The Bad News Bears is a 1976 comedy film directed by Michael Ritchie. It stars Walter Matthau and Tatum O'Neal. The film was followed by two sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training in 1977 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan in 1978, a short-lived 1979â"80 CBS television series, and a 2005 remake titled Bad News Bears.
The original screenplay was written by Bill Lancaster. Notable was the score by Jerry Fielding, which is an adaptation of the principal themes of Carmen.
Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau), a former minor-league baseball player and an alcoholic who cleans swimming pools, is recruited by a city councilman and attorney who filed a lawsuit against a competitive Southern California Little League, which excluded the least athletically skilled children (including his son) from playing. To settle the lawsuit, the league agrees to add an additional teamâ"the Bearsâ"which is composed of the worst players.
Buttermaker becomes coach of the unlikely team. It includes (among others) a near-sighted pitcher, an overweight catcher, a foul-mouthed shortstop with a Napoleon complex, an outfielder who dreams of emulating his idol Hank Aaron, two non-English-speaking Mexican immigrants, a withdrawn (and bullied) boy named Timmy Lupus, and a motley collection of other "talent". Shunned by the more competitive teams (and competitive parents), the Bears are outsiders, sponsored by Chico's Bail Bonds. In their opening game, they do not even record an out, giving up 26 runs before Buttermaker forfeits the game.
Realizing the team is nearly hopeless, he recruits a couple of unlikely prospects: first up is sharp-tongued Amanda Whurlitzer (Tatum O'Neal), a skilled pitcher (trained by Buttermaker when she was younger) who is the 11-year-old daughter of one of Buttermaker's ex-girlfriends. She now peddles maps to movie-stars' homes. Amanda tries to convince Buttermaker that she has given up baseball, but then she reveals that she had been practicing "on the sly". Amanda makes a number of outlandish demands (such as imported jeans, modeling school, ballet lessons, etc.) as conditions for joining the team. Buttermaker asks, "Who do you think you are, Catfish Hunter?" Amanda responds, "Who's he?"
Rounding out the team, Buttermaker recruits the "best athlete in the area", who also happens to be a cigarette-smoking, loan-sharking, Harley-Davidson-riding troublemaker, Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley). No one else on the team is pleased at first with the new additions, but with Whurlitzer and Leak on board, the Bears gain confidence and begin winning.
They make it to the league's championship game opposite the top-notch Yankees, who are coached by aggressive, competitive Roy Turner (Vic Morrow). As the game progresses, tensions are ratcheted up as Buttermaker and Turner engage in shouting matches, directing their players to become increasingly more ruthless and competitive, going as far as fighting, spiking on a slide, or making a batter get hit by a pitched ball on purpose. Buttermaker forces Amanda to keep pitching, even though her arm hurts.
The turnaround point of the game comes after a heated exchange between Turner's son (and Yankees pitcher) Joey (Brandon Cruz) and the Bears' catcher Engelberg (Gary Lee Cavagnaro), who is at bat. Turner orders his son to walk Engelberg, the only Bears hitter he hasn't been able to overcome. Engelberg gloats, so Joey intentionally throws a wild beanball, nearly striking Engelberg in the head. A horrified Turner goes to the mound and slaps his son. On the next pitch, Engelberg hits a routine ground ball back to Joey, who exacts revenge against his father by holding the ball until Engelberg circles the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Joey then drops the ball at his father's feet and leaves the game with his mother.
Buttermaker suddenly realizes that he has become as competitive as Turner, a man he can't stand. He relents and lets Amanda come out of the game and puts benchwarmers on the field, thus giving every kid a chance to play. The substitute Bears make errors and the team falls far behind on the scoreboard. In spite of this, the Bears rally in their final inning, loading the bases with smart tactics (two walks and a bunt). It brings Kelly Leak to bat with a chance to be a hero.
Turner decides not to let Kelly hit the ball. He orders another intentional walk, even though it will cost the Yankees a run. Buttermaker mocks the opposing manager, who just smirks. So, against all logic, Buttermaker gives a sign to Kelly to swing away. Kelly lunges at a far-outside pitch and belts the ball to the wall. Three runners score ahead of Kelly, who races toward home plate with the game-tying run, only to be called out by the umpire on a very close play. The game is over.
Having narrowly lost 7 to 6, Buttermaker treats his underage players to free rein of his beer cooler. Although they did not win the championship, they have the satisfaction of having come a long way.
The condescending Yankees congratulate the Bears telling them that although they are still not that good, they have "guts." Tanner, the shortstop, replies by telling the Yankees where they can put their trophy. The Bears cheer and Timmy Lupus overcomes his chronic shyness enough to throw the Bears' second place trophy at the Yankees and yell "Wait till next year!", after which the Bears spray beers all over each other. The celebration makes it look as if they won the game.
Discussing her relationship with co-star Walter Matthau on MLB Networkâs Costas at the Movies in 2013, Tatum OâNeal described a visit Matthau paid to her in the hospital following a car accident a few years later: âHe said, âKid, I just had to come in and see that you were all right.â I canât say that was true for every actor Iâve worked withâ¦It was a pretty special moment for me, one that I will never forget.â
The Bad News Bears was filmed in and around Los Angeles, primarily in the San Fernando Valley. The field where they played is in Mason Park on Mason Avenue in Chatsworth. In the film, the Bears were sponsored by an actual company, "Chico's Bail Bonds". One scene was filmed in the council chamber at Los Angeles City Hall.
The film was notable in its time for the amount of vulgarity (including profanity and ethnic slurs) placed into the mouths of the various child actors who played the principal roles (specifically, a memorable Tanner Boyle, played by Chris Barnes, quoted as calling his teammates en masse "a bunch of Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eating moron"). Most of the questionable dialogue was used for comic effect. A true product of the mid-70s, it includes a scene that would most likely no longer be allowed in a PG-rated film today: an inebriated Buttermaker drives the players, who are not wearing seatbelts, in an open-top convertible, with a broken windshield.
In his 1976 review, critic Roger Ebert called the film "an unblinking, scathing look at competition in American society".
Speaking about the popularity of the movie and her character on MLB Networkâs Costas at the Movies in 2013, Tatum OâNeal said, "Itâs so funny because I have a group of 48-year-old men, like Vince Vaughnâ¦who have posters of 'Bad News Bears,' Jason Patric, Quentin Tarantino. Thereâs a group of people, mostly men, who think that character of Amanda Whurlitzer is the most appealing little girl at that ageâ¦It must be a toughness with a little femininity."
The film inspired two sequels, The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, a TV series, and a 2005 remake.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 96% based on reviews from 26 critics.
Walter Matthau was nominated for a BAFTA award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy. The screenplay by Bill Lancaster, son of actor Burt Lancaster, was winner of a Writers Guild of America award.
Saturday Night Live did a parody of the film with Matthau as the guest host called The Bad News Bees with John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and the rest in their recurring "bee" costumes. This subtly dealt with masturbation which was referred to as "buzzing-off".
American Film Institute
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughsâ"nominated
- AFI's 10 Top 10â"nominated sports film
- AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheersâ"nominated
- The Bad News Bears at the Internet Movie Database
- The Bad News Bears at the TCM Movie Database
- The Bad News Bears at AllMovie
- The Bad News Bears at Box Office Mojo
- The Bad News Bears at Rotten Tomatoes