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Used to Be a Sweet Kid

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What happened to you, Tai Lung?

"They were kids that I once knew, now they're all dead hearts to you..."
Stars, "Dead Hearts"

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This applies when a villain or other dark and troubled/troubling character was not so as a child: the trope name also tends to appear as a Stock Phrase in these cases. Works, and audiences, may vary considerably as to what point they consider a character to be past the adolescent stage here, but post-adolescents in general need not apply.

Aversions will usually be notable here, given expectations that Children Are Innocent, or that there's at least some Ambiguous Innocence even when Kids Are Cruel, so people will tend to assume a Start of Darkness must have happened, and that there will be a Freudian Excuse that will explain (if not excuse) all. By extension, this trope frequently applies through subversion, inversion etc. where an Enfant Terrible, Creepy Child, or Ax-Crazy junior initially manages to get past everyone's radar but is actually a little horror from the start. ("And he seemed like such a nice kid"). Often, it is not clear which a character fits under, which in turn often leads to a Flame War, especially if the character is also a Draco in Leather Pants.

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Generally, the trope tends to be reserved for villains near the Big Bad end of the villain spectrum, but can also be played for What Measure Is a Mook?. Also, while this is most commonly a villain trope, it can apply to characters who are not so much aligned with evil as troubled, bitter and twisted, cynical, jerky, despairing, lacking in emotions or insane. Or an Anti-Hero. Or just going through puberty. (In the latter case, expect the parents to invoke the trope name.)

When played straight, this trope tends towards Rousseau Was Right, though if other villains and darksiders in the same work do not fall under this trope, Rousseau may have only a partial victory, and the trope is sometimes used as the exception that proves the rule in Hobbes Was Right or Humans Are the Real Monsters scenarios. Also frequently used, straight or otherwise, to make more or less anvilicious points about free will, destiny, individual responsibility, or the moral version of Failure Is the Only Option.

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Handled well, this trope can really add depth and complexity: handled badly, especially by combination with a poorly executed Freudian Excuse, it tends to cause Badass Decay and Villain Decay.

Often related to From Nobody to Nightmare, though the character may be of some prominence from an early age, or even from birth. This subset of the trope can be heart-breaking, as when a long-awaited Chosen One turns bad. Also often the precursor to Break the Cutie and Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. In these cases, expect it to be Played for Drama with extra Tear Jerker moments. It's also often invoked to make the audience Cry for the Devil. If they weren't just a sweet kid, but a Kid Hero, they may be a dark version of Kid Hero All Grown Up.

Sometimes, the "used to be nice" stage may be revealed only retrospectively, often by a third party, and the villain himself/herself may treat the "sweet kid" stage as an Old Shame that undermines their Villain Cred. This last one may be Played for Laughs, as the villain furiously denies their Pet the Dog past, often complete with stomping on cutesy childhood toys and memorabilia. Or it may be Played for Drama in an "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight with the good guys.

Compare to She Is All Grown Up, in which the character may have been a sweet kid, but is now a very attractive woman. Compare Used to Be More Social in which the character used to be a social butterfly, but has become introverted and withdrawn. Contrast Reformed Bully, a character who was mean and/or smug while young, but is a much nicer person now, and Former Teen Rebel, a character who was rebellious and immoral while young, but is no longer like that.

Sadly, this trope is Truth in Television, as many people who started out as good ended up becoming malicious and criminal later on in their life, but as this trope deals with a person’s morality, No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Comic Books 
  • Batman. He's not evil, but he became dark and bitter after his parents were murdered.
  • Magik was Colossus' sweet kid sister. Then... stuff happened, and she is now the franchise's main Designated Hero / Villain Protagonist / Nominal Hero / Anti-Hero, Depending on the Writer. Regardless of that, she's always her team's Token Evil Teammate and a Sociopathic Hero.
  • Bruce Banner was once an adorably sweet little boy who was a tiny genius by the time he could walk and was adored and coddled by his mother Rebecca. Sadly his father Brian (through Psychological Projection) thought Bruce was a monster and furious that his son had taken all of Rebecca’s love, violently abused poor little Bruce constantly, culminating in Brian murdering Rebecca in front of Bruce after they attempted to escape his abuse. All this emotional turmoil shaped Bruce into a deeply broken introverted man, whose inner fragmented psyche took the shape of a green rage monster thanks to some gamma rays.
  • Heroes Reborn (2021): Hyperion was a "Gosh, darn, shucks" variety of country boy and a Nice Guy who truly respected and liked his peers in the Imperial Guard (including a pair of male members that were a couple). Contrast this with the grim ultranationalist, hard-liner that he is today (though he's still nowhere as vicious as Nighthawk or Doctor Spectrum and does occasionally regret killing).
  • Helena Bertinelli, started out as a sweet, adorable little girl who, granted, had been born into a mafia family, but had not a bad thought for anyone. Then, when she was eight years old, her family was murdered in front of her at dinner. Then the Gotham police sent her a "condolence" card that read "Many Happy Returns!" Then she was taken to Sicily to be raised by her cousins, who turned out to be mafia assassins. They raised her to believe that the mafia were Just Like Robin Hood, and to believe in omerta, and to avenge her family, and, to that end, they trained her as an assassin. Then they were arrested by the Italian government as part of a crackdown on organized crime, and she was sent to boarding school in Switzerland, where she learned the truth about the mob. After an upbringing like that, it's hardly a surprise that she became a ruthless vigilante killer.
  • Iron Man, Tony Stark himself from the few flashbacks we see from his childhood was a sweet little boy who suffered from verbal abuse from his alcoholic father Howard and buried his nose in books about knights and heroes and study electronics to cope. When his parents died, Tony was left without guidance and love, becoming a womaniser jerkass Arms Dealer who even as Iron Man manages to be quite the Broken Ace on multiple occasions. Thankfully Tony has conversely managed to keep his Hidden Heart of Gold and has become a Big Good in his own right.
  • Iznogoud: The title character, amazingly. Iznogoud's Childhood reveals that he actually once was an adorable, good-tempered, sweet kid who got along pretty well with Haround and Dilat.
  • The Joker, Depending on the Writer, and to the extent that he gets a childhood backstory at all (and which may or may not be true), and possibly Batman himself, when given a Darker and Edgier interpretation.
  • Chris Genovese/Red Mist/The Motherfucker from Kick-Ass. Volume 3 reveals that as a child, he used to be a fan of X-Men to the point where he would dress up as Wolverine on a daily basis.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Norman Osborn aka Green Goblin, much like his Arch-Enemy Peter Parker, was once a shy little bookworm; horrific abuse from his father Amberson, such as locking him up in the dark, caused little Norman to embrace the darkness and imagined terrors (like say a cackling Goblin) and helped turn Norman into power-crazed, misogynistic, sadistic Neo-Nazi and Card-Carrying Villain he is today.
    • Similarly Harry, Norman’s son, was a sweet kid once upon a time. The death of his mother and emotional abuse from Norman who considered him a disappointing weakling shaped Harry into the troubled and drug addicted young man who eventually became a Fallen Hero despite the best efforts of his best friend Peter.
    • Surprisingly enough, the Venom symbiote. The reason it got imprisoned in the first place was because it was too nice for its species, and when Peter freed it, it was perfectly happy to be a superhero with him as his extra-super costume. It only became bloodthirsty and crazed after Peter rejected it and it bonded with Eddie Brock, whose pre-existing instability corrupted the symbiote. After the symbiote was purified and Eddie experienced Sanity Strengthening, Venom decided to return to being a superhero. And even from the start, Venom's sympathetic traits resulted in the creation of Carnage to be a completely villainous substitute.
    • Zigzagged with Cletus Kasady aka Carnage who like the Joker might Depending on the Writer have been a sweet kid once who was abused by his deranged grandmother and turned into a sociopathic dog-killing child by the time he was found by his foster parents. Or according to other comics, Kasady was an Enfant Terrible from the moment he was born. Since Carnage is an Unreliable Narrator concerning his past, we’ll never know for sure.
  • Jason, the protagonist of Long Ago And Far Away used to be the heroic "Child Knight" who saved the land of Elvenwood from the evil Witch-Queen Nexis. In the years since then, he's become a 30-year-old Jerkass who can't run his comic book store.
  • The Mighty Thor: Depending on a whole lot of things Loki might have been one of these, after getting over the abusive blood relatives, and before the adoptive ones and fate itself turned out to be jerks too, and he stepped on his path of darkness. We can't really tell for certain because all stories of his childhood are plagued by unreliable narrators. Generally if Thor or Loki himself tell about those times then he was a sweet kid, if anybody else then he was always evil apparently. But the theory got more believable when he was reborn as a child and turned out to be... a nice kid albeit also very rebellious and mischievous with serious problems fitting in.
  • According to the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) comics, King Sombra was one before his mother revealed his true nature to him and he was corrupted by the power she gave him, leading to him conquering the very ponies that he had lived most of his life around.
  • Heroic example with Rogue. Anna Marie was the adorable daughter of Mississippi hippies, but the disappearance of her mother Priscilla led to her being raised by her mean and authoritarian aunt which caused Rogue to run away from home. Things got better when she met a boy named Cody and had some Puppy Love with him, but upon her First Kiss her mutant power activated and put Cody in a life-long coma. Unable to control her powers, Rogue hid in the wilderness threatening anyone who approached her with a shotgun, at which Rogue was found and adopted by Mystique who raised her to be a supervillain. Eventually Rogue would have a Heel–Face Turn and join the X-Men and regaining her lost better nature, although she is still a Broken Bird at times.
  • Herr Starr, a Big Bad note  from Preacher was this until a bully-induced trauma that cost him an eye, his hair, and a good chunk of his humanity before he'd even hit puberty.
  • The Garth Ennis penned tale "The Tyger" shows a snippet of the childhood of Frank Castle before the days The Punisher MAX. He's a quiet, thoughtful young man who does well at school and is quite close to a girl his age. Events of the one-shot however show that Frank was surrounded by the refuse left by mobsters from an early age, and it left its mark.
  • Tim Drake was very much a sweet kid when he sought out Batman to try and save him from himself. The Trauma Conga Line that has followed has noticeably changed him to the point that he's willing to use The Scarecrow's fear toxin and has a hit list that includes large swaths of the Justice League as a precaution alongside the expected villains.
  • There are a couple of Star Wars Expanded Universe webstrips set between the original and prequel trilogy. They cameo Ysanne Isard, Big Bad of the X-Wing Rogue Squadron comics, as a little girl. She idolized her father, Director of Imperial Intelligence, back then, although her innocence was in doubt even then, since he brought her to see his work, which involved hunting down and killing Jedi. As she grew up she was groomed to be a field operative and started cultivating connections, which worried her father to the point that he sent her on a suicide mission. She survived, came back, trumped up a treason charge, executed her father, and took his place.
  • Superman:
    • How Luthor Met Superboy: Subverted. Lex Luthor used to be a friendly, extremely intelligent kid until he -unfairly- blamed Superboy for a lab accident and started hating him. Nonetheless, before the accident Lex was already showing subtle hints of the kind of hubris, jealousy and hair-trigger temper which led him to become a villain.
    • Supergirl enemy Blackstarr used to be a cheerful, sweet little girl named Rachel Berkowitz... and then the Third Reich happened. She was forcefully taken from her parents and dumped in a concentration camp. Forty years later she's twisted and full of hatred and bitterness.
  • THANOS, of all beings. In his youth, he had a loving father and many friends despite his strange appearance. He was also a Friend to All Living Things and sickened when he was first made to dissect something. Then he learned that the cave creatures he had befriended killed and ate his Eternal friends, causing him to be blamed for it. There was also that little matter of the crush he had on a vicious friend ( Death) who manipulated him into doing things that lead him to become evil.
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye:
    • It's revealed that Megatron was originally someone who wrote poetry and abhorred violence. That all changed the day he was caught in a bar brawl and got incarcerated, then was badly beaten by Whirl, causing him to embrace violence as a means of changing the system and leading to the entire Cybertonian Civil War.
    • Whirl himself was originally a watchmaker until he was captured by the Senate, who had tried to recruit him based on his combat abilities. They tortured him by subjecting him to Empurata, a form of punishment that removed his entire face to be replaced with an expressionless single mechanical eye and replaced his hands with pincers so he could never perform the delicate task of watchmaking again. This lead to him becoming the Heroic Comedic Sociopath he is in the present time.
  • Victor von Doom aka Doctor Doom in a textbook case of From Nobody to Nightmare once was a kindly gypsy boy from Latveria whose mother was taken by Mephisto and whose father froze to death sheltering his son while fleeing a vengeful baron. Growing up without his parents Victor found a love interest in a beautiful girl known as Valerie, but desiring to make a name for himself he studied both science and sorcery and became an infamous swindler which drove Valerie away from him. When the opportunity to escape from his country and study at State University was offered, Victor took it and found himself the dorm mate of one Reed Richards. Already embittered from his troubled childhood in Latveria, Victor spited his peers especially Reed and almost strangled a girl at a party, and failed to heed Reed’s advice while building a device (which Victor hoped would help him communicate with his mother in hell) the device literally blow up in Victor’s face. Stricken with damaged pride and face, Victor jumped off the slippery slope and became the Evil Overlord A God Am I supervillain he is today.
  • X-23: The entire plot of The Killing Dream, the first arc of her solo series, revolves around an apparition that may be the Enigma Force showing Laura that she wasn't born an emotionless killing machine, but that the Facility consciously destroyed her innocence. That she is inherently a good person despite the evil she's done is critical in helping her throw off the demon attempting to recruit her to his service. Innocence Lost actually shows what was done to her, as well as small glimpses of the sweet and innocent child she was before the Facility tried to break her. Much of Laura's life after escaping the facility is spent trying to repair the damage that was done to her.
    • Xander Rice is first introduced in Innocence Lost as a wide-eyed toddler whom Martin Sutter has to tell his father won't be coming home. He grows up with such deep-seated loathing of Wolverine as a result, that he takes it all out on Laura just because she's Logan's clone. And then he doesn't so much jump off the slippery slope as he does take it with a rocket-powered toboggan and keep going.
    • In subsequent books, even Kimura, of all people, is revealed to have been the product of an abusive upbringing and didn't use to be the Ax-Crazy psychopath Laura was introduced to by the Facility.
  • Nate Grey, while not a villain, used to be this. Grown in a tank, briefly made an appearance as a small child and was so adorable that he elicited Cuteness Proximity in none other than Mister Sinister. Even after, when he escaped from the cloning tanks as a teenager, he ended up an idealistic revolutionary - surprisingly idealistic, considering it was the Age of Apocalypse. Sinister killing his Parental Substitute, Forge and another of his companions, while an assassin killed another of his companions, and finding out that he was Laser Guided Tyke Bomb with a self-destruct switch significantly embittered him, and while he remained a Knight in Sour Armor, he eventually drifted into a stranger and more ruthless form of Anti-Hero (developing Blue-and-Orange Morality as part of his 'Mutant Shaman' thing didn't help), while his renewed idealism was shattered in Dark X-Men and he ended up becoming an Anti-Villain in Uncanny X-Men (2018) and Age of X-Man — until he realized that for all his best efforts, he'd become as bad as Apocalypse, if not worse.
  • Wolverine was once a gentle, sickly little boy named James who wanted only to play with his friends Dog and Rose and his puppy. This ended the day that Dog propositioned Rose, causing James to report him to his father. This set off a chain of events that led to Dog and his father storming James' home and slaughtering his family, which in turn caused his mutant powers to manifest themselves. Everything has been downhill for him ever since.
  • Magneto from X-Men. Had The Holocaust not happened...

    Fan Works 
  • BlazBlue Alternative: Remnant:
    • When Noel ends up opening Ragna's music box, she sees a photo of a younger him with his siblings, smiling cheerfully. She questions just what could have happened to him to make him go from a happy-go-lucky kid to the violent, brooding man he is today.
    • Similar to Ragna, Jin was a kindhearted child growing up. Ragna even compares him to Jaune while Tsubaki and Weiss remember him as being shy, friendly, and curious during their childhoods. Flash forward to years later where he's grown up into quite a cold hearted asshole.
  • The End of the World: Katniss is a Cheerful Child before becoming the broken cynic that she is in the main trilogy.
    It's [Prim's] sister, I realize. The older girl. The one who used to ride on Glen's shoulders and sing at the top of her lungs. I can't reconcile that child with the young woman I see now. Her face isn't hard, but it's closed off somehow, as cold as ice. Whatever's happened to her since her father died, it's made her tough. Hard.
  • Mare of Steel; Princess Celestia mentions that Prince Blueblood used to be much more respectful when he was younger. This is a plot point, as it turns out that General Zod replaced Blueblood several years prior to the story's beginning.
  • The whole point of Of Ramen and Wooden Skates is showing Orochimaru from the perspective of someone outside his team who knew him before his Start of Darkness.
  • Unsurprisingly, Frieza's backstory in Savior of Demons shows that he was, as a child, not the psychotic killer he is at present. However, there are a few hints that he was manipulative and self-interested, as when he lied to his father about going with Kooler to see the Saiyans. He was not an Enfante Terrible from the very start, though.
  • In The Swarm of War, Alena (the new Queen of Blades) was taken into the Swarm when she was five.
  • As flashbacks in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Twilight Child show, the main character was an almost painfully cheerful foal, a far cry from the emotionally broken teenager she's become when we first see her.
  • In the Jackie Chan Adventures and W.I.T.C.H. crossover fic Kage, Miranda is an untrustworthy and jaded shapeshifter teenager who hates both Queen Elyon and Prince Phobos vehemently, and her main concern is her own survival. However, it's revealed that when she was five years old and more innocent, her parents were burned right in front of her by Kur after she tried in vain to save them by revealing herself. She was afterwards recruited by Phobos, becoming cynical about trust and embittered at those she regards responsible for her parents' death, including Elyon.
  • Yin and Yang Series: Nikolai Kezanstav. He met and befriended an alien while young, but as he grew up, he began to desire his best friend's technology more and more. He eventually ends up enslaving the alien with mind control.
  • Harmony Theory has Charisma, The Dreaded Blood Knight and The Dragon to one of the story's big bads, who is revealed to originally have been a sweet filly who liked to dance around and had a loving family, until her "talent glyph" appeared and basically marked her as a natural born killer and drove her to murder her own brother, leading to her being disowned by her family and leading her down the path she chose.
  • Roman Torchwick in In the Kingdom's Service used to be Oobleck's team leader before Oobleck sacrificed them and thousands of others to seal the tunnel to Mountain Glenn. When Jaune sees a picture of Oobleck's old team, he notes the sheer joy and pride in his team on Roman's face and is awed by how much the two had changed in the last twenty-odd years.
  • In Karma in Retrograde, Touya Todoroki was an aspiring hero student who loved his siblings and wanted to rescue them and their mother from their abusive father's influence. Somewhere down the line, he fell down the path of villainy, becoming the murderous Dabi who is disillusioned with hero society. A de-aging Quirk brings Touya back to the surface and lets 1-A see who he originally was, but the effects are temporary and he will eventually return to being Dabi no matter how badly he wants to remain Touya.
  • In the Danny Phantom fanfic Resurrected Memories: The original Amberline Mclain was implied to have been a very shy, but still decent person, who truly loved her little sister and just wanted friends and a chance to achieve her dream, but severe bullying at school, being raised by neglecting and controlling parents and being stood up by her crush, toped off by dying young had jaded and embittered the girl into becoming the vengeful Ember McLain.
  • Several characters are this in the Pokémon fangame Pokémon Rejuvenation:
    • Team Xen Admin Nastasia is cold, cruel, and completely remorseless in regards to her involvement in terrorist attacks; making even her coworkers question why she is so ruthless. It is later revealed that she used to be Anastasia Bellarosa, a sweet but shy and introverted girl with an overbearing mother and only one friend, Maria. She then went through extremely traumatic events, such as watching Maria be sacrificed by her cult leader father and almost be killed by a meteor. It is still unknown what exactly caused her transformation. However, she still has some goodness within her, as she ensures you receive your mother’s Sylveon and appears to still care about Ren, who she met as a child.
    • Fighting leader Keta/Kenneth is an even more tragic example. When he first arrived in the Aevium Region, he was an idealistic young man longing to improve the lives of those affected by the calamity Storm-9. After managing to do that by rebuilding Sheridan Village with his wife Taelia, he was given an ultimatum to kill her, whose sender had already killed his mother. He refused and lost both her and their child Nora in the process. He mistakenly believed Taelia blamed him, as his mind was manipulated by the mysterious Freya, who saw him as a mere puppet. Years later, after finally reconciling with his brother Deagan, he too died seconds after. The last straw was him being recruited by Team Xen and being forced to sell his villagers’ lives in exchange for his own, at which point he asked an Oracle to completely separate himself from his emotions, isolating himself from the ones who still loved him.
  • In Crimson and Emerald, Enji Todoroki as a teenager was actually the Cloudcuckoolander's Minder in his group of friends, using his powers to help keep them out of trouble. Then he became the pro hero Endeavor and unhealthily obsessed with overcoming All Might, and used his family as stepping stones to do so.
  • In The Power of the Equinox, Brutus Meadows is Scootaloo's alcoholic and abusive foster father who ends up killing in anger his wife Vibrant Glow whose gambling addiction has eaten up most of his savings, and he tries to kill Cheerilee simply for discovering that crime. However, when Brutus is dying, the flashbacks he has show that he was an adorkably shy colt when he first met at school his future wife with whom he later adopted Scootaloo when nopony else seemed to be doing so. Sadly, his wife's gambling debts led to him becoming an alcoholic and forget his love towards both her and Scootaloo.
  • A Sadness Runs Through Him: COMPLETE Snowtuft Warriors AU Map: Snowkit was a gentle and sweet kitten who became angry and bloodthirsty in adulthood.
  • All the Kiryuin children in Natural Selection used to be a loving trio of siblings who looked out for each other and were all relatively kindhearted to varying degrees. Over time, Ragyo's abuse, manipulation, favoritism, and all-around cruel parenting broke each of them.
    • Satsuki used to be the loving elder sister to Ryuko and Nui. However, her human nature and lack of Life Fiber biology led to her getting Ragyo's abuse at its worst, either being beaten or flat out molested if she ever talked back. She eventually fled into exile after Honnouji's founding and would become an overly stoic, cold revolutionary who borders on suicidal in her efforts to defeat her mother, no longer capable of feeling happiness.
    • Ryuko used to be a loving, if bratty, middle child who cherished her older sister. Her being Ragyo's favorite due to being the perfect hybrid of human and Life Fiber, she was subjected to the most manipulation, and Satsuki's later abandonment was the straw that broke the camel's back, causing her to become a genocidal tyrant who thrives on mass-killings and wants to tear her sister apart.
    • Nui, while already a Creepy Child at a young age, did love both of her sisters with all her heart, could be persuaded from her darker impulses with a bowl of ice cream, and just wanted to play with her arts and crafts. She grew up conditioned to be the Grand Courturier of REVOCS and expert torturer by Ragyo. By the time the present-day story starts, she's Nui as she was in the main series.
  • The Smeet Series: Cheesecake'' the Indokuro started as a pampered, playful and adorable (though disobedient and misbehaving) Pet Monstrosity. However, after being left in the wild with a pack of wild indokuros he starts behaving more like his kind; becoming aggressive, standoffish, and predatory to the point of nearly biting Purple when he tries to touch him while feeding.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A non-villainous example, Chaz, from Airheads, used to be called 'Chester' and play D&D.
  • Beauty and the Beast (2017) gives this backstory to the Beast. Belle learns from Mrs. Potts that the Prince was a sweet, innocent little boy until his mother died, leaving him in the hands of his cruel father, who shaped him into the selfish, arrogant Prince Charmless whom the Enchantress eventually cursed.
  • Red Skull from the infamous Captain America (1990) movie. Before the Super Soldier experiment — nice kid playing on piano. After the experiment — crazy nazi with Super Strength who wants to rule the world. How much this applies in this case is debatable. The experiment used on him is supposed to magnify the subject's personality, which would indicate that he was already evil, he just had it dialed Up to Eleven.
  • Godzilla Junior is a subversion. On the one hand, he did start out as a bubbly, friendly and docile baby mutated Godzillasaurus. On the other hand, while he's not downright malevolent as a teenager, he is still a Godzilla and will utterly thrash you if you dare harm humanity. (Too bad that didn't work too well against Destoroyah.) Godzilla: Final Wars even originally was going to show (and the final cut even heavily implies) that incarnation of Godzilla is Junior. While still not a villain, this incarnation is definitely playing at Good Is Not Soft at absolute best.
  • The Highwaymen: After tracking the pair for months with no success, Hamer and Gault circle back to Bonnie and Clyde's hometown, where Hamer confronts Clyde's father Henry. The man explains that Clyde wasn't born evil, but he knows that the nature of his son's crimes meant he's marked for death. He just begs Hamer to end it already to spare the rest of the Barrow family any more suffering.
  • In Holes, when Kate Barlow recognizes Trout Walker's accomplice as a former student of hers, she actually seems disappointed that this is what's become of her.
    Kate: Oh, Linda, you were such a good student.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas! does this to the Grinch, complete with a Freudian Excuse.
  • James Bond, 007 himself was implied to be this as hinted at in the books and a few times in the films. The first time we get any conformation that Bond was not always a violent, cynical, womanizing Sociopathic Hero is in Skyfall when his family's groundskeeper Kincade who shows M a secret priest hole in the manor and recounts a moment from Bond's childhood.
    Kincade: The night I told him his parents had died, he hid in here for two days. When he did come out he wasn't a boy anymore.
  • Kung Fu Hustle has Sing, a low-level thug who wants to join the Axe Gang, but used to be a Heroic Wannabe who intervened when a Cute Mute girl was being harassed by bullies trying to steal her lollipop. It was only after the bullies beat him to a pulp that he gave up on his heroic aspirations.
  • Lady with a Sword: The titular lady's childhood friend, whom she was betrothed to, used to be a sweet, pleasant, if somewhat mischievous young lad. He grows up to be a power-hungry, cruel, sadistic asshole and pervert who ends up raping the heroine's elder sister before killing her.
  • Maleficent does this for both the title character and King Stefan, the latter of whom is the Big Bad. Yes, the self-proclaimed "Mistress of All Evil" was once a friendly, loving girl, who was in love with a human - but their love was destroyed by political feuds between their kingdoms. In the end, Maleficent does a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Subverted, or possibly entirely inverted, with Eddie from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, if we are to believe his dodgy scientist uncle, Dr. von Scott: "From the day he vas born, he vas trouble/he vas the thorn/in his Mutter's side".
  • In Room, Ma/Joy Newsome is not a villain or even a bad person, but she is understandably deeply troubled from being held captive and raped by a stranger for years. She lampshades this trope herself, and how impossible it would be for her to be anything but, in an argument with her mother in the film.
    Ma: Don't ever tell me how to look after my son. I’m sorry if I’m not ‘nice’ enough for you. Maybe if you hadn’t been in my head saying ‘be nice’ that day I wouldn’t have gone to help him.
  • Dark Alessa in Silent Hill is the dark side of a child who she states was "a good little girl" prior to being burned by a cult and turning her psychic vengeance onto the people of the town.
  • Star Wars:
    • Anakin Skywalker. Innocent, friendly, bright-eyed mother's boy who builds robot buddies turned into, well... Darth Vader
    • Shown mostly in the novelization, but Boba Fett turned from a sweet kid who idolized his father into a bounty hunter who had to be reminded to curb his penchant for disintegrations.
    • Ben Solo was once a sweet and sheltered boy who adored his parents and idolized his Cool Uncle, several troubling events and the growing belief that he was unloved and had darkness inside him turned Ben into Kylo Ren.
    • Averted hard with Sheev Palaptine, as shown in the expanded material he was a Royal Brat whom had a cruel nature since the time he learned to walk and had already killed someone before even finding The Dark Side.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • As seen by one film reel in Iron Man 2 Tony Stark was once a playful little boy who innocently wandered into his father Howard’s filmshoot and played with the scale model of the Stark Expo, at which his father growled at him and had a member of the film crew take Tony away to his mother out of frame. With this glimpse of his childhood, coupled with getting shipped off to boarding school, is it any real wonder Tony grew up to be such a jerky egotistical, womanising Insufferable Genius in his adult life? He does take a major level in kindness and heroism though.
    • Judging from the flashback at the beginning of Thor, Loki had a good relationship with his brother Thor and their father and had a penchant for mischief before the jealousy settled in. Loki was much the same in original Norse Mythology, sans the jealousy issues. Thor and Loki were frequently involved in mischievous pranks, and nobody thought too much of Loki's shenanigans until one of them got Baldr, the incredibly popular god of beauty, killed.
    • From what we see in the flashback in Black Panther (2018), Big Bad Erik "Killmonger" Stevens was a curious boy who loved listening to his father's stories about Wakanda and playing basketball with his friends. But when his father died and he was abandoned in Oakland, he became embittered and grew up to be a vengeful terrorist who wants to unleash a massacre all over the world.
    • Gamora as seen in a flashback in Avengers: Infinity War was once an innocent girl. Thanos and his army arrived on her planet and killed half her race along with her mother and abducted Gamora training her as a Tyke Bomb from an early age. When we first see her as an adult in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), she’s an aloof and violent Dark Action Girl although she does become a Defector from Decadence. Teammate Peter Quill as seen in his minor kidtroduction was a sweet kid who loved his mom and music and only got into a fight with some other kids because they squashed a bug. Having watched his mother pass away from brain cancer in front of him and was subsequently raised by Space Pirates, who turned Peter into a thrill-seeking outlaw and Green-Skinned Space Babe womaniser. Peter did manage to retain his love of music and better nature however, buried underneath his immature jerkass behaviour.
  • Tragedy Girls completely averts it with our two Villain Protagonists. Despite having loving parents and stable, happy upbringings, they've always been psychopaths.
  • Visiting Hours: Flashback scenes show a giggling young Colt (who grows up to be a misogynistic Serial Killer) mock wrestling on the ground with his father for a bottle of Coke.
  • Erik in X-Men: First Class until, well, the Holocaust and the death of his mother. And Raven, who is still rather innocent for the majority of the film and is absolutely horrified when she sees Charles get shot, yet that doesn't stop her from going over to the dark side.

    Literature 
  • From Aunt Dimity Down Under: The expat Americans Angelo and Renee Velesuonno knew Broken Bird Bree Pym since she was ten years old, and Angelo hangs this lampshade when they meet Lori and Cameron for dinner in Ohakune, New Zealand. His description of Bree: "Nice kid, good manners and sharp as a tack." The Velesuonnos go on to say they were shocked at the recent changes in her appearance, particularly the choppy haircut.
  • In Jonathan Carroll's novel Bones of the Moon, the main character's husband comments that the boy who lived in the apartment above them, dubbed "The Axe Boy", was always such a good boy before he was arrested for chopping up his mother and sister.
    "He seemed like a good kid, didn't he Cullen? 'Axe Boy'? Jesus, what a thing to call someone!"
    "Danny, our young friend 'Axe Boy' Alvin Willians chopped his mother and sister into pieces exactly one floor above our apartment. A good boy he is not."
  • Carrie White, from Carrie is described this way in an interview with a woman who met her during their childhood. She specifically points out the dramatic difference between the girl she knew and the tortured soul who appeared on the cover of a news magazine after massacring several teenagers and turning a city into a ghost town and wonders what Carrie's mother could have done to her to mess her up so badly.
  • In John C. Wright's Titans of Chaos, Amelia thinks that the maenad she is working out how to shoot was once a sweet little baby. She braces herself by defying A Million Is a Statistic.
  • The long-awaited giant children in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are this, until they get possessed and Ax-Crazy.
    • Also, from the new chronicles, Roger Covenant. Probably.
  • The general response to Sefalet with regards to her left-hand mouth in Dirge for Prester John.
  • Discworld's Sam Vimes might be the setting's incorruptible Big Good, but he's also a cynical, grumpy self-described 'bastard'. But when we meet his younger self in Night Watch young Sam is a bright-eyed idealist who believes in heroes and justice and invites his new sergeant around for tea with his mum. In the words of his time-travelling middle-aged self, "You're not me. I don't think I was ever as young as you. If you're going to be me, it's going to take a lot of work. Thirty damn years of being hammered on the anvil of life, you poor bastard. You've got it all to come."
  • Lorelei of Eludoran before her Start of Darkness. Pendarynn and Sheriden also qualify.
  • The Indian Prince's boy from Raymond E. Feist's Faerie Tale, who we are told was once a nice boy.
  • Nikita of The Girl from the Miracles District has several Happy Flashbacks that show her as a cheerful, if... unusually-raisednote  child before her father kidnapped and tortured her, turning her into the aloof, emotionless woman of the present day.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Subverted in two ways with Sirius Black: it turns out he never joined the Death Eaters at all and was always a good-hearted young man. At the same time, calling him sweet was a bit of an overstatement since he was also a notorious prankster and a bit of a showoff though not a bad person at all.
    • Snape seemed to have been about as good as a kid raised in an abusive and poor household could be expected. And while he eventually did a Heel–Face Turn to Dumbledore in his twenties, there was a period of time when he served Voldemort and remained bitter enough that many people believed he still was evil into his thirties. His adulthood was more of a case of Good Is Not Nice than anything.
    • Also played with Peter Pettigrew. While there were accusations thrown that he hung around the Marauders mainly because they were popular, he did stick by them for the most part and learned to stick by his werewolf friend, Lupin. Despite this, he would come to betray them for Voldemort.
    • Quirinus Quirrell was apparently a very gifted wizard who, like any true Ravenclaw, loved to learn and study. However, years of abject bullying by his peers drove him to try and become a great wizard to show them all and be remembered. However, before he could do so, he happened to meet Voldemort on a trip to Albania...
    • Averted with Voldemort. Tom Riddle was rotten to the core even as a small child.
    • Inverted with Dudley Dursley, who is a brat and a bully as a boy, but begins to grow out of this after he's attacked by Dementors in Order of the Phoenix. In the final book, he's the only one of the Dursleys to express concern over what's going to happen to Harry after they part ways, and also gives him a relatively friendly goodbye.
  • Nevermoor: In the third book, Morrigan is able to peep in on lessons from generations past via a Pensieve Flashback, and is stunned when she sees the Big Bad, Ezra Squall, in his youth. In stark contrast to the Faux Affably Evil sociopath she knows, in the past, he's mostly seen trying to learn how to use his powers, enjoying his lessons, and laughing and having fun with his friends. The same friends he'd later go on to kill. All Morrigan can do is wonder, "What happened?"
  • The Outside: Evianna Talirr was once a Spoiled Sweet Cheerful Child, but she was punished harshly throughout her childhood in an attempt to stamp out her heretical tendencies. The treatments succeeded only in turning her into a bitter misanthrope.
  • The short story "The Diary of Luke Castellan" shows this off with the titular Luke, a villain-turned-hero who used to be a very sweet kid. Or, as in this chapter of history, a sweet teenager. He's brave, protective, caring towards his little adopted family, to the point that he closely resembles the later hero of the series, Percy.
  • In Radiance, Severin didn't grow up to be evil, but she was estranged from her father, tough as nails, and not particularly affectionate towards anyone who isn't her boyfriend. Her father's personal video reels show that when she was a child, she was an adorable Daddy's Girl who loved to play and run around her father's sets.
  • Francis Dolarhyde, aka the Tooth Fairy, from Red Dragon. Played for one of the more selective instances of Cry for the Devil in the first film version, Manhunter:
    Jack Crawford: You feel sorry for him.
    Will Graham: As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfill some sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire contains several examples:
    • The Stark children, before they were all broken and put on their Jade-Colored Glasses. An example that is easily missed are Catelyn Stark's memories of Petyr Baelish as a mischievous, bold and sweet-natured little boy, who believed in all the songs and started out as idealistic as Sansa.
    • From the backstory, Aerys Targaryen aka the Mad King believe it or not. It was said that he was a nice young man with a very promising future as king. But then the Defiance in Duskendale happened where he was taken hostage by some rebellious lords refusing to pay taxes and his time in captivity broke him. As soon as he was released, he went on a killing rampage murdering all those responsible and slowly degenerating into The Caligula. At the end of his life, he was so universally reviled that by the time the series takes place, referring to someone as Aerys is analogous to comparing others to Hitler in our world.
    • Aerys' son Viserys was not always a self-absorbed megalomaniac as he is today. Daenerys has fond memories of her brother as a child, and readily credits him for bringing her up and protecting her as best as he could after the fall of House Targaryen. But the pressure of being the teenage heir of a deposed dynasty, who had no prestige beyond their family name, was just too much, causing him to slowly descend into insanity. The final straw was when Viserys had to sell their mother's crown to keep them fed, which, according to Daenerys, destroyed any semblance of kindness her brother had.
    • Downplayed with Tywin Lannister. He wasn't exactly nice back then, but according to his brother, he was much better as a person while his wife was around, since she was one of the few people that could make him smile or laugh. After her death, he became an even colder and harder man that blamed his son Tyrion for causing her death and hated him so much that he ordered the gangrape of Tyrion's first wife.
  • In The Split Second by Daphne du Maurier, Susan is a sweet, lively, affectionate nine-year-old in 1932. Come 1952, and she is a bitter, rude woman who constantly snaps at her own little son. Justified, since she gets orphaned very early and her only relative left is her bitter and rude estranged aunt, not to mention that war breaks out when Susan is only sixteen.
  • The Children of Chrysalis in Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars started as cute, precocious, intelligent, and good-natured kids. Then in the real world, they grew up as despots, warlords, or just plain insane.
  • Stepping on the Cracks: Donald and Gordy Smith have grown up to be trouble-making, mean-spirited bullies (although both have some Hidden Depths). However, Margaret's mother recalls how Donald would play with her son and his friends when they were all younger, and that Gordy would watch from the wagon that Donald and their brother Stuart loved to carry him around town in.
  • The Mord-Sith from the Sword of Truth series. Every year, six of the kindest, sweetest girls in the entire country are chosen to be trained as Torture Technicians. The kinder they are, the better.
  • In Torn by Cat Clarke, it's revealed that Tara used to be an extremely sweet, kind young girl until when they were younger, Alice, then Tara's best friend, grew irritated with how she and Tara were the least popular girls in school and purposefully started to avoid her in an attempt to join in more with other kids. Of course, it backfired horribly.
  • Tortall Universe: In The Numair Chronicles the reader is introduced to Prince Ozorne as a student who, while arrogant and prejudiced, is a genuinely loving, loyal friend, unlike the horrifying murderous tyrant he is as an adult in The Immortals.
  • Warrior Cats: Tigerstar, big bad of the entire series, is seen in the prequel Bluestar's Prophecy as a sweet, innocent, adorable kit who loves his mother and grows into a well-meaning but aggressive apprentice thanks to his Ax-Crazy mentor. Same with Scourge, who in his backstory was an inquisitive, cute little kitten who had bad things happen to him, turning him into a crazy killer.
    • Same for Brokenstar/kit; "Look! I'm a tree!"
    • Also for Hawkfrost, shown in the Tigerstar and Sasha arc as a cute kit who loves his littermates, and is broken-hearted when his brother Tadpole drowns.
    • Thistleclaw even qualifies, once promising his nursery denmates "I'll make sure the wind doesn't blow you away."
    • Almost any antagonist who makes an appearance as a kit or apprentice qualifies, because, well, they’re kittens. Other notable examples include Ashfur and Blackstar.
  • Kevin from We Need to Talk About Kevin was a full-on aversion of this trope from birth - or so his Unreliable Narrator mother claims.
  • Willow the Movie Novelization: Sorsha took after her gentle father as a child and cried in fright at Bavmorda's dark deeds before being "bent" by her mother into a hardened warrior in an Evil Army.
  • Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall is portrayed as being open and friendly in childhood, a stark contrast to the increasingly guarded man who ultimately presides over the Kangaroo Court that executes Anne Boleyn and her five supposed lovers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow: Through Malcolm Merlyn's flashbacks, we see that his son Tommy used to be a relatively innocent child who idolized his father before they began to drift apart, resulting in Tommy becoming a notorious womanizer who began to resent his father.
  • Beverly Hills, 90210 character Valerie Malone, revealed during the civil rape suit she files against Noah by Steve.
  • Although Homelander from The Boys (2019) is an utterly vile person as an adult, the little lab rat boy we briefly see in a flashback playing with his blanket while under observation from scientists was genuinely innocent.
  • The Salamanca twins from Breaking Bad were seen in a flashback to be normal, energetic kids who cared for each other. They grew up to be emotionless killing machines for the cartel.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When transformed back into a teenager ("Band Candy"), Principal Snyder was shown to be a relatively friendly dork and seemingly looked up to the Scoobies. He even liked Oz's Cool Hair!
  • Notably averted on Dexter. Dexter is shown to have killed his neighbour's dog because it barked too loud as a child, and even at that time, Harry seemed aware that Dexter was a psychopath.
  • Doctor Who: The Master was apparently a sweet kid until he looked into the Vortex at age 8, and heard the drums. Then he slowly went batshit insane.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • According to Cersei in "Mhysa", Joffrey was a very happy baby when he was around her and showed no signs of his later sociopathic behavior until much later... but either she's leaving out the part in the books where he cut open a pregnant cat as a child or the incident was Adapted Out.
    • All audiences get to see is his worst side, but it's implied that Viserys had been a reasonably nice guy at one point before the hardship of his own and his sister's life broke him. In the books, Daenerys specifically points at the moment that Viserys was forced to part with their dead mother's crown for money to survive as the point where Viserys started to snap. This is in parallel to their father, who is known as the "Mad King" but was also reasonably sane as a younger man, up until an incident where he was betrayed and held hostage by one of his own vassals and locked in a tower for half a year.
  • Harry Enfield and Chums's Kevin was a well-behaved, if hyperactive, boy until he turned thirteen, at which point his hormones kicked in and turned him into the teenage horror we all know and love.
  • Kamen Rider:
    • In Kamen Rider Double's movie, Big Bad Katsumi Daido/Kamen Rider Eternal is described this way by his mother. He's an unusual case since he died and was brought back to life by Mom's research, which may have had some effect. However, as the Eternal Returns prequel movie shows, the complete flip to evil happened when he and his fellow undead mercenaries tried to save Foundation X's psychic test subjects and failed after the Hope Spot.
    • In Kamen Rider Wizard, the monsters of the week, Phantoms, start off as "inner demons" which kill their hosts if they cross the Despair Event Horizon and take on their human form as a disguise. They're actually entirely different beings from their hosts, but to those not in on the Masquerade, this trope seems to be in full effect. In particular, one episode had Haruto dealing with a young woman who doesn't understand her college friend's bizarre shift in attitude, and Haruto chooses to tell her that the friend went overseas to study filmmaking rather than crush her with the painful truth. The biggest exception to this is Gremlin, who was a Serial Killer before becoming a Phantom, and ends up becoming one of the most monstrous Kamen Rider enemies in a long time.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid: Taiga Hanaya was introduced as a smug jerk steamrolling everything in his way. Kamen Rider Snipe: Episode Zero prequel special reveals that he used to be a kindhearted doctor, who failed to save a patient and lost everything (his job, his licence, his faith in the world) as a result.
    • Kamen Rider Zi-O: In 2068, Ohma Zi-O is the greatest tyrant of all history, who reduced the world to wasteland and rules it with an iron fist. In 2018, the ordinary high school student Sougo Tokiwa is a sweet kid, even if a little odd at times and with a bit of an ego. Finding out what happened in between and stopping it is what Zi-O's main storyline is about.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Swing", Elliot Stabler's interaction with his mother highly suggests that he was a sweet kid with a dream to become an architect. His mother even suggested that he's turned out like his father.
  • Ben Linus from Lost gets a story arc showing him as an innocent kid who was abused by his father. Also includes the Moral Event Horizon. Although Ben was sorta creepy even as a kid.
    Sawyer: (to Sayid) How are you doing?
    Sayid: A twelve-year-old Benjamin Linus just brought me a chicken salad sandwich. How do you think I'm doing?
    Sawyer: Sweet kid, huh?
  • The Mandalorian: Mando Din Darin himself. Flash backs show he was once an innocent little boy, whose parents and an entire got village got massacred by Battle Droids during the Clone Wars and was taken in by the Mandalorians. As an adult he's stoical, ruthless Anti-Hero Bounty Hunter who prior to meeting The Child Grogu was Only in It for the Money. He gets better over the course of the series though.
  • Once Upon a Time Both Rumplestiltskin and Regina. Rumplestiltskin was a coward but loved his son deeply. His efforts to protect his son were what turned him into a monster.
    • It's taken even further with Regina. She was a genuinely good person who loved a stable boy. Her first interaction with Snow White is actually saving her, and she is later the one to tell her that "true love is the most powerful magic of all''. Then her mother murders that man she loves, an attempt to bring him back fails (other characters deliberately sabotaged it to drive her over the edge), and decides revenge is all she has left.
      • It's turned back on Regina with Greg Mendell/Owen Flynn - being confronted with the fact that it's entirely due to her actions that he turned from a sweet and happy child into a magic-hating torturer drives her to an attempt at Redemption Equals Death to stop his plan.
    • Inverted with Queen Eva, Snow's mother. She used to be a spoiled brat who spitefully tripped Cora. But by the time she married and had Snow, she became a much kinder person and quick to lecture Snow's own bratty behaviour.
    • Killian Jones was a good-hearted man who loved his brother and was a lieutenant of the navy and even criticized a fellow soldier for sneaking alcohol into the ship. It was his ill-fated trip to Neverland, which led to his brother getting killed by poison, and his guilt and anger at the king who sent them there to retrieve the poison to use as a weapon, that drove Killian to become a selfish, hedonistic pirate who would later be known as Captain Hook.
  • In Popular Emory Dick notes his twin sisters Emily and Emma used to be nice, but after puberty, they became burgeoning Alpha Bitches. They show up in the episode wearing tight tops and skirts really short for their age, and ask Nichole and Mary Cherry to train them on how to be the top girls in the junior high. They later even turn on Nicky and Mary, wearing dresses and furs at a party the same as what Nichole and Mary are wearing.
  • Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf. As seen in "Timeslides", the beginning of "Dimension Jump" and Rimmer's own accounts, was once a sweet, polite little boy who was: extensively bullied by his three older brothers and classmates, neglected by his adulterous mother, domineered by his insane father, tied to spit roast by his scout troop who planned to eat him, accidentally molested by his uncle who mistook his bedroom for his mother's and had his shoes thrown in the septic tank "while he was wearing them". All these experiences turned Rimmer into the glorious Smeghead we know today, although his better qualities are present on occasion. Lampshaded in "Terrorform" where in a Journey to the Center of the Mind, the boys find metaphysical gravestones of Rimmer's Generosity (died age 9), Honor (died age 12) as well as his Charm which judging by the tiny gravestone died when he was a toddler.
  • Smallville: Lex Luthor doesn't really count as in his case it's a Face–Heel Turn that happens during the show, but his younger half-sister Tess Mercer does. Just compare the woman from the flashbacks in "Toxic" to the cold Broken Ace in the present-day timeline before making a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Max's older brother Billy from Stranger Things started out as a very nice kid who genuinely loved his mother, but his cruel abusive father treated him horribly and eventually turned him into the psychopathic asshole he is in the present.
  • Debbie Pelt from True Blood. It's almost painful to watch a flashback that includes the sweet, well-intentioned girl you know will become a V-addicted nutcase.
  • Uchu Sentai Kyuranger: Stinger/Sasori Orange is introduced as jaded and withdrawn person, who only works with the team out of necessity. The feelings are mostly mutual but then they start finding out bits about his past. He was raised by his kind older brother, who protected him from the older tribesmen bullying him. Stinger had to watch as his Blood Knight tendencies slowly eclipsed his good nature and as if that was not enough, Scorpio later joined Jark Matter and led the assault on his former tribe, killing everyone else but Stinger. Needless to say, Stinger is very messed up person.
  • The Umbrella Academy:
    • Diego, Klaus and Vanya out of the siblings were much more innocent and sweet when they were little kids compared when their adult selves. Diego is now a violent vigilante with a chip on his shoulder, Klaus is now a cowardly drug addict and Vanya is now a emotionally repressed Broken Bird who feels she is a useless burden to her family due seemingly lacking powers. All of this is result of their cruel adoptive father Reginald Hargreeves putting them through Training from Hell from an early age, emotionally abusing them and neglecting their feelings.
    • Played with regarding Five, as a boy he was an arrogant jerk who wanted to prove to Hargreeves he was capable of pushing the limits of his powers. After using his Time Travel powers to send himself into the Bad Future and growing old there, Five matures becoming an old, jaded man wanting to set Set Right What Once Went Wrong. Even after going back to the past and becoming a boy again, he's much less pompous and cares greatly for his siblings.
    • Leonard was once a sweet boy who idolized the Umbrella Academy siblings and wanted to be heroes just like them, only to be cruelly rebuffed. After going home to his abusive father who beat him for his actions and demanded he grab him a beer, Leonard grabbed a hammer and killed his father, becoming a vengeful psychopath.
  • WandaVision has an extremely tragic example as we see a flashback of Wanda Maximoff's childhood in Sokovia, Wanda was once a sweet and cheerful girl who loved sitting with her family watching the wholesome American sitcoms her father managed to find and she dreamed of being like the glamorous women on the TV who didn't live in a war torn country. One night during their routine family TV time a mortar shell from Stark Industries bombs their house killing her parents and leaving her and her brother Pietro sitting waiting for it go off under a table. Afterwards Wanda went from innocent girl to Broken Bird and Hydra volunteer to supervillain turned Anti-Hero who after losing her brother and later her android husband eventually snapped and created a fake reality based on the idyllic sitcom family life she wanted when she was little.
  • In The Witcher as seen by the flashbacks to his childhood with his "Ma" Visenna in the finale episode, Geralt was once an adorable little Momma's Boy full of optimism. Completely unlike The Stoic Deadpan Snarker Knight in Sour Armor he is in the present.

    Music 
  • Played for Laughs in Joe's Garage by Frank Zappa. Joe's neighbors viewed him as this ("He used to cut my grass, he was a very nice boy."), until he discovered rock 'n roll.
  • The song "Junge" by German band Die Ärzte:
    And you were such a sweet child
  • Used in Lordi's "The Kids Who Want To Play With The Dead", which is a blasting of the the old media's hatred of the new media and love of blaming them ("The must have been some dangerous toys, and the music sings of murderous ploys...")
  • Alice Cooper, "No More Mr. Nice Guy". First-person, too.
    • "I used to be such a sweet sweet thing till they got a hold of me..."
      • Although he's a pretty nice guy as an adult. The song's arguably about the way the media painted his character based on his stage appearance.
  • Averted in "Only a Lad" by Oingo Boingo.
  • The Decemberists' song "Shankill Butchers" (which relates the boogeyman version of the real Ulster paramilitary gang that Belfast mums of the era were so scared of):
    They used to be just like me and you,
    They used to be sweet little boys
    But something went horribly askew
    Now killing is their only source of joy
  • The sweetest Girl by Nicki Minaj. "She used to be...(Yeah, she used to be the sweetest girl!) When a good girl gone she gone forever."
  • Morrissey, "Used to be a Sweet Boy" and "The World is Full of Crashing Bores."
  • "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" by Glass Animals is from the perspective of someone finding out their childhood friend grew up to be a school shooter.
  • Eminem, "I'm Back:"
    I used to be my mommy's little angel at twelve.
    At thirteen, I was putting shells in a gauge on a shelf.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Even fans who watched NWA Wildside had to look twice before they realized the obnoxious braggart out to retire Booker T, Luke Hawx, was once the sweet Altar Boy who hung out with Seth Delay, Matt Sydal and AJ Styles. Hawx doesn't like them anymore either.
  • The Norfolk Dolls of the FWA/WWA Academies started wrestling in their early teens and were instant hits with the little girls in attendance. Melody would increasingly pattern herself after her manager, Sam Knee, going by such names as "Melody Knee" and "Sammi Baynze", also becoming quite The Bully in to wrestlers she was once like.

    Radio 
  • Bleak Expectations:
    • Series Big Bad Mr. Benevolent was a good-natured kid. Then there were three abusive stepfathers, the first of whom deported or killed all his friends, the second murdered and ate his pets, and the third had him sent to Antarctica. By the time he gets back, he learns his mother had been doing all this to make sure he became a complete bastard, because he's descended from Judas Iscariot's accountant. However, it's learning that his childhood sweetheart had married another, which he just missed, and getting taunted about it by an obnoxious kid that pushes him over into full evil.
    • Protagonist Pip Bin. In his early life, starting in his mid-teens, he's generally good-natured (if a little Victorian, and entirely thoughtless). By the point of the framing story, the elderly Sir Phillip Bin is a curmudgeonly, sexist jerkass of the highest order.

    Roleplay 
  • Jae from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues used to be an average young girl with dreams of being a florist, but when her parents got too strict with her she became surly and rebellious, eventually joining up with Daigo's gang.
  • The Doomy Adventures of Irken Doominess:
    • Melissa as a smeet was a very frail and kind irken, until she was abused by her classmates, lost her sanity, began killing lots of people, got a taste for human blood, and overall became quite messed up.
    • Gar, who was normal as a smeet, got ridiculed by everyone, was singled out to be the tallest's personal Chew Toy, started Hearing Voices, and got a major Sanity Slippage which resulted in her trying to kill the tallest.
    • Deef might qualify since Word of God states his mother cared about him up until the age of six when she decided he was able to take care of himself. He still lives with her but seems neglected by her. That said, Deef isn't insane, he's just strange and has No Social Skills.
    • Inverted with Nel who used to be a homicidal jerk and is now a very nice human.
  • Happens frequently in Survival of the Fittest if you read pre-game. Many characters come off as likable, friendly people, only to be broken once the game starts, in a good portion of cases turning Ax-Crazy. As a result, you will be seeing this trope a lot, especially if the character showed up in pre-game frequently or there are any flashbacks involving the character.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!'s monsters tend to have their own stories. In the case of the charmer monsters, Eria is hinted to grow up into Gishiki Ariel. It is unknown whether or not this was of her own free will or if she was brainwashed like other Gishiki monsters. However, she went from a sweet little girl into a ruthless warlord.
    • Her friend Gagagigo started his carrier as the little and cute Gigobyte and fights along with Eria. As the grown-up Gagagigo he eventually left her and someday he fought Freed the Brave Wanderer, ended up being trapped in another dimension. He met Marauding Captain and fought against Inpachi, who later appeared again as Blazing Inpachi; the Marauding Captain took the bullet, which inspired Gagagigo to do the same for one of the Captain's men during the war against Invader of Darkness. Later, in hope to defeat Invader of Darkness, he asked the Mad Scientist Kozaky to make him stronger who rebuilds his body to the corrupted Giga Gagagigo. When he fought against Freed the Brave Wanderer again in his native dimension, he got his own attack reflected and lost. Obsessed to continue gaining strength to defeat his rivals, he continued his rampage and eventually transformed into Gogiga Gagagigo and truly lost his soul.
      • The following story (which is "written" many years after his transformation) inverts his dark development as he fought Freed the Brave Wanderer again, finally overpowering him, but Marauding Captain appeared and protected him before Gogiga Gagagigo gave him the finishing blow. Instead of following his corrupted instincts, Gogigo Gagagigo understands Marauding Captain's actions and forsakes his quest for power. Thus, he finally becomes the strong warrior of justice he once sought out to be, Gagagigo the Risen.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney: 9 years old Miles Edgeworth was idealistic and adorable to the max. Then, his father was murdered. Before his eyes. And thinking he killed his father by accident when trying to stop a security guard fearing oxygen loss by throwing a gun at him. Edgeworth was embedded with a severe phobia of elevators and earthquakes, and a hatred for criminals, defense attorneys, and himself after this. Even after his eventual Heel–Face Turn he still has trouble relearning the social skills he lost due to this trauma and always comes across as blunt, insensitive and cold to others.
  • In The Great Ace Attorney, Ryunosuke is baffled to discover Barok van Zieks, infamous Grim Reaper of the Bailey, used to be known as the "little darling" of his family and was proported to be a rather sweet, unassuming man all the way up to university. While the decade's worth of public infamy and survived assassination attempts explain some of his present persona, the real Cynicism Catalyst was his much-revered brother's murder at the hands of a trusted family friend, who was later convicted as a Serial Killer.
  • Double Homework: According to Marco, Dennis used to be a quiet, unassuming kid who was nice enough to fix his classmates’ computers whenever they asked and without asking for anything in return. Dennis’s dad describes his son as weak and “sentimental,” which he probably uses to describe anyone (especially a male) with a kind heart. Possibly a subversion, however, as the protagonist suspects that Dennis was fixing his classmates’ computers to find and keep nudes of the girls.
  • Archer from Fate/stay night, though in a subversion he's just as broken inside now as he was when he was younger — he's just grown more outwardly cynical and self-aware towards his inner failings. Fate/hollow ataraxia shows this to be the case with Gilgamesh, and Fate/Zero with Kiritsugu as well.
    • Fate/Grand Order shows that likewise, Medea was a cheerful girl with a specialization in healing magecraft. After being Mind Raped into loving Jason (and being treated like garbage by him, culminating in an attempt to abandon her and their children), she became the bitter Witch of Betrayal summoned as the Fifth Holy Grail War's Caster. When Atalante, Medea's caretaker in her childhood, finds out about this after she gets summoned, Atalante laughs so hard, she faints from the agony.
  • Akane Kurashiki, aka June in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. She used to be a sweet girl, but the trauma of the first Nonary Game turned her into a person willing to do anything for the sake of ensuring her survival and later, saving the world - whether that means sacrificing her life (for the latter) or someone else's. In Virtue's Last Reward her childhood friend Junpei Tenmyouji remarks at the end that the Akane he knew is gone.
  • When They Cry:

    Web Animation 
  • A bitter Jerkass today, Bitey of the Brackenwood series used to be a sweet little thing, but years of loneliness, being the Last of His Kind, and being abandoned by an adoptive family of Morrugs has changed that.
  • Red vs. Blue: When we are first introduced to Agent Washington, he is portrayed as being strict, cold, and somewhat ruthless towards those around him while keeping up a professional and stoic demeanor. It is revealed that his behavior was the result of an incident he had with his A.I., Epsilon, who went insane and committed suicide while in his head. The Freelancer Trilogy furthers how much the Epsilon Incident changed Washington by showing how he was practically the youngest, most naive of the freelancers before being implanted with Epsilon. His time with the Reds and Blues has softened him up again, though.

    Webcomics 
  • Sometimes used in Chick Tracts. Examples include Bruce in "Fallen" and Harry in "Fairy Tales".
  • Clinic of Horrors: As a child, Bianca Abercrombie was a plucky and cheerful girl full of life. Years of emotional abuse from her mother resulted in her becoming cold toward other people.
  • Setz from Crepuscule is shown to be a bright spirited young boy in the prologue chapters but is later shown to be a fairly apathetic, uncaring guy after the Time Skip.
  • "Player Two is red. He's a quiet sort of lunatic. The type everyone always says "was such a nice kid" after they find like, twenty human faces in his freezer."
    Player Two character bio, Ctrl+Alt+Del
  • Guilded Age: Payet seemed like a pretty nice kid before a whole town convinced him he was the The Chosen One and showered him with gifts and easy women.
  • Homestuck:
    • Vriska Serket may play jump-rope with the Moral Event Horizon, but as a kid she was positively adorable.
    • Rose Lalonde started off as a mature yet sweet 13-year old who just wanted to play a game with her friends so she could see her dead cat again. Once the game got started, she started communing with the Horrorterrors and wielding dark magic. She eventually turned into this. She gets better, though.
    • Aradia can count as an example, being a cheerful Adventure Archaeologist before dying. She becomes the kind of person who enjoys breaking things for amusement and claiming there is no free will. She gets better during the course of the story.
    • Averted with Lord English. His younger self Caliborn is almost as bad as he is now, just smaller and constrained.
    • Kurloz Makara seems to have been a pretty nice normal teenager until he had some kind of Eldritch Abomination nightmare, mutilated his own mouth, and started working for the abovementioned Big Bad. His dancestor Gamzee similarly was fine until he ran out of sopor slime; it's likely he would still have turned to work for Lord English, but would have done so more subtly and without murdering Equius and Nepeta, had he never been on the drugs.
    • Most of Kurloz's group fit this trope thanks to being stuck as "kids" for several millennia. Cronus Ampora was a wannabe magician that hoped to defeat an evil wizard, Damara Megido was a lovestruck schoolgirl that spoke little English, and Kankri Vantas planned to reform his discriminatory society.
      • Damara's case is a little more complicated, as she turned significantly darker even before the whole "stuck as immortal teenage ghosts on a plane of shifting dreams" thing came into play. She was originally a positively sweet and highly insecure girl from a far-off corner of their home planet ("Alterniasia", Beforus' Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Japan) with a poor command of standard Beforan language. She has however found love in the form of Occidental Otaku Rufioh... that is, until he got bored of her and started cheating on her with Horuss, another member of the group, breaking her heart and sense of trust. (It's implied that the only reason he hooked up with her was because of his Foreign Culture Fetish.) Then their leader Meenah started relentlessly bullying her about it, up until the point where Damara snapped, went on a killing spree murdering Meenah and almost killing Rufioh too, and selling out her entire session to Lord English as a revenge. By the time the heroes meet her, she's long past her sweet personality and has regressed into an embittered, vulgar, cynical Jerkass Woobie.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Fructose Riboflavin used to be a nice little larva on planet Butane. But his dad was a highway bandit. And then his dad got killed...
  • Villainous Cyborg Gear from Kiwi Blitz was a cute little girl named Margaret before she received a double dose of Dark and Troubled Past followed by a heaping helping of Cybernetics Eat Your Soul.
  • Richard from Looking for Group may qualify.
  • Shields McKloskey from October20th was an outgoing, high-spirited boy before he was sucked into the world of horrors and the unknown.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Averted in the case of Xykon — the whole point of the Start of Darkness prequel book was to show that he had no redeeming features whatsoever and never did. In the creator's words, not only is he thoroughly evil, he's also sort of a dick. While he may not have been evil when he first discovered his gift for Necromancy at the age of 4, by the age of 12 he's killing a Captain Ersatz of Professor Xavier (granted, one who was being an incredible dick about how wizards are inherently better than sorcerers), zombifying him and siccing him and his zombified grandma on his parents.
    • Played straight with Redcloak and his close-knit family, though. For goblins, they were quite nice people.
  • Brian and Angelo are revealed to have shades of this in Our Little Adventure. Brian and his empire originally assisted followers of The Angel of Justice making a large part of the main Manjulias continent safer from savage creatures. Angelo was originally a member of The Angel of Justice's clergy but eventually turned away from his goddess due to his bad experiences with many of the people he helped.
  • Pixie and Brutus: A picture of Brutus as a rookie has Pixie excitedly remark how small and cute he was, and Brutus reluctantly agrees after trying to brush it off as him being a puppy back then. When Pixie asks about the other person in the picture, Brutus says that it was his former handler Sgt. Sergio Castillo. Pixie tells him he looks like a nice guy, Brutus says that he was.
  • Rebirth: Neo used to be a cheerful, energetic kid with a close relationship with his father... until Noah found out Neo was Ian’s child, told him not to call him his father and that he wasn’t his son, and ignored him for most of his life.
  • In Sinfest, an appeal on the grounds she wasn't always a devil girl. Neither was Lil' Evil always evil.
  • Trace Legacy from TwoKinds was an OK guy, until he tried using Necromancy to resurrect his recently-slain wife.

    Web Original 
  • Adam from Arby 'n' the Chief is an 8-year-old boy who's a member of Chaos Theosis, a group of cyberterrorists who wreak havoc across Xbox's Network. However, he is demonstrated to be the most cruel and volatile of all its members. He always screams and shouts online, verbally abuses his mother and friends, gleefully enjoys killing people for fun, and stealing their account information to do what he feels like doing with it. During his final appearance though, when his mom finally breaks down asking what can be done to make him behave, she reminds him (and his friends) that was once a very happy young boy who would play nicely until playing Halo corrupted him into the monstrous child that he's become. Adam however coldly dismisses her yet again and continues acting the way he does. Needless to say, this comes back to bite Adam at his demise, HARD.
  • The Nostalgia Chick used to be an adorable girl who wanted a fairytale wedding when she was six, had quite a few friends, and fell in love with a dragon because he was honorable. Then bullying, abuse, becoming a Bratty Teenage Daughter, and turning to alcoholism happened, so now she's a lonely, psychopathic Broken Bird. Again, ouch.
  • Done in The Nostalgia Critic's "Commercials Special". When he's on the edge of a Despair Event Horizon, he picks up a photo of himself as a kid and angsts about how he had so much promise and dreams back then. So that sweet, "perfect" child went through a Break the Cutie (parental abuse, date rape, bullying, and stalkers) and became a cynical, depressed man who has nothing left in his life but reviewing. He recovers, though.
  • Twelve Hundred Ghosts shows Ebenezer Scrooge used to be nice when he was younger, particularly as a baby when he was delighted to get a rattle as a Christmas present.
  • In Worm, after Taylor has her secret identity exposed, news crews go around to talk to the few people who knew her, who are all astonished that the quiet, unassuming, bullied teenager they knew is now the single most powerful and brutal supervillain in the city.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: The whole damn point of the show. The explosively insane Jinx was once the sweet Tag Along Kid Powder who just wanted to help. Sadly, her idea of 'helping' was using her Gadgeteer Genius skills towards building a number of bombs in the hopes of eventually building a working one to help her family in a fight. She succeeded in the first part, not so much the second.
  • Archer: The title character was a fairly normal kid, but his mother wasn't around at all until he was 5, and messed him up even worse after she returned.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    Sozin: As I feel my own life dimming, I can't help but think of a time when everything was so much brighter...
  • Baby Looney Tunes:
  • Bojack Horseman is a major Jerkass in present-day, but his upbringing was less than stellar.
    Beatrice: You know, I was beautiful before I got pregnant with you.
    Young Bojack: (quietly) I know.
    Beatrice: You ruined me, Bojack.
    Young Bojack: (sadder) I know.
    Beatrice: You better grow up to be something great to make up for all the damage you've done.
    Young Bojack: I will.
    • This was also the case with Beatrice. She was a happy little girl in The '40s who watched her family fall apart following her brother's wartime death, culminating in her mother's breakdown, drunken endangerment of Beatrice in a car crash, and eventual lobotomy where Beatrice was told never to love anybody that much again. What little chance she had of recovering was crushed when her father callously burned her things in a fire and threatened to lobotomize her just like her mother if she ever cried or showed too much emotion again.
    • As a child, Sarah Lynn was as sweet and friendly as the character she played on Horsin' Around. She lost her innocence early, and a life of Hollywood/music industry excess had turned her from a charity-running Teen Idol into a spoiled Drama Queen.
  • Inverted in Courage the Cowardly Dog. The old, but sweet and kind Muriel was shown in the episode "Little Muriel" to have been an obnoxious brat as a child. Played straight with her husband Eustace, who is implied to have been a good child up until the treatment he received from his mother and brother, thus turning him into the Grumpy Old Man he is in the show.
  • Dan from Dan Vs.: In "Summer Camp", Dan is bullied and responds by telling the camp director. Contrast that with how nowadays with his first response to anything frustrating, no matter what or how small the problem is, is almost always to get revenge.
  • The DuckTales (2017) incarnation of Doofus Drake was this, apparently. His beloved grandmother left him her vast fortune when he was too young to handle it. In the present day, he's an out-of-control Bratty Half-Pint who can go full-blown Yandere at the drop of a hat. The butler and maid who serve him? Those are his parents.
  • On The Fairly OddParents, Denzel Crocker was a near-perfect child who was loved by everybody. However, losing his fairies was his Start of Darkness.
  • Trina Riffin of Grojband was once a sweet girl, but she locked her old self (known as "Katrina") away in her mind and turned evil (and at least one of the reasons why was to impress her crush).
  • Hey Arnold!: "Helga on the Couch" shows us in a flashback that Helga Pataki was a normal girl who was so neglected and ignored by her parents that she had to walk to preschool by herself, getting splashed with mud and having her lunch stolen by a dog. She then meets Arnold, probably the first person to ever show her genuine affection, and immediately falls for him. After Harold steals her graham crackers and the other kids start laughing at her, she starts bullying them in order to get respect.
  • Zig-zag: In the 1993 cartoon Itsy Bitsy Spider (based on the animated short subject that played with Bebe's Kids in theaters), Leslie — the little girl who befriends Itsy — was a sweet, introverted kid in the short and first season. Many episodes in Season 2 have her a head-slapping bitch.
  • Amazingly, Lucius VII on Jimmy Two-Shoes. He's Satan (albeit a mostly incompetent one), but what flashbacks we get of his childhood paint him as actually cute and rather sympathetic, being abused by his father or the people of Miseryville. Then again, given the place he lives in, it's probably no surprise he grew up the way he did.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Noatak who eventually adopted the name Amon was described as being a kind boy who always strove to help and be fair to everyone. It didn't last... Or rather, it did, but in the darkest way possible.
    • Noatak's younger brother, Tarrlok, was a very sweet and timid boy. his adult version...Not so much.
    • Season 4 gives us an older example in Kuvira. In Season 3, she was a kind and caring person who rescued Korra's father from certain death and was devoted to Suyin. Suyin even claimed she was like a daughter to her. But the fateful fallout with her over how to save the Earth Kingdom and the subsequent 3 years would turn her into a cold, power-hungry tyrant.
  • Mr. Grouse from The Loud House is revealed to have been one in "11 Louds A Leaping".
  • Although he had shades of being a Spoiled Brat especially after his mother's death and his father's initial refusal to hit him, Clay Puppington in Moral Orel was revealed to be this in "Passing." He was actually somewhat Orel-like.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
  • Recess: Both Principal Prickly and Miss Finster are implied to have been as carefree as TJ and Spinelli (and by extension the rest of TJ's friends) when they were children. Just see for yourselves.
  • Ricky Owens from Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated went from the Shaggy of the original Mystery Inc. to the devious bastard he's known as in the present: Mr. E.
  • Monty Burns on The Simpsons was depicted as one in "Rosebud." A flashback showed him happily playing with his teddy bear Bobo, and being referred to by his parents as "Happy."
    Father: Happy, would you like to continue living with us, your loving natural parents, or would you rather live with this twisted, loveless billionaire?
    [Burns immediately drops his bear and runs into the limousine, donning sunglasses.]
    Burns: Let's roll!
    Father: Wait! You forgot your bear, a symbol of your lost youth and innocence!
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Asajj Ventress, through a series of flashbacks, is shown to have first been a cute little girl who later turned to the dark side after her Jedi Master, Ky Narec, was killed.
  • In Star vs. the Forces of Evil's third Season opener, Queen Moon Butterfly, Star's uptight, stodgy mother, reveals why she's the way she is; Her own mother had been killed when Moon was the age Star is, forcing a once-carefree girl into the role of queen.
    Moon: I was never a cool warrior queen, Star. I was a happy-go-lucky girl like you. And then... (Voice breaks) Toffee and his monsters killed my mother.
  • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) episode "Insane in the Membrane", it appears like this trope will be subverted when Baxter flashes back to his childhood and is seen about to pour some sort of chemicals on a bug in a jar. He changes his mind and lets the bug go. Through more flashbacks, it was clear that he was a good kid who was devastated by his mother's death, and the memories of her were enough for him to let the Turtles and April go.
  • In Thor: Tales of Asgard it was revealed that Loki was like this as a teenager. It's not until the betrayal of a family friend and the use of the Sword of Surtur that his former outlook starts souring and he begins to think different.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Used To Be A Sweet Child, Used To Be A Good Kid

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Tai Lung

What was once Shifu's adopted son and greatest pupil. But his ambition and greed turned him into a bloodthirsty monster. He's even the current trope image.

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