There's something undeniably satisfying about seeing the protagonist of a film exact sweet revenge upon those who wronged him or her. Even though what the protagonist is doing could be seen as wrong, we love to cheer them on and bear witness to their divine retribution. Just because two wrongs don’t make a right doesn’t mean that two wrongs can’t be fun.
Retribution films appeal to our sense of justice. There's a basic belief ingrained in most people that those who do wrong must be punished, and those who are wronged must be vindicated. When we're subjected to watching the suffering of a seemingly reasonable person, we want nothing more than to see them exact swift and precise revenge upon their oppressor(s). Read on for our picks for ten of the most intensely satisfying retribution films in the horror, thriller, and suspense genres.
Leon: the Professional
Luc Besson is a master of the revenge story, and Leon is no exception. It was an unusual decision to have Leon (Jean Reno) training a young girl in the ways of the assassin so that she might exact revenge on the monsters that killed her family, but if you can put the somewhat preposterous premise aside, the film is highly enjoyable. Natalie Portman turned in an impressive performance as the young Mathilda. Were a less capable performer to take on the role, the film would have likely been much less effective.
The Last House on the Left (1972)
There are few pleasures as great as seeing the worst kind of evildoers punished for their crimes against mankind. The Last House on the Left brings its audience a close up look at a group of wicked baddies getting their due. It’s easy to get behind a father and mother that are avenging the rape and death of their daughter, particularly when the villains show zero remorse and absolutely no desire to atone for their heinous crimes. It’s sweet poetic justice when the villains take shelter from a storm at the home of their victim and find themselves on the receiving end of a bad situation.
I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Yes, the rape sequence in I Spit on Your Grave is too graphic, but the intent behind that was to make the visceral nature of the revenge portion of the film seem completely justified. Jennifer (Camille Keaton) makes the men who wronged her pay with their lives, but it’s impossible to blame her after the misogynistic and violent ordeal she was put through. The viewer develops a strong sense that justice is being served, in spite of the fact that Jennifer has to circumvent the appropriate channels to serve it.
Danny Trejo proves, once again, that he is absolutely not to be messed with. After being double-crossed, he rains down revenge on those who transgressed against him... and the revenge that he delivers is of epic proportions: he goes on a killing rampage in good old-fashioned grindhouse style. Though it originated as a fake trailer on Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse, Machete proved that the decision to make the trailer in to a full-length feature film was a sound one. In fact, the sequel Machete Kills is on its way to theatres this October 4th.
Mother’s Day (1980)
A personal favorite of mine, Mother’s Day has one of the most tremendous revenge sequences ever committed to film; the film’s leads give their persecutors a major run for their money and righteously avenge the death of their best friend. The "television over the head" scene is a personal favorite and a standout moment in the film for sure. The girls don’t stop there, though; they force their captors to eat lye, stab them repeatedly and chop them up with a hatchet. Mother’s Day was reportedly shot at the same time as Friday the 13th... just across the lake, in fact.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) shows viewers just how steep a price one must pay for crossing her. After the world’s worst Prom Queen coronation, she goes buck wild and destroys everyone and everything in her wake. Not willing to stop there, she proceeds home and lets loose on her overprotective and completely insane mother. It will be interesting to see just how Chloe Grace Moretz attacks the role of Carrie in the upcoming remake, which is reportedly sticking closer to the source material than Brian De Palma's 1976 incarnation.
It’s nearly impossible not to take a large degree of joy from watching The Bride (Uma Thurman) slice her way to Bill; the glee with which she dispenses her brutal brand of revenge is most certainly a delight to watch. It’s easy to cheer on a likable protagonist that was betrayed by those she once trusted and manages to save herself and claim vengeance against her transgressors. It’s the classic retribution plotline, but it’s incredibly well executed and spiced up with some striking Tarantino visuals.
It was with great pleasure that I watched the coven of witches plot their revenge on the bullies that tormented them. Particularly noteworthy was the scene where the girls get even with mean girl Laura. She relentlessly tormented poor Rochelle for simply being herself; she even went so far as to compare Rochelle’s hair texture to that of pubic hair. Not nice, Laura. However, Laura’s lack of regard for her fellow students made it that much easier not to feel sorry for her when her own hair began to thin and fall out.
One of Mel Gibson’s last truly great films, Payback is a brutal vengeance-fueled dose of divine retaliation. It’s almost strange to identify with Mel Gibson’s character since, due to a series of bad decisions in his personal life, he has not exactly painted himself in the most congenial light. That aside, it's easy enough to like and cheer for his character. Seeing Gibson play a tough guy who defies death to exact revenge on his wife and best friend makes for a most satisfying viewing experience. This gritty thriller offers plenty of language, violence, and tomfoolery to go around.
Brad Pitt really showed his versatility in Inglourious Basterds, shedding his pretty-boy image and donning a soldier’s uniform with such vigor that we almost forgot he was ever Mr. Smith or Joe Black. It takes the film a while to build an elaborate backstory, but once things get going, the going gets good. It would be a challenge to think of a more despicable group of people than Nazis, so seeing a plotline that includes a woman who lost her family to the Nazis striking out and seeking revenge makes for an enjoyable film. Since it’s a Tarantino picture, there's also plenty of scalping and barbaric behavior to satisfy even the most discerning gore-hound. Though the film isn’t even remotely historically accurate, it rewrites history in a way that's fun to imagine, and the scene in the theatre at the end of the movie is of epic proportions.
We extend honorable mention to Django Unchained.
What are some of your favorite revenge themed films? As always, please let us know in the comments below...