Death Wish (1974)

R  |   |  Action, Crime, Drama  |  24 July 1974 (USA)
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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 ...
William Redfield ...
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


Vigilante, city style -- Judge, Jury, and Executioner See more »


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

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Charles Bronson was about fifty-two years of age when he appeared in this movie. See more »


Kersey's first shooting victim is hit in the abdomen, but a police investigator at the crime scene the next morning refers to a bullet hole in his chest. See more »


Paul Kersey: Any chance of catching these men?
Lt. Briggs: There's a chance, sure.
Paul Kersey: Just a chance?
Lt. Briggs: I'd be less than honest if I gave you more hope, Mr. Kersey. In the city, that's the way it is.
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 »


Featured in Precious Images (1986) See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Highly compelling
9 February 2003 | by (Milwaukee WI) – See all my reviews

Over the course of a career that has spanned nearly fifty years, action star Charles Bronson has appeared in dozens of films. Among them, the one that he is best remembered for is "Death Wish," an urban drama that has practically defined his career. He plays Paul Kersey, a liberal, mild-mannered architect whose family falls victim to violent crime. One fateful afternoon, he is shocked to hear the dreadful news: his wife has been murdered, his daughter brutally raped. What's more, the police are unable to apprehend the perpetuators. Feeling stunned and helpless, Kersey decides to take the law into his own hands--and the subsequent publicity galvanizes New York City. It isn't long before the police are hot on his heels. The ultimate consequences promise to be drastic.

"Death Wish" was a highly controversial film when initially released. At the time, major cities were facing a deadly crime epidemic, and this film tapped into the fears and unspoken desires of many viewers, giving them a chance to live out their secret fantasies. Critics on the Left lambasted its politics on crime, and even some on the Right felt it went too far. One could find much to complain about from an ideological standpoint. One could point out that the film is manipulative and heavy-handed (the attack on Kersey's family comes right after his co-worker tells him he's a "bleeding-heart liberal"). Yet, it is undeniably compelling; one of these movies that makes you wonder, "what if this happened to me?" In light of the later, inferior sequels, it is fascinating to see how the character came to be, how he made the transition from law-abiding man to cold-blooded vigilante. It is not an easy transition to make by any means--after his first kill, he breaks down and vomits the moment he reaches home. Yet, as his kills (each is very suspensefully handled) occur with greater frequency, we get the sinking feeling that he has reached a point of no return. Indeed, he narrowly eludes capture on at least two occasions, and there is the certainty that it is only a matter of time before the law will catch up with him.

Bronson is highly effective here; while not one of the great actors, he has a very strong screen presence. The audience is on his side every step of the way, rooting for him even as he strays onto the wrong side of the law. Surely, he is entitled to justice, but at what point does his vengeance outweigh his grievances? Vincent Gardenia is effective as the police detective assigned to his case. He grudgingly admires Kersey's resolve, although he is sworn to put a stop to the killings. The manner in which this is resolved is creative, though its plausibility is less than certain. The film is also noticeable for an early appearance by Jeff Goldblum as a slimy thug. However, Steven Keats is somewhat ineffectual as Bronson's son-in-law (he just sorta got on my nerves). In the years to come, this film would be followed by an endless chain of sequels and rip-offs, many of them starring Bronson himself, reducing him to a stock character whose only attribute was blowing the bad guys away. A shame, considering he was once an internationally respected actor. "Death Wish" is nonetheless a well-crafted, tightly paced crime drama, despite some dated aspects. It still kept me interested throughout and made me more interested in viewing more of the star's other films--good or otherwise.

Rating: *** (out of ****)

Released by Paramount Pictures

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