Vigilante films are both a classic and controversial concept in filmmaking. Taxi Driver and Kick-Ass are two of the best films that portray vigilantes.
Anti-vigilante sentiment has been a divisive topic. Is it always ethical for someone to take the law into their own hands when they want retribution for those who have wronged them? The vigilante has long been a popular motif in movies, with stars such as Charles Bronson, Jan-Michael Vincent, and Kevin Bacon garnering positive reviews for their roles in such films. Watchmen and The Punisher, two of HBO’s most popular vigilante-themed television dramas, have also been popular.
This genre has had numerous notable contributions, including Death Wish, which is often considered to be the most popular. The following is a list of 10 outstanding examples of the genre.
1. The Born Losers (1967)
Drive-in classic Billy Jack made his debut appearance as the renowned character in this film. Films like Born Losers show Billy Jack as a vigilante who takes on an organized crime syndicate. The film was a huge success, making it one of the most beloved motorcycle movies of all time.
All Billy Jack films were written, directed, and starred in by Tom Laughlin, who wrote, directed, and starred in them all. Using Native American philosophy, meditation, and kick-ass kung fu, he became an iconic 1970s hero.
2. The Exterminator (1980)
The Exterminator, starring Robert Ginty as a man who witnesses the death of his best friend at the hands of street thugs, was one of James Glickenhaus’ most controversial vigilante films. The protagonist transforms into a merciless vigilante after collecting a flamethrower and a slew of lethal weapons.
Even though the picture was widely panned by critics, it was a great hit on the Grindhouse circuit and is popular among 1980s action fans.
3. Death Wish (1974)
When Charles Bronson appeared in The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, and Once Upon a Time in the West, his star was already rising. Beginning with Michael Winner’s Death Wish in 1974, the actor rose to prominence as a cinema star thanks to his action/thriller performance.
An architect named Paul Kersey (Bronson) is the victim of an assassination attempt that results in the death of his wife.
A newly purchased rifle helps Kersey clear the city of criminals while he hunts down those responsible for his family’s destruction.
A masterpiece of 1970s cinema, Winner’s picture treads a fine line between serious social critique and visceral action, but manages to do both extremely well.
4. Death Wish II (1982)
After his daughter was raped and murdered, Paul Kersey is now living in Los Angeles, where he is once again confronted with violence. Kersey must re-enter the world of vigilantism, which he had hoped to leave behind. One-man wrath of vengeance, Kersey sets out on a mission to rid Los Angeles of criminals and uncover the assassins of his daughter.
Charles Bronson returned to the character of Paul Kersey with ease after an absence of eight years. The cruelty in this picture was considerably more shocking than in the previous one. The reason why this film is so controversial is the same thing that makes it a success. When Bronson finally catches the baddies it’s all the more satisfying since it’s so gruesome that the audience wonders if the director has gone too far. Critics panned the film, but Bronson’s return to the big screen was a tremendous hit at the theaters.
5. Kick-Ass (2010)
The film version of Matthew Vaughn’s graphic novel, Kick-Ass, quickly became a cult favorite. Even though none of them have any powers or genuine skills, the gang of young social misfit decide to become superheroes, which basically means they become vigilantes.
A raunchy, tough-as-nails vigilante known as “Hit-Girl” steals the show as Chloe Grace Moretz. To this day, many comic fans consider her character to be one of the all-time great sidekicks. It’s hard to single out any one member of the cast as particularly noteworthy.
6. MS. 45 (1981)
In this cult vigilante film, Abel Ferrara depicts a mute lady who has been raped twice in one day and begins to lose her sanity. A 45-caliber pistol is all she needs to follow New York City’s filthy underbelly and shoot those she considers to be bad.
Grindhouse cinemas in the big cities embraced the film, and it gained a cult following when it was released on VHS. The star of the picture, Zoe Lund, and Ferrara’s low-budget filming garnered positive reviews. For its day, it was rare to see a woman take control and fight back in a role like this one.
7. Falling Down (1993)
As a film director, Joel Schumacher has worked in a wide range of genres. Falling Down, his sole picture as a vigilante, came out in 1993 and is widely regarded as one of his best. As a man who is fed up with his country, Michael Douglas portrays the role. During a traffic congestion, he gets out of the car and walks around the city of Los Angeles in an effort to fight back against what he sees as social ills. The spectator first sympathizes with Douglas’ vigilantism before learning that he is a deadly psychopath.
After initially failing to make money, Schumacher’s picture has since grown in reputation and is now seen as one of the most important movies from its decade and among the best vigilante films.
8. Vigilante (1982)
‘Vigilante’ is a self-explanatory title for William Lustig’s 1982 film. A man’s wife and son are kidnapped by thugs in this film. For this reason, Forester and his companion Fred Williamson (in the role of Forester) take matters into their own hands and become vigilantes in search of restitution.
Lutig’s piece is a powerful and violent film, but it’s not the exploitation film that the advertisements promised. In spite of the heavy action, the film is a thought-provoking look at the criminal justice system in the United States.
9. Magnum Force (1973)
Director Ted Post and screenwriters Michael Cimino and John Milius teamed up for Magnum Force, the sequel to Don Siegel’s 1971 classic Dirty Harry, pitting Harry Callahan against a secret vigilante police force that was eradicating the criminals who slipped through the fingers of justice in San Francisco.
In this film, Harry is less of an anti-hero and more of a voice of reason in the midst of a sea of corruption than in Siegel’s original. While Dirty Harry is a great example of hard-edged police films that wouldn’t be done today, this picture is much more vicious and cynical.
10. Taxi Driver (1976)
It is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of the decade and a powerful and influential American masterpiece by Martin Scorsese, who directed Taxi Driver. Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, is a man who wants to rid New York City of crime, drug, and pimps. Bickle urges in one of the film’s many iconic lines that a “genuine rain” should arrive to “wipe the muck off the streets.” That rain will fall on Bickle.
A dark and scary picture was made by Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader about a man who is isolated from the rest of the world and unable to speak with others. Bickle reaches a breaking point when he resolves to use the one voice he believes people will hear: reactionary violence, to express his displeasure with the crime-ridden city in which he lives. Since De Niro’s performance of Travis Bickle, the character has become one of 70s cinema’s best-known anti-heroes thanks to the film.