“Revenge is a dish best served cold” - Klingon Proverb
When it comes down to it, few things motivate good people to do bad things quite like revenge. Even people who were pretty bad to begin with can go over the edge when given enough incentive; and few things incentivize humans quite like vengeance.
Here at Screen Rant we take you through the bloodiest, angriest, and most epic revenge plots in movie history. Here are the 24 Best Movie Revenge Plots Of All Time
WARNING: Major spoilers ahead!
25 Kill Bill (2003-2004)
Either viewed as a single film or in two "volumes," it’s clear that Tarantino’s epic is a masterpiece. Following the non-linear story of The Bride (Uma Thurman) as she takes down the gang of assassins that left her for dead, The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (or in her own words "the c**nts who wronged her”). Each member of the DVAS is dispatched in ever more stylish fashion until The Bride works her way to the leader of the gang, and her former lover, Bill.
In crafting Kill Bill, Quentin Tarantino acts as a cinematic hip-hop artist, sampling the work of others and blending them into something new. It’s a film fan’s dream and one well-worthy of its place on this list.
24 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
It’s right there in the title, this film is all about one man’s wrath. When Khan is abandoned on a habitable planet years before, James T. Kirk believes he is giving the rogue genetic superman a new chance to live his life. After a stellar explosion, however, the atmosphere of the planet is destroyed and it is left a harsh desolate wasteland. Khan’s life becomes a nightmare and he loses many of his people, including his beloved wife.
Upon his eventual escape from the planet, he sets his sights on Kirk. While its pointed out that he can go anywhere and do anything, he is single-minded in his pursuit of vengeance and refuses to deviate from his plan. This becomes his undoing, as he eventually sacrifices everything in an attempt to kill Kirk.
The Wrath of Khan is arguably the best Star Trek movie, and the screenplay is near flawless. Among Trek-fans it’s easily the most quoted movie of the whole franchise with Khan’s “From hell’s heart” speech being a classic along with the infamous “Khaaaaaaan!”
23 Munich (2005)
As far as revenge plots go, few are as devastating as the real-life events following the 1972 Munich massacre, in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were murdered by a Palestinian terrorist group.
Based on the alleged real life plan by the Israeli government to hunt down those responsible, Munich follows the team selected to enact the plot. Far from an action-thriller, Munich wrestles with the moral implications of murder as the plot begins to weigh heavily on those tasked with fulfilling it.
The dense, atmospheric tale is one of Spielberg’s best films to date, and far removed from the larger blockbusters that made his name.
22 I spit on your grave (1978)
Probably the most famous “rape and revenge” movie of the 1970s (yes, that was a genre), I Spit of your Grave is notoriously violent, even by the standards of a modern Tarantino movie, such as the ISOYG-influenced Kill Bill. Following Jennifer Hills as she sets about on a one-woman rampage to get revenge on the men that gang-raped her in the Connectivut countryside, I Spit On Your Grave is a cathartic and gruesome movie of the highest order. While the production values are not great, even by the standards of the era, they only serve to add to the rawness of the piece as style is sacrificed for brutality.
Depending on the audience, I Spit On Your Grave can be viewed as a piece of cinematic history, a feminist milestone, or a misogynistic piece of trash. Either way, as revenge flicks go, it’s a classic of the genre.
21 Point Blank (1967)
While the more recent Payback, starring Mel Gibson, may be derived from the same source material, Point Blank is inarguably the better movie. While several revenge flicks have been culled from the novel The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, Point Blank stands out for its direction by the exceptional John Boorman and the badass Lee Marvin in a career defining role.
Unlike most revenge pictures up to that point, Point Blank is a surprisingly artistic take on the genre. It combines the gritty angst of Lee Marvin’s career criminal, betrayed by his associates and left for dead, with groundbreaking neo-noir aesthetics.
While it’s been done many times since, this take on the source material remains the definitive version. Accept no substitutes.
20 OldBoy (2003)
Oldboy is one of those movies that film buffs talk about constantly, if only to prove their credentials as film buffs. Annoying as that may be to the more casual film fan, Oldboy remains a must-see. The story follows a man named Oh Dae-su who, for unknown reasons, has been locked in a room for 15 years with no explanation. Once free, he sets out on a bloody and stylistic rampage against those who imprisoned him.
Oldboy is legendary for its epic corridor fight scene, in which Oh Dae-su takes on a veritable army of goons in one single unbroken shot. Taken at face value, Oldboy is an excellent action movie. Viewed more deeply, it’s a haunting film that not only depicts pure vengeance but delves into its deeper nature in a way that few films do.
19 Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973)
Much like the previously mentioned I Spit On Your Grave, Thriller: A Cruel Picture is a definitive “rape and revenge” picture.
Thriller chronicles the story of Madeline, a one-time sex slave who becomes a one-woman army to seek revenge on the men who wronged her. While not the most original of plots, Thriller is more than a mere genre flick as the transformation of Madeline from meek slave to a force of nature is simply amazing.
Thriller is also notable for its notorious and exploitative sex scenes, as well as being an inspiration for many Tarantino movies (with Madeline’s eye patch being clearly referenced by Daryl Hannah's character in Kill Bill).
Cathartic, exploitative, but simply awesome. Thriller: A Cruel Picture is a cinematic masterpiece. If you can handle it.
18 Gladiator (2000)
“Are you not entertained???”
While often viewed as a sword and sandal epic, Gladiator is a pure revenge flick at its core. Consumed by rage, Maximus Decimus Meridius is determined to avenge his murdered family. Stripped of his rank as a Roman General and reduced in status to that of a slave, Maximus becomes a champion Gladiator and cuts a bloody swathe through all that stand in his way.
While the historical inaccuracies are almost as famous as the film itself, Gladiator is more than the summer blockbuster it was intended to be. As both the movie that ensured Ridley Scott’s comeback and ensured Russell Crowe’s place as a leading-man, Gladiator actually succeeds in the subtler scenes. The look in Russell Crowe’s eyes for most of the movie is haunting, as he looks angry in every scene. Upon finally achieving his vengeance, he, for the first time, finds some peace as he is welcomed to the afterlife by his family.
A fitting swan-song for the late Oliver Reed and a fine performance from the late Richard Harris add some gravitas to the film. The equally haunting and exciting soundtrack from Hans Zimmer round out the movie and make it a true epic.
17 The Punisher (2004)
Based on the Marvel comic book of the same name, The Punisher featuring Thomas Jane is a surprising vengeance flick. While gritty comic book adaptations are nothing new, The Punisher sets itself apart by positioning itself as pure revenge porn.
Frank Castle (Tom Jane) is a former special forces soldier and current agent of the FBI, living a content life with his family. When his entire family is slaughtered at a family party, he is left with nothing. Using the counterintelligence skills he has amassed over his life, and embracing his mission wholeheartedly, Frank takes apart the mobsters from the bottom up until he finally kills them all.
While not necessarily a classic of the comic book genre or the revenge flick genre, The Punisher is worth watching if you are a fan of either. It blends together the cinematic stylings of both genres to good, if not amazing, effect. As an honorable mention: the follow-up starring Ray Stevenson is a worthy successor to this movie and in many ways it's arguably superior.
16 Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
Far from the most well-known movies on this list, Dead Man’s Shoes is inarguably the best revenge-flick from British cinema. From the genius that is Shane Meadows, Dead Man’s Shoes is an intense and depressing drama about an ex-soldier seeking retribution against those that wronged his disabled brother. The characters are ordinary people, almost perfectly ordinary, which makes Dead Man’s Shoes feel very raw. Richard (Paddy Considine) is so ordinary that his tour-de-force of vengeance is the stuff of nightmares.
If major awards were given to movies of this type, Paddy Considine would surely have earned an Oscar nomination for this movie. The excellence of the film is unquestionable and it’s one that deserved far more praise than it received.
15 The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo is a stylish, yet simplified telling of the classic story. Two friends, both sailors, cross paths with the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba Island. One, Dante (Jim Cavieziel), is hailed as a hero but later falls foul of politics and is imprisoned unfairly in a castle for 13 years. While there, he befriends a former soldier and priest who teaches him many things, including how to be a gentleman, and sword fighting, things his simple upbringing as a commoner would not allow him to have learned previously. He also learns the secret location of a vast treasure.
Upon his release from the castle, and assuming the title of Count of Monte Cristo, Dante seeks both vengeance on those that wronged him, and restitution of his reputation. It’s stylish, but simple, and worth of its place for being a solid telling of such a classic story.
14 Last house on the left (1972)
Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left was one of the first exploitation movies that made its way into the public consciousness. Largely bolstered by a clever ad campaign ("It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie") Last House set the standard for genre pics for the next decade.
The plot is brutal, even for this type of film, a gang of wanderers rape and brutalize some teens and leave them for dead. They end up seeking shelter in a house, which happens to be the home of the parents of the teens. When the worried parents discover that they have been caring for their daughter’s killers, the cardigans come off and the chainsaws come out…
Despite an uneven tone at times, Wes Craven manages to craft a brutal rape-revenge flick whilst also employing some art-house elements. Lifting heavily from the plot of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, Last House manages to stand on the shoulders of giants to create something new and exciting. The juxtaposition of the mean streets of the city and the calm and quiet home imply an otherworldly invasion which only adds to the tension.
13 Sleepers (1996)
Sleepers is typically considered to be a legal crime drama rather than a straight up revenge flick, as the focus of the movie is the legal case of two men accused of killing a man who abused them as children. However, the flashbacks to the boys time at a correction facility, and their subsequent sexual abuses, prove that this is a revenge tale, as the two of them murder one of the guards after a chance encounter when they are adults.
Their friend, and fellow former inmate of the home for boys, is now an assistant DA and manages to be assigned the case to prosecute them, though his colleagues unaware of his connection to accused. Intending to botch the conviction from the outset, he enlists the help of another friend and a local priest to expose the pedophile guards and free his friends as well. The guards that brutalized them are all exposed or dead by the movies end, and the DA quits his job to become a carpenter.
It’s an offbeat revenge flick, but one that raises many moral questions regarding the legal system and the ethics of turning a blind eye to murder, even if it’s seemingly justified.
12 John Wick (2014)
is a neo-noir action flick that sees retired hitman John Wick seeking vengeance for the theft of his vintage car and the brutal killing of his puppy, a gift from his recently deceased wife. Paying homage to the "gun-fu" action movies of John Woo and drawing inspiration from John Woo’s The Killer and John Boorman’s Point Blank, it also has elements of spaghetti Westerns. A success at the box office, John Wick was seen as a return to form for Keanu Reeves and one of his best performances. It'll even get a sequel, coming to theaters some time next year.
11 Revenge (1990)
Bleak, violent, and surprisingly sexy, Revenge is an underrated masterpiece and one of Tony Scott’s best films. Kevin Costner is at a career best as an ex-aviator who cannot resist the young wife (Madeline Stowe) of his old friend (Anthony Quinn). What follows is a revenge flick with so many twists and turns that it leaves audiences befuddled after a single viewing. A streamlined director’s cut has been released in recent years, which makes the movie much more fast paced and serves to enhance the experience, without losing the tension.
While Tony Scott’s legacy is often one of style over substance, this movie proves without question that he was more than capable of emotionally engaging work when given the right script.
10 Taken (2008)
Taken is a revenge thriller in the loosest of terms, but vengeance is still at the core of Liam Neeson’s former CIA agent Bryan Mills, as he sets out to kill everyone involved with the kidnapping of his daughter.
After building up slowly, the movie explodes into action around the 30-minute mark and never really relents. While firmly tongue in cheek at times, Taken is faced-paced and kinetic and has some of the most memorable action scenes in recent cinema history. While the screenplay isn’t spectacular in many respects, the famous lines by Liam Neeson have fast become cinematic legend.
"I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom I can tell you I don't have money, but what I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you, but if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you."
While both a thriller and a revenge flick, Taken also serves to provide cathartic wish-fulfillment for fathers everywhere that worry about their daughter’s safety.
9 The Crow (1994)
There’s vengeance and then there’s return-from-the-dead vengeance! The Crow tells the story of rock musician Eric Draven (Brandon Lee), who is returned to life to avenge the murder of his fiancée.
While largely famous for the accidental on-set death of Brandon Lee, The Crow is a stylish neo-noir thriller that is deserving of its place as a cult favorite on its own merits. It’s filled with style and energy and is a massive showcase for the talents of the late Brandon Lee. While more famous for his death, his performance is intense and should not be underrated. His loss is still felt by fans of the film, and quite rightly so.
8 Memento (2000)
Memento is a psychologically driven revenge movie and is presented as two different sequences of scenes: a series in black-and-white that is shown chronologically, and a series of color sequences shown in reverse order. This serves to simulate the mental state of Leonard (Guy Pearce) who suffers from short-term amnesia, meaning he can't remember more than a few minutes at a time. Due to the disjointed nature of the storytelling and the protagonist’s inability to know who to trust, his revenge is often difficult to see as just, and not merely a by-product of self-delusion and wish-fulfillment.
While much of the central plot is unclear until the final moments, there is the option to watch the movie in chronological order on most DVD and Blu-Ray releases, which can make the whole movie make more sense from a narrative standpoint.
7 The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Influencing many modern revenge movies, The Outlaw Josey Wales is a raw and bloody movie set during the post-Civil War period. Considered tame by today’s standards, it was shocking for the audiences of the mid ‘70s due to the brutality of some scenes and the sheer body count.
Starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, Josey Wales is a simple farmer torn away from his simple life and thrown into the American Civil War. At the end of the war, his wife and son are killed by a gang of rogue “Red Leg” soldiers. Left with nothing but his rage, Josey Wales teams up with another gang, tracking the same men, and kills anyone who gets in his way.
His reputation growing, due to a scene where he kills an army of men with a Gatling gun, bounties are placed on his head and he finds it harder to find safe harbor. He finds peace with a group of wagon train pioneers and makes peace with local Native Americans, but his past catches up with him in typically bloody fashion.
Well shot, and clearly an homage to his friend and mentor Sergio Leone, this is easily one of Eastwood’s best directorial efforts.
6 True Grit (2010)
True Grit is a western revenge movie from the Coen Brothers. Rather than a remake of the 1969 version, it’s an adaption of the novel of the same name by Charles Portis. As expected from a Coen Brothers film, it does have some idiosyncrasies, but is surprisingly straight-laced, such is their respect for the source material.
A simple revenge movie, True Grit follows the story of a young girl, Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), who teams up with drunken US Marshall Rooster Coburn (Jeff Bridges) in order to find the men that killed her father. Mattie isn’t emotional about her mission; she merely sees it as a necessity. Despite her seeming lack of emotions, the movie is at times funny and insightful, as well as tense and violent.
Beautifully written and shot, True Grit is in every way superior to the 1969 version, and a superb revenge film.
5 Straw Dogs (1971)
“You can only push a guy to the limit… but expect consequences” is one of the taglines of the movie, as well as the mantra that the movie lives by. David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) is an American mathematician who moves to Cornwall in England and lives in an apparently normal village. He finds that the locals are insular and lacking in morals, seeing the outsiders as an insult to their community.
An inescapable conflict begins and escalates quickly, and David becomes a primal force of nature when his wife is brutally attacked in their home. His revenge, and transformation, from meek math nerd to brutal killer, is chilling.
4 Braveheart (1995)
While it may be hard to take Mel Gibson seriously after his infamous meltdown(s), there was a time when he was one of the most in-demand actors and directors in Hollywood. Braveheart came at the very peak of his career, and his pet project about the legendary Scottish warrior went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.
Gibson plays William Wallace, a man wronged by the English, who subjugate his people, the Scottish. He leads a vengeful army cutting apart the English until he is ultimately betrayed. He dies nobly for his cause and inspires a generation to come.
Historically accurate it is not - not even close - but it’s a huge epic picture that has some astonishing scenes and the oft-quoted “Freeeeeeedoommmmm” line is, although cheesy, Hollywood storytelling at its finest.
3 The Big Heat (1953)
It’s surprising how few classic film noirs deal with revenge as a plot. Indeed, The Big Heat is less of a noir and more of a forerunner to modern action pictures.
The legendary Fritz Lang’s noir stars Glenn Ford as cop Dave Bannion, who falls foul of the mobsters he is investigating when they blow up his car, killing his wife. Quitting the force, he takes matters into his own hands and hunts down those responsible.
While formulaic by today’s standards, this was ground-breaking at the time. The violence is surprisingly visceral, even by today’s standards, and Fritz Lang pulls no punches setting up the inevitable conclusion.
The term “seminal moment” is used far too casually to describe moments in movie history. In this case, it’s almost an understatement. The Big Heat is one of the most influential movies ever made.
2 Death Wish (1974)
There’s no denying Death Wish is one of the most well-known and successful movies of the revenge genre. Directed by Michael Winner, Death Wish stars Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a New York architect whose wife is murdered and daughter raped by a vicious gang. With the police of no use, and seemingly uninterested, Kersey vows to become a vigilante. While he never tracks down the gang responsible, and they are never seen again, he takes his vengeance out on the criminal element of New York as a whole.
While revenge thrillers often allow a sense of justification, Death Wish delivers no pay off. It’s simply one man, lost in a world that makes no sense to him, becoming as much as a scourge to the city as those he hunts. His vengeance takes him to the darkest of places and he becomes almost fascist in his methods and thinking.
While he targets only criminals, Paul Kersey is every much the “bad guy” of the movie as those gang members that set him on the path to begin with.
Revenge is a complex beast. Often it consumes the one seeking it as surely as it does those being hunted. One common theme among all of the movies here is the emptiness of vengeance. Once it is found, do you truly feel better?
Honorable shout-outs go to the work of Korean filmmaker Park Chan-Wook who, aside from Oldboy, has crafted similar revenge themed movies such as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.
Also, a massive shout out to the various incarnations of Batman. The Dark Knight’s quest to avenge the deaths of his parents are worthy of their own list, hence his omission here.
Any other movies deserving of an honorable mention? Tell us in the comments!