10 Most Dangerous Movie Vigilantes

Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 11:03 am
By Shane Rivers

This list contains my picks for the 10 most dangerous movie vigilantes, and it’s inspired by the release of Mel Gibson’s Edge of Darkness, a film about a mild-mannered cop who takes the law into his own hands following the death of his daughter. The movie industry has a fine tradition of vigilante activity, and a number of these men and women have transcended any exploitative film genre to become true icons of the silver screen. Whether they’re using a claw hammer to remove someone’s teeth or just busting caps in the collective asses of the criminal underworld, these no-nonsense dispensers of justice know how to get things done.

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Paul KerseyName: Paul Kersey
Portrayed by: Charles Bronson
Appeared in: Death Wish, Death Wish II, Death Wish 3, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, Death Wish V: The Face of Death
Motivation: Justice/Revenge for the death of everyone he knows
Signature Weapon: Lots and lots of guns

With his rugged face, no-nonsense moustache and slightly disturbing tough-guy gaze, Charles Bronson was the perfect choice to play lethal vigilante Paul Kersey. The series started in 1974 and concluded in 1994, when Bronson was the tender age of 72. In those two decades, Kersey survived a total of five Death Wish films and left a trail of dead criminals everywhere he went. When it came to survival, however, those close to him weren’t so lucky. Just take a look: wife (killed), daughter (raped in two different films and then impaled to death), housekeeper (raped and killed), old war buddy (killed), romantic interest (killed), girlfriend’s daughter (killed by drug overdose) and girlfriend (disfigured and later killed). Yep, Paul Kersey was just as dangerous to his loved ones as the street trash and mobsters he gunned down on a regular basis.

Name: Jennifer Hills
Portrayed by: Camille Keaton
Appeared in: I Spit On Your Grave
Motivation: Revenge for being raped
Signature Weapon: Feminine charms

Played by the grand-niece of comedy legend Buster Keaton, Jennifer Hills is an independent young woman working on her first novel. Unfortunately, she heads to the countryside to write it undisturbed, always a bad idea in the movies. Sure enough, she’s raped by several good ‘ol boys and their mentally challenged buddy, and they only leave after believing her dead. They’re wrong, of course. She pulls herself together over the next few days and begins instituting a bloody plan for revenge. One by one, her assailants are lured to their doom by her good looks, and her final cry to one of the rapists of “Suck it, bitch” (echoing his earlier taunts) remains one of the best closing lines in the history of film.

Travis BickleName: Travis Bickle
Portrayed by: Robert De Niro
Appeared in: Taxi Driver
Motivation: Just all kinds of crazy
Signature Weapon: Various firearms purchased from Easy Andy

John Hinckley Jr. was obviously disturbed to begin with, but watching dangerous vigilante Travis Bickle on the big screen hardly did him any good. Mimicking Bickle’s obsession with Jodie Foster, Hinckley tried to whack President Ronald Reagan, while Travis went after the fictional Senator Charles Palantine and later a prostitution den filled with pimps and killers. Prior to the film’s bloody climax, Bickle, a Vietnam veteran, drives his taxi passengers anywhere they want to go in the New York area, and his disgust for what he sees only fuels his paranoid delusions. He’s less than successful at establishing a nurturing relationship with a woman, and so he decides to resort to violence instead. After shaving his hair into a fearsome-looking Mohawk and failing to kill the aforementioned Palantine, he turns his rage to the criminal underworld and prepares to go down shooting. He doesn’t necessarily get his wish (although the ending is often subject to debate), and the deranged Bickle is left alive to commit further violence, but this time with a stamp of approval from a grateful public.

Name: “V”
Portrayed by: Hugo Weaving
Appeared in: V for Vendetta
Motivation: Revenge/Extreme governmental reform
Signature Weapon: Daggers

There’s a simple lesson to be learned here for any would-be fascist rulers: If you perform horrific experiments on so-called deviants at a secret camp, don’t be surprised when one gains special powers, escapes, dons a Guy Fawkes mask, and begins to plot a revenge-laden overthrow of the establishment. Wielding daggers like a dystopian ninja, V carves up members of the government’s goon squad and also subjects the employees of that ill-advised secret camp to lethal doses of poison. When he gains the help of bald-headed (and still hot) Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), V picks up the pace and prepares to destroy the House of Parliament with a train loaded down with explosives. At least he has the good taste to accompany this destruction with the 1812 Overture.

BatmanName: Batman
Portrayed by: Michael Keeton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney and Christian Bale
Appeared in: Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight
Motivation: Justice/Revenge for the senseless murder of his parents
Signature Weapon: Unmatched hand-to-hand fighting abilities

The quality that lands Batman on our list of the 10 most dangerous movie vigilantes is his refusal to kill. Just imagine how much restraint it takes to keep from snapping the neck of Danny DeVito’s Penguin or Jim Carrey’s Riddler. If he really cut loose, it’s easy to imagine Batman kicking the crap out of every man, woman and child in Gotham City. And in addition to his martial arts prowess, Bats is armed with everything from batarangs to the rather formidable Tumbler in his quest to rid the streets of crime. He’s also blessed with a strong supporting cast ranging from an incorruptible cop to a wisdom-dispensing English butler. And the endless stream of smoking hot love interests don’t hurt, either (despite his rather annoying tendency to expose his secret identity at the first opportunity).

Name: John Hatcher
Portrayed by: Steven Seagal
Appeared in: Marked for Death
Motivation: Revenge for the non-fatal shooting of his 12-year-old niece/Hatred of drugs and drug dealers
Signature Weapon: A bone-breaking form of aikido

A newly retired DEA agent, John Hatcher returns home to recover from a final assignment that left his partner dead and plenty of blood on our hero‘s hands. But he can’t get a minute of peace, as war is breaking out in the suburbs between local drug lords and the upstart Jamaican Posse. Black magic and mysterious drug kingpins named Screwface are involved, so you just know there’s going to be some serious trouble. What the bad guys didn’t count on is Hatcher and his old buddy, Max (who’s now a high school football coach). The duo take the fight to the Posse, especially after Hatcher’s cute niece (a young Danielle Harris) takes a slug in one of Hollywood’s endless drive-by shootings. From snapping wrists in downtown department stores to assaulting the nation of Jamaica, Hatcher proves that he’s virtually unstoppable. And guess what happens when he’s forced to pick up a sword for the first time during the movie? If you went with “chopping up bad guys like a pony-tailed Cuisinart,” then you’d be right on the money.

Harry CallahanName: “Dirty” Harry Callahan
Portrayed by: Clint Eastwood
Appeared in: Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, The Dead Pool
Motivation: Enforcing the law by any means necessary
Signature Weapon: A .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world

While Harry Callahan is a cop, he often disregards orders or gets involved in situations outside his jurisdiction. There’s also the little matter of daring criminals to shoot at him, leading to the classic “Do I feel lucky?” and “Go ahead, make my day” scenes. Nobody plays a badass like Clint Eastwood, and Callahan can throw out a smartass remark just as easily as he mows down scumbags. When you’re talking movie cops with a vigilante streak, Dirty Harry stands well above the rest.

Name: John Creasy
Portrayed by: Denzel Washington
Appeared in: Man on Fire
Motivation: The safe return of cute little Dakota Fanning
Signature Weapon: A bomb up the ass

A classic movie burnout, John Creasy is a former CIA operative reduced to taking a gig as the bodyguard of a Mexican businessman’s adorable daughter. Creasy looks dour and Creasy drinks (a lot), but he eventually forms a bond with the lonely little girl. Then she’s nabbed by a kidnapping ring led by the mysterious and feared “Voice,” and Creasy more than earns his spot on this list of the most dangerous movie vigilantes. He puts his talent for death to good use, gunning down corrupt Mexican cops, shooting people’s hands at point-blank range with a shotgun, and even convincing one conspirator to take their own life with a gun that Creasy grimly provides. But the worst comes when he inserts a bomb into the rectum of one criminal in order to convince him to talk. He sings like a bird, but it’s not enough to forestall Creasy’s apparent fixation with anal explosions. If I ever find myself sharing a shower with Denzel Washington, I won’t pick up the soap under any circumstances.

Oh Dae-suName: Oh Dae-su
Portrayed by: Choi Min-sik
Appeared in: Oldboy
Motivation: Revenge for 15 years of imprisonment
Signature Weapon: An ordinary hammer

Held against his will for 15 years in a hotel room, normal guy Oh Dae-su eats fried dumplings every day, watches television reports about the murder of his wife, tries to take his own life, and slowly tries to tunnel his way out with a chopstick. Then he’s suddenly set free. Tormented by his mysterious captor, Oh Dae-su goes on a hammer-wielding rampage, pulling out people’s teeth and smashing henchmen in their brainpans. But the hammer doesn’t do him any good when he finally learns the truth behind his captivity and the horrific plan that’s been brewing for over a decade.

Names: Connor and Murphy MacManus
Portrayed by: Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus
Appeared in: The Boondock Saints and The Boondock Saints II: All Saint’s Day
Motivation: A vision from God
Signature Weapon: Guns, toilets, and plenty of rope

After they accidentally kill a pair of Russian mobsters in self-defense, Irish-American brothers Connor and Murphy decide to turn themselves into the cops. That’s when they find they’re regarded as heroes, and soon God sends them instructions on continuing their current good works. With the help of a gay FBI agent, his protégé, an assassin father, three bumbling detectives, and a sleazy underworld pal, the MacManus brothers put a major dent in organized crime, always placing coins on the eyes of their victims as a calling card. Even a trip to prison can’t dampen their enthusiasm, as they use their spare time to plan ways to kills their fellow inmates.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the 10 most dangerous movie vigilantes. Join us again next week for another exciting feature article from Only Good Movies. And while you’re waiting, don’t forget to visit Amazon and pick up movies like Dirty Harry and Death Wish on DVD and Blu-ray.