“I know that some of us get tired of the protagonist always either being a rich guy, or some person who does not know they are really a prince or princess until later in the story. And the only time you see a person of humble origins they have to save the world. I’d like to develop a plot for my role playing game that did not revolve around saving the world or involve privileged characters—something every day but amazing. Do you have any suggestions—movies perhaps?”
Saving the world [which is ultimately about the dominant female theme, which is security] is a must-have plot element to garner female readership or viewers. Also, if one looks at the typical female-oriented romance novel and TV soap opera, all protagonists are well-to-do or the drama centers on mating with the well-to-do. So what you are talking about is a nonstarter for the mainstream publishing or film business. The story will have to appeal to discontented males who will watch a movie without a female present, and are not themselves emasculated, which brings us to a masculine theme. We are talking horror, crime, adventure, and military stories.
I will give a sampling of movies that stand out in my mind in terms of 1. masculine themes, 2. working class orientation, and 3. the absence of the required happy ending, of which the saving the world theme is simply the largest scale expression. I also invite readers to enter suggestions.
First, let me be clear that the working class theme requires that the protagonist—or at least the dominant viewpoint character—be from outside the hierarchal power structure, which is in and of itself a means of society emasculating the individual. This means that police dramas are all out, as all law officers are proxy authority figures, the worst kind of protagonist, as they are, at one and the same time, emasculated and emasculating elements. This excludes many excellent masculine movie choices such as Blade Runner and Public Enemies. This also means that military adventures—to qualify as working class themed—must focus on the soldier of sergeant rank and lower, not the general and his officers.
Movies about antiquity are almost always focused on the privileged [Leonidas, Moses, Hector, Odysseus] or the divinely conceived such as Achilles, Hercules or Jesus.
I am leaving Westerns out of this list as I want to do a separate treatment of Westerns along these lines.
These are movies of defiance or antisocial striving, so will be rated as more defiant and antisocial, not necessarily as better made movies [although my top pick was an excellent example of movie making], beginning with moderately defiant and finishing with a movie that is 100% masculine and anti-hierarchal in nature, understanding that some of the most striking working class characters will be co-opted by the establishment in order to push the slave master agenda, such as in 13, below.
13. Sergeant York with Gary Cooper
12. Stand By Me, about regular boys striking out into the world together on an adventure
11. The Hills Have Eyes—I want to play the mutant-munching family dog
10. Thief, with James Conn
9. Last of the Mohicans, with Daniel Day Lewis
8. Gangs of New York, with Daniel Day Lewis
7. The Baytown Outlaws by Barry Battle
6. Blood of Heroes with Rutger Hauer
5. The Thin Red Line, a Sequel to From Here to Eternity
4. Conan the Barbarian, with Tommy Sotomayor’s favorite actor, Arnold Swarzinigga
3. Hard Times, with Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Struther Martin
2. Jeremiah Johnson, with Robert Redford
1. Vanishing Point—one speed freak against the world
0. At ground-zero of anti-establishment go-to-hell-master masculine movies is Cool Hand Luke, with Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Struther Martin, and The Man with No Eyes.
Do you recall a movie that does not feature a son of privilege, military leader or law officer in the lead or co-lead [such as Christian Bale as Eliot Ness in Public Enemies], has a cast with all or most working class characters, and is not focused on a happy ending, saving the world or preserving or establishing a hierarchy?
I count Sergeant York as the dividing line between working class and aristocratic movies on these final aspects. I can think of a few other movies but would like to keep my part of the list at the lucky 13. Note that I excluded Spartacus, only because Spartacus was a Thracian chief, not a grunt gladiator.