The Adrenaline Makeover is a particular form of Character Development for action genre entertainment that disguises itself as a Love Trope. It's what happens to a Shrinking Violet, or a Girl Next Door who finds herself embroiled in an adventure situation. It is most common in movies, but has been known to turn up in other media.
The Adrenaline Makeover candidate is almost always or was Beautiful All Along. But at the beginning of the story, our heroine is mousy, shy, wearing the bad glasses, the frumpy clothes, etc.
Sometimes she's secretly, unknowingly, the Hot Librarian, or a case of late blooming gorgeous. Sometimes they're gorgeous but shy, or otherwise mild-mannered because they have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good in a male-dominated field; and being sexy equals not being taken seriously; and being aggressive is considered a negative trait for a female—at least, in this part of the story. Less frequently, she's a teenager going through this, which results in I Can't Believe a Guy Like You Would Notice Me at some point during the transformation.
The usual progression of the trope has the character starting out blinded to the world by their academic pursuits. She's in trouble that she needs assistance to get out of, resulting in a hero showing up and helping her through an epic adventure. The adventure distracts her from maintaining her frumpiness; the hero is there to rescue her, to help her de-frump, and to fall in love with her, making her realize as she returns his affections that if she'd just shaken out the hair and dumped the glasses before, she might have gotten a hot hero guy that much sooner.
By the end of the movie, she's come out of her shell, cast off her shyness, and come into her own in her own field. She takes a level in badass, amps all the way up to Action Girl, and joins the guy in his field, and they become a Battle Couple.
This often happens to make The Chick more palatable to men (and sometimes, "more exigent" females), and to add that romantic element so that action movies can also be date movies. The recipient of the Adrenaline Makeover is almost Always Female, though a Non-Action Guy can occasionally also get a Makeover.
The Adrenaline Makeover has Unfortunate Implications, as it can be viewed as a contradiction of the Be Yourself trope. This trope can also be viewed as implying that a woman is not desirable just as she was; she was not worth noticing or the hero's interest until her adventure-triggered transformation took her from plain to pretty.
- After she saves Athrun's life and ends up having to defect from ZAFT as a consequence, Meyrin Hawke from Gundam Seed Destiny switches from a rather modest cadet uniform and Girlish Pigtails to a tighter jacket/pants combination and wearing her long hair loose.
- Youko Nakajima from The Twelve Kingdoms is a more subdued version. She starts shy and mousy in her dark grey school uniform, becomes a Dark-Skinned Redhead Action Girl in Chinese clothing after being Trapped in Another World, later is seen in regal clothing when crowned as the Queen of the Kei Kingdom (but switching to her traveler outfits whenever she leaves the palace).
- In UFO Robo Grendizer, when the Yamato Nadeshiko Hikaru Makiba decides to toughen up and become an Action Girl, her wardrobe changes from flowing dresses to miniskirts and boots.
- Inverted with Maria Grace Fleed. When we meet her, she wears skin-tight bodysuits; when she properly joins the cast, she keeps them as fighting clothes and begins wearing dresses and flowing skirts as civilian outfits.
- Subverted in Tantei Gakuen Q. Kuniko Tooya drastically changed her looks between a very traumatic incident and her arrival to Class A, but takes her much more than that to fully blossom. It doesn't hurt that in the process we discover she'd been a case of Beware the Nice Ones from the start...
- Blade of the Immortal has Rin Asano, who starts out so weak that she hired Manji in order to protect her life while she tracks down the man who ordered the murder of her father and rape of her mother. Cut to about 20 volumes later, when Manji has vanished without a trace. Rin starts kicking ass and taking names all the way into Edo Castle and doesn't stop until she's in Manji's cell. When he finally sees her again, he actually doesn't recognize her right away.
- Shirin Bakhtiar from Mobile Suit Gundam 00. After being an assertive and outspoken adviser to princess Marina Ismail in the first season, while wearing presumably typical flowing court dresses, she switches to baggy pants and tight T-shirts when she becomes a rebel against The Federation in the second season.
- Monster: Tenma is a rare male example, which is odd, considering that the hotter he gets, the more the other characters will tell him that he looks awful and too skinny.
- Homura Akemi from Puella Magi Madoka Magica, who lets her long hair down and gets rid of her glasses after going though several different timelines and failing to save her beloved Madoka in every single time. This is actually a plot point: she changes her looks specifically so Madoka won't recognize her as the quiet Meganekko with long braids that she befriended at the beginning.
- In a male example from Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Simon goes from adult Simon to a taller Kamina look-alike when he's going to go save Nia from the Anti-Spirals.
- A rare villainous example happens in Victory Gundam. War orphan Katejina Loos starts the series rather modestly dressed and with a headband keeping her long blond hair in order. When she joins the Zanscare, she starts using tight military uniforms and puts her hair in Braids of Action. By the end of the series, as she has become a really Ax Crazy Dark Action Girl, she gains more cleavage and lets her hair loose.
- Persona 4: The Animation gives the male Yu one, involving letting his uniform jacket hang open.
- Mousy lawyer Jennifer Walters becomes the 6'6" green supermodel superhero She Hulk, though it's not adrenaline that does it so much as deadly radiation. It's played with in more recent stories, where she starts taking her normal meek persona more seriously and comes out of shell as Jen as well, without letting her hair down or taking off the glasses.
- In The Incredibles, there's no Love Interest involved, but it's fighting for her life and her family that causes Reluctant Hero Violet Parr to come out of her shell, learn a new power, and quit hiding behind her hair. In the same movie, getting back in the hero game inspires her bored father Bob to slim down (and bulk up) and have more fun with his family.
- Incidentally, the guy at school Violet was pining after only notices her post-adventure. Slightly understandable, since before she only had the confidence to lurk behind the scenery staring at him.
- Arguably, Mulan is a somewhat reverse example of this, as in order to become a kickbutt swordswoman she has to hide her beauty, but that doesn't stop her from looking fantastic in the final battle with Shan-Yu.
- A male version of this happens in The Thief and the Cobbler, combined with Clark Kent Outfit.
- Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon suits himself up with dragon-riding gear, gains some confidence, and finishes out the movie looking even more hardcore with a prosthetic limb.
- Jane Porter's clothes and hair change in Tarzan over the course of the film, it starts with her wearing her hair in a bun and in a large yellow dress, when she brings Tarzan back her hair is loose, and she starts wearing a shirt and skirt and occasionally goes barefoot, when she falls in love she's wearing loose fitting clothing, and by the end of the film she's wearing animal skin like Tarzan.
- Chris in Adventures in Babysitting is played from a slightly different angle. She finds out during a night of running from gangbangers and criminals that her boyfriend is cheating on her because she won't put out. She gets everybody safely home, parents none the wiser, and gets a nicer, new, upgraded boyfriend when all is said and done—all without changing her look. Then again, she doesn't really need to change her look—a running gag/subplot of the film is the Identical Stranger who is the current Playmate of the Month, for whom she is repeatedly mistaken.
- Fantastic Four: Sue Storm, a.k.a. the Invisible Woman. She was acknowledged as extremely beautiful from the very beginning but she was the "hair in a bun, glasses on the face" science girl. Starting from the moment they get back to earth, she starts wearing the hair down and ditches the glasses. The movie progresses through her reconciling with Reed, and by the end of the movie they're an Adventure Duo plus two. By the sequel, she's way more skilled with her powers and takes no crap, even from Reed.
- The remake of The Hills Have Eyes, when the nerdy pacifist protagonist shed a few layers of clothing, broke out the weaponry, and stomped off to avenge his family and cause some serious mutant pain.
- The Indiana Jones movies avert this trope. All the women in Indy's life are spitfires. Yes, they still fall in love with him, but they don't go from frump to bombshell in the process.
- The Mummy 1999: Evy is a dressed down Hot Librarian as the movie begins. She's prim, easily offended, and rather stiff, but brainy. But because she's the object of desire for the Card-Carrying Villain, of course she has to be dressed up properly to be a Virgin Sacrifice (or the closest thing to it). Along comes Rick, and along the way they fall in love. By the end of the movie, she's completely calm about all the insanity she's encountered, and madly in love with her rescuer. By The Sequel, she's leveled up, and she and Rick are a Battle Couple, which carries over into the Animated Series. Not only that, but she is a Mama Bear as well.
- Romancing the Stone: Joan Wilder is a mousy, reclusive romance novelist. But when she gets in over her head in Colombia, Jack T. Colton is there to help her out—for a price. Along the way, after he chops the heels off her shoes and tosses her suitcase full of sensible business suits into the jungle, they ride a mudslide, swing on vines, and do the sort of things she writes about in her novels. By the midpoint of the movie, her hair is down and she's dip-dancing in Jack's arms. By the end of the movie, she's no longer mousy or reclusive. By The Sequel, Joan's backslid a little and goes through the transformation a second time.
- The Saint: Emma is a shy, nervous nuclear physicist who is brilliant enough to have invented Cold Fusion. She meets Simon in one of his aliases, and it's Love At First Sight. Once she gets over being astonished that a man like him would notice her, she's so worked up she has to take her heart medication before they go to bed. But he betrays her. Incensed, Emma throws off the meek mouse persona and tracks him down. Along the way, they're pursued by the Russian Mafia, and by the end of the movie, she can do a 100 yard dash, and doesn't need her pills anymore.
- In the original ending, she was going to die of heart problems, but test audiences didn't like it.
- The Terminator: Sarah Connor is a simple young woman who has a waitress job at a family restaurant. By her own admission, she can't even balance her own checkbook. She's meek, and mild-mannered, but smart enough to know bad things are happening when people with her name start dying. Then Kyle shows up. Once she's done being scared to death of him, they fall in love, and by the time the movie ends, she's got the first few experience points toward taking her level in badass. By the time of The Sequel she's a full-fledged Mama Bear you don't want to mess with.
- Helen Tasker in True Lies. The meek housewife ditches the glasses, the hairdo, and the frumpy clothes that concealed her incredible physique. By the final scene, she and hubby are apparently Battle Couple.
- Arguably, Tristan in Stardust is a male example, as he gets a makeover in the mundane sense from the Camp Gay Captain Shakespeare at the same time he becomes a more competent and heroic character.
- Tank Girl has a Les Yay example. Jet Girl is meek and mousy, and lets the Water and Power mook push her around until she makes friends with Tank Girl. By the end of the movie, Jet has quit stuttering, is telling off people on the radio, and cowing the Reavers when they cross her.
- Lucy in The Frighteners starts out as a beleaguered widow, a little frumpy, and a doctor who's not taken seriously by the patients of the male doctor she occasionally replaces. After the events of the movie, she ends up with Frank, the hero, in more ways than one.
- Ellie Sawyer of My Science Project starts out as a dowdy, glasses-adorned nerd, eventually losing her hairpins and glasses in the midst of the action. In the end, though, she's still a nerd—just a more attractive one.
- Over the course of the three films, Elizabeth Swann of Pirates of the Caribbean loses the corset, lets her hair down, and gets the upgrade from Damsel in Distress to Action Girl (Captain Swann!)(Pirate King Swann!), which debatably results in better outfits in the process.
- Guy Pearce in the remake of The Time Machine.
- Somewhat of an inversion with Annie from The Invisible. She starts out brutal, violent, and dressed in guys' clothes, no to mention the leader of the school bullies. As she realizes the consequences of her violent life, her bad choices, and the fact that Nick was more like her than she gave him credit for, she feminizes—beginning to wear her hair down, and her clothing less gender neutral.
- David/Bud in Pleasantville starts the film as a shy, downtrodden loner who gets beamed into his favorite wholesome 50s Sitcom. Halfway into the story, he's forced to help the town firemen put out a fire (all they did previously was rescue cats from trees), subsequently gets a date with a cheerleader, and rescues his mother from a gang of thugs. From that point on, he becomes a strong, competent leader whose insights and bravery eventually bring color and life to the previously sterile black-and-white world he's (temporarily) living in.
- Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumnus Alien from L.A. is built on this trope, as applied to Kathy "Dull Surprise" Ireland's adventures Beneath the Earth in search of her Disappeared Dad.
- Wesley in Wanted is a quiet nebbish who hates his life and apologizes for everything, even things that aren't his fault out of reflex. He knows his best friend is sleeping with his girlfriend, and just takes it. The morning after he meets Fox about 25 minutes into the film, he goes back to the life he hates. His boss Janice gives him crap, and he realizes he could take Fox up on her offer. He walks out showing the first inkling of being a Badass, and the transformation continues into the movie.
- Another male example, Morgan Sullivan of the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Cypher begins as an awkward and insecure mid-level suit who takes a job in industrial espionage. In the process of inventing and adopting personality and character quirks for his cover, confidence noticeably grows in his posture and speech patterns, he begins smoking and knocking back scotch casually, then loses the glasses and tie while dressing and hairstyling more fashionably.
- Evey Hammond of the V for Vendetta film begins as a meek, conventionally pretty pushover of a women, but after V's done with her (most noticeably her shaved hair) she is independent, fearless, and (if I do say so myself), much more striking.
- Averted with Stationery Voyagers. Since Neone is a highlighter marker; with her cap on, it's impossible to tell if she gets more or less sexy underneath as a Voyager than as a prostitute.
- On Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle goes from a mousy wannabe bard to a sai wielding Action Girl over the course of the series, inciting a very dramatic change in retrospect.
- Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer starts out as a wimpy nerd and becomes one of the most powerful characters in the series by the end of the show. Although she has a few romances along the way, her transformation isn't a direct result of any one of them.
- Juliet from Lost had many traits of someone before the makeover: meek and somewhat of a pushover. Her hair was even styled very intricately. Then she joined the Others. Flashforward to her introduction in the series where she let her hair down and was the Badass Stoic who didn't take crap from anyone. Not even her boss.
- Dana Scully of "The X-Files" started off the series as a painfully serious, straight-laced, everything-by-the-book agent who wore unfashionable blazer/skirt combos. By the end of the series, she no longer as uptight and has embraced the idea of the paranormal. On top of that, the frumpy plaid pantsuits are gone and in their place are more flattering clothes.
- In Final Fantasy IX, Princess Garnet starts off very shy, awkward around commoners, and unsure of her future status as Queen. She's still beautiful and useful in combat (especially after she gains her summons), but has this whole Disney Princess thing about her. But about 3/4 through the game, she decides to be more daring and uses Zidane's dagger to cut her hair short, and her personality becomes more forward. Even her profile pic changes to a front-facing smile instead of the previous distant stare.
- Yuna from X to X-2.
- In Odin Sphere we have Mercedes. She starts her chapter as a manipulatable, spoiled princess who just can't stand frogs who are so gross! At the end of it she is a Queen that defeated the Demon Lord Odin and is widely respected by her kingdom even though she's just a teenager.
- Tenchu: As seen in Tenchu 2 (a prequel), Ayame never took ninja training seriously, and thought of it all more of a game than anything. But then the guy she loved got amnesia, killed the whole village where she was trained in, killed his master (which was also her foster father), fell in love for another woman; and Ayame was forced to kill him. Some years later she became a Deadpan Snarker Action Girl, naturally.
- Keira was stuck in the same crop-top and capris ensemble for the first five games. When she finally goes on an adventure with Jak and Daxter in Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier, she gets a new shirt, new jacket, new pants, new boots, and two pistols. The only part of her original outfit are her goggles.
- Anya from Gears of War will fit this trope in the third game, if the previews are any indication. Justified because humans are going extinct, and Word of God states that every available body is needed for battle.
- Also applies to Queen Myyrah, who, after the flooding of the Locust Hollows and the current Lambent Invasion, has donned her battle armor and personally leads the remnants of the Locust in battle from atop her Tempest warmount.
- Liara goes through a rather darker variant in between Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Unlike most examples, it's not necessarily for the better.
- Completely Zig-Zagged with Ciem: Candi undergoes so many transformations that are either straight adrenaline makeovers or attempts at hiding, that it gets downright confusing. When she dyes her hair red and cuts it, she could be said to look less attractive.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender. Pictured above: Katara begins the series as the Team Mom, dressed practically (she is from the South Pole), but as the series progresses and the seasons/latitude/climates change, she literally lets down her hair, and we get occasional shots of her in underwear or midriff-baring outfits. It should be noted her regular Water Tribe outfits (the clothes she wears most often) are still very practical, and she bares a lot more skin in the Fire Nation islands, which are mostly tropical and volcanic.
- One episode of Jem had Kimber ask Synergy to turn her into someone "hard and mean". Synergy gives her a (naturally) holographic "hard and mean" look, but then proceeds to try to convince Kimber to reconsider, which she does.