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The 10 Best Revenge Movies of The 21st Century

14 September 2017 | Features, Film Lists | by Shane Scott-Travis

Dead-Mans-Shoes-2004-film-images-49bc5716-aafb-4498-9fe1-da9dc11ddd2

For fans of the revenge thriller, the 21st century has thus far been an exciting, variable, and enjoyably unpredictable era. Borne of the more extreme genre elements that punctuate crime films, action-oriented spectacles, and classical noir, neo-noir, Western, and more often than not the knife-edged extremes of seedier underworlds, these films promise fist-pumping satisfaction after plummeting our heroes and antiheroes often through hell and back.

The films on this list show a wide-ranging assortment of violent, provocative, auteur-driven vehicles, influential movies, astonishing international fare, a few blockbusters, and distinctive arthouse gems, too. Enjoy!

 

10. Kill Bill (Vol 1, 2003, Vol 2, 2004)

Sure, Quentin Tarantino’s super violent genre pastiche lifts its plot completely from François Truffaut’s 1968 classic The Bride Wore Black, but this two-part revenge epic following Uma Thurman’s the Bride (aka Beatrix Kiddo, aka Black Mamba) is an exercise in over-the-top excess, ultra-violence, and fist-pumping fun.

Fun? Well, the gleeful nihilism with which the Bride, a former assassin, seeks bloody revenge on those who wronged her at the altar, is a wildly inventive and relentless affair. While some of the ensuing mayhem is off-putting to the extreme (a comatose Bride is regularly pimped out by an awful orderlie), the fight choreography, endless pop culture references, action set pieces, and revenge fantasy role play is hard to resist.

Admittedly adolescent and affectionate to all the schlock it celebrates, Kill Bill warrants wide appeal to all but the squeamish. For everyone else, this is Tarantino at his most reinvigorating, teeth-gnashing, and samurai sword swingin’. As Budd (Michael Madsen, with all the charm of a rattlesnake) remarks, “That woman deserves her revenge and we deserve to die.” And die they sure as shit do.

 

9. True Grit (2010)

True Grit (2010)

This gloriously realized Revisionist Western from the Coen Brothers, adapted from the 1968 Charles Portis’ novel of the same name (famously adapted in 1969 by Henry Hathaway and starring the legendary John Wayne), is a blood-splattered tale of revenge on the open range.

When a fiery 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) seeks revenge for her father’s murder at the hands of outlaw Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), she hires Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges), a booze swillin’, pistol-whippin’ lawman, who’s best days are behind him, more or less. Soon they’re joined by Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, who has hit eyes fixed on Chaney, too.

Journeying through hostile lands, ready to mete out Old West Justice, True Grit makes some smart remarks on Manifest Destiny, wish-fulfillment violence, the American frontier, and then some, with the Coen’s signature splashes of dark humor, silver-tongued idiosyncratic dialogue, eruptions of violence, dashes of biblical and religious references, and some exquisite , mythic-like visuals courtesy of DP Roger Deakins (who’s startling cinematography garnered one of the film’s ten Academy Award nominations).

 

8. John Wick (2014)

John Wick

Nimble directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have a shit ton of fun with this pastiche-addled neo-noir thriller about retired hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves), mourning the death of his wife he is reluctantly pulled back into the fray after wronged by bad guys who kill his puppy, Daisy (how dare they!!) and swipe his vintage 1969 Mustang.

There’s an awful lot of awesome in John Wick, from its mad props to forebears like John Boorman, and John Woo –– maybe these are who Keanu’s hitman is named for? –– to its detailed underworld cosmology which memorably contains a hitman hotel straight out of some surreal fantasy world.

Alfie Allen’s arrogant bad guy is easy to despise, making the revenge all the more sweeter, and great performances from Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane also add immeasurably to the proceedings. John Wick is a revenge thriller chock-full of savoir-faire and imagination.

Also well worth checking out is the sequel, dubbed “The Godfather 2 of action movies,” this is another fist-pumpin’ franchise from Keanu that you’ll want to revisit again and again (we sure do).

 

7. Blue Ruin (2014)

Blue Ruin

Jeremy Saulnier’s second film, Blue Ruin, really made a big blip on indie cinema’s radar, indicating that a new and insistent filmmaker had startlingly broke the surface.

Succeeding into full-on auteur as writer/director/cinematographer of this instantly engrossing shocker, Blue Ruin stars Macon Blair––who also surprises and stirs the pot in Green Room––as Dwight Evans.

Near homeless and wracked with anxiety, Dwight lives in his rusted-out, beaten-up old blue Pontiac Bonneville––the literal “blue ruin” of the title––making him instantly endearing and strangely sympathetic. Very soon a string of ill omens and bad news sends Dwight to his old haunts to revenge the deaths of his parents years ago.

Dwight’s tit for tat bloodbath doesn’t play out as you’d expect it to, and amidst the unforeseeable outcomes and dramaturgy Saulnier shows us a post-9/11 rural America that’s obsessed with guns, disintegrating values, diminishing dreams, and all sorts of blood and thunder. As a dark hymn to family, pained poetry, frustrated fury and fractured grace, Blue Ruin is an indistinct treasure.

 

6. Dogville (2003)

Dogville

“For passion, originality, and sustained chutzpah,” wrote The Village Voice’s J. Hoberman in an overwhelmingly positive review of Dogville, “this austere allegory of failed Christian charity and Old Testament payback is von Trier’s strongest movie –– a masterpiece, in fact.”

A challenging experiment that stylishly utilizes a barren soundstage to manufacture the thinnest semblance of a spartan small-town mise en scène, the eponymously named Dogville and its citizens represent a succinct and cynical microcosm for America in the first picture of von Trier’s thus far unfinished USA – Land of Opportunities trilogy (with 2005’s Manderlay being the succeeding film, and as for a third film, well, don’t anyone hold their breath).

This problematic, provocative, and arguably very heroic picture concerns a mysterious fugitive woman named Grace Mulligan (Nicole Kidman) going underground, as it were, hiding from the gangsters who are after her. The rather duplicitous people of Dogville agree to provide refuge for Grace, but in exchange for asylum she must work for various townspeople to gain patronage.

As a helpless and desperate outsider Grace soon provokes some upsetting abuse and perverse derision as the film morphs into a potent morality tale and a spring-loaded parable of human suffering.

As paradoxically alienating and appealing as anything in von Trier’s oeuvre, Dogville is a risky venture that’s well served by a startling, strong, and rather savage climax. For all the film’s antithetical audience and critical reception Dogville nevertheless topped numerous 2004 top-ten lists. Rarely does a film garner such equally appalling and exuberant attention as it wrestles with such intense and dense subject matter, unless of course it comes from von Trier.

 

 

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  • Gilles Ello

    Fucking awesome list!! Dead Man’s Shoes doesn’t get enough love!!!

  • SupernaturalCat

    http://www.thehorsemanfilm.com/Homepage_files/theHorseman_v2_designB2017.jpg

    “Revenge” flicks are a play to the beast in all of us. After all, who has never had the sensation or experience of some unfair situation tempting us with violent resolve? …that we ultimately, thankfully, choose not to act upon. Revenge stories provide a cathartic outlet for such tensions.

    And while not typically a genre that I have much interest in, I did catch this one, The Horseman (2008) …a fairly simple premise; Christian, an average blue collar worker has a teenage daughter who, while out one night, is drugged, gang raped, and left for dead (due to drug overdose) Christian is sent a video recording of the awful incident from an anonymous source. Overwrought with grief and seeking vengeance, he begins with the pornographic video company that is distributing the video series that his now deceased daughter appears in, extracts violent revenge there, and from there proceeds to track down every man who was involved in the rape and recording of it, and murders each of them.

    The story’s premise is similar to that of Taken (2008) but what differentiates the two is the stark realism of The Horseman — Christian isn’t a former CIA agent (ha, quack!) who has an infinite number of invaluable intel resources at his disposal to rely upon in assisting tracking down his kidnapped daughter. The Horseman contains none of that silly Hollywood nonsense. A very heavy, badass indie film.

    • Not familiar with it, but the S. Korean flick Broken (2014) has an eerily similar premise. Also sounds like a more violent take on Hardcore (1979)

  • Zwei

    Red Road (2006)

  • Arlequín

    Payback

    • giorgio palmas

      Released in 1999.

  • Mortimer

    Very good list. I don’t agree only on ‘The Revenant’ . It’s little more than a beautiful looking bit of emptiness and I didn’t care for the main character and his journey at all. But to each their own.

    • Gilles Ello

      In regards to your quote, are you not familiar with the tenets of slow cinema? The Revenant was a hugely successful box office & commercial success so it’s placement on this list seems more than justified.

      • Mortimer

        When I’m judging some movie box office and commerciality are the last things I care for. Not to mention some quasi-cultural “impact’ so forced in the media.

        • Gilles Ello

          Typo. Meant “critical” not “commercial” and populist opinion has a place on a site like this. That’s why I’m here. 😛

        • bd

          That last sentence! Preach!!! #DownWithDunkirk2017

      • Ricardo Correia

        Not all slow cinema is good, I prefer slow cinema, still I hate The Revenant

      • bd

        If your “justification” for a film being the “best” anything is to point fingers at a promoted cultural consensus and financial performance rather than a reasoned, learned, and (may be too much to ask) insightful argument supported by the film’s content alone — completely ignoring the external metrics that pop-culture slaps it wiith, so you can offer up something that’s at least recognizeable to actual criticism — then you don’t have any justification, you certainly don’t have an argument.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Django does not deserve to be in the list, the same case with The Revenant

    • shane scott-travis

      Two of the most successful films in the years they came out, both critically and at the box office. Your logic is staggering!

      • Big Ulf

        Tarantino started his career plagiarizing films (lifting City on Fire’s plot and shooting it shot-for-shot in most cases, then adding the names of The Taking of Pelham 123, and calling it Reservoir Dogs), and continues the same way. He’s a liar and a thief.

        • Gilles Ello

          Haha. You suck Ulf!!

        • shane scott-travis

          Hey Ulf, QT started his career writing screenplays like True Romance and Natural Born Killers. Both pastiches and genre films. You don’t like him but he’s an influential filmmakers with lots of talent. You don’t like it, lump it.

          • Big Ulf

            he can write whatever he wants! He should just give credit where credit is due, instead of saying he’s come up with the story (as he did with Reservoir Dogs, even though he privately admitted it was City on Fire – see “Into the Night” TV series episode with Terry Gilliam and John Landis). He’s a plagiarizer.

      • Mortimer

        The Revenant was the most successful movie with critics in 2015 ? How ? On Metacritic it wasn’t even in top 100. On RT it has 82% score. Many critics were underwhelmed by it; some of them hated it openly.

        Box office – sorry, I don’t care for. I don’t see what box-office has with the quality of the movie, especially in this age.

        • shane scott-travis

          Hey Mort,
          Doesn’t matter that you didn’t like The Revenant, it’s on the list and it won abundant Oscars, Golden Globes and critics awards. Every year lots of movies get overlooked, no point pooping on the ones that don’t.

          • Ricardo Correia

            Winning Oscars doesn’t make it always good, such films like Driving Miss Daisy or Titanic won a lot of Oscars and they are atrocious

          • shane scott-travis

            Sure, absolutely but it does acknowledge a certain level of craft and quality control that at least exhibits of modicum of competency worthy of a populist list like this one.

      • Ricardo Correia

        Django is too long, filled with poor taste jokes, the Tarantino segment is horrible and the acting is cliché as fuck
        The Revenant is only style, no substance

      • bd

        Neither that user’s comment nor your response (including the delusional idolization you tried to attack that user with) have anything to do with logic. What’s “staggering” is the ironic gap in logic it must’ve required for you to both start and end your response as you did. Ridiculous.

      • bd

        The same box office that gave Beauty & the Beast and Jurassic World ~$1.5 billion dollars each; and American Sniper and the most recent Transformers film over half a billion each? The same box office that has forced the majority of indie distributors and commercially ambivalent filmmakers to either screen at festivals and small budget theaters exclusivity, or settle for one or two weeks at a cineplex max before they’re ushered out because 3 of the current dozen billion dollar franchises need the space for their 18th week on the marquee? The same box office that has embraced Poptimism for decades, forcing popular “critics” (see: journalists) to adapt or go without work because their articles wouldn’t bring in enough traffic?

        • Justin Bieber is a very successful performer….just saying

      • bd

        The same popular “critics” (again, see: journalists) whose focus in college had nothing to do with film, and instead learned how to write engaging headlines and the necessity to service the audience in your writing as much as possible in order to close in one the 360 demographics and declare yourself as an asset to your company? (Your company that depends on ad revenue to operate; many of those ads being for the same products slipped in the frames of billion dollar franchises, mind you.) The same popular critics who are largely ignored by their EICs and get their work published just for meeting the deadline, because lord knows almost nobody has used (paid) copy-editors to ensure quality content since 2008, when poor, shallow writers became paths to gold since they tend to bring more traffic (thus revenue) than writers with any experience in actual criticism. (As if anyone working in print or online popular publications across the board actually took courses in criticism or lit theory while they were sprinting through their journalism/mass comm degrees to beat everyone else to the door in that hyper-competitive field; assuming they didn’t drop out to be freelance like a large majority of popular “critics”.) As long
        as you can write your own headlines and make deadlines, your non-existent credibility concerning your topics and your content’s absent reasoning will always be forgiven.

      • bd

        Or are you one of those people who cite platforms like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to defend your faux-opinion on films with a numerical model of faux-objectivity that gives you sweet, delusional validation? Let me guess, the moment anyone with the slightest critical thinking skills scrutinizes what you can actually claim and justify, you immediately dismiss them with the all-too-shallow “It’s my opinion! Gosh! Film and other art is subjective!”, as you turn around and surreptitiously finger your phone to “correctly” align your thoughts with entities you have inexplicably accepted as “objective”.

  • Ricardo Correia

    Munich is a revenge movie of sorts, it should have been on the list

  • Diogo Gomes

    i would add Wild Tales / Relatos Salvajes (2014) to that list

    • shane scott-travis

      Loved Wild Tales! Next time I’ll write a longer list. 😉

  • James Hall

    The Usual Suspects (1995)

    • James Hall

      Oops! 21st Century – I get it now…
      I’m old and it seems like only yesterday.

  • David

    LOOOOOL!!!! The Revenant?????? This film after 2 years has aged so badly!!

    • bd

      Just like every Iñárritu film that isn’t named 21 Grams or Amores Perros.

  • David

    By the way, in terms of brutal spiritual epic films, Silence is way much better than the Revenant.

    • shane scott-travis

      But not a revenge film so your point is clouded.

      • Ricardo Correia

        He said Silence was a revenge film?
        That was not what I understood

  • Wyatt W.B

    Totally agree, great list!

  • Vincenzo Politi

    “Red White Blue” (2010). A revenge movie at every level. Very hard to watch, very tragic to digest.

  • Allister Cooper

    Not bad, but I have yet to see a more satisfying you-got-what-you-deserved film than 1997’s Sleepers, where Kevin Bacon’s Nokes got his – never mind. That was the nirvana of getting even. For this century, I would include the Japanese film shot in L.A., Gun Woman, which came out in 2014.

  • colonelkurtz

    I’d put the other films from the Vengeance Trilogy well ahead of multiple films on this list. That said, god damn, Dead Man’s Shoes is a good revenge film.

  • A fairly by the numbers list, but really hard to argue with any of the choices.
    I feel as though there’s been minor Oldboy blow back of late, and not that people are arguing whether it’s good or not, but forgetting just how truly great it is.
    A list like this you gotta put Oldboy #1, and I’m someone who loved Lady Vengeance.

  • Red White And Blue (2010)

  • Johnny Seagal

    confessions (Kokuhaku) 2010. one of the best revenge movies i have ever seen

    • Jasper Sapien.

      Beat me to it.

  • nicoal

    Hard Candy? I know I was uncomfortable all the way through the film!

  • Jasper Sapien.

    Nice list. I would add that japanese movie confessions too.

  • Inspector71

    The True Grit remake sucked.

    • Kosta Jovanovic

      It is not like the original was any good

      • Inspector71

        Yes it was.

  • Inspector71

    The Revenant was average at best. Pure Oscar bait that worked on the academy.