Movie Reviews

10 Marvel Movie Villains Who Achieved Redemption

Summary

  • Marvel movie villains achieving redemption bring depth to the story of their superhero movies and franchises.
  • Characters undergo sacrifice and atonement for their past actions, gaining redemption in the process.
  • For some of the MCU’s sympathetic villains, their redemption arcs end in selfless acts.



Marvel movie villains that have achieved redemption are often the most compelling. Marvel movies are no strangers to sympathetic villains, thanks in no small part to the source material they adapt. This can often lead to significant redemption arcs for the villains that, more often than not, fly in the face of being evil for evil’s sake. From Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies to the entire MCU, this has led to a plethora of Marvel movie villains being as iconic as the rivals they are pitted against.

All those who found redemption may have started with decidedly nefarious motives (or fell into them later in their respective superhero franchises) only to see the error of their ways. Most last-ditch attempts to rectify the damage they wrought tend to end in sacrifice as they atone for their sins by paying the ultimate price. This isn’t always the case, however, with a handful finding other ways to remedy their past villainy.


Related

How To Watch the Marvel Movies In Order (By Release Date & In Order Of MCU Timeline Events)

Want to catch up before the next release, or just revisit the universe for a refresher? Here’s the order to watch the entire MCU timeline.


10 Loki Redeemed Himself Twice

Redeemed Himself In Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Loki Season 2 (2023)

Loki was one of the first sympathetic villains in the MCU when he was introduced in Thor. Though he is misguided, it is easy to empathize with the dejected younger brother of the bullheaded Thor and understand how he swiftly became a firm fan favorite in the MCU. His villainous turn in The Avengers, meanwhile, was far more difficult to reconcile with as he brought about the invasion of Earth and the deaths of several innocents. From that point, Loki had to work to earn good graces once more.


Though his atrocities pale in comparison to those of other violent MCU villains, Loki’s first road to redemption didn’t quite balance out the crimes he initially committed until his noble attempt to stop Thanos. Instead, his hard-won ascension to a throne where he ensures multiversal free will can thrive, and countless lives can be spared is more than enough. Loki’s willingness to endure an eternity of loneliness so that friends and strangers alike can thrive in these conditions is arguably one of the most heroic acts seen in the MCU.

Loki Season 2 Poster

Loki

Having escaped from a different timeline, Loki stars in his own titular series, where he learns about the life of his predecessor and discovers the truth of time and space. In the show, Loki reluctantly becomes a part of the Time Variance Authority (TVA), an interdimensional governing body that keeps time in order. On the chopping block, Loki is given a chance to save himself by helping the TVA hunt down someone more dangerous than himself – another Loki.

Release Date
June 11, 2021

Seasons
2

Streaming Service(s)
Disney+

Writers
Michael Waldron , Eric Martin


9 Darren Cross Stood Up To The Multiverse Saga’s Arch-Villain

Redeemed Himself In Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania

Darren Cross’ introduction in Ant-Man secured him as one of the most unlikable villains in the MCU thanks to his purely selfish motives. After his defeat forced him into the Quantum Realm, however, he was quite literally cut down to size as he became a pawn of Kang the Conqueror, whose aid forced Cross into servitude under the moniker MODOK. After helping Kang subjugate Quantum Realm denizens for several years, Cross would then rediscover his humanity and turn on his boss, losing his life after triumphantly declaring, “I am not a d*ck!

The MCU’s MODOK is a divisive figure as Marvel Studios took ample creative liberties with his origin story and characterization.


MODOK’s decision to disrupt Kang’s shields turned out to be pivotal in his defeat in the Quantum Realm. While the decision to have the Multiverse Saga’s big bad defeated in short order by one of the weakest Avengers is a questionable one, there is no denying he was weakened by the onslaught of giant ants that MODOK helped to herald. MODOK’s decision to make the ultimate sacrifice to help bring about Kang’s demise (as ineffectual as it may have been) was a significant about-turn for the erstwhile villain and proof that he could, in fact, act selflessly.

Ant-Man and the Wasp - Matt Ferguson

Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is a sequel to 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp and is part of the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. Jonathan Majors returns as a variant of He Who Remains from the Loki TV Series named Kang the Conqueror. In addition to returning cast members Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathryn Newton makes her MCU debut as Cassandra “Cassie” Lang, Scott’s daughter. When Cassie activates a signal to the Quantum Realm, she, Hope, Janet Van Dyne, Hank Pym, and Scott are pulled into the dimension, embarking on a chaotic journey the likes of which the Marvel Universe has never seen.

Director
Peyton Reed

Release Date
February 17, 2023

Runtime
135 minutes


8 The Silver Surfer Turned On A World Destroyer

Redeemed Himself In Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer (2007)

The Silver Surfer is an unusual entity whose villainy is purely dispassionate in the early stages of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. His job as the herald of Galactus is born out of necessity as he enters a deal with the world-eater to spare his homeworld and the life of his love interest. The problem is that it is still difficult to reconcile Norin Radd’s motives with the fact that he is exchanging countless lives for relatively selfish reasons.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer debuted the titular character at a time when a Silver Surfer solo movie was still on the cards, making his redemption arc inevitable.


Destroying the world-devouring cosmic being, and preventing further loss of life was, therefore, the best he could do. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer debuted the titular character at a time when a Silver Surfer solo movie was still on the cards, making his redemption arc inevitable. Still, the Silver Surfer’s relatively swift pivot from harbinger of doom to killer of a godlike being was enough to cement a heroism that would never be elaborated on.

Fantastic Four Rise of the silver Surfer Movie Poster

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is the only sequel to Tim Story’s 2005 introduction of Marvel’s First Family. Starring Ioan Gruffudd as Reed Richards, Jessica Alba as Sue Storm, Chris Evans as the Human Torch, and Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm a.k.a. The Thing, the 2007 superhero film marks the Silver Surfer’s live-action debut with Doug Jones portraying his motion capture and Laurence Fishburne providing his voice. The sequel also features Julian McMahon’s return as Doctor Doom and Galactus first big-screen appearance.

Director
Tim Story

Release Date
June 15, 2007

Runtime
92minutes

7 Xu Wenwu Subjected Himself To A Horrific Fate

Redeemed Himself In Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021)


Xu Wenwu is one of the MCU’s most pervasive villains with a legacy that spans decades. His Ten Rings subjected the world to a litany of atrocities, making his path to redemption a particularly difficult one. Nevertheless, after reuniting with his son and misguidedly attempting to resurrect his wife, Wenwu sacrifices his life to save Shang-Chi and bequeaths him with the Ten Rings that brought him untold power over the years. This death may not have been all that sufficient were it not for the horrific implications of having his soul eaten.

The redemption of the Mandarin extends beyond his sacrifice, however. After Iron Man 3‘s divisive rug-pull with Trevor Slattery and Aldrich Killian, Iron Man fans felt cheated by the treatment of Tony Stark’s iconic arch-rival. Wenwu’s MCU debut was a suitable retcon, rightfully establishing him as the powerful arch-villain he was supposed to be, even if it was at the cost of having him go toe-to-toe with Iron Man.


Shang-Chi Legend of the Ten Rings Poster

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the 26th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Simu Liu plays Shaun (Aka Shang-Chi), a valet living and working in San Francisco, along with his friend Katy (Awkwafina), when one day, his past comes knocking back at his door. To protect himself and Katy, Shaun reveals himself to be Shang-Chi and his lineage, with his father being the actual “Mandarin,” the leader of the Ten Rings criminal organization. His father is now reaching out to him, and his estranged sister and Shaun must head back to China to save his sister and figure out his father’s true motivations. Shang-Chi was one of the first films in the fourth phase of the MCU.

Director
Destin Cretton

Release Date
September 3, 2021

Runtime
132 minutes

6 Otto Octavius Went Down With His Ship

Redeemed Himself In Spider-Man 2 (2002)

Doctor Octopus’ descent into villainy was due to the inhibitor chip on his iconic mechanical arms turning him into a vicious adversary of Spider-Man. His initially virtuous intentions to create a clean energy-producing fusion reactor turned tenacious while under the influence of his arms’ AI, forcing him down a path of destructive villainy to complete his project at any cost. His disregard for human life and laws culminated in a final bout where Peter Parker’s intervention brought him to his senses, declaring “I will not die a monster,” before drowning the over-charged reactor and himself in the Hudson River.


One convincing fan theory states that Otto’s sudden change of heart was thanks to the events of
Spider-Man: No Way Home
, in which Holland’s Peter Parker fixed his inhibitor chip.

Octavius’ villainy is a lot easier to forgive given his arms’ influence. His ultimate sacrifice was ensured to prevent Peter from risking his own life, cementing his virtuous nature in spite of his arms’ apparent intentions. To date, he stands as one of the most beloved Marvel movie villains for the reason that he was barely a villain in the first place, with his self-sacrifice underscoring that notion.

spider man 2 1

Spider-Man 2

After defeating the Green Goblin, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man struggles with self-doubt in both his superhero career and his personal life. But when Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus threatens Peter Parker’s loved ones, the web-crawler must stay true to his heroic purpose and don the mask once again in this second installment of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.

Release Date
June 30, 2004

Cast
Donna Murphy , Alfred Molina , Tobey Maguire , James Franco , Rosemary Harris , Kirsten Dunst

Runtime
127 minutes


5 Bucky Barnes Has Been Redeeming Himself For Years

Redeemed Himself In Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Though it has occurred in just one timeline, Bucky’s long path to redemption in the MCU rivals that of Loki’s. Bucky would not immediately renounce his villainous ways after being introduced as the eponymous villain in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but would at least end the movie by saving Steve Rogers’ life. His crimes include several high-profile assassinations while brainwashed under the Winter Soldier mantle, with the most prominent of these being Tony Stark’s parents.


Since then, however, Bucky has been tortured by his villainous actions, undergoing a particularly lengthy redemption arc across several MCU appearances. His aid in the Battle of Wakanda and the Battle of Earth was enough for the US Government to grant him amnesty, though he has yet to forgive himself for his crimes. Nonetheless, Barnes has been long since forgiven by MCU fans, while his upcoming starring role in Thunderbolts* may be poised to grant him the ability to finally forgive himself.

4 Nebula Swears Vengeance For Her Villainous Past

Redeemed Herself In Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Along with her sister, Gamora, Nebula began her MCU tenure as a minion of their adoptive father, Thanos, and committed several villainous acts while still under his sway. It wouldn’t take long for Nebula to rebel against her father, however – though she would do so on the side of Ronan the Accuser and aid in his assault on Xandar. She would remain a sadistic thorn in her sister’s side until the latter half of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, where her sister would win her over to the team.


While Nebula retains her short temper and overly violent manner, she is now a bona fide hero who became integral to the fight against Thanos. Her most recent virtuous acts saw her rescuing Star Children from the clutches of the High Evolutionary and assuming leadership of Knowhere in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Her role in defeating Thanos and subsequent show of empathy towards others are ample evidence of Nebula’s redemption, whose villainous past was born of an exceptionally traumatic childhood.

3 Cable Has A Major Motivation Change

Redeemed Himself In Deadpool 2 (2018)


Cable burst onto Fox’s X-Men franchise with one decidedly morbid motive: to kill the 14-year-old Russell Collins before he would go on a murderous rampage in Cable’s future. This put him in direct opposition to Deadpool, who saw fit to protect the youngster from who he perceived to be a time-traveling villain. While Cable’s motives are somewhat understandable, the morality of killing a child is called into question by Deadpool, who ends up taking a bullet for Russell and changing the youngster’s life course.

After seeing that Deadpool’s heroism bore fruit, Cable traveled to the past to ensure that his bullet would not kill the de-powered mutant. His one-track mind finds a new course that does not involve killing Russell outright, thereby setting him firmly on a less morally gray trajectory in the present. The fact that Cable intended to kill Russell to save his own family is understandable, but his decision to refrain from killing a child is certainly preferable.


Deadpool 2 Movie Poster

Deadpool 2

The Merc With the Mouth returns in Deadpool 2, “the sequel to the first one.” Wade Wilson finds himself alone and without purpose until he reluctantly agrees to join the X-Men. Things take a turn for the strange when Wade finds himself in prison after trying to help a young mutant named Russell, and a time-traveling mutant cyborg arrives to slay Russell to save the future. Determined to save Russell and do the right thing, Wade creates a new team of heroes to fight back and save the world the only way Deadpool knows how – as ridiculously as possible.

Director
David Leitch

Release Date
May 10, 2018

Cast
Josh Brolin , Jack Kesy , Ryan Reynolds , Zazie Beetz , T.J. Miller , Shiori Kutsuna , Morena Baccarin , Karan Soni , Julian Dennison

Runtime
120 Minutes

2 Wanda Destroyed The Darkhold In Every Universe

Redeemed Herself In Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (2022)

Scarlet Witch is one of the MCU’s most tragic characters who, like many other sympathetic villains, has her mind tainted by an external force. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, this was the Darkhold, which Wanda intended to use to travel to universes in which her children are both real and alive. After massacring a number of people to get to them, she finds that her villainous streak puts her at odds with Tommy and Billy, prompting her to recognize the error of her ways.


Wanda then destroys the Darkhold Castle – the Darkhold’s place of origin – with herself inside, ensuring that every version of the Darkhold in other universes is destroyed along with herself. It is an exceptionally tragic end for the fan-favorite Avenger, who has only experienced the most intense hardships in her life. While hope remains that Scarlet Witch will return, her sacrifice ensures that her sins across the multiverse are absolved by destroying the tool from which evil so easily emanates.

1 Deadpool Was Redeemed In The Real World

Redeemed Himself In Deadpool (2016)


Though his solo franchise would go on to comprise Fox’s most successful X-Men movies to date, Deadpool’s debut was far from well-received. Deadpool began his cinematic career as the final boss in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where an unforgivably distorted version of the character wordlessly took on the eponymous hero. Wolverine would eventually emerge victorious, though Wade Wilson’s apparent survival teased a return that would never transpire – or, at least, not in the same guise.

After years of campaigning to adapt a more comic-accurate version of Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds would reprise the role in two celebrated R-rated solo movies. Reynolds would redeem Dedapool’s cinematic legacy in doing so, while pivoting the character to become a decidedly more heroic (if overly violent) version of the character that ironically adores Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. His fleeting tenure as a Marvel movie villain would be expertly referenced and put to bed in Deadpool 2, when he killed the previous version of his character.


Deadpool and Wolverine Poster Showing Wade Wilson's Swords Showing Hugh Jackman's Reflection

Deadpool & Wolverine

A sequel to the highly successful Deadpool and Deadpool 2 starring Ryan Reynolds as the Merc with a Mouth. The third film will be the first film in the franchise to be developed under the Marvel Studios banner following Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Ryan Reynolds is returning to play the character, alongside Hugh Jackman, reprising his Wolverine role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time. 

Director
Shawn Levy

Release Date
July 26, 2024

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