A New York City architect becomes a one-man vigilante squad after his wife is murdered by street punks in which he randomly goes out and kills would-be muggers on the mean streets after dark.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Steven Keats ...
Stephen Elliott ...
Kathleen Tolan ...
Fred J. Scollay ...
District Attorney (as Fred Scollay)
Chris Gampel ...
Edward Grover ...
Lt. Briggs (as Ed Grover)
Freak #1
Christopher Logan ...
Freak #2


Open-minded architect Paul Kersey returns to New York City from vacationing with his wife, feeling on top of the world. At the office, his cynical coworker gives him the welcome-back with a warning on the rising crime rate. But Paul, a bleeding-heart liberal, thinks of crime as being caused by poverty. However his coworker's ranting proves to be more than true when Paul's wife is killed and his daughter is raped in his own apartment. The police have no reliable leads and his overly sensitive son-in-law only exacerbates Paul's feeling of hopelessness. He is now facing the reality that the police can't be everywhere at once. Out of sympathy his boss gives him an assignment in sunny Arizona where Paul gets a taste of the Old West ideals. He returns to New York with a compromised view on muggers... Written by Don Hoffman

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis




R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





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Release Date:

24 July 1974 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Sidewalk Vigilante  »

Box Office


$3,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Olympia Dukakis was uncredited, but paid, for playing one of the cops at the precinct. She was open with The A.V. Club about the whole experience. "Yeah, they sent me over, and the director [Michael Winner] was, uh, not necessarily liked by the actors. I mean, he made me turn around, and he wanted to see me, and ... he treated me like a piece of meat during the audition. But it was, like, one day, so I could take the money and go home and say, 'F**k you and the horse you rode in on.'" See more »


Throughout the movie, the same People Magazine cover with Ochoa on it appears frequently. People publishes weekly, and since the film takes place over the course of several weeks (presumably), it is unlikely that the same issue would continue showing up so frequently, especially at the newsstand shown in the film. See more »


Freak #1: We want money, mother, now get it!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Actresses Olympia Dukakis ('Cop at the Precinct') and Marcia Jean Kurtz as Marcia Jean-Kurtz ('Woman at Airport') get credited in opening credits only. There's no mention of them in the closing credits. See more »


References Lawman (1971) See more »


Joanna's Theme
Written and Performed by Herbie Hancock
Arranged and Conducted by Jerry Peters
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Thought-provoking 70's agit-prop that can be hard to watch
8 July 2002 | by (Bothell, Washington, Land of Rain) – See all my reviews

I recently watched "Death Wish" for the first time ever on video, having only seen edited-for-TV versions in the past. Before seeing the uncut versions, I thought the film was just an entertainingly intelligent little bit of slicked-up exploitation. Basically another take on the Dirty Harry formula--what if a peace-loving regular guy became a Dirty Harry? Even as a kid I could see that the simplistic political/social theory the film served up would only work in the self-contained, fictional world the filmmakers had created. But, that's art--a lie that tries to show truth. Well, I wouldn't say "DW" shows truth, but it does raise questions people often don't want to face. I also thought that the way Bronson's character made the transition from bleeding heart peacenik to fascist vigilante was very well written and well-played. And I don't think the story is as cut-and-dried as it seems on the surface. Near the end, Bronson's actions even seem to have driven him a bit mad, loosening his grip on reality (evidenced when he confronts the last thug and starts vacantly spouting Western cliches like they're both in "Gunfight at the OK Corral").

But (and as they say, this is a BIG BUT) I can't enjoy the uncut film because the murder of Kersey's wife and the viscous rape of his daughter is simply too repulsive to watch. Murder and rape are indeed repulsive, but for the melodrama to work, do I need to be subjected to such a graphic, in-my-face portrayal of the violence and humiliation? One that is presented like a porno snuff film?

This raises an interesting question: If violence is going to be used in a drama, should it be graphically represented to be as repulsive and foul as it really is? Or should we be spared the details?

Think about it: if all violence on TV and movies were as disgustingly graphic as in this film, violence might start to disappear from pop culture--we just wouldn't be able to take it. Instead, we as a society are constantly drowned in sanitized, videogame violence. The violent acts depicted in movies and on TV these days has no more effect on us than when a cartoon mouse drops a cartoon brick on a cartoon cat's head. Kill someone and them make a joke about it. So, even though violent acts are depicted everywhere in our popular culture, none of it seems real, thus disconnecting us from the consequences of real-life violence.

So, if we can say nothing else, we can say that the violence in "Death Wish" is "effective". It does seem real. It is repulsive.

Hence, the dichotomy: Even though I can intellectually defend the use of graphic violence in "Death Wish", that same depiction keeps me from enjoying the film. I simply can't watch it. I keep thinking: Is this representation of rape actually exciting some of the film's viewers? I feel complicit watching it. Dirty.

So, does that make the film a success, or trash? Is that strong a reaction a mark of art, or exploitation? I don't know. And I must say that this I do not ask these questions only because this is a exploitation film. I've had the same thoughts about Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange."

46 of 78 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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