Vigilante movies have increased and decreased in waves, but they have been consistently around for at least a few decades. They were very big in the 1970s, with classic titles like Death Wish and Dirty Harry, and then again in the 2000s, the latter surge being attributed to Americans' post-9/11 desire for vengeance. In general, they function as empowering fantasies for people who wish they could take the law into their own hands but never actually would. And the new missing-child drama Prisoners should do just that for many viewers, particularly those who are parents.
Not all examples are so dark as this new release, though. In the past decade, for instance, vigilantism has also been prevalent with superhero movies. Batman in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is a popular example, but even Spider-Man is considered a vigilante, albeit less of a ruthless antihero type. Often it's the films aiming for more realistic scenarios and violence, such as James Gunn's Superhero, that are most akin to what we consider as the act of vigilantism. Then again, there's The Crow, which is hardly realistic at all.
There is also a contrast between those movies in which the vigilante is definitely meant to be a "good guy" -- you can just look to the titles of early Steven Seagal movies for that kind (Out for Justice; Above the Law) -- and those where the vigilante is not necessarily a "bad guy" but is someone who ultimately winds up punished for being a morally questionable character. Some favorites in the latter category include Taxi Driver and Falling Down. One type we don't see enough of are female-vigilante movies, although Hard Candy, Coffy and The Brave One are all greats in such a small bunch.
Do you have a favorite vigilante movie? Share your pick below.
Law Abiding Citizen
Man on Fire
Dead Man Down
MAN ON FIRE with Denzel Washington is the ultimate vigilante movie. Washington played John Creasy...a character created by James Sallis... Here's some quotes...
. Okay, my friend. It's off to the next life for you. I guarantee, you won't be lonely.
. Revenge is a meal best served cold.
. Forgiveness is between them and God. It's my job to arrange the meeting.
. A man can be an artist ... in anything... It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy's art is death. He's about to paint his masterpiece.
. He'll deliver more justice in a weekend than ten years of your courts and tribunals. Just stay out of his way.
.A bullet always tells the truth.
Samuel: Your resume is quite impressive. 16 years of military experience, extensive counter-terrorism work. I'm surprised anyone could afford you, what's the catch?
Creasy: I drink.
Samuel: How does that affect you?
Creasy: Coordination, reaction time. Top professionals try to kidnap your daughter I'll do the best I can but the service will be on par with the pay.
My fav is "The Brave One". Classic vigilante movie
"Welcome to the party, pal."
"I am serious... and don't call me Shirley."
"When am I gonna learn how to punch?"
"These go to eleven."
"Benjamin, have you ever been severely beaten about the face & neck?"
"Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming."
"You're gonna need a bigger boat."
"Jessica's got cable."
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