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Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot

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Our protagonist is first introduced as a self-centered Jerkass who doesn't care about the feeling of others. Expect a series of scenes of our soon-to-be-hero being rude to subordinates, ditching his nerdy friend or kicking a woman out of his house in the morning. He is usually rich, good-looking, successful and/or charming, but lacking in friendship and love.

Then the plot happens, our hero undergoes some trial and tribulations, eventually saves the day, and in the process discovers how much of a jerk he's been, learning a lesson in humility and kindness. Yay! He'll also find love and/or true friendship in the process.


This is a specific Character Development plot and a subtrope of both Break the Haughty and Took a Level in Kindness. It is a form of redemption story where the protagonist was never actually evil, just self-centered and unpleasant. A Jerk To Nice Guy Plot is more common in one-shot stories such as movies or single novels than long-runners, such as TV shows.

Overlapping sister trope to Jerkass Realization. A sudden moment of clarity when they realize for the first time what a Jerkass they have been may propel this character on their journey. But maybe they only gradually recognize their faults, and maybe only near the end of their struggle do they look back and understand how much they have changed.

This character arc is likely to happen to an Insufferable Genius or Jerk Jock. Compare with Defrosting Ice Queen, Sudden Humility and Redemption Quest. Often, when a sequel is made, the character suffers Aesop Amnesia and returns to the old, Jerkass ways (only to learn the same lesson again). This can be one explanation for a Bully Turned Buddy plot. Compare Pride Before a Fall. Contrast Took a Level in Jerkass.



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    Comic Books 
  • Attempted with The Irredeemable Ant-Man, who started as a guy that did such things as petty theft and (on the series' advertisement) shrink in order to get on girls' bosoms, and eventually would become a more conventional hero. Unfortunately, Marvel's mishandled advertisement and the blatant, not-really-played-for-laughs-that-well Jerkassery of this opening part of the character's arc (he uses his shrinking powers to sneak into the Avengers' bathroom and peek at Carol Danvers taking a shower in the very first issue) meant that the series fell straight into Audience-Alienating Premise territory (Evangeline Lilly, who played Hope Pym in the Ant-Man movie, even went as far as saying on interviews that she had read the series for research and considered it "garbage") and the series got a pretty quick death.
  • The Flash: Wally West's run is one twenty-year-long example. As Kid Flash, Wally was a self-centered Jerkass with a nasty attitude. While becoming the Flash made him mature a bit, he was still arrogant, greedy, and lecherous. It didn't help that he won the lottery soon after gaining the title, and the money kind of went to his head. However, when he lost it all and ended up temporarily homeless, he gained a new sense of perspective, ending up befriending some of Barry Allen's old villains, becoming more of a Working-Class Hero, and generally mellowing out, though he was still a bit brash and rude. He further matured when Barry seemingly returned, only for it to be revealed that it was Eobard Thawne in disguise, forcing him to realize that he needed to live up to the name of the Flash and do it justice. Over the next decade he grew even more, and by the time Barry returned for real he was a complete Nice Guy and a loving father of two children.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Done to Peter Parker himself in Amazing Fantasy #15. After a childhood of bullying, Peter had a massive chip on his shoulder and little inclination to use his powers for something else than his family's benefit. Then he let a thief walk past him because it wasn't his problem, said thief murdered his beloved uncle, and Peter became one of the most selfless and humblest heroes in the Marvel Universe.
    • Flash Thompson. Originally nothing more than The Bully, Flash took the slow and steady path from jerkass to (more or less) nice guy, ultimately befriending his former victim Peter Parker and becoming a hero in his own right, first as a war veteran and then as an actual superhero, Agent Venom. He hasn't had the smoothest of character arcs — lazy writers have often succumbed to the lure of Status Quo Is God and reverted Flash to his original Jerk Jock characterization — but as Marvel redemption stories go, his is among the most enduring. He even tried to Save the Villain when Eric O'Grady, the Irredeemable Ant-Man above, inevitably went bad.
  • A fairly recurring plot in Supergirl stories. Peter David's series was a lenghty myth arc about Matrix bonding with a downright vile teenager and influencing her into becoming a hero. Sterling Gates' run had Kara, who had been depicted as an immature brat by preceeding writers, evolve into a kind-hearted young woman. In Red Daughter of Krypton, Post-Flashpoint Kara Zor-El learns how to move past her angry, rotten attitude and goes back to be the kind, nice girl she was before losing her world and most of her family.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Beast's character arc in Beauty and the Beast is this. In the beginning of the movie, he's a selfish, vain prince, who gets turned into a literal monster until he can change his ways. First he is really harsh with Belle, but gradually softens up to her and becomes a nice, selfless person, ultimately breaking the curse.
  • The first Cars movie has Lightning McQueen start out as an egotistical rookie race car who clearly dislikes his job advertising Rust-eze medicated bumper ointment and having to be around rusty cars, and longs to be the new spokesman of the Dinoco gas station. He ends up lost in Radiator Springs and put on community service after accidentally destroying the main road, and over the course of the movie, he learns to be more humble, becomes friends with Mater, a rusty tow truck, and turns down the Dinoco sponsorship when it is offered to him as a reward for helping Strip "The King" Weathers cross the finish line after a nasty accident.
  • Despicable Me: Gru becomes a better person and a father after he adopts three orphan girls, intending to use them for his evil plan.
  • Davey Stone from Eight Crazy Nights, at the start of the film he is a rude, obnoxious, trouble making, alcoholic jerk who bullies people and vandalizes property, he eventually turns around after getting a vision of his deceased parents and realizes how mean he is and he was acting out because he never got over losing them to a car accident when he was a kid.
  • The Emperor's New Groove: Spoiled, vain Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama, has to endure a difficult journey to return home and makes friends with a peasant named Pacha, and becomes a better ruler in the end.
  • Isle of Dogs: Chief starts out as a tough and proud stray dog who wants nothing to do with being owned by a human. But then he reveals that he doesn't want anything to do with humans because he's afraid that he'll bite them like he did with a child who wanted to pet him. After bonding with Atari, he eventually sheds his gruff personality and becomes a kinder dog, ultimately becoming Atari's new bodyguard dog. It even shows with his Important Haircut: he starts out with black fur while being gruff, but then he has a more kinder and innocent look when he's revealed to have white fur.
  • The Jungle King is about Maximilien, a pompous lion that behaves as an asshole to everybody. After being kidnapped, escaping and saving his kingdom, he learns from his brother (who was impersonating him) thay he must be nice to his people.
  • Klaus: We're treated to the story of Jesper Johanssen, initially an entitled, smug jackass who was being pandered to all of his life, until a forced work experience causes him to rethink and change his behavior and makes him more compassionate as a result.
  • In The LEGO Batman Movie, Batman starts out as a selfish jerk who enjoys working alone, but he eventually learns to trust his friends and to bond with them properly, becoming a lot nicer by the end of the film.
  • Megamind: Megamind starts out as a jerk but through the events of the film discovers the power of good and realizes he is better as a hero. This is both a Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot and an actual Heel–Face Turn.
  • Jim Hawkins of Disney's Treasure Planet starts out as a cute urchin, then undergoes a fifteen year Time Skip to be seen as a sailboarding ne'er-do-well poised for juvenile incarceration. His trip to Treasure Planet as the ward of astrophysicist Delbert Doppler, and the time Jim spends as the ship's galley boy slowly file down his jerkass tendencies. Jim proves his mettle in saving the ship and surviving crew from certain doom, earning a place in the republic's starfleet academy. His mother beams with pride.
  • Missing Link: Sir Lionel Frost starts out as a self-centered Glory Hound who is willing to put others in danger for his own reputation, but during his journey with Mr. Link and Adelina, he learns to care about others and becomes Mr. Link's true friend.
  • Song of the Sea begins with Ben being a petty Big Brother Bully towards his sister Saoirse, mostly due to him blaming her for their mother's disappearance. However as Ben finds out what really happened to his mother, he ultimately realizes how wrong it was to bully Saoirse. By the film's end, Ben becomes a nice and more responsible big brother.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Vanellope when she first shows up comes off as, to be it in Ralph's words, rude since she heckled Ralph. We later see that Vanellope was just being lonely, she doesn't have a friend to talk to and that she's capable of showing Ralph the amount of affection and care nobody has ever shown him before.


    Video Games 
  • DmC: Devil May Cry: The Dante from the 2013 reboot goes through this during the plot of the game. At first, he's only interested in defending himself and openly tells Vergil he doesn't care what happens to humankind. As the story develops, he begins to witness the way that humans are suffering too, not just him, and expresses sympathy. By the end of the game, he steps up to their defense unprompted.
  • Ratchet & Clank (2002): In his debut game Ratchet doesn't start out as a complete jerkass per say, rather he is more self absorbed and isn't interested in being a hero. The major reason he decides to help Clank initially is because he wants to see the rest of the galaxy outside of his home planet of Velden and often sidetracks their mission to find Captain Qwark for his own self interest (such as helping out Skidd McMarxx so he can get a hoverboard). However his personality changes for the worse after Clank inadvertently almost gets them killed by a trap set by Captain Qwark, who is working for the game's Big Bad Chairman Drek, and for the second act Ratchet is more obsessed with getting revenge on Qwark then stopping Drek and starts bullying Clank, at one point telling him that he will sell him for scrap. By the games third act however, after seeing a planet destroyed because of his own obsession against Qwark, Ratchet finally realizes how important stopping Drek is, and apologizes to Clank before the two set out to stop Drek once and for all. By the end of the game their experience together turns the two into life long friends and by the sequels Ratchet has become a far more heroic and selfless hero.
  • The main character of The World Ends with You, Neku Sakuraba, starts out as a selfish, anti-social Jerkass who actively hates having to interact with other people. He tries to block people out by wearing headphones, and his rude attitude causes issues early on since the Reapers' Game requires cooperation with a partner. He slowly gets better over the course of the game thanks to influence from his partners, especially Shiki, to the point where he's willing to help Shiki out with her own personal problems. During Week 2, Neku slowly comes to understand that most other Players are fighting for reasons just as valid as his own, and becomes much more openly friendly and heroic. As it turns out, Neku's Character Development ends up derailing the Big Bad's entire plan. The whole point of the current Reaper’s Game was due to Joshua and Kitaniji making a wager over whether or not Shibuya and its people deserve to continue existing, with Neku, a jerk who had no regard for anyone but himself, essentially as the representative of what Joshua hates about the city. If even a selfish loner like Neku can change for the better, then perhaps Shibuya isn’t so lost after all.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Weiss starts off as a spoiled Jerkass who consider her teammates beneath her level and is openly distraught over the fact the young Perky Goth Ruby is her team leader. After being called out by Professor Port as a Spoiled Brat, she realizes that she should work in being a better teammate than try to be the leader. After that, she befriends the rest of the team and acts overall nicer to everyone, even becoming Vitriolic Best Buds with Ruby. By Volume 5 she's practically another person entirely: a pleasant girl who brings her friends coffee, offers them emotional support and endures gentle ribbing for how terrible she used to be with a smile.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick: This is Belkar Bitterleaf's character arc, which comes into focus in books 6 and 7. For most of the story, he was a Heroic Comedic Sociopath who lived to annoy his teammates and amuse himself through violence. However, once he meets Lord Shojo and his Morality Pet Mr. Scruffy, he begins an arc towards "fake character development" that has him pretending to be helpful in order to get what he wants. But at the end of Blood Runs in the Family, after Durkon sacrifices his own life to save him, Belkar is stricken to the core, and beings to genuinely try to be better. Book 7 has a number of moments of him sincerely trying to be nice and helpful, and then humorously realizing he's not doing a very good job.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender features deuteragonist and Disc-One Final Boss Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation, who — to grossly oversimplify his character arc — goes through this.
  • Bojack Horseman: It happens very slowly, but the eponymous BoJack goes through one of these over the course of the series. He starts out as a selfish, rude, washed-up actor with alcohol and drug addictions, but after having to face how his behaviour ruins the lives of people around him as well as his own, he tries to genuinely change for the better. By the sixth season, he's basically a whole new person.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "Squeaky Boots", Mr. Krabs tried shortchanging both Pearl and then SpongeBob by only getting a pair of $2 squeaky boots for Pearl for her birthday and then manipulating SpongeBob into paying off the shoes. But then the shoes are too squeaky, so he decides to get rid of them and in the process he redeems himself:
      1. He pays SpongeBob the wages he earned (he at first added a bonus, but retracted).
      2. He buys Pearl the glossy shoes she always wanted to match her friends' shoes.
  • Ready Jet Go!: Mitchell's character arc over the course of the show involves him going from an overly harsh and snarky detective wannabe to an intelligent yet shy ally to Team Propulsion. His debut episode, "Mindy's Moon Bounce House", establishes him as an amateur detective who isolates himself from the other neighborhood kids. Episodes following that illustrate his humongous ego and rude demeanor. As the show goes on, it's gradually revealed that Mitchell is a lonely kid who just wants to have friends, but he has very low self-esteem and a serious lack of social skills, so he builds up an egotistical, snarky front to hide all his pain deep inside. Jet, Sean, Sydney, and Mindy gladly welcome him into their circle. Mitchell is still snarky here and there, but by the end of the show, he's a sarcastic sweetheart with a true heart of gold and an Honorary True Companion of the team.