Women in cinema – just like in real life – have been routinely victims of physical and psychological abuse, mistreatment and discrimination. Prey of sexism and its violent by-products, the big screen representatives of the female gender have faced multifarious threats and humiliation often without been given the chance to defend themselves. But there are exceptions to every rule and the women on this list just had enough repression and oppression on their plates.
Being surrounded by people who turn a blind eye to their plight, being repeatedly tortured and scorned, they decide to take the law into their own hands. When justice doesn’t seem to respond to their desperate calls and men turn their lives into a never ending nightmare they have to crush this vicious circle and break free. No longer damsels in distress, they realise that there is only one solution to their problems: revenge.
Armed with all kinds of weapons; from katanas and axes to acupuncture needles and poison, these ladies know exactly what they are doing. They grab the bull by the horns, face violence with violence and get vengeful. Still women but not helpless anymore, they prove that a world of pain awaits those who try to mess with them.
20. Thriller: They Call Her One Eye (Bo Arne Vibenius, 1973)
The fact that Sweden produced a series of disturbing and turbulent sexploitation films during the 70s is relatively unknown, but One eyed Frigga managed to go down in history and her epic quest for revenge inspired the character of Elle Driver in Tarantino’s Kill Bill.
After being sexually abused as a child, the young Frigga becomes mute- a conspicuous symbol of her inability to have the life that she deserves. As if that wasn’t enough, she is forced into heroin addiction and prostitution, even getting stabbed in her left eye when she refuses to satisfy the sexual appetites of a client.
This literally traumatizing event, added to her grief for her parents’ unfair suicide, pushes her towards the edge and the heroine goes under a disciplined self-training process to prepare herself for vengeance. Clutching a shotgun, her impaired vision doesn’t seem to be an obstacle between herself and her targets. They had it coming.
19. Confessions (Tetsuya Nakashima, 2010)
Confessions offers one of the most idiosyncratic cases of revenge featured on this list. It follows a quiet sweet teacher, Yuko, whose beloved daughter is murdered by two of her students. Yuko comes up with a really masterful and ingenious revenge plan in order to avenge the death of her only child.
The structure of the film is only as labyrinthine as her outraged mind and fits perfectly the intricate nature of the vengeance that she is willing to serve. The teacher stands before her students and announces that she contaminated their milk drinks with HIV virus spreading chaos and paranoia around her.
Plenty of scenes cross a few moral boundaries and Yuko’s murder weapon is nothing less than her ability to create discord in the minds of the young criminals that stay unpunished by the law because they are still minors. Through long detached monologues and stormy flashbacks Confessions unravels its narrative line with one plot twist following another.
The ending sequence adds even more points to the overall unhinged impression of the film and proves that the seemingly peaceful Yuko had a last lesson to teach.
18. The First Wives Club (Hugh Wilson, 1996)
Revenge films are traditionally dramatic, fierce and nerve-racking but the three female members of the The First Wives Club seem to infuse their wrath with fair doses of humour. The film may seem to be a cacophony in the middle of this list but it serves its purpose pretty well.
Brenda, Elise, Annie and Cynthia used to be best friends when they were young. They are now middle aged and on the verge of a nervous breakdown because of their unfaithful husbands who so ungratefully turned their backs on them and betrayed them. Cynthia commits suicide when she learns that her ex-husband has married his younger mistress and sends three letters to her beloved friends.
After the women receive Cynthia’s last words they decide to get re-connected to each other and avenge the men who destroyed their lives. Their revenge is by no means spectacular or flamboyant but the film’s characters manage to get their retribution without resorting to violent or extreme methods, which at the least earns these women a mention on this list.
17. The Match Factory Girl (Aki Kaurismäki, 1990)
The cinematic environment of The Match Factory Girl will be familiar to anyone who has been accustomed to Kaurismäki’s landscapes and narratives.
Two alcoholic and indifferent parents, a miserable factory and poverty are the predominant features of Iiris’s daily routine. The heroine is mostly silent and remains passive towards every single event that drives her even deeper into hopelessness. Her mother and father take what little money her manual labour work offers her and every attempt to find someone to love and be loved by proves to be fruitless.
When she finally meets a man that seems to reciprocate her feelings he only treats her as a prostitute, impregnates her and then ruthlessly asks her to ”get rid of the brat”. But misfortunes are never-ending in the life of the woman and after a fateful accident she loses her child and her parents completely reject her from their lives.
At this point revenge emerges as a necessity, Iiris equips a rat poison and starts offering deadly drinks to those who repeatedly let her down. Kaurismäki’s trademark minimalistic mise-en-scène beautifully captures the story of the lonely woman in her melancholic and bitterly ironic quest for justice.
16. Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987)
Lust is probably the deadliest of the seven deadly sins and the adultery that may result from it rarely goes unnoticed. Dan Gallagher is the embodiment of the American dream: he is a successful lawyer, supportive family man and lives in a fancy building in Manhattan. When his wife and his daughter leave him alone for a weekend he has a short carnal affair with Alex, a woman with whom he shares moments of feverish passion.
After their brief encounter, Dan is confident to forget what he has done but Alex will not let him go that easy. She repeatedly calls him at his office and at home, announces that she is pregnant, fights to make him hers again and refuses to be disregarded. She infiltrates the family home, faces Dan’s unsuspecting wife and blackmails him by all possible means. The lawyer is furious, confronts her with anger and moves with his wife and daughter away from Manhattan.
That is not enough to daunt ruthless Alex who stalks the family and even dares to kidnap their little girl. A series of collisions turn everyone’s life into perfect chaos and Alex’s vengeful spite seems to know no limits. Adrian Lyne’s psychological thriller features an unyielding psychotic Glenn Close who will be remembered for punishing the unfaithful man. Dan should have paid more attention to her warning that she will not be ignored.
15. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)
Pretty much everybody has been a target of some sort of bullying when they were kids or teenagers. Discrimination in a school environment is not rare, and teenagers can sometimes be much crueller than full grown adults. Carrie has become used to all kinds of abuse.
Having her classmates bullying her in the locker room of the school when her menstruation arrives and going back home only to find her paranoid religious mother ready to plant some more guilt on her conscience, the teenage girl starts feeling the wrath boiling inside her. Her hate and anguish find an outlet when she realises that she possesses a powerful telekinetic ability that is able to create pure chaos around her. In the famous prom sequence,
Carrie transforms the cherished event into a purgatory, determined to inflict unforgettable penalty on her tormentors. Being the first film adaptation of a Stephen King novel, Brian De Palma’s Carrie remains until today an iconic example of a vengeful teen flick.