After a shoulder injury cut short the professional baseball career of Mark Ciardi – the pitcher reached the majors for a few games with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987 – he set his sights on Hollywood, where he started out producing. a film about his former teammate Jim Morris. This film, The recruit, became a huge hit for Disney, and Ciardi has since produced a successful series of real-life sports dramas, including Miracle, Invincible and Secretariat. But, notes the producer, in recent years, the major studios have lost interest in his favorite genre.
He has spent over a decade trying to tell the story of Ray Ray McElrathbey, a former Clemson University football star who began secretly raising his 11-year-old brother while he was at the university. âWe got close a few times, but we couldn’t make it,â Ciardi explains. When Disney + was announced, the game changed. The story of McElrathbey, which is directed by Reginald Hudlin, is on the nascent streamer’s first list of original features.
Like romantic comedy, real-life sports drama fell out of favor at the box office – and therefore off the studio slates – in the mid-2010s. But a batch of upcoming projects signals an imminent resurgence, supported by the rise of the streaming and various stories.
âThe heyday of sports films were the 80s, 90s and early 2000s,â says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. The genre has proven to be a low-budget winning model at the National Multiplex, with movies like the 2000s Remember the titans ($ 115 million on a budget of $ 30 million), 2009 The blind side ($ 255 million gross out of $ 29 million) and the 2013 biopic Jackie Robinson directed by Chadwick Boseman 42 ($ 95 million on a budget of $ 40 million). Since then, tents and franchises have resumed programs as sports drama saw diminishing returns. The Disney title 2015 McFarland, United States, won $ 45 million, while Focus Features’ 2016 biopic Jesse Owens Race grossed $ 19.2 million.
But streamers, Ciardi says, are ideal for sports drama, a genre with a long lifespan. âMy movies were over-indexed when they entered those second windows,â he says. âPeople who maybe don’t go to the movies will watch them at home and watch them a lot. “
In May, Netflix ran an article about the 1999 US Women’s World Cup soccer team. Two months later, it announced a movie about Jessica Watson, the youngest person to tour the world. alone and without assistance. In January, Walt Disney Studios President of Production Sean Bailey said THR, “On Disney +, we have the ability to make a range and genre of films that we have stopped making for the cinema market.
However, rebirth doesn’t happen strictly through streamers. Taika Waititi conducts Fox Searchlight’s Next goal wins, the story of the struggling American Samoa national football team’s quest to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Warner Bros. work on king richard, which stars Will Smith as Richard Williams, the father and coach of tennis icons Venus and Serena Williams. And Zachary Levi will star in Lionsgate’s American Underdog, about Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner, produced by Ciardi.
âWe live in a time when people are looking for inspiration and hope,â says Robbins of one of the reasons for the return. âSports films have always been able to fill this void. “
The genre has long focused on white male athletes and coaches, but now sees more stories about female and non-white sports stars. In June, Will Packer Productions announced that a project he had been pursuing for years is finally coming to fruition: a biopic about Doug Williams, who in 1988 became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl. âMaybe five or ten years ago it wasn’t the time to tell Doug’s story. But now it is, âPacker Chairman James Lopez said. âIt’s about the life of the black quarterback and his development in the NFL. It is not lost on us that you can draw a straight line from Doug to Colin Kaepernick.
The brand is also partnering with Universal on One and done, a sports drama involving historically black colleges and universities. The story, which the banner has been developing with writers Chad Sanders and Chris Spencer since 2019, is inspired by an ongoing conversation about athletics. Said Lopez, “We’re talking about a top high school player who’s been involved with an HBCU for years.”
In a case of life imitating art, a few days later One and done It was announced on July 3 that high school top basketball prospect Makur Maker signed up at Howard University against UCLA, becoming the highest-ranked hoops player to pick an HBCU. Lopez notes, âWhen Chad and Chris came up with the idea, I thought, now is the time for this movie because it’s going to happen. And then he did.
This story first appeared in the July 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.