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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, but it was seen as echoing a growing mood in the United States as crime rose during the 1970s.
The Death Wish Pentalogy:
- Death Wish (1974) - The movie that started it all, where New York architect Paul Kersey has his world shattered forever when his apartment is attacked by three vicious punks, who murder his wife and rape his daughter. After being sent to Arizona by his boss to meet with a client, Kersey takes an interest in guns and eventually has one slipped into his bag by the client as he's preparing to return to New York (this was back before things like hijackers and airline security were an issue). Upon his return, Kersey starts dispensing justice to the scum on the streets, shooting down any mugger that tries to rob him. The police want him arrested, but the public are behind him, glad that someone's doing something to clean up the streets. Kersey is eventually asked to leave New York to avoid prosecution, much like the Old West vigilantes of long ago
- Death Wish II (1982) - Paul Kersey and his daughter settle in Los Angeles. After an incident with muggers in an amusement park, brutality hits too close to home again when the muggers attack his new home, and Kersey's poor daughter is raped again along with his housekeeper before both of them are killed. Unlike the last movie, Kersey doesn't target random muggers this time, instead focusing his wrath upon the five scumbags who victimized him and his family.
- Death Wish 3 (1985) - Kersey returns to New York to visit an old buddy from his days in the Korean War, only to find him dead after another attack by gang-punks. He is mistakenly arrested for the murder, but the head cop offers him a deal: reporting any gang activity to him in exchange for being able to kill all the punks he wants. Kersey moves into the buddy's old apartment, where he and his neighbors are viciously attacked by the gang, and things escalate until an all-out urban war erupts in the final fifteen minutes, leading to Charles Bronson's biggest onscreen kill count ever. It is also the movie that popularized the Wildey Survivor pistol in .475 Wildey Magnum.
- Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) - Kersey returns to Los Angeles. The vigilante is unleashed again after the daughter of Paul Kersey's girlfriend from Death Wish 3 dies of a crack overdose, and her boyfriend is gunned down by the pusher who sold her the crack. After gunning down the pusher, Kersey is approached by a publisher who knows of the guy's death and wants to hire him to wipe out the drug trade by taking down two drug gangs. Kersey does what he does best and blasts both gangs to hell, but is betrayed by the publisher, who it turns out is actually an ambitious drug dealer under a false identity who is seeking to take over the local drug business and has tricked him into doing the dirty work for him. Kersey's girlfriend is kidnapped by the Big Bad's men, and the stage is set for a final showdown.
- Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994) - Kersey returns to New York again, this time planning to settle down with a new girlfriend. But the girlfriend is involved in a mob case involving her ex-husband, a vicious mobster against whom the police want her to testify. When the mobster's goons disfigure her in a bid to keep her from testifying, Paul is warned by the cops not to return to his vigilante ways. But things go straight to hell when the girlfriend is gunned down, the mobster is "cleared" of all charges, and the girlfriend's daughter is kidnapped despite Kersey's best efforts to protect her, and Kersey must take the law into his own hands one more time for a final showdown.
For a character with a death wish, see Death Seeker.
These movies provide examples of:
- 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.
- Big No: Freddie Flakes' last words before being blown up and burned to death by a remote controlled soccer ball, controlled by Paul in Death Wish V:
Paul: "Hey, Freddie. I'm gonna take care of your dandruff problem for you."
- 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.
- Dirty Cop: Phil Nozaki in 4 and FBI Agent Vasguez in 5.
- 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.
- Drugs Are Bad: Drugs play a big part in The Crackdown.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: A car blows up in 2 after it falls off from a cliff. Justified because it was the car of a small-time Arms Dealer.
- More ludicrous example happens in 3, when the car Kathryn is in slowly rolls down a hill, hits another car and they're both engulfed by huge explosions.
- Hand Cannon: Paul's friend "Wildey" (more specifically, the .475 Wildey Magnum) from 3. Currently the most powerful semiautomatic handgun in the world.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: One of the muggers in the first film is (then unknown) Jeff Goldblum.
- 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.
- Man On Fire: Three people burn to death in 3 during the climactic urban war between the criminals and the locals.
- May-December Romance: Bronson is 25-30 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.
- New York Subway: In the first film, two muggers try to rob Paul on the subway. They do not survive.
- Obstructive Vigilantism: Used by Paul in the second movie, when the cops show up to his house after the break-in.
- Pop Star Composer: Jimmy Page did the score for the second film.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: From Death Wish II:
Paul Kersey: Do you believe in Jesus?
- And from 4:
Mugger: Who the fuck are you?
- 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), and in the third film, Maria, one of Kersey's friends, is raped and killed despite Kersey's best efforts to protect her.
- Retirony: In Death Wish 3. As if her hooking up with Paul isn't bad enough, by the time Kathryn Davis declares her intent to quit her job as a public defender and move to a new city for a fresh start, it's obvious she's doomed.
- 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.
- 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.
- Unwitting Pawn: Paul becomes one in The Crackdown.
- Vigilante Man: Death Wish is probably the Trope Codifier for this character type in media.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: In the third movie, Kersey's friend Rodriguez leaves in the middle of a town-wide gunfight to reload his zip gun. He doesn't appear again. He's probably deader than a doornail.
- Wretched Hive: New York.