Given the recent DVD/Blu-Ray release of Taken, in which Liam Neeson beats the crap out of the Euro trash villains that dare to kidnap his daughter, now seems an appropriate time to step back and offer our picks for the ten best revenge movies ever made. There are, to be sure, lots and lots of quality ones.
Before getting to the list, though, several caveats should be made clear. First, so many films feature revenge as a major component in a storyline that it was difficult to determine what qualifies a “revenge movie.” Second, there are certain commonly accepted staples of the genre (Death Wish) and others that I don’t particularly like (Gladiator), but I’ve included them for the prominence of their revenge plots, their general stature and the sheer badass nature of their iconic heroes. In other words, in crafting this list I took more into account than my own personal preferences, which would result in an at least somewhat different top ten.
Finally, as is the case with any list making venture, there are a lot of worthy entries that just didn’t crack the top ten. Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Braveheart and any number of Clint Eastwood westerns come immediately to mind. All that aside, we are pleased to present you our list of the Ten Best Revenge Movies of All-Time…
As by far the greatest, most thoroughly entertaining example of bloodthirsty ’80s action, a genre filled with revenge stories, I just couldn’t resist sticking Commando on this list. I have too many fond memories of an angry Arnold Schwarzenegger quipping left and right and murdering baddies in consistently creative ways after they interrupt his peaceful mountainside idyll by kidnapping his daughter. When he finally takes on the S&M outfitted Australian villain Bennett (Vernon Wells) in the ultimate orgy of hot tempered, defensive fatherly rage and sheer, unrequited manly longing it’s hard to resist swooning with excitement.
Truthfully, I find Gladiator to be spectacularly overrated, maybe even the worst Best Picture winner I’ve seen. Yet, because Russell Crowe’s general turned lowly slave Maximus does nothing short of bring down the ROMAN EMPEROR while on a rabid, bloodthirsty warpath after the murder of his wife and son, because he coolly intimidates said emperor and all else obstructing his path, the movie earns its place on this list.
8. Friday the 13th
This list would not be complete without a slasher movie, so it made sense to pick one of the genre’s icons. If there’s one lesson to be taken from Friday the 13th, it’s this: If you’re a camp counselor responsible for watching the child of a scary woman with deranged homicidal tendencies, it might be a good idea to keep him from drowning. The counselors at Camp Crystal Lake really, really, really should’ve been watching little Jason Voorhees on that fateful day, and their successors should’ve probably found different summer jobs. Or else they really like being arrowed into a door or knifed in the stomach.
Perhaps the ultimate revenge movie, William Wyler’s legendary epic follows the title character on a journey from prominence to slavery and back, over three-and-a-half hours filled with famous set pieces like the chariot race and the pungent overarching specter of Ben-Hur’s betrayal by his best friend Messala. It’s ponderous at times, but Charlton Heston had few peers when it came to stirring up righteous outrage.
6. Straw Dogs
You ain’t seen nothing, to quote The Jazz Singer, until you’ve seen mild-mannered Dustin Hoffman go commando on the thugs who brutalize his wife here. Sam Peckinpah’s film ends with a burst of such extreme, pointed violence (even for him) that it spent nearly two decades censored in the United Kingdom.
5. Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2
Quentin Tarantino’s frenetic, bloody bipartite thriller sends Uma Thurman on a furious quest for vengeance, in which she uses all matter of weapons and brutal techniques to cause a lot of people ample bodily harm. It’s not Tarantino’s best work (what could possibly surpass Pulp Fiction?), but it will be among his most remembered.
4. Once Upon a Time in the West
I’d be remiss without including at least one western on this list, and Sergio Leone’s legendary final entry in the genre deserves to be it. Featuring three tough hombres in Henry Fonda, Jason Robards and Charles Bronson and developed out of the Spaghetti Western master’s unique collaboration with Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento, the movie is widely considered to be one of the best examples of a genre filled with great revenge stories.
3. The Virgin Spring
Ingmar Bergman’s powerful revenge/horror show is tinged with an elemental religiosity drawn from its maker’s signature style and the medieval sonnet upon which it’s based. Max Von Sydow is characteristically riveting as a patriarch avenging the murder of his innocent daughter and the film’s revenge movie credibility only increases with the knowledge that Wes Craven remade it as The Last House on the Left.
2. The Godfather
Is this a revenge movie? I’d say so, especially given the famous baptism massacre montage and the fact that vengeance serves as a primary motivation for Vito, Sonny, Michael and many of the other characters. Others might disagree.
1. Death Wish
You don’t have to have seen Death Wish to know that it’s the prototypical revenge drama, introducing the imposing vision of a supremely pissed off Charles Bronson and popularizing the brutal, B movie aesthetic that many sequels and other subsequent movies tried to imitate. What other movie could possibly head this list?