Nothing beats a good vengeance movie. Why? We think it’s because everyone has a grudge in the back of their mind that they wish weren’t there. Whether it be a broken heart or a betrayal of another sort, we’ve all thought about revenge at some point in our lives. That’s why we like revenge movies.
Sometimes, we just want to see the good guy hunt down the bad guy and kick the living shit out of them. Revenge movies are typically violent, gory and thrilling, and the protagonist always comes out the other end being everyone’s new favorite badass.
So without further ado, here are the 23 best and most satisfying revenge movies of all time (and if we forgot any, PLEASE let us know in the comments!)
1. The Crow
Release Date: May 13, 1994
Starring: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Rochelle Davis
IMDB Rating: 7.6 out of 10
The Crow is THE quintessential revenge movie. A man and his family are brutally murdered, and then he returns back to life on the anniversary of his death to avenge his and his fiancee’s murder. It’s a delightfully dark movie and is just about as gothic as you can get (sans having any vampires).
Of course, there’s also an aura of sadness surrounding the movie since lead actor Brandon Lee was accidentally killed on the set during filming, so seeing his character seek and destroy has even more gratification. The Crow had a unique visual style and cinematic vision thanks to director Alex Proyas, and the film took risks that you don’t often see in cinema. It’s stylistically brilliant and is the best revenge movie of all time.
And now that Jason Momoa is out of the Crow remake, it’s probably best you just watch the original, yeah?
2. Leon: The Professional
Release Date: November 18, 1994
Starring: Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, Natalie Portman
IMDB Rating: 8.6 out of 10
1994 was a great year for seeking revenge on the big screen. First, there was the controversial The Crow, and then a few months later followed Leon: The Professional, a movie surrounding a professional assassin taking in a 12-year-old girl following the murder of her father and little brother.
Of course, her new friend teaches her the ways of the hired hitman, teaching his methods to the young girl so she can take revenge. The premise is brilliant, and it’s executed well. Normally, we’re not into movies starring 12-year-old girls, but Leon: The Professional was truly special, and Natalie Portman’s performance, even at such a young age, was splendid.
3. Machete (2010)
Release Date: September 2010
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rodriguez, Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan
IMDB Rating: 6.7 out of 10
You’d think a movie starring Robert De Niro would see the star on the movie’s poster, but somehow, the great actor was overshadowed by Danny Trejo (we know, life doesn’t make sense). But Machete is Trejo’s standout performance, as he plays the titular role of Machete, a man out for revenge against his former boss after being set-up and betrayed.
As Machete is about to take a shot at a Senator he was hired to kill, someone fires at Machete, thus setting up an exciting tale of revenge. Oh, and does he get his revenge. Machete’s unforgiving nature creates for some brutal and hard to watch moments, and there are some funny moments in the movie as well.
4. John Wick
Release Date: October 24, 2014
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe
IMDB rating: 7.2 out of 10
John Wick was a special movie. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that John Wick is the best revenge movie of the last 10 years, and undoubtedly, the best Keanu Reeves movie since A Scanner Darkly. The tale follows a former hitman who comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that murdered his wife, stole his car, (and, sadly, killed his dog that his wife left him upon her death).
The man responsible for John Wick’s wife’s death, Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), is under the protection of his gangster father, Viggo (Nyqvist). John Wick is a brutal revenge tale, and doesn’t spare any violence nor does it opt for a happy ending. It’s one of the best action movies of the past few years.
*Update: Of course, now there’s John Wick: Chapter 2 also, and although I haven’t seen it yet, I’m sure it belongs on this list as well. If you want to know more about it, check out Rolling Stone’s review, which notes that Reeves’ performance in Chapter 2 is ‘poetry in bruising motion.’
5. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Release Date: December 11, 2011
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer
IMDB Rating: 7.9 out of 10
The book that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is based on is a tough read to get through because of its nature. I pride myself in being a man’s man, but even I had trouble bearing the events in the book. Seeing those events play out on the screen was tough to watch, too. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows a journalist investigating the disappearance of a wealthy patriarch’s niece from 40 years ago.
He’s given the help of a punk computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander who helps him uncover immense corruption beyond anything they could’ve imagined. The book’s writer, Stieg Larsson, spoke of an incident which occurred when he was just 15, where he stood by as three men gang-raped an acquaintance of his named Lisbeth. He asked Lisbeth for forgiveness days later, but she didn’t give him. Thus, many years later, Larsson was inspired to create Lisbeth as a character, who also was a rape survivor.
In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth seeks revenge on her rapist, torturing him in unimaginable ways and capturing it all on camera. If you’ve got a weak stomach, stay away from this movie. But, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best revenge movies, despite its tough subject matter.
6. Inglourious Basterds
Release Date: August 21, 2009
Starring: Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Christoph Waltz, Michael Fassbender
IMDB Rating: 8.3 out of 10
Inglourious Basterds is also a brutal revenge movie to watch, but what else would you expect from Quentin Tarantino. It follows the story of a group of Jewish U.S. Soldiers in Nazi-occupied France during World War II who is on a mission to assassinate Nazi leaders. Inglourious Basterds is one of the greatest revenge tales of all time, as the soldiers are helped by young Jewish refugee Shosanna Dreyfus, who is out for vengeance against the Nazis after witnessing the slaughter of her family by Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). She plots with the soldiers to kill Nazi officers whom will be in attendance at a movie premiere in a theater she owns. The movie is a ruthless and unforgettable movie.
7. Kill Bill
Release Date: October 10, 2003
Starring: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah
IMDB Rating: 8.1 out of 10
Of course, our list of the best revenge movies would immediately be discredited if we didn’t include one of Quentin Tarantino’s other movies, Kill Bill: Vol. 1. It’s similar in vein to John Wick, where a former assassin was wronged and seeks revenge. The woman, simply named The Bride, awakens from a four-year coma without the baby she was carrying and seeks vengeance against a team of assassins led by her former lover, Bill, who betrayed her. Her revenge is a dish served ferociously.
8. Django Unchained
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Starring: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz
IMDB Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino’s best movie yet, and it’s no surprise that it also follows the theme of revenge and vengeance. With the help of a German bounty hunter, Django, a freed slave, is on a mission to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. Everything about Django Unchained is a masterpiece.
It’s about a man who’d do anything for his wife, even if it means killing a lot of people (and boy, does he kill a LOT of people). The casting was brilliant, and although we strongly believe DiCaprio should’ve gotten his well-deserved Oscar, he didn’t win. The movie is Tarantino’s bloodiest movie to date, but it’s a poignant story that needs to be watched to fully understand its significance.
Release Date: January 30, 2009
Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
IMDB Rating: 7.9 out of 10
Although it has since been diluted by its second and third installments, Taken was originally one of the best revenge movies we’d seen in a while. It follows the tale of a retired CIA agent on a mission to save his estranged daughter after she’s kidnapped while vacationing with her friend in Paris. It’s basically a reason for Liam Neeson to go full badass.
The movie isn’t all about the violence Neeson’s character inflicts on his journey to save his daughter — although there’s plenty of that — but focuses on what a father will do for his daughter’s safety. It also helps that Neeson has a killer line in the movie that spawned an unprecedented number of internet memes.
It’s the movie’s many quotables that make it one of the top revenge movies of all-time.
10. V For Vendetta
Release Date: March 17, 2006
Starring: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Rupert Graves
IMDB Rating: 8.2 out of 10
V for Vendetta is quite a polarizing movie — either you loved it or you hated it. Personally, we loved it. It’s about seeking revenge on a government as opposed to a single person. It’s set in future Great Britain where Evey Hammond (Portman) is saved by a life-and-death situation by a man in a Guy Fawkes mask who calls himself V. Evey and V team up to bring down those who committed the atrocities that led to Britain being in the fascist state it has become.
Release Date: February 5, 1999
Starring: Mel Gibson, Gregg Henry, Mario Bello, Lucy Liu
IMDB Rating: 7.1 out of 10
Back when rooting for Mel Gibson was still a viable option, Payback was a plausible movie where we were supposed to actually root for the “bad guy.” Following the attempted murder by his wife and best friend, an ex-marine named Porter (Gibson) plots his revenge with the help of a prostitute whose loyalty is in question. It’s Mel Gibson at his best.
Release Date: August 7, 1992
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman
IMDB Rating: 8.3 out of 10
Back in 1992, we were beginning to think that gunslinging western movies were dying, until Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. It’s a tale of a retired Old West gunslinger who takes on one last job to help his old partner collect a bounty.
This is about Eastwood’s character protecting prostitutes and seeking vengeance against those who have done the prostitutes wrong and tortured his friend. It’s one of the best modern westerns of all-time.
Unforgiven is Eastwood in his prime, so it should be of no surprise to you that it won a slew of Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor [Hackman]) as well as many other awards.
13. The Punisher (2004)
Release Date: April 16, 2004
Starring: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis
IMDB Rating: 6.5 out of 10
I know there are a ton of people that will likely disagree with me on this one, but The Punisher is one of the best revenge movies of all time. Say what you will about whether or not it lives up to comic book character or not, the movie is purely vengeful. Most prefer Dolph Lundgren’s version better, but Thomas Jane’s was more believable.
We included it in our list of the most underrated action movies of all-time, too, and with good reason. It’s about a man who watches his family get murdered and seeks vengeance upon those who did the murdering. It’s violent, and it’s delightful.
14. True Grit
Release Date: December 22, 2010
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld, Josh Brolin
IMDB Rating: 7.7 out of 10
The Coen Bros’ True Grit remake of 2010 was an all-around great film. Like many on this list, it’s one of those revenge movies that follows someone seeking vengeance against the person who killed his/her family. In this case, the story follows a U.S. Marshal (Bridges) who helps a stubborn teenager (Steinfeld) track down the murderer of her father.
It’s actually one of the better Hollywood remakes we’ve seen in the past decade, and even renown movie reviewer Roger Ebert gave it a 3.5 out of 4 review. So, be sure not to miss it.
15. The Brave One
Release Date: September 14, 2007
Starring: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews
IMDB Rating: 6.8 out of 10
The Brave One follows Erica Bain, a woman who loses her husband and dog during a vicious attack, during which she is also molested. After waking up traumatized in a hospital, with no husband and no dog, Erica returns home and seeks vengeance against her attackers. After the police find one of her attackers and ask Erica to identify him in a lineup, she pretends she doesn’t recognize him, and then tracks him down afterward to take matters into her own hands.
Release Date: May 24, 1995
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan
IMDB Rating: 8.4 out of 10
Back when we still thought Mel Gibson was a sane person, he played the role of William Wallace in Braveheart, a movie about revenge against England’s oppressive rule. Following the death of his family as a boy, and the execution of his wife, Wallace leads a revolution against the English tyrant leader. It’s violent medieval warfare that’s entertainment at its finest.
17. Mad Max
Release Date: February 15, 1980
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joanne Samuel, Steve Bisley
IMDB Rating: 7.0 out of 10
This is the last Mel Gibson movie on this list, we swear! Mad Max follows Max Rockatansky who turns judge, juror, and executioner after his wife, baby and best friend are murdered by a gang. Max slides nicely into the role of a madman out for revenge, becoming the antihero viewers want to see victorious. Max tracks down the biker gang’s leader, Toecutter, to get a violent revenge fueled by brutal rage.
18. Revenge (1990)
Release Date: February 16, 1990
Starring: Kevin Costner, Anthony Quinn, Madeleine Stowe
IMDB Rating: 6.2 out of 10
We didn’t think of it at the time, but Revenge should’ve also been included in our list of the most underrated action movies of all-time. It’s filled with interesting plot twists, but it basically revolves around Cochran (Kevin Costner), a man fresh out of the Navy who goes on vacation at the request of his much older friend who has a young wife Cochran just can’t resist. What follows is an emotionally-fueled and brilliant revenge tale and an impressive masterpiece by director Tony Scott.
19. Old Boy
Release Date: November 21, 2003
Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-Jeong Kang
IMDB Rating: 8.4 out of 10
South Korea is well known for its brilliant revenge movies, and the quintessential South Korean revenge movie is the original Old Boy by director Chan-wook Park. It follows the tale of Oh Dae-Su, a man kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years with no explanation. After finding himself set free, he begins tracking down his captors for retribution. It’s a stylish thriller and is filled with brutality and one of the best fight scenes in cinematic history, which was shot in a single take.
20. I Spit On Your Grave
Release Date: November 22, 1978
Starring: Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard Pace
IMDB Rating: 5.6 out of 10
I Spit on Your Grave is the most notorious rape-revenge movies of all time, and was a shocking bit of cinema for its time. It follows an aspiring writer who was savagely gang-raped and humiliated, left for dead by four men. The movie follows her hunt of the four men to seek her revenge in her twisted, psychotic state. It’s a tough movie to watch, but it’s undeniably one of the most gratifying female revenge tales.
21. Carrie (1976)
Release Date: November 3, 1976
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving
IMDB Rating: 7.4 out of 10
Carrie is one of the most memorable revenge movies of all-time. It’s about a young, shy 17-year-old girl who discovers she has telekinesis and gets pushed too far at her high school prom. It’s based on the Stephen King novel, of course, so you know it has to be a twisted tale. Carrie is tormented by her classmates over her reaction to her first period, and eventually, Carrie gets angry, seeking revenge on her peers.
22. Straw Dogs
Release Date: December 22, 1971
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Susan George, Peter Vaughan
IMDB Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Straw Dogs is one of the most gratifying revenge tales of them all. The movie revolves around a young American that moves to England to live with his wife, who find themselves at the vicious end of torment by a group of locals (one of which is an ex-boyfriend of the wife). It involves a couple of controversial rape scenes and a husband’s repressed rage that leads to the violent revenge while he defends his home.
Release Date: August 24, 1990
Starring: Liam Neeson, Frances McDormand, Colin Friels
IMDB Rating: 6.4 out of 10
Darkman is one of my favorite movies of all-time. It comes from director Sam Raimi, who has yet to make a better movie. Darkman follows Peyton Westlake, a brilliant scientist burned alive and left for dead, leaving him alive but severely disfigured.
He becomes Darkman, a crazed lunatic out for revenge on the people that attempted to murder him in his own lab. He uses synthetic skin that he created to take on the appearance of anyone, although he’s limited to just 100 minutes per disguise as the skin melts after that length of time. Darkman is basically a superhero movie with a severely twisted and dark vibe.
I’ll also note that it spawned one of my favorite NES video games of all time (check out Game Dave’s review for more info on that!), so I’m admittedly slightly biased because of that.
Did I miss any painfully obvious vengeance movies? Let me know in the comments!