Throughout cinematic history, plenty of men have tried their hands at turning the tides with a swift kick of vengeance — but they weren’t alone. Movies aren’t always blind when it comes to gender, and men tend to get an unfair advantage, especially when it comes to being the aggressive protagonists. However, the playing field is starting to even out. Slowly but surely, women are bringing balance to the Force, so to speak.
Some women in film have had no trouble taking matters into their own hands, gladly getting those hands dirty in the process. They were wronged, so they stepped up. They were pushed, so they pushed back. They proved in their respective roles that there isn’t a weaker sex, only certain men who overestimate their power. These women fix that problem head-on. With aggressive cleverness and the element of surprise in their arsenal, they stood up, they fought back, and they turned the tide once and for all. So, for a healthy serving of femme fatale badassery, keep reading to get your necessary fix of 15 Movies Where Women Take Revenge On Men.
17. Mad Max: Fury Road
Max is not the sole hero in Mad Max: Fury Road. In fact, he’s not even the main hero. That role is reserved for Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). In fact, that role may as well be reserved for the whole female cast in this flick, seeing as their particular woes take precedence over everyone else’s. Even Max’s.
Wasting away their lives under the iron fist that is the film’s main baddie, Immortan Joe, these women fight back. Not only do they fight back, they wage a road war over Joe and his sadistic cronies, stripping them of their resources and reclaiming their freedom via whatever antagonistic means they deem necessary.
These women are unforgiving, and for good reason. Their desperateness is fueled with a violent rage, and matched with Furiosa’s particular skills when she gets behind the wheel of a car, they easily become any man’s worst nightmare.
16. The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola is no stranger to a certain kind of darkness unique only to the female condition. She’s proven this with The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette, and most recently, with her femme-vengeance period drama, The Beguiled. Set in the south during the Civil War, an act of kindness ends up putting a small, girls-only school in danger. When one of the girls happens upon a wounded soldier, the headmistress, Martha (played by Nicole Kidman), is kind enough to let him stay with them until he’s healed. In fact, she’s especially kind, considering he’s a Union soldier.
However, despite their charity, his aggressive virility takes over, putting Martha’s girls in harm’s way. So, to make damn sure that her girls are safe under her watch, she personally sees to it that he gets what’s coming to him — no matter what sort of pain it might cause him.
15. Death Proof
While Hollywood often has trouble figuring out how to put strong and independent female characters front and center, Quentin Tarantino’s been doing it for years. He put Pam Grier in the titular lead with Jackie Brown and broke the box-office with Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, but in the second half of his Grindhouse double feature with Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino put the ladies at the wheel with Death Proof.
Some consider this to be “lesser Tarantino,” but there’s no accounting for taste. Death Proof takes girl power and shifts it into overdrive. After a lunatic (albeit masterfully-skilled) driver by the name of Stuntman Mike (played by Kurt Russell) tries to not only drive a carful of women off the road, but to their brutal deaths, they refuse to back down. In fact, they play him at his own game. The flick goes from cat-and-mouse horror to off-road vengeance, and these women tear him the hell up — no matter how close to death they happen to get in the process.
When life gives you lemons, you sabotage Meryl Streep. That is, if you’re Roseanne Barr from She-Devil, at least. After Ruth (Barr) finds out that her husband is having an affair with famed novelist Mary Fisher (Streep), she declares war. Not satisfied with simply sitting back while her husband casually ruins her life without even a shred of sympathy, Ruth hits him where it hurts. In fact, she recruits the help of other women who have also been wronged by men to construct creative ways to become the ultimate saboteurs.
Eventually, Ruth sets fire to both her husband and Mary, tearing their respective careers in half and exposing them for the rotten people they really are. Eventually, the tables turn in Ruth’s favor, proving the point that being a terrible person is rarely associated with happy endings.
13. I Spit On Your Grave
For some people, vengeance is sweet. However, for aspiring writer Jennifer (Camille Keaton), vengeance is bloody, brutal, and unapologetic.
During a quiet getaway by herself, Jennifer hopes to get some writing done. She rents a cabin all to herself and indulges in the peace and quiet, hoping some inspiration might strike. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. She ends up being interrupted by a group of men who end up torturing her, raping her, and leaving her for dead. What these men don’t expect, however, is payback. Jennifer doesn’t just come back to right wrongs, she comes for their blood in the kind of exploitation-horror that only the 1970s knew how to perfect. It’s twisted, it’s intense, and it’s savage — but it’s also so, so satisfying.
12. The First Wives Club
Not all vengeance has to be bloody. Just ask the women of The First Wives Club. Screwed over by their cheating, spineless, and conniving husbands, Elise, Brenda, and Annie (played by Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton, respectively) decide to join forces and do something about it. Tired of playing second fiddle to the patriarchy, they up their typically underwhelming game and show the men in their lives who is really in charge. They do this by sabotaging their businesses, screwing with their bank accounts, and making a mockery of their reputations. The icing on the cake is that everything they do is perfectly legal (with some grey areas sprinkled around for good measure, that is).
11. Sympathy For Lady Vengeance
Park Chan-wook knows revenge, and he’s proven that three times over with his aptly-titled Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). Wrongfully accused for murder and forced to spend thirteen years in prison, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is reawakened after serving her sentence. She fools everyone into believing that she’s undergone a sort of spiritual transformation while imprisoned, but that isn’t actually the case at all. In fact, she spent her time behind bars preparing herself for the swift vengeance she’d be soon be enacting.
10. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
There is a lot going on within the world of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. A murder mystery connects to the two leads, Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who make for a peculiar pair, but it’s Lisbeth’s personal life that brings the film’s twisted savagery to a deeply personal level. Intertwined with the film’s central mystery, Lisbeth confronts some personal demons head-on. In fact, she specifically confronts a singular demon in the form of the social worker who’s been assigned to her.
After he rapes her, Lisbeth turns the tables, ultimately destroying his life, and using her genius skills with technology as the ultimate weapon. On the surface, she seems intimidating enough, but by the time she seeks revenge on this poor excuse of a man, she proves without question that she is the last person that anyone in their right mind would ever want to cross.
9. Hard Candy
Hard Candy isn’t just a satisfying revenge story for its main character, Hayley (played by Ellen Page), but for every young girl who’s been harassed, gawked at, or in any way wronged by sexual predators. But that’s not to say that it’s easy to sit through.
In Hard Candy, the tables don’t just turn on the characters, but the audience. The plot seems simple enough, with Patrick Wilson’s Jeff friendlily coaxing this teenage girl (Page) to hang out with him at his house. However, even though she tags along, and even though he seems to have the upper hand, it turns out that this is all part of an elaborate plan for enacting justice. She drugs him, ties him up, and tortures him — just not in the traditional sense.
8. The Brave One
In The Brave One, the revenge plot isn’t quite as simple as Erica Baine (Jodie Foster) may want it to be. She and her fiancé are attacked, her fiancé is killed, and she wants nothing more than to kill the men who responsible, though she’s still very shaken up by the incident. Understandably, of course.
The Brave One pivots solely around revenge, but that’s not to say it’s entirely sure that revenge is really the answer. When Erica ends up killing a man who attacks her at knifepoint, her appetite for justice conflicts with her inner battle over whether playing vigilante is actually the right thing to do. Matched with the fact that the law isn’t exactly going to be on her side when it comes to taking it into her own hands, she continues down a traumatic, but ultimately empowering, path of self-discovery.
7. Les Diaboliques
Now here’s an interesting spin on a revenge plot… At first, the film starts off traditionally enough — two women take down the man who’s been wronging them both, kill him, and then dispose of the body — but the plot begins to tread unexpected territory. A mystery suddenly unfolds when his corpse suddenly disappears, leaving their chance at getting away with the crime up in the air.
Les Diaboliques is a twisty, Hitchcockian thriller that hardly makes revenge look easy. The two women — one is the victim’s husband, the other his mistress — are forced to figure out why exactly their attempt at revenge didn’t go quite according to plan, all the while trying to unravel the plot in which they’ve entangled themselves.
6. 9 to 5
Employers can be awful. They run the show, love that they’re in charge, and do as they please, even if it’s at the expense of their employees. In 9 to 5, it’s no different. In fact, the negative light in which the boss of three secretaries (Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin) is portrayed is as chauvinistically awful as chauvinistically awfulness goes. So instead of merely sitting back and “taking it,” they join forces and decide to put an end to his BS once and for all.
Their methods aren’t exactly low-key (they tie him up and hold him hostage), but it’s what they’re standing for that makes their actions perfectly excusable. They want equality. They want to be treated with respect. They don’t want the fact that they’re women to be viewed as something negative. These women don’t resort to murder (that would have made for quite a different movie), but that’s not to say they aren’t forces to be reckoned with.
9 to 5 is also to thank for this little ditty that’ll be stuck in your head all day.
5. True Grit
After losing her father, Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld, who earned an Oscar nomination for her performance) is alone. However, being the capable young woman that she is, she recruits the help of skilled gunslinger and maverick lawman Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to help her track down her father’s killer and seek the justice she and her dad deserve.
True Grit was already made famous in 1969 with a film starring John Wayne, but it’s the Joel and Ethan Coen version from 2010 that gives Mattie the emotional wherewithal to carry the picture — even against the likes of actors like Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin. This was a period in history where cowboys reigned, but in this simple enough tale of righting wrongs and exacting retribution, a girl aged only 14 years has the Old West by the throat, and though she may not be as physical intimidating as the men she shares the screen with, her determination is unrivaled.
4. Ms. 45
If men ever needed some convincing as to why they ought to give up on catcalling, Ms. 45 can help. Thana (Zoë Lund) works in New York City and is far too familiar with the masculine scum plaguing the streets. Once the catcalling escalates into full-on rape (twice in a single day, in fact), Thana has had enough. She takes to the streets and, instead of avoiding them, specifically seeks out every dirt ball wreaking havoc on innocent women.
Ms. 45 is pure exploitation-cinema, and it’s unapologetically a product of its time. This plays a significant role into why it works so well. The environment, the time period, the “nun with a gun” approach… Ms. 45 is the kind of grindhouse-friendly flick that the early ’80s welcomed with open arms.
Audition is the kind of film that isn’t just getting under the skin of its audience, but its own characters as well. Literally. The film starts off with Shigeharu Aoyama’s (Ryo Ishibashi) unusual method to find a new wife, holding an audition where he plans to interview various women before choosing one he considers to be the perfect fit. As it turns out, however, the woman he ends up choosing, Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina), isn’t quite as charming as she seemed at first.
He eventually discovers that her own need for love and commitment is on a whole other level than his own, escalating into a grotesque revenge story that results in dismemberment, slow-burning torture, and obsession, all of which Asami considers to be completely necessary.
2. Thelma And Louise
Friends Thelma and Louise aren’t happy with their home lives. They’re not given the respect they deserve, and aside from the time they spend with each other, they’re not truly happy. However, during a pitstop on their fishing weekend friend-cation, a bonafide scum bucket tries taking advantage of them, drastically shifting their trip’s itinerary.
Protecting her friend, Louise shoots and kills him, prompting what eventually becomes a cat and mouse getaway road movie between themselves and the police. It takes this particular event to remind Thelma and Louise that they’re not simply fodder for the male community. They’re independent women perfectly capable of handling themselves, thank you very much, and they take to extreme measures to prove their point — even if it kills them.
1. Kill Bill
In Kill Bill, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) is a killing machine — but not without reason. After she’s left for dead at her own wedding by the man she used to love, as well as her old crew of fellow assassins, she eventually wakes up from a four-year-long coma wanting nothing but sweet, sweet revenge. She does this without the slightest bit of hesitation, writing the names of her soon-to-be victims on a piece of paper that might as well be a grocery list, and for two whole films, she leaves a bloody trail in her tracks.
Beatrix, aka “The Bride,” wreaks havoc with her sword in a truly no-holds-barred display of masterfully choreographed violence. She hacks off limbs, rips out an eye with her bare hand, and stops a beating heart with nothing more than her fingers…
This is revenge at its most satisfying.
Think this order should be rearranged? Did we leave out a classic women-on-men revenge flick? Don’t hold back — let us know in the comments!