Rising to the Top: 8 Best TV and Film Character Transformations

Sometimes the most inspiring characters are the ones who change the most, improving themselves through hard work, training and sheer determination. They end up heroes, but they didn’t start out that way. Here are our very favorite outcast transformations from the small and big screens.

1. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce (Alexis Denisof), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
When Wesley was first introduced as an adversarial replacement for Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) as Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) Watcher, he was just plain annoying: pretentious, untrustworthy and useless in a fight. By the time he shows up on the spinoff Angel, though, he’s changed into a freelance demon hunter who, in time, proves himself adept and much beloved.

2. Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts), Erin Brockovich
Few transformations are as inspiring as the real-life one of a cuss-happy single mom who becomes an unlikely legal advocate. Erin insinuates herself into her lawyer’s practice after losing her own case, starts asking questions about a series of unexplained illnesses in a small town and ends up winning big for them and reinventing herself along the way.

3. Ayra Stark (Maisie Williams), Game of Thrones
As a noblewoman-in-training, Arya was truly awful, greatly preferring the company and skills of her brothers. But she dedicates herself to her sword training and then, faced with having to fend for herself, becomes a tough, fearless little “boy” and ultimately a powerful symbol of survival.

4. Will Hunting (Matt Damon), Good Will Hunting
Repressed mathematical genius Will is squandering his talent working as a janitor, keeping loved ones at bay and getting into fist fights until faced with a choice: Go to jail or go into therapy with Sean (Robin Williams). He learns to open up and starts to face his fears—and accept his own potential.

5. Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis), Harry Potter
Bumbling and ridiculed as a youngster, Neville (Matthew Lewis)—who is raised by his grandmother after his parents are tortured into insanity by Death Eaters—is basically good at just one (unsexy) thing: Herbology. But his bravery, depth of character and practiced skill transform him into a crucial defender of Hogwarts.

6. Peggy Olsen (Elisabeth Moss), Mad Men
When Peggy first appears at Sterling Cooper as an awkward, insecure secretary, we catch just a glimmer of her potential. But her intelligence and determination shine through as she progresses from assistant to gifted copywriter to sought-after advertising creative. Her arc is downright awe-inspiring—especially given the “disadvantage” of her gender during the era.

7. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Star Wars
Raised by his aging aunt and uncle on a desert planet, Luke longs to become a pilot but is consigned to working at their moisture farm until Obi-Wan Kenobi reveals his true heritage and destiny. Initially reluctant, Luke then dedicates himself to hard-core training and eventually becomes a Jedi master, leading the rebellion against the Empire and proving himself both great and good.

8. “Prez” (Jim True-Frost), The Wire
Cops don’t get much worse than Prez, a Baltimore detective who is lackadaisical at best and grossly incompetent at worst. As soon as he finds some police work he’s actually good at, he makes a fatal mistake: accidentally shooting and killing an undercover officer. But that life-shattering event makes him reassess, leave the force and become the kind of inspiring teacher who changes kids’ lives.

If you liked Mad Men, you just might like RECTIFY on AMC’s sister network SundanceTV. Check out the trailer below then click here to find out how to catch up before RECTIFY Season 3 premieres on Thu., Jul. 9 at 10/9c.