The Count of Monte Cristo
The alpha and omega of payback stories. Alexandre Dumas penned the immortal line: ”Revenge is a dish best served cold,” and Jim Caviezel’s performance in the film’s 2002 big-screen version was indeed chilling.
Then again, maybe revenge is best served up by a hammer? Even without its shocking twist, the film is a loop-de-loop of vengeance spurred by vengeance. As such, every element of both antagonists’ drive for payback is ultra-twisted.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Don’t serve this particular form of revenge cold because nobody likes a cold meat pie. The gastronomic flair of the homicidal haircutter has a certain verve to it, not least of which thanks to Stephen Sondheim’s Tony-winning score and Johnny Depp’s Oscar-nominated performance.
If for nothing else than the parade of wigs and the excuse to hear flamboyant tech mogul/partner in crime Nolan says ”Revenge-y,” the Hamptons drama has earned its place on this list. Even without those things, Emily Thorne’s quest to take down the upper-crust schemers who framed and murdered her father (or did they?) is the stuff of soap-opera heaven.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Whether wonky (Mikael Blomkvist’s journalist mission to expose corrupt tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerström) or wicked (Lisbeth Salander’s you-can’t-look-but-you-can’t-not-look DIY tattoo branding), the 2009 Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s megahit novel had everything — including an indelible performance by Noomi Rapace as hacked-off hacker Lisbeth.
The First Wives Club
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, amirite ladies? Now multiply that by three and add a musical number, and you’ve got this hilariously vengeful romp about what can happen when high-class broads get down-and-dirty with their cheating husbands.
Countless seasons (and a Tony-winning Broadway musical) later, ”Scott Tenorman Must Die” remains one of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s crowning accomplishments. How often does one experience the perverse pleasure of watching a second grader cooking chili made of his rival’s murdered parents, roping Radiohead into his vendetta, then licking said rival’s ”tears of unfathomable sadness” off his face? Not enough, it turns out.
Very few characters have been as menacing on screen as Robert De Niro’s Max Cady, who uses the law to get out of jail and exact vengeance on the lawyer who put him there with a spree of psychological and sexual violence.
It didn’t end with the pyrotechnics of many other plots on this list, but the long-awaited imprisonment of Volchok, who left Marissa to die (and that’s after he cheated on her), was just as satisfying. That’s how they do justice in the O.C., b–ch!
I Spit on Your Grave
Ultra-controversial when it came out in 1978 for its sexual violence and obscenity, the exploitation flick was originally called Day of the Woman but probably should have been called Day All the Men Died. It remains one of the most divisive films of the past 50 years — though it wasn’t so upsetting that Hollywood didn’t try to cash in with a 2010 remake. (Spoiler: They didn’t. The movie tanked.)
The gloriously unglamorous end of Ralph Cifaretto — the volatile, self-impressed craw in Tony’s side — may not have fit the crime, but very few people would say they weren’t sad to see Ralph go — except maybe Christopher, who had to clean up Tony’s mess. Lesson learned: Do not f— with a man’s horse.
You know how you can tell a man really wants revenge? By the trail of tattoos all over his body. Christopher Nolan’s breakout film is a 113-minute thrill ride thanks to its scattered structure and riddle-solving trajectory. And, yeah, there’s a question of whether the person being punished actually did anything wrong. To which I say, who can remember such details? Also, who the hell cares?
There were plenty of rivalries during Bad‘s five seasons, but the climactic showdown between Walt and a gang of local Nazis topped them all. Murder, theft, and torture? Pish, skinheads. Walt brought a machine gun to this fight.
Steven Spielberg’s murderous meditation on the Israel-Palestine clash after the PLO’s terrorism at the 1972 Summer Olympics is at once nail-biting and thought-provoking. Most captivating: It’s based on real events.
Sydney Bristow’s elaborate plan to take down calculating fiancé murderer Arvin Sloane formed the baseline of what made Alias addictive from the jump, enveloping viewers in five seasons of double-crossing, cat-and-mouse intrigue.
Charles Bronson became the unwitting face of vigilante justice thanks to his 1974 collaboration with director Michael Winner. Despite appearing in four sequels during the next 20 years, Bronson felt compelled to advise viewers: ”Don’t try this at home!”
Basically Every Film by Quentin Tarantino
Whether it’s Kill Bill‘s track suit-wearing, katana-wielding Bride, Django Unchained and opening a can of whoop-ass in Little Lord Fauntleroy duds, or Inglourious Basterds‘ Shosanna demonically laughing on-screen as she takes down Hitler (history be damned!), Tarantino knows his way around an artful vendetta.