10 Profound and Poetic Movie Character Redemptions

By  · Published on March 15th, 2012

by David Christopher Bell

It seems that when it comes to tales of good and evil – we often see anything besides good winning and evil losing as some kind of a cop out. Like… we’d rather see the villain fall to their death or be eaten by hyenas than learn the error of their ways -something that’s more than evident in Disney films, which have featured both killer hyenas and high places.

But, you know – when a bad guy ultimately turns good, if done right, it’s way better to watch. More often than not they still usually end up dying horrible, so there’s that too, but at least they die good.

There’s probably going to be a lot of spoilers below.

10. Red In Pineapple Express

So in the case of Danny McBride’s character Red, death isn’t really an option for his redemption… it certainly seems like one but as he proves over and over again it’s just not for him. Instead he’d rather make up for his somewhat dickish deeds with raw stamina and unwillingness to bleed out like so many others would be doing had they been shot and blown up as much as he had. The best part is that his wrongdoings were in no way proportional to his punishment – sure he was kind of an ass and did throw some punches and runs away from a fight, but in return he gets tied up, shot, and engulfed in flames.

Probably the best moment of redemption for Red has to be after he has been shot twice, and in what he assumes is his dying moments he sets himself up next to his toilet with a knife eating ramen noodles and drinking wine coolers. That has to be the best last stand in a movie ever.

9. CJ In Dawn Of The Dead

CJ seemed like your typical zombie apocalypse asshole right from the start – and as one you kind of assume his fate. Clearly he is going to do something stupid or cowardly and find himself being torn to shreds by zombies as some kind of gratuitous display of movie karma – at least that what we’re set up for. However this isn’t CJ’s fate as this film proves to be a little more dynamic than what you’d expect from it.

CJ works hard, at first against his will, to defend the group – and then as he does so he just kind of slowly transitions into someone you love. It’s strange really, because at the beginning of the movie you just can’t wait for him to die, and then when it comes to that moment you find yourself actually hoping that he’ll pull through, that he’ll make it. It comes as a surprise because he’s changed so gradually that you can’t really even pin down when you start to like him. The reason is that while his actions and intents change, his attitude doesn’t – even in his dying breath he still shows only indignant hatred for the entire situation.

8. Francis X. Hummel In The Rock

What? The Rock’s a fun movie, OK? You think you’re better than me?


This one can be seen from a mile away as Hummel, despite being the main villain, seems to also be the voice of reason amongst the group of soldiers he has led into terrorism. It’s clear from the first time he loses control over his men in the shower room as they fire on a group of infiltrating solders that he’s in way over his head. He spends the better half of this film in a constant battle with his own morals more than any one person.

When it’s crunch time and he finally has to either act of back down – a missile hurtling toward San Francisco – that’s when we finally see his true colors as he disables the weapon at the last moment. When he orders his men to back down things go sour and he makes a full 180 in a matter of seconds, giving his life to protect the innocent. Good for him.

7. Garland Greene In Con Air

Yes, I’ll be going with two Nicolas Cage action films in a row, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re helpless to stop me.

Garland’s turnaround in this film really does come as a surprise. His character doesn’t actually serve the action or the plot or anything besides being redeemed. It’s like they give us this wild card, and then never play it. The film introduces this character that is so rotten in his deeds that he is transported like an angry rhino – they really hype him up. Even once he is free on the plane it takes him forever to open his mouth, and of course when that happens he only gets crazier.

Then comes the moment when it is just him and a little girl, which is like watching a pit bull and a mouse side by side. At this, his first opportunity to go back to his horrific ways, he instead chooses to recognize aloud that he is in fact a sick person. He spares the girl and gets back on the plane, only to become the only bad guy in the film to never see justice, but instead is let loose in the city of Vegas.

The character is interesting because if you take him out of the film, nothing changes. He’s his own little side story throughout the film.

6. Sorter In Revolver

Sorter spends the better part of this film simply as a really, really badass hired gun. He does his work with great precision and without any passion – nothing is personal about it, he’s like the Terminator with a bald spot.

That’s why the above scene comes as such a surprise in the film – we finally see Sorter’s line, the line he will not cross. It happens when the group of thugs he is with begins to torture a man right in front of his daughter – Sorter will have none of that, systematically killing all the other henchmen while assuring the girl that what she is seeing is all just a game that grown ups play. It’s a wonderful mix of compassion and brutality as he takes his rivals out with the same lack of emotion he’s always shown.

This movie does a great job of pointing out how much the ego rules our decisions, and how easy it is to worry about being feared or respected over your own personal morals. Sorter’s moment of redemption is just one more reminder that we have the power to do what’s right.

5. The T-800 In Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Kind of a gray area; there is no moment when the T-800 model Terminator changes his mind and decides to save instead of destroy. In fact he’s not even the same robot in the second film but just the same model type. But when we see this robot stopping at nothing to kill Sarah Connor in the first film like some kind of mechanical Michael Myers it’s really nice to see that same relentlessness put toward saving her in the second film. Suddenly all the warnings of Kyle Reese, that it doesn’t know remorse, or pity, or fear, suddenly it’s all to their advantage. To quote John Connor, “Cool! My own Terminator!”

The third film, had it been good, could also work for this as the Terminator sent back is actually the exact same robot that successfully killed John Connor in the future – which is pretty damn cool… had that movie been good.

4. Col. Nicholson in Bridge On The River Kwai

This is a weird one because Nicholson starts as a decent man, and remains one for most of the film – it’s just that his intents are somewhat misguided to the point of sending him completely askew. He and his men have been captured and brought to a Japanese prison camp during WWII – while Nicholson is put in confinement for protesting his officers being put to work, the rest of the captured are used to erect a bridge for the Japanese that will have a great strategic importance during the war. That’s when he takes a big turn, when he takes it upon himself to prove the worth of his men to the Japanese by ordering his men to build the best goddamn bridge they possibly can.

As he gets more and more involved in proving the craftsmanship and work ethic of his solders, he completely forgets that he’s working for the enemy. That is, until the very end when in his dying breath he realizes what he’s done, and blows the bridge up himself. Excellent explosions all around. Good man, Alec Guinness.

3. Professor Severus Snape In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Pt 2

Had to happen. Professor Snape’s beginning, middle, and end during this series had to be the most satisfying character development in the whole damn series. Better than Harry Potter himself, Snape truly sacrifices everything for love, and for what’s good. It’s not even really redemption when you think about it, he never actually goes bad – he just does bad things for the greater good. And the whole time he has to take the cold gazes of contempt he gets from Harry, stares coming from eyes that only remind him of the one he is doing this all for – the one he loved, Harry’s mother. That’s some hardcore shit right there.

And he barely gets any credit! How can he? His last moments are weeping after being repeatedly bit by a giant snake, and all Harry can do is gape at him while he dies, only to later learn just how much he gave for him.

2. Darth Vader In Return Of The Jedi

No surprises here, although if you ask me it was too little too late. Sure he saves Luke and throws the Emperor in that big hole or whatever… but he also killed an entire planet. After wiping out a whole planet it’s pretty hard to fully redeem yourself, you know? There’s nothing really you can take back or do to fix the situation, you can only feel really, really bad about yourself. And not once does Vader ever really say, ‘Oh and sorry for killing that planet.’ Not once! But hey – he’s like the poster boy for redemption so he earns his place on this list for that and that alone.

One question – what do you suppose happened to all his stuff? Like… after he dies and the war is won and all that… who gets all those neat ships and his breathing suit and that stuff? I know there were more important things to think about but I’ve always wondered if Luke held on to that suit. I would have.

1. Oskar Schindler In Schindler’s List

Yeah, sorry Vader, Schindler clearly wins here, after all – he’s a real person.

It’s just that with most of the other occasions where a character starts off in a position that needs redeeming and proves themselves in the end, there is this satisfaction that comes with it. They’ve vindicated themselves – and are usually able to rest easy because of that. But Oskar Schindler – faced with a camp of Jewish men, women, and children that he has spent his life’s fortune saving from massacre – all he can think about are the few more he could have spared. His car, his pin, all could have been traded in for the freedom of others. He’s saved over a thousand but he weeps at not doing enough – and he’s absolutely right.

Starting the film as an eager war profiteer, making money from and friends with the Nazis, you can’t really come back from that fully. Of course, he did pretty damn good – but there’s never going to be a point in his life where he is going to feel fully absolved. Not at least from his own conscious. That of course, is what makes him a good person.

What are your favorite redeemed characters?

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