The film industry is unfortunately still very much a man’s world. Even with the recent burst of exposing abusive men, women are fighting to be heard—not just in movies, but pretty much everywhere. Which is why the female revenge genre has endured as a subversive and cathartic viewing experience.
There are classic buddy films like Thelma and Louise, about women who band together against bad men, and then there are international gems like the Korean Lady Vengeance and the Japanese Lady Snowblood, both about women on murderous missions. (Some, like Audition, veer into body horror.) There are dark comedies about women getting back at other women (Heathers), and then there are lighter, less murderous movies like the workplace farce 9 to 5. Of course, there’s also a whole genre of rape revenge films, including cult favorites like Ms. 45 and I Spit on Your Grave.
In many cases, the female revenge film is controversial (see: Paul Verhoeven’s Elle), but it’s ever fascinating, and even essential. While there are so many to be discovered, here is your easy watching guide for your basic faves—all available to stream on Netflix, Hulu, or HBO Go.
Where to Stream: Hulu
Skip that Chloe Grace Moretz reboot and go straight for the classic: the Brian De Palma horror film (based on Stephen King’s novel) that added pig’s blood to the long list of things to be nervous about on prom night. In Sissy Spacek’s breakout role, she plays Carrie White, the quiet, nervous high school teen dealing with a scarily pious mother back home and a gang of mean girls who make fun of her at school. In the opening scene, Carrie gets bullied about getting her first period, and the abuse doesn’t stop there. Just when she think she’s catching a break—a cute boy asks her to prom, and she even wins Prom Queen—it ends up being part of a big prank where her schoolmates dump a bucket of pig blood on her while she’s on stage. This event sparks Carrie’s telekinetic skills, which she uses to send the dance room into pure chaos. Carrie is not your typical villain—she’s the sympathetic anti-heroine created by the trauma of her environment.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2
Where to Stream: Netflix
Quentin Tarantino has a few good female revenge moments (see: the stuntwomen revenge flick Death Proof or Shosanna burning Nazis in a theater in Inglourious Basterds), but his best-known vengeance films would be the two volumes of Kill Bill, starring Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo, a woman with a kill list. After being left for dead at her own wedding rehearsal, she wakes up from a four-year coma and hunts down everyone who had betrayed her. Her biggest kill, of course, is Bill, the ex-lover who shot Beatrix in the head. The road to Bill is gory and brutal, with some scenes in black and white to subdue the redness of the blood bath.
Where to Stream: Netflix/Hulu
Along with Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the teen cult classic Heathers solidified Winona Ryder as the rebel queen of the late ’80s and early ’90s. In Heathers, Ryder plays the angsty Veronica, an unwilling addition to her friend group of mean girls, all named Heather. What started as a joking aside about murdering the Heathers’ queen bee becomes a fatal reality when Veronica meets a new boy named J.D. from the wrong side of the tracks (Christian Slater). After eliminating the high school tyrants one by one in a series of murders framed as suicides, Veronica realizes her new boyfriend poses the biggest problem of all. This darkly comedic teen flick is also responsible for the phrase "fuck me gently with a chainsaw."
Where to Stream: Netflix
This '90s teen movie stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe as incestuous step-siblings who play manipulative games with their schoolmates—without a care about feelings or consequences. They mess with their fumbling, awkward friend Cecile (Selma Blair), but the big dare centers around Sebastian’s (Phillippe) ability to seduce the nice new girl Annette (Reese Witherspoon), who’s vowed to save herself for true love. If Sebastian can get Annette to lose her virginity to him, he’s allowed to bone his step-sis ("you can put it anywhere"). Cruel Intentions doesn’t take on the typical female revenge narrative, but there’s sweet, sweet redemption at the end. (P.S. Cruel Intentions 2 is also available to stream on Netflix, but it is absolutely skippable.)
9 to 5
Where to Stream: HBO Go
Work sucks, I know! It especially sucks when your boss is a male chauvinist pig. Women's fight for workplace equality is a familiar tune, but this one’s set to an insanely catchy one by Dolly Parton. The Queen of Country makes one-third of an iconic main cast (along with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) of secretaries who team up against their abusive boss. Parton’s Doralee gets the brunt of his disgusting ways after he spreads a rumor that they're having an affair. So she and her friends kidnap him, hold him hostage, and find a way to blackmail him. I know, that sounds pretty bad but it’s in the name of women’s rights, plus they expose his shady business dealings.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy
Where to Stream: Netflix
I've got to admit, the 2011 David Fincher version is more my speed, but the original Swedish trilogy starring Noomi Rapace is also a visceral, satisfying watch. The Dragon Tattoo trilogy is part rape revenge, as Lisbeth Salander (Rapace here, Rooney Mara later) gets back at her sadistic guardian who abuses her. But she also teams up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist in tracking down a killer to seek vengeance once more.