Iago (Gilbert Gottfried) in The Return of Jafar
As far as evil Disney animals go, Iago was the tits. He was Jafar the evil sorcerer’s right hand bird and pretty evil in his own right. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his master, despite the terrible treatment he received. In short, nobody cried for that little shit when he (spoiler alert for people that time traveled to this article from pre 1992*) got sucked into the lamp with Jafar at the end of Aladdin.
Iago’s redemption comes in The Return of Jafar, the totally-inferior-to-the-original sequel to Aladdin. Iago escapes the lamp and, to his credit, doesn’t free Jafar. But he intends to basically swindle Aladdin so he’s still at least an asshole at this point. Long story short, Jafar eventually escapes and Iago ultimately has a change of heart and rescues Aladdin and his crew, almost sacrificing himself in the process.
Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) in Evan Almighty
If you remember anything from Bruce Almighty it’s probably this scene featuring Steve Carrell’s news reporter Evan Baxter. Evan was such an asshole that Bruce (Jim Carrey), temporarily imbued with the powers of God (Morgan Freeman), cursed him on live TV. Well Evan apparently learned the error of his ways because the film’s sequel focuses on him. Yes, Evan is not only reformed, but now a family man…and a member of Congress? Okay, so the film didn’t really make much sense, but Evan was now a good guy. God picked him to be Noah 2.0 and everything. That’s right, Evan builds an ark and gathers up a bunch of animals. That’s pretty heroic, right?
Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in Rocky III
Apollo Creed was Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) rival in the original Rocky and its sequel. Despite being a completely cocky asshole and ultimately losing his title to Rocky, Creed goes on to become Rocky’s trainer and friend in Rocky III. Granted, Apollo has some Machiavellian purposes behind training Rocky but they eventually become best buds. Hooray for homoerotic training montages!
The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Terminator 2
One of the quintessential “villains turned heroes”, the Terminator (T-800 to you, pal!) makes amends for completely terrorizing Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the original film by looking after her and her son John when a newer, deadlier Terminator comes after them in the sequel. Although on the other hand, this isn’t even the same Terminator from the original film. And it’s not like this Terminator had a change of heart or anything, he was just programmed to protect the Connors. Holy crap, my universe is shattered!!!
Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/Various) in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
This is it. The big one. Darth Vader and his dastardly deeds don’t really need an introduction. I will, however, point out that the Sith Lord destroys an entire planet at one point, so keep that in mind.
Vader’s redemption comes at the end of the third film, after 2+ films of villainy. At this point, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) knows that Vader is his father and believes that he’s still a good person. The evil Emperor Palpatine takes matters into his own hands and is essentially torturing Skywalker to death when Vader suddenly picks up his evil master and throws him down the Death Star’s garbage chute. Vader saves his son and essentially the galaxy but the cost is his life. At least his ghost gets to hang out with the ghost of Obi-Wan and Yoda now!
*I’m aware that this article may have traveled back to pre 1992 and not the other way around. This is the internet, after all.