What Makes These Movies About Women Seeking Revenge So Very Powerful

In a way, we’re collectively living through a revenge plot. Women who have been wronged in the past by men in positions of power are speaking openly about their situations. And miraculously, people are listening — so there’s no need for the extreme tactics deployed in revenge movies on this list.
Because here's the thing about revenge movies that revolve around a woman "getting even." No one listens to the women in these movies until make themselves heard, either through violence or elaborate schemes. The women protagonists are uniformly underestimated. After all, who would think that a 14-year-old girl could be capable of being a cold, avenging angel, or that an eight-month pregnant woman could also be a serial killer, pursuing anyone who offended her?
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The movies on this list swing from funny to violent, from shocking to cathartic. They also keep getting made. In Acrimony, out March 30, Taraji P. Henson plays a woman on an emotional downward spiral after her husband betrays her. Clearly, there's a hunger for these stories. Here are the must-see revenge movies if you're feeling fired up and ready to take down the patriarchy, or your enemies.
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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Revenge is a dish best served campy. Perhaps the legend of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?recently immortalized in a season of Feud — is even more famous than the movie’s plot itself. Lifelong enemies Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were cast alongside one another at a time when both women were being slowly replaced by younger actresses. In the movie, Crawford plays a once-successful actress confined to a wheelchair. Her jealous and unhinged sister, played by Davis, keeps her captive, and relishes exerting her authority.

Davis used the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as an opportunity to get even with Crawford. She approached making Crawford’s life miserable on set with an icy, methodical strategy. Reportedly, Davis befriended the whole crew, and coordinated frequent dinners and outings that included everyone but Crawford. “She wanted to make a basket case out of Joan, and she almost succeeded,” George Cukor later said. Now that is some meta revenge.
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Carrie (1976)

The image is unforgettable. Carrie (Sissy Spacek), standing on the stage in the high school auditorium, covered in blood. By this point in Carrie, she had endured so much already — abuse from her extremely controlling mother, bullying from her peers. At this moment, Carrie awakens an awful inner power, and takes revenge on the people who had been stomping on her for so long. What Carrie physically does is highly unusual — magical, even. But unfortunately, what Carries experiences in the movie isn’t. Bullying in high school is rampant and insidious. No matter what, you’ll be on some side of it – either as a perpetrator, victim, or passive bystander. Those memories linger. The ultimate revenge of Carrie is how it makes you reconsider your own potential role in cruelty.
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9 to 5 (1980)

Any woman who’s entered the workforce can probably sympathize with the central revenge plot of 9 to 5. Tired of being repeatedly demeaned and harassed by their narcissistic, lying, sexist boss, three secretaries — played by Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda — come up with a plan. They’re going to kidnap the boss, and run the company themselves. The women are getting revenge on the figure who had kept them downtrodden for so long. And they’re not just doing it for themselves — they’re doing it for other woman who’ve been subjected to mistreatment and gender discrimination in the workplace. In the age of Time's Up and #MeToo, it’s no wonder this movie is being rebooted.
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Fatal Attraction (1987)

Here’s an example of a female revenge movie that isn’t necessarily empowering. Rather, Fatal Attraction is remembered as cementing the trope of a crazed lover who is punished for her obsessive tendencies. In the movie, Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) has an “off” weekend and has an affair with book editor Alex Forrest (Glenn Close) while his family is away. Alex becomes attached, and doesn’t get the hint when Dan breaks up with her. She continues to stalk him. In the end, Alex is killed by Dan’s wife – but the original ending was a bit more complicated. In the first ending, Alex takes her own life, and then frames Dan for murder. She destroys herself, but not before sowing one final seed of destruction.
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Serial Mom (1994)

Don’t get on Beverly Sutphin’s (Kathleen Turner) bad side. Beverly, a housewife living a quintessentially perfect life in Baltimore, keeps a record of anyone who slights her, or offends her sensibilities for doing even the simplest things, like wearing white after Labor Day. And then, she murders them. Serial Mom hilariously riffs off the occasionally judgmental nature of the suburbs, and the games of one-upmanship women play with each other. There's a thrill in seeing Beverly — so uptight and composed – find joy behaving extremely immorally. Writer and director John Waters mines humor from that odd juxtaposition.
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The First Wives Club (1996)

Around the same time, the husbands of Annie MacDuggan-Paradis (Diane Keaton), Brenda Morelli-Cushman (Bette Midler), and Elise Eliot-Atchison (Goldie Hawn) leave them for younger women. In the midst of this upheaval, Annie, Brenda, and Elise connect at the funeral of a college classmate, and bond over their shared turmoil. Annie comes up with the idea for revenge. The First Wives Club is a staple in the revenge movie genre for the way it cleverly shows middle-aged women refusing to be erased and ignored.
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Chicago (2002)

He had it coming — or at least that's what the women inmates in Murderess' Row attest, when explaining why they killed men in the famous Chicago song "Cell Block Tango." In the movie musical, nightclub singer Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) murders her philandering husband and his lover (a.k.a. her sister) and lands in prison. Soon after, Roxie (Renee Zellweger), one of Velma's biggest fans, kills her lover, too. In order to escape the death sentence, the women hire the brilliant lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to help fashion sympathetic images around them in the press.
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Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 (2003/2004)

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill is the ultimate embodiment of revenge. When the Bride (Uma Thurmen) awakens after a four-year coma, she has only one thing on her mind: Getting back at Bill (David Carradine), her ex-lover who attempted to kill her on her wedding day. She gets revenge on every person who played a role in her attempted murder, and the consequent loss of her unborn child. The Bride's skills as an assassin certainly come in handy.

Years later, in the midst of the #MeToo movement sending Hollywood into shockwaves, Thurman got her own revenge on Kill Bill’s director, Quentin Tarantino, and producer, Harvey Weinstein. In a New York Times interview, Thurman explained that Tarantino forced her to do a car stunt herself, resulting in a crash. ”Quentin and I had an enormous fight, and I accused him of trying to kill me. And he was very angry at that, I guess understandably, because he didn’t feel he had tried to kill me,” she told the New York Times. Weinstein also allegedly tried to assault Thurman in a hotel room (he claims he misread signals).
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Hard Candy (2005)

Jeff (Patrick Wilson), a photographer, is delighted when Hayley (Ellen Page), a 14-year-old girl whom he meets online, is willing — happy, even — to meet up with him in person. Jeff thinks he’s in for a fun evening. But Hayley has a plan of her own. She suspects Jeff of preying on young girls. Almost immediately after getting into his house, Hayley drugs Jeff, binds him to a chair, and carries out her plan. One must admire her commitment to her principles. Children are the future.
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John Tucker Must Die (2006)

John Tucker Must Die is the kind of movie you probably half-watched during many a middle school sleepover. The plot itself is far-fetched. Wouldn’t John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) realize that he couldn’t date three of his classmates at the same time without anyone finding out? Admittedly, John does have an airtight scheme — he manipulates the girls into keeping their relationships secret. After Heather (Ashanti), Beth (Sophia Bush), and Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) find out they’d been two-timed, they decide to cooperate on a plan that’s greater than any of their individual pain. They decide to break John Tucker’s heart by making him — gasp — fall in love with their plant, Kate (Brittany Snow). Obviously John Tucker Must Die is an unintellectual teen movie with a pretty low Rotten Tomatoes score, but there’s something undeniably satisfying in seeing women easily outsmart a jerk.
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Teeth (2007)

Dawn’s (Jess Weixler) body comes with a built-in revenge mechanism. Whenever she feels violated sexually, her vagina clamps down — and bites. See, Dawn is on the cusp of exploring her sexuality when she discovers she has vagina dentata, a mythological condition made real. So as she learns about the world of sex, she also must learn to control her inborn weapon.
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Pieta (2012)

Revenge movies can be a predictable(ish) genre, but you can’t possibly predict where Pieta, a critically acclaimed South Korean movie, is headed. What you can know is that it’ll be a brutal, uncomfortable trip there. Kang-do (Lee Jung-jing) is a loan shark whose job is to collect outstanding payments for his mobster boss. Specifically, Kang-do grievously injures people so that his boss can collect insurance claims. He does his job with no thought of repentance, until he meets a woman (Jo Min-su) who claims to be his mother. Despite his initial behavior toward her — which is, a warning, very disturbing — she softens him with her love, and opens the door for him to be hurt.
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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Imperator Furiosa, played by a bald and fierce Charlize Theron, has a lot to be angry about. She lives in the desert wasteland that is post-apocalyptic Australia, where water is heavily controlled by despots and women are enslaved. When she joins forces with the five “brides” – women who escaped from the cruel ruler Immortan Joe – Furiosa has a chance to take down the empire that has subjugated so many people. The women's revenge plan in Mad Max: Fury Road is carried out through violence and elaborate car chase scenes – but the goal is actually to end those practices. The women are seeking a fertile, green place where they can hit the “redo” button on society, and make something more beautiful grow instead.
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Prevenge (2016)

While Ruth (Alice Lowe) is pregnant, her husband dies in a climbing accident. As if that weren’t traumatic enough, her unborn fetus begins to speak to her, and compel her to murder all the people involved in his accident — and anyone else who writes Ruth off. It’s not every day you see an eight-month pregnant woman (played by a pregnant Lowe, who also directed and wrote Prevenge) as the antihero of a gory horror movie. Prevenge is a cathartic movie, in the sense that Lowe gets revenge on the everyday microaggressions women (especially pregnant women) face.
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