There are genres (e.g., Action, Comedy, Drama). Cross genres (e.g., Action-Thriller, Comedy-Science Fiction). Sub-genres (e.g., Romantic Comedy, Action Adventure). And then there are what we may call movie story types. In Hollywood development circles, people use them as shorthand.
Ah, revenge. One of the most basic of human emotions. Someone screws with you? You screw with them. We are talking real lizard-brain storytelling here and there have been some big movies in this genre.
Some examples of revenge movies:
Death Wish (1974): A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark.
Nine to Five (1980): Three female employees of a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” find a way to turn the tables on him.
Cape Fear (1991): A convicted rapist, released from prison after serving a 14 year sentence, stalks the family of the lawyer who originally defended him.
The Crow (1994): A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée’s murder.
Payback (1999): Porter is shot by his wife and best friend and is left to die. When he survives he plots revenge.
The Limey (1999): An extremely volatile and dangerous Englishman goes to Los Angeles to find the man he considers responsible for his daughter’s death.
Gladiator (2000): When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by an emperor’s corrupt son, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.
Memento (2001): A man, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife.
Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003): The Bride wakes up after a long coma. The baby that she carried before entering the coma is gone. The only thing on her mind is to have revenge on the assassination team that betrayed her — a team she was once part of.
Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004): The murderous Bride continues her vengeance quest against her ex-boss, Bill, and his two remaining associates; his younger brother Budd, and Bill’s latest flame Elle.
Man On Fire (2004): In Mexico City, a former assassin swears vengeance on those who committed an unspeakable act against the family he was hired to protect.
V for Vendetta (2006): A shadowy freedom fighter known only as “V” uses terrorist tactics to fight against his totalitarian society. Upon rescuing a girl from the secret police, he also finds his best chance at having an ally.
Taken (2008): A former spy relies on his old skills to save his estranged daughter, who has been forced into the slave trade.
Horrible Bosses (2011): Three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realize they are standing in the way of their happiness.
John Wick (2014): An ex-hit-man comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that killed his dog and took everything from him.
The Revenant (2015): A frontiersman on a fur trading expedition in the 1820s fights for survival after being mauled by a bear and left for dead by members of his own hunting team… and seeks revenge.
One of the main advantages of a revenge movie for a screenwriter is how clear cut everything is: Good Guy. Bad Guy. Crime. Justification for retribution. And off you go.
We live in a complex world where very little is black and white. How nice to be able to dip into a revenge movie where we can indulge in simplistic fantasies, giving ourselves over purely to a blood lust for retribution.
Revenge movies cut through moral ambiguity and traffic in pure violent intentions, tapping into some of our most base human instincts. Those are powerful motivators for any potential moviegoer who has been wronged in their life… which is just about everybody.
What revenge movies would you add to this list? What appeals to you about this type of story?