It is said that revenge is the purest form of emotion you can feel. Every person has felt a desire for revenge at some point in their life. Despite its commonness, revenge is something that’s not considered a healthy emotion. And yet, filmmakers have, since time immemorial, been using revenge as the major theme in their movies. One of the reasons could be that people could enjoy the feeling of revenge vicariously without causing any harm to anyone externally.
Revenge has been a theme for several movies from different genres — from thrillers like ‘Memento’ to action films like ‘John Wick’. Due to the popularity of revenge in films, you would seldom see a revenge movie that isn’t a commercial success. In fact, many revenge movies have gone on to become amazingly successful franchises. ‘John Wick’ is a fine example; ‘Kill Bill’ is another one. With that said we, at Cinemaholic, present to you the non-exhaustive list of best revenge movies ever made. You can watch several of these best revenge movies on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu. The list includes revenge thriller movies and revenge action movies.
20. John Wick Franchise (2014-19)
Watching the first installment of ‘John Wick’ fills you with rage and excitement in you. One of my favourite action flicks, ‘John Wick’, begins with a sulking John whose wife has died and has left a puppy in her memory. As John takes care of the puppy and lives aloof, he is insisted by Iosef, a local gangster, to buy the former’s Ford Mustang Mach 1, which he refuses. Later in the night, Iosef and his henchmen invade John’s house, kill the puppy and vandalize everything; they also injure John and elope with the car. They don’t know that John was as infamous as “Baba Yaga” a.k.a. the nightmare and a ruthless assassin. The second movie in the series carries forward Wick’s legacy as an assassin.
19. True Grit (2010)
Set in the wild west, ‘True Grit’ is a remarkable tale of vengeance and adventure. Directed by none other than the Coen brothers, ‘True Grit’ begins with a girl named Mattie Ross whose father had been murdered by someone named Tom Chaney. She also comes to know that Tom has fled into a territory inaccessible by the cops and she has to seek the help of a US Marshall named Rooster Cogburn, who agrees to help her out. They’re joined by a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf and there begins their hunt amid their personal differences with each other. The final fight scene is a culmination of everyone’s true grit and determination and how despite their differences, the trio manage to stick together. ‘True Grit’ was nominated across ten categories for the Academy Awards.
18. Gangs of New York (2002)
Another highly praised film on this list, Martin Scorsese‘s ‘Gangs of New York’ is based on a non-fiction book of the same name and features an ensemble cast including the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brendan Gleeson, Liam Neeson to name a few. The movie opens in the 1840s, amid an ongoing “battle” between two warring gangs – the Protestants led by William Cutting (Day-Lewis) and the Irish Catholic Immigrants led by Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson). As Priest Vallon is killed by William’s gang, Vallon’s young son Amsterdam goes into hiding, only to return sixteen years later seeking vengeance against his father’s murderers. From a petty pickpocket to a gangster, Amsterdam’s journey ends with his killing of William Cutting and seeking the revenge eventually.
17. Payback (1999)
This Mel Gibson movie begins with two petty thieves — Porter and Resnick — who seek to divide the sum of their loot of $140,000 equally among each other. Because Resnick had other “commitments”, he chooses to betray Porter along with the latter’s wife, who shoots Porter in the back. Porter survives and somehow decides to exact his rightful revenge. Turns out, his friend Resnick had used the money to move up the ladder into the crime syndicate and getting to him is going to be more difficult than ever. Meanwhile, the gang which the duo stole the money from also wants its own revenge and a ‘payback’ is unavoidable. It’s an incredibly entertaining, brutally violent film.
16. Taken (2008-2014)
And now to the man with a “very specific set of skills”. ‘Taken‘ gives me goosebumps every time I watch it (only the first installment). If you’re looking for an impactful revenge movie which has a simplistic storyline, then you’re in luck because ‘Taken’ is the perfect choice for you. Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA agent, in an attempt to re-connect with his daughter Kim, who has been living with her mother and stepfather, agrees to send her to a European tour on her request. Kim and her friend Amanda meet Peter, a stranger at the airport, and decide to carpool with him. Later, Peter arrives with his henchmen and kidnaps Kim and Amanda, while Kim is on a phone call with her father all the while. What follows is a breath-taking cat-and-mouse game that ends in a bloody battle of revenge.
15. V for Vendetta (2005)
Political revenge stories don’t come in better form. V was the voice of the voiceless, stepping up as a representative of the masses whose lives were doomed by the anarchical reign of the 2020s. He incites the masses, asking their help for retribution. He escapes, regroups and dies like a hero for a cause. The frustration, the helplessness and the powerlessness of the common man seemed to find a suitable answer in the guise of V, who went around killing anyone and everyone responsible for his years of torture. He represents the wild side of us, which itches for action against the injustice that dooms our lives. If only there existed a real person like him who could make a real difference.
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14. Munich (2005)
Based on ’Operation Wrath of God’, a secretive vengeance mission organized by Israel on the Palestinians in the wake of the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack, ‘Munich’ is an excellent political thriller drama made by the expert hands of Steven Spielberg. It depicts the capture and assassination of the members of the terrorist organization, Black September, who were responsible for the massacre. The grueling tension and ever persistent suspense are the hallmarks of any Spielberg thriller and ‘Munich’ is no different. It was an eye opener, asking difficult questions on morality and basic humanity while giving us well-developed characters with varied personalities and keeps the audience on tenterhooks all the time.
The original score by John Williams is haunting and rightly deserved the Academy Award nomination. The degradation of the soul in the pursuit of vengeance was immaculately depicted through the life of Mossad Agent Avner Kaufman. The cast, led by Eric Bana and Daniel Craig, delivered top-notch performances, helping the film earn positive critical reviews. Although it’s one of Spielberg’s lowest grossing movies, ‘Munich’ is one of the best films of that decade.
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13. The Revenant (2015)
Alejandro G. Inarritu is slowly establishing himself as the best director of this era — first with the crazy one-shot marvel known as ‘Birdman’, and then with the grueling revenge story called ‘The Revenant’. Inarritu is infamous for making the cast and crew push past boundaries, and he just went really far with this story of the legendary American frontiersman and fur-trapper.
Hugh Glass’ legend was relatively unknown and with this intense biopic, the survival story uncovers itself from the mounds of snow. Inarritu had to play his cards boldly. Depicting a well-documented narrative requires courage and he has plenty of it. And he came out in flying colors too, managing another masterpiece and bagging his second Oscar triumph. The chilling landscape, the rawness and the torturous pain make up one epic revenge story.
12. Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson’s masterful film about Scotland’s quest for freedom from the English yoke is a truly epic movie. It won the Academy awards for the best picture and best director. What started out as a revenge plot by William Wallace for the execution of his wife Murron turned into a full-blown quest for freedom as millions of Scotsmen from different clans rushed to join William and together waged war against the treacherous English rule.
Gibson’s direction, the way the battle scenes were shot, the film’s exploration of vengeance, love and betrayal, and Gibson’s endearing performance as the Scot hero made ‘Braveheart’ a timeless classic; one which can be re-watched many times. His cries for ‘Freedom’ even in his last moments create an unforgettable piece of image. His fighting spirit truly casts an aura and inspires his successors to drive the English out from their kingdom.
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11. The Virgin Spring (1960)
Ingmar Bergman is a Nordic legend. The Swede is one of the most prominent directors of all time and ‘The Virgin Spring’ is his magnum opus. It is the story of a father who seeks revenge from her daughter’s rapists and murderers. The anguish of Ingeri and the vividness of the father, Tore, sets the tone of the film and makes the audience empathize with the situation. The poetic justice served in the end satisfies you, emotionally. The daughter, Karin, was an innocent martyr and a church built on the spot where she died was the perfect epitaph for her. ‘A Virgin Spring’ is a symbol of the butchering of the innocent, much like the story of Jesus Christ.
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10. Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood’s last venture into his pet genre of westerns was memorable indeed. The story of a retired gunman coming back to help the Kid seek revenge for the death of a prostitute is quite intriguing. The Wild West does add a certain bit of spice to the entire story. Eastwood introduces the elements of age, repute, courage and heroism in his tale and weaves a magical tale. Morgan Freeman adds his golden touch and the duo fighting after years of retirement is a moment worth watching. The climax where Will Munny finally disposes of Little Bill for the torture and murder of Logan is satisfying indeed and is the perfect ending for a classic western.
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9. Sleepers (1996)
Moving ahead to a more disturbing flick this time, which revolves around four friends — Shakes, Tommy, Michael, and John — who’ve known each other from childhood, ‘Sleepers’ is a visceral account of rape and abuse and the way it is avenged afterwards. The four friends during the ’60s start working for a gangster despite the protective watch of Father Bobby. While pulling a prank, they injure a street vendor and end up in a correctional facility for teenagers. All four are subject to abuse, rape and torture inside the facility by Nokes, Addison, Ferguson and Styler. They keep quiet and move on with their lives after their release, and the story moves ahead by thirteen years when John and Tommy have resumed their petty theft and kill Nokes, while Michael is a DA who helps them out to exact revenge from their years of abuse. ‘Sleepers’ was a sleeper hit and garnered critical acclaim, despite its predictable storyline.
8. Django Unchained (2012)
Set in 1858, Dr Schultz is a bounty hunter who meets Django, a slave who is being transported by slave owners. He buys Django and cuts him a deal – if Django helps Schultz track down Brittle brothers, Django will win his freedom along with $75 and a horse. After the mission succeeds, Django sets out to find his wife Broomhilda and Schultz happily agrees to help him. Later, it is found that Broomhilda has been sold to an affluent estate owner named Calvin and Schultz and Django must devise a masterful plan to rescue the latter’s wife. A classic Quentin Tarantino flick, ‘Django Unchained’ is a bold, violent, entertaining piece of cinema.
7. Gladiator (2000)
This film is set in the early 180 AD. General Maximus is told by Emperor Aurelius to rule Rome in his stead until his son Commodus is fit to rule. Upon knowing this, Commodus murders his father and takes the throne, while General Maximus is arrested. Maximus somehow escapes the captivity and rides to his family, only to find them murdered. He is then captured by slavers and sold to Proximo, a gladiator trainer. After winning petty fights with his military experience, he is put up against an invincible gladiator named Tigris of Gaul in front of Emperor Commodus but Maximus wins. Later, Commodus challenges Maximus for a duel in the Colosseum and we all know how it ended. ‘Gladiator’ won five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Russell Crowe.
6. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
An Italian-Western film at the very outset, directed by none other than Sergio Leone, ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ begins with Jill McBain, a young woman who has moved from New Orleans to Utah to her newly married husband’s home, only to find him dead along with her children. Cheyenne is a local man who has been wrongfully framed for the killing, while the real culprit is Frank who runs a railroad project under an affluent baron. Together with Cheyenne and a man known as Harmonica, the trio head out for a showdown with Frank, with Harmonica having his own reasons in doing so. ‘Once Upon a Time in the West’ has, ever since its release, gained a cult following and is often rated as one of the best western movies of all time.
5. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
World War II was an epic revenge story in itself, with each participating nation seeking retribution for one reason or the other. The mastermind of Quentin Tarantino refused to let go of this subject and attempted to make something out of it. He succeeded in creating the most unique world war film, which focused more on the personal revenge for Jews. Taut suspense, memorable lines and stylish action scenes sum up ‘Inglourious Basterds’. The swagger of Aldo Raine and his Jew Hunting Guerillas, the wittiness of Shoshanna and the ice cold Colonel. Hans Landa define the film in so many ways. Tarantino’s script about an alternate history where two separate assassination plans for Hitler are hatched and both succeed is quite unique and it gives the audience a strange feeling of satisfaction. The Basterds will occupy a place in our memory for ages to come.
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4. Memento (2000)
Christopher Nolan’s second feature film might not have garnered the same response as ‘Inception’, but it holds cult status among critics and film lovers. Nolan played with the non-linear storyline, creating and solving mysteries across two timelines and ending the film where it began. Leonard Shelby, a patient of anterograde amnesia, is on a mission to hunt down the killer of his wife. With body tattoos and Polaroid images serving as memory reinforces, Shelby questions and investigates, looking for an elusive John G. His quest comes to a halt when the manipulative policeman Teddy reveals an ugly truth of John G being dead a year ago and that Shelby was a pawn used in hunting down other notorious John Gs. He becomes infuriated and shoots Teddy down, thereby closing the script but leaving the plot wide open for a stream of questions to come rushing in.
Was it all a side effect of Leonard Shelby’s amnesia? How did he remember the rape and murder of his wife? Is Sammy’s story really his own? Did Leonard kill his wife? There are several possibilities and we can just count them one by one. The renowned critic Roger Ebert remarked after watching ‘Memento’: “Confusion is the state we are intended to be in”. Truly, we can start peeling the layers but there is no certainty whether we would come across the pulp anytime soon. It is one of the most beautifully told revenge stories of all time.
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3. Kill Bill: Vol.1 & Vol.2 (2003-04)
The proverb says, ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold’ but the man, Quentin Tarantino served revenge bloody with sides of cut arms and legs. ‘Kill Bill’ shattered records, and brought back the concept of spaghetti westerns in cinema. But essentially it was a revenge flick like no other. The manhunt for the elusive Bill by the Bride, Beatrix Kiddo is strewn with obstacles and memorable villains like O-Ren Rishi, Budd and Elle Driver. The sheer determination of Beatrix to search for the man who had betrayed and buried her on their wedding day drives the film and Tarantino’s unique style makes it an unforgettable watch. The 81 on 1 battle with a katana in Japan, the black mamba scene in the middle of a desert, the one-inch punch in a coffin are moments which would remain etched in our memories for a long, long time. Uma Thurman in her yellow suit is arguably one of the most iconic images of a film protagonist.
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2. Leon: The Professional (1994)
Leon is a professional assassin who lives a lonely life after renouncing the life of killing and murders. Mathilda is a 12-year-old girl who lives in an apartment downstairs, whose father is a drug dealer having troubles with an addict named Stansfield. Things take a shocking turn when Stansfield murders Mathilda’s family sparing her life, while she seeks shelter in Leon’s house. With revenge on her mind, especially for her now deceased 4-year-old brother, she learns her ropes from a reluctant Leon and on one fine day, she heads out with Leon’s weapons to kill Stansfield. Leon and Mathilda collaborate further as the movie progresses, while forming a bond between themselves. A noteworthy feature of the movie is a young Natalie Portman as 12-year-old Mathilda. The movie emerged victorious at the Box Office and also received critical acclaim.
1. Oldboy (2003)
This South Korean masterpiece by Park Chan-Wook isn’t like the other Hollywood thrillers we are so accustomed to seeing. The desire for revenge looms large and is evident throughout. The level of dissection of the human psyche is deep and serves us the plot for revenge in layers. The violence, gory in its truest sense, is meaningful and is never used as a distraction from the obvious plotholes in the story. To cap it all, ‘Oldboy’ has an ending like no other, with Park leaving the park open for assumptions and multiple questions. The protagonist Dae-Su ends up as a pawn in a bizarre maze where the twisted ‘Riddler’ is his high school friend, Woo-jin, whose incestuous relationship he had spied and blabbed about. Due to a hypnotic effect, Dae-Su ends up falling in love and having a carnal relationship with his daughter, whom he hadn’t seen for 15 years. In the end, he cuts off his own tongue and seeks the help of that hypnotist to reverse his memory.
The climax shows him getting reunited with his daughter; his happy smile slowly changing to a sad look, prompting the audience to break into a series of questions – Did the hypnosis really work? How much time has passed?, Did the meeting with the hypnotist really take place?, etc. ‘Oldboy’ is often mentioned in the lists of the best Asian films ever made.
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