The Best Movie Ever: Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
When the experts aren’t available, when the underdogs are all you’ve got, when everyone around you would be best described as “a lovable loser,” then you’ve got yourself a ragtag bunch of misfits. Although not a specifically codified genre, it’s certainly an accurate moniker for this weekend’s biggest new release, Guardians of the Galaxy, in which the fate of the universe is in the hands of a wisecracking junker, the adopted daughter of a mad titan, a single-minded convict, and a raccoon and a tree. And here at The Best Movie Ever, that got us thinking…
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What’s The Best Ragtag Bunch of Misfits Movie Ever? We asked the CraveOnline film critics William Bibbiani, Witney Seibold, Fred Topel and Brian Formo to present their picks, and encourage you to vote for your own favorites at the bottom of the page.
Dramas about one or two strong, interesting, complex characters who interact, grow, change, and experience various levels of catharsis are, well, exhilarating. But there is most certainly something to be said for the less complex side of that coin. Films about bunches of ragtag misfits are typically less about deep character probing, and more about a group dynamic. Each member of the group has a single strength or personality trait, they may not “get along” with another member of the group, but when assembled, all the members form a cohesive empowered team. A ragtag group of misfits is essentially a single personality fractured into its disparate and contradictory elements. Perhaps that’s why the dynamic is so appealing; we can typically relate to every member of the group, no matter how scattered they are.
The best film about a ragtag group on a mission is probably John Sturges’ 1963 action classic The Great Escape. Based on a true story, The Great Escape is about a group of Allied POWs – all of them known for their talents in escaping from prisons – being held in in the same remote “escape-proof” Nazi prison camp. An unofficial ringleader (Richard Attenborough) decides that it’s high time all of them (over 100) attempt to make an escape together. Much of the film is devoted to the technical aspects of the escape, including forging documents, making clothes, scrounging wood and tools, and digging a really long tunnel. It starts out fun and even frothy, but eventually becomes something darker and more serious, as we delve gently into the souls of each of the men involved. It’s a film about a group, and about individuals, all working in separate ways toward an amazing common goal.
Also, the cast includes Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasance, and James Garner. If you are a boy, you need to see this movie.
Look, we all know the answer to this one. It’s The Moose Chronicles, following the four ragtag bunches of misfits that are elevated to greatness by the strategic application of Adam G. Sevani in Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D, Step Up Revolution and Step Up All In. But that would be cheating. Those films work best as a unit and I am forced – by my own rules, no less – to restrict myself to just one film.
And honestly, it’s tempting to pick this weekend’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but I will resist the urge out of prudence. Let’s give James Gunn’s film some time to breathe, and focus instead on the obvious reigning champion: The Dirty Dozen, the quintessential ragtag bunch of misfits, a cast of convicted criminals assigned a suicide mission in World War II, boasting an all-star cast that includes Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, Jim Brown and Donald Sutherland.
What makes The Dirty Dozen so great – besides the cast, the set-up, the direction, the action, the music and did I mention the cast? – is that unlike the other ragtag bunches of misfits, teaming up doesn’t make our heroes any more heroic. When the time finally comes to storm a chateau full of Nazi officers, the Dozen are still the victims of their own personal failings, and disaster befalls them because they are misfits just much as because they’re fighting The Third Reich. They achieve something in spite of themselves, not because of it. Misfits to the end in a really great, classic movie.
There’s a lot of shuffling around and scowling in The Wild Bunch. There’s also a lot of death. People seem to only remember the shootout deaths. But the real story is in the scowls. Like any good neo-western, it concerns men trying to figure out what sets them apart from the society they’ve drifted away from. In The Wild Bunch they’ve already banded together, as outcasts and outlaws, for a while (William Holden, Warren Oates, Ernest Borgnine, Ben Johnson and — formerly — Robert Ryan and Jaime Sanchez).
The Bunch is introduced to us with their leader (Holden) looking lost, not directionally, but internally, as he watches a group of kids torture a scorpion on an ant hill. They keep pushing it back in to get eaten alive. Later they’ll see the same thing happen with a human being, a former (brief) member of this bunch, in a very public way by a war-mongering general, while — like the kids torturing the scorpion — the town laughs, and drinks and celebrate their indecency. The bunch of scoundrel scowls aren’t just reserved for kids and their wayward keepers, but also for automobiles. The Wild Bunch is set in 1913, a character says in passing, “they’re gonna start using them in the war.”
This is what makes The Wild Bunch the best ragtag bunch of misfits movie ever. Because they are together, they keep themselves to a certain type of code. They might rob, but they don’t strip anyone or anything of their dignity. Generations to come these types of scoundrels will all go solo (in the automobile) and therefore be more dangerous, more impersonal, more confounding in their cruelty. Because they don’t have a bunch. And the forming military bunches will only become more cruel and detached. The Wild Bunch was made by a WWII veteran — Sam Peckinpah — and released during the height of one of our ugliest public wars, The Vietnam War.
I love my Expendables gang, the bigger it gets with every sequel, and other pseudo dirty dozens like Where Eagles Dare. However, when I think about misfits going on an adventure together, it has to be The Goonies. It’s not just because I was the Goonies’ age when I saw their adventure, and my own gang of misfit friends would try to recreate that adventure with less successful results. The Goonies is a really special old school, practical adventure.
The Goonies were a group of kids who lived in a housing development called the Goon Docks. They weren’t popular with the jocks or the cheerleaders, but they found a sense of belonging together. That was going to get taken away when their parents were forced to move, so Mikey (Sean Astin) led his friends on one last adventure to find One Eyed Willie (can you believe they let that name pass in a kids movie?)’s pirate treasure.
Admittedly, the adventure got out of hand. Parents would not want their kids roaming underground caves unsupervised, or supervised really. The Goonies was all in good fun though. Most caves don’t have cool bone pianos or waterslides either. Now that I think of it, my parents might have gotten PTSD taking me to see The Goonies and watching all these rambunctious kids talk over each other and nearly get killed. For me, it remains an empowering fantasy about the adventure you’d love to have with your friends, and be the heroes of your own world.