The Bad News Bears has become one of the most popular sports comedies in movie history. For some fans it’s a classic underdog story. To others, it’s an honest depiction of kids. Regardless of what you get from the movies, you can see all four of them on IFC this month: the original Bad News Bears (1976), the Richard Linklater remake (2005), the sentimental sequel The Bad Bews Bears in Breaking Training (1977) and the bizarre cash-grab The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978) –- where a Little League player battles a Kaiju monster.
Before you tee up with the Bears, check out a few things you might not know about the enduring rough-and-tumble baseball movie franchise.
1. The cast got paid to ad lib.
The original 1976 Bad News Bears is beloved for its warts-and-all depiction of a group of rowdy youngsters. To make the dialogue feel more real and unpredictable, director Michael Ritchie would pay the actors a dollar each for the best ad-lib of the day. Some of the funniest lines were improvised, including the throwaway bit after Ahmad gets hit in the crotch. Coach Turner calls for a stretcher and Toby asks, “A stretcher for his balls?”
2. The first Bears film originally had a different ending.
The original ending of The Bad News Bears had Kelly Leak stealing a Mercedes after he found his Mom was having an affair with Bob Whitewood (the Councilman who hired Buttermaker). There was a police chase that ended up at the stadium where a game is going on. Kelly grabbed a bat, hitting the winning home run but couldn’t go to home because the police were waiting there for him.
3. You can thank ‘Nam for the Bears losing in the first film.
Richard Linklater (who directed the 2005 Bears remake) noted on the DVD commentary that adult test audiences wanted the Bears to win the big game, but kids loved that the Bears lost. Linklater adds that it was necessary for the Bears to lose in the original, because America was coping with the outcome of the war in Vietnam.
4. The Bears came from all over the country.
The filmmakers saw over 1,000 kids in Los Angeles, but felt they couldn’t be natural. Director Michael Ritchie said professionally trained child actors had too many bad habits and “talked like kids in The Brady Bunch.” The filmmakers auditioned young actors in New York (where they found three Bears, including Tanner) and Texas (where they discovered Engelberg) in order to assemble the ragtag bunch.
5. Where’s Engelberg Now?
12-year-old Gary Lee Cavagnaro, who played Bears catcher Engelberg, had never acted before. His mother worked in the shopping center where they held the auditions and saw a sign reading: “WANTED: Kids who weigh more than 160 pounds.” Gary weighed 205, but after the movie he lost 65 pounds and grew four inches, losing his role in the sequel. He was offered a part in Jaws 2, but turned it down because he wanted to play football instead. Today he works for an electronics company in his home state of Texas.
6. Tatum O’Neal did her own pitching.
O’Neal, the youngest actor to ever win an Oscar, did her own pitching in the key scenes on the mound. A pitching coach from USC worked with Tatum for five weeks where she learned to throw a curveball, which she could only occasionally throw during filming. (For every one pitch that was used, there were 60 takes left on the cutting room floor.) Despite all this effort, many critics wrote that the film must’ve used a pitching double.
7. The Bears almost met Castro.
In 1978, comedy legend Carl Reiner was approached to direct a fourth Bears movie. Paramount had arranged for Fidel Castro to co-star in The Bad News Bears Go to Cuba, featuring the Revolutionary Leader playing catch with the Little Leaguers, giving a pep talk and throwing out the first ball of the World championship game against the United States. In the script, the game ends with a tie of 0-0 and the two teams share the trophy six months at a time. (Die-hard fans will remember that the last line of The Bad News Go to Japan is Tony Curtis’ character scheming an exhibition game in Cuba.)
8. The Bears inspired a low-budget rip-off.
The Bad News Bears Go to Japan opened in theaters two months after the release of Here Comes the Tigers, an obscure Bears rip-off directed by Sean S. Cunningham. (The filmmaker would later find fame with Friday the 13th, a title he’d wanted to use for a kids’ soccer comedy.) Tigers follows a reluctant coach, a juvenile delinquent, a “booger-eating moron” named Timmy and features a soundtrack of classical music. Fittingly, IMDB classifies Tigers as a remake.
9. Corey Feldman was a Bad News Bear.
In 1979, the Bears came to the small screen with a cast of younger players. The TV version has Buttermaker (played by Jack Warden) coaching rather than spending a year in prison after driving a client’s Cadillac into a swimming pool. The cast included eight-year-old Corey Feldman, in what would be his first regular television role. Presumably the producers cast young actors so they wouldn’t get too old if the show proved to be successful. Unfortunately, it only lasted two seasons.
10. The Bears remake had to be booze-free.
The 2005 Bad News Bears remake established early on that Buttermaker drinks non-alcoholic beer. (Director Richard Linklater couldn’t use real beer or include actual brand names.) In the victory scene, Buttermaker hands his team bottles of non-alcoholic brew. Despite these compromises, co-screenwriter John Requa was pleased with Billy Bob Thornton’s ability to keep the film from becoming too sentimental, noting that the actor is “incapable of delivering corn.” Even if it means drinking “Goldweisen.”