10 best revenge movies of all time, ranked

Two men fight with swords in Kill Bill.

Brutal, satisfying, or even disturbing stories of revenge are a common thread among some of the most entertaining action and thriller movies ever made. The best among them are riveting tales of vengeance, featuring characters fueled by a singular desire: to right the wrongs inflicted upon them. Driven by this all-consuming thirst for payback, they embark on dangerous journeys and stop at nothing in their quest for retaliation.

From the over-the-top Kill Bill to the stylish John Wick, these great revenge movies offer gripping narratives and cathartic satisfaction, often with a side of intense action. Expect to meet protagonists driven by their pursuit of justice, even if their poetic retribution means more pain and violence for anyone in their way.

10. The Revenant (2015)

A battered Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) as he navigates the snowy wilderness.
20th Century Fox

The Revenant is a modern Western directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The 2015 film taking place in the rugged wilderness of 1820s America. Here, Hugh Glass (Killers of the Flower Moon‘s Leonardo DiCaprio) is left for dead by a member of his own hunting team after a horrific bear attack. The man who betrayed him, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), also kills his young son, which only fuels Glass’s rage and drive to survive the unforgiving snowy terrain to track down his enemy.

Leonardo DiCaprio famously won his first and only Oscar for his role in The Revenant, which showcased his acting chops as he fully embraced Hugh Glass’s grueling journey. The film is extremely visceral and hard to watch at times, becoming more of a man-versus-nature narrative rather than a revenge flick, at least until the protagonist’s climactic confrontation with the remorseless traitor.

9. Taken (2008)

Liam Neeson in Taken.

Taken is an action-thriller that features Liam Neeson in his iconic role as Bryan Mills, a retired CIA operative forced to use his skillset after a human-trafficking ring abducts his daughter and her friend. With less than a week before they’re auctioned off, the protagonist uses everything he learned in his years in black ops to track them down and wreak havoc on those responsible for the kidnapping.

While the 2008 film does rely on formulaic action tropes, it uses them exceedingly well to create an exciting and fast-paced story propelled by a fantastic performance from Neeson. The movie is undeniably among the quintessential revenge thrillers of the 21st century, and it would go on to inspire numerous imitators that would try to recapture its success. Taken also cemented Neeson as an action star and would go on to spawn two more movies.

8. The Northman (2022)

Alexander Skarsgård strikes a fearsome Viking pose.
Focus Features

“I will avenge you, Father! I will save you, Mother! I will kill you, Fjölnir!” These are the words the Viking prince Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård) repeats over and over in The Northman. Directed by Robert Eggers, the epic spans decades and chronicles Amleth’s warpath after he witnesses his father’s murder at the hands of his treacherous uncle. Exile only angers Amleth, who grows up determined to avenge his father’s death and reclaim his rightful throne.

Based on the legend of Amleth, who was the direct inspiration for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, it’s not surprising that The Northman‘s story is a well-written and complex one that underscores the unpredictable nature of retribution. Eggers’s superb direction, the breathtaking cinematography, and immersive worldbuilding heavily infused with Norse mythology make it easy to see how the 2022 film transcends the typical revenge flick.

7. Cape Fear (1991)

Robert De Niro in Cape Fear (1991)
Universal Pictures / Universal Pictures

Cape Fear is an intense psychological thriller directed by Martin Scorsese and is a direct remake of the 1962 film of the same name. It revolves around convicted rapist Max Cady (Robert De Niro), who seeks vengeance against his former defense attorney, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), after his 14-year imprisonment. Max blames the attorney’s faulty defense for his fate, so he begins stalking him and his family, terrorizing Sam and pressuring him to act.

One of Martin Scorsese’s best movies and certainly among his most successful collaborations with De Niro, Cape Fear soars thanks to an incredible performance from the star as the menacing and manipulative Cady. Scorsese is a master of building suspense and intensity, and he knows how to use the psychological aspects of his characters to create a chilling story. In this case, that engrossing narrative is laced with anger and a need for revenge.

6. Gladiator (2000)

Russell Crowe standing and yelling in a scene from Gladiator.
Universal Pictures

An epic tale of vengeance set in ancient Rome, director Ridley Scott’s Gladiator follows Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe), a loyal Roman general betrayed by the corrupt Emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Commodus murders Maximus’s family and orders his execution. Surviving the attempt on his life, Maximus is sold into slavery and soon becomes a gladiator who rises quickly through the ranks, capturing the hearts of the Roman people with his bravery and skill.

Scott’s epic historical drama is an excellent example of a “forced to fight” movie done right that features a revenge-driven protagonist who’s impossible not to root for. Crowe is perfectly cast as the formidable Maximus, imbuing the character with depth and an unshakable sense of righteous fury that propels him towards the man responsible for his loss. With a highly anticipated sequel, Gladiator 2, set to premiere on in late 2024, it’s the perfect time to revisit Scott’s award-winning classic.

5. Carrie (1976)

Chris Hargensen in "Carrie" (1976).
United Artists

Directed by Brian De Palma and based on Stephen King’s 1974 novel, Carrie is a horror movie that follows the titular character’s transformation after being tormented by her cruel classmates and her religious fanatic mother, Margaret White (Piper Laurie). When the withdrawn and sensitive Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is invited to the prom by Tommy Ross (William Katt), a dark turn proves to be her breaking point, and all hell breaks loose as the protagonist embraces her supernatural abilities.

Carrie features some of the best performances in any Stephen King movie adaptation. Spacek is unforgettable as the powerful main character, and Laurie’s villainous turn as her fanatical and abusive mother is just as commendable. Carrie has since inspired numerous copycats and remakes, but none have managed to outdo the original, which remains the quintessential teen horror movie.

4. Memento (2000)

Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby showing a polaroid to the camera in Memento.
Summit Entertainment

For those looking for a revenge movie with an unconventional story, director Christopher Nolan‘s Memento is the perfect pick. The mind-bending neo-noir thriller follows Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), a man with short-term memory loss following a traumatic incident that resulted in the death of his wife. Determined to find her killer, Leonard employs an atypical method of keeping track of clues by tattooing them on his body, taking Polaroid photos, and keeping handwritten notes.

Nolan is known for his complex narrative structures, and Memento is no exception. Its nonlinear story is showcased in two parts, one shown chronologically and the other in reverse order. Only at the end of the film do the two combine to create a complete picture — with a shocking twist, of course. It’s one of those movies that’s both hard to watch and worth seeing more than once to fully appreciate.

3. John Wick (2014)

Keanu Reeves points a gun in John Wick.
Summit Entertainment

Keanu Reeves stars as the legendary assassin John Wick in the 2014 action-thriller movie directed by Chad Stahelski. He’s initially shown as a grieving man mourning the loss of his wife, who sweetly left him a puppy as a final gift. When Russian mobster Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen) and his thugs incidentally target him by stealing his favorite car and killing his puppy, it forces John back into the underworld, where he uses his connections to track the gangsters down.

John Wick brought back the no-frills revenge flick by using familiar tropes in a stylish and straightforward way — and audiences loved it. The 2014 film spawned a thriving John Wick franchise with impressive box office numbers that has successfully sustaining interest in its vengeful narratives over the years. The movies soar thanks to Reeves’s impressive performance as the relentless titular character, which has helped the actor further cement his legacy as a bona fide action star.

2. Lady Snowblood (1973)

Meiko Kaji holding a knife and umbrella in Lady Snowblood.

Before Quentin Tarantino‘s Kill Bill, there was Lady Snowblood, which the director has cited as direct inspiration for his protagonist. Directed by Toshiya Fujita, the 1973 jidaigeki film stars Meiko Kaji as Yuki Kashima, a young woman born with a singular purpose: to avenge her family’s murder. Trained from childhood by a vengeful priest, Yuki becomes an expert swordswoman and eagerly waits until she’s ready to take a blood-soaked journey to fulfill her sole mission.

Lady Snowblood was a groundbreaking film, with its unusual narrative structure and combination of classic period drama elements and surreal violence quickly setting it apart from other ’70s movies. It’s easy to see how Yuki would later shape Kill Bill‘s Bride, with Kaji’s performance capturing the character’s steely determination and intense inner turmoil. While it certainly isn’t as popular as its modern counterpart, Lady Snowblood deserves more credit and attention for its influence on the revenge genre in particular.

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

Uma Thurman as The Bride wielding her katana in Kill Bill Vol. 1.
Miramax Films

Kill Bill is an iconic revenge saga separated into two violent action films both centered on The Bride (Uma Thurman), a former assassin seeking vengeance against her ex-colleagues in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, who betrayed her on her wedding day. Vol. 1 follows The Bride after she awakens from a coma and goes on a bloody rampage to track down and kill her enemies, including O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) and Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox). Vol. 2 gives deeper insight into The Bride’s backstory, exploring her training under master Pai Mei (Gordon Liu). It also shifts focus to her confrontations with Bill (David Carradine) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) before culminating in a climactic showdown.

Any fan of action, thriller, or revenge movies is likely already familiar with the duology. It showcases the filmmaker’s trademarks at their best and wildest, with both films characterized by stylized violence, over-the-top choreography, and nonlinear storytelling. The modern classic also sees Uma Thurman delivering a tour de force performance as The Bride, whose unstoppable and exhilarating quest for vengeance encapsulates everything that makes the subgenre great.