Speaking of “revenge movies,” Robert Eggers’ third film, The Northman, is arguably his best. Fun Fact: Did you know this Norse fable of Amleth is what inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet more than 500 years later? (Look at the character’s name–Slick Willie Shakes made Amleth an anagram for H-A-M-L-E-T.)
Sure, there are parts of Eggers’ latest film where you are watching and thinking, “The hell did this dude have for breakfast? Froot Loops with a side of shrooms?!” The lifelong journey. The ransacked gore. And the fuel that childhood angst can propel a man to become.
While revenge movies may seem predictable, you can’t help but wonder when you are watching one if you would be that inspired to wreak havoc on someone or something that wronged you and steal an object of your affection. And for that effort, you leave an enormous collection of bodies in your wake. This theoretical genre has created a trope that gets replayed in Hollywood repeatedly. No one has a problem with it either.
The emotions are visceral, and the plot gives you someone to cheer for the moment a story begins. Revenge movies are personal for the character and the viewer. Evidently, by the looks of The Northman at the box office, we love this crap. So, why not…
These are the Top 10 Best Revenge Movies of All Time
Fair Warning: This is not a Tarantino-friendly list
Quentin Tarantino is a gifted filmmaker who focuses on one genre–revenge. Think Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, and…well, you get it. Those are all excellent films to watch, but if you aren’t a QT Stan, you can admit that the following Top 10 revenge movies are better. And while we are issuing misgivings, I know few people who extol the greatness of the Bruce Lee family more than yours truly, but another flick on revenge, The Crow, isn’t as good as these 10 films. Okay? Moving on…
10. Oldboy (2003)
This won’t be an homage to Marvel heaping praise on the Josh Brolin/Elizabeth Olsen version in 2013. Because, well, it wasn’t good. However, the original by Korean director Park Chan-Wook (executive producer of Snowpiercer) is brilliant. Namely, the twist ending. This is part of what’s known as the “Vengeance Trilogy,” but this film is its crowning jewel.
Here’s a guy (Choi Min-sik) held captive for the past 15 years. While buried in a cave of sorts with a plugged-in TV, he finds his wife is dead, and he’s the main suspect. He’s free now and only has five days to find the faction who stole his time and wife. Like most Seoul or Hong Kong movies, it is fast-paced, hyper-violent, and brutal. Taken wishes it could have been this good, but this dude has a serious set of skills on display.
9. John Wick (2014)
Are there no bounds we wouldn’t overcome to find the bastards who killed our puppy?! Sure, the bad guys took everything else from this retired assassin (Keanu Reeves), but who cares? This is about a man and his pooch. Here’s another where Taken was booted because this is also a man whom the bad guys should not have pissed off. The dog was a part of his deceased wife, so it was killing time once that happened.
This is one of the best “gun-fu” movies, mainly because no one knew how great it would be. Of course, the revenge movie trope continues with its two sequels (so far), but the one that started it all holds a special place in our hearts if revenge movies are your thing.
8. Kill Bill (2003)
Warning about Tarantino not monopolizing this list aside, Kill Bill is Tarantino’s best among his revenge movies. Yes, there is “technically” a sequel, but it’s all about Kill Bill Vol. 1. With the kiss to Bruce Lee and Game of Death, Uma Thurman earns the song named after her. “The Bride” is a cold-blooded assassin on a quest to kill her former boss…and lover (because that’s a thing everywhere, apparently). David Carradine is great as the big baddie and lovelorn dude who tried to kill
If you are a fan of Chinese Wuxia, this was a glorious addition to the lexicon of revenge movies. And that woman slices and dices with a katana blade in stunning fashion. By the end of the film, no one cared if The Bride got her revenge because of all the bodies left on the floor in her dust.
7. Memento (2000)
The film that introduced the world to Christopher Nolan is Memento, and it’s a fantastic addition to any collection of revenge movies. The movie is about a regular guy with short-term memory loss (Guy Pearce) searching everywhere for the person who killed his wife (Carrie-Anne Moss). Only, he must write down all his clues before he sleeps or POOF. What’s great about this film is its two storylines–one in color that wins backward and the noir version that plays out forward.
And if you are among the haters who think that Nolan has learned a lot since the turn of the century, watch this pretzel-twisting film again and see if it doesn’t hold up. It’s a great movie and a splendid flare in the dark sky that a new directorial genius was coming.
6. Cape Fear (1991)
In what must be easily Martin Scorsese’s most underrated film, Cape Fear is one of the reboots among the oodles that surpasses the original. Dang, this is one of the revenge movies that keeps your butt puckered. And if you ever need a reminder of how vast of range Robert De Niro possesses, this is the pill to swallow. If you know, Max Cady (De Niro) is a convicted rapist freed from prison and goes on a killing spree to find his lawyer (Nick Nolte), who didn’t give his best effort, let’s say. Seriously, watch the movie!
This film has more flip-flops in it than the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s a dynamic watch, and if anyone in Hollywood is listening, “Can we please make De Niro play the bad guy one last time?!” For the love of all that’s good in Tinseltown, make it happen, Scorsese!
5. Carrie (1976)
This movie is on many lists–best screenplay adaptations, best horror movies, best jump scares, best movies that still hold up, and now best revenge movies. (And yes, all those will become GVN Top 10 lists. Stay tuned.) Four years before Kubrick’s superb adaptation of The Shining (despite what Stephen King thinks), Brian De Palma picked Carrie in 1976 as a project and has been lauded for his first commercial hit ever since.
And if you think this isn’t about revenge, you should check it out again. Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is a shy girl with no friends and several bullies. She also has a cult-like mother…well, she’s a mother-something-or-other. Anywho, during tumultuous moments of stress, Carrie’s anger is exhibited in strange ways. It turns out she’s telekinetic. The movie is full of mean girls, evil boys, and that mother trucker (kids’ show here). Finally, at the senior prom, she explodes–literally. This is a film all about revenge! And while a little mean, you didn’t cheer for her? Of course, you did.
4. Gone Girl (2014)
Two words: David Fincher. That’s all we needed to know to see this movie. The man is known for gripping plots, jacked-up characters, and shocking twists. This movie did not disappoint at all. And before CBMs started its global takeover, this one of the revenge movies introduced cinephiles to an “anti-hero” in Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike). On the outside, she has a perfect Barbie and Ken life with her hubby (Ben Affleck). However, the inside begins to unravel when she realizes he is having an affair.
Then, she vanishes. If you have watched any episodes of Law & Order, you know the living husband is the first suspect of the dead wife. Slowly, we learn Amy isn’t as dead as we thought. So does her husband. And then, there is the unwitting ex-boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris) — ho-lee-crap! This is one of the revenge movies where people end up cheering on…who again?!
3. Unforgiven (1992)
This film resurrected the nation’s fascination with the Western genre, which is remarkable storytelling. Westerns usually romanced a handful of revenge stories in the Golden Age of Hollywood every year, but this is among the best Westerns and revenge movies. William Munny, played by Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood, is a retired outlaw. After being begged and bribed, he takes on one more job before riding off into the sunset.
Character backstories make this film so good–Munny is a single dad, his friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) is much more than a voice of reason, and the town sheriff (Gene Hackman) is a corrupt old fart wants more than the law to be upheld. Munny ends up searching for the person who tortured his friend and abused some women of the night. It is such a stellar film that you forget vengeance fuels it.
2. Braveheart (1995)
Mel Gibson‘s depiction of the Scottish hero William Wallace is beautiful. Even the gory fight scenes are emotional. At first, you may hear the story of a man who was hell-bent on taking on the loathsome British empire and think he was fighting for his country. Yet, beneath all the nationalism and hype speeches that even douchebag little league coaches attempt to replicate lies the love of a man for a woman taken from him (Catherine McCormack).
Wallace’s journey for Scottish independence falls short in real life. Technically, Robert the Bruce won Scotland their freedom. However, his legacy is eternal in that neck of the woods–as is this film. He learns his destiny is different than the one fueled by revenge, one that would outlive him and his compatriots. It is quite simply one of the best epic films ever made. Period.
1. Gladiator (2000)
You know this film. Many of you admire it. The score is majestic, and the story is remarkable. It won five Oscars and deserved more. Now imagine if this film sucked–badly. That’s what America was forced to believe…during Super Bowl XXXIV! No, really. Forget what you know about Gladiator and watch this immense tub of turds. Seriously, this stinks that bad.
Yeah. Hurts, don’t it? Gladiator is compared to the gridiron. Thank God Ridley Scott saw the numbers and read the deplorable thoughts on the commercial and told Universal to suck it, so he made a new trailer within one week. That dumpster fire bathing in Kid Rock sweat and drool became this…
The film stands tall on a foundation of vengeance. He says it right there in the trailer. When this movie came out in theaters, the credits rolled to standing ovations and rousing applause. The evil miscreant emperor (the discovery role of Joaquin Phoenix) finally got what he deserved from the general who became a slave (Russell Crowe). You root for Maximus to whip that boy. You groan each time the emperor looks like he is succeeding in life.
He’s such a fantastic villain, but still not more memorable as the Roman general and his quest for vengeance. Gladiator is the best among all revenge movies. Maybe for good.
Since he saw ‘Dune’ in the $1 movie theater as a kid, this guy has been a lover of geek culture. It wasn’t until he became a professional copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter that he began to write about it (a lot).
From the gravitas of the Sith, the genius of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or the gluttony of today’s comic fan, SPW digs intelligent debate about entertainment. He’s also addicted to listicles, storytelling, useless trivia, and the Oxford comma. And, he prefers his puns intended.