Charles Bronson’s 25 Most Memorable Movies Ranked From Worst To Best
More than any other movie, “Death Wish” cemented Bronson’s screen persona for the rest of his career. Now, the then 53-year-old actor almost exclusively portrays ordinary men driven to vigilante justice by acts of violence.
Directed by frequent collaborator Michael Winner, it stars Bronson as Paul Kersey, a New York architect whose liberal ideology is shattered when street punks break into his house, murder his wife (Hope Lang ) and rapes his teenage daughter (Kathleen Tolan). While on a business trip to Arizona, a client offers him a .32 caliber revolver, and he begins patrolling the city streets at night, gunning down every criminal he encounters. At a time when violent crime is rampant, audiences turn him into a folk hero.
It’s this implied endorsement of vigilante justice that has critics concerned, but the film sits today with 63% rotten tomatoes score. Roger Ebert called it “a quasi-fascist ad for urban vigilantes, done in a slick, thrilling action movie,” adding “It’s propaganda for private gun ownership and a call for justice for vigilantes”. In the end, he admitted to liking the film despite being “turned off by its message”. Other reviewers were less kind, including Vincent Canby of The New York Timeswho called it “a despicable film, which raises complex questions in order to offer bigoted, frivolous and oversimplified answers”.
It is certainly true that “Death Wish” can be seen as a glorification of right-wing violence, coming at a time when Richard Nixon ascended to the White House on a “law and order” campaign, while films like ‘Dirty Harry’, ‘The French Connection’ and ‘Shaft’ all featured heroes who bend the law in order to achieve justice. They were all popular hits at the time, and “Death Wish” too so much so that Bronson reprized the role in four sequels, each to increasingly muted effect — and Eli Roth directed a 2018 remake starring Bruce Willis.
While modern assessment requires much scrutiny, there’s no denying the raw, visceral power of the film – as well as Bronson’s career-defining performance.