Having recently seen Michael Caine’s revenge film Harry Brown I got to thinking about other revenge-themed films I’ve watched through the years and I realized that there were quite a bit of them. There’s something just primal and Old Testament about revenge flicks. It doesn’t matter whether they’re high-brow art-house films or the cheapest grindhouse flicks in the end it all boils down to one individual raining down their own version of Divine Wrath on those who wronged them.
Who hasn’t fantasized or thought about going all medieval on someone who just screwed them over. Maybe it was an infraction that was minor that one didn’t need to get overly upset over or something so heinous that only violence at its most basest was the only response. Going through with such thoughts usually stayed there: in one’s thoughts and imaginings. Revenge films seems to be quite popular because they allow even the meekest and most pacifist to secretly live vicariously through the revenge-minded leads in the film.
The list below is not the best revenge films out there but they definitely are my favorites…
Oldboy – This revenge film by South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook wasn’t just a blast to watch but also happens to be one of the best films of the past decade. It takes a simple plot of a man imprisoned against his will for 15 years with no explanation whatsoever that he literally goes insane and back to sane during his captivity. Revenge being the one thing which keeps him going and revenge he gets to inflict on all those he discovers were responsible. The mind-twisting last act in the film takes the revenge-theme right on it’s head as we find out that the main lead wasn’t the only one on a revenge train of thought.
I Spit On Your Grave aka Day of the Woman – This grindhouse classic from Meir Zarchi is the epitome of the rape victim turned revenge valkyrie. The film is not very easy to sit through since there’s nothing subtle about how filmmaker Meir Zarchi filmed every exploitative scene. From the prolonged gang rape sequence to each subsequent revenge act by Camille Keaton’s Jennifer character. Some critics have blasted the film as pandering to the lowest common denominator while others have hailed it as a post-modern feminist film. I like to think that both sides are correct and that the film lies somewhere in the middle. It definitely will put a scare on any group of men who are having thoughts of shenanigans.
Death Wish – When people hear revenge flick they almost always say this iconic film by Charles Bronson from the 70’s. The film was adapted from Brian Garfield’s 1072 novel of the same name and directed by Michael Winner. While critics had mixed reactions to the film with some calling it irresponsible filmmaking, the nation as a whole embraced the film. Here was a film which screamed to the nation that the rising crime-rate in the U.S. during the 1970’s wasn’t going to go unanswered. While some people may have seen the film as a blank check to actually commit vigilantism in the end it just helped a country sick and tired of the crime they see day in and day out. Again here was art becoming a driving force in changing a nation’s collective malaise into something more positive. It didn’t hurt that Bronson was badass as Paul Kersey.
Kill Bill: Volume 1-2 – Who else but the video clerk made good would make what I would consider the greatest genre mash-up film ever made. Quentin Tarantino’s ode to kung fu, spaghetti westerns and revenge flicks became so massive that he had to split the film into two volumes. I am talking about Kill Bill. Not his greatest film ever but I definitely consider it his most geek-friendly and most entertaining. Uma Thurman as The Bride tearing a bloody and witty path of revenge on those who failed to kill her created some of the most iconic fight sequences of the generation this film came out in. Every scene almost seemed to be inspired by other films of a similar theme and genre that film geeks everywhere must’ve exploded in their pants from all the awesomeness they were witnessing. Each volume had two great action sequences that were both fantastical and brutal.
Straw Dogs – One of the most controversial films in Sam Peckinpah’s controversy-filled directing career. Released in 1971 it told the story of how even the meekest person could be pushed into dealing out extreme violent justice on those who have wrong them and those they love. Seen by critics as quite misogynistic due to the nature of the rape scene of Susan George’s Amy character the film was banned for two decades in the UK for it’s unflinching look at violence. Being a huge fan of Sam Peckinpah I had to see it and when I did it automatically became one of my favorite films ever and not just a favorite revenge film. If there was ever a modern retelling of a Biblical-level fable it is this classic from Sam Peckinpah. Every revenge-fueled act by Dustin Hoffman literally oozes Old Testament justice. Just the way I like my revenge. 🙂
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Speaking of Biblical this first sequel in the Star Trek film franchise still considered by fans and non-fans alike as the best in the series. Hard to argue with them since it’s also an opinion I share. The sequel takes a popular episode from the original series and follows it up with all the cast of characters older and more seasoned. In the case of Ricardo Montalban’s Khan Noonian Singh quite seasoned and classy as smooth Corinthian leather. It’s a film with Shatner’s Kirk and Montalban’s Khan in an everending cycle of revenge which would culminate in what would be one of film’s most heartbreaking scenes. One could taste the revenge emanating from the two characters as age-won wisdom and genetically-engineered intellect fell by the wayside to feed the vengeance sought by Kirk and Khan. This revenge flick also has one of the most awesome death speeches by a character on film.
Carrie – Brian De Palma’s film adaptation of one of Stephen King’s better horror novels still seen by many as the best film adapt of a King novel. It combines the existential horror of being a girl and her body maturing in the dog-eat-dog world of high school and the horror said girl can inflict on those tormenting her. It’s high school bullying and revenge with a healthy dose of Stephen King shenanigans mixed in. Sissy Spacek was great as the titular character. One doesn’t have to be a high school girl to feel for Carrie and what she goes through. Her snapping in the last act and inflicting her psychokinetic-brand of revenge on her tormentors must’ve gotten more than a few “Hell yeah!” from some of the teens and adults who went through high school hell. It also has a classic line uttered by Carrie’s mother played by Piper Laurie: “I can see your dirty pillows. Everyone will.”
Orca – This film was to be producer Dino De Laurentiis’ attempt to capitalize on the success of Steven Spielberg’s classic man-versus-nature thriller, Jaws. Starring Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling and Bo Derek the film wasn’t a success when it first came out. While Spielberg’s film was a modern retelling of Moby Dick this killer whale version by director Michael Anderson was Death Wish on water with Paul Kersey as the killer whale. This was one of the first films where I realized none of the people on the screen were worth rooting for to survive. I was all for the killer whale who was on a warpath to avenge his mate and unborn wee killer whale who were killed by Harris and his crew. Shamu this killer whale was not and it always brought a smile to my face whenever the killer whale outsmarted the humans and killed each and everyone in inventive ways. I’m wondering if all the killer whales in all the aquatic parks are just biding their time before they too go all Orca on their handlers and the audience. I’d pay to see that!
Treevenge – Last but not least the greatest film ever made!