Violence is one of film’s rogue and most controversial elements. Not to mention what was considered violent half a century ago has since been overshadowed by the machine gun gore of recent years.
From war heroes to American gangsters to horrific murderers, film violence comes in all forms. Although more bloody movies are released every year, here are a dozen films that are not just action-packed killing sprees; they are cinematic masters of the genre.
12. No Country for Old Men-2007
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Producer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen and Scott Rudin
Writer: Joel and Ethan Coen (based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel)
Killers: Javier Bardem (as Anton Chigurh) and Tommy Lee Jones (as Ed Tom Bell)
The Coen Brothers are a team known for their death-dealing films, and No Country for Old Men is one of their most acclaimed, having won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. Chigurh is a mysterious and nearly soulless hit-man, flipping a coin to decide his targets’ fates. Despite creepy Chigurh’s barrel-baring tactics, his lone-man mission to kill is almost gentle compared with the organised gang violence of other movies on the list.
11. Training Day-2001
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Producer: Bruce Berman and Davis Guggenheim
Writer: David Ayer
Killers: Denzel Washington (as Detective Alonzo Harris), Ethan Hawke (as Jake Hoyt), Snoop Dogg (as Blue) and Cliff Curtis (as Smiley)
LAPD narcotics officer Alonzo (Washnigton) spends a day evaluating rookie cop Jake Hoyt (Hawke) in his vigilante “street justice.” Jake question’s Alonzo’s ethics, and becomes aware of Alonzo’s lack of distinction between right and wrong. Washington won an Oscar for his portrayal of a cop who certainly isn’t good, but isn’t an unsympathetic villain either.
10. Reservoir Dogs-1992
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Producer: Lawrence Bender
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Killers: Harvey Keitel (as Mr. White), Tim Roth (as Mr. Orange), Steve Buscemi (as Mr. Pink), Eddie Bunker (as Mr. Blue), and Michael Madsen (as Mr. Blonde)
Tarantino’s debut feature (in which he even made an appearance) chronicles the error-filled diamond-heist of six code-named men. Trust and betrayal mean guns are drawn within the team, and by the time the police arrive, anyone’s a target.
9. First Blood-1982
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Producer: Buzz Feitshans, Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna
Writer: Michael Kozoll, William Sackheim and Sylvester Stallone (based on the novel by David Morrell)
Killers: Sylvester Stallone (as John Rambo), Richard Crenna (as Colonel Samuel Trautman) and Brian Dennehy (as Sheriff Will Teasle)
First Blood, the first movie in the Rambo enterprise, follows Stallone as a Vietnam war vet and his difficulties readjusting to civilian life. When small-town harass him, Rambo has flashbacks of being tortured in Vietnam. Soon he is engaged in a one-man guerilla war with the authorities, who are no match for the fighting abilities that earned Rambo a Medal of Honor.
8. True Romance-1992
Director: Tony Scott
Producer: Gary Barber, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Samuel Hadida and James G. Robinson
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Killers: Chritian Slater (as Clarence Worley), Patricia Arquette (Alabama Whitman), Gary Oldman (as Drexl Spivey), Christopher Walken (as Vincenzo Coccotti), James Gandolfini (as Virgil) and Samuel L. Jackson (as Big Don)
One of the Nineties’ greatest action features and Tarantino’s earliest films, True Romance is a love-story in which the heroes never planned to turn violent, but had no choice. With gangsters like Coccotti (Walken) on their tails, young amateurs Clarence and Alabama (Slater and Arquette) fight back because they care about each other. As Virgil (Gandolfini) notes while beating Alabama in a hotel room, just before she turns the tables on him for good, she and Clarence have “got a lot of heart.”
7. The Godfather-1972
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Albert S. Rudy
Writer: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola (based on the novel by Mario Puzoo)
Killers: Marlon Brando (as Vito Corleone), Al Pacino (as Michael Coreleone), James Caan (as Sonny Corleone) and Robert Duvall (as Tom Hagen)
In many ways, what was brutal in the Seventies is tame by today’s standards—take the once shocking horse-head in the bed scene, for example. Still, few mafia-men are as skilled at what they do as the Corleones. With family matters and the protection of the Corleone father (Brando) at the film’s core, good-guy murderer Michael (Pacino) is a killer for whom we root.
6. Apocalypse Now-1979
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Producer: Francis Ford Coppola
Writer: John Milius, Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Herr (based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness)
Killers: Martin Sheen (as U.S. Army Captain Benjamin L Willard), Marlon Brando (as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz), Robert Duvall (as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore), Albert Hall (as Navy Quartermaster George “Chief” Phillips), Sam Bottoms (as Lance Johnson) and Laurence Fisburne (as Tyrone “Mr. Clean” Miller)
Perhaps the greatest war movie of all time, Apocalypse Now (winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes) is set during the Vietnam War around a conflict between U.S. military troops and the rotten Colonel Kurtz (Brando). The philosophical film includes T.S. Eliot’s poetry as well as stunning shots highlighting the other battle, machine vs. nature. Like many violent films, though, Apocalypse Now opens dialogue about whether its portrayal is pro-war or anti-war, and maybe the answer vacillates like the Nam surf, somewhere in between.
5. Natural Born Killers-1994
Director: Oliver Stone
Producer: Arnon Milchan, Jane Hamsher, Don Murphy, Thom Mount and Clayton Townsend
Writer: Oliver Stone, Dave Veloz and Richard Rutowski (based on the story by Quentin Tarantino)
Killers: Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis (as Mickey and Mallory Knox)
Lovers (Harrelson and Lewis) with dark childhoods in their closets kill because it feels good—and the media glorifies them. Natural Born Killers takes a sadistic look at the media’s fascination with crime and murder, and is one of the few films in which the (serial) killers murder with no motive other than their own pleasure.
4. A Clockwork Orange-1971
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Producer: Stanley Kubrick
Writer: Stanley Kubrick (based on the novel by Anthony Burgess)
Killers: Malcolm McDowell (as Alex), Michael Tam (as Pete), James Marcus (as Georgie) and Warren Clarke (as Dim)
Based on the American version of Burgess’ infamous novel (which ends on a dark note, lacking the redemptive final chapter) The Clockwork Orange, while an audience success, is a contentious film, which displeased even Burgess. Some consider the film’s number one killer, Alex (McDowell), overly humanized, and its erotic violent scenes far too much excitement. Still, the futuristic setting is aesthetically ahead of its time, and the peculiar language (a Nasdat slang mix of English, Russian and Cockney rhyme) adds interest. Alex, perhaps insane, is a smart criminal, who loves three things: classical music, sex and his own “ultra-violence.”
3. The Elite Squad-2007
Director: José Padilha
Producer: José Padilha and Marcos Prado
Writer: Bráulio Mantovani, José Padilha and Rodrigo Pimentel (based on the book by Luiz Eduardo Soares)
Killers: Wagner Moura (as Captain Roberto Nascimento), Caio Junqueira (as Neto Gouveia) and André Ramiro (as André Matias)
When the ordinary police are corrupt, a super brutal super-squad is necessary to deal justice. The Brazilian film The Elite Squad (in Portuguese with English subtitles) is a semi-fictional account of the BOPE, Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais. The BOPE unit employs unorthodox methods (which verge on torture and often endanger civilians) to crack down on the drug lords who rule Rio’s favelas, even as the ethics of these methods are questioned by lawyer-cop Matias (Ramiro) and the Captain (Moura) himself. The film sparks debate about what some consider a glamorisation of police violence.
Director: Brian De Palma
Producer: Martin Bregman
Writer: Oliver Stone
Killers: Al Pacino (as Tony Montana), Steven Bauer (as Manny Ribera), Pepe Serna (as Angel), Ángel Salazar (as Chi-Chi), Mark Margolis (as Alberto), Robbert Loggia (as Frank Lopez), Paul Shenar (as Alejandro Sosa) and Geno Silva (as “The Skull”)
A modern remake of the 1932 gangster epic Scarface, the 1983 version stars Pacino in the moral drama that blurs ethical lines with its portrayal of Cuban drug traffickers and penchant for chainsaw guts. Over time the film has garnered more positive reviews, possibly due both to the continued increase in gruesome movies and Pacino’s likability as protagonist Montana—Pacino plays murderous gangsters eerily well.
1. Silence of the Lambs-1999
Director: Jonathan Demme
Producer: Kenneth Utt, Edward Saxon and Ron Bozman
Writer: Ted Tally (based on the novel by Thomas Harris)
Killers: Anthony Hopkins (as Hannibal Lecter) and Tod Levine (as Buffalo Bill)
Silence of the Lambs is a horror film weaving together the manias of two psychopaths—the former psychiatrist and cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) and the serial killing “Buffalo Bill” (Levine), who is constructing a woman-suit for himself from his victims’ skin. Young FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is assigned to interview the intelligent Lecter in hopes he may help her find Bill. What makes the film most sinister is Lecter’s technique—he not only kills his enemies, he eats their faces.
Some argue movie violence breeds real-world violence. Others disagree, claiming brutal movies offer a cathartic release from the stresses of everyday life. Whichever way you point the gun, violence has become an inescapable part of today’s cinematic experience.
And which other violent movies do you love, or love to hate? Let us know who else has redefined ‘armed and dangerous.’
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