Some people can only take so much… Murderous brides and anti-terror squads star in our revenge movie top 10.
Of course, we all know revenge is a dish best served cold, but the shape, size and flavour of that dish has been the focus of endless films throughout the history of cinema. Revenge is its own genre at this point – going into a list like this, it’s important to consider all the different types of revenge films, not just pictures concerned with bloodletting.
Some of the finer revenge flicks are subtle, quiet movies where a burning desire for retribution drives the central characters, whereas others are fuelled by an angry fire of violence and bloodshed. Regardless, the destination of a revenge film is not nearly as important as the journey, and here are the ten most diverse, most intense, most compelling revenge films around.
10. Death Wish
Charles Bronson plays Paul Kersey, a man who becomes a street vigilante after his wife is murdered by a tribe of rogues in New York. Bronson’s role would define a sub-genre of revenge films – the vigilante picture where a mild-mannered citizen takes the law into his own hands. Despite the fact that Death Wish morphed into an almost comical version of itself over its four sequels, this original 1974 picture is important for the genre.
9. The Crow
Again, much like Death Wish, The Crow has become a cartoonish direct-to-TV mockery of the original Alex Proyas film, thanks to absurd ongoing sequels. Not to mention the untimely death of its star and prodigal son Brandon Lee on set, a tragedy that has since made the film infamous. Lee, as murdered rock star Eric Draven, who returns from the dead to avenge the death of both himself and his beloved, sinks into the darkness of his character and accentuates the ominous mood of the film. Proyas is a master of mood, and the gothic aura of The Crow make it timeless and tense.
8. I Saw The Devil
Korean revenge films owe their livelihood to a picture higher up on this list, and I Saw the Devil, from director Kim Jee-woon, fits the mould of brutally violent and angry revenge films that have become a staple of Korean cinema. The film stars Byung-hun Lee as a secret agent who quickly loses sight of his job, his dedication and his humanity once his pregnant bride-to-be is murdered by a serial killer. Not only is Lee’s character single-minded in his madness to find the killer, but the killer himself is one of the more disturbing in recent cinema.
Munich is routinely overlooked as a revenge story, but it may be the biggest, most impacting revenge story on this list for being a “true” story. Eric Bana stars in this Steven Spielberg picture as one of five Mossad agents hired to assassinate the terrorist faction responsible for the Munich Olympic attacks. Also starring a pre-Bond Daniel Craig, Munich is often overlooked as one of Spielberg’s better, more adult, more thrilling films of the new millennium.
Brian De Palma’s 1976 film is one of the more seminal horror pictures of a great decade, and a revenge film that grows stronger scene by scene. Carrie is a film where you root for the one seeking revenge, simply because the people they’re after have been disgusting human beings. Carrie’s telepathic powers are hinted at throughout as she is bullied in school. So when Carrie lets loose at prom, after pig’s blood is dumped on her in front of everyone, the audience can’t help but think, “they all asked for that.”
5. Mad Max
Mel Gibson plays a policeman who seeks vengeance in a post-apocalyptic Australia after his wife and child are run down by a motorcycle gang. This original Mad Max is still the best and most visceral of the three films, full of mood and atmosphere. The art direction is also one of a kind, still immediately recognisable to fans of film. Mad Max launched the career of a young Mel Gibson, and would spawn two sequels that are worthy in and of themselves, though they lack that same thirst for vengeance.
Some may overlook Gladiator as one of history’s best revenge flicks, mostly because it’s often grouped in as an epic historical adventure. But Gladiator is, at its base, a very focused and driven revenge film, with a true hero, Russell Crowe’s Maximus, and a true and wicked villain in Joaquin Phoenix’s wimpy, power hungry monster of an emperor. Maximus’s family is murdered, his command stripped away, and his life ruined by jealousy, and his revenge drives the entire picture to its thrilling final act.
Many consider this Korean bloodletting to be the ultimate tale of revenge, perhaps because it is a story of simple focus and direction. A man is captured and imprisoned for no discernible reason, kept alive and fed in a prison room for more than a decade, then inexplicably set free. Naturally, he sets out to find those who are responsible. What makes Oldboy such a fierce film, however, is its inventiveness, and shocking twists and turns that keep the viewer off-balance amidst a straight revenge tale.
2. In the Bedroom
This Todd Field picture may be easy to overlook when it comes to revenge films because it is not the typical hyper-stylized, hyper-violent action revenge film. In the Bedroom is an intimate, human tale about a family torn apart by tragedy and a father and a husband (Tom Wilkinson in an Oscar worthy performance) who goes to desperate lengths to seek revenge. In the Bedroom is a sharp and poignant film with heartbreaking performances all around, and a slow-burning climax that will forever haunt the viewer.
1. Kill Bill (The Whole Bloody Affair)
Quentin Tarantino’s flashy and unforgettable epic revenge saga is unmatched in cinema for its depth, style and richness of character and visual mastery. Tarantino went back to the revenge flick well in 2012 with Django Unchained, but it didn’t come close to the tale of the Bride and her systematic assassination of those responsible for her near-death. Uma Thurman, in her last quality screen role, is perfection as a beauty with an evil side, and all of the supporting cast members, from Michael Madsen to Bill himself, David Carradine, are at the top of their game.
Featured image: Showbox/Mediaplex
Inset: Columbia, Miramax, Entertainment Film Distributors, Showbox/Mediaplex, Dreamworks, United Artists, Warner Bros, Universal, Tartan Films, Miramax