Sometimes there’s nothing so sweetly satisfying as watching a vicious vengeance unfold. Movies are a perfect place for us to live out our revenge fantasies, imagining ourselves in the shoes–or stilettos–of the onscreen anti-hero. Whether she’s pushing back against an abusive boss, a neglectful husband or a merciless murderer, we can’t get enough tales of women serving up just desserts.
To toast the debut of Reed Morano’s revenge-thriller The Rhythm Section later this year, we celebrate the ladies vengeance with a list of the very best in female revenge movies.
Written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, this 2017 French thriller is merciless in its grit and carnage. Matilda Lutz stars as Jen, a party girl who’s whisked away by her rich–and married–boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens) for a romantic weekend. But their getaway goes off the rails when his hunting buddies show up unexpectedly and things turn violent. Jen is brutally attacked and left for dead. But neither rape, being pitched off a cliff or impaled on a tree stops the steely survivor. Jen treks through the desert, finding scraps to patch her wounds and to use as weapons. Soon she turns the full force of her rage upon those who crossed her. The results involve scorched flesh, coarse screams, exploitation-style gore and enough blood to fill a kiddie pool.
2. Lady Vengeance
With films like Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and The Handmaiden, Park Chan-wook has defined the South Korean revenge thriller. The third installment of his heralded Vengeance Trilogy centers on an angel-faced mother convicted of an unspeakable crime. After serving 13 years in prison, Lee Geum-ja (Lee Young-ae) is free. Now is the time for her revenge on the man whose horrors she was blackmailed into hiding. It’s not enough to scrape the scattered shards of her broken life back together. Refashioning herself as an avenging angel, Lee hunts the murderer who got away and with the help of his surviving but suffering victims gives him precisely the justice he deserves. Warning: this one is not for the faint of heart or stomach.
3. Hard Candy
It’s a story of predator and prey, but with the tables turned. Hayley (Ellen Page) seems like a recklessly naïve 14-year-old when she agrees to meet her online crush, 32-year-old photographer Jeff (Patrick Wilson) IRL. But in David Slade’s twisted modern re-imagining of Red Riding Hood, Hayley’s innocence is a trap set for a dangerous pedophile who is caught by his worst nightmare. Largely confined to one location, spiked with sickening stakes and blistering with jaw-dropping reveals, this claustrophobic thriller offers tension so taut it’ll make your stomach flip and your blood run cold.
4. 9 To 5
Revenge isn’t always a dark matter. Sometimes, it’s downright hysterical! In Colin Higgins’ 1980 comedy classic, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton star as three hard-working businesswomen pushed to the brink by their horrid boss (Dabney Coleman). He’s every kind of awful, loudly berating his employees, cruelly stealing their ideas and blithely sexually harassing them. Someone’s got to stop him. These diligent dames have big ambition and bigger ideas. So, they come up with a master plan that quickly turns madcap, involving rat poison, kidnapping and elaborate use of rope. Revenge is never sweeter than in Dolly Parton’s theme song.
5. Inglourious Basterds
Quentin Tarantino has made a string of killer movies about vengeance, including Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2, and Deathproof. But Tarantino’s crowning achievement in vengeance cinema came at the climax of this revisionist history war drama. Sure, the American soldiers seeking Nazi scalps score a lot of its screentime. But the film’s biggest moment belongs to Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent). After escaping her family’s slaughter by the merciless SS Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), she builds a new life, running a beautiful Parisian movie theater. But when the Nazis invade her new home, Shosanna decides to sacrifice everything to give them a night at the movies they’ll never survive. As her image glistens on the silver screen before the doomed monsters-in-men, her cackle is delicious, her vengeance righteous, her moment iconic.
What drives pregnant widow Ruth to kill? She hears voices. Well, a singular voice. It’s the high-pitched, nagging voice of her unborn daughter, who craves her mommy to stalk and kill a motley batch of strangers. Writer/director/star Alice Lowe was seven months pregnant when she made this brilliant British comedy-slasher. And what she birthed is terrifically terrifying and gruesomely funny. Through scenes of murder, madness and mother-fetus squabbles, a plot of vicious revenge develops. And terror is born.
7. The First Wives Club
Sometimes, revenge can be a dish best served fabulous. In Hugh Wilson’s 1996 hit comedy, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton star as college friends whose lives have gone spiraling following their divorces. Insecurity, resentments and jealousy plague them in the wake of these devastating uncouplings. But while supporting each other, each rediscovers herself and her inner strength. Together, they form the First Wives Club and enact a rapturous revenge against their reprehensible ex-husbands. The results are hilarious, aspirational and, surprisingly, musical. Remember: Don’t get mad, get everything!
8. Jennifer’s Body
In Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody’s cult classic, Jennifer Check (Megan Fox) is both a dream girl and a total nightmare. She’s gorgeous, lustful and mean. And her murder by an aspiring rock star does nothing to improve her attitude. She walks away from that encounter bloodied, battered and craving human flesh. To her astounded but devoted bestie (Amanda Seyfried), she’s a whole new kind of teen terror. This literal man-eater will take her trauma out on any boy who looks her way. And while this horror-comedy has plenty of silliness and salacious slays, its most righteous vengeance is saved for the film’s ferociously satisfying finale.
9. Batman Returns
Tim Burton’s strange sequel to Batman gave us so much more than a tale of good versus evil. While Batman (Michael Keaton) battles the Penguin (Danny DeVito) for the soul of Gotham, timid secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) experiences a world-rattling transformation. When she tries to shatter the glass ceiling, her merciless boss Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) pitches her through it–well, through a skyscraper’s window. But this kitten’s got claws and nine lives. She will rise as Catwoman, a leather-clad, smirking rebel with only one cause: burn every man who has wronged her to the ground, through con or kiss.
“They’re all gonna’ laugh at you,” her manic mother warned and thundered, in a performance that’d earn Piper Laurie an Academy Award nod. But meek Carrie White (Oscar-nominee Sissy Spacek) didn’t believe it. She believed that after years of being ignored, bullied and pelted by tampons, her prom night would be perfect. She had a darling dress, a dreamy date and the support of a new friend, good girl Sue Snell (Amy Irving). But mother knew best. When her shining moment is turned into a cruel prank, pig’s blood won’t be the only blood spilled at prom. Based on the extraordinary Stephen King novel, Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation defined horror, revenge, and female rage for generations.
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