From those early astronauts in Méliès’s Trip To The Moon who got their revenge in first to the awesome avenging power of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s cohorts, cinema is ripe with badasses ready and willing to do whatever it takes to bring the bad men out there to heel – or, failing that, kill them. Omitting Westerns - we'd be here all day - here’s a few of the baddest, most cold-blooded revengers and their fiercest moments...
Movie: Man On Fire (2004)
What peeved him off? His nine-year-old charge, Pita (Dakota Fanning), has been kidnapped by the Mexican cartel, riddling him with bullets and leaving for dead in the process. Creasy doesn’t die.
Most intimidating quote: “I don’t want your money, I want proof of life – or I’ll take apart your family piece by piece. Do you understand me? Piece by piece.”
John Creasy is not a babysitter. John Creasy is a former Marine Force Recon officer and CIA operative whose job it is to protect an adorably precocious nine-year-old from being abducted in Mexico City. She gets abducted. He hunts down everyone connected with the kidnapping and puts a bullet in their head/blows them up/makes them not live anymore until he finds his ward and the man ultimately responsible. Repeat: John Creasy is not a babysitter.
Particular set of skills: Walking away from explosions, caring for a young girl more than life itself.
Likelihood of violent death for perps: As good as guaranteed.
Movie: Point Blank (1967)
What peeved him off? Best pal John Vernon has stitched him up and scarpered with the $93,000 he’s stolen from a gambling syndicate. Big mistake.
Most intimidating quote: “I want my money.”
Vengeance, said a wise man, is a dish best served cold. In Walker’s (Marvin) case the dish is bullet-shaped and somewhere near freezing, as he relentlessly, and without any discernible emotion, pursues the men who stitched him up, stole his loot and left him for dead. Payback is predictably bloody.
Particular set of skills: Killing people. Walking down corridors. Killing people at the end of corridors.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Extreme.
Movie: Rolling Thunder (1977)
What peeved him off? The thugs who killed his wife and son and cut his hand off WITH A TRASH COMPACTOR.
Most intimidating quote: “It's your time, boy.”
Ex-P.O.W. Major Rane returns home to discover that the US is even more dangerous than Vietnam and – GASP! – no-one’s wearing bras anymore. Played by William Devane, he adopts the stony-faced demeanour of a psychotic Buster Keaton as the bad guys brutalise him, mangle his hand and kill all his loved ones. Big mistake. This just pisses Rane off – worse, he’s friends with Tommy Lee Jones and it pisses him off, too – and then they compound it by heading to Mexico where normal rules of vengeance don’t apply.
Particular set of skills: Weaponry, fighting, high tolerance to torture, “bringing the Rane” puns.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Serious. With a hook for a hand, even his hugs are lethal.
Movie: Licence To Kill (1989)
What peeved him off? Evil drug bastard Franz Sanchez savages 007’s old CIA pal Felix Leiter and kills his new wife, Della, using sharks. Leiter eventually recovers – his leg grows back and he turns into Jeffrey Wright – but Bond is thirsty for payback on the narc baron.
Most intimidating quote: “You earned it. You keep it, Old Buddy!”
Timothy Dalton’s 007 takes his place in the man-theon of movie avengers in a Bond flick that was angrier than any we’d seen before – or since. Angrier than audiences could stomach, as it turned out, as Bond went around in a vendetta kinda mood, killing anyone and everyone he could lay his hands on to avenge the fate of Felix and his new bride.
Particular set of skills: Wielding explosive alarm clocks, abseiling down cummerbunds, feeding people to sharks.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Guaranteed. He’s licensed to kill not “wound slightly”, buddy.
Movie: Oldboy (2003)
What peeved him off? Being imprisoned by mysterious forces for 15 years, seemingly for no reason, drugged daily and made to watch crappy TV. The food is pretty ordinary, too.
Most intimidating quote: “Anyone here with an AB blood type, raise your hand.”
The second part of Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is an elliptical journey, transforming a schlebby salaryman into a one-man maelstrom of carnage and unleashing him on… well, he doesn’t really know. Who are the bad people behind his incarceration, what do they want and, more importantly, how do they respond to a claw hammer in the face? These are the questions Dae-su’s mission of mayhem answers.
Particular set of skills: Claw hammer fighting, knife wielding, octopus munching.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Not as high as the bug-eyed avenger might think. Knowledge, in this instance, really is power.
Movie: The Virgin Spring (1960)
What peeved him off? The brutal rape and murder of Töre’s beloved daughter Karin (Birgitta Pettersson) at the hands of some gruesome herdsmen. Even in the middle ages, these things don’t sit well.
Most intimidating quote: “You see it, God, you see it. The innocent child's death and my revenge. You allowed it.”
Ingmar Bergman’s Taken features Max von Sydow in the Bryan Mills role as a dad questing bloody revenge for the fate of his innocent daughter. In a scenario later repeated in ‘70s schlocker The Last House On The Left, the perps unwittingly turn up at Töre’s house looking for lodging and deliver themselves into the hands of the avenger. Things get medieval from there.
Particular set of skills: Strangling, praying, stabbing, throwing children at walls – not necessarily in that order.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Very high, unless they wait until Töre has one of his regular crises of faith and slip out the skylight.
Movie: The Big Heat (1953)
What peeved him off? The bad guys kill Dave Bannion’s (Ford) wife, Jocelyn Brando, in an explosion meant for him. This would cause even the mildest-mannered man to Hulk out – and Bannion isn’t the mildest-mannered man to begin with.
Most intimidating quote: “You're out of business, thief.”
A tough ‘tec who’s a lot straighter than a few of his cop colleagues, Bannion goes a very long way off the reservation when gangland types accidentally blow up his wife instead of him. With nothing to lose and gangster’s moll Debby Marsh (Gloria Grahame) lending an erratic hand, the reprisals are swift and brutal in Fritz Lang’s noir classic.
Particular set of skills: Old-fashioned detective work; fist fighting; being as romantic as a pair of handcuffs.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? A lot higher for the pistol in Debby Marsh’s sweaty maw.
Movie: Get Carter (1971)
What peeved him off? Someone killed his brother Frank and pretended it was an accident. Then he found out that his underage niece was forced into a porno. This does not help matters.
Most intimidating quote: “You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me it's a full time job.”
Tough and taciturn, Jack Carter is a big noise in the East End, but viewed as little more than a dangerous pest by Newcastle’s crime lord Kinnear (John Osborne) and his grimy cohorts. It’s a misjudgement that results in a body count akin to the Black Death. Carter is pitiless avenger, a Cockney killing machine with a knife and shotgun butt at the ready as he stumbles into some seriously seedy Geordie business. At least, one person ends up better at karate for it.
Particular set of skills: Wielding knives; wielding shotguns; knowing the colour of a girl’s underwear.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? For the footsoldiers, accomplices and gangland thugs, high; but for the masterminds, Carter needs more orthodox help.
Movie: Gladiator (2000)
What peeved him off? The Machiavellian, grasping Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) has murdered Caesar and usurped his power. He’s killed Maximus’s wife and child, burnt his house to the ground, and tried to kill him, too, condemning him to the life of a gladiator. Those things, mainly.
Most intimidating quote: "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
In the old days, a gladiator’s life involved a lot more than just running up travelators in tight-fitting spandex. There was the whole fight-to-the-death thing and those huge men trying to trident you into the afterlife… plus, if it was Tuesday, it’s tigers. In this kill-or-be-killed world Maximus (Crowe) plots a means of revenge that doesn’t sacrifice his honour, a noble task made much harder by his sly adversary, Commodus (Phoenix), who couldn’t even spell the word. We’d have smacked him with a giant cottonbud.
Particular set of skills: Generalship; armed combat; farming.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Maximus guaranteedus.
Movie: Dead Man's Shoes (2004)
What peeved him off? His brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell), a young man with learning difficulties, has been brutally bullied until he hanged himself.
Most intimidating quote: “God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into heaven. I can't live with that.”
There are movie avengers – like the actual Avengers, for instance – who want to make the world a better and safer place, and then there’s Richard (Considine), a man so hard he killed his own surname. He just wants to inflict the maximum fear and, preferably, death upon the casual thugs who tormented his beloved brother. He’s just back from a stint in the army and has a ready supply of weapons and – eek! – gas masks, so he’s in a strong position to do exactly that.
Particular set of skills: Firearms; axe wielding; generally scaring the shit out of people.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Very high, unless Richard suddenly realises that violence doesn’t solve anything. He doesn’t suddenly realise anything.
Movie: Death Wish (1974)
What peeved him off? (a) Some punks murdered his wife, (b) it’s New York in the ‘70s, everyone’s a little cranky, and (c) he’s in a Michael Winner film.
Most intimidating quote: “If the police don't defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.”
Despite being a conscientious objector during the Korean War, Paul Kersey (Bronson) takes to Gun Country, USA, with all alacrity of an NRA member when some street punks (look, it’s ruddy Jeff Goldblum) rape and murder his wife. Before you can say, “he’s white-collar Travis Bickle”, the architect-turned-lunatic turns into a white-collar Travis Bickle, wreaking revenge on all the bad people in Manhattan like Batman without the scruples.
Particular set of skills: Squinting; shooting.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Rest in peace, perps.
Movie: Harry Brown (2009)
What peeved him off? Harry’s best mate on his London sink estate has been murdered by a gang of yoofs who have also been intimidating him and making misery in the estate’s underpasses.
Most intimidating quote: “In Northern Ireland people were fighting for a cause. To them out there, this is just entertainment.”
Like Death Wish on arthritis meds or Uncle Dredd, this exploitation thriller sees ex-Marine Harry Brown unleash hell on a south London council estate that’s overrun with the kind of scum and villainy more often found propping up the bar in Mos Eisley. Here, though, there’s no doubt who shoots first.
Particular set of skills: Bayoneting; shooting; killing drug dealers.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? If you’re wearing a hood and you’re loitering in an underpass, you won’t be loitering for very long.
Movie: Hanna (2011)
What pissed her off? Trained by her dad (Eric Bana) in the wilds of Finland to be a ruthless Cate Blanchett-killing assassin, it all goes Peter Tong esq. when pop’s discovered by his former C.I.A. taskmaster (Cate Blanchett) and Hanna gets abducted.
Most intimidating quote: "I just missed your heart."*
It’s revenge by proxy in this fairy-tale-inspired alt.thriller. Hanna is a teenage girl who’s more into martial arts than One Direction and thinks a reindeer isn’t just for Chrismas, it’s for supper too. She’s been brought up that way by her ex-CIA spook dad (Eric Banner) with the specific goal of unleashing her on Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), the villainous spook behind his wife’s death. Social services summary? WORST DAD EVER.
Particular set of skills: Unarmed combat; armed combat; being genetically modified.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Grimm.
Movie: The Princess Bride (1987)
What peeved him off? The murder of his father at the unusual hands of a mysterious, six-fingered man.
Most intimidating quote: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Nestled in the middle of this beloved fairy tale, like a thistle strapped to a kitten, is a revenge quest both dark and deadly. While Buttercup (Robin Wright) and Westley (Cary Elwes) set about finding true love in each others’ arms, Spanish swordsman Inigo Montoya (Patinkin) is busy hunting down the six-fingered man who murdered his dad. The two quests overlap allowing Inigo to track down the extra-digited devil, Count Rugen, and generally slay him up a notch.
Particular set of skills: Swordsmanship; tenacity; grooming.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Guaranteed, although they’ll have preparation time.
Movies: The Harry Potter series (2001-2011)
What peeved him off? Some bald dude killed his parents.
Most intimidating quote: “C’mon, Tom... let's finish this the way we started it. Together.”
The Boy Who Lived grows up nursing a deep sorrow for the loss of his parents at the wand of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), a sorrow that gradually solidifies into something like anger. This all takes time, though, and after a training montage that last seven movies he finally develops the magical nouse to take the evil wizard down.
Particular set of skills: Magic; horcrux finding; purity of heart; quidditch.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? High.
Movie: Leon (1994)
What pissed her off? The brutal murder of her four year-old brother by a group of corrupt NYPD men. They also kill her nasty dad, sister and stepmother, but she’s not so fussed about that.
Most intimidating quote: “I wanna kill those sons of bitches, and blow their fucking heads off!”
Pill-necking copper Stansfield (Gary Oldman) – a man who couldn’t be any more bent if he was a coathanger – unwittingly spawns New York’s youngest assassin when he murders her young brother in cold blood. Young Mathilda (Portman) survives the raid with the help of Jean Reno’s friendly neighbourhood hitman and learns enough of his tricks of the trade to put the hammer down on ol’ coathanger cop and his cronies.
Particular set of skills: Squeezing through small spaces; making friends with assassins; horticulture.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? With two assassins – one little, one large – on their case, those police badges don’t offer much protection.
Movie: The Limey (1999)
What peeved him off? The death of his ex-pat daughter Jenny in suspicious circumstances.
Most intimidating quote: “Tell him I'm fucking coming!”
Big bad Terence Stamp brings a bit of Cruel Britannia to the glossy part of Los Angeles as he systematically finds out what really happened to his daughter and who he can kill about it. It’s quickly apparent that answer begins and ends with her ex, a gauche music mogul named Terry Valentine (Fonda). He shields himself behind a hokum story about a car crash but, as the saying goes, the truth will out – especially when it has Stamp towering over it shouting indecipherable threats.
Particular set of skills: Judicious violence; cockney rhyming slang.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? High. This is Zod we’re talking about.
Movie: I Saw The Devil (2010)
What peeved him off? His pregnant fiancée has been horribly murdered by a serial killer.
Most intimidating quote: “When you’re in the most pain, shivering out of fear, then I will kill you.”
They take revenge seriously over in Korea. There’s none of the bang-you’re-dead business; it’s years of imprisonment (Oldboy), group torture (Sympathy For Lady Vengeance) or, in the case of enraged spy in this gory revenger, meticulously planned mind games followed by Saw-style payoffs. The planned recipient here is Kyung-chul (Oldboy’s Choi Min-sik), a serial killer who makes the mistake of killing copper Soo-hyun’s other half, but simple death won’t do. The punishment, as Bane would say, must be more severe.
Particular set of skills: Espionage; surveillance; extreme violence.
Likelihood of violent death for perps? Well, he’s Oldboy, so he’s got half a chance.
Movie: Kill Bill (2003-2004)
What peeved her off? Bill (David Carradine) turned up at The Bride's (Thurman) wedding and killed her groom, all the guests and left her with a bullet in the head.
Most intimidating quote: "I've killed a hell of a lot of people to get to this point, but I have only one more. The last one."
For The Bride, revenge is a dish best served cold - preferably in the snow, where she cuts down former Deadly Viper O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), or in the chill of the night, where she meets Bill himself for the final, climactic moment of vengeance. She has a cold fury, calcified over several years after the fateful nuptials, that manifests in (super)heroic feats of fighting, killing and heart exploding. Our thinking? Bill should have just shown up to the wedding with a pressie like everyone else.
Particular set of skills: Martial arts and swordplay, learnt under the watchful either of kung-fu wizard Pai Mei.
Likelihood of violent death for perps: As per the title.