A Look at Some of the Best Revenge Movies
Revenge is a dish best served cold, unless it is served on the big screen – which always goes better with popcorn. Here is a look at some of the best revenge films and a few you might not often see make the list.
James O’Barr’s graphic novel series of revenge was brought to life on the screen thanks to the incredible performance of the late Brandon Lee (who died during the making of the film). The film bleeds atmosphere from the second it starts with director Alex Proyas making the most of its gothic/punk setting to tell the story of Eric Draven, who comes back from the dead to bring revenge to the men who killed him and his fiancée.
Although it does stray from some of O’Barr’s elements in the comic, everything in this movie works and continue to make it one of the best films to come out of the 90s. Lee is simply haunting in the role of Draven and makes sure the audience truly cares about more than seeing him kill the bad guys on the screen. He also shows compassion through his interactions with Darla, Sgt. Albrecht and Sarah.
Behind his white-painted harlequin mask of death, Lee makes every movement and line count. The film also features a great villain in the truly evil Top Dollar (Michael Wincott). The Crow’s success and cult following would lead to sequels that ruined just about everything that made it great, but it is still one of the best revenge tales ever brought to the screen.
Screen icon Charles Bronson shows just how far a normal man can be pushed before he pushes back as he takes on the role of architect Paul Kersey, who lives with his wife and daughter in New York City. Life is good until Kersey’s wife is killed and his daughter raped during a home invasion. Dealing with the grief as best he can, Kersey is sent to Tucson, Arizona, and returns to New York with a gift – a .32 Colt revolver.
Later, Paul uses the revolver when he is attacked by a robber – which leads to more death as Paul takes on a new life at night as a vigilante bent on cleaning up the streets of New York City of the scum that prey on innocent people.
Based on Brian Garfield’s novel, Death Wish gave a franchise to Bronson as the character would return in sequels to make sure the guilty continued to pay, and gave birth to a number of knock-off films. The first film is dated by today’s standards, but manages a gritty realism that continues to shock with its use of violence on screen.
Although it is far from a great movie, 2010’s Faster belongs on the list simply for the intense performance of Dwayne Johnson. From the second the film starts, Johnson is like a bullet shot from a gun in his quest to even the score for the killing of his brother by a gang.
The film tells its backstory as Johnson’s Driver is released from prison (where he was serving a sentence for the robbery that led to the death of his brother by another gang of criminals) and starts methodically working down his list of victims and killing them all.
The movie gets muddled down with a subplot of a hitman Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) and his new bride Lily (a beautiful Maggie Grace), but manages to keep the pace as full-throttled as the title would suggest.
Johnson makes the most of a character who barely speaks, and isn’t too interested in hearing people’s apologies for their mistakes. Throw in a heroin-addicted Cop (Billy Bob Thornton), and Faster manages to entertain despite its flaws.
One of the best British gangster films ever made and featuring an incredible performance from a chilling Michael Caine, 1971’s Get Carter followed Jack Carter returning to his small hometown after the death of his brother. Although it was called an accident, Carter goes to work uncovering the truth and punishing all who had a hand in the deed.
In 2000, the film got a slick remake with Sylvester Stallone taking on the role of Carter, a mob enforcer who goes back home to settle the account of his brother’s death and face off against a sleazy Mickey Rourke. The film tried to match the grittiness of the original and has some good moments. It doesn’t quite manage to live up to the original (even with Caine providing his talents), but it is always great to see Stallone do his thing – even if he tries to force a catch-phrase or two into the film.
The film that brought back the sword and sandal genre to the big screen is as straight-forward a revenge ride as you can get.
Roman general Maximus Decimus Meridas (Russell Crowe) is betrayed by the new emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), and his wife and son are put to death. Maximus finds a new life and a road to vengeance in the arena – where he begins his plan for revenge to the thrill and cheers of the crowd.
Gladiator doesn’t break new ground the in the sword and sandal genre, but manages to make the film feel truly epic. The action sequences are incredible to watch, and Crowe gives one of the best performances of his career. Gladiator also manages to rise above simply being a blood and guts film thanks to elements of political intrigue, love interests, and a performance from Phoenix that makes you truly hate the villain character.
Fans of the genre can also check out the Starz Network’s Spartacus series for another look at a gladiator who decided Rome must pay for the death of his wife and set about bringing the empire to its knees. Like Gladiator, the series manages to be more than just blood and guts thanks to its rich characters and use of setting.
Nothing is more dangerous than a woman scorned, and Uma Thurman is out for blood in Quentin Tarantino‘s two volume epic Kill Bill. The movie is by far one of the best revenge flicks you can hope to watch, and also a love letter to all the great Chinese martial arts films and Italian spaghetti westerns that helped paved the way for the director.
The movie follows the Bride after she awakes from a four-year coma and discovers that her baby died in an attack by her former gang of assassins. Willing herself to walk again and remembering all her training, the Bride sets out on a bloody road of vengeance as she hunts down each member of the gang, saving Bill for last.
Kill Bill is a visual treat from start to finish, and fans of Tarantino’s style of filmmaking will find lots to love. Given the film’s love of blood spraying, it is not for the squeamish.
Set in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Australia, Max Rockatansky (Mel Gibson) patrols the burned-out highways to protect people from the vicious gangs that prey on them for resources. Max goes from protector to victim when a biker gang kills his wife and baby. He hits the road in a quest to even the score.
Mad Max gave birth to a great franchise that never tried to be more than a gritty look at a future world that is controlled by violence. Mel Gibson crafted a character than would become an icon in the post-apocalyptic genre.
Rather than worry about things like character development and romance, Gibson and director George Miller keep the camera focused on the massive road stunts and high speed action sequences. The sequels never quite lived up to the greatness of Mad Max, but are worth taking the time to watch as well.
3Once Upon a Time in the West
The greatest of all revenge-themed westerns, Once Upon a Time in the West broke the mold for how to make a western and continues to be one of the best movies ever made.
Director Sergio Leone crafted a film that continues to get better with multiple viewings and saw Henry Fonda break type as the film’s villain who is willing to do whatever is needed to fulfill his job with the railroad. This leads him to kill the family of Claudia Cardinale (Jill McBain), and puts him on the road to a collision with the killers Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and Harmonica (Charles Bronson) she hires to even the score.
The film is long, filled with atmosphere, and not for everyone – even some western fans might not like what they see. It is also one of the greatest revenge films ever made and ranks at the top of many lists.
2Payback, Payback: Straight Up the Directors Cut, Parker and Point Blank
Donald E. Westlake (who wrote this series under the pseudonym Richard Stark) created a character meant for revenge. He was simply called Parker and was a career criminal who lived by his own sort of moral code. The character has appeared on the big screen several times, and while he has yet to get the adaptation he deserves, they have all been great revenge flicks.
Lee Marvin kicked things off with the 1967 film Point Blank, based on Westlake’s The Hunter. The film sees Marvin in the role of Walker – a criminal who is double-crossed and left for dead by his partner and wife following a robbery. Walker recovers and spends the rest of the film getting revenge and his $93,000.
Mel Gibson took on the role in 1999’s Payback (which later got a much better director’s cut with the release of 2007’s Payback: Straight Up – The Director’s Cut). Also based on The Hunter, both cuts of the film have several flaws, but Gibson is spot on as Parker. It is a gritty performance and could have been a great franchise for the actor. The plot follows the same formula as Point Blank with Gibson’s Porter being double-crossed and spending the rest of the film trying to get his $70,000 back. It also blends some humor into the story with some working and some ruining the film.
Director Taylor Hackford and actor Jason Statham took on bringing Westlake’s Flashfire to the screen with the 2013 film Parker. Statham is solid in the role of Parker and Hackford crafts a solid action film. Sadly, there isn’t enough of Parker in Statham to separate the character from the other generic action characters he has brought to the screen. The plot sees Parker heading to Palm Beach, Florida, to settle a score after he is left for dead on the side of the road. Statham nails how ruthless the character can be, and also his sense of right and wrong.
In 1990, director Tony Scott and actor Kevin Costner teamed for the gritty and violent action film Revenge (which got a shorter and better unrated director’s cut in 2007). The movie follows the revenge formula to the letter, but it holds up nicely thanks to its talented cast and the visual style of Scott.
Costner takes on the role of retired U.S. Navy pilot Michael J. “Jay” Cochran, who moves down to Mexico for a vacation and to hang out with his rich friend Tiburon “Tibby” Mendez (a great Anthony Quinn) – who also happens to be a ruthless crime boss who is married to Miryea (a beautiful Madeleine Stowe). The plot moves fast as Michael and Miryea begin an affair, and Tibby discovers the truth. The discovery sets Michael on a quest to save Miryea and get his revenge on his friend Tibby.
Although it is far from the best work of Costner or Scott, Revenge is worth watching thanks to its gritty turn after Tibby discovers the affair, and the way Scott doesn’t shy away from the violence caused in the discovery’s aftermath (even more so in the shorter director’s cut).
Without a doubt, the revenge genre delivers some of the most intense films to the big screen. These are some of our favorites, but there are many more that belong on lists.