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Film / The Bad News Bears

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"First base, second base, third base, home!
Around them bases we shall roam!"

The Bad News Bears is a 1976 sports comedy film directed by Michael Ritchie.

Walter Matthau stars as Morris Buttermaker, an alcoholic former minor-league baseball player who becomes the coach of the Bears, a cellar-dwelling Little League baseball team with poor playing skills and little hope of ever winning. To bolster the team's abilities, he recruits Amanda Wurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal), a skilled pitcher who happens to be the eleven-year-old daughter of one of Buttermaker's former girlfriends, and Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley), the local cigarette-smoking troublemaker. And, miraculously, the notoriously chronic underdogs start winning under Buttermaker's careful coaching. Now all that lies between them and victory is the championship game...

The film was followed by two sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (1977) and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978), and a short-lived 1979–80 CBS television series, none of which were able to duplicate the success of the original. Remade in 2005 as Bad News Bears, directed by Richard Linklater and starring Billy Bob Thornton as Buttermaker.

Not to be confused with Bears Are Bad News.

This movie, and its two sequels, contain examples of:

  • Animated Credits Opening: The Bad News Bears Go to Japan has one. Fittingly, it was animated in Japan at Group TAC.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Tanner drops this gem when Amanda joins the team:
    Tanner: Jews, spics, niggers, and now a girl?
    Amanda: Grab a bat, punk!
  • The Bet: Amanda tries to get Kelly to join the team by playing air hockey against him at an arcade. But she loses, so instead she has to go out on a date with him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Bears wind up losing the championship game on the last play. However, Buttermaker is still proud of them for improving so much during the season, they earned some grudging respect from the Yankees, and the team is ready to come back and win it all next season. Buttermaker also seems to have warmed up to his role as a father figure to Amanda, and the two are seen proudly holding hands in the team photo over the credits.
    • It might not even count as Bittersweet as the Bears players are all defiant about their losing, knowing they did so for all the right reasons.
      Tanner: Hey Yankees... you can take your apology and your trophy and shove 'em straight up your ass!
      Timmy: And another thing, just wait till next year!
  • Brick Joke: After the Bears win their first game, Cleveland jokes that they might sue for the right to play at Dodger Stadium. In the climax of the second film, they play at the Houston Astrodome.
  • Calling Your Shots: Ahmad does this in the final inning of the championship game. It's subverted when it turns out it was a bluff and his actual plan was to catch the opposing team off guard while he bunted for an easy single.
  • Champions on the Inside: While the Bears lose the championship, they still take pride in how much they improved over the season and are ready to win it all the next year.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover shows Amanda standing on a box while talking to Buttermaker. Take a wild guess as to whether a scene like that appears in the actual movie.
  • Down to the Last Play: This was perhaps the first underdog movie to have the protagonist team not win.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The Bears are so embarrassingly terrible during their first game, that Buttermaker decides to forfeit before the top of the first inning is even over to save them the doesn't stop them from becoming the laughing stocks of their school though.
  • Downer Ending: Subverted, despite the Bears losing.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Buttermaker the little-league coach.
  • Fat Comic Relief: Engelberg. Of note, when Engelberg collapses exhausted during a run.
    Engelberg: Any second now, Ogilvie. Heart attack time.
    Ogilvie: I'll send flowers to your funeral.
  • Groin Attack: Tanner repays a rival Yankee player for cleating Amanda by giving him a swift kick to the jewels.
  • Hope Spot: With two outs in the final inning, Ogilvy manages to draw a walk after an 0-2 count, Ahmad bunts for a single, and Miguel draws another walk to bring up Kelly as the tying run. Just as it appears Kelly will hit an inside-the-park grand slam, the Yankees get the ball to the catcher and he's out at the plate.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In the first film, Amanda tries to invoke this on Kelly. But it backfires.
    Amanda: Whatcha got against baseball anyway?
    Kelly: The baseball you guys play is for faggots and old farts who don't have anything better to do with themselves.
    Amanda: Well, you must like those kind of guys. You sure do hang around the field often enough.
    Kelly: There's a nice ass on the field. That's why I hang around.
    Amanda: (Death Glare)
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Coach Buttermaker is a grouchy, alcoholic slob, but he really does care for the kids more than he lets on, and part of why the team loses in the end was because he chose to bench his best players in the final inning so the other kids could get a chance to play. When he very harshly rejects Amanda's offer to help him patch things up with her mom, he's also left crying afterward, because he understands how badly he just screwed up.
    • Tanner may be a foul-mouthed, ill-tempered, racist, and sexist little shit, but he won't let anyone [else] pick on his teammates, and is very quick to defend them. Especially when Lupus gets bullied by members of a rival team. Even then, he still has some Brutal Honesty to dish out.
      Timmy: Thanks, no one ever stood up for me before.
      Tanner: Well, Lupus, if you wiped your nose once in a while, people wouldn't give you so much crud all the time.
    • He also instigated the fight in the final game when a Yankees base runner cleated Amanda in the chest sliding into home.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Roy Turner might have gone too far by hitting his son Joey; however, he was right to be mad at Joey for intentionally trying to hit Engelberg in the head with a baseball, which could have seriously hurt him had the ball actually struck him in the head. There is also the legal ramifications Roy could have faced.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Immediately after getting smacked by his father on the mound, Joey fields a soft grounder from Engelberg, and holds the ball, permitting Engelberg to score an inside-the-park home run. He then walks off the mound, drops the ball at Roy's feet, and leaves with his mother. Although the Yankees won in the end, there was little for Roy personally to be proud of.
  • Lighter and Softer: Both sequels qualify.
  • Logo Joke: When The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, the Paramount mountain becomes Mt. Fuji.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Buttermaker is variously referred to with such derisive nicknames as "Butterworth", "Buttercrud", and, perhaps most accurately, "Boilermaker".
  • Meaningful Echo: At the end of the second film, after the team returns victorious to Los Angeles, Kelly rides his motorbike to the little league field, and just has a brief face-off with one of the groundskeepers before riding off.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Carmen in the second film. He got better, though.
  • Mouthy Kid: Many of the kids have their moments, but Tanner loves throwing around racial epithets.
    Tanner: All we got on this team is a bunch of Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eating moron.
    Ogilvie: Tanner, you should be reminded from time to time that you're one of the few people on this team who's not a Jew, spic, nigger, pansy, or booger-eating moron. So you better cool it, or we may be disposed to beat the crap outta you.
  • The Napoleon: Tanner.
  • Only Sane Man: Kelly, despite engaging in some Troubling Unchildlike Behavior, doesn't get involved in most of the antics of his teammates.
  • Opposing Sports Team: The Yankees.
  • Ordered to Cheat: Buttermaker orders his batter to lean into the pitch so he'd get hit, to get a walk. The player is against the idea, but does it anyway. Twice.
  • Pet the Dog: Quinn Smith, who played Timmy Lupus in the first film, couldn't take part in the second film. They were able to get him for a brief scene at the beginning where they show him getting visited by some of his teammates while recovering from a broken leg, with the insinuation that he was a huge part of their second season.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: One of the poster children of this trope.
  • Replacement Flat Character: In the second film, Amanda was replaced as the Bears' star pitcher by Carmen. Probably part of the reason why he didn't receive too much development beyond being a mix of Kelly and Tanner is because so much of the plot revolved around Kelly and his father, who took over as the team's coach during the trip to Houston.
  • Save Our Team: While this is the basic premise, the movie Averts all the usual trappings. The coach is a disinterested drunk, the players don't really get along with each other, they only finally start winning because of Amanda and Kelly, and they lose the championship to the juggernaut Yankees.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: The Trope Maker. The Bad News Bears was the first film to Subvert "Underdogs Never Lose". The film created this trope with the moral victory of going toe-to-toe with the juggernaut Opposing Sports Team.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: The Bad News Bears Go to Japan.
  • Ship Tease: After the initial bad blood between Amanda and Kelly, there is a scene or two showing them bonding in what could be a romantic sense. But it's not really expounded upon very far. And with Amanda disappearing after the first film, it's never mentioned again.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Bob Whitewood, the city councilman who filed suit against the league when his son was excluded, is the one responsible for the creation of the Bears in the first place, as well as for hiring Buttermaker.
  • The Smart Guy: Oglivie is practically an assistant coach for the team in the first two films, always keeping stats on the games.
  • Smoking Is Cool: It’s The '70s, they’re starting to avert it explicitly in the first film. Kelly's smoking is frowned upon, and Amanda tosses Buttermaker's cigar out of his convertible after he succeeds at recruiting her to the team.
  • Two Decades Behind: The other teams all wear polyester uniforms with an elastic waist band and pullover jerseys while the bears are wearing loosefitting flannel button downs with the belt. However this becomes more of a hilarious in hindsight as the new style was gone by the 90s and teams have again returned to a fashion much more similar to what the Bears were wearing.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The film was one of the first to depict a children's sports team, but it seems like a deconstruction compared to successors such as The Mighty Ducks and Little Giants. Buttermaker only gets involved for money and only becomes interested in coaching to get back at Turner, the players regularly insult and fight with each other, they only finally start winning because of Amanda and Kelly, both of whom joined for purely selfish reasons, and they ultimately lose the championship to the juggernaut Yankees when Buttermaker decides to let the less talented players get a chance to play.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Subverted, and it was the first film to subvert the trope, beating Rocky to the punch by half a year (though some of them did achieve a moral victory).
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Roy's wife after he smacked their son, Joey, on the mound for throwing at Engelberg. Her issue is likely how cold and business-like he was about it.
    Mrs. Turner: You son of a bitch!
    Roy: Tried to bean him, could've killed that kid.
    Mrs. Turner: Well you know why he threw it.
    Roy: I told him to throw it low and outside.
  • Win One for the Gipper: In Breaking Training. They even show the famous clip from Knute Rockne, All American on a hotel television set.
  • You Go, Girl!: Amanda. Downplayed in that she has to be talked into playing, her acceptance on the team is a very minor source of conflict at most (as the team's equal-opportunity bigot, Tanner, is the only one to have issue, and she quickly puts him in his place), and one of her conditions for joining the team is that Buttermaker pays for her designer clothes and ballet classes.

The 2005 remake contains examples of:

  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Inverted. Buttermaker, when meeting with the rival coach in an attempt to shake hands after their disasterous first game, mentions that the rival coach "has grapes" in what is an unsubtle reference to the rival coach's balls.
  • Bowdlerisation: In the remake, Billy Bob Thornton wasn't allowed to drink beer on the dugout, though he was allowed to spike it with some hard liquor as a compromise.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Lupus tends to say some interesting things, like how bird poop tastes like candy.
  • Curse Cut Short: Not in the film itself, but the promotional spots for the remake had the scene where Buttermaker mentions his previously being sent to jail (as well as implying his status as a Prison Rape victim), but the scene conveniently cuts to the "Coming Soon" final seconds just as Buttermaker is about to say the word "ass."
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Buttermaker is almost like a parental figure to Amanda and is not happy when she begins dating bad boy Kelly. He eventually warms up to the kid and the relationship though.
  • Disappeared Dad: Would-be dad in this case. Buttermaker reunited with his ex-girlfriend's daughter Amanda as a means to ask her to join his baseball team. Amanda is quick to remind him that he left her and her mother.
  • Double Entendre: Despite being a "politically correct" remake, there were a lot more dirty stuff that the creators got away with. For one thing, they had Buttermaker alluding to prison sexuality in the beginning of the film.
  • Irony: The African-American kid Ahmad Abdul Rahim with a foreign name. Also, his favorite baseball player is Mark Mcguire who is white. Lampshaded by Buttermaker.
  • Loving Bully: Tanner towards Lupus. When two eight graders pick on Lupus by trapping him inside a port-a-potty, Tanner fires back "Nobody bullies him but me!". The eight graders bully Tanner as well for interfering but it marks the start of a friendship between Tanner and Lupus.
  • Made of Iron: When thrown a fast ball in a game of baseball with the Bears, Kelly nonchalantly catches it with his bare hand and tosses it back to the pitcher.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Buttermaker bringing his exotic dancer friend named Paradise to the german themed restaurant and all the restaurant patrons gawk at her. Also, the gentlemen's club strippers cheering for the Bears as they sponsor the team.
  • Noodle Implements: While flirting with a woman, Mr. Buttermaker tells her that all she'll need is "a jar of honey and a glass coffee table" and it will be more fun than a taffy pull.
  • Overly Long Name: The armenian kid's name Garo Daragagabragadagian. Mr. Buttermaker struggles to pronounce the full name right.
  • Parental Abandonment: Amanda is understandably bitter towards Buttermaker for walking out on her and her mother years ago when Buttermaker was dating her mother and part of Amanda's life
  • Parent Never Came Back from the Store: Buttermaker claimed he left to do some "exterminator jobs" and why he never came back to Amanda and her mother. Amanda doesn't believe his excuse.
  • Prison Rape: Buttermaker implies in the beginning of the film when talking with a woman and her kid that he was a victim of this. It's a surprise that this got past the censors.

Alternative Title(s): Bad News Bears