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16 Great Revenge Movies Worth Hunting Down

by The Playlist Staff
March 8, 2013 1:56 PM
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"Kill Bill Volume 1" and "Kill Bill Volume 2" (2003/2004)
Quentin Tarantino’s two-part revenge film “Kill Bill” is easily the most obvious pick on this list, but as a whopping two-parter that spans about four and a half hours, it’s the modern day mother of revenge movies, and we’d be remiss if we omitted it (also, you’d hate us). In case you’ve lived under a rock, it’s about a bride, a former member of an assassination squad, who is betrayed and left for dead by her former leader and lover. The story of The Bride (Uma Thurman), often told in flashback, spans several continents and eras, including time in Japan, China and several parts of the U.S. What can we add to the “Kill Bill” films that hasn’t already been said? Well, the first one is more lean and mean, arguably the tighter film and more of a kung-fu movie more than anything else. The second one, much slower in pace, but with more inspired moments, is part samurai/kung-fu training film and part modern spaghetti western. It’s the more rambling of the two, but arguably has more soul. Perhaps the most significant element of the “Kill Bill” films is that they mark a pivotal point in Tarantino's career. The movies began an era where he would recontextualize/recycle/pilfer old movie scores for his films, and mash up his favorite genres for his own ends (though “Jackie Brown” was arguably a slightly obvious mash-up of the ‘70s afro exploitation movie and ‘70s crime movie). And, perhaps most importantly, the films gave Tarantino the ego boost to write long, wandering narratives that need not adhere to studio notes or the accepted nature of three-act structures, for better or worse.

"Kind Hearts and Coronets" (1949)
One of the more convoluted and wide-ranging revenge plots on this list -- and a rare comic cinematic take on vengeance, Ealing comedy classic "Kind Hearts and Coronets" might not be obviously filed under the category 'revenge movie,' but you'd be forgetting its protagonists motivations if you defined it as anything but that. Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) is a scion of the aristocratic D'Ascoyne family in Edwardian England. But his mother was disowned by the rest of her relatives for eloping with an Italian opera singer. She died in poverty, with the D'Ascoynes refusing to even let her be buried in the family vault, while Louis is shunned and refused employment by them. As a result, he sets out to take the title of Duke of Chalfont for himself by systematically offing the relatives who stand between them, every one of which is played, hilariously, by Alec Guinness. We shouldn't have to sing the praises of Robert Hamer's film here; it's an indisputable pitch-black comedy classic from the first scene to the last. But it's worth recalling the vengeful backstory next time you watch it: it's an incisive and smart look at class and snobbery in Britain (Edwardian or otherwise), even if it was probably wise, in terms of avoiding ugly stereotypes, to make Louis' heritage Italian, rather than Jewish as it is in the book.

"The Outlaw Josey Wales" (1976)
If you've been reading the tweets and interviews by James Mangold about his upcoming film, "The Wolverine," and its influences, you might think the oft-namechecked 'Josey Wales' is a raw, bloody and brutal revenge movie (the type he says he's aspiring to make). And while brutal events do take place and the body counts were probably pretty shocking for their time, 'Josey Wales,' is almost tame by today's standards. But much more significantly, its tone and mood is far less dark and much more comedic than you'd expect. And the revenge therein is very circuitous. Clint Eastwood stars and directs his fifth feature-length film as the titular Josey Wales, a simple Missouri farmer whose life is ripped away from him when his wife and son are slaughtered by a group of rogue Red Leg soldiers post Civil War conclusion. Left with nothing, Wales joins another gang of pro-Confederate Bushwackers tracking the same men, and swears revenge. He cuts a swath through West Texas, killing anyone who gets in his way, including gunning down an army of Red Leg soldiers with a Gatling gun. Wales' reputation soon grows and bounties mount up on his head. But on the path to revenge, and despite wanting to be a lone wolf, he befriends an old Indian and a young squaw, and Wales softens. He and his friends rescue some Kentucky wagon train pioneers and they eventually settle down together on a farm as a cooperative commune. Wales then calls a truce with local indian warriors and reveals a side of himself that prefers life to bloodshed. Revenge, however, has a way of finding him, even when he's made his peace with the past. Well shot, directed and paced, this is easily one of Eastwood’s best directorial efforts and a Western up there with some of Sergio Leone’s best.

"Point Blank" (1967)
The Mel Gibson-starring, Brian Helgeland-directed "Payback" isn't a terrible film, especially in its more recent Director's Cut guise. But as a take on the same source material as John Boorman's stone-cold-classic "Point Blank" (like the later film, based on "The Hunter" by Richard Stark, a pseudonym for Donald E. Westlake), it doesn't make much of an argument for the necessity of its existence. In the original, Lee Marvin stars as Walker (rather than the Parker of the novel -- a character seen only a couple of months ago on screen in the form of Jason Statham), a criminal who's double-crossed by his best friend Reese (John Vernon), who makes off with both Walker's wife, and $93,000 that he's owed. Things are complicated because Reese has used the money to pay his debts to a secret syndicate known as the Organization, who aren't willing to give up such a hefty sum without a fight. Marvin, fresh off winning an Oscar for "Cat Ballou," personally picked out the then-unknown Boorman for the film, and it's one of the smartest decisions he ever made; Boorman brings a zippy, New Wave style to the film, a fractured timeline and dream-like feel proving endlessly influential, and genuinely groundbreaking for the genre. But it's not just an empty stylistic showcase; its investigation into the grubby side of capitalism has real smarts, and in Marvin's Walker, all kinds of wounded pathos. A genuine crime classic that's barely aged a day, and a good argument that "The Hunter" should just be left alone as source material from here on out.

"Munich" (2005)
As far as "things to get revenge for," it doesn't get much more devastating than the 1972 Olympics massacre, wherein 11 members of the Israel Olympics team were held hostage and eventually murdered by a Palestinian terrorist group. In "Munich," based on a supposedly true story, the Israeli government puts a team together to track down those they feel were responsible in the attack. Of course, revenge is never the kicky thrill one makes it out to be, and the moral implications of the murders weigh heavy on the squad, led by a young father played by Eric Bana. Spielberg often stages the killings as a series of potentially fatal flaws – a kind of labyrinthine game of Mouse Trap that could go horribly wrong (and often does) – and uses all of his remarkable tools as a filmmaker to make them as nail-bitingly suspenseful as they possibly could be. There's a dense atmosphere of the claustrophobic, paranoid thrillers of the seventies, along with the piquant social commentary and conversation about getting lost in the mad fog of revenge. Easily one of the best revenge movies of all time, and one of director Steven Spielberg's most provocative works to date (weird that Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner would first collaborate on something so vitally alive and then follow it up with the dusty, hermetically sealed "Lincoln," which feels less like a movie than a historical diorama).

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  • Movielover123 | August 20, 2014 5:01 PMReply

    I have to say the very best revenge Story of all time is The Count of Monty Cristo!

  • SteveP | August 3, 2014 9:09 AMReply

    Dogville - One of my favorites of all time and the best thing Nicole Kidman was in. Ruthless.

  • theRiley | May 24, 2014 10:06 AMReply

    city of industry
    one-eyed jacks
    blue ruin
    rob roy
    lethal animals v steve irwin (i kid)

  • tfox | May 23, 2014 3:30 PMReply

    High Plains Drifter - better than any on the list.

  • inrime | May 10, 2014 8:13 PMReply

    I truly enjoyed Na Hong Jin's The Chaser. I think everything about it is awesome. I'd rank it as high as Oldboy. Fantastic film.

  • Sam | April 24, 2014 10:04 PMReply

    I Saw The Devil is for sure my #1

  • passingby | March 23, 2014 3:19 PMReply

    What about "The heiress"? A wonderful movie and one which goes to prove that revenge doesn't always go down the road of physical violence.

  • Clint B | March 13, 2014 1:08 AMReply

    I had seen many of these and was surprised to find "Revenge" so high on various lists. It was so cheaply made I couldn't get into it (and I am a HUGE Madeleine Stowe fan AND Kevin Costner fan).

    However, the most shocking omission was "Man on Fire" with Denzel Washington and Christopher Walken. A baddy meeting his end by having C-4 shoved...into a body cavity doesn't even make the list? It is one of my all time favorite movies that gets watched repeatedly while "Revenge" collects dust on the shelf.

  • CLINT B | March 13, 2014 1:13 AM

    "Man On Fire" also contains one of the best quotes ever delivered as only Christopher Walken can deliver it.

    "A man can be an artist... in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasey's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece."

  • crispy | November 20, 2013 5:27 PMReply

    "I Saw The Devil" and "Oldboy" are the best revenge movies
    + Law Abiding Citizen
    +The Brave One
    +Death Sentence
    And let's not forget The One Man Army, The mob/yakuze/murderers/drug dealers/pimps scum bags Executioner And Exterminator , Frank Castle (aka The Punisher - 3 movies)

  • Charles Boot | February 23, 2014 3:06 PM

    Yes, Oldboy! That should be #1. The S. Korean original film, that is. Avoid Spike Lee's American remake at all costs.

  • Sky | October 11, 2013 7:07 PMReply

    Hey everyone, I gotta say, these movies are awesome and I have totally found some that I'm interested in. However, there is one specific movie that I've been wanting to watch. I watched it already and I've been searching like crazy and I can't find it. Thing is I don't know the name but I hope someone here knows it and can tell me cause I really need to watch it again. It's where a man and his daughter with a about 2 or 3 men along with them are driving in their van and this married couple drives up behind them and needs to pass them but the men wanted to start trouble so they refused to let them pass. The couple overtook them and the man got pissed off.. and followed the couple. They got hold of them and raped the wife in front of her husband and they either cut his eye lid or they cut it out not sure and they beat them up. The couple didn't die though but some time later they got revenge on them by capturing the daughter of the main culprit and when he comes looking for her they grab hold of him. The husband snipes out his friends and the wife assaults or (raped) the man who raped her first with a m16 or was it an AK47.. i'm not sure.. Can anyone help me out here please... I'm desperate for it.. Thank you much.

  • nick tabri | February 28, 2014 10:58 AM

    Straightheads aka Closure w/ Gillian Anderson

  • ericolmstead | August 31, 2013 5:31 PMReply

    Good list.......but what about Sleepers????? Perhaps it was not chosen because it didn't have any "Names" in the movie. Just Robert Deniro, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Bacon, Brad Pitt, Mini Driver, Jason Patric, etc.

  • Charles Boot | February 23, 2014 3:07 PM

    Nice. Good call with Sleepers. Very underrated film.

  • Lisa Thatcher | July 6, 2013 6:35 AMReply

    Great list.
    I wanted to ad a shout out for Roman Polanski's Death and the Maiden. One of the best revenge films ever, because you are not sure (till right at the end) if the guy she is taking her revenge on is the Doctor who tortured her, and you can't be sure if she is taking Revenge on her husband (till the end) for abandoning her when she was captured. Incredible film.

  • MC HAMMA | June 4, 2013 2:26 AMReply

    The Crow anyone?

  • Sandy McReynolds | May 6, 2013 11:48 PMReply

    Once Upon a Time in the West

    The Professional

  • B.B. | May 4, 2013 5:18 PMReply

    ok... just watched one of the best films of the 70's apparently. 'Rolling Thunder' was average at best, and yet 'Death Wish' is meant to be the worst! It's a brilliant film, as you really feel for charlie bronson. Didn't care much for the main character in Rolling Thunder.

  • Johnny Risko | March 13, 2013 11:04 AMReply

    Special mention to Wrath Of Khan, notable for portraying the revenge as the antagonist's motivation as well as salvaging this franchise from imminent demise. Tarrantino has cited this as a revenge movie that gets it right, sparing no blood. Also an homage to Moby Dick, another ommision from this list: "To the last, I will grapple with thee... from Hell's heart, I stab at thee! For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!"

  • aquarius1271 | March 13, 2013 4:02 AMReply

    "Revenge" is awesome!

  • Toecutter | March 12, 2013 5:08 AMReply

    No MAD MAX? Really? Really?!

  • Toecutter | March 12, 2013 4:19 AMReply

    No MAD MAX? Really? Really?!

  • Toecutter | March 12, 2013 4:18 AMReply

    No MAD MAX? Really? Really?!

  • Ronnie D. | March 11, 2013 7:11 AMReply

    You can't make a list of great revenge films, and not include "I Saw the Devil", perhaps the magnum opus of revenge flicks - definitely the most emotionally intimate and deeply personal of all revenge films, especially since you talk about the revenge trilogy, which finds a lot of the same people involved.

  • RICK SR. | March 10, 2013 10:46 PMReply

    This was a quite a smart and comprehensive list/article and I happened to like it. My TOP 5 favorites from the listed being: 5. REVENGE, 4. THE GREAT SILENCE, 3. MUNICH, 2. IN THE BEDROOM & (without a doubt) 1. KILL BILL, VOL. 1 & 2 (My rate is: VOL. 1: 8.3/VOL. 2: 8.7, which makes Volume 2 my slightly better favorite, by a notch)
    I think that two great movies that were overlooked and should be considered for a larger list (let's say a Top 20-25) are: Lars von Trier's DOGVILLE (2003) and Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994). Both these film prove the case that even though a film doesn't focus on revenge throughout the plot and the story-line as an M.O. it sure makes for not only an effective & compelling ending but also one that alters and redefines the whole structure of the story and the perception of the public. Would these two tales (films) be as powerful and riveting (even endearing) if it weren't for their blood-stained vengeful resolutions?
    Let's ask this: Would Dogville be viewed and appreciated as it is (held high in the world's critics' eyes at the time it came out, enthusiastically received by the general audiences and ever since cherished in the hearts and honorably kept in 1,000s of fans' top-lists) if it weren't for its wildly unexpected outcome (WARNING! HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD: Grace assuming and displaying her previously inconceivable mob power by choosing to execute the whole VILLE, except the DOG that is)?? and "Heavenly Creatures", despite being a relatively short budget (an estimate of $5,000,000) flick would it have earned all the audience's amazement (being taglined as "The true story of a crime that shocked a nation" must prove that a 'lil difficult) and all that critic's praise it received, even earning an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, if it hadn't been not only for Peter Jackson's outstanding writing (with Fran Walsh) and directing, not only for both the girl's heart-stopping performances (aside the fact that this was Kate Winslet's first big film, not dismissing the lovely and talented Melanie Lynskey who has proved lasting versatility, letting us still enjoy her in "Two and a Half Men" today) and not only for its lush and sensitive production design and cinematography but (finally getting to the point, phew!) SPOILER ALERT! for Julie (Winslet) and Pauline (Lynskey)'s shocking & desperate final decision which results in the cold-blooded murder of Pauline's mother!?
    Now that was a very unexpected and breathtaking conclusion, wasn't it? None of this movies (DOGVILLE nor HEAVENLY CREATURES) would have been the same if it weren't for their surprising skin-crawling, chilling endings which are completely and utterly set and determined by REVENGE.

  • SteveP | August 3, 2014 9:13 AM

    Dead on about Dogville, Rick. "Tell her you'll stop if she can hold back her tears."

  • Guijon | March 10, 2013 10:05 PMReply

    Aw, Revanche is my favorite. I'm kind of sad you guys didn't have space for/didn't feel strongly enough about it.

  • Ty | March 9, 2013 11:12 PMReply

    PAYBACK! My favorite revenge movie and one of Mel Gibson's best roles.

  • Depp | March 9, 2013 8:07 AMReply

    G I Joe Retaliation Movie Download

  • RICK SR. | March 10, 2013 10:57 PM

    this comment is SPAM, ur gonna get spammed, dude!

  • Depp | March 9, 2013 8:07 AMReply

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  • Charles Boot | February 23, 2014 3:04 PM

    Hats off to you for not responding to Rick Sr's pointless, incoherent, spammy "sermon" (as he calls it). Normally I wouldn't watch anything with G. I. Joe. I didn't like the cartoon/action figures when I was a kid, and still don't, but it has a 5.9 rating on IMDb (not the worst rated film mentioned here) and, given what Rick Sr. wrote, something that he detests that much just has to be good.
    I'll check it out! Thanks!

  • RICK SR. | March 10, 2013 11:31 PM

    This is spam, dude, your comment should be eliminated.
    Besides, who wants to download G.I. Joe Retaliation??
    I don't care that it hasn't hit theaters yet (I just read it comes out March 29), that doesn't make it any more exciting or appealing.
    Of all the revenge movies listed and mentioned here that's gotta be about the weakest and worst of all. I'm sure (even though I haven't watched it, don't want to either) it must be too mainstream, too Hollywood, you see:
    Well, there goes my sermon, mate, but that's about as true as it gets.
    P.S. Have a NICE DAY and don't (just) post STUPID comments (I know this is gonna be the second "just" but I don't care, I'm trying to make a POINT here) JUST BECAUSE, it's a pointless WASTE of pixels, website page and the TIME of all the people who go through the comments LOOKING for something that's actually CONSTRUCTIVE and WORTHWHILE to read!!

  • TheoC | March 9, 2013 7:04 AMReply

    great list I want to watch all these right now.

  • Ghislaine | March 8, 2013 11:03 PMReply

    The Bride Wore Black. Francois Truffaut's film based on a Cornell Woolrich novel. Jeanne Moreau is the bride, whose new husband is gunned down on the church steps moments after their wedding. One by one, she hunts down and kills every man responsible. Irresistible.

  • KJ | March 8, 2014 8:29 PM

    I second "The Bride Wore Black." Also to be considered is "The Page Turner". It's a much slower-moving narrative lacking excitement but presents an equally focused (even obsessed) agent of revenge for whom you are somewhat less lured into sympathy, even while admiring her determination.

  • Charles Boot | February 23, 2014 2:50 PM

    Tarantino claims that he has never seen The Bride Wore Black.
    Liar! LOL

  • Stephen B | March 8, 2013 10:52 PMReply

    The Limey, Get Carter, Carrie...and I have a soft spot for Man On Fire.

  • Ryan Michaels | March 8, 2013 10:52 PMReply

    Eeeek, I'd have appreciated if you hadn't spoiled the outcomes of a lot of these movies ("The Great Silence" is sitting right next to me and it kinda blows that I now know the outcome.) Nevertheless, really cool list -- one really notable exclusion to me though was Kim-Ji Woon's "A Bittersweet Life", one of the definite high points of the Korean New Wave in my eyes.

  • @cinejordan | March 8, 2013 7:40 PMReply

    Good call on 'In the Bedroom.' I never would have thought of that one.

  • Austin | March 8, 2013 5:18 PMReply

    (the original) I Spit on Your Grave? Devil's Rejects is another one

  • cirkusfolk | March 8, 2013 4:30 PMReply

    Two words: Mad Max

  • jon | March 8, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    The Great Silence is a terrible movie.

  • Josh | March 8, 2013 2:14 PMReply

    Great list! In university we had an English/Film course that dedicated itself to Women and Revenge in Film. Pretty niche topic but unbelievably there was a lot to cover. After the course, I would say that I'm very interested in seeing women kill for revenge now.

    Our first screening was for 'I Spit on Your Grave'. The original one. No cuts. No fast-forwards. Just the whole thing. I'm surprised that it isn't on your list, actually!

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