"Taken 2" is upon us. And the sequel -- hitting theaters this Friday -- in which Liam Neeson returns as a man with a particular set of skills (mainly ass-whooping), got us thinking about other great movies in which people are kidnapped. There's "Silence of the Lambs,"
"Fargo" and who can forget Mel Gibson's thriller "Ransom"?
Below is a list of ten of the best kidnapping movies ever. Let us know what your favorites are in the comments.
'Seven Psychopaths' (Martin McDonagh, 2012)
The best kidnapping movie that opens in October isn't, in fact, "Taken 2," but rather the quirky "Seven Psychopaths," which recently won the Midnight Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. Less a kidnapping tale than a dognapping one (hey, it works), the film centers on a couple of lovable slime balls (a totally gonzo Sam Rockwell and Christoher Walken) who nab pooches from local parks and return them for the reward money. Colin Farrell is a struggling screenwriter writing a movie called "Seven Psychopaths," and the plot thickens considerably when the three of them accidentally pick up the dog of a whacked-out gangster played by Woody Harrelson. The movie almost defies explanation, considering it also features a serial killer targeting low-level leg breakers; a cameo from the girl from "Precious"; and Tom Waits, who plays a "serial killer killer" and clutches a small white rabbit the whole time. It's also one of the best, funniest, most zanily entertaining movies of the year written by a guy who has more plays on the West End than William Shakespeare. Yes, it kidnapped my heart and hasn't given it back yet.
'Ransom' (Ron Howard, 1996)
Adapted from a tele-play (that inspired a feature starring Glenn Ford and Donna Reed), as well as "King's Ransom," an influential Ed McBain procedural that was the basis for another entry on this list (more on that in a minute…), Ron Howard's "Ransom," starred Mel Gibson as an airline magnate whose young son is abducted and held for ransom. Possibly most famous for Gibson's riveting plea of "Give me back my son!" (this was back when Mel Gibson yelling was charming instead of stomach-turning), "Ransom" remains a crackling piece of popcorn entertainment and one of Howard's most purely enjoyable movies, mercifully free of gooey sentimentality or some profound overriding moral message. Much of this is thanks to the well-honed script by Richard Price, a certifiable genius novelist and screenwriter (he wrote for "The Wire," conceptualized the "Bad" music video and has collaborated with Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, and John Singleton), turning what could be another kidnapping movie into a harder-edge tale of class warfare and revenge.
'Fargo' (Coen Brothers, 1996)
Arguably the Coens' greatest cinematic achievement, "Fargo" is the tale of a dopey car dealer (William H. Macy), who, strapped for cash, arranges for the kidnapping of his wife (Kristin Rudrud), in the hopes that his father-in-law will pay the ransom and his money problems will be solved. Of course, as in the case with most Coen Brothers movies, things go horribly, horribly awry. The kidnappers, played by Steve Buscemi and a terse Peter Stormare, are alternately goofy and totally terrifying, and when the movie, especially in the second half, starts piling on the bloody mayhem, the movie's unpredictability becomes truly chilling. We get precious little screen time with the kidnapping victim, so instead our sympathy goes out to Frances McDormand, as a pregnant police chief investigating the crime. It's the performance of a lifetime and one of the Coens' most lovable characters. A modest masterpiece, "Fargo" is a story of what happens when a kidnapping is poorly conceived and even more poorly executed.
'High and Low' (Akira Kurosawa, 1963)
Starkly told in black-and-white (with one notable exception), Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low," based -- like "Ransom" -- on Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novel "King's Ransom," is, unlike most of his most beloved works, a contemporary police thriller instead of a historical samurai epic. Like many of his best films, it stars Toshiro Mifune, playing a wealthy executive named Gondo, who criminals claim have kidnapped his son. In one of many great twists, it's revealed that it's not actually Gondo's son who the kidnappers have snatched but rather the son of Gondo's chauffer (the children frequently play together). Gondo still feels responsible and sets about on a play to retrieve the boy. Much of "High and Low" is leisurely paced (clocking in at over two hours) and set inside Gondo's spacious modern apartment, adding to a kind of claustrophobic intensity. While almost completely black-and-white, there is a notable sequence with pink smoke. It's too good to give away here. If you haven't seen it, do so now!
'Misery' (Carl Reiner, 1990)
Still one of the scariest movies ever made, "Misery," based on the novel by Stephen King (with a screenplay courtesy of William Goldman), is the cautionary tale of what happens when a "super-fan" becomes a "super-psycho." Kathy Bates plays Annie Wilkes, who is the "number one fan" of romance writer James Caan. When Caan gets into an accident during a blizzard not far from Wilkes' home, she rescues him and nurses him back to health. Until he realizes that there's no escaping this scenario and that Wilkes, upset over the death of a central character, is forcing him to complete a new novel (which sees the resurrection of her beloved character). Eerie and claustrophobic, with bursts of intense violence (the hobbling scene being a classic), and two of the finest performances to ever hold down a horror movie (Bates won an Oscar for her role), "Misery" is a classic. Lots of kidnapping movies don't detail the ordeal; "Misery" positively revels in it.
'Benji' (Joe Camp, 1974)
The unlikely start of a franchise that would continue until 2004's "Benji: Off the Leash!," Joe Camp's original "Benji" has a bizarre kidnapping subplot that overrides the second half of the movie. Benji, for the uninitiated, is a mangy mutt beloved by the townsfolk in a small Texas community (they each call him by a different name – a couple of kids call him Benji). When the two kids (the ones who call him Benji) are kidnapped, the dog sets about rallying the community and seeing that they're rescued (all without the powers of speech or opposable thumbs). A critical and commercial winner when it was initially released (it also won a Golden Globe for its theme song), "Benji" remains a cute kids movie whose central kidnapping isn't as scarring as it probably should be.
'Man on Fire' (Tony Scott, 2004)
Brutal, contemporary and stylized within an inch of its life, "Man on Fire" will probably most be remembered as Tony Scott's final masterpiece, a brutal tale of kidnapping and revenge set in the dark heart of Mexico. Denzel Washington plays a former spy turned bodyguard and chauffer for Dakota Fanning, who is kidnapped and held for ransom. When it looks like the child is most likely dead, Washington goes on a violent quest for revenge, vowing to kill each and every person responsible for her kidnapping and murder. And boy does it get intense. Scott, working from a script by "L.A. Confidential's" Brian Helgeland, experiments endlessly, with shutter times, lighting filters, development processes, even subtitles (which artily bounce around the screen or strobe stylistically), which adds to the general feeling of unease and tension. And Fanning is so lovable as the kidnapping victim that it kind of justifies the morally questionable quest for vengeance.
'The Silence of the Lambs' (Jonathan Demme, 1991)
Everyone talks about "Silence of the Lambs" being a "serial killer" movie, since two of the main characters are serial killers, but the main thrust of the narrative is a kidnapping plot involving a senator's daughter (Brooke Smith) who is imprisoned by a mad man. It's what gives the movie its ticking clock and what allows for one of its most gloriously ghoulish set pieces, with incarcerated prisoner Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), giving a brief reprieve in a hotel and (of course) escaping. The film's other serial killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), is responsible for the movie's kidnapping and makes for an unforgettable captor -- a transvestite who kills women so that he can wear their skin. In a way, the young girl's captivity mirrors our hero, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who herself feels trapped by Lecter's mind games and manipulations. The scene in which the young girl turns the tables on her abductor, too, taking hold of his beloved poodle Precious, is a favorite. When the kidnapee becomes the kidnapper, all bets are off.
'The Disappearance of Alice Creed' (J. Blakeson, 2009)
A meagerly budgeted British indie, "The Disappearance of Alice Creed," despite some questionable filmmaking, is a constantly surprising little thriller about a wealthy heiress kidnapped by a couple of thugs. Part of what makes the movie work is that the cast is so great – there are basically only three people in the whole movie, the victim (Gemma Rterton) and the captors (Martin Compston and Eddie Marsan); all of them are amazing. Then there's the script, which seems heavily indebted to seventies character studies and the early films of Christopher Nolan, and has so many twists that even talking about it would seem like doing the film a disservice. While I was initially unimpressed with the movie (and found it to be somewhat lacking in key aspects of technicality, with a couple of ugly streaks of misogyny), I've come around to realize what a crackerjack little piece it is. Also, Arterton is so painfully cute that you root for her escape just so you can hug her.
'Gone Baby Gone' (Ben Affleck, 2007)
Ben Affleck's first film behind the camera (and maybe, still, his best), is based on a crime novel by "Mystic River" author Dennis Lehane, and concerns a pair of low rent private investigators (Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan) who are looking into the case of a missing girl from an iffy neighborhood in Boston. "Gone Baby Gone" sports an unparalleled cast that includes Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman, Amy Ryan (as the girl's drug-addled mother), Amy Madigan, Titus Welliver, and Michael K. Williams, an intriguing plot, and wonderful visual pyrotechnics courtesy of the elder Affleck (there's an unforgettable scene where Casey stumbles upon a murder scene). The film is sometimes weighed down by a soggy midsection but concludes with one of the most heart-wrenching epilogues in the history of kidnapping movies. It asks the morally devastating question -- what if the kid was better off with the kidnapper?