't work.
      • A specific example would be Saul of Tarsus, better known as Saint Paul the Apostle. He began as a notorious persecutor of the earliest Christians, who was knocked to the ground and struck blind by a vision of God on the way to Damascus ("Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"). He converted within the week to Christianity and found his sight restored, and "the road to Damascus" would become a popular metaphor for the Heel Realization.
    • The Gospel of Matthew, 27:54, and the Gospel of Mark, 15:39: a Roman soldier present at the Crucifixion, upon seeing all the things that happen when Jesus finally does die, remarks, "Truly, this man was the son of God."
    • In the New Testament, when Judas Iscariot realizes that he's betrayed Jesus, he gives back the thirty pieces of silver and hangs himself. (The other account for his death averts this trope.)
    • David, though beloved of the Lord, was rebuked by the prophet Nathan when he had Uriah the Hittite put on the front lines so he would be killed, and David could take his wife Bathsheba for himself. Nathan tells him that the child Bathsheba was currently pregnant with would not live. Indeed, despite David fasting and clothing himself in sackcloth, the baby died after seven days. (And during this time, David allegedly wrote the powerfully penitent Psalm 51).
    • According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus was crucified at the same time as two criminals. One of the criminals mocked Jesus, telling Him to save all three of them if He was really the Son of God. The second criminal rebuked the first, telling him that they (the criminals) were getting the punishment they deserved, but that Jesus had done nothing wrong. The second criminal asked Jesus to remember him, and Jesus promised that the second criminal would join him in paradise for his humbleness and for proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God.
  • The Book of Mormon: When the Actual Pacifist people of Ammon are attacked and over a thousand of them slaughtered, the attackers eventually realize that they're not fighting back at all, and many are "stung", "their hearts had swollen". Over a thousand of them — more than the number of casualties — throw their weapons down and join the survivors in prayer.
  • According to legend, Joan of Arc's executioner showed up at his church for confession as a babbling wreck shortly after due to realizing he had "killed a holy woman."

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Since pretty much any wrestler who is booed is a heel, outside of some bizarre circumstances like X-Pac Heat, most are well aware of what they are and don't see themselves as being "wrong", "evil" or such. A wrestler who does realize they have been doing wrong and deciding to cut it out may still remain a heel anyway (Mickie James). A straight example, by this page's description, would be at ROH Fifth Year Festival Finale when Colt Cabana tried to remove Delirious's mask. When the fans booed him for it, he stopped and apologized for it.
  • Matt Hardy, whom after losing an "I Quit" to his brother Jeff, realized he was being consumed by jealousy and envy and stopped being such an ass to his brother.
  • The Shield formed together because they really didn't like the popularity contest that is the reality of professional wrestling (or the fact that the in their eyes inferior Ryback arrived on the main roster before them, but that's another topic entirely) and decided to everything they could to ensure fan favorite wrestlers were as unsuccessful as possible, which they viewed as "justice". This led them to work for The Authority in keeping down the always over Daniel Bryan but found The Authority often getting in their way (such as against The Wyatt Family), and when The Authority decided to go after commentator Jerry Lawler, The Shield came to the conclusion The Authority was, in fact, the greatest injustice in WWE and decided to fight them instead.
  • After seeing TNA's locker room empty to ensure that she would not escape from Bully Ray and his table, Dixie Carter came to realize she was the bad guy and scolded her nephew from trying to take action against Bully Ray, the company, and her own personal circle for the incident instead of putting Bully Ray in charge of wrestling operations as an apology for her tyranny.

  • Survival of the Fittest:
    • Bobby Jacks, who realizes he's one of the bad guys very early on but then decides that now that he's killed somebody there's no going back. Lenny Priestly also arguably fits this, although he is less somber about it.
    • In v4, Reiko Ishida has one of these after strangling resident Wide-Eyed Idealist and Instant Fan Club member Carol Burke to death in a fit of rage.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The first edition of the Discworld Roleplaying Game draws on Wyrd Sisters (see above) to define a spell that triggers such realizations. If the target refuses to be frightened, this can rebound on the caster...
  • In Ravenloft, having a Heel Realization is the only way a darklord can escape his/her Ironic Hell realm. The sourcebook does note that people actually capable of having a Heel Realization and actually admitting that they reaped what they sowed when they committed the Act of Ultimate Darkness that made them darklords would never have become darklords in the first place. Thus far, the only time this has happened was when the writing team lost the rights to Lord Soth and had to remove him in a hurry; he admitted his guilt, causing the Powers That Be to lose interest in torturing him and banish him from the realm.
  • In Sentinels of the Multiverse, the villainous AI Omnitron — after a century of defeats at the hands of the heroes — surmises that their success comes from their emotions, and creates a new, tenth iteration with an empathy chip. Omnitron-X then realizes the depth of suffering he's caused and goes back in time to destroy his previous versions as atonement.

  • At the end of Anastasia, Gleb realizes he is no better than his father if he goes through with assassinating Anya/Anastasia.
  • Reverend Hale in The Crucible has one of these and spends the rest of the play trying to make amends — by encouraging victims of the witch-hunt to confess and live rather than dying for continuing to deny witchcraft.
  • Valjean and Javert in Les Misérables — see Literature, above, although the episodes with Petit Gervais and Marius are sometimes omitted, the realizations following directly from the Bishop's undeserved gift to Valjean and Valjean's decision to spare Javert. Here, with Javert having been upgraded from "recurring nuisance" to "deuteragonist", an explicit parallel is drawn, Javert having a solo that's a Dark Reprise of Valjean's.
  • The stage version of Little Shop of Horrors climaxes when Seymour Krelborn realizes what he's aided and abetted for a little fame and a shot at the woman of his dreams. Confronting Audrey 2 he damns them both, "You're a monster, and so am I!" He is then promptly eaten.
  • Both characters in Macbeth experience this in the play — for him, it's an Ignored Epiphany, but Lady Macbeth loses her mind.
  • In George Bernard Shaw's play Saint Joan, after Joan of Arc is captured, the English chaplain John de Stogumber pushes relentlessly for burning her at the stake; when he actually sees it done, he goes insane with remorse.
  • Emma, the protagonist of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song & Dance, desperate and discouraged by several failed relationships, finally has an affair with a married man. But when the man knocks on her door one night and tells her he's left his wife for her, she's forced to admit she wasn't serious about the relationship and was only using him. Realizing what she has become, Emma vows that she will change and become the good person she once was again.
  • In You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Lucy van Pelt has a massive one after conducting a series of surveys to determine how crabby everyone thinks she is. Very crabby, it turns out.
  • In Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol, while watching his past and the Cratchits' happy present, Marley realizes how short, cruel, and meaningless his own life was.

    Visual Novels 
  • Part of Kotomine's Backstory in Fate/stay night is his realization that nice people do not enjoy watching others being tortured or that sort of thing. That's fundamentally why he can't actually become a Card-Carrying Villain; he actually has a sense of morality. The end result can be considered an Ignored Epiphany but he did try. For years.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, in Act 4 of Shizune's route, she realizes that she has been taking those closest to her for granted and pushing people close to her away. She thus resolves to, with Hisao's help, repair her friendship with Misha, and also says she will be less competitive in the future.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Miles Edgeworth starts to have "doubts" after you demonstrate two defendants to be innocent, but it's not until he's the defendant in two murder trials in a row in which he's innocent that he really decides that striving to get every single defendant found guilty to maintain a "perfect record" might be a bad thing. Furthermore, he finds out that although he became a prosecutor because of the fatal shooting of his father, it turns out that the real killer is the senior prosecutor who mentored him, and instilled those beliefs in him to begin with!
    • Also, in the fifth case, Edgeworth finds that he's already guilty of using forged evidence, and the forged evidence was used to give a death sentence to a serial killer. He wasn't aware of it at the time (he himself didn't forge it, and he was convinced that it was the real deal), but it really came to bite him in the ass when people found it out and started to call him out on it. Even when they find out who forged the evidence and why, sort of clearing his name a bit, he couldn't forgive himself for it... and it's implied that it's one of the many things that pushes him to leave the prosecutors' office for a year, leaving what appears to be a suicide note.
    • Acro has one in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All. When the Judge, having realized that he'd intended to kill Regina in revenge for her Deadly Prank that resulted in Acro being wheelchair-bound and his brother bat going into a coma, but accidentally killed Regina's father and Acro's Parental Substitute, asks if he's a victim, he says he's nothing but a murderer.
    • Downplayed in that he's not the Big Bad or even arguably a villain in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, but Godot realises at the end of the final case that he both made the situation a lot worse because of his actions (literally engineering a situation where he could be a hero) and was projecting his own insecurities and self-hatred onto Phoenix.
    • In The Great Ace Attorney, The Professor (aka Klint van Zieks) started killing nobles who couldn't be touched by the law, but after the Big Bad, Mael Stronghart, blackmailed him into doing his bidding, he started killing Stronghart's enemies, and by the time he killed his mentor, he realized he was Beyond Redemption. This ultimately culminated in him allowing Genshin Asogi to kill him after the latter exposed him, leaving behind a last will and testament exposing Stronghart's crimes.
  • Major spoilers for Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Hajime Hinata learns this during the final trial. He was an Ordinary High-School Student at Hope's Peak Academy, having to pay a fortune just to get in. He submitted himself to an experiment by the school board to become the Ultimate Hope, becoming Izuru Kamukura. He then murders the School Council, then urged by the Ultimate Despair, Junko Enoshima, who broadcasts it to the world. This makes all of the Reserve Students commit suicide, bringing about the Tragedy. When Hajime remembers his old life and that he's the one responsible for bringing AI Junko to the island, which caused the killing game to start and half of his friends to die, he undergoes a hardcore Heroic BSoD.
  • In Tsukihime, Akiha route, you can, at one point, kill Ciel (thus, failing her test of Shiki's humanity), prompting Shiki to assume he IS a natural-born killer, after all, and give in to The Dark Side. Needless to say, it's a bad ending game over.
    • Part of Kohaku's route has her realize much quicker than in Hisui's route that maybe she should have picked a different hobby than plotting the utter annihilation of the Tohno family, even if Makihasa wasn't the world's nicest guy after his Inversion Impulse began.
  • In the Psychological Horror masquerading as a Dating Sim Doki Doki Literature Club!, in the final scene with Monika, you learn that she's self aware and can edit the game's code, and has deleted every other part of the game, other characters included. The player's response is to delete her character file, and for a moment it looks like she's going to go full screaming Yandere before it slowly sinks in that this is exactly what she did to the others and that, even if they were replaceable data and scripts, they were still her friends. She laments how monstrous she had become and restores the characters and the game world before accepting her fate.
  • Majikoi! Love Me Seriously!: Miyako, who was originally brought into the Kazama Family for a reprieve from horrible treatment by her family & classmates, becomes troubled by decreased attendance at the Family's Friday meetings, and insists that everyone attend even if they miss events crucial to realizing individual goals. She cannot believe that people who call themselves her friends wouldn't be around when she needs them, and when her pleas lead to vehement arguments which threaten to tear the group apart, she just becomes more resigned to the idea that no one will ever understand her. It takes a Bitch Slap and a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Chris, her biggest defender in those altercations, for Miyako to comprehend the undue burden she puts on the rest of the Kazama Family by never growing as a person from when she joined. She never tried to make any other friends or pick up any new experiences, and when she felt lonely & unfulfilled she made the rest of the Family her crutch, forever remaining the helpless girl the rest of the Family has to save. She vows to do better, kickstarting her Character Development and the second half of her route.
    Miyako: ...Friends are your equals... How could I forget that?

    Web Animation 
  • Puffin Forest: In "We Became The Villains In Our Own Campaign", Ben and his party discover that they are the villains of their campaign. Deep into the campaign, they discover that they've been unintentionally causing a lot of harm in the world note . The GM confirms this by telling the party that they are pure evil and beyond redemption.
    • Wiz and Boomstick's being constantly annoyed by Deadpool leads them to arrange a match against The Mask in hopes of getting rid of him once and for all. When the Mask does the dirty deed and kills Deadpool, both Wiz and Boomstick can't stand the fact that they did this and feel horrible over breaking their own rules and setting up a match against someone who was clearly superior to him just so they can get rid of him.
    • Boomstick is equally horrified in "Martian Manhunter vs Silver Surfer" as both combatants lament that they were forced to fight for some unknown reason.
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • The end of season 10 gives us a rather dark one. The Director of Project Freelancer has tortured a sentient AI to the point where it shed aspects of its own personality in order to save itself, took those fragments and began implanting them into the heads of a team of special operations soldiers, and sent them to attack what ultimately ended up being the actual military for more resources. Eventually, as one of his former agents goes on a power hungry Roaring Rampage Of Destruction to collect the other agent's fragments, the Director's crimes come to light and its implied he's arrested. A few years later shows this was not the case and reveals the true purpose behind the project: to somehow bring back his dead wife. By this point, his own daughter is trying to kill him and when she finally finds him, he only asks for her to leave her pistol which he would use to commit suicide as the final recording of his wife plays on a loop.
    • Agents York and North Dakota have one of these in Season 9 after having law enforcement shooting at them during the mission to capture the Sarcophagus.
    York: We're the good guys, right?
  • Overly Sarcastic Productions: Red discusses this trope in her Trope Talk video, "Are We the Baddies?", titled after the Mitchell and Webb sketch mentioned above.
  • In RWBY, after learning that Elm and Vine want to stop her from blowing up Mantle because she's their friend despite earlier scorning friendship, Harriet finally realizes how wrong her actions were in her determination to mimic Clover's Undying Loyalty to Ironwood.

  • X from A Magical Roommate has one after being hired to build a doomsday device that involves nuclear power but can be controlled magically. She's initially fascinated by it and works hard until she realizes that she's building something that's going to kill people, at which point she sabotages the entire project and walks out.
  • In Agents of the Realm, after Norah explains to her that Ruby is firmly in bad-guy camp, Jordan realizes that trusting the first person to know about their powers is a bad idea and jumps to Norah's camp.
  • Parodied in Ansem Retort.
    Axel: We've faced worse than this. Remember when Disneyworld was destroyed?
    Marluxia: Larxene did that.
    Axel: Well, what about that plane that got hijacked?
    Marluxia: You hijacked that plane.
    Axel: Okay, but there was that corrupt government.
    Marluxia: That was, and still is Zexion.
    Axel: Wow, we're assholes.
  • Bobwhite, during a summer story arc, Cleo realizes, "I'm such a terrible employee that I made a child cry."
  • In Darths & Droids, the PCs have always been skirting the border between merely Off the Rails and Obliviously Evil, casually trashing the GM's carefully scripted story and messing things up far worse than they were initially. The GM loves to point this out to them, but it isn't until #454 that Pete finally gets it. His reaction subverts the trope: "So we're the bad guys now? Cool!"
    • Played a little more seriously in #571, where Anakin slaughters the younglings. Jim can no longer sympathize with Anakin. In this continuity, he's probably right.
  • In Dominic Deegan, after spending most of an arc in denial ("I am a good man!"), Bulgak finally realizes that he is "a selfish, damned fool."
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Abraham realizes the error of his ways after Nanase persuades him that in trying to fulfill the letter of his oath by killing Ellen he was actually violating the spirit of it. This leads him to become The Atoner.
    • Pandora has one as well after receiving a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Raven. Given that she also starts referring to herself as "we" and going back and forth on how justified her actions are, it makes clear to her exactly how unstable she's become. This comes to a head later in the arc.
  • In Endstone, when about to Mind Rape her Parental Substitute, Cole wonders why she is doing these terrible things -- for a panel.
  • Erfworld: Parson arrives at this fairly quickly after arriving (what with his side having all the classic evil minions like dwagons, gobwins, twolls, and giant spidews), but gets chewed out by his new boss and told that the whole "Good Guys/ Bad Guys" concept is just stupid. Comes up again after the climax of the Battle of Gobwin Knob, when the full impact of his plans and actions (tens of thousands of Erfworlders are dead) hits Parson and he has to wonder how much he was influenced by the spell that summoned him and how much by his own free will and genuine desire to command a battle.
  • In Exiern, While Typhan-Knee has some good reasons to hate Theresa (like Theresa's prejudice against Typhan-Knee's people), she also hates Theresa for several bad reasons: they are both under a Gender Bender spell (and Theresa sees it as a positive because she is a trans woman and the spell affirmed her gender), the guy Typhan-Knee tries to tell herself she's not in love with seems interested in Theresa, and they (Typhan-Knee & Theresa) are equally bigoted against each other's cultures. After Denver gives her the appropriate "What the Hell, Hero?" speech, Typhan-Knee finally realizes she's just as bad as she claimed Theresa was.
  • Girl Genius:
    • Parodied:
      Agatha: And I'm the evil mad girl with the death ray and the freakish ancestors — and the town full of minions — and the horde of Jägers — and the homicidal castle full of sycophantic evil geniuses and fun-sized hunter-killer monster clanks and goodness knows what else—
      Agatha: —And you know what? I can work with that!
    • In fact, multiply parodied: Baron Wulfenbach gets a few lovely moments too — mostly in the vein of knowing he's the "bad guy" and being all right with that. He's not really the bad guy — but his "heel" turn happened because he was drugged and dragged out of his continent, only to find upon his return years later (and with a new son in tow) that the Heterodynes have vanished, their base was annihilated, zombie-like people are running rampant, and the few nobles alive who still have power are engaged in petty squabbling instead of banding together to fix the utter chaos. The Baron quickly gathers all the allies he can, makes all the death rays he can, and just starts killing everything that is killing something else, until everyone finally bows to his rule. He's one of the only two reasons that the continent has general peace, and the other reason was a woman who made a Heroic Sacrifice to stop the zombie threat from being worse than it had. It hasn't stopped the world from considering him an evil tyrant, but at this point, he's stopped caring what anyone else thinks.
    • At one point, Gil Wulfenbach goes into a huge rant about how he always tries to be a Nice Guy but all that does is make people think that he is weak and that they can take advantage of him, and so the only way he can ever make people listen to reason is by beating the crap out of them first. And then he realizes, to his horror: "This must be how my father feels all the time!"
    • Tarvek has one while arguing with Gil, about using slaver wasps. "Of course they shouldn't be used on Agatha! They shouldn't be used on any... oh."
  • In Homestuck, Vriska Serket, who up until this point had been manipulating events in the B1 session, has one after killing Tavros.
  • Steward and Trinket in Housepets! have an enforced one: When they come down from demon mode, it seems like all their rationalisations for their actions have come crashing down. This results in an overwrought "I'm a monster!" phase which even the people they were trying to kill are relieved to hear is temporary, although the understanding thus gained seems to last longer.
  • Though not a villain, The Japanese Beetle had a moment where he realized he's a creep, and set about trying to become a decent person and a real hero.
  • Subversion: Cale'anon of Looking for Group believes he has turned evil after killing a little boy and tries to act accordingly, but really, he isn't made of the right (or wrong) stuff.
  • In MonsterLands, The Destructor realizes that going out of his way to start random fights with strangers is a bad idea, as seen here
  • Poppy O'Possum: Between the Fantastic Racism against opossums and her desire to keep peace in Eggton, Petunia Quibble starts the series determined to run Poppy out of town. She changes her mind after confronting Poppy over her past sins when she discovers, via an emotional outburst from Poppy, that the latest one before coming to Eggton was the result of Poppy's daughter being injured. When asked about it later, Petunia admits she had been against Poppy from the start, but that outburst helped her realize that Poppy was a person, one who'd had it rough, and she was on the verge of becoming the next villain in her life.
  • Sleipnir: Equine Invader from Jupiter: When General Kincaid smugly orders for the military to finish Sleipnir off when the alien horse is badly injured Taking the Bullet for them, Clint realizes what a monster he is and attacks him. Kincaid easily overpowers Clint and smugly tries to break his leg, then kills Jericho when the horse tries to protect Clint. This leads to Jimenez—already troubled by Kincaid planning to drop a nuke in the middle of Austin, Texas—deciding that his boss has gone too far and briefly knocking Kincaid out with a punch to the head.
  • In The Specialists, Hartmann, trying to convince the Specialists they can trust him, tries to convince them of this: he tells them that he, the erstwhile Nazi, hates the Nazis -- and himself.
  • In Strong Female Protagonist, Alison has a long conversation with her ethics and aesthetics professor in which she attempts to come to terms with her decision to assault and kidnap someone she didn't like, then force him to use his powers to help save a great many lives. Except that over the course of the conversation she finds herself increasingly unable to escape the truth: she didn't do it to save those lives, she did it to save her friend. And that her attempts to portray him as the most selfish and horrible person she's ever known are projecting her own guilt onto him, given that she's lost friends because of her selfish behavior in her earlier years (not to mention her acquaintances with mass murderers and villains bent on world conquest).
  • unOrdinary: John is able to justify his attacks to himself by seeing himself as the victim and everyone else as beneath him and complicit in his own suffering due to his society's power based hierarchy, which encourages the strong to lord their power over the weak. Even when he decides that he's a monster, his conclusion is "So what? Everyone is else is just as fucked up as I am!" When he's finally forced to face that he's attacking and endangering people left and right, despite many of them genuinely being decent people instead of faking, he breaks down completely.
  • It's Walky!: Sal's fall from grace has led her to retrieve an Amplifier Artifact which she is poised to use to destroy about 2/3rds of the world with. Walky brings her back from the brink by presenting her with her ex-boyfriend Danny, who is the only person she will still let herself care about. Her tough-girl persona collides with her desire for Danny to think well of her and she collapses into a crying heap in Danny's arms. Afterward, she becomes The Atoner for the next few story arcs, resolving to willingly serve out her prison sentence despite her superpowers meaning she can escape whenever she wants. Her Heel Realization is illustrated by having Sal's hair, which had fallen over her left eye and covered it during her entire Dark Action Girl phase to illustrate how she wasn't letting herself see everything going on around her, falling away from her face as she sees and recognizes Danny's presence.
  • xkcd: "Listen to Yourself" uses a "Troll Realization" variation on the theme.
  • Ziggy Pig and Silly Seal (2022): Occurs in issue #7 when Ziggy Pig abruptly realizes that his Frame-Up scheme has turned him into a villain.
    "Holy crap... WE'RE $%#& VILLAINS!"

    Web Original 
  • offers a helpful list of 5 Signs That You're the Villain in an Action Movie, including details like acknowledging one's own Red Right Hand and the possibility of being an Evil Brit.
  • Rudyard Kipling in Malê Rising went through this after he witnessed the atrocities committed by the British during the Indian War of Independence. As a result, he defects to the Indian side, reports the war from their perspective, and writes a retort to his famous poem, stating that Britain has become unfit to carry the White Man's Burden.
  • Phase of the Whateley Universe is a fourteen-year-old who was kicked out of the richest family on the planet, the Goodkinds, when he turned into a mutant: the Goodkinds are notoriously anti-mutant, supporting the Knights of Purity and the semi-governmental Mutant Commission Office (MCO). Goodkinds, including the person he used to be, supported the MCO with billions of dollars over the years. Phase has defended the MCO to his new (mutant) friends at Whateley Academy, even though there are rumors that the MCO has kidnapped hundreds of young mutants who were never seen again. In "Ayla and the Grinch", Phase has to face the fact that the MCO really has been kidnapping, and "disappearing", young mutants, and he is partly responsible since he helped fund the MCO.

    Web Videos 
  • Throughout Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the titular Villain Protagonist has been a villain in name only, mouthing Well-Intentioned Extremist slogans but too meek to actually do anything really bad. Then comes the challenge from the Evil League of Evil to which he aspires: commit a heinous crime or die. It's not until the very end, when his inability to pull the trigger on his Arch-Enemy Captain Hammer has led directly to the death of his love interest, Penny, that he realizes that the murder will be attributed to him, and thus he is now a villain for real. His final song, "Everything You Ever", is a triumphant dirge simultaneously celebrating his ascension to true Evil and mourning the loss of his soul.
    "Now the nightmare's real; now Dr. Horrible is here...."
  • The Escapist series Doraleous and Associates had an episode where the titular heroes-for-hire realized they were working for the bad guys. They immediately switched sides.
  • Steve in KateModern, when he realizes his religion is actually a murderous cult, which he has been serving blindly.
  • Exaggerated in To Boldly Flee. The Nostalgia Critic blames himself for putting the lives of his Channel Awesome co-workers in danger to follow more of his crazy schemes, which he's right to do. He then starts blaming himself for things like SOPA, the internet censorship bill, which he had nothing to do with.
  • In this short video made for Christmas 2009, Jack Bauer begins to interrogate and torture Santa Claus. (Santa's flying over the US without a passport delivering mysterious packages, after all). With only a few sentences Santa makes Jack (who has just threatened to cut out Santa's eyes) realize that what he's doing is wrong. The video ends with an emotionally distraught Jack leaving the room and nearly having a breakdown in his car.
  • In one of Soviet Womble's Arma videos, their clan takes on the role of a freedom fighter insurgency freeing an island nation from Russian occupation. As the video goes on and the resistance group's number of war crimes committed grows at an explosive rate, Womble comments that their group has more or less become the bad guys in this scenario.
    Moogle Eh look. If someone tells us to go fuck ourselves, what's the appropriate response?
    Womble: Oh! Oh! Gee! Maybe one of them isn't break the fucking Geneva Convention. We're the fucking baddies.

Alternative Title(s): Heel Realisation, Villain Realization


There Aren't Any Devils

After seeing the pain her gleeful killing of the "devils" has caused a family that once welcomed her, Gabi is forced to realize that she is more of a monster than her enemies.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / HeelRealization

Media sources: