Top 5 Big Screen Vigilantes

Frank Castle is better known to comic book and movie fans as The Punisher, a brutal war veteran who metes out his own brand of steel-jacketed justice in the new film Punisher: War Zone. Of course, vigilantes are nothing new to American entertainment: think TV shows like "The Equalizer" and "The A-Team" to "24" and "Dexter." Even the slasher film series "Friday the Thirteenth" began as a vigilante film, with a murderous mother seeking revenge on summer camp counselors who were busy indulging in sextra-curricular activities when her son Jason drowned. While Jason's body count is as impressive as it is repetitious, other movie vigilantes are much more interesting.

1.    Bruce Wayne in and as

Probably the best-known vigilante in the world, young Bruce Wayne decides to fight crime as <a href=>Batman</a> after seeing his parents murdered in front of him. Though the Caped Crusader is a crime fighter in Gotham City and often collaborates with the police, his status outside the police force allows him to work outside the law and use illegal and unorthodox methods. Batman's character has not always been that of a vigilante (the campy 1960s TV series featuring Batman and Robin in tights inspired gay jokes instead of grave threats), but later incarnations definitely focused on <a href=>The Dark Knight</a>'s dark side.

2.    William Munny in

Clint Eastwood has played a lot of bad dudes in his time, but his turn as retired gunslinger William Munny in the multiple-<a href=>Academy Award</a>-winning film Unforgiven was by far his most successful. The cranky old coot is reluctantly drawn out of retirement ("I ain't like that no more," he growls) but when he does it's vigilante justice through and through, as he tracks down and kills two cowboys who brutally maimed a Wyoming prostitute.

3.    Max Rockatansky in and as  

Long before Mel Gibson made headlines for slo-mo shots of Jesus' flying, flailed flesh in "The Passion of the Christ" and his anti-Semitic drunken rants, he portrayed young cop Max Rockatansky in the low-budget Australian thriller Mad Max. <a href=>George Miller</a>'s cult film follows Max as he seeks revenge for the murder of his wife and baby by a ruthless motorcycle gang. Mad Max spawned two sequels, including one of the greatest post-apocalyptic films of all time, The Road Warrior, complete with spectacular chases, leather-clad, fuel-raiding motorcycle gangs, and feral kids chucking bladed boomerangs. What's not to love?

4.    Paul Kersey in

Tough guy Charles Bronson made a career out of playing Paul Kersey, a New York architect driven to <a href=>vigilantism</a> following the murder of his wife and daughter by street thugs. He exacts revenge against street scum and hoodlums, then takes to the mean streets as a self-appointed protector of the innocent. He's a Guardian Angel with a gun instead of a beret. The combination resonated with audiences; the Death Wish series ran for twenty years, from 1974 to 1994, and launched Bronson into a new role, that of international action hero icon.

5.    Bill Foster in  

"I am not a vigilante. I am just trying to get home to my little girl's birthday party and if everyone will just stay out of my way, nobody will get hurt," Bill Foster says in the 1993 film Falling Down. Michael Douglas's nerdy character (complete with pocket protector and buzz cut) may not see himself as a vigilante, but that's what makes Foster so fascinating. He's a downsized Everyman living in Los Angeles whose dignity is eroded by the world's inequities. Disillusioned with the American Dream and economically disenfranchised, Foster's desperation is universal. Unlike most movie vigilantes, the targets of Foster's rage goes beyond violent street gangs to everyday insults including deceptive advertising and traffic jams.


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