There have been plenty of great sports comedies over the years, ranging from The Bad News Bears to Caddyshack. However, the best sports comedy of the 1970s (if not all time) is the underappreciated gem Slap Shot, starring Paul Newman, and you can stream it on Netflix today. But you’ll have to move faster than Gretzky to catch it, as this hockey comedy is leaving the streaming platform after September 30.
Paul Newman stars in Slap Shot, one of the greatest sports films of all time, but it’s leaving Netflix on September 30.
Chances are you haven’t heard of Slap Shot before, and you likely have a simple question: just what is it about? In short, this film is about a very minor league hockey team based out of a factory town that has seen better years. In order to gain the popularity they need to make money and achieve fame, the players in question resort to extreme violence when they are out on the rink.
In this sense, the title Slap Shot is a bit of a pun, referring to a specific type of hockey play and the ultraviolet nature of our onscreen players. These players (particularly the Hanson brothers) are all too happy to slap down their opponents to the acclaim of a growing fanbase. This, too, serves as a kind of meta-commentary on the hockey fandom, much of whom would rather see players slugging it out with fists rather than engaging in a test of skills and will on the rink.
While the cast of Slap Shot is filled with talented actors who help bring this ragtag hockey team to life, Paul Newman manages to effortlessly steal the show in scene after scene. In the film, he plays coach to the ragtag group of athletes, and he must surmount numerous challenges posed by rival teams on the rink even as he navigates behind-the-scenes drama involving other teams, coaches, and owners.
Notably, Newman’s character encourages the team to embrace a more violent style of play as he cannily realizes this may be their only way to gain popularity when they need it most.
Newman’s fun making Slap Shot was certainly infectious, as the movie went on to gross $28 million against a budget of only $6 million.
Interestingly, Slap Shot had an unusual development cycle that was nearly as unpredictable as the onscreen players. Nancy Dowd wrote the movie, and she truly wrote what she knew: at the time, her brother Ned was a minor league hockey player, and he helped her understand just how much of the audience in the ‘70s was there to see brutal violence rather than precision plays. She didn’t start writing the screenplay until he told her his Johnstown Jets team was for sale; this caused her to move to his area and write the film in a rush of inspiration.
Slap Shot’s links to the Dowd’s real life didn’t stop there, either: Nancy’s brother Ned appears in the film along with several teammates (he would go on to have a solid career in Hollywood), and some of the most memorable characters such as the Hanson brothers were based on some of Ned’s more notorious teammates. It wasn’t hard to get Paul Newman to sign on, either, as he had played hockey from a young age, and he would later describe Slap Shot as the movie that he had the most fun filming.
Newman’s fun making Slap Shot was certainly infectious, as the movie went on to gross $28 million against a budget of only $6 million. On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie currently has an 85 percent from critics and a whopping 89 percent from audiences. All of this success led to two sequels, but neither Newman nor the rest of the cast appeared in either of them except for the Hanson brothers, who effectively became the franchise’s main characters.
Slap Shot was loosely based on the Johnstown Jets hockey team, which yes, means the Hanson brothers are (sort of) real.
Ultimately, Slap Shot is one of the rarest kinds of sports comedies we’ve ever seen: it was a successful movie that audiences and critics loved from the beginning, and it keeps gaining new fans each year thanks to the sheer charm of Paul Newman and the delightfully bonkers premise.
Once you stream it on Netflix, you can enjoy the rare sports film that is just as likely to make you laugh as it is to keep you on the edge of your seat. But you better grab the remote note: this beloved cult classic is disappearing from Netflix after September 30.