Baseball films are generally regarded as one of the hardest sells in Hollywood. They traditionally don’t do well at the box office but even worse for studios, they don’t play well internationally at all. However, Legendary Pictures is banking on one of the most well known stories in sports history in general to be a catalyst for box office success.
First revealed this spring, “L.A. Confidential,” “Robin Hood,” “Green Zone” and “Mystic River” writer and “Payback” and “A Knight’s Tale” director Brian Helgeland was said to be working on a biopic of Jackie Robinson that he would write and direct. More intriguingly Robert Redford was said to be eyeing the role of Branch Rickey who as an executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers helped the ball player smash the color barrier of the major leagues. Well, the project continues to move forward though perhaps not in the direction we first thought.
Deadline reports that Legendary Pictures well now develop the project with Helgeland still on board and with the full collaboration of the Robinson estate but there are a couple of key details missing. Firstly, there is no mention of Redford or of Branch Rickey at all. Deadline dismisses the earlier reports saying there wasn’t much steam behind it, but it is an interesting shift regardless and probably points to a film that will be more Robinson-centric rather than focusing on the guy who helped bring him in. And if it seems like an odd fit for Legendary — better known for blockbuster-y fare like “Inception,” “The Dark Knight” and “The Hangover Part II” — they’ve been trying to get more dramatic fare off the ground including Paul Greengrass‘ mooted Jimi Hendrix biopic.
What does this mean for Spike Lee‘s proposed version of a Jackie Robinson biopic? Well, Lee was aware it wasn’t going to happen with him in the director’s chair as of a few years ago. “I’ve been at peace for a long time,” Lee said about a trio of projects he felt he may never get to direct. “In fact, it’s not just Jackie Robinson. I have a trilogy of films I’ve tried to make back after ‘Malcolm X,’ but nothing got made because of financing. Jackie Robinson was first; Joe Louis was second, and most recently was James Brown. In fact, I thought for sure that James Brown was getting made because I was coming after ‘Inside Man.’ Inside Man made over — just under $300 million worldwide. So I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m in there,’ but that wasn’t the case. So, you know, Rachel Robinson is a very dear friend of mine, and I want her to see this film. She wants this film made. I mean, she’s — how old is Rachel now? She’s got to be 85, you know, up there. So she’ll be very happy when this film is made.”
Lee was talking about a ESPN biopic. Wonder how he feels about Helgeland’s version? Lastly, what does this mean for Helgeland’s “Sidney Grimes,” a crime thriller that made the Blacklist in 2010? Well, at one point it was rumored he was in talks with Sean Penn and Mark Ruffalo and the latter actor confirmed there were discussions, but it sounded like it went no further than that and “fell apart.” Maybe it’s on the backburner for now.
Anyway, no production timelines just yet, but if you can’t wait, check out 1950’s “The Jackie Robinson Story” story below starring the man himself.