The Wild Bunch
By Barbara Shulgasser-Parker,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Extremely violent '60s Western with drinking and sex.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Thieves pretend to have honor at the same time that they take other people's stuff and kill women and children. Everyone is depraved and corrupt. You own mother will betray you. It's not making promises that counts; it's who you make the promises to that dictates whether you need to keep them. Murdering and robbing can be hilarious fun.
Positive Role Models
The "heroes" are members of a thieving, murderous gang who drink and consort with prostitutes, and there isn't much to redeem them other than Peckinpah's nostalgic romanticization of them. One character is described as a "Judas goat," an animal trained to bring its herd to slaughter while it's allowed to live on. The gang has an off-and-on code of ethics. In one case, they leave a member to die in a shootout, but in another they hardly give a thought to leaving a man to be beaten nearly to death. Later, as if in a show of defiance, they come back for him, but too late. One murderous gang member thinks he's better than the murderous Mexican army because, "We don't hang nobody."
Violence & Scariness
The iconic order, "If they move, kill 'em," is heard early in the film and epitomizes its gleeful embrace of violence and mayhem. Many men, women, and children die bloody, violent deaths, mostly by gunshot. Many such scenes are shown in varying speeds of slow-motion, emphasizing the gushing blood from wounds. Walls are covered with blood. Wounded men fly through the air, catapulted by the energy of bullets hitting them. Some fall dead from heights. Children laugh as they watch scorpions being devoured alive by thousands of ravenous ants, then, delighted, set them all on fire. Bounty hunters kill innocent bystanders, then steal their gold teeth and rummage through their pockets for valuables. Laughing children chase a bloodied man being dragged by a car. A woman betrays her man, leaving him for a richer and more politically powerful leader. Many horses fall during shootouts and when a posse descends a hill. After a bridge explodes, men and horses fall into the water below. (A horse was knocked unconscious by falling debris and reportedly drowned.) Violence is honored and glorified down to the sound effects accompanying each individual kind of gun discharge. A man has a large scar on his leg. A locomotive running full steam crashes into stationary railroad cars, injuring men and horses. A man's throat is slit in full view. Killers use people as human shields against flying bullets.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A few glimpses of breasts are seen. A breast is seen in close-up as a mother nurses her baby. Men cavort with prostitutes in a large tub. A middle-aged man is seen getting dressed, presumably after having had sex with a much younger prostitute. Some men argue about payment with prostitutes. Two brothers speak of sharing women, several at a time. Prostitutes are see in bras. Women are viewed as men's property, valued only as sexual objects. The movie depicts them treacherously trading former lovers for more powerful and wealthy ones when the situation suits them. A man pours liquor on a woman's leg and licks it off, while pushing his hand under her skirt.
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"Ass," "bitch," "bastard," "damn, "hell," "whore," "puta," "Chrissake," "peckerwood," and "redneck."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Men smoke cigars. People drink whisky and wine and become obviously drunk.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Wild Bunch is a 1969 Western directed by Sam Peckinpah, a filmmaker known for cynical and violent cinematic tableaus that underscore the worst in human nature. This film features several balletic, slow-motion massacres in which men, women, and children are killed, sometimes in close-up, with maximum use of fake blood, to a degree that may look to today's audiences like parody. The "heroes" are members of a thieving, murderous gang who drink and consort with prostitutes, and there isn't much to redeem them other than Peckinpah's nostalgic romanticization of them. A killer holds hostages at gunpoint and sticks his tongue in a female hostage's ear in an act of sexual humiliation. Killers use people as human shields against flying bullets. Language includes "bastard," "bitch," "hell," "damn," and "ass." The breast of a nursing mother is seen in close-up. A man reaches into a woman's shirt for her breast. Men smoke cigars. People drink whisky and wine and become obviously drunk. The MPAA originally considered giving the film an X rating for its extreme violence.
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The Wild Bunch
Based on 7 parent reviews
A classic movie, but definitely not for kids!
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What's the Story?
Set in the last days of the Old West, THE WILD BUNCH opens with a hold-up of a mall town's railroad office. Five thieves, disguised as American soldiers, are ambushed by railroad-hired gunmen. A bloody gunfight ensues and the town's men, women, and children are caught in the crossfire. After, the railroad owner fumes that Pike Bishop (William Holden), ringleader of the renegade "wild bunch," has escaped with most of his gang. There's no thought given to the dead and maimed townspeople and this establishes the movie's cynical premise, that people are selfish and interested only in power, money, and sex and -- for the few individualists still left in the waning days of the Old West -- autonomy. Pike's ex-partner Deke (Robert Ryan) has been sprung from jail by the railroad to kill Pike and he may be the only person in the movie with anything that resembles a conscience. Pike and his gang hijack weapons from the American army for a group of corrupt Mexican federal army officers who are trying to put down the Mexican revolution. Soon the Americans and the railroad's bounty hunters are chasing Bishop and the gang, sending them into the den of the untrustworthy Federalis for protection. An inevitable climactic massacre bathes their dusty encampment in dark red movie blood.
Is It Any Good?
Watching this 145-minute movie may seem like the longest year of your life; although it was declared a masterpiece when first released, it was also critically reviled. One thing is certain: the violence is plentiful and, although less shocking today than when it came out, it will still both repel and mesmerize. Peckinpah said that he wanted audiences to feel the true horror of violence and to refute the sanitized movie clichés of the heroic Old West. But he made his point by abandoning artistic subtlety and hitting the audience over the head. The movie opens on a group of laughing children gleefully watching thousands of ants devour some unlucky scorpions. What kind of kids are these? Peckinpah's answer? "Ordinary children." The rest of the movie is his defense of that conclusion. More than two hours later, two murderous men laugh uncontrollably after surviving a massacre that killed their criminal friends, corrupt soldiers, and innocent women and children. So which of the many impulsive and violent groups here does the title reference? The sadistic children, the "wild" Federalis, or the "wild" railroad bounty hunters? Or is it the romanticized aging renegades? The term "wild" reverberates with too endearing a connotation. These groups are not "wild." They are bad to the bone.
The Wild Bunch was made soon after the release of the groundbreaking, violent Bonnie and Clyde, and at a time when news footage of the Vietnam War's carnage was broadcast into American living rooms every night. With its montages of slow-motion, closely-edited carnage, this movie elevated the ugliness of such violence into a paradoxical form of beauty, working against Peckinpah's attempt to display the true horror of violence. The overall effect raises enduring questions about whether exposure to movie and game violence fosters violence in real life. In any case, kids may be left wondering who among us are the ants and who are the scorpions.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the effect that watching artsy violence might have on viewers. Do you think The Wild Bunch's use of slow motion and bright red "blood" makes violence more horrible, or does the use of flashy cinematic technique direct the viewer away from the carnage and toward admiring the filmmakers' artistry?
The movie suggests that everyone is corrupt and violent, including children. Do you agree?
The movie was considered extremely violent when it first came out but today many movies have copied the movie's approach to violence. Do you think exposure to movie violence makes viewers less horrified when confronted with actual violence and more likely to be violent?
- In theaters: August 7, 1969
- On DVD or streaming: November 10, 2010
- Cast: William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates, Jaime Sanchez, Ben Johnson
- Director: Sam Peckinpah
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Western
- Run time: 145 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: March 19, 2023
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