Film: Death Wish

He wants the filth off the streets. If the police can't do it, he will... his way.

"People like the idea of revenge. You ever hear the expression 'The best revenge is living well'? It means supposedly the best way to get back at someone is just by being happy and successful in your own life. Sounds nice. Doesn't really work on that Charles Bronson-kinda level, you know what I mean? Those movies where his whole family just gets wiped out by some street scum. You think you could go up to him, 'Charlie, forget about the .357. What you need is a custom-made suit and a convertible. New carpeting, french doors, a divan! That'll show those punks!'"

Death Wish is a 1974 action-crime-drama film based on the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield (who also wrote Death Sentence). The film was directed by Michael Winner and stars Charles Bronson (the actor, not the prisoner).

The film was a major commercial success and generated a movie franchise lasting four sequels over a twenty-year period. The film was denounced by critics as advocating vigilantism and unlimited punishment to criminals (and by Garfield - see Creator Backlash below), but it was seen as echoing a growing mood in the United States as crime rose during the 1970s.

The Death Wish Pentalogy:

For a character with a death wish, see Death Seeker.


These movies provide examples of:

  • Acid Pool: Kersey uses this to finish off Tommy O'Shea in the final kill of the series.
  • Actionized Sequel: Death Wish 3 and the actionizing goes even further with 4 and 5.
  • Agony of the Feet: Paul puts a board full of nails on front of his bathroom window for burglars. It doesn't take long before one steps on it.
  • Attempted Rape: There are some rapists that Paul manages to shoot before they can start anything.
  • Badass: Paul. By the series end he's a Badass Grandpa too.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Paul is a pacifist, but he learned to use guns during his younger years as a combat medic in the Korean War. And it shows.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: the first, third, and fifth films.
  • Cartwright Curse: One of the series' most notorious traits. See Disposable Woman entry below. About the only woman close to Kersey who DOESN'T end up dead is his girlfriend in the second film and even then, she leaves him after finding out that he's a vigilante.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Averted in 2 and 3, with fatal results for those who try it against Kersey.
  • Disposable Woman: Kersey's wife in the first film, his daughter in the second, girlfriends in the third, fourth, and fifth films, numerous non-Kersey women in all films — basically, if you're female and hang around Paul Kersey, you're pretty much screwed.
    • Subverted with his girlfriend in the second film. She still disappears after breaking up with him (after finding out that he's a vigilante), but at least she's alive.
  • Karma Houdini: The three muggers and rapists from the first film, who start Kersey's road toward vigilantism, are never caught by the cops or killed by Kersey. In the sequels however, the trope is averted, in which, if you're a bad guy, then you're not leaving the movie alive.
  • The Lopsided Arm of the Law: The movies showcase repeatedly that the police is incapable of doing anything about the immense crime waves assaulting the cities and has all but called it quits, but put out all the stops to hound anybody who tries to fight back (even out of their jurisdiction). On the first movie they are afraid that the vigilante may escalate or that people fighting back may force the crooks to become even worse, but on the rest of the films this is shown as them not wanting to be shown over, thinking It's Personal, or wanting to get rid of a problem because they are Dirty Cops.
  • Man on Fire: Three people burn to death in 3 during the climactic urban war between the criminals and the locals.
    • The same happens to Freddie Flakes in V when Paul blows him up with a remote control soccer ball. After detonating the bomb, Paul watches as Freddie screams as he burns alive. Paul leaves just as Freddie dies.
  • May-December Romance: Bronson is 30-something years older than his love interests in films 3-5.
  • More Dakka: In Death Wish 3 and Death Wish 4, Kersey uses a .30 caliber M1919 and a M16 with an M203 respectively.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Paul kills his first man, he is so horrified by what he just did that he runs home and throws up. He quickly becomes more comfortable with killing.
  • New York Subway: In the first film, two muggers try to rob Paul on the subway. They do not survive.
  • Phallic Weapon: While at a gun range in Tuscon, Arizona with his client Ames Jainchill, Kersey mentions he was a Conscientious Objector during the Korean War.
    Ames: I suppose you're one of those liberals who think our guns are a substitute for our penises.
    Kersey: Maybe it's true.
    Ames: Maybe. But this is gun country.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Jimmy Page did the score for the second and third films.
  • The Quincy Punk: Like most Cannon Films, the thugs are primarily punks and all punks are thugs.
  • Rape as Drama: Kersey's daughter was raped and his wife was killed, all for drama and motivation. Also the rape/murder is played for exploitation turn-on, which makes all of the subsequent action seem more than a bit hypocritical. Paul's daughter is raped again during the second film (along with Kersey's housekeeper) before both are killed, and in the third film, Maria, one of Kersey's friends, is raped and killed despite Kersey's best efforts to protect her.
  • Rated M for Manly: Especially Death Wish 3.
  • Reality Ensues: Only in the first film where the attackers are never seen again. Sadly with that type of crime, and forensics at the time, the only evidence would be the description of a traumatized victim. Modern day audiences likely assume the climax will be a confrontation with the guys who raped his daughter and murdered his wife, but how would he even know who they are?
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: When the first movie starts, Kersey is essentially a pacifist until his wife is murdered and his daughter raped into catatonia, then turns violent against criminals. While all five of the films have Kersey seeking vengeance, Death Wish II is perhaps the one that most resembles this particular trope.
  • Sequel Escalation: The bodycount per film for the first four films rise as the series progress.
  • Sequel Hook: The first movie ends with Kersey, at an airport, pointing his finger at some muggers like a gun while smiling, and the second movie ends with Kersey walking off into the night as three gunshots are heard.
  • Sock It To Them: In the first film Kersey gets $20 worth of rolled quarters, puts them into a sock, practices swinging the flail around in his apartment, and then carries it around during the day. Soon someone with a knife tries to mug him, and a single hit makes the other guy drop the knife and try to run away, go headfirst into a wall, and then stumble off.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The Death Wish saga pioneered the urban Vigilante Man concept, but it also showed how dangerous it would be.
  • Vigilante Man: Death Wish is probably the Trope Codifier for this character type in media. Also an Unbuilt Trope as the film pioneered the urban vigilante concept, but it also showed how dangerous it would be.
    • A decade after the film was released, a real life urban vigilante incident took place in New York; the Bernie Goetz case.
  • Wretched Hive: New York and Los Angeles.

Alternative Title(s):

Death Wish II, Death Wish 3, Death Wish 4 The Crackdown, Death Wish V The Face Of Death