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16 Underrated Revenge Movies Where The Hero Goes Scorched-Earth

June 10, 2021 79 votes 15 voters 1.2k views16 items

List RulesVote up the most underrated tales of righteous vengeance.

We all know about the motivation for John Wick's initial retaliatory vengeance. Ditto for Paul Kersey and Bryan Mills, of course. But there is a wide variety of less-heralded revenge pictures, both contemporary and classic, worthy of some time and attention. The films listed below detail one heroic character's trajectory from grappling with tragedy to enacting bloody retributive vengeance.

Be warned: A lot of the tragedies being avenged are fairly disturbing. Cumulative body counts (accounting for all deaths, not just those racked up by our avenging hero), when available (as sourced online, because memories occasionally fail), have been included.

  • Photo: Toho

    The Vengeful Hero: Yuki/Shurayuki-hime (Meiko Kaji), daughter of Sayo Kashima (Miyoko Akaza), who passed shortly after her birth in a women's prison. Yuki has been training since childhood to become an assassin to avenge her family.

    The Tragedy: Sayo's husband and son were murdered by four crooks, and Sayo was assaulted by three of them. She was able to kill one of her tormenters, but this somehow landed her with life imprisonment. Sayo slept with several prison guards ahead of her pregnancy, so the identity of Yuki's biological father is a mystery.

    The Body Count: 29

    The Final Hit: Yuki tracks down and stabs the final remaining tormenter of her mother, Tsukamoto Gishirō (Eiji Okada), in the chest and throat at a masquerade ball. He shoots her and she wanders out of the club - where she, too, is stabbed by Kobue Takemura (Yoshiko Nakada), another young woman seeking her own vengeance against Yuki for an earlier kill. Yuki eventually (appropriately enough) collapses, bleeding out in the snow. Of course, she isn't quite dead. So the actual final kill was Gishirō, concluding Yuki's extended wrath.

    Beautiful vengeance?
  • The Vengeful Hero: Introverted woodland logger Red Miller (Nicolas Cage), the grieving, tiger shirt-wearing hubby to the titular character.

    The Tragedy: Mandy Miller (Andrea Riseborough), a bookish fantasy artist/gas station attendant, is slain by a wandering Manson Family-esque hippy death cult, the Children of the New Dawn.

    The Body Count: 11 (including Mandy)

    The Final Hit: Using an array of weapons (including, most memorably, a really big chainsaw), Red cuts a blood-red swath through both the Children of the New Dawn and their freaky fetishist colleagues, the Black Skulls. He saves the worst for last, though. He faces off against Children of the New Dawn leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roach) in a church. Jeremiah pleads for his life. Red will hear no such requests, and instead opts to crush his skull and then torch his corpse.

    Beautiful vengeance?
  • Photo: MGM

    The Vengeful Hero: Walker (Lee Marvin), an expert thief who has surrounded himself with untrustworthy characters.

    The Tragedy: Walker and his compatriot Mal Reese (John Vernon) rip off a crime operation on Alcatraz - until Reese betrays Walker, shooting him and leaving him for dead. Reese and Walker's wife Lynne (Sharon Acker) take off with all the money the duo ripped off. Reese uses the money to pay off his debt to another syndicate, "The Organization."

    The Body Count: 5

    The Final Hit: Walker has been on a quest to retrieve his $93K portion of the initial theft. Eventually, his search takes him to Fort Point in San Francisco. Organization boss Brewster collects Walker's money from a courier and is promptly (and fatally) shot by a hitman who works for the mysterious Yost. Yost informs Walker that, in allowing him to eliminate Brewster, Walker is now free to collect his cash, and leaves the package alone for Walker to collect.

    Beautiful vengeance?
  • The Vengeful Hero: Marine-turned-thief Porter (Mel Gibson), a man with a predilection for leather jackets and snappy one-liners.

    The Tragedy: In a movie called Payback, your hero had better have a pretty good reason for his righteous vengeance. In this case, Porter has been betrayed by his estranged heroin-addict wife Lynn (Deborah Kara Unger) and her partner Val Resnick (Gregg Henry), who double-crossed and ripped him off following their theft of $140K from a local Chinese syndicate.

    The Body Count: 15

    The Final Hit: After Porter kidnaps Johnny Bronson (Trevor St. John), son of local mob boss Bronson (Kris Kristofferson), the elder Bronson and his colleague Justin Fairfax (James Coburn) use their subordinates to torture Porter into seemingly giving them an address for Johnny. They arrive at a safe house rigged with incendiary devices (Johnny is being held offsite by Porter's new girlfriend Rosie, played by Maria Bello). Porter escapes their clutches and detonates the bombs before heading north of the border with Rosie. Johnny survives. Payback, like fellow list entry Point Blank, was adopted from the 1963 thriller The Hunter by Donald E. Westlake, although the newer film's body count is significantly more robust.

    Beautiful vengeance?