Best Revenge Movies

15 Best Revenge Movies of All Time

[nextpage title=”15 Best Revenge Movies of All Time”]Last week, Eli Roth’s Death Wish was released into cinemas with all the subtlety and nuance of a sock full of batteries to the face. In the middle of a nationwide debate about the role of guns in American culture, Death Wish once again proves that Hollywood liberals are out of touch with the common man; they are bleeding hearts who have no connection to the realities of urban violence from their perches on Beverly Hi… Oh no, it’s about a vigilante with a big gun who kills criminals. OK.

In this remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson-starring classic, Bruce Willis stars as a upstanding citizen who turns to violence when his wife is murdered and his daughter attacked. No matter how, err, problematic the original film’s politics, it still stands up as a classic of the revenge genre. Movies about revenge, frankly, are cool, and revenge stories have held sway over audiences at least since Euripides started jotting down ideas for cool, vengeance-fuelled tragedies in Ancient Greece.

Here are the 15 Best Revenge Movies of All Time.

15. V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta Natalie Portman

Do you want to know a cool word that sort of means the same thing as “revenge”? How about “vendetta”? And guess what, it starts with a “V.”

In 2005, James McTeigue and the Wachowskis adapted Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel for the big screen. Set during a dystopian future in which Great Britain has become a theocratic, fascist state, V for Vendetta tells the story of V (Hugo Weaving), a man who dresses up as Guy Fawkes to wreak havoc on the totalitarian regime.

The product of human experimentation in a bioweapons program (that was eventually used on British subjects), V has ample reason to wage his one-man war against the state. While V for Vendetta may not be the most subtle movie ever made about totalitarian politics, it certainly gets its audience invested in the outcome of V’s, er, vendetta.

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14. Django Unchained

Django Unchained Jamie Foxx

The first, but not the last, Quentin Tarantino movie on this list is about a freed slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), who happens upon Calvin Candie, the slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) that owns his wife (Kerry Washington). With the help of an enlightened Bavarian bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), Django seeks his revenge against Candie.

Tarantino tackles the horror of slavery in this revisionist Western, which (like Inglourious Basterds before it) provides some emotional catharsis in allowing its characters to right a historical wrong. The revenge here is taken in response to slavery itself, which ripped Africans from the homelands, from their cultures, and transplanted them onto the plantations of the deep South. This is an act of violence that still has reverberations today, and yet, the film also works as a revenge story, ending in a redemptive, emotionally rewarding bloodbath that would make Sam Peckinpah blush.

 

13. Cape Fear

Cape Fear Robert Mitchum

While most of the films on this list ask us to side with the avenger, Cape Fear asks what we would do if somebody decides to seek vengeance against us. In this 1962 J. Lee Thompson film, Robert Mitchum plays rapist Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), who tracks down Sam Boyden (Moby Dick star Gregory Peck), a lawyer who testified against him in court.

Boyden is a family man with a teenage daughter to protect, and as Cady stalks and harasses his family, the situation gets more and more tense. Bowden finds himself stymied every time he tries to use the law to push Cady away from his family. Like many revenge movies, Cape Fear asks uncomfortable questions about the impersonal rule of law in the face of extremely personal acts of violence, but it asks these questions from the perspective of the law-abiding citizen, rather than the avenger. Martin Scorsese memorably remade the film in 1991 with Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro playing the Peck and Mitchum roles.

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12. Death Wish

Death Wish Charles Bronson

One of the most controversial films ever made, Michael Winner’s Death Wish shows us the transformation of bleeding heart liberal architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) into a heardened and punitive vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter raped by hoodlums (one of whom is played by a young Jeff Goldblum).

Does the film advocate for citizens to take justice into their own hands? It leans that way, but it certainly isn’t as morally atrocious as the four sequels it produced, which amp up the death rates as Kersey finds more and more reasons to kill criminals in the streets. Whether you can stomach the film or not, it offers an indelible image of New York City in the 1970s, ravaged by urban poverty and urban blight.


11. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

What? A Star Trek film that’s also a revenge film? Sounds great! But hey, it’s this franchise that gave us the old Klingon proverb “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

As Trekkies already know, the second Star Trek feature brings back Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) from the original series. In the episode “Space Seed,” the genetically engineered despot Khan and his band of Übermenschen were exiled on a remote planet by Kirk (William Shatner) and the Enterprise crew, but they didn’t realize that the planet would be left barren by the explosion of another, nearby planet. The ensuing years were harsh and torturous, but Khan and co. survived.

In The Wrath of Khan, the titular tyrant seeks vengeance against Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, and in turn, we get the best Star Trek film yet (slightly edging out the one with the whales).

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10. I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil

Kim-jee Woon’s I Saw the Devil is nearly two and half hours of brutal, bloody thrills, but you won’t regret watching it if violent and twisty Asian genre movies are your thing. In this film, National Intelligence Service officer Kim Soo-hyung (Lee Byung-hun) comes across the mutilated corpse of his wife, which sets him on a path of vengeance and fury as he tracks down the psychopath who did it.

This film works with its extended runtime because it functions as an endurance test as well as a thriller, playing out across several locations all over South Korea. We also see this story play out from the perspective of the murderer, who continues on his spree of sexual violence even as he evades Soo-hyung. It’s a daunting experience, but totally worth it.

 

9. The Outlaw Josey Wales

The Outlaw Josey Wales

God Clint was always going to have to make at least one appearance on this list, and it will be his 1975 directorial effort The Outlaw Josey Wales. Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Unforgiven is also a great revenge film, but Eastwood’s character only gets all vengeful in the final act.

In this film, Eastwood plays the titular Outlaw, who seeks vengeance against a pack of pro-Union militants who murdered his wife and son by joining a Confederate guerrilla group in the American Civil War. Even when the war is over, he avoids surrender, becoming the titular outlaw as he tracks down the people who murdered his family.

One fun fact about this film is that Philip Kaufman (Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Right Stuff) was the director during the early stages of filming, but Eastwood had him fired for moving too slowly.

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8. John Wick

John Wick Keanu Reeves

Where would we be if we were talking revenge films without bringing up ol’ John Wick? In what could perhaps be described as a revenge meta-text, Keanu Reeves plays a former enforcer for the Russian mafia, who was brought out of the crime world by the love of a woman (Bridget Moynahan).

When that woman dies, she leaves Wick an insanely cute Beagle pup to help him cope with her death. And when Russian gangsters, not knowing who Wick is, kill the puppy, Wick comes out of retirement to get his revenge. There isn’t much more to the plot than that. It’s simply a story about one man avenging his dead puppy, but that’s all you really need. The sequel, Chapter 2 is also worth checking out for the great action, but the ever-evolving mythology of special, luxurious, assassin-lodging hotels fails to provide the raw emotional jolt of the first entry.

 

7. Man on Fire

Man on Fire Denzel Washington Dakota Fanning

As Christopher Walken intoned in the trailer for this 2004 revenge thriller, “Creasy’s art is death, and he’s about to paint his masterpiece.”

Man on Fire follows alcoholic ex-Marine John Creasy after his gig as a bodyguard in Mexico City is interrupted when the child under his protection (Dakota Fanning) is kidnapped by a drug cartel, or something. Creasy, who became something of a surrogate father to the girl, takes the kidnapping pretty seriously and takes it upon himself to get her back through a series of vicious and violent encounters. Don’t ask how Creasy literally puts the bomb inside of a guy that he blows up.

Directed by Tony Scott at the peak of his “let’s shoot this with 20 cameras at once” phase, Man on Fire is a kinetic assault on the senses and a viscerally good time, but only if you can take pleasure in some of the film’s more depraved moments.

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6. Memento

Memento Guy Pearces

What do you get if you spell “revenge” backward? Nothing meaningful, but if you tell a revenge story backward, you get Memento, an indie thriller that put Christopher Nolan on the map as a singularly talented filmmaker.

Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a man suffering from a form of memory loss that prevents him from creating new memories, meaning that his last memory is of two men attacking him and murdering his wife. Now, Leonard tattoos messages to himself on his body which help him track down his wife’s killer.

Nolan’s biggest trick here is to tell the story from the end to the beginning, providing the audience with an enticing, puzzlebox structure that foreshadowed great things to come from the filmmaker.

 

4. Mad Max

Mad Max Mel Gibson

Sure, we all know about Furiosa in George Miller’s reboot, Mad Max: Fury Road, but how many of us have seen the original Mad Max, where the whole story started? This low budget Australian exploitation film (“Ozploitation,” if you will) gave Mel Gibson his first starring role as “Mad” Max Rockatansky, who straps on some leather chaps to track down the futuristic biker gang that murdered his wife.

People familiar with the aesthetics of Fury Road (or even The Road Warrior, the bigger-budget 1981 sequel) might be surprised at how rough-around-the-edges the original film is. Nevertheless, it sets the template of the Mad Max films, with titular angry Max travelling around a dystopic Australia after the collapse of society, running into various gangs of resource-hoarding BDSM enthusiasts. It’s raw, it’s real and it’s very influential. It’s Mad Max.

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3. Oldboy

Oldboy

In this famous South Korean film from Park Chan-wook, a drunken businessman (Choi Min-sik) is kidnapped and then locked in a room for 15 years with no human contact, just a TV that allows him view the world outside, where his wife has been murdered and he is the prime suspect. Then, one day, he wakes up on a rooftop, and seeks revenge against the people who murdered his family and imprisoned him for so long, using a newfound knowledge of martial arts that he developed by, uh, watching TV all day.

Oldboy immediately connected with audiences when it came out in 2004, even earning the praise of Jury President Quentin Tarantino when it played at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the Grand Prix award. It’s a stylish, disturbing work of art that will stick with you for days after your first viewing. No one forgets the film’s main character shoving a living octopus down his mouth.

 

2. Point Blank

Point Blank Lee Marvin

The granddaddy of all revenge movies, Point Blank stars Lee Marvin as the stone-faced Walker, who hunts down the man (John Vernon) that betrayed him during a heist and stole $93,000 in loot. Filmed in a bare-bones, utilitarian style that spurns pointless exposition, Walker tracks down his money by working his way through “The Organization,” one man at a time.

The film wasn’t a hit at the time, but it’s become the template for revenge movies in the years since. John Boorman’s minimalist formalism has proved especially influential for films about strong-willed men who speak with their firearms. (In other words, there is no John Wick without Point Blank.)

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1. Kill Bill Vol 1 + 2

Kill Bill Uma Thurman

The second Quentin Tarantino film on this list, Kill Bill: The Whole Bloody Affair (as the two volumes put together are sometimes known) is a 4 hour epic of revenge that swaps styles at will, riffs on spaghetti Westerns, Yakuza films and Shaw Bros. kung-fu movies as well. It’s an utterly ridiculous, but also infectious piece of filmmaking that shows Tarantino at the top of his game.

The film follows The Bride (Uma Thurman), an assassin who leaves her wayward life behind to settle down to a quiet life, until her former lover and old boss, Bill, arrives with his gang of assassins to beat her to death on her wedding night, killing everyone else at the ceremony. The Bride survives the night, but when she wakes up from a coma, her baby is gone and she wants revenge.

The “gimmick” of this film is that each member of Bill’s Deadly Viper Assassination Squad has a different style, with its own corresponding film genre. O-ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) is a Yakuza boss (despite being half-American and half-Chinese), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) is living a suburban home life, while Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) and Budd (Michael Madsen) are living in the desert, letting QT riff on his love of Westerns.

The movie is incredibly entertaining, showing off Tarantino’s skills as a writer and director in their purest form. It’s the last whole feature film that Tarantino worked on before moving onto his “historical period,” and perfectly encapsulates his appeal for a whole generation of filmmakers.[/nextpage]


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