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Jerk-to-Nice-Guy Plot

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Our usually-male 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 centric 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.

This character arc is likely to happen to an Insufferable Genius or Jerk Jock. Compare 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).


Examples:

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     Anime and Manga 
  • My Hero Academia: The Deuteragonist, Bakugou Katsuki, starts off as the protagonist's bully who takes pride and joy in torturing and ridiculing him and destroying his things, at one point even telling him to go kill himself. After entering UA, he becomes The Friend Nobody Likes because no one wants to hang with a bully, gets showed off by his former victim and the class's The Ace and gets kidnapped, unwittingly causes the retirement of his own childhood hero. While he's still greatly unpleasant to everyone but Kirishima, he is far more humble and less prone to violent outbursts.
  • Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z is introduced as an egotistical, genocidal asshole who loves murdering innocents and is perfectly willing to kill his own allies, and only hangs around with the heroes because he wants to defeat Goku. As the show goes on, though, he starts to soften, partly thanks to starting a family with Bulma and partly due to dying twice. In the Majin Buu saga, he performs a Heroic Sacrifice in an (failed, admittedly) attempt to stop Buu's rampage and protect his own son. By the end of the series, and carrying into Dragon Ball Super, he's become a genuine hero who, while still prideful and occasionally prone to holding the Jerkass Ball, is more than willing to swallow his pride and help others in need.

    Comics 
  • 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 meant that the series fell straight into Audience-Alienating Premise territory (Evangeline Lilly, who played Hope Pym im 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld tale Gap Year Adventures, by A.A. Pessimal, a sub-theme involves a classic Jerkass who has spent the previous seven years being utterly despised and derided by his peers at the Assassins' School, with good reason. When his path crosses that of two far better former Guild students than he was, he realises he is pretty much dependent on the goodwill of two people who have no particular reason to love him. The day is saved for him by his former student peers, in fact; his role is minimal, but earns him a little grudging approval. He inevitably grows up - a near-Death experience or two help - and a newer, better, version emerges at the end. The fact he is not-so-secretly in love with one of his rescuers adds a bit more bite - he realises he has to grow up and shape up, or lose her. Or she'll lose what wasn't a great amount of patience to begin with, and she'll definitively lose him.
  • Extremely Nice: In a plot to get Adrien back, Chloe turns to Marinette and Charisse to learn how to be likable under the guise of seeing the error of her ways.

    Film — Animated 
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Iron Man: After rich, egotistical genius Tony Stark is kidnapped and held prisoner by a ring of terrorists, he has a change of heart and becomes the superhero Iron Man, learning in the process how to be less of a jerk. On a greater scale, he also has one of these over the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a lot of ups and downs from film to film but a constant progression anyway. He's hardly a team player for most of Avengers, and is an Unwitting Instigator of Doom due to his arrogance in Age of Ultron and Civil War, but by the time of Spider-Man: Homecoming he's developed enough to be full-on The Mentor, continuing to demonstrate his massively-grown heart throughout Avengers: Infinity War.
  • What Women Want: Suave womanizer Nick Marshall gains the power to hear women's thoughts, and after a series of wacky misadventures resulting from his newfound power, he learns to see women as people and finds true love.
  • Green Lantern: Jerk Jock Hal Jordan learns a lesson about responsibility and being a better friend when he is chosen as the bearer of the Green Lantern Ring.
  • Groundhog Day. Phil Connors is contemptuous toward almost everyone and makes no attempt to hide it. Fate decides to put him in a "Groundhog Day" Loop (Trope Namer), causing him to re-live the same day over and over again. He decides to help other people avoid being hurt, betters himself by learning to play the piano and create ice sculpture, and falls in love. When he has improved his personality enough he's freed from the loop.
  • Scrooged. In this update of A Christmas Carol, Frank Cross is a selfish, sleazy and greedy television executive. He's put through a series of ghostly encounters that teach him the error of his ways and becomes generous, honest and loving.
  • In the origin story of The Green Hornet, Britt Reid is just a Spoiled Brat that makes whatever he wants, usually parties, being a shame for his father, who wants to manage the family business that is the newspaper. When his father dies misteriously, Britt not just get the newspaper business, also he becomes the vigilante known as the "Green Hornet". Also, during the movie, he changed his ways to be a better person and a best hero in general.
  • Jesus, Bro! is about famous internet celebrity (and Jerkass Hollywood Atheist) Rick "The Rickhead" Whitehead who meets Santa Christ after passing out drunk. He becomes a Jerkass Hollywood Christian who is set to convert all of his followers and accidentally causes the Rapture in the process. It is only then when he realizes the consequences of his selfish actions does he decide to be selfless and risk being damned for eternity by God when Santa Christ promises to save his friends if he takes the blame for his involvement. God hits the Reset Button and Rick learns that it does not matter what religion you follow or what God you worship, only that you are a good person in the end.
  • Zach Siler in the movie She's All That is a popular jock who makes a bet that he can turn the ugliest girl in the school into prom queen. He pretends to befriend Laney Boggs, who is a dorky artist. Zach's intentions change, however, after he falls for Laney.

    Literature 
  • Eustace Scrubb from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader starts off as a whiny self-obsessed jerk, but after getting turned into a monstrous dragon due to his own greed, he grows out of it and becomes much more helpful and considerate as a result, earning a transformation back into human from Aslan. In the later Narnia books, Eustace becomes unambiguously one of the heroes, transformed by this experience on the Dawn Treader.
    • Edmund Pevensie goes through one in the first book. At first, he lies to his siblings about having seen Narnia, not to mention wanting to sell them out in exchange for Turkish Delights. He grows out of it after The White Witch throws him in her dungeon for not bringing his siblings to her castle and then seeing her turn animals to stone for celebrating Aslan's return.
  • The Mr. Men series has a lot of these:
    • Mr. Uppity starts off his story as a Rich Bitch with no friends in the town he lives in, causing everyone to call him "Miserable old Uppity", but then he meets up with a goblin who punishes him by shrinking him every time he's rude to someone and and by the end of the book, he becomes far more of a nicer guy and makes friends with the people of Bigtown.
    • Mr. Mean starts off his story refusing to show any kindness and gives his brother coal as a gift, when he meets a wizard that transforms his body parts into other vegetables every time he's mean to somebody, he becomes a lot more generous by the end of the book and fixes up his house.
    • Mr. Grumpy is, well, a grumpy man who destroys a book and pulls flowers out of his garden because like doesn't like them and physically harms Mr. Happy when Mr. Happy tells him that people like him need to change their ways. After getting tickled by Mr. Tickle whenever he's rude to somebody, he calms down his anger and at the end of the story, he only tears one page out of a book instead of all of the pages.
    • Little Miss Bossy starts off her story bossing people about and telling them not to do stuff that they like doing. She eventually stops when a wizard makes her wear boots that don't listen to her and make her march across the countryside.
    • Mr. Grumble starts off complaining about everything regardless of whether or not it's a lovely day and complains about people having fun at a party. He soon stops when a wizard transforms him into a pig every time he grumbles.
    • Mr. Rude starts off mocking people for their flaws and hurling insults at people while driving around in his car, he stops being rude when Mr. Happy pays him a visit and slowly but surely, he starts showing manners towards him.
  • Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol may be the Trope Codifier- a classic christmas story about a rich old curmudgeon who is taught a lesson and learns to be a good guy and appreciate the joy of christmas.
  • Nils Holgersson from The Wonderful Adventures Of Nils is a lazy, mischievous Bratty Half-Pint who torments animals just for fun. After a magical elf turns him only a few inches high and capable of talking to animals, and a flock of wild geese take him on a journey over Sweden, he learns humility and respect for nature, and becomes a kind and selfless person by the end of the book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek
    • When introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Q is an adversarial omnipotent entity who holds humankind in contempt and would love nothing more than to see the race wiped out. Over time, however, his interactions with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise cause him to develop a fondness for humanity. While he still remains fairly unpleasant to be around, his demeanor changes from a Jerkass God to a Trickster Mentor (who still enjoys making Picard squirm from time to time).
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Ferengi that are introduced on the station start out as typical Ferengi: Quark, the owner of the station's bar, is a cutthroat capitalist while his brother Rom also aspires to be rich and take over his brother's bar, and is shown to be rather racist. Quark's nephew, Nog, is also introduced as The Napoleon; short for his age, loud-mouthed, and chauvinistic. Over the course of the series, their rough edges are smoothed out. Quark is shown to be not as cutthroat as others of his race, and while he is still interested in getting rich, he has business practices that are considered downright philanthropic, from offering credit to customers to giving vacations to his employees. Rom eventually gives up on becoming an ideal Ferengi to pursue his true calling as an engineer before being named the next Grand Nagus, while Nog becomes the first Ferengi to enter Starfleet and is shown to be a model officer.
  • The Good Place:
    • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist Eleanor starts out as an unrepentant Jerkass, but she slowly grows into a better person in an effort to learn ethics in order to hide her identity from the people in charge of the Good Place.
    • Michael invokes this via Near-Death Experience when sending the humans back to their lives on Earth. Eleanor (now back to her jerkass characterization in the pilot) is rattled enough by being saved from her death to legitimately make an effort to become a better person, which was Michael's intention.

     Video Game 
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • 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.


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