What I’m Streaming: Underdogs
Netflix isn’t exactly a savant when it comes to recommendations. “Like Beerfest, the dick and fart comedy about competitive chugging? Try The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s soul-crushing recreation of the Crucifixion!” Hard pass. In What I’m Streaming, we’ll save you from the algorithm and bring back that human touch. Think of us like a video store clerk, except sober (mostly).
For this edition, we’re looking at underdog stories. The underdog’s a Hollywood staple: the unlikely hero fighting against all odds, the dark horse that goes for the trophy, and the longshot who dreams of finishing first. Here are some contenders you may not have considered:
Recommended if you like: Slap Shot, Superbad, or ice rink fistfights
A slapstick comedy with bite, Goon tracks a downtrodden bar bouncer who can only dream of success. Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) idolizes minor league hockey player Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), and when a local coach watches Doug win a chance fight on ice, the aspiring goon gets his chance to shine…now only if he could skate. From writers Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, Goon can be crude, but has real heart. It’s more inspiring than you might think.
Available on: Netflix, Hulu
Queen of Katwe
Recommended if you like: Family-friendly feel-good movies, Chess Club, or scrappy youngsters
Set in the slums of Uganda, Queen of Katwe tells the true story of Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a ten-year-old girl who went from selling corn on the streets to conquering the world of competitive chess. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o shine under direction from The Namesake’s Mira Nair. Though the setup is familiar (Disney’s got a pretty solid blueprint for the Inspiring True Story™), Queen of Katwe works best when it veers away from the typical feel-good style, and instead flirts with realism. It’ll tug at your heartstrings in the standard ways, but it’ll also give you something real to chew on.
Available on: Netflix
Recommended if you like: Creed, Sylvester Stallone, or training montages
Rocky is the quintessential underdog film. You know the story: Sylvester Stallone stars as Rocky Balboa, an aspiring boxer. He gets the chance to fight the reigning heavyweight champion and finally prove himself. Will he? No spoilers. Rocky earned multiple Oscars, including Best Picture; Stallone took home statues for his directing and performance. If you’ve never seen it (or its sequels. I’d stop at the third), now’s your chance to watch an American classic.
Available on: Hulu, Amazon
Recommended if you like: Sketch comedy, The Venture Bros., or pre-nervous breakdown Childish Gambino
Before “This is America,” before Atlanta, and even before Community, Donald Glover got his start with sketch troupe Derrick Comedy. From the minds that brought you videos like “Keyboard Kid,” Mystery Team (Glover’s first feature film) follows a crew of Encyclopedia Brown wannabes who are way too old to be kid detectives. Desperate to prove themselves, the titular Mystery Team takes on a high stakes double homicide, a far cry from their usual fare of finding lost baseballs. Boasting a supporting cast of soon-to-be stars, including Ellie Kemper and Aubrey Plaza, this cult classic can be raunchy, immature, and dumb (these are compliments).
Available on: Hulu, Amazon
The Foul King
Recommended if you like: Wrestling, Korean films, or escaping your shitty job
An early picture from Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) starring Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder), this dark comedy provides a twist on the traditional underdog story. A weary banker, who is tired of his soul-crushing job and his abusive boss, turns to the world of pro wrestling for an escape. Pencil pusher by day, masked marauder by night. He starts small, but works hard; as he trains, however, he slips from hero to villain in the ring. A rare case of the little guy descending into his worst desires, The Foul King asks what’s more important: success or self?
Available on: Amazon
Recommended if you like: Kick-Ass, Grindhouse, or gratuitous violence in general
Way before Guardians of the Galaxy, writer/director James Gunn cut his teeth in the schlocky world of Troma. The batshit sensibility of the exploitation studio followed him to Super, his second feature film after B-horror tribute Slither. When his wife leaves him, sad sack Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) does what any well-adjusted adult would do: stitch together a costume and roam the streets as a superhero. As the Crimson Bolt, Frank cracks skulls with violent aplomb, whether they’re purse snatchers, drug dealers, or line cutters. With his aggressive sidekick Boltie (Ellen Page), he wages a war on crime for the love of his wife. Dubbed by the A.V. Club as “ugly to the core,” Super is brutal, visceral, and bizarre. A raucous experience to be sure, but probably not for date night.
Available on: Netflix, Hulu
Batman & Bill
Recommended if you like: Documentaries, unappreciated artists, or complicated legal battles
For decades since the character’s debut in 1939, one name has been tied to Batman: Bob Kane. However, Kane wasn’t the only man behind the iconic character. Everything you actually know about Batman—the Batcave, the Batmobile, even the ears—came from Bill Finger. Batman & Bill tracks one man’s efforts to restore Finger’s lost legacy, giving one of the most important and unknown comics creators his due.
Available on: Hulu
Underdog stories are all about the triumph and tragedy of the human spirit. They’re about the little guy who takes on the world. Sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re tearjerkers, but above all, they’re human.