Confucius is said to have advised “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Getting even may seem irresistible to the wronged, but efforts for getting back at malefactors don’t always go as planned.
Filmmakers have long been fascinated with the idea of revenge, whether failed or successful, and used it as the motivation for their plots, and many of the resulting films — often filled with fast-paced action and plenty of violence — have become classics. (These are the best action movies of all time.)
To determine the best revenge movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo considered a database of those movies tagged “revenge” on The Numbers, an online film industry data site owned by consulting firm Nash Information Services, or identified as revenge films in Vulture’s article “What Are the Best Revenge Movies?”
We then developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of October 2021. Films that contain elements of revenge, but whose plots are not driven by a protagonist or antagonist seeking or avoiding it, were excluded from consideration. (Cast information and directorial credits come from IMDb.)
Some of the heroes in the films on the resulting list want revenge and others are its target. Many of these films dive deep into concepts of justice and morality, questioning whether revenge is ever worth it.
The desire to get even is not unique to certain cultures and seems to be part of the human experience across time and around the world. There are films on this list from a range of countries and time periods. Some have intricate plots; others are comparatively straigthforward tales of men or women embarking on a quest for justice. A number of them didn’t do well at the box office when first released, but are now considered among the best films of all time. (These are movies audiences hate but critics love).