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16 Underrated Revenge Movies Where The Hero Goes Scorched-Earth

Updated July 13, 2021 601 votes 165 voters 50.7k 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.

  • The Vengeful Hero: Mob bodyman Michael Sullivan Sr. (Tom Hanks), raised from childhood by his boss, Illinois gangster John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney likes Michael more than his flaky, angry son, Connor (Daniel Craig).

    The Tragedy: After Sullivan's son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) witnesses Connor take out his colleague Finn McGovern, Connor puts a hit on Michael Sr. and personally travels to the Sullivan family home to do away with Sullivan's wife Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and sons Michael Jr. and Peter (Liam Aiken). Michael Jr. hides, surviving the bloodbath.

    The Body Count: 9

    The Final Hit: Hitman/crime scene photographer Harlen Maguire (Jude Law), tasked with assassinating Michael Sr. by Rooney (who by this point has been slain by Michael Sr., along with Connor), finally gets his man, fatally shooting (and then photographing) Michael Sr. at a relative's beach house on the shores of Lake Michigan. As Michael Sr. bleeds out, he kills Maguire with his own piece before perishing in his son's arms, making Michael Sr. technically the final kill of the film (although Maguire was Michael Sr.'s final hit). The vengeful spree convinces Michael Jr. to never hold a gun again, which was always his father's hope for him.

    ...So, if you really think about it, this is the movie where Forrest Gump kills James Bond in cold blood.

    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?
  • Photo: MGM

    The Vengeful Hero: Impressive, mysterious armored truck company employee Patrick "H" Hill (Jason Statham) - secretly Hargreaves, a mob boss living under a forged identity.

    The Tragedy: H's son Dougie (Eli Brown) is murdered by armored truck thieves after H steps away to grab food during a scout. Determining the truck was robbed by employees of the armored truck company, H assumes a fake identity to sniff out the killers by ingratiating himself at the company.

    The Body Count: 11

    The Final Hit: As tends to be the case in revenge pictures, H saves the worst for last, slaying the man personally responsible for the death of his son. That man, Jan, is an ex-military loose cannon whose crew had been tipped off by an informant in the employ of the armored truck company, Haiden "Bullet" Blaire (Holt McCallany). H thwarts Jan's planned $150 million heist of the trucks by turning in the money to an FBI associate and fleeing the scene, bringing some closure to his life by avenging his son.

    Beautiful vengeance?
  • The Vengeful Hero: Former South Korean Army Intelligence spy-turned-mysterious pawnshop owner Cha Tae-sik (Won Bin), whose only living friend is his child neighbor So-mi (Kim Sae-ron).

    The Tragedy: So-mi's mother Hyo-jeong (Kim Hyo-seo), a smack-addicted go-go dancer, steals a heroin bag from crime boss Oh Myung-gyu (Song Young-chang) and pawns it off in a camera bag to Tae-sik. Hyo-jeong is subsequently tortured and murdered in front of her daughter. Myung-gyu then kidnaps So-mi to gain power over Tae-sik.

    The Body Count: 18

    The Final Hits: Tae-sik takes down a dozen gang members plus bosses Lum Ramrowan (Thanayong Wongtrakunl) and Man-seok (Kim Hee-won). Ultimately, he discovers that So-mi, who he was told had been slain, was spared by Ramrowan. Tae-sik is imprisoned for the various laws he had to break while trying to disrupt Myung-gyu's operation, but is able to set up So-mi with some school supplies and a general survivalist instinct before having to depart.

    Beautiful vengeance?