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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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Red Road
"Red Road" (2006)
Having won an Oscar for her short film "Wasp," British director Andrea Arnold made her feature debut with the wrenching "Red Road," a film that might not look like a revenge tale on the surface, but certainly puts its cards on the tables by the end. The first of the mooted "Advance Party" trilogy cooked up by Lars Von Trier & Lone Scherfig, which would have been made up of a trilogy of films featuring many of the same Glaswegian characters (plans crumbled when Morag McKinnon, director of the second film, "Donkeys," was forced to recast an actor, and the third film was never shot), it centers on Jackie (Kate Dickie, giving an astonishing performance), a lonely, isolated CCTV operator who becomes obsessed with a man she sees on her screens, Clyde (Tony Curran). She gets closer and closer to him, the pair eventually sleeping together. And suddenly, it's revealed exactly why she's been tracking him down across the film: when he was still a drug addict, Clyde killed her family in a hit-and-run, and she's planning to frame him for her rape. Obviously, a plotline like this means walking on very thin ice, but Arnold gets the delicate balance just right; you're horrified by Jackie's action, but so embedded with the performance at this stage that you go with her. Ultimately, Jackie pulls back, dropping the charges and talking to Clyde about her own guilt about the deaths. But even though she doesn't carry it through, it remains one of the most searing and gut-wrenching revenge movies, and a sign that Arnold was a serious talent (which she's since delivered on with "Fish Tank" and "Wuthering Heights").

"Revenge" (1990)
A bleak, violent, sexy-as-hell thriller, "Revenge" is one of Tony Scott's true masterpieces. Since "Revenge" has a number of truly surprising twists and turns, we're going to go light on the plot specifics, but will say that Kevin Costner is an ex-aviator who goes to Mexico at the request of his old friend (played by Anthony Quinn, with his "menace-o-meter" turned up to 11). Said friend has a young wife (Madeleine Stowe) who Costner just cannot resist. What follows is a brutal revenge tale that feels, in many superficial and spiritual ways, like Scott's lone Western. The late filmmaker has an unflinching eye when it comes to both sexuality and violence, which turned off a lot of viewers when it was initially released (and befuddled the film's producers). In the years since, Scott has constructed a more streamlined "director's cut" for home video, which, surprisingly, comes in at about 20 minutes shorter than the theatrical exhibition. There are a number of reasons to watch and adore "Revenge," from Costner's conflicted performance to Jack Nitzsche's score and the sun-bleached cinematography from Jeffrey Kimball. But ultimately, the film remains Scott's most mournful and humane story, a film that is stylistically admirable but, above all else, emotionally engaging. An unheralded masterwork and the most compelling argument against stuck up cineastes who claim the director is "just some flashy hack."

Rolling Thunder
"Rolling Thunder" (1977)
The premise of "Rolling Thunder," and some of the particulars of the plot, would be laughably ludicrous if they weren't so chilling. In short, a Vietnam veteran and former POW (William Devane) returns home, gets awarded by his town for his service for his country with a new Cadillac and a large stack of silver dollars (apparently they were out of magic beans). Some lowlifes come and try to steal his silver dollars and end up killing Devane's wife, son, and a local policeman his wife had been having an affair with. The thugs also mangle Devane's hand in the garbage disposal, leaving him with a hook (yes, seriously – and it's only slightly less absurd than it sounds). With the help of a similarly disturbed fellow vet (Tommy Lee Jones, looking as "fresh faced" as he ever has), he looks to track down the bandits that took his life away just as he was getting it back together. With a script co-written by "Taxi Driver" scribe Paul Schrader, there are deep psychological undercurrents racing through "Rolling Thunder" (including Devane's delicate mental state following his imprisonment overseas and the shaky familial dynamics when he returns) but it also works as a balls-to-the-wall late-night revenge movie. Our favorite moment happens late in the film, when Devane and Jones have tracked down the bandits to a South of the Border whorehouse. Jones is sitting with a prostitute, about to have sex, but the only thing he's really excited about is going into the next room and killing a bunch of people. It's emblematic of the movie – wryly humorous and queasily uncomfortable. "Rolling Thunder" is one of the decade's very best movies, all the more so for being criminally overlooked upon its initial release.

Sympathy For Mr Vengeance
The Vengeance Trilogy (2002-2005)
Even with Quentin Tarantino working, no one’s exemplified the 21st century revenge movie better than Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook, with a trilogy of films (two of which go as far to have the word "vengeance" in the title). First up, in 2002, was "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance," which sees a factory executive and his deaf-mute employee become embroiled in a bitter back-and-forth of retribution and vengeance. Next, and most famous of the three, was 2003's "Oldboy" (currently being remade by Spike Lee), about a man released from 15 year of captivity, who sets out to avenge himself against the person responsible. And finally, there was 2005's "Lady Vengeance," about a woman wrongfully convicted of child murder, who's released from prison and goes out to track down the real killer. The first is the most complex, mature, and arguably the best. The second (based on a popular Manga) is the boldest, the most iconic and the most entertaining. The third is arguably the most conventional, and probably the least effective, but packs a real emotional punch. But all three are bravura pieces of filmmaking, never less than gripping and absorbing, and pretty much must-sees.

The Virgin Spring
"The Virgin Spring" (1960)
As you might expect, an Ingmar Bergman revenge movie is a very different beast from any other revenge movie, even if it did prove to be the inspiration for Wes Craven's controversial exploitation horror "The Last House on the Left" in the process. Bergman's 1960 drama, which won the filmmaker his first Best Foreign Language film Oscar (he'd take the prize again the following year, for "Through A Glass Darkly"), is set in medieval Sweden, and centers on Karin (Birgitta Valberg), who goes out to deliver some candles to a nearby church, only to be raped and murdered by two local herdsmen (accompanied by a third younger man). The trio then take shelter, unknowingly, with the girls' parents, Tore (Max Von Sydow) and Mareta (Birgitta Valberg). The father realizes what's taken place, and murders the three men, before vowing to build a church in her name to help atone for the killings. Based on an old Swedish ballad, and later labelled 'an aberration' by the director, it's a simple and direct tale, but no less powerful for it. It's actually surprising, when looking over these films, how few of them actually address religion -- vengeance not being a particularly Christian quality, we guess -- but that's certainly not the case here, Bergman using Karin's tragic death, and Von Sydow's subsequent actions, as a way of examining faith, and the existence of God. For all that, for a film more than fifty years old at this point, it's still hard to watch in its brutality, making it one of the filmmaker's most atypical pictures, but perhaps one of his richest with it.

Honorable Mentions: Others we didn't quite have the space for/didn't feel strongly enough about included "Death Proof," "Gladiator," "The Count Of Monte Cristo," "The Crow," "Sweeney Todd," "Cape Fear," "Get Carter," "I Saw The Devil," "Confessions," "Vengeance Valley," "Memento," "Death Rides A Horse" and "Revanche." Anything else we've missed? Let us know your own favorites in the comments section below.

-- Oliver Lyttelton, Drew Taylor, Kieran McMahon, Rodrigo Perez

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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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