Everybody knows that villains are cooler than heroes — it's just the way things are. But if a villain hangs around long enough, sometimes he or she gets reformed and joins the good guys. Usually, this results in a tragic loss of coolness.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Sometimes, a villain can switch sides without becoming any less awesome. Here are 10 villains who turned good without losing style points.
And before anybody brings it up in comments — no, Spike is not on the list. Sorry. He was still cute after he turned good, but he was considerably less cool. Other runners-up include Plastic Man, Scott Lang aka Ant-Man, and a few others.
Now that that's out of the way, here's the list!
10) May Day, from A View to a Kill
Favored moll of Max Zorin, the genetically engineered microchip tycoon who's somehow both a Nazi and a Soviet agent, May Day, played by the indefatigably awesome Grace Jones (the Lady Gaga your mother didn't
listen to in the car), not only assassinates a man with a poisonous butterfly attached to a fishing pole, evicts a dissident from a dirigible by way of trapdoor crazy slide, and escapes capture from James Bond by leaping off the Eiffel Tower, but also manages to snatch two-fifths of the film's titular line away from Christopher Walken (while sporting an amazingly asymmetrical hairdo). Even her lesser achievements – such as lifting New Zealand pop star, Mr. Lee Grant, over her head completely before body slamming him to ground while sneering – are still pretty cool.
Her change of heart occurs after discovering the drowned, bullet-ridden body of her friend, the improbably named Jenny Flex, played by the equally improbably-named Alison Doody, and realizes Zorin has left her to die in a flooding mine shaft. In an attempt to thwart his plans to cause a devastating earthquake that would sink Silicon Valley, May Day sacrifices herself on a booby trapped, old-timey railroad handcar (how this movie earned its reputation as the worst in the franchise, we'll never understand).
If you're still looking for evidence of May Day's cool factor: Roger Moore has gone on record saying Grace Jones was his least-favorite of all his co-stars; in his 2008 memoir, "My Word is My Bond", he revealed:
Every day in her dressing room – which was adjacent to mine – she played very loud music. I was not a fan of heavy metal, so didn't quite appreciate it vibrating through the walls whenever I returned to my room. An afternoon nap was well and truly out of the question. I did ask Grace to turn it down several times, to no avail. One day I snapped. I marched into her room, pulled the plug out and then went back to my room, pick up a chair and flung it at the wall. The dent is still there.
Moore's favorite? Maude Adams.
9) The Green Ranger
Arguably the most popular Ranger in the Mighty Morphin' franchise history, Thomas "Tommy" Oliver began his dubious origins as Saban's answer to Jordan Catalano, a loner who nearly bests then-Red Ranger, Jason at a martial arts expo. Watching from her fortress on the moon, an impressed Rita Repulsa takes an interest in his talents, conscripting Tommy in her war against Zordon by transforming him into the dread Green Ranger — a sort of anti-matter antagonist, in the Professor Zoom tradition.
After severing Zordon's connection to our dimension, uploading a computer virus into Alpha 5, eviscerating the Ranger's command center, and sending the Mega Zords tumbling down a volcanic chasm, Tommy seems to have finished off the Rangers — especially when Oliver summons the Mechagodilla-esque Dragon Zord with a flute-dagger -– until Jason destroys the Green Ranger's sword with a laser gun, breaking Repulsa's ensorcellment and restoring Tommy's autonomy. That just about makes perfect sense, and Tommy is indoctrinated into the fold as a true blue Power Ranger – but not before learning the basic tenants of being a good guy from Zordon (1. Never use your power for personal gain. 2. Never escalate a battle unless Rita forces you. 3. Keep your identity a secret. )
Tommy went on to appear in two theatrically released movies and six additional Power Rangers series, holding as many titles along the way — including an upgrade to the morally incorruptible White Ranger – before earning a PhD in Paleontology (circuitously leading to Power Rangers Dino Thunder), and retiring to become a high school science teacher.
8) Gamera, from Gamera: The Invincible (1965) and others
While Godzilla was originally conceived as a metaphor for the dangers of nuclear fallout but won over the hearts and minds of the public by being a cool-looking dinosaur, the less (politically) ambitious Gamera was always more or less a tusked, prehistoric tortoise that could retract his limbs into his shell and spin around really fast (Albeit one awakened by a Cold War skirmish) But like his cinematic forebear, Gamera, originally a destructive antagonist (but with a soft-spot for children), likewise found himself in the role of hero, defending the Earth, the universe and all children everywhere from threats as diverse as rainbow-spitting monsters (Barugon), knife-headed alien watchdogs (Guiron), and a super-intelligent goblin shark (Zigra). Among Gamera's greatest achievements are his defeat of The Virans, limb-detaching, unblinking aliens who navigate their bumble bee-striped spaceship in slides and chutes while worshiping a giant
squid in suspended animation (if they appeared on classic Doctor Who, they'd be at least as fondly remembered as The Cybermen) and the closing minutes of Revenge of Iris (1999), in which, after losing a hand, Gamera, Butch Cassidy-style, steels himself against a horde of descending Gyaos, vampire bat/pterosaur/parrot creatures with boomerang heads.
7) King Vultan, from Flash Gordon (comics)
King Vultan of the Hawkmen rules with an iron hand, maintaining Sky City as a prison for Ming the Merciless and keeping his harem locked away in a private tower. Vultan forces Flash, Prince Barin and Zarkov to work in the atomic furnaces of Sky City, spiriting Dale away as the latest addition to his harem. Neither of these plans works out well for Vultan: Flash incites a slave revolt and city-threatening explosion in the mines, as Dale is shoved out of a tower window by one of Vultan's jealous wives. In the end, Flash saves Dale, Zarkov saves the city — and surprisingly, Vultan has a change of heart. He sets the captives free, hires Zarkov as science advisor and he and his Hawkmen become staunch allies — but not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, he keeps the harem for himself.
6) Hawkeye, from The Avengers
Orphan Clint Barton ran away, joined the circus and became a protégé of the villain Trickshot and the Swordsman (a hero turned villain), learning archery, swordplay and criminal behavior in the process. When a crime went awry and injured his brother Barney, Clint left the circus and roamed the country on his own as the newly-christened, expert archer Hawkeye. After witnessing Iron Man performing life-saving heroics, he decides to become a crimefighter himself, but his first attempt backfires and the police are on his tail. While on the run, he falls in with Black Widow, a Soviet agent, and helps her steal Stark technology while battling the Avengers. But when Black Widow goes underground, he decides to make a fresh start, and joins the Avengers to help make amends and battle evil properly. Hawkeye has had a number of falling-outs with the Avengers over the years, but always ends back up on the team sooner or later, even taking on leadership and training roles in later series.
5) David Xanatos, from Gargoyles
He's sort of the equivalent of Tony Stark in the Gargoyles universe, an inventor and CEO who comes up with all sorts of cool gizmos. And he's the creator of the "Xanatos gambit," as fans have dubbed it, which somehow ensures that he always comes out on top in every situation. He's one of the main adversaries of Goliath and the Gargoyles, nearly destroying them several times — but after his ally Demona betrays him, he winds up teaming up with the Gargoyles, who later save his son's life. He winds up becoming a sometime ally of the Gargoyles... but never stops being cool.
4) Leader Desslok (Desslar Sohtoh), from Star Blazers
Intent on expanding the dwindling territory of his people, the Gamilons, Desslok leads a mission of galactic expansion eventually brought him to Earth and consequently, into repeated conflict with its defenders, the Star Force. Initially amused by their presence, Desslok subsequently grows to hate the Star Force when his latest plan to trap them accidentally results in the destruction of his own homeworld. Incredibly, Desslok still manages to have a change of heart when, as his victory was close at hand, he witnessed Nova, a member of the Force, risk her life to save teammate Derek Wildstar. Touched, Desslok then realizes his enemy's reasons for fighting weren't so very different from his own, and vows never to attack Earth, or the Star Force again, setting out to find other, less-scrupulous worlds to conquer.
3) Xena: Warrior Princess
When Xena made her first appearance on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, she was nearly a full decade into a career of raiding and pillaging, before crossing paths with (the legendary) Hercules. But when Xena's army mutinies against her, Hercules, intent on putting an end to her destructive behavior once and for all, insists, "Killing isn't the only way of proving you're a warrior, Xena. I think you know that." Oddly enough, it works, and not long after, Xena thanks him — "You've unchained my heart" — before embarking on a mission to make amends for her past deeds and redeem herself in her own series, ultimately eclipsing Hercules in popularity, ratings, theme song, and diminutive sidekick.
2) Caprica Six
She's the temptress who entices Baltar into helping with the destruction of humanity, and even snaps a baby's neck at random. She beats the stuffing out of Starbuck. She's the archetypal nasty, ruthless villain. But over time, Caprica Six reconsidered a lot of her actions, and starts to question a lot of stuff that she's done. She winds up becoming a lot more sympathetic, and is one of the Cylons who chooses to ally herself with the humans — but she's still a badass fighter pilot who won't take any guff.
1) The Terminator
James Cameron's genius move in the second Terminator movie was to bring back the menacing, psychotic killer robot from the first movie as a benign protector. And yet, the Terminator remains totally bad-ass, taking out bikers and vehicles with total aplomb and wreaking total mayhem at every turn. Even after he's somewhat domesticated, swearing off murder for John Connor and starting to learn instead of just acting out his programming, the Terminator never stops being awesome. (Let's just leave Terminator 3 out of the equation, though.)
Thanks to Cecil Castellucci for the input!