A History Of Violence Thriller Movies

A History of Violence Thriller Movies

Violence thriller films have been integral to the cinematic landscape since the emergence of the motion-picture industry at the turn of the twentieth century. These films are typically considered as films designed to cause suspense and anxiety by featuring a protagonist who is in peril, often as a result of violence or threats of violence. The genre has evolved over the years, becoming more plot and character-based as directors seek to address the complexities of human behavior and psychological states.

One of the earliest violent thriller films was D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915). This silent epic film about the Civil War is widely noted for its particular and innovative approach to filmmaking. The film is an example of a popular narrative of the time that came to be known as the “Revenge Western.” It included an openly xenophobic plot, highlighting the idea that the South’s loss in the war was caused by outsiders and those who weren’t righteous. The film received a great deal of criticism, both then and now, due to its aggressive and violent climax, in which a group of KKK members use violence to reclaim their town.

One of the most significant movies in the history of violence thriller films is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). This classic horror film follows a disturbed young man named Norman Bates who is driven to kill people. Hitchcock’s genius lies in his ability to conjure up unprecedented suspense and terror, leaving the audience constantly unsure of what will happen next. Psycho worked as the precursor for modern slasher films, featuring a tense atmosphere and thrilling plot along with elements of moral ambiguity.

Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon (1975) is another influential crime drama that served to diversify the genre. Rather than featuring a straightforward story about violence and criminals, this film focuses on a duo of desperate criminals attempting to rob a bank and the tragic unfoldings of their actions. Dog Day Afternoon is noteworthy in that it uplifts the complexities of real-life characters and their feelings, rather than relying on conventionally dramatic and exaggerated scenarios.

Oliver Stone’s Scarface (1983) offers a more modern analysis of violence. Scarface follows the rise and fall of a Cuban immigrant named Tony Montana as he works his way up the underworld of organized crime. What makes the film particularly compelling is its mix of intense action sequences with scenes that explore Montana’s addictive lifestyle and its consequences. The film has become a cult classic, serving as the inspiration for contemporary crime films in the industry.

In the last two decades, violence thrillers have become even more complex, exploring the psychology of the perpetrators, victims, and witnesses of violence. For instance, recent films such as Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) and Paul Greengrass’s United 93 (2006) offer psychological and moral commentary on our contemporary society. Both showcase different ways that violence can manifest, for better or for worse, and how it affects people’s lives.

Morality and Socio-Political Contexts

Crime thrillers have often been used as a means to explore morality and society by displaying different outlooks on criminality and justice. Stanley Kubrick’s iconic crime-drama A Clockwork Orange (1971) is a prime example of this concept. It follows the story of Alex, an ultra-violent youth who undergoes an experimental therapy that leaves him at a moral crossroads. While the film itself is on the edge of what can be considered violent, its messages of individuality and social morality remain timeless and universally relevant.

Likewise, crime thrillers have also been used to explore sociopolitical contexts. The French film La Haine (1995), for example, centers on the post-colonial tensions that exist in a low-income Paris suburb. The storyline follows three characters of diverse origin as they face racism, police brutality, and family pressures. The narrative demonstrates how crime can serve as a manifestation of wider existential and political struggles.

Neo-noir thrillers such as David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) are another demonstrative example of these issues. Fight Club presents an innovative antidote to our consumerist culture, featuring protagonists that rebel against the mundane. Although the explosions and fight scenes are spectacle, the true depth of the film lies in its ability to create a striking metaphor between a protagonist’s dual identity and larger economic, cultural, and even political forces that are out of his control.

Intersections of Morality and Redemption

More recently, violence has served as a tool to explore morality and redemption. Films like Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992) explore the dual effect that violence can have on different people, creating empathy for some characters and moral condemnation for others. The question of what constitutes justice also factors heavily into the narrative, as the characters are faced with a moral dilemma between killing their kidnapper and facing the consequences of incarceration.

The Departed (2006) is another example of the genre intersecting with morality. This crime thriller follows the story of two undercover agents who must choose between their identities and their moral codes. The film is a reflection on the complexity of morality, showing how the line between right and wrong can be blurred in extreme circumstances.

Depictions of redemption through violence can also be found in the revenge sub-genre. Films like The Revenant (2015) and Oldboy (2003) feature protagonists who are forced to overcome injustice by using violence. In both films, viewers experience the brutality, pain, and sorrow of the characters as they struggle with their moral choices. In the end, these stories showcase how violence can be an agent of change, but not without suffering great spiritual and physical cost.

The Legacy of Violence Thriller Movies

Violence thriller films are living testimonies of the evolution of film around the world. The genre has continuously reinvented itself, staying relevant with the changes in the public’s tastes and needs. With each new entry, the genre serves to remind us of our own understanding of violence, morality, justice, and redemption.

Today, the genre has reached a golden era, as filmmakers are pushing boundaries with their exploration of violence. Directors like Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino have delivered critically acclaimed and audience favorites that expose the murkiest aspects of our humanity and societal issues. As long as filmmakers continue to find new ways of presenting these stories, the genre of violence thriller films will remain a major part of our cinematic landscape.

Themes Within Violence Thriller Movies

Many violence thriller films display a range of themes throughout their narratives. Existentialism and moral ambiguity are frequent topics in the genre, as viewers are presented with complex situations that challenge their notions of what is right and wrong. Similarly, themes of justice and revenge can also be seen throughout the genre. In some cases, these themes may be intertwined to expose the full scope of consequences that the protagonist must face for their actions.

The line between criminal and hero is another frequent theme in violence thrillers. Films such as The Godfather (1972) and The Town (2010) use protagonists that straddle the moral line between criminal and hero. As viewers, we are presented with ethical questions that explore the motivations and behavior that ultimately guide the protagonist’s decisions.

The influence of wider institutional powers upon criminal acts is a developing theme that is presented in recent violence thriller films. For instance, Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario (2015) is a gripping action-thriller exploring the Mexican drug war and the US government’s involvement in it. By focusing on the institutional agent’s involvement and the implications of their actions on the lives of the characters, the film shines a light upon the innate complexities of the issues.

Female Representation in Violence Thriller Movies

In the past, female characters have often been sidelined in violence thrillers. However, recent years have seen a shift in the genre’s perspective of women. Movies such as Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991) present women as strong, resourceful, and independent protagonists. Throughout the narrative, Clarice Starling is driven and motivated to get to the bottom of a mystery despite the problems and dangers in her path.

Similarly, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) is an iconic example of the newfound representation of women in the genre. Despite being part of an action-thriller film, the film is an empowering story about strength, courage, and resilience. Diana Prince learns to navigate a world of violence with shear determination and bravery, inspiring viewers of all ages and backgrounds to follow their own path.

Another example is Vera Farmiga’s Lady Macbeth (2016), a violent reimagining of the classic Shakespeare play. The film revolves around Katherine, a woman who is pushed to extreme violence as a means of escape from her repressed life. Through Farmiga’s fiery performance, viewers are reminded of the limited choices women sometimes have to take in order to navigate a male-dominated world.


From Birth of a Nation to Wonder Woman, violence thriller movies have come a long way in terms of exploring wider topics related to morality, justice, and redemption. The genre has proven to be versatile in creating entertaining and entertaining stories, while also giving voice to ideas and feelings that are often left in the shadows. As the cinematic landscape continues to evolve and new stories are added to the mix, violence thrillers will remain a major component of the medium.

Vicki Strouth is a life-long film enthusiast, having grown up watching classic cinema in her childhood. She has since gone on to pursue writing about films and movie news, with her work being published on various online platforms. She is passionate about supporting independent filmmakers and highlighting important stories from around the world. She has also written a successful book about classic movies from Hollywood's Golden Age era. Vicki currently lives in Seattle, where she continues to explore films of all genres and eras.

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