It is said that revenge is a dish best served cold, but in the movies, more often revenge is served piping hot, guns blazing, knives slashing, hands and feet flying.
The revenge fantasy movie makes use of the innate human desire to see justice served, and that doesn’t always mean jail time. In fact, cinematic justice is usually deeply personal and understood only by the characters in the film—and hopefully, the audience.
Revenge can be sweet, or it can be scary; it can be swift, or long awaited, but it is always gripping to witness. Here, then, is our roundup of some not-so-usual suspects delivering their own big doses of payback.
The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)
Revenge Fantasy: In 1815 France, naval officer Edmond Dantes, a.k.a “The Count of Monte Cristo” (Robert Donat) is unjustly imprisoned for carrying a letter intended for the exiled Napoleon. Chained in a dungeon for twenty years by villains who all stand to profit from his disappearance, the Count eventually escapes and seeks sweet revenge on his captors, a revenge that is as creative as it is merciless.
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Revenge Fantasy: When spoiled, bedridden heiress Leonora Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck) accidentally listens in on a call in which two unidentified men discuss a murder, she tries to act quickly to thwart the plot. Her husband, Henry (Burt Lancaster) is away on business, his return mysteriously overdue. Eventually, Leonora discovers who has set the plot in motion, and it’s someone close to home!
Seven Samurai (1954)
Revenge Fantasy: In medieval Japan a band of vicious bandits torment a local village until the inhabitants hire seven free-agent samurai to protect them. The cunning, skilled, and principled samurai craft an ingenious plan to avenge the village. When the bandits next return, this time to steal the year’s harvest, they have no idea what forces are arrayed against them. Let’s just say they get a rude surprise.
The Virgin Spring (1960)
Revenge Fantasy: Karin (Birgitta Pettersson), a girl in rural Sweden, is raped and murdered by a trio of goat herdsmen. Through a perverse twist of fate, her killers end up landing at her family's farm. Karin’s father (Max von Sydow) learns of his daughter’s fate and the identity of the murderers, and takes matters into his own hands. Karin’s victimizers soon come to regret that they picked this particular farm to visit. Talk about divine retribution!
Cape Fear (1962)
Revenge Fantasy: Aggrieved, psychotic felon Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) is released from prison and heads straight for Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), the lawyer who helped convict him years before. Stalking Bowden himself is just one of Cady’s vengeful intentions; there’s also Sam’s wife and young daughter to consider. As Cady’s attacks escalate, so do Sam’s efforts to protect his family.
The Godfather (1972)
Revenge Fantasy: Italian-American mob boss Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) gets seriously wounded by an assassin’s gunfire, and his sons vow revenge. Previously a straight-arrow war hero, favored youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) insists on handling the hit himself, and the culprit, a man named Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), gets shot in the head in an Italian restaurant, along with brutal, corrupt cop Captain McCluskey (Sterling Hayden). Check, please!
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Revenge Fantasy: Martial arts champion Lee (Bruce Lee) is enlisted by an intelligence agency to help crack a drug and prostitution ring run by the elusive Mr. Han (Shih Kien). When Lee learns that one of Han’s henchmen has been implicated in the death of his sister, he sets out for Han’s private island on the pretext of competing in a martial arts tournament. However, he’s got a different mission in mind.
Manon of the Spring (1986)
Revenge Fantasy: In this sequel to “Jean de Florette” (1986), the orphaned Manon (Emanuelle Béart) learns the truth about the events that sealed the fate of her father, Jean (Gérard Depardieu), many years earlier. Manon hatches a clever plan to get back at those who were complicit in a scheme to block up the town’s water source, which in turn forced her heartbroken father to sell his land. This determined young woman ensures the villains get their just desserts.
Revenge Fantasy: Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) struggles with memory loss after being hit on the head by one of the two men who raped and strangled his wife (Jorja Fox). Leonard killed one of the men, while the other escaped. In a state of semi-amnesia Leonard pursues the second suspect, an assailant the police don’t believe exists. He has to write everything down, or he will forget what’s just happened- a tough condition for an investigator. Told in chronological and reverse order, we follow the driven and inventive Leonard as he seeks to close the loop on his wife’s brutal murder.
Revenge Fantasy: The second installment of the “The Vengeance Trilogy,” “Oldboy” follows Korean businessman Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), who inexplicably has been held hostage in a hotel room for fifteen years. Dae-su spends his captivity plotting revenge, and when he’s released as mysteriously as he was taken, he sets out to find and punish his captors. Dae-su gets embroiled in a lethal battle of wits, but perseveres to exact a measure of justice.
True Grit (2010)
Revenge Fantasy: Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), a plucky teenager in the Wild West, is undaunted in her pursuit of Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), the man who murdered her father. She hires one-eyed U.S. Marshal “Rooster” Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down and arrest the killer. Meanwhile, a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) is also hot on Chaney’s trail. Together the three go deep into outlaw country to bring him back, dead or alive.