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Top 10 Vigilante Justice Movies

VO: Dan Paradis

Films where the law is moving too slow, and characters take justice into their own hands to become vigilantes. WatchMojo presents the Top 10 Movies where characters go full vigilante and fight crime on their own. But what will make the top spot? The renegade cop from Dirty Harry, or the delusional Taxi Driver Travis Bickle? Watch to find out!

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Transcript
Sometimes, the justice system just ain’t good enough. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Vigilante Justice Movies.

For this list, we’ll be taking a look at films featuring protagonists that are not members of law enforcement, who take things into their own hands to make sure justice is served. That means we’ll be focusing on vigilantes who are normal people, so we’ll be excluding superheroes and other costumed crime-fighters.

#10: “Prisoners” (2013)

Containing powerful performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, this film highlights the lengths to which parents will go in order to save the lives of their children. When a pair of young girls goes missing during Thanksgiving and the only suspect is released, one of the fathers decides to take matters into his own hands by kidnapping said suspect and performing his own investigation. As the detective assigned to the case struggles to come up with useful leads, the ethical dilemmas of vigilantism and the urgent desire to find their children lead the parents down an increasingly dark path to the truth.

#9: “Falling Down” (1993)

In this Joel Schumacher-directed tale of a man who reaches his breaking point, Michael Douglas portrays a laid-off defense engineer who snaps one morning while stuck in L.A. traffic. A profound social commentary about the erosion of the American Dream, this film follows William “D-Fens” Foster as he rampages through Los Angeles in an attempt to attend his daughter’s birthday party. Unleashing his pent-up frustration on convenience store clerks, gang members, fast food workers and golfers, Douglas’ character lashes out at the injustice that surrounds him in a convincing portrayal of an everyman who simply can’t take it anymore.

#8: “The Equalizer” (2014)

Based on the 1980s TV series of the same name, this action-packed big screen adaptation stars Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, a former CIA operative who now works at a hardware store. When he befriends a young prostitute that becomes a victim of the Russian Mob, Robert decides to come out of retirement to unleash his own brand of justice on the gangsters. Using guns, his bare hands and plenty of “borrowed” tools from his day job, Washington’s protagonist is as charming as he is deadly as he sets out to dismantle the Russian Mafia and their criminal enterprises.

#7: “Drive” (2011)

Described by director Nicolas Winding Refn as his attempt to create a fairy tale set in Los Angeles, this neo-noir crime film brings together Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston and Ron Perlman for a stunning entry into the vigilante genre. When a part-time getaway driver befriends his new neighbor and her young son, he gets involved in her husband’s debt to some gangsters. This opens up a Pandora’s box of danger for him and those he cares about. Combining arthouse visuals with gruesome violence, Drive showcases how far one man will go to protect the people closest to him and the price he must pay to help them survive unscathed.

#6: “Gran Torino” (2008)

A thought-provoking story about overcoming prejudice, this Clint Eastwood-directed drama follows the director as he takes on the role of Walt Kowalski, a widowed Korean War veteran who is not thrilled about his new Hmong neighbors moving in next door. After protecting one of them from a local gang’s harassment, Walt begins to reconsider his views and comes to accept and protect them, even becoming a father figure to his prized 1972 Gran Torino’s would-be thief. Despite being seventy-eight years old at the time, Clint Eastwood still delivers an intimidating performance as the ill-tempered Walt, using his trusty M1 Garand rifle to defend his community from the criminals who terrorize it.

#5: “The Boondock Saints” (1999)

Mixing organized crime elements with a Catholic commitment to fighting evil, this action-packed crime flick starring Norman Reedus, Sean Patrick Flanery and Willem Dafoe brings the vigilante justice in spades. Inspired by director Troy Duffy’s personal experience of seeing a drug dealer rob a deceased neighbor, this film wrestles with the dual nature of justice and vengeance. After killing Russian mobsters in self-defense, the brothers MacManus experience an epiphany and agree to become vigilantes in the service of God. Taking the fight directly to the criminal underworld in their hometown of Boston, the fraternal twins set out on a mission to dish out some divine retribution to the Russian mob.

#4: “Taken” (2008)

When the daughter of former CIA agent Bryan Mills is kidnapped while travelling throughout Europe, her sex-trafficking captors soon realize who they are dealing with: a veritable nightmare. Directed by Pierre Morel and starring Liam Neeson, this action thriller and first entry in the Taken trilogy delves into the classic story of a parent going to extreme lengths to protect his or her child. With only ninety-six hours to rescue his daughter, Bryan Mills opts to take matters into his own hands and find both her, and the people who took her, himself – and it is the latter who end up on the receiving end of his paternal thirst for vengeance.

#3: “Death Wish” (1974)

Arguably the career highlight of Charles Bronson, this 1974 film about an architect-turned-vigilante in many ways laid the foundation for the modern vigilante flick. After his wife and daughter are brutally attacked by street thugs, Paul Kersey takes a cue from the Old West and decides to release his rage by killing muggers at night on the streets of New York. Using himself as bait, Paul earns the nickname “The Vigilante” and sparks social and political tension through his lethal methods of crime fighting. A dark character study about a former conscientious objector who is consumed by a desire for vengeance, Death Wish illustrates the devastating effects of losing a loved one and the imperfections of the justice system.

#2: “Dirty Harry” (1971)

Although Harry Callahan is a cop by trade, what makes him one of the most memorable on-screen vigilantes is his willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to dealing with the bad guys. In this 1971 classic that spawned the Dirty Harry franchise, the tough-as-nails San Francisco Homicide Inspector goes up against a psychotic serial killer known simply as “Scorpio”. A film that investigates the balancing act between the rights of victims and perpetrators, Dirty Harry set the standard for the rogue cop films that would follow and introduced the forty-four Magnum brand of justice to moviegoers.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are some honorable mentions
- “Law Abiding Citizen” (2009)
- “Hobo with a Shotgun” (2011)
- “Man on Fire” (2004)
- “Hard Candy” (2005)
- “The Brave One” (2007)

#1: “Taxi Driver” (1976)

Directed by Martin Scorsese, this gritty psychological thriller follows Travis Bickle, an insomniac Vietnam War veteran who spends his nights driving a taxi and musing about the moral decay of the Big Apple. Played to perfection by Robert De Niro in one of his most iconic roles, Travis’ desire to clear up New York of its vices leads him to meet Iris, an underage prostitute whom he decides to rescue from life on the street. Assembling a small arsenal and assuming a militaristic persona, Travis wages a one-man crusade against Iris’ pimp and anyone else who stands in his way. Unnerving and grim in its tone, Taxi Driver offers a glimpse at the mindset of one of cinema’s most unhinged vigilantes.

Do you agree with our list? What’s your favorite vigilante justice movie? For more entertaining Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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