Heroes to Villains: Films Greatest “Heel Turns”

Ryan Aday

In the world of professional wrestling, the good guys are “baby­faces” and the bad guys are called “heels.” A “heel turn” is when a good guy becomes a bad guy and is a common occurrence in both film and television. The character we thought we should be cheering for, and assumed was the hero, turns out to be bad to the bone. Often serving as a punch in the gut, a “heel turn” can really affect a viewer who is invested in a film. Recently, my daughter was so disappointed to watch Assistant Mayor Bellwether, literally a wolf in sheep’s clothing, turn against the good citizens of Zootopia and try to kill their hero, Judy.

The film characters listed below were introduced as “baby faces,” and yet within the plot turned to reveal their true nature; none of these characters were brainwashed or suffered psychological trauma that led to their turns. These films may be critically acclaimed or critically trashed, but the heel turns are truly memorable.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – Thor

We are introduced to Loki as the brother of Thor and son of Oden, ruler of Asgard. He is part of Thor’s gang who travels around the galaxy, defending the realm. Loki and Thor have been raised together and have fought side by side since they were young . However, when Loki finds out he is not a true son of Oden ­and is actually the son of Laufey, leader of the rival Frost Giants­, he feels betrayed. He plots against his father and the entire nation of Asgard sends a killing machine after his brother and offers his father up to his sworn enemy. In the Avengers, we know Loki is the heel, but in our original introduction, we are taken aback by his treacherous turn.

Madison Lee (Demi Moore) Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle 

For decades, Charlie Townsend has led a group of three beautiful women who work as private investigators to fight crime and corruption in Los Angeles: the Angels. Among the most successful of these is Madison Lee. Her history with the Townsend Agency is legendary and her accomplishments heavily influence the current crop of Angels. When the top secret H.A.L.O. (Hidden Alias List Operation, which is everyone participating in witness protection) becomes at risk, Madison agrees to help the Angels in their investigation of this heist. However, during the investigation, Madison turns on the Angels ­revealing that she is indeed the mastermind of the heist. She plans to sell the rings for a huge payday­ and shoots at them atop the Griffith Observatory. Throwing away a history of public service is often a theme when good characters go bad; Madison lost her legacy when she chose money over principles. If re­-watching the film, be sure to be on the lookout for yours truly in the high school reunion scene.

Prince Hans (Santino Fontana) – Frozen

When Princess Elsa is of age to become Queen, every major monarch of the land comes to Arendelle. Among these dignitaries is the handsome Prince Hans of the Southern Isles. Elsa’s sister, Anna, is immediately smitten by him and they click on so many levels that they decide to get married. The now Queen, Elsa, forbids the marriage and because she can’t “Let It Go,” exposes her secret powers and runs away. With Elsa gone, Anna is in charge and next in line would be her fiance, Hans. When they finally bring Elsa back, Hans becomes the first true Disney heel turn that I can recall and reveals that he only was marrying Anna to get to the throne. He leaves her for dead and sets out to kill Elsa. Prince Hans is the epitome of a true heel turn: we never expect him to be evil by any of his previous actions. Rather, until he turns, we always believe him to be Anna’s perfect prince.

Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze (Kevin Spacey) – The Usual Suspects

Possibly the most famous heel turn in movie history is Verbal Kint, a hobbled con man who gets involved in a plot way out of his league. He is one of two survivors from a shootout related to Keyser Soze, a criminal boss whose violent accolades have led many to believe him a myth. When Kint is brought into questioning by the police, he tells the story of the rag­tag group of criminals brought together by a man named Kobayashi who informs them that they have crossed Soze in some way. The only way for them to get off Soze’s “To Kill” list, is to destroy close to $100 million worth of cocaine on a Hungarian ship, which results in the shootout.

Many believe Kobayashi to be Soze, and most say he isn’t even real. When all the story is told, the police have no grounds to hold Kint and he limps out of the police station after making bail. Walking towards his car his limp begins to diminish and he begins to walk normally; we realize that this cripple, whom we have taken pity on, has been the criminal mastermind, Keyser Soze, all along.

These heel turns in film swerve the audience’s perspective. What we believe to be true is shifted in a shocking and almost unbelievable way. Good filmmakers will have left subtle hints, like bread crumbs, that we can follow to hints about where and why the character became evil or was evil all along. When someone betrays those closest to them that is when it hurts the most. It feels like this:

Ryan Aday
Ryan is a former college athlete with a degree in Communication from Point Loma University. He is also a 5-time Game Show Contestant (Incl. Wheel of Fortune) and decorated fantasy football player (Fantasy Football Evolution National Champion Runner-Up). Mr. Aday is kind to animals.
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