Misfits. We’ve probably all had our moments of feeling like one. It is perhaps a feeling most associated with adolescence, but the feeling of being a misfit can carry one well into adulthood. It can make for funny situations, or heartbreaking, or scary, it can last a few minutes, a few years, or a lifetime. It can lead to the sort of moments that still make you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night 30 years later, or it can make you look back and think how proud you were to be different. These ten ranked films give us insights into the worlds of misfits, whether joyous or tragic, but all part of the rich misfit experience.
10 Mystery Men (1999)
This 1999 film is a lighthearted look at misfits, specifically, a gaggle of superheroes who are misfits from the superhero world, not exactly having the requisite impressive skills to be on the cover of comic books. The main characters of Mr. Furious (Ben Stiller), Blue Rajah (Hank Azaria), and The Shoveler (William H. Macy), are constantly stymied in their attempts to do any real superhero work, given their lackluster superpowers (rage, cutlery throwing, and shoveling, respectively), and the fact that real superhero Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear) is always on the scene first and much more popular.
But when a plan of Captain Amazing’s backfires, the gang must hastily assemble a crack team to come to his rescue, featuring oddball alternative superheroes such as The Bowler (Janeane Garofalo), Invisible Boy (Kel Mitchell), and Spleen (a flatulent Paul Rubens). The result is goofy and silly and charming, and it’s great fun to see the weirdos end up winning.
9 Lemon (2017)
Janicza Bravo’s feature directorial debut follows Isaac (Brett Gelman), who is not the kind of person you would really want to hang out with. He’s a rude and boorish acting coach and unsuccessful actor. He takes his blind girlfriend Ramona (Judy Greer) for granted, he insults his students, except for Alex (Michael Cera), whom he is jealous of for his acting success. He ends up blowing up his friendship with Alex, and Ramona (quite rightly) dumps him. A Passover visit to his family gives the audience a little insight into why he turned out so unlikable, but they’re only partially to blame.
He attempts to woo a makeup artist named Cleopatra (Nia Long), which results in an incredibly cringe-worthy scene at her family barbecue. Isaac is so intensely unlikable, and so intensely unaware of it, that the movie is a little hard to watch. But you should, even if just to remind yourself that you are definitely more likable than Isaac.
8 Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Marielle Heller’s 2018 film went through a number of cast changes before arriving at the stellar combination of Melissa McCarthy as writer/forger Lee Israel (on whose memoir the film is based), and Richard E. Grant as the almost-too-presciently named Jack Hock, who helped Israel sell forged letters purporting to be written by famous authors. An alcoholic writer whose successes were getting fewer and farther between, Israel sells off a letter written by Katharine Hepburn to make a little money, and the idea is planted in her head that she could be doing this herself.
But a faux Noël Coward letter raises alarms, and no one will deal with Israel directly anymore, especially as she’s already a pretty unpleasant person, which necessitates her reliance on Hock to flog the letters for her. Hock and Israel both end up in trouble with the FBI for the forgeries, and their friendship ends after Israel’s cat dies on Hock’s watch. There is a reconciliation of sorts at the end, but they are both such prickly people, all sharp angles and cutting words, that it would be hard to call them friends.
7 The Misfits (1961)
It’s right there in the name of this 1961 neo-Western, written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston. With the misfits being played by Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift, it’s curious that this wasn’t an instant classic, but it has gotten its dues in modern times. Monroe is Roslyn, a woman in Reno to get a quick divorce when she meets Gaylor Langland (Gable), a past-his-prime, alcoholic cowboy, and Perce Howland (Clift), a young rodeo rider down on his luck. They’re an unlikely trio, but none of them seem to have anyone else, and embark upon a plan to round up wild mustangs to sell. It’s a sad film about three people at the end of their rope, and it’s even sadder looking back: all three of the stars were dead within five years, with Gable passing before the film’s release.
6 Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Pee-wee Herman (Paul Rubens) is the ultimate happy-go-lucky oddball, a child who refuses to grow up. His usual routine consists of constant playtime in his house of wild inventions and toys, and riding his beloved, tricked-out bicycle. All that changes when the bicycle is stolen, and Pee-wee must embark on a journey to the Alamo, believing the bicycle to be held for ransom in its basement. He meets a lot of other misfits along the way: Dottie, the bike shop girl who loves him, Large Marge the truck driver who may or may not actually be dead, Simone the waitress who dreams of Paris, and a frightening biker gang who turn out to really love Pee-wee’s dancing. It’s a weird, yet entirely charming story of going after what you love in life, and the people you meet along the way. (And the dogs: Darla, who appeared uncredited as a pink poodle, is better known as Precious in The Silence of the Lambs.)
5 Pump Up the Volume (1990)
Christian Slater was the poster boy for ’80s/’90s angst in this 1990 teen classic where he stars as Mark Hunter, an unobtrusive high school student who runs a pirate radio station by night posing as Hard Harry, a brash, brutish, crass host who encourages his listeners to be themselves and rebel against the system. But when a student named Malcolm calls in, Harry is unable to talk him out of suicide. He speaks out against all the things teenagers have to cope with, and it becomes a rallying cry for the entire high school, including Nora De Niro (Samantha Mathis), who is able to figure out Harry’s true identity. What started out as a middle of the night, underground hobby ends up uniting kids across the country, as outsiders, misfits, and oddballs realize they are not alone through Harry’s broadcasts.
4 Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
This comedy was something of a revelation when it came out in 2004: a quirky, endearing film about an outsider for the ages. Napoleon (Jared Hess) is a teenager from Idaho who is as awkward as they get, even getting teased by his brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), a giant nerd himself. Napoleon ends up befriending the two other most awkward kids at school, Deb and Pedro. Deb is the slightly more aware of the trio, while Napoleon and Pedro don’t seem to see their obvious social disadvantages among their peers, asking girls to dances and running for class president like they’re the most popular kids around. It’s maybe not the most realistic portrayal of misfits, as in real life there would probably be more bullying, but it’s a sweet and lighthearted film that still holds charm.
3 Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
Todd Solondz’s 1995 misfit movie is not for the faint of heart. Heather Matarazzo is the eternal outsider Dawn, a middle schooler shunned by her schoolmates and her family alike. It’s an incredibly dark coming-of-age film, with Dawn’s siblings and parents actively disliking her, and a range of vicious bullying occurring at school, from having graffiti scrawled on her locker to an older boy threatening to sexually aassault her. Somehow, though, Dawn pushes on through it all, struggling to be liked and accepted, getting knocked down every time. There are certainly moments of wry, acerbic comedy, but it’s a bleak and damning look at growing up in America.
2 Ghost World (2001)
Somewhere between the grimness of Welcome to the Dollhouse and the unabashed cheer of Napoleon Dynamite you’ll find Ghost World, the 2001 comic book-based black comedy that put Scarlett Johansson on the map. She plays Rebecca alongside Thora Birch as Enid, recent high school graduates (although Enid still has to take a basic art class) and best friends, cynical outsiders who are largely dismissive of the peers who ignore them in return. The friends get involved with a lonely older man named Seymour (Steve Buscemi) after initially intending to prank him through a personal ad. It’s a lot about that awkward period after high school, when some people are moving on and some aren’t, and priorities are changing, and you wonder whether friends are worth holding onto, especially when you’re trying to make new ones. Enid and Rebecca are both struggling to grow up, and they have to face the fact that that might mean they will grow apart.
1 Carrie (1976)
The movie that fueled the revenge dreams of outcasts everywhere. Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s classic horror novel sent a chill through popular kids everywhere. Sissy Spacek is unforgettable as Carrie White, a scared, shy, and lonely teenager horrifically bullied at her high school, and relentlessly badgered by her religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie). When a hideous prank is played on her at the school prom, the telekinetic skills that so trouble her mother take charge, resulting in a night of carnage that no one in the small town will ever forget. Iconic is not a word that should be bandied about lightly, but this is an iconic film about misfits, and how mistreating them can come back to bite you.