The 20 Best Revenge Movies of All Time: Revenge is never a straight line. The instinct for revenge is universal, automatic, strong, and immediate. It also serves a function: to deter the threat of future exploitation. Revenge is a notoriously stubborn, recurrent, and also tragically prevalent motivation for political violence at all levels of social organization. It can be acutely personal or have a collective consciousness of people acting on it.
The theme of revenge in cinema is primarily an escape, a fantasy that the audience probably cannot experience in real life. A well-executed revenge gives the audience personal satisfaction. I am attempting to collate 20 Best Movies about Revenge from across the globe and even further divaricating them.
Warning: Spoilers Alert
Beyond Personal Vendettas: Revenge as a Universal Motivator
So, let’s begin with the ones where the revenge is not personal but more universal or community driven. One or more characters carry out the plan on behalf of all of us. More personal motives could be attached to it, but the overall arc of the revenge is for a society or community.
1. Inglourious Basterds (2009) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Revenge – In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish U.S. soldiers’ plan to assassinate Nazi leaders coincides with a theater owner’s vengeful plans for the same.
Fun Fact – Quentin Tarantino has worked on the script even before Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003). He couldn’t find the right ending and decided to go ahead with the Uma Thurman starrer instead.
Did you ask my opinion? – The film is subversive and immersive concurrently. The absorbing yet simple premise is wildly engaging. The nonchalant polemical conversations, witty, clever dialogues, towering performances, and a truly explosive climax make it a clear fan favorite. Basterds polarized audiences? Of course. But for true movie love, there’s no resistance. Inglourious Basterds is a willfully (sometimes offensively) messed up revenge fantasy movie.
“You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece.”
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2. Munich (2005) dir. Steven Spielberg
Revenge – A terrorist organization kills eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The Israeli government, in response, brings together a team of five men and makes them embark on a quest for collective revenge.
Fun Fact – The time span from the start of production to the release date in December 2005 was less than six months.
Did you ask my opinion? – Complex, controversial, and convincing; that’s how I see Munich. The film frequently walks on an ambiguous moral lane with a clear passion. There’s no definitive closure, either. Steven Spielberg never judged the story or his characters through the lens of his camera. What he did instead was bravely bring politics into multiplexes back in 2005. Munich is one of those unique films that surpasses skills and taps filmmaking straightforwardly into the knowledge of a hate-bashed realm. (20-mins too long, though).
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Temporal Vengeance: Dramatic Retaliation in Historical Eras
With the internet, social media, technology, and every possible tool required for an act of revenge at our disposal now, it’s easier to tell a revenge story creatively. But how did our ancestors take revenge? Was plotting revenge and its process more daunting, or without the CCTVs, do you think it would have been easier? Let’s discuss some period revenge dramas set in a specific time of the world.
3. Harakiri (1962) dir. Masaki Kobayashi
Revenge – Aging samurai Hanshirō Tsugumo requests to commit ritual suicide (harakiri) within the manor of a local feudal lord. Suspecting a ploy, the feudal lord tells Tsugumo the story of another samurai, Motome Chijiiwa (Yoshio Inaba), who threatened suicide as a stratagem, only to be forced to follow through. Tsugumo reveals that Chijiiwa was his son-in-law, and he might be here for revenge.
Set In – 1630s Japan
Fun Fact – Most of the swords and spears used were real, a practice now forbidden in Japanese films. Tatsuya Nakadai remained afraid all through the shoot.
Did you ask my opinion? – Harakiri, nominated for Palme d’Or, is a visionary chess game with many carefully constructed moves. The film has a steady, hypnotic momentum which is both a thrilling character piece and a scathing takedown of authority. Political hypocrisy is the idea at the core of Kobayashi’s masterpiece, and its themes are universal. There are many moments and motifs in Harakiri that are still equally relevant.
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4. The Virgin Spring (1960) dir. Ingmar Bergman
Revenge – A group of men kill a young girl and then unknowingly ask for shelter from her father. Now, the father waits for an opportunity to avenge the murder of his daughter.
Set In – Medieval Sweden, around the 13th Century
Fun Fact – This was allegedly a true story in Europe in medieval times. It was later translated into a European folktale, then it was turned into this Oscar-winning film by Ingmar Bergman. Then it was turned into a slasher movie, The Last House on the Left (1972). And then, it subsequently was remade as Chaos (2005), and then it was remade again as The Last House on the Left (2009) with Tony Goldwyn. Phew!!!
Did you ask my opinion? – Bergman called it “a lousy imitation of Kurosawa,” and I would call it Bergman’s murder ballad – a film of terrible beauty. The sheer unrestrained realism and brutality might stun you speechless. Watching The Virgin Spring is like spending a day which starts beautifully and ends miserably, and I mean it as a compliment. In its finest moments, the film is self-consciously mythical. The floating pollen of The Virgin Spring, which carries the dense emotion of revenge, won’t let you look away even for a moment.
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5. Lady Snowblood (1973) dir. Toshiya Fujita
Revenge – Yuki, a young girl, is raised by a priest when her mother is raped and her entire family brutalized. When she turns 20, she sets out to seek revenge on the gang of men who once wronged her family.
Set In – The Meiji period in Japan (specifically, 1873 to 1893 in the film)
Fun Fact – Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol 1 & 2 borrow heavily from this film. Lead actress Meiko Kaji also is an accomplished singer, and she performs the song “Shura no Hana” heard in the film. Tarantino’s song in his “Kill Bill” films sparked renewed interest in her music, inspiring her to record and release new songs for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Did you ask my opinion? – It’s a mandatory watch for all Kill Bill fans. Kaji brings a subtle uncertainty to her character’s motivations and actions. She might fail in her mission, will she? Is it really her revenge, to take? These depths grant humanity to the character and make her more believable. It’s not just a bleeding revenge movie, it also runs governmental critiques beneath its pulpy surface. Lady Snowblood is a potent, giddy, storming indulgence with a heart of sadness.
Long-Awaited Retribution: The Story of a Patient Revenge
Revenge, as an emotion, is not as organic as love. Even though love is always the centerpiece of revenge, the latter takes a lot of planning, scheming, calculation, and time, unlike the former. So, let’s talk about revenge which took years to carry out. In fact, these characters have aged while exacting their revenge. Catharsis is slow.
6. The Secret in their Eyes (2009) dir. Juan José Campanella
Revenge – Retired criminal investigator Benjamín Espósito (Ricardo Darín) begins writing a novel based on the decades-old unsolved mystery of a newlywed’s rape and murder. With the help of a former colleague, Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), Benjamín attempts to make sense of the past. The journey leads to the toxins of revenge.
Years Taken – 25!
Fun Fact – It won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. It also got a clever yet underwhelming English remake of the same name where a character’s gender change helped Julia Roberts to give one of her finest performances.
Did you ask my opinion? – Coming from Argentina, The Secret in Their Eyes offers an engrossing look at memory, yearning, and the paradox of revenge. You’ll be uneasy and restless throughout the film as the case remains unsolved. But, the climax will warm up your heart with the fitting revenge. A sly critique of the malleability of justice in ’70s Argentina, the movie also is an essay about how revenge can force you to lead an empty life. Be careful.
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7. Oldboy (2003) dir. Park Chan-wook
Revenge – Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) has been locked away in a mysterious prison for fifteen years. After so long with no real human interaction, Oh Dae-su wants to find out whom he wronged to deserve the punishment and make them pay. Thus, the cycle of revenge moves into full effect.
Years Taken – 15!
Fun Fact – Four live octopodes were eaten for the scene with Dae-su in the sushi bar, which provoked some controversy abroad. Eating live octopus in Korea is commonplace. When the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, the director thanked the octopodes, cast, and crew.
Did you ask my opinion? – It is a delirious, confronting ride with visceral shocks and aesthetic pleasures. The violence is almost Shakespearean, with ethical challenges, human tragedy & isolation. Oldboy tells you that it’s better not to know everything sometimes because once you do, you are a prisoner of truth. The film will provoke you, dishearten you, and thrill you. One of the best revenge drama movies.
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Fury Unleashed: A Woman’s Journey of Revenge
A woman can be a creator and a destroyer with the same intensity. And, when a woman decides to take revenge, even God fears her fury! Let’s talk about some of these women in this section of the female-oriented revenge movies.
8. Kill Bill series (2003 & 2004) dir. Quentin Tarantino
Revenge – (Don’t we all know it already?) Uma Thurman as the Bride, who swears revenge on a team of 4 assassins and their leader, Bill (David Carradine), after they try to kill her.
Fun Fact – Tarantino split the film into two to avoid having to cut scenes. The original draft was about two hundred twenty pages long. Volume 2 was released six months later. It’s a homage to Lady Snowblood (1973), and Tarantino borrows characters, plot points, visual cues, and its overall structure. Is it theft or homage? Does it help or hurt the classic? You decide.
Did you ask my opinion? – I was about to exit my teenage years when I saw a battered woman rising from the dead to take revenge, with my mouth wide open in awe. Kill Bill is the stuff of mythology. This densely textured (or slightly empty for some?) film has expertly choreographed mayhem, which you can only admire for its beauty. It is a pure adrenaline rush that injects wild fun into almost every conceivable vein, a gymnastic ballet of violence that only a woman could have mastered so gracefully.
9. The Perfection (2018) dir. Richard Shepard
Revenge – Troubled musical prodigy Charlotte returns to a prestigious music school to find star pupil Lizzie has taken her place. The pair embark on a sinister path, including brutal revenge.
Not So Fun Fact – One of the characters mentions a new, airborne virus detected in Hunan, China – a haunting coincidence with Covid-19, which was first reported in China a year after the film was made.
Did you ask my opinion? – It’s not perfect, but it works more than when it does not. The storytelling might be too gimmicky, but The Perfection establishes and maintains control in its own blood-splattered, limb-lopping way. It bullies you till you’re gripped in its slippery and sickening politics. The movie is heavy-handed, gory, and very Freudian with cinematic excess. And it doesn’t hurt that Allison Williams gives a splendid performance. She embodies the wrath of a woman scorned. Watch it for her.
10. Carrie (1976) dir. Brian De Palma
Revenge – On the day of her prom night, seventeen-year-old Carrie discovers that she possesses telekinetic powers. She uses her powers to take revenge when humiliated after a prank.
Fun Fact – This was the first Stephen King novel adapted into a movie. He was paid just $2,500 for the movie rights. King liked the ending in the movie better than the ending of his own book!
Did you ask my opinion? – Carrie is an orgiastic frenzy of horror, blood, and revenge. Sissy Spacek is one of the most under-celebrated actresses, and her intensely vulnerable yet commanding performance in the film is a defining act of her career. The kinetic energy of the film is infectious, it packs an awful, primal wallop. The climactic empowerment of Carrie is concurrently a tragedy and a triumph of a repressed, unloved outcast. Her cathartic end feels personal, and her victory is earned.
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Mind Games of Retaliation: Psychological Revenge in Dramatic Narratives
Silence is the sweetest revenge, they say. And I agree! Not every revenge is bloody or gory; sometimes, simple mind games can make your life miserable. So, let’s discuss some psychological revenge dramas with almost no blood or gore on-screen.
11. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) dir. Martin McDonagh
Revenge – Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a hard-nosed mother, is seeking justice for her daughter’s rape and murder. With no arrests after seven months, Mildred rents three roadside billboards to draw the police’s attention and eventually takes it upon herself to solve the case.
Fun Fact – Frances McDormand’s Oscar for Best Actress, which she received for this film, was stolen (and immediately retrieved) the day after the awarding ceremony.
Did you ask my opinion? – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri asks questions of where revenge and hatred can take us and when and to stop; after all, anger begets more anger. The film unfolds as a typical revenge vigilante fable and could have stayed so. But Martin McDonagh’s direction and obscenely outstanding performances by the cast turned it into a meditation of catharsis. It’s tender, funny, angry, and heartbreaking. With no conclusion at the end, the movie leaves you restless. Not every revenge is bloody.
12. Promising Young Woman (2020) dir. Emerald Fennell
Revenge – Cassie (Carey Mulligan), a young woman, takes it upon herself to seek revenge for her best friend, Nina, who committed suicide after being raped by their classmate, Al Monroe.
Not So Fun Fact – The title references Brock Turner, a Stanford University student convicted of sexual assault in 2016. The judge sentenced him to only six months in prison on the basis that he was a “promising young man.”
Did you ask my opinion? – Promising Young Woman is clearly situated in the rape-revenge movie genre, yet it feels more like a sleight of hand rather than a slap. In the end, you’ll feel depressed and disappointed as she loses more and more. The film is more feminist and complex than any other within the genre. It engages with reality. After watching arousing revenge fantasy movies like Kill Bill or Carrie, I can immediately go about my day, but Promising Young Woman refuses to leave you. Its despair will stalk you, and catharsis may not be coming.
13. Elle (2016) dir. Paul Verhoeven
Revenge – When Michèle, the CEO of a gaming software company, is sexually attacked in her home by an unknown assailant, she refuses to let it alter her precisely ordered life. She manages crises involving family while becoming engaged in a game of cat and mouse with her stalker.
Fun Fact – It was supposed to be a Hollywood production, but no American lead or American company was willing to produce such a controversial film. Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone, Julianne Moore, and Diane Lane all passed on this morally dubious role. Elle was then relocated to France. Paul Verhoeven learned French to communicate better with the cast & crew!
Did you ask my opinion? – It’s twisted, transgressive, strangely liberating, and cathartic. Not a conventional revenge fantasy movie. It is ridiculous, dark as hell, and more fun than you could possibly imagine. The film is a dig at narrative norms, revenge as an emotion, and character expectations. Elle must be seen to be believed. What an amazing dare!
Avenging Creatively: Unconventional Revenge Stories That Push Boundaries
Every revenge story is about loss, humiliation, about the inability to accept or endure the grief of losing a loved one. This is the common thread that kneads all revenge stories, but it hits hard when it’s been done creatively in movies! Here are a few unconventional, most creative revenge stories.
14. Eega (2012) dir. S.S. Rajamouli
Revenge – Nani loves Bindu but is killed by a jealous Sudeep, who lusts after Bindu. Nani is reincarnated as a fly (yes, you can re-read it!) and decides to avenge his death. He teams up with Bindu to make Sudeep’s life a living hell.
Fun Fact – Director S.S. Rajamouli made his lead actor, Nani, cover his head completely in cloth and asked him to perform various emotions through body language. This data was given to the animation team, who then created all the movements and body language for the fly.
My Take – This is THE most outrageous film on the list as far as the premise is concerned. It’s absolutely preposterous. But you’ll have to watch the film to believe what Rajamouli is actually capable of. All his Baahubalis and RRRs don’t do justice to his talent. Only and only a director’s conviction can make you root for an insect! You’ll find yourself clapping, hooting, and jumping with the thrill of seeing a fly, making a typical Indian hero entry with an arousing soundtrack! Just surrender yourself into this fantasy world of Rajamouli, and Eega, will take you on a fun ride of your lifetime. Trust me, you haven’t seen anything like that on screen before. One of the most satisfying revenge drama movies I’ve ever seen.
15. Memento (2000) dir. Christopher Nolan
Revenge – Leonard Shelby, an insurance investigator, suffers from anterograde amnesia and uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife, which is the last thing he remembers.
Fun Fact – Memento has a non-linear narrative structure. A series in black-and-white is shown chronologically, and a series of color sequences are shown in reverse order. The two sequences meet at the end of the film, producing one complete and cohesive narrative. One of the most innovative scripts ever.
Did you ask my opinion? – How are you supposed to heal if you can’t feel time? The complexity of this question gets further convoluted with the labyrinth editing of Memento. With all its gimmick, fun, and a treatise on vengeance, it never abandons its emotional anchor. You’ll see a puzzle disassembling itself in front of you as you watch it in reverence. In today’s world, where history goes no further back than yesterday’s news, Memento also serves as a sharp political commentary. Definitely, one of the best, most unconventional revenge drama movies.
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From Page to Retaliation: Revenge Stories Adapted from Literature
Literature has always been a great source of material for films. Since the beginning of motion pictures, novels, comic books, and folklore have been adapted across genres. Here are some of my favorite revenge stories adapted from literature.
16. Gone Girl (2014) dir. David Fincher
Revenge – On the occasion of his fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports that his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has gone missing. He becomes the focus of an intense media circus, but has he really killed his wife, or is it an elaborate revenge plot?
Adapted From – Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel, Gone Girl.
Fun Fact – Reese Witherspoon obtained the film rights from the author Gillian Flynn in June 2012 and decided to produce so that she could play the role of Amy. However, after a discussion with David Fincher on his vision of the film, Witherspoon realized that she wasn’t the right person to play the female lead. She continued as one of the producers.
Did you ask my opinion? – Gone Girl is a cynical observation of modern relationships. Gender politics, modern media, and people hiding behind shallow masks, the film swiftly shifts the paradigm from a revenge thriller to a pitch-black social commentary towards the end. From a victim to an avenger, we’ve often experienced a scathed woman’s revenge saga on-screen by turning her into a superhero. What makes Gone Girl so unique is the fact that she is neither a victim nor a superhero. The plausibility and ambiguity of it all would scare you. She wins.
17. Haider (2014) dir. Vishal Bharadwaj
Revenge – Haider (Shahid Kapoor) returns to Jammu and Kashmir when a violent insurgency bedevils the state. He seeks closure & revenge for his father’s disappearance, but the state’s politics overpower him.
Adapted From – Shaekespeare’s Hamlet.
Fun Fact – With such a controversial subject and even more controversial backdrop, Haider was released after 41 cuts suggested by the Censor Board.
Did you ask my opinion? – It is an incredibly brave, unflinching film. Rarely you’ll see a Hindi film where the geographical milieu becomes a defining character. You’ve never experienced Kashmir like this before in Bollywood. Vishal Bharadwaj’s masterful visual storytelling skill will haunt you for a long time. This incredible adaptation is a testament to Bollywood’s potential, which often gets overlooked by its cinematic excess. Boasting some splendid performances, the film actually belongs to Tabu, playing Gertrude. Her performance alone is a reason to watch this complex revenge drama movie. However, it doesn’t hurt that Haider is much more layered and nuanced and has an insanely stirring soundtrack.
Gray Retribution: Morally Ambiguous Characters Taking Revenge
Most revenge movies are about wrong people doing wrong things to right people and right people taking revenge. But what happens when these right people aren’t all that right? What happens when you start to question your own stance about the character you are supposed to root for? Let’s discuss some revenge taken by morally ambiguous central character(s).
18. Gangs of Wasseypur series (2012) dir. Anurag Kashyap
Revenge – Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee) sets out to avenge his father, who was murdered by Ramadhir Singh (Tigmanshu Dhulia), a cunning politician and mining kingpin. In the ensuing war, many unresolved family feuds erupt, creating unrest.
Fun Fact – Both parts were originally shot as a single film measuring a total of 321 minutes, but since no Indian theater would volunteer to screen a more-than-five-hour film, it was split into two parts.
Did you ask my opinion? – The film boasts one of the best casting ever for a Hindi film. It intersects and echoes with the international variants of gangster themes in spite of being singularly and deeply Indian. It is a film with hundreds of characters and their absolute disregard for ordinary human decency and their devotion to an endless cycle of violent retribution. Every character is so unlikeable and morally dubious that it blurs the line between protagonist and antagonist. Gangs of Wasseypur is a ferocious, crowded, and unapologetic revenge drama movie, probably one of the best in the genre.
“Teri keh ke loonga.”
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19. I Saw the Devil (2010) dir. Kim Jee-Woon
Revenge – Starring Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-Sik, the film follows NIS agent Kim Soo-Hyun (Lee), who embarks on a quest for revenge when his fiancée is brutally murdered by the psychopathic serial killer Jang Kyung-chul (Choi). After brutally beating the murderer, Kim lets him go free, and a demented game of cat and mouse begins.
Fun Fact – Following the film’s release, Choi Min-sik met a girl in the elevator who freaked out and panicked seeing him, having watched the film. To calm her down, he told her, “I don’t kill people anymore. I’m human, not a killer.”
Did you ask my opinion? – The rhythmic violence and the catalog of grisly body horror in I Saw the Devil is carefully structured and viscerally engaging. The film will leave you with an incomplete feeling at the end as nobody wins. The film explores how far and deep grief can be cut, and while the guilty must pay, the punishment in the film is unrelenting. Our ‘hero’ in the film is equally sadistic and ruthless. In fact, after a while, you’ll start questioning his motives for revenge: is it the personal loss, or has he started to derive pleasure out of this emotion? I Saw the Devil is a consistently uncompromising thriller and one of the most brutal revenge drama movies.
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20. Badlapur (2015) dir. Sriram Raghavan
Revenge – Raghu (Varun Dhawan) loses his wife and son when two bank robbers steal their car in a bid to run. Devastated by the incident, Raghu decides to take revenge on the culprits, Liak (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Harman (Vinay Pathak), for killing his family.
Fun Fact – Director Sriram Raghavan was narrating the script to producer Dinesh Vijan when Varun Dhawan called. Vijan invited Varun over as he was in the vicinity, not with the intention of casting him but just to hear the script. Varun instantly liked the script, thus leading to his accidental casting.
Did you ask my opinion? – Badlapur reaffirmed my love for Hindi cinema when I watched it for the first time. You will realize the brilliance of the script when you eventually lose a sense of who the protagonist is & who is the antagonist in the film. You’ll be conflicted. Once again, our ‘hero’ is a sadist, sex offender, and opportunist, all in the name of grief and revenge. Is he justified? You decide.
The dark, gloomy atmosphere of the film also lends itself to some black humor. It questions our ideas of good and evil that might need a rehaul. Badlapur is grim, gritty, and gruesome.