Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) returns to New York City, having assumed the name Paul Stewart under the witness protection program. He is invited by girlfriend Olivia Regent (Lesley-Anne Down) to a fashion show. Backstage, mobster Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks) and his goons muscle in. Tommy threatens Olivia, who is his ex-wife and mother to their daughter Chelsea (Erica Lancaster). Olivia later informs Paul of her ex-husband's behavior after he finds bruises on her hand. Paul confronts him, but Tommy's henchman Chicki Paconi (Kevin Lund) pulls out a revolver at Paul. The confrontation ends with the arrival of Chelsea.
D.A. Brian Hoyle (Saul Rubinek) and his associate Lt. Hector Vasquez (Miguel Sandoval) visit Paul's home. He informs them about Tommy O’Shea. Hoyle says they have been trying to nab Tommy for years, and he wants Olivia to testify.
That night at a restaurant, Paul proposes to Olivia, who accepts. Olivia excuses herself to the bathroom and is attacked by Tommy’s associate, Freddie "Flakes" Garrity (Robert Joy), who bashes her head on a mirror, disfiguring her face. Freddie escapes, although Paul gets a look at him. At the hospital, where Paul is told Olivia will need reconstructive surgery, he talks with Lt. Mickey King (Kenneth Welsh), who has been working on the O’Shea case for 16 years. King warns Paul not to pick up his old habits and to let the police handle it.
Freddie kills several people including Lt. King's partner. Paul and Olivia are attacked by Freddie and his henchmen, with Freddie shooting Olivia in the back, killing her as the couple tries to escape. Paul jumps from the roof of his apartment, where he lands in a pile of trash bags, and is retrieved by the police. Tommy is cleared of involvement in Olivia’s death and seeks custody of their daughter. Paul assaults Tommy, who leaves him unconscious. He decides to return to his vigilante ways and is assisted by Hoyle, who learns his department has been corrupted by Tommy. Paul poisons Chicki with a sugar-looking cyanide in his cannoli. He then kills Freddie by blowing him up with a remote-controlled soccer ball. Tommy finds out from an informant that Paul is the vigilante and will be going after him for killing Olivia. The informant, Hector Vasquez of the NYPD, tries to kill Paul himself, but Paul gets the upper hand and kills him. Fellow officer Hoyle arrives and finds out Tommy wants both him and Kersey dead. Hoyle tells Kersey he must never see him again, and Paul agrees.
Tommy hires three thugs to take over Paul at the dress factory, using Chelsea as a bait, though she later manages to escape. Paul first faces the thugs and then Sal, another of Tommy's men, by shooting him into an industrial sewing machine. Paul picks up an empty bottle, smashes it, and cuts Tommy's face in retaliation for what he did to Olivia. Lt. King then arrives, but is wounded by Tommy. Armed with a shotgun, he corners Tommy and knocks him into an acid pool, where he disintegrates. King thanks Paul for saving his life. Paul goes to rejoin Chelsea, calling out to the injured King, "Hey Lieutenant, if you need any help, give me a call".Charles Bronson as Paul Kersey
Lesley-Anne Down as Olivia Regent
Michael Parks as Tommy O'Shea
Robert Joy as Freddie "Flakes" Garrity
Saul Rubinek as D.A. Brian Hoyle
Kenneth Welsh as Lt. Mickey King
Miguel Sandoval as Lt. Hector Vasquez
Erica Lancaster as Chelsea
Chuck Shamata as Sal Paconi
Kevin Lund as Chicki Paconi
Melissa Illes as Runway Model
Jefferson Mappin as Albert
Claire Rankin as Maxine
The three previous films in the Death Wish series were produced by Cannon Films. In 1989, Cannon faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy and its financial records came under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Co-owners Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus also had a personal falling out during the collapse of their company. Golan soon launched his own company, 21st Century Film Corporation. The films of the new company tended to have small budgets and performed poorly at the box office. Meanwhile, the Death Wish films continued to enjoy popularity in the video and television market. Golan came up with the idea of a fifth Death Wish film to serve as a much-needed hit for the company.
Financing to start the film production was secured through a loan from the Lewis Horwitz Organization. Golan still owned an unused screenplay for a Death Wish film, submitted in the late 1980s by J. Lee Thompson and Gail Morgan Hickman. He decided against using it, since it would be too costly to produce. Instead, he hired Michael Colleary to write a new script.
Golan initially reserved directorial duties for himself. His preoccupation with directing Crime and Punishment reportedly prevented him from doing so. Michael Winner was available to direct, but was never asked to do so. According to Winner, his lack of interest in directing Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987) may have led Golan to count him out. Golan then hired Steve Carver for the job, an experienced director in the action film genre. Carver recalled discussing with Bronson over the depiction of Paul Kersey. Bronson wanted the character to become more sympathetic and less violent. Carver and screenwriter Stephen Peters started co-operating in revising the script.
Carver worked on pre-production for two months before Golan decided to replace him. His replacement was Allan A. Goldstein, who held dual citizenship as a Canadian and American. Carver believes that it was Goldstein's Canadian ties which influenced the decision. Goldstein himself was surprised, since he specialized in drama films. Death Wish V was his first action film. He tried familiarizing himself with the film series by watching the previous entries for the first time. He soon started revising the script. He attempted to insert humor and black comedy elements.
The film was shot in Toronto. For tax purposes, several of the roles had to be filled with Canadian actors. Among them were Robert Joy, Saul Rubinek, Kenneth Welsh, and teenager Erica Lancaster. The previous films of the series were mostly shot on location, but the fifth film was mainly shot in a studio. All the scenes involving the dress factory were shot in a studio.
Charles Bronson and producer Menahem Golan were not on speaking terms during the filming, only communicating by using director Allan A. Goldstein as an intermediary. Goldstein himself was uncertain of the reasons behind this adversarial relationship. Golan was not present for most of the shooting, preoccupied with filming Crime and Punishment (2002) in Russia.
Ami Artzi is credited as the executive producer of the film. He was the president of the 21st Century Film Corporation, working directly under Golan. Damian Lee functioned as the line producer of the film.
The film was the first screen credit for screenwriter Michael Colleary. His subsequent credits included the blockbusters Face/Off (1997) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001).
The film was the only one in its series which did not include a rape scene. Flashes of bare breasts in a non-violent context were its only instances of nudity.
Death Wish V was a box office disaster. The film was partially financed through an advanced payment by Trimark Pictures, in exchange for domestic theatrical and home video rights. Trimark released the film on January 16, 1994 to 248 movie theaters. It made $503,936 on its opening weekend, making the seventh most successful box office entry on a national level. Its release in Los Angeles was negatively affected by the 1994 Northridge earthquake (January 17, 1994). The final box office gross of the film in the United States market was estimated at just over $1.7 million. It was released for the home video market later in 1994. Rental records pointed to a solid presence of the film in the video market, but it was not as lucrative as Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987).
Death Wish V received overwhelmingly negative reviews and holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Chris Willman of the Los Angeles Times criticized the film series's repeated recycling of the same basic plotline and Charles Bronson's perceptible boredom with the Paul Kersey role, and said that even fans of the series would find this particular installment unbearably dull. Stephen Holden of The New York Times also remarked that Bronson "sounds terminally bored", and heavily panned the film for its sadistic violence. Richard Harrington of The Washington Post said the film "looks and feels older than its original mold." He criticized that by this point Bronson was embarrassingly old for the part of an action hero, and that the Death Wish plot had been done past the point of any interest. Variety's Joe Leydon likewise said the film "finds both the character and the franchise looking mighty tired." Like Willman, he said that Bronson seemed bored with his role and that the film failed to provide any fresh twist to the Death Wish plotline. He further remarked that series fans would find it a major disappointment due to the low body count, slow pace, and general lack of excitement.
Golan planned to continue the film series without Bronson and announced the upcoming film Death Wish 6: The New Vigilante. But 21st Century Film Corporation went bankrupt and the film project was cancelled. Bronson subsequently appeared in the television film A Family of Cops (1995) and its two sequels.