Even the most innocent and forgiving souls can relate to the feeling of wanting to punish those who have treated them wrong, which is why movies like John Wick and other classic tales of taking an eye for an eye are so appealing. Of course, the concept alone is so simple and so familiar that only a handful of films have managed to pull off a truly unique and captivating take on the matter, and we believe we have compiled the best revenge movies that are now available on streaming, for digital rental, or to purchase on physical media if you still prefer that method. The following are some of our picks for the best revenge movies, starting with one film that says it all in its title.
A young, naive, American woman (Matilda Lutz) undergoes a dramatic, hardening evolution to punish her married boyfriend and his hunting buddies after a despicable act leads them to leave her for dead in the Moroccan desert.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Like I said, the title says it all, but French writer and director Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge - one of the best Shudder original movies - exceeds its simple concept by offering one of cinema’s grittiest, bloodiest, and most inspiring subtextual messages of female empowerment in recent memory.
Kill Bill (2003-2004)
A retired assassin (Uma Thurman) embarks on an international journey to punish her old boss and ex-lover (David Carradine), and her deadly former colleagues after they leave her for dead while pregnant on what was assumed to be her wedding day.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Of course, before we had Matilda Lutz’s Jen in Revenge we had Academy Award nominee Uma Thurman’s The Bride in Kill Bill Vol. 1 in 2003 and Kill Bill Vol. 2 the following year - writer and director Quentin Tarantino’s two-part ode to ’70s kung fu classics and spaghetti westerns that turned the action genre on its head with its provocatively gory and enchantingly balletic style.
John Wick (2014)
A retired assassin (Keanu Reeves) gets back to business to punish the arrogant son of his former colleague after he steals his car and kills his dog shortly after the death of his ill wife.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Action movies (and Keanu Reeves’ career) would face another major turning point upon the release of the first chapter of the John Wick movies (John Wick: Chapter 4 is currently in the works), which brought the otherworldly choreographic fighting style of “gun fu” to the mainstream and made inventively mysterious world-building a more in-demand point of interest in the genre than it might have ever been.
A former mercenary (Ryan Reynolds), hoping to cure his terminal illness, undergoes an experimental treatment that leads to a grotesque physical mutation, making him immortal, which he uses to hunt down the man who screwed up his face and his relationship with his fiancée.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Superhero movies would also face a major turn upon the release of Deadpool - a hilarious, exciting, and unapologetically R-rated adaptation of Marvel Comics’ crass, fourth-wall-breaking Merc with a Mouth, whom producer Ryan Reynolds was undeniably born to play.
Death Wish (1974)
An architect (Golden Globe winner Charles Bronson) takes up a side gig as a vigilante, posing his deadly attacks on New York City’s vicious muggers as self-defense, shortly after the senseless murder of his wife.
Why it is a great revenge movie: One of the first movies to prove that vengeance can inspire any average person to become a lethal purveyor of justice was the original Death Wish, director Michael Winner’s grounded and gratifying adaptation of Brian Garfield’s novel that also made then-53-year-old Charles Bronson America’s favorite badass.
A lumberjack (Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage) goes on a furious killing spree against a sinister cult leader, his devoted followers, and a pack of demonic bikers shortly after they murder his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) right in front of him at their secluded home in 1983.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Speaking of our favorite badasses playing average people driven to vengeance, Nicolas Cage gives one of the greatest and most wonderfully manic performances of his career as the brutally vengeful, unlikely hero of Mandy - a surreal, acid-dipped, and action-packed heavy metal album cover brought to life from director Panos Cosmatos.
In the near future, a technophobic mechanic (Logan Marshall Green) is implanted with an experimental device that allows him to walk, fight, and track down the people who made him into a quadriplegic and murdered his wife (Melanie Vallejo) right in from of him.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Logan Marshall Green’s average, unlikely hero gets some special (and much-needed) help to become a purveyor of justice in the form of a highly-advanced artificial intelligence in Upgrade - the sophomore directorial effort of acclaimed horror movie filmmaker Leigh Whannell that is more action-packed but equally as thought-provoking as many of the best Black Mirror episodes so far.
The Crow (1994)
A rock star (Brandon Lee) is magically brought back from the dead with supernatural abilities and a mission to punish the people who killed him and his fiancée exactly a year earlier on Devil’s Night.
Why it is a great revenge movie: The slain, unlikely hero of The Crow has some special and much-needed help to become a spirit of vengeance in the form of a mystical entity, in Alex Proyas’ beautifully told adaptation of James O’Barr’s influential comic book series.
The Revenant (2015)
A frontiersman (Leonardo DiCaprio), after suffering a near-fatal bear attack, endures harsh terrain and numbing temperatures in order to track down and punish the fellow fur trader (Tom Hardy) who killed his son right before his eyes in 1823.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Without any help from magic, Hugh Glass practically manages to come back from the dead in The Revenant - another thoroughly captivating visual feast from co-writer and director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, that finally earned Leonardo DiCaprio his first Academy Award.
True Grit (2010)
A precocious teenage girl (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists the help of a grizzled, drunken, one-eyed U.S. Marshal (Jeff Bridges), and also receives the unrequested help of a proud Texas Ranger (Matt Damon), to track down and punish the dirty criminal (Josh Brolin) who killed her father in 1878.
Why it is a great revenge movie: Celebrated writing and directing duo Joel and Ethan Coen managed to adapt Charles Portis’ classic novel, True Grit, into a film that, I believe, surpasses the 1969 original western classic starring John Wayne, and earned a very young Hailee Steinfeld her first Academy Award nomination.
Blue Ruin (2013)
A homeless man (Macon Blair) returns to his childhood home with a mission to track down and punish the man who killed his parents, after learning that he was recently released from prison.
Why it is a great revenge movie: We have talked about unlikely vengeful heroes a lot throughout this list, but none hold a candle to the pathetically amateur and foolish vigilantism of Macon Blair’s otherwise empathetic protagonist in Blue Ruin - a wicked, heart-wrenching cautionary tale from an expert in brutal and grounded drama, Green Room writer and director Jeremy Saulnier.
Ocean’s Eleven (2001)
A convicted thief (Academy Award winner George Clooney) enlists the help of 10 other professional criminals to pull off an elaborate heist targeting the smug Las Vegas casino owner (Andy Garcia) who is currently dating his ex-wife (the easily convinced Julia Roberts).
Why it is a great revenge movie: Writer and director Steven Soderbergh proved that not all revenge tales have to be so dark, gritty, and morbid with his irresistibly witty, remarkably clever, and damn near perfect modernization of the snatch-and-grab classic Ocean’s Eleven, which also boasts one of the coolest, star-studded ensembles that Hollywood could ever afford in the Ocean's Eleven cast.
If you have never been one to act on your own vengeful instincts, that’s a good choice. Reward yourself by living your own revenge fantasy vicariously through these classic revenge movies above.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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