Story The story takes place in Texas of 1913, where Pike Bishop plans a last heist in a railway office for his retirement fund. Leading a band of aging outlaws ( Dutch Engstrom, Lyle and Tector Gorch, Angel, and Freddie Sykes), Pike leads the raid at the office, but gets ambushed by Deke Thornton, who used to be Bishop's partner, but now works against him with the police in order to redeem his right for freedom (since he was collected from prison for the job). Having lost men, and failed the heist (the supposed silver ends up being steel washers), Bishop has no choice but to retreat to Mexico while Thornton continues to hunt him down.
After the Bunch crosses to Mexico, they arrive to the village where Angel was born, and find the village to be in poverty and starvation after the Mexican Revolution. The town itself is led by a corrupt general called Mapache. Although the Bunch is on the verge of conflict with the general after Angel shoots his former girlfriend for being with the general, Bishop manages to settle the conflict down, and even bargains with Mapache for a job. Mapache promises 10,000$ in gold to the Bunch if they manage to succeed robbing an American train carrying weapons (so he can give the weapons to his own soldiers). Angel agrees to give his share of the money to Bishop in exchange for one of the weapons crates so that he can it to the people of his home town to fight the oppression of the general.
Although the robbery starts successfully and the Bunch manages to get its hands on the weapons, it quickly finds out that Thornton and his troops were sitting in the passenger car of the very same train. A chase ensues, but Bishop and his men again manage to escape Thornton by destroying a bridge between them.
Realizing the dangers of Mapache's learning of their betrayal, the Bunch devise a plan to give up weapons to Mapache without him realizing that a crate is missing. While at first the meeting goes smoothly, Mapache still discovers of Angel's possession of the last crate, and quickly has his troops trap him and torture him in the general's fortress town. The Bunch go to meet the general to try and negotiate Angel's release, but instead Mapache slits Angel's throat, and gets gunned down by the Bunch as punishment. Seeing their general shot, the Mexican forces under the general begin a firefight with the Bunch. After a long and exhausting firefight, the Bunch ends up being slain, along with most of the Mexicans.
By the end of the firefight, Thornton finally catches up with the Bunch only to see them dead. He watches his partners pick up the bodies in order to collect the bounty, and in the next moment he's seen in Angel's home village with Sykes (who didn't get involved in the fight with Mapache due to old age). Sykes offers Thornton to join the revolution, and in the last shot, Thornton can be seen with Sykes riding to the horizon laughing.
Production Peckinpah was making "The Wild Bunch" at a time of conflict and stress in America. With the public already being exhausted of the Vietnam War, Peckinpah wanted to return violence to movies (like in Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde). He also wanted to show a more gritty and realistic side of the Westerner, since he felt like it still hasn't been shown in previous movies (such as the famous Sergio Leone trilogy).
What made the production stand out, was that during firefights, the movie demonstrated a rush of different shots at a fast pace, which made the shootouts look all the more chaotic and confusing. The movie itself was shot in Mexico. Peckinpah also used the slow-motion technique, a method which was presented to him by Lou Lombardo, a successful movie editor and a close friend of Peckinpah's. The effect was achieved by having six cameras record the shooting sequences, one at 24 frames a second, another 30, 60, 90, 120. When all the shots from the different cameras were connected, the effect looked like true modern-era slow motion.
An interesting situation occurred when Peckinpah, in search of a proper-sounding gun shot, fired a real revolver, stunning all the crew around him. However, he made a truly big contribution with that issue, since before Warner Brothers used the same gunshot sound, no matter what gun was fired. However, Peckinpah managed to convince the company to record proper gunshot sounds for each gun. He did this in order to show "what it feels like to be gunned down".
Themes The main theme that the Wild Bunch focuses on is the end of the Wild West era. As Bishop himself says, "We've got to start thinking beyond our guns. Those days are closing fast." Despite their dishonest and violent way of earning for a living, the Bunch still operates with a certain codex of honor that has no place in an 20th century American society. Also, when the Bunch see Mapache's car, they see it as an end of a horse riding era as a form of transport. Peckinpah also made a large accent on violence in the Wild Bunch.
The point of the violence wasn't only to make a large difference from the typical spaghetti westerns with their idealistic and bright settings, but also to make a metaphor for the Vietnam War that was going on at the time. Peckinpah wanted to demonstrated that the same form of senseless violence occurred during the exploration of the Frontier. However,what troubled Peckinpah, was how the audience was actually excited by the gruesome gun scenes, when instead they were meant to disgust people and discourage them from violence.
Finally, another theme of the movie is betrayal. When the Bunch abandon Angel ( "10,000 dollars cuts a lot of family ties."), they break their honor code, and that continues to haunt them and eventually even leads to their deaths. Even though the Bunch eventually come back to Mapache's settlement to rescue Angel (and even sacrificed their lives for him), their betrayal goes against their code of honor (" when you side with a man, you stay with him. Otherwise you are just some animal.") Also, all the while, the Bunch feel guilty for abandoning Thornton earlier and leaving him victim to the law.