It is important to set goals. This is especially true for the heroes of a story, as it gives the narrative meaning. Swearing revenge is a reliable way to do this. It makes the conflict relatable by playing on people’s natural desire for revenge. If someone wrongs you, you want revenge. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.
Some films reverse the script in this area, denying their heroes the retribution they seek. It sometimes comes down to characters deciding not to go down this deadly path, but it also happens in circumstances beyond their control. Whatever the reason, these heroes aren’t getting the revenge they so desperately seek.
seven Mathilda – Leon The Professional
Drug trafficking and families never mix. Mathilda learns this the hard way when her parents and siblings are wiped out by the coked Stansfield over a deal gone wrong. The young girl survives thanks to the intervention of the neighbor and contract killer Léon. She wants to train under him as an assassin, learning the skills necessary for revenge, but he wants her to live a quiet life away from violence.
Unfortunately, Mathilda takes matters into her own hands. She tries to carry out her secret mission herself, but Stansfield discovers her deception. Luckily, Leon once again protects her from the resulting firefight, blowing himself up with Stansfield. Thus, his ward is free to pursue a better life.
6 Bruce Wayne – Batman Begins
Before being the Caped Crusader and a staunch supporter of the justice system, Bruce Wayne was a punk kid who wanted revenge on Joe Chill, the street robber who killed his parents. The angry youth attempts to ambush Chill after the criminal testifies against mob boss Carmine Falcone, but the crime lord gets to him first.
He kills Chill, eliminating him as a witness and leaving Bruce dejected and empty. On the other hand, it gives him a new target: the greatest criminal element destroying everything his parents stood for. Fans, of course, know where this leads. One journey ends and another begins.
5 Caesar – War for the Planet of the Apes
The irony is that the star of this Planet of the Apes The original trilogy doesn’t want a war, because that would only result in new casualties on both sides of the primate spectrum. It hits home in the third movie. After an unhinged human colonel slaughters his family, Caesar relentlessly pursues the murderer through the ruined land. Along the way, he stumbles upon a strange phenomenon: the same airborne drug that made apes intelligent is now causing humans to lose their higher brain functions. In short, they can’t talk. This is ultimately the reason why he does not take revenge.
Once he finally catches up with the Colonel, Caesar finds that his enemy has succumbed to this disease. The fate he was so afraid of finally befell him. Caesar knows that killing him like this would bring him no satisfaction, so he leaves the man to his misery and joins his people. Then the Colonel blows his head off, providing the audience with further closure.
4 Caspian – The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
Telmarines do many dark deeds in the second narnia movie, but one of the most despicable is reserved for their own prince. Caspian’s father falls victim to a jealous brother who wants the throne for himself. Once the prince learns of this betrayal, he joins the Narnians. He not only works to liberate the land from the tyrannical rule of the Telmarines, but also to retaliate against Uncle Miraz.
Curiously, it is Peter who defeats the villain in a duel. He delivers the fatal blow to Caspian, but the hero refuses to stoop to his uncle’s level. Miraz does not live long, however, as his lieutenant secretly stabs him and starts a battle. Maybe Caspian should have done the honors after all.
3 Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man and No Way Home
Two big-screen headliners swore revenge for the death of a loved one but lost. The first was The Amazing Spider-Man. This untimely reboot tells the same old story: Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker loses his Uncle Ben and goes after the perpetrator responsible. Unfortunately, he seems to forget that and moves on to don the Spider-Man mantle. Thus, lazy writing and interference in the studio deprive him of any resolution to this formative conflict.
The same punishment later escapes Tom Holland’s Spidey. Between Marvel’s unfunny shenanigans and Avengers crossovers, he doesn’t address this part of his origin story until his third solo film. This multiverse adventure sees the Green Goblin kill his Aunt May. Peter then tries to stab the villain with his own glider, but Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man stops him from crossing that line. Instead, they heal their common enemy and send him home. So the MCU’s web head is starting to look like Spider-Man.
2 Thorin Oakenshield – The Hobbit
This dwarf has bad blood with several characters in Middle-earth, but the biggest threat is Smaug. The malevolent dragon ruthlessly attacks the dwarf kingdom of Erebor: slaying countless inhabitants, driving others away, and claiming their domain for itself. Thorin’s people lose all they have built and face new hardships down the road due to the other evils of Middle-earth. That’s why he enlists the titular Hobbit as a burglar.
He would retrieve the Arkenstone – the King’s Jewel – to rally the disparate dwarves, reclaim their homeland, and slay the dragon. They give it a pretty good try in the second movie (more so than in the book). Thorin and company bury Smaug in the molten gold of the forges of Erebor, but it’s not enough to finish the job. In the end, it’s a lowly man named Bard who deals the killing blow when the dragon descends on Lake-Town. This gives Thorin his kingdom back but robs him of his long-sought revenge. Talk about a mixed bag.
1 Mattie Ross – True Grit (1969)
Two adaptations of this western tale exist, and each turns out to be different for the teenage protagonist. Both versions see her hiring U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn to track down Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. Depending on the film, however, the result diverges.
In the 1969 film, Mattie fires her father’s gun and only wings Chaney before falling into a snake pit. It’s up to Cogburn to finish the job. The 2010 remake sees him complete his revenge mission, shooting Chaney in the chest and sending him off a cliff. Unfortunately, she also loses an arm due to snake venom, so this victory is bittersweet. The original may deny her vengeance, but at least she keeps all of her limbs.
MORE: Movies where the hero falls in love with the villain