The Best (and Worst) Violent Movies

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The Best (and Worst) Violent Movies

In preparation for this month's violence issue, we grappled mightily with the role of bloodshed, tumult and mayhem in art. And while there's no clear conclusion to be reached as to the appropriate volume or timbre of violence in media in general, and films in particular, one thing is for certain: It's everywhere. It's in movies that we love and movies that we loathe. It can do greater good than the sum of its bloody parts, illustrating something vital about life, humanity or violence itself-- and it can pander and manipulate to its own destructive, pointless ends. And often, the element that makes violence exemplary in one instance can be utilized elsewhere to exploit and debase, both across and within films.

Here we've compiled lists of some of the best and the worst violent movies, judged exclusively on the violence within. Share your picks, too. You'll likely find, as we did, that the line between righteousness and gratuitousness is often blurry.

The best:

Unforgiven (1992)
Clint Eastwood subverts one of the earliest film genres to celebrate violence, and does more than just show the uglier aspects of such brutality-- he strips us of the self-righteousness that justifies it. When "The Schofield Kid" tells Eastwood's William Moony that his victim had it coming, Moony's reply encapsulates the film's theme: "We all got it coming, kid."

Natural Born Killers (1994)
Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Oliver Stone, this film is frequently blasted for its shocking, over-the-top bloodshed. But a deeper look reveals a scathing, brilliantly prophetic indictment of the mainstream media's irresponsible, sensational treatment of real-life violence.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Stephen Speilberg accomplishes a hyper-realistic depiction of valor in service of freedom for humanity in this film's brutal D-day scene.

Torn Curtain (1966)
After years of showing how easy it is for someone, anyone, to turn violent, Hitchcock's later works began taking all the fun out of killing. You need only watch this scene from Torn Curtain to see murder in all its difficulty.

The Boondock Saints (1999)
Two Irish-Catholic vigilantes doing God's work in Boston are praised by town and the FBI, but the viewer is forced to question the fine line of morality these men tread: Are the brutal execution scenes fit to be seen as altruistic and in line with the brothers' religious faith?

Three Kings (1999)
Notable for this shot, in which the camera follows a bullet through a cross-section of the human body, vividly demonstrating the internal damage caused by a gunshot wound. It's a highly stylized, but certainly not glamorized, view of modern warfare.

Straw Dogs (1971)
Of the film, starring Dustin Hoffman as a neurotic bookworm who resorts to animalistic violence when his home is invaded, director Sam Peckinpah "I intend it to have a cathartic effect. Someone may feel a sick exultation at the violence, but he should then ask himself, 'What is going on in my heart?' I want to achieve a catharsis through pity and fear."