Main Entry: 1re•venge – Date: 14th century – 1: to avenge (as oneself) usually by retaliating in kind or degree 2: to inflict injury in return for.
Although the word has only existed since the 14th century, I’m pretty sure the idea has been around since day one (Thorg thinking it hilarious to spice up Krak’s sandwich with pterodactyl dung possibly spurning the first act of retaliation…) as it’s an instinctive personal concept of justice and what better form of visceral entertainment could there be than that?
With the release of Universal’s revenge-themed ‘Wanted’, I wanted to put together a list of my own favorite revenge flicks and came up with ten plus several honorable mentions depending on the genre.
Some of my favorite films are part of this list so that just goes to prove that revenge is a dish best served cinematically…
Tread carefully if you don’t want any spoilers…
One of the most epic, sprawling examples of vengeance ever put on celluloid, Russell Crowe became a star before our very eyes with his glowering, intense and haunting portrayal of Maximus Decimus Meridas, whose wife and son were killed by power-hungry Commodus (a seething, villainous Joaquin Phoenix).
Not willing to die, Maximus has to rise up through the ranks of gladiators for a chance at revenge.
I generally prefer my retribution more personal but who can deny those great final moments where indeed, despite thousands watching, Maximus only has eyes for Commodus.
Also see: ‘Ben-Hur’, ‘Braveheart’
9. Mad Max:
Another Aussie star-making turn with similar thematic parallels to the above (with the protagonists even sporting the same name!), Mel Gibson is Max Rockatansky, a cop patrolling the highways of a post-apocalyptic Australia, whose life becomes suited for only one purpose when a vicious biker gang murders his wife and baby.
A great sci-fi and action pic in its own right, it’s also responsible for countless knock-offs. Mad Max is one of the best actions films of all time with its sequel ‘The Road Warrior’.
Also See: ‘Robocop’
8. I Spit on your Grave:
Also known as ‘Day of the Woman’, this low-budget rape-revenge shocker was considered “The Most Controversial Revenge Film Ever Made!” at the time. While the violence has tamed a bit (although still considerable for non-exploitation fans), I Spit on your Grave still has any number of great comeuppance moments for a group of rednecks who chose the wrong woman to assault (to put it mildly..).
Roger Ebert called this pic a “vile bag of garbage” so it’s definitely not for everybody.
Also see: ‘The Last House on the Left’, ‘Ms. 45′, ‘Thriller: A Cruel Picture’ and ‘Freeze Me’.
7. Get Carter (1971):
Lean and mean, the film is like Jack Carter (Michael Caine), a vindictive London gangster who returns to his smaller hometown of Newcastle to investigate the ‘accident’ that resulted in the death of his brother.
When Carter finds out that it was no accident, Hell hath no fury like a Jack scorned. Get Carter is ruthless, brutal and one of the best, if not the best, British gangster flicks around.
I’ll forgive Caine for showing up in it’s laughingly opposite 2000 remake with Stallone.
Also see: ‘Point Blank’
6. Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2:
The most famous and apparent example of a revenge flick in recent memory, Quentin Tarantino’s massive 248-minute paean to vengeance (volume 1 and 2) would probably top most people’s lists for revenge flicks.
While it contains more wrath per minute than any other film on the list, it doesn’t quiet feature that gut-punch that’s supplied in my higher-ranked pics.
It’s still a vastly entertaining journey following ‘The Bride’ as she wakes up from a four-year coma discovering that her baby is dead and immediately sets out to kill who wronged her.
Also see: ‘The Crow’
5. Straw Dogs:
Banned in the UK until 2002, this jaw-dropper from Sam Peckinpah is an extraordinary example of a cinematic settling of scores.
Dustin Hoffman (no doubt scaring the bejesus out of theater patrons who showed up on his name alone expecting something more akin to ‘The Graduate’ and ‘Little Big Man’) is perfectly cast as nerdy American mathematician David Sumner who moves with his English wife to a small village in England to disappear into his work.
Through a variety of fish-out-of-water mistakes, David gets on the local’s bad side and when his wife gets raped, this sets up the vicious home-invasion climax where the ‘intellectual’ has to stand up to the ‘physical’.
4. The Virgin Spring:
The Virgin Spring is the original rape-revenge flick that Wes Crave widely acknowledged to be the inspiration for his ‘The Last House on the Left’.
Winning the Best Foreign Language Academy Award, Ingmar Bergman made a somber, chilling narrative based around revenge when a young virgin daughter of peasant parents is raped and murdered in medieval Sweden and the father (Max Von Sydow) is fatefully given an opportunity for justice when the murderers unknowingly come calling for shelter.
The film is admittedly not action-packed, but remarkable filmmaking revolving around reprisal nonetheless.
3. Death Wish:
Based on Brian Garfield’s novel (who was also responsible for last year’s revenge-themed ‘Death Sentence’ with Kevin Bacon), this vigilante pic hit a chord with the public and resulted in an action-career for Bronson that would last well past it’s expiration date as well as four Death Wish sequels.
No matter, this original ‘Death Wish’ is a stream-lined, effective story of a mild-mannered architect Paul Kersey whose wife was murdered and his daughter raped by a group of thugs and whose escapism visit to Arizona has him come back a gun-carrying vigilante who aims to finish the job the police can’t finish.
Also see: ‘Death Sentence’, ‘Rolling Thunder’
Any entry in Chan-Wook Park’s fabulous self-anointed revenge trilogy (which, in addition to ‘Oldboy’, includes ‘Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance’ and ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengeance’) would justify a spot in the top ten, but I ultimately went with the most well-known.
The film has gathered big news lately with Steven Spielberg’s proposed remake with Will Smith.
A verifiable feast for action and cult fans, a man is imprisoned for 15 years for unknown reasons and then inexplicably released. Watch in wonderment and horror as he plots his revenge and unravels the mystery behind his imprisonment.
1. Once Upon a Time in the West:
Revenge is a common theme in Westerns, but I can’t think of any time its been more effectively handled than within Sergio Leone’s masterpiece ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ who cast the steely blue-eyed Henry Fonda against type as an icy villain who is hired to make sure nothing stands in the way of a railroad.
When he offs the family of Claudia Cardinale (Jill McBain), she enlists the services of Cheyenne (Jason Robards) and Harmonica (Charles Bronson) to make things right in a film that would rank in my top ten favorites of any genre.
Also see: ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’, ‘High Plains Drifter’
I put together a rather formidable list and other notable mentions I couldn’t squeeze in to this list including: ‘Gangs of New York’, ‘Man on Fire’, ‘Memento’, ‘Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet St.’, ‘Carrie’ and ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ (2002).
Agree? Disagree? Miss any? Feel free to offer up your own thoughts below.Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.