Top 5 Movie Guide: Revenge Films

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, in theme with this weekend's "Dead Man Down", we decided to take a look at some of our favorite Revenge-Themed Films! From director Niels Arden Oplev ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", 2009), "Dead Man Down" centers around a rising gangland player who has infiltrated the crime empire run by a ruthless kingpin all with the single purpose of making him pay for destroying his once happy life. As he meticulously orchestrates his vengeance from his high-rise home, he watches and is watched by a mysterious young woman who lives in the apartment across from his. On the surface a fragile woman, she seethes with a rage of her own. When she uncovers the man's dark secrets, she threatens to expose him unless he helps her carry out her own campaign of retribution. Each fixated on avenging the past, they devise a violent and cathartic plan that could change their worlds forever.

Obviously, pretty basic stuff this week. The film above centers around two intersecting revenge plots, but we only needed one in our selections below. Revenge is one of the most common and traditional themes in the history of film. It can be expressed and executed in many different ways, but the crossed "hero" with nothing else left to lose is a story that always works and never lets us down (okay, maybe there have been a few bad ones over the years).

Regardless, this was one of the more fun yet painstaking lists that each of us did, simply because there were so many great titles to choose from, spanning decades of cinema. Hopefully we did a good job of, as a group, representing the best films that this category has to offer, but you'll have to hit the jump to see for yourself!

Alex Schopp -
So many great films to choose from for this list. I hope my fellow co-writers below were able to include of a few of the titles that I unfortunately had to leave off.

     1. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
To me, this is the ultimate revenge film. One man commits his entire life to ruining another's who wronged him. There are so many great schemes in this film, an epic prison break, montages where our main character is culturing himself and learning to fight, a buried treasure that leads to an embarrassment of riches, and more. I enjoy the film so much that I almost want to read the book. Almost.
     2. The Patriot (2000)
Overall, this is a greater film than the one above, but I felt like, while the revenge element is noticeable in the film, it isn't the central concept. Unfortunately for this list, the movie gets a little too bogged down with freedom, patriotism, loyalty and honor. Man, Mel Gibson is so great in this though.
     3. True Grit (2010)
I keep loving this film more and more every time I watch and/or think about it. So many great characters and performances. You can't help but love this little girl's spirit and determination. On a side note, it's a shame that I felt like I should only have one Western on this list - "Unforgiven" really deserves to be up here too.
     4. Sleepers (1996)
I remember the first time I saw this film. It was probably only seven or eight years ago, and I just thought it was so powerful. You'll be hard pressed to find a murderous revenge-themed film that you'll want to root for more. Plus, the film has an amazing cast, overflowing with great stars.
     5. The Italian Job (2003)
I'm a sucker for a good heist film. There are better revenge movies (and better heist movies), but I can enjoy this film pretty regularly. It's a fun caper flick that just happens to center around a group getting their revenge on a fellow team member. If you're looking for an semi-mindless, fun, action/heist/revenge movie, this is the film for you!

Ben Foutch -
There were too many titles to choose from (can we get a Top 20 here?) so I had to narrow down the lot by focusing on the emotional impact of the revenge. Titles also scored points by displaying the senseless and futile nature of revenge and the damage the act can cause.

     1. Leon: The Professional (1994)
This film definitely gets the praise it deserves from cinephiles, but is unfortunate that it wasn't as successful as it should have been upon its release. The direction by Luc Besson is razor sharp, the performances by Gary Oldman and Jean Reno are unforgettable, and the ending carries an emotional wallop. There isn't any aspect of the film I would change - it's just perfect.
     2. Gladiator (2000)
I can forgive the deliberate and successful attempts at pushing the audience towards a wide range of emotions because the end product is completely satisfying. The movie would have worked either way, but Russell Crowe displayed the perfect amount of depth beneath an intimidating exterior, which gave the film the human touch it needed.
     3. Old Boy (2003)
I remember renting this as an impulse around the time it was released in the U.S. and feeling like I'd been gut punched by the end. There isn't anything that can be said that hasn't already, but this isn't your standard movie. Let's hope the remake will be of the same caliber for the unlucky ones who haven't seen this one.
     4. Sleepers (1996)
This an emotionally powerful film that explores the consequences of one's actions. It rocks a tight script and is propelled by the sharp performances from its talented, star-studded cast. I feel like it has generally been forgotten by most, which is a damn shame.
     5. Death Wish (1974)
Yes, the cliche archetypal revenge flick. It's kind of dated at this point, but it's hard to ignore the transformation of the main character into a walking dispenser of street justice. Plus, it scores points for inviting Jeff Goldblum to the party.

Derek Clem -

     1. The Patriot (2000)
Mel Gibson dripping in the blood of those who killed his children is one fantastic image.
     2. Gladiator (2000)
"Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
     3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
I think I love this act of revenge so much because it originates with the original Star Trek television series. It works as a great tie-in between the two mediums.
     4. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004)
I think historically this may go down as one of the greatest revenge sagas ever. In fact, it probably already has that status.
     5. The Punisher (2004)
The revenge aspect is enough to drown out the silly side characters.

Nathan Hinds -
Narrowing this list down to five films is bullshit! Every one of these films are in my top 20 of all time.
     1. Rocky IV (1985)
Don't kill Rocky's friends.
     2. Kick-Ass (2010)
Don't kill Hit Girl's father.
     3. Braveheart (1995)
Don't kill William Wallace's wife.
     4. Commando (1985)
Don't kidnap John Matrix's daughter.
     5. Sin City (2005)
Don't kill Marv's hooker.

Tracy Allison -
It stands to reason that most revenge movies receive an R rating. My movie watching was closely monitored as a child and so, you’ll notice that most of the revenge movies I’ve listed are newer. I’m working on correcting this error. However, in my household Mel Gibson was always the exception. We were allowed to watch R rated movies if they were “historically based” and had Mel Gibson in them. Thanks, Mom!

     1. Braveheart (1995)
Not only is this the greatest revenge movie, it’s one of the greatest movies of all time! This man started off as a young innocent in love and evolved into the leader of a Scottish army, fighting not only to avenge his wife’s death, but for Scotland itself. William Wallace’s feelings of revenge become a wholly different animal. He doesn't just stop when he kills the man that killed his wife; he takes on the entire country responsible. Mel Gibson is known for his ability to exact revenge in an animalistic way simultaneously fueled by heartbreak and also in a calculated manner that provides the best possible result. As we saw also in "The Patriot" (which only narrowly missed out on being included in this list), no one stands a chance against this version of Mel Gibson.
     2. Gladiator (2000)
Just thinking about this movie gives me the chills. Joaquin Phoenix gives all other movie villains a run for their money. Even with all of his power as emperor, reducing Russell Crowe’s Maximus to slavery, he still couldn't keep this man who had lost everything in his life - his title, his freedom, and his family - from fighting for his Roman empire. When this man is suddenly devoid of anything to live for, he became fearless.
     3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The first scene in this movie may have created the most tension I’ve ever felt while watching a movie. It wasn't just the fact that this Nazi was hunting Jews to murder; it was also that he knew they were there and he was toying with their protectors. I’ll always remember the way he yelled after Shoshanna, the survivor. Her revenge on him is so carefully orchestrated and so undoubtedly deserved. If only Hitler and his followers had actually died this way.
     4. True Grit (2010)
I debated having this movie on my list, but the more I thought about this young girl setting out into the great unknown to acquire closure and exact revenge on the man that wrongfully killed her father, I knew that it deserved a spot. I think it seems sort of puny to have on here with its excessively violent forebears, but the protagonist(s) of this story are just so much different than in the other movies on my list. Take it out of the context of the rest of these movies, and it’s an amazing revenge story in a different vein.
     5. The Departed (2006)
One of the amazing things about this movie is there are a lot of intricacies to the plot, but it’s still relatively easy to follow. In a way, it gives it a freshness every time I see it. There’s no way that I can remember everything that goes down, and yet I still react to surprises and plot points as if it were the first time. I put this lower on my list solely because revenge isn't as large of an aspect as it is in the other films, although this movie could rank pretty highly in my favorite movies of all time.

Well there we have it, folks. We matched the total number of films from last week's Birthday list (19), but probably for very different reason. Last week, it felt there were few that truly stood out for the genre, leading to many writers getting original and creative to fill their lists. This week, there were just too many great movies to consider. We all knew we had to leave many titles off that we so badly wanted to include. Luckily, we all had pretty distinct personal favorites from the strong group, leading to a good representation of nearly everything that deserved to be on this list.

We had five films hit on multiple lists this week, but the film with the most selections was "Gladiator", which received three picks. Thankfully, Derek provided above the quote from the film that best sums up the revenge in this film. This is an epic film in all senses of the word, with fantastic performances and one of the best revenge themes you'll ever see in a movie. It seems safe to say that most all have seen this 2000 Academy Awards Best Picture winner, but if you haven't, it won't let you down.

Otherwise, four films hit on two lists: "The Patriot", "Braveheart", "Sleepers", and "True Grit". The first two films, both starring Mel Gibson, were the only films with multiple selections that also received a #1 vote. Those two are also epics in a sense similar to "Gladiator". They seem like two other must-see films, regardless of genre or category that everyone just needs to watch, probably multiple times. "Sleepers" definitely feels like the over-looked pick in this group, and if you never got around to seeing this powerful character drama, correct that as soon as possible. And "True Grit" is one of the best Westerns to come out of the last decade or so, not surprisingly involving a revenge plot (what western doesn't?). A great installment and a nice change from some of the other films listed above.

As always, we hope that each of the selections above helps to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this category has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!