Death Wish
Death wish
Death Wish movie poster


Micheal Winner

Written By

Wendell Mayes


Herbie Hancock


Dino De Laurentiis, Hal Landers, Bobby Roberts


Paramount Pictures (U.S./U.K.), Columbia Pictures (International)

Release Date

July 24th, 1974

Running Time

93 minutes


$3 million

Box Office

$22 million (USA)

Followed By

Death Wish 2

Death Wish is a 1974 criminal thriller film based on the 1972 novel by Brian Garfield. It is the first film in the Death Wish series. The film was directed by Micheal Winner and stars Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey, a man who becomes a vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter is sexually assaulted by muggers. A commercial success, Death Wish generated a movie franchise lasting four sequels over a twenty-year period. The film was denounced by some 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.


Once Paul Kersey and his wife Joanna return home to New York City from a vacation in Hawaii, they start adjusting back to city life. One day Joanna, Paul, and Joanna's daughter, Carol, went shopping for groceries at D'Agostino's where the Freaks were wreaking havoc in the store. They find Paul's and Joanna's address after Joanna asks that her groceries be delivered to their house and the Freaks follow her to the apartment, burst in and trash the place. They search for money but find only $7 and the Freaks rape Carol and kill Joanna. Paul's son-in-law Jack Toby calls to tell him only that Joanna and Carol are in the hospital. After waiting impatiently, Paul is told by a doctor that his wife has died. Devastated, he is told by police that the likelihood of catching the criminals is small. Wondering if crime in the city will ever get better, Paul decides to go for a walk one night with a sock full of rolls of quarters. He encounters the Street Mugger and hits him across the face as he attempts to mug him. The next day, Paul's boss gives him an extended business vacation to Arizona to meet a client, Ames Jainchill, who shows him the ropes. Paul witnesses a mock gunfight at a reconstructed Western frontier town used as a movie set. At a gun club, Ames is impressed when Paul shoots near bulls-eye accuracy. He reveals that he was a "CO" (conscientious objector) during the Korean War who served his country as a combat medic. Ames drops him at the airport, slipping a little going-away present, a handgun, into Paul's bag. Back in New York, his daughter is comatose. Another night, Paul opens his suitcase to find a nickel-plated .32 Colt Police Positive revolver. He pockets the gun and takes a stroll. Paul encounters a mugger, an ex-convict named Thomas Leroy Marston who attempts to rob him at gunpoint. Paul shoots him with the revolver, killing him. Shocked that he just killed a human being, Paul runs home and throws up. But his vigilantism continues the following night, when he guns down the Alley Muggers who are robbing a defenseless old man in a vacant alley. A few nights later, the Train Muggers see Paul on a subway. They attempt to rob him at knifepoint but Paul shoots them both with the revolver. Paul ventures to a rough area of Harlem where he is followed from a diner by the Subway Station Muggers. Yet again a robbery attempt is made. Paul shoots one but the other manages to stab him in his shoulder. As a wounded Paul stumbles off, the one who stabbed him gets away mortally but dies at a hospital. Police Lt. Frank Ochoa investigates the vigilante killings. His department narrows a list to men who have had a family member recently killed by muggers and who are war veterans. The public, meanwhile, is happy that somebody is doing something about crime. Ochoa soon suspects Paul. He is about to make an arrest when the District Attorney intervenes and tells Ochoa to "let him loose" in another city instead. Ochoa doesn't like the idea, but relents. Paul shoots two of the Stair Muggers in a confrontation with them before being wounded by the third mugger with a Colt 1911 pistol. Hospitalized, he is ordered by Ochoa to leave New York, permanently. Paul arrives in Chicago Union Station by train. Being greeted by a company representative, he notices a group of hoodlums harassing a woman. He excuses himself and helps the woman. The hoodlums make obscene gestures at them, but Kersey makes a finger gun at them and smiles, a definite signal that his vigilantism will continue.



Originally, Sidney Limut was to have directed, and Jack Lemmon as Paul until the original producer was replaced by Italian film mogul Dino De Laurentiis and was marketed by Paramount Pictures.

Death Wish was first released to American audiences in July 1974. It was The film was rejected by other studios because of its controversial subject matter and was dropped by United Artists after budget constraints forced producers Hal Landers and Bobby Roberts to liquidate their rights.

The original film was written by Wendell Myers, also known for such thrillers as Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Micheal Winner, a favorite director of De Laurentiis, oversaw its filming and would later direct the first two sequels. Of the five Death Wish films, the original most adheres to Garfield's novel.


Multiple Grammy award winning Jazz musician Herbie Hancock produced and composed the original score for the soundtrack to the original Death Wish movie. This would be his third film score, behind the 1966 movie Blow-Up and 1973's The Spook who sat by the Door. Michael Winner said, "Dino De Laurentiis said: Get a cheap English band. Because the English bands were very successful. But I had a girlfriend who was in Seseme Street, a Puerto Rican actress Sonia Manzano, who played a checkout girl at the supermarket in Death Wish, and she was a great jazz fan. She said, Well, you should have Herbie Hancock. He's got this record out called Head Hunters. She gave me Head Hunters, which was staggering. And I said, 'Dino, never mind a cheap English band, we'll have Herbie Hancock. "Which we did."

Critical ReceptionEdit

Critical reception to Death Wish was mixed to positive, but it had an unexpectedly large impact on U.S. audiences and began widespread debate over how to deal with rampant crime. The film's graphic violence, particularly the brutal rape scene of Kersey's daughter as well as the explicit portrayal of Bronson's premeditated slayings, was considered exploitive, but realistic in the backdrop of an urban U.S. atmosphere of rising crime rates. Based on 24 reviews, the film holds a 67% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.

Many critics were displeased with the film, considering it an "immoral threat to society" and an encouragement of antisocial behavior, Vincent Canby of the New York Times was one of the most outspoken writers, condemning Death Wish in two extensive articles. Brian Garfield was also unhappy with the final product, calling the film 'incendiary', and even stated that each of the following sequels are all pointless and rancid, since they all advocate vigilantism unlike his two novels which are the exact opposite. The result of this film, led him to write up a follow-up titled, Death Sentence and was published a year after the film's release.

Impact and InfluenceEdit

Death Wish remains a milestone in cinema history, considered the first urban film to depict a civilian taking up arms against criminals. While this concept existed in many previous westerns, Death Wish was the first to place it in a modern setting. The film had unexpected resonance in cities like New York and Los Angeles, where crime had reached incredible levels during the early-to-mid 1970s. Moviegoers applauded Kersey whenever he shot criminals down and cinemas enjoyed record ticket sales during the movie's first run.

The film was a watershed for Charles Bronson, who was better known in Europe and Asia at the time of Death Wish's release, mostly due to his role in The Great Escape. Bronson became an American film icon who experienced great popularity over the next twenty years, during which he starred in four sequels to the film and a remake based on the sequel to the novel Death Wish was based on:

In the series' later years, Death Wish became a subject of parody for its over-the-top violence and the advancing age of Bronson (An episode of The Simpsons named A Star Burns showed a fictional advertisement for Death Wish 9, consisting of a bed-ridden Bronson saying "I wish I was dead"). Also in American Dad in the episode The One that Got Away, Rodger dresses up as Paul Kersey and seeks revenge on someone who stole his credit card. However, the Death Wish franchise remained lucrative and drew support from fans of exploitation cinema. The series continues to have widespread following on home video and is occasionally broadcast on network television.