A movie about a cranky coach and a new team in Little League proved to be a box office winner with the comedy drama The Bad News Bears.
Starring Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal, The Bad News Bears was written by Bill Lancaster and directed by Michael Ritchie.
The storyline – Matthau plays Morris Buttermaker, a washed up baseball coach and alcoholic, who now cleans swimming pools in Los Angeles.
A local city councillor turns to him to become the coach of the new Little League team the Bears.
The Bears is comprised of kids who weren’t welcome to other teams because they were athletically-challenged, including the city councillor’s son. They’re sponsored by local company Chico’s Bail Bonds.
Buttermaker decides to find some other players, including Amanda (O’Neal) who is a smartass but good pitcher and the best hitter in the neighbourhood Kelly (Jackie Earle Haley) who smokes and is considered a troublemaker.
With Amanda and Kelly encouraging the shy, nervous and odd kids that make up the Bears, the team starts to gain confidence and win games. By the end of the season, they’re up for the challenge to go against the number one team, The Yankees.
The film was notable for its liberal use of vulgarity, racial slurs and curse words, unlike other kid-friendly movies. Critics appreciated the honesty of the writers to show how competition was getting out of hand in America, especially in relation to sports.
O’Neal’s character was also widely accepted as a tough talking character, a rare feat for a young girl in 1976.
Made for US$9 million and reeleased in April 1976, the film’s box office was a steady stream of moviegoers throughout the summer, leading it to almost hit the top 10 grossing films of the year, earning over US$42 million.
For O’Neal, this film cemented her strength as a young actress and for Matthau, his curmudgeon skills on the big screen. And it led to two sequels before the end of the decade.