Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

There’s always beer: 10 tips for gracious defeat from the best onscreen losers

Paul Rudd as Bobby Newport (Photo: NBC)

Losing isn’t easy. It’s demoralizing at best, but especially so when that loss comes at the hands of a group of people whose win has resulted in a spike in hate crimes. But a majority of the voting population did lose, with their candidate—be it Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, or Dr. Jill Stein—emerging from November 8 with an uncertain future in the private sector.

While it’s easy enough to give in to the darkness, those of us who are capital-L losers will also eventually have to pick ourselves up, hop over the crinkled tissues, and get to the business of making our lives and world better, no matter what. We must be gracious in defeat, remembering that, as Michelle Obama says, “When they go low, we go high.” It’s undoubtedly hard, and right now, it might feel impossible, but here are some tips for moving forward with grace, respect, and alcohol, courtesy of both your fictional friends and your very real internet friends at The A.V. Club. Stay strong, America. The good will out.


1. Rocky (1976): After going the distance, find comfort in your loved ones

By now, the name “Rocky Balboa” is practically synonymous with “underdog.” In his script and portrayal, Sylvester Stallone imbues his blue-collar boxer with an enviable work ethic, but always keeps his chances at the championship belt in perspective. Meat-pounding montage aside, Rocky’s chances at defeating Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) are still fairly slim. Rocky knows this, but is more invested in proving himself or “going the distance.” And despite the testosterone-saturated milieu, he readily cops to his insecurities to the woman he loves, Adrian (Talia Shire). The Italian Stallion lasts 15 rounds with the champ, losing by split decision. Having accomplished what he set out to do, he does what anyone who’s recently found love would—calls out to his sweetheart, who rushes into the ring to join him post-defeat. [Danette Chavez]


2. Parks And Recreation (2009-2015) :Just be glad it’s over

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Privileged playboy and heir to the Sweetums fortune Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd) enters the Pawnee City Council race to impress his father, completely unaware that anyone else is running. His opponent Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), on the other hand, has spent her entire life working toward this opportunity. But despite his appalling ignorance and lack of policy plans, Newport’s name and wealth appeal to the basest of Pawneean priorities (sugar), and he winds up giving Knope a run for her money. After a recount and a razor-thin loss of 21 votes, Bobby Newport concedes with a simple “Honestly, I’ve never been more relieved in my life.” This is exactly the kind of peaceful honesty to aim for in loss, especially when you’re in it for all the wrong reasons. And hey, admit it: Winning never would’ve been enough to win Daddy’s approval, anyway. [Kelsey J. Waite]


3. A League Of Their Own (1992): Family is more important than winning

Did Dottie drop the ball on purpose? That’s the question that hangs over the end of A League Of Their Own. But regardless of whether or not she let her little sister, Kit (Lori Petty), win—for what it’s worth, Petty says she didn’t—Dottie (Geena Davis) accepts her loss in reserved fashion, but with an abundance of love. Sibling rivalry stews throughout the whole movie and comes to a head when the Rockford Peaches, Dottie’s team, meet the Racine Belles, Kit’s, in a hard-fought World Series. To close the game, Kit barrels into Dottie at home plate. The ball slips from Dottie’s glove, and Kit scores a run and clinches the title. The Peaches are sad about their defeat, but not bitter toward Dottie, who in turn lets Kit have her moment of glory. When they do speak, it’s not really about baseball. Instead, it’s about the bond they’ll always have both as one-time teammates and, more crucially, as family. There’s no crying in baseball, but there is tons as these two embrace. [Esther Zuckerman]


4. Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003): Admire the beauty of your own defeat

O-Ren Ishii—the final boss of part one of Quentin Tarantino’s bloody ode to Hong Kong revenge flicks—spends much of her fight with The Bride (Uma Thurman) pelting her opponent with quips and taunts. Ishii (Lucy Liu) is especially outraged by The Bride’s claim that her weapon was forged by master swordsmith Hattori Hanzo, who’s long since retired, in order to aid her quest for vengeance. It’s not until the former Black Mamba—exhausted after battling her way through O-Ren’s entire Yakuza army—manages to land a strike on her that Ishii drops her bluster. Pausing in the twilight snow of her quiet Tokyo garden, she apologizes for implying her one-time friend was unworthy of the blade. In the end, O-Ren can’t help but fall before Hanzo’s finest work, her last words a testament to its beauty and power: “That really was a Hattori Hanzo sword.” [William Hughes]


5. Bring It On (2000): Stay positive even in the face of defeat

Sometimes a victory isn’t as important as simply getting some respect. Over the course of Bring It On, the once-mighty Rancho Carne High Toros, a cheerleading squad, have been laid low by the discovery that their former captain led them to victory by stealing routines from the East Compton Clovers, led by (the retroactively unfortunately named) Isis (Gabrielle Union). Those moves had netted the Toros five consecutive national titles, but after the Clovers publicly humiliate and expose the Toros’ thieving ways, new captain Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) commits to earning back its reputation. Despite an embarrassing incident with a professional choreographer, the Toros eventually make it to the finals and perform an original routine, earning the respect of the Clovers and justifying their presence at the championship on their own merits. So when the Clovers take first place, the Toros have nothing but admiration for the victors—Torrance and her squad know just being there is the big win. [Alex McCown-Levy]


6. The Karate Kid (1984): Admit when you’re outclassed, and congratulate your opponent

Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), the psychopathic teen villain (or maybe he’s the hero?) of The Karate Kid, spends almost the entire movie cackling like a maniac, stalking his ex-girlfriend, and beating up Daniel LaRusso, played by Ralph Macchio. But at the very end, Johnny has what appears to be a total change of heart: First he’s ordered by his evil sensei to “sweep the leg”—a move that could permanently damage Daniel—and he hesitates. Then, once he is kicked in the face by the kid who has annoyed the shit out of him for the entire semester, he comes around. Johnny hands Daniel the championship trophy, saying, “You’re all right, LaRusso!” And he even looks like he means it, having been humbled (or perhaps brain-damaged) by the crane kick. [Josh Modell]


7. The Bad News Bears (1976): For losers who lose, there’s always beer

While it’s debatable just how graceful the Bears of 1976’s The Bad News Bears actually are—they’re foul-mouthed, crude, and kind of crappy baseball players, in general—there are some positive lessons to take from their defeat at the hands of the stacked Yankees team. Sure, after the loss, hot-headed Tanner tells the opposing team to shove it straight up their asses, but shy, awkward Lupus (God, what a name), who’s been bullied throughout by the Yankees, musters enough courage to deliver a (previously) Chicago Cubs-like “wait till next year.” It’s encouraging enough, but the most practical takeaway comes with the misfits’ curmudgeonly leader, Buttermaker (Walter Matthau). Not a second after the last out is called, Buttermaker dives into his ice bucket and hands his kids a bunch of beer—Why? Because they should be “damn proud” of themselves for not having gotten beaten far worse—which they pour and spray all over each other. Lesson learned: Staying positive in the face of defeat is always easier after cracking open a few cold ones. [Laura Adamczyk]


8. Moneyball (2011): Sometimes, it’s not about the payday

As Oakland Athletics GM, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is used to trying to get blood from a stone—or rather, a real shot at the pennant on a shoestring budget. (This was in stark contrast to 1991, when the A’s had the highest payroll in the game.) So he works smarter, hiring an assistant GM, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), with knowledge of sabermetrics, an analysis of baseball stats that remained in use long after the Athletics’ post-season bid. Their squadron of “misfit toys” becomes so much more than the sum of its parts, but that’s still not enough to make it to the World Series. Beane’s efforts do earn him a record-breaking $12.5 million offer from the Boston Red Sox, which he turns down in the film just as he did in real life. He’d jumped at the chance as an in-demand rookie. But after defying the odds—or rather, bending them to his will—he chooses the game over a payday. [Danette Chavez]


9. Little Big League (1994): Everyone loses at least once, no matter how hard they try

Sometimes, even a pure heart isn’t enough to tip the scales in your favor. That’s the lesson of 1994’s Little Big League, a scrappy little film in which a kid (Luke Edwards) is bequeathed the Minnesota Twins by his benevolent and kind grandfather. The team is already pretty good, but the kid, Billy Heywood, makes it better by making himself the manager, a job he does pretty well when he’s not drunk on power or staying up late watching Night Nurses From Jersey. The team makes it all the way to the ALCS only to falter after a young Ken Griffey Jr. makes an amazing catch, robbing Lou Collins (Timothy Busfield) of a dinger. The team is understandably gutted, but they embrace the future instead of choosing to dwell on the past. At least in baseball, there’s always next year. [Marah Eakin]


10. Flash Gordon (1980): Sometimes losing helps set your sights on an even bigger victory

It’s easy to get distracted by petty squabbles. But don’t allow these little battles to come at the expense of the war. This is the lesson Prince Barin has to learn in 1980’s Flash Gordon. Barin (Timothy Dalton) is exiled Mongo royalty, distrustful of the titular football-playing Adonis (Sam J. Jones) from another world. So when Flash and the prince are captured and taken to the Hawkman kingdom, Barin challenges Flash to a duel on a spiked, tilting platform floating above the open sky. But Flash saves the prince’s life just before he falls to his death, earning Barin’s friendship. With all that needless macho posturing resolved, the two were able to work together to impale Ming on a spaceship and save Mongo. Which seems like a much better use of his emotional energy. [Nick Wanserski]


Share This Story