28 great revenge movies
Are you not entertained?
Vengeance will be theirs
Even if you advocate taking the high road in real life, sometimes nothing satisfies quite like a merciless, unapologetic revenge movie. We’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite tales of sweet vengeance right here, because sometimes everyone — from jilted high school students to enslaved Roman generals — feels the need to take justice into their own hands.
The Brave One (2007)
Neil Jordan’s New York City thriller The Brave One stars Jodie Foster as a woman who survived an attack that resulted in her fiancé’s death. Reeling from the incident, she acquires an illegal firearm and becomes a vigilante, making headlines as she picks off one criminal after another until she finds the thugs responsible for her fiancé’s murder.
Cape Fear (1962)
J. Lee Thompson's 1962 adaptation of James R. Webb's novel The Executioners stars Robert Mitchum as a convicted rapist who, upon being released from prison, seeks vengeance on the lawyer (Gregory Peck) whom he blames for his having received such a harsh sentence. Martin Scorsese remade the thriller in 1991, with Robert De Niro in the Mitchum role and Nick Nolte in Peck's, and featuring both of the original actors in small parts.
Related: Cape Fear (1962) review
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel has been adapted for the screen multiple times, most recently in Kevin Reynolds’ 2002 swashbuckler starring Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantés, a trusting young man whose best friend, Fernand (Guy Pearce), falsely frames him for treason. In one of the greatest revenge stories of all time, Dantés escapes from prison, collects an enormous fortune, and gets his sweet vengeance on the traitorous Fernand and his accomplices.
Related: The Count of Monte Cristo review
The Crow (1994)
Sadly, Brandon Lee (Bruce's son) passed away at the age of 28 following an accident on the set of Alex Proyas’ The Crow, based on the comic by James O’Barr. Lee stars in the film as a rocker who is resurrected by a mystical crow, then gets his ghostly revenge on the gang who murdered him and his fiancée a year before.
Death Wish (1974)
Michael Winner kicked off the Death Wish film series (of which he directed the first three movies) with this 1974 actioner, based on Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel. Charles Bronson stars as Paul Kersey, a pacifist architect who transforms into a ruthless vigilante when his wife is murdered and his daughter raped in a home invasion.
Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning historical epic stars Russell Crowe as Maximus, a Roman general who is sold into slavery following the murders of both his own family and the Emperor to whom he was loyal. A talented fighter, he becomes a great gladiator and seeks his revenge — against the power-hungry new Emperor who killed everyone he loved — in the arena.
The Godfather (1972)
Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal crime drama chronicles the ascent of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino), the youngest and brightest son of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), Don of the Corleone crime family, from being outside the family business to taking over as Don when his father dies. His evolution from a promising young war vet into a ruthless mob boss is largely driven by his desire to get revenge on the rival mobsters responsible for the deaths of his wife and brother.
O, vengeance! Shakespeare’s great tragedy of the Prince of Denmark revolves around its conflicted hero’s desire to avenge his father’s murder (by Hamlet’s uncle, no less). Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the 1996 adaptation in which he starred, above), Laurence Olivier, Mel Gibson, and Ethan Hawke are among the many A-listers who have portrayed “the son of a dear father murdered / Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell.”
In the Bedroom (2001)
Todd Field made his directorial debut with this tense drama, which premiered at Sundance and went on to pick up five Oscar nominations. A husband and wife (Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek) struggle to cope in the aftermath of the murder of their adult son — until the young man’s father takes justice into his own hands. Nothing can assuage the pain of grief quite like revenge.
Related: In the Bedroom review
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Quentin Tarantino makes the list twice — first with this bloodbath of a WWII movie, in which Mélanie Laurent plays a Parisian Jewish woman who takes her revenge on the Nazis who killed her family. The worst of them is the psychotic Hans Landa, the role that won Christoph Waltz his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar (of two) for a performance in a Tarantino film.
John Tucker Must Die (2006)
Betty Thomas’ girl-powered high school revenge comedy stars Brittany Snow as a shy new girl at school who joins forces with a cheerleader, an overachiever, and an activist to get even with the basketball star (Jesse Metcalfe) who cheated on all three of them. Under the guidance of her new friends, Snow’s character succeeds in breaking John Tucker’s heart, but destroying a man is dirty work.
John Wick (2014)
The Keanu Reeves-starring John Wick, directed by stuntmen and first-time helmers Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (who went uncredited), was a surprise hit of 2014. Now, it's launched the Keanussaince and exploded into a whole franchise, with sequels in 2017 and 2019 (both helmed by Stahelski), a video game, and a TV series in development at Starz. When mobsters steal John Wick’s vintage car and kill the puppy that had been a gift from his wife just before her death, John will stop at nothing to get revenge. Conveniently, he is a former assassin.
Kill Bill (2003–2004)
Quentin Tarantino’s two-part revenge extravaganza, a tribute to exploitation cinema as loving as it is bloody, stars Uma Thurman as the Bride, a jumpsuit-clad murderess hell-bent on vengeance after a team of deadly assassins — of which she used to be a part — tried to kill her and her unborn child on her wedding day.
Christopher Nolan got his breakthrough with his second feature, 2001’s trippy revenge thriller Memento. Guy Pearce stars as Leonard, a man trying to avenge his wife’s death by tracking down her killer. His lack of short-term memory, for which he compensates with tattoos and photographs, informs the film’s nonlinear narrative structure: Alternating between the beginning of the story, shown chronologically, and the latter half, presented in reverse, the two narrative threads meet at the end, filling in each other’s gaps and solving the final mystery.
Moby Dick (1956)
Herman Melville’s 19th-century masterpiece has been adapted for the screen many times, most notably in 1956 by director John Huston, from a screenplay by Huston and Ray Bradbury. Gregory Peck stars as Captain Ahab, a sea captain consumed by his obsession with hunting down the white whale, Moby Dick, who destroyed his ship and tore off his leg — forcing Ahab to walk, in a cruel bit of irony, on a whalebone prosthesis.
Steven Spielberg’s Munich, based on George Jonas’ aptly titled nonfiction book Vengeance, tells the true story of the Israeli government’s secret revenge mission following the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Eric Bana stars as the leader of the mission, Avner, in the film, which received five Oscar nominations.
Nine to Five (1980)
Dolly Parton had her first film role (and was nominated for an Oscar for having written the movie’s theme song of the same name) in Colin Higgins’ classic workplace comedy. She stars with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as a trio of office workers who plot the revenge of their sexist, egotistical boss.
Park Chan-wook's Oldboy is the second, and most famous, installment in the filmmaker's "Vengeance Trilogy." It follows a man (Choi Min-sik) who has been imprisoned in a small room for 15 years, only to be released with no explanation of where he was, who put him there, and why he was made to suffer so. Who wouldn't want revenge after that? Spike Lee remade the beloved Korean film, with Josh Brolin in the lead role, in 2013.
Point Blank (1967)
Lee Marvin stars in John Boorman’s moody noir, based on the 1963 Richard Stark novel The Hunter, which was later adapted for the screen again in Brian Helgeland’s 1999 Mel Gibson starrer Payback. Marvin plays Walker, a man seeking revenge on the best friend who betrayed him and left him for dead after they stole a large amount of money together.
Related: Point Blank DVD review
The Princess Bride (1987)
Don’t be turned off from Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride just because it’s a “kissing book”; it’s got fencing, fighting, torture, giants, monsters, chases, escapes — and some highly satisfying revenge. Never forget: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Promising Young Woman (2020)
One of the biggest breakouts of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival was the stylish, provocative debut feature from Killing Eve showrunner and The Crown actress Emerald Fennell. Pitch-black and candy-pink in equal measure, the daring feminist indie stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a med school dropout who spends her weekends fake-drunkenly luring in “good” guys who would take advantage of her and then lucidly confronting them. Having adopted her crusade following the suicide of her best friend, the story of whose rape nobody believed, Cassie will not rest until she’s gotten revenge not only on the perpetrators, but the whole system that enables them — and that’s a promise.
Revenge of the Nerds (1984)
Adams College's resident posse of nerds, led by Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards, decide enough is enough when the jock-filled fraternity Alpha Beta accidentally burns down their frat house and takes over the nerds' dorm, forcing the latter group to take up residence in the gym. But the geeks shall inherit the earth: The nerds rush a rival frat and beat the Alpha Betas at their own game.
Rocky IV (1985)
The fourth installment in the Sylvester Stallone-starring Rocky franchise — and the third consecutive one that was also directed by the star — sees the Italian Stallion taking on Russian boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) to avenge the death of his best friend and former competitor Apollo Creed, whom Drago killed in the ring.
Roseanne Barr made her film debut in this dark comedy from director Susan Sideman, playing a frumpy housewife, Ruth. When her husband leaves her for a glamorous romance novelist (Meryl Streep), Ruth sets out to get revenge on him by eliminating all the good aspects of his life — and amasses an army of sympathetic women to help her.
Related: Meryl Streep's 22 best performances
Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Considered by many to be the best of the Star Trek films, Nicholas Meyer’s The Wrath of Khan reached back to a 1967 Star Trek episode for its villain, Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán), who hunts down the Enterprise to exact revenge on Captain Kirk. The second film in J.J. Abrams’ reboot series, 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, reintroduced the iconic villain, this time played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Straw Dogs (1971)
Sam Peckinpah’s unsettling psychological thriller stars Dustin Hoffman as an American mathematician who moves with his wife to her hometown in the English countryside. When she is the victim of a hideous crime by some local men, her husband is put to the ultimate test in Peckinpah’s disturbing rumination on violence and masculinity. Rod Lurie remade the film, with James Marsden in the lead role, in 2011.
Related: Straw Dogs review
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Tim Burton’s 2007 adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical stars Johnny Depp in the title role, continuing the actor and filmmaker’s long history of collaboration. Sweeney Todd is a barber who slits his customer’s throats (then allows them to be baked into meat pies by his downstairs neighbor, Helena Bonham-Carter’s Mrs. Lovett), aiming to take revenge on the corrupt judge who had him wrongly imprisoned and is responsible for the death of Todd’s wife.
Related: Tim Burton pays homage to himself
V for Vendetta (2006)
A masked Hugo Weaving and shaved-headed Natalie Portman starred in James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta, based on writer Alan Moore and illustrator David Lloyd’s graphic novel of the same name. Weaving plays V, a freedom fighter who terrorizes the fascist regime that rules the UK in the film’s imagined dystopian future, and Portman is Evey, a working-class girl who joins his cause.
Related: Behind the scenes of V for Vendetta