×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cost-wary Sony TKOs ‘Ali’ biopic

SPE officials to meet with Mann to trim costs

Cost-consciousness at Sony Pictures Entertainment has led to a housecleaning of several star-studded films. Now, the biopic of boxing great Muhammad Ali is the latest in danger of being dropped to the canvas.

SPE has given the pic a technical knockout, putting the project into turnaround late last week because of a budget projected to surpass the studio’s $105 million cap.

Skeptics caution that move may just be a bargaining ploy, intended to rein in a headstrong helmer. SPE will hold a final meeting today with filmmaker Michael Mann, to see if the cost can somehow be trimmed so that he may direct Will Smith in the role of boxing’s most charismatic heavyweight champion as scheduled. But Columbia is holding fast to the figure, which means that Mann may have to shop it elsewhere for financing.

The Ali project joins several potentially prestigious but pricey star-studded non-genre films that the studio has either abandoned or laid off rights to.

Popular on Variety

‘Shipping’ sinks

One recent casualty is the Lasse Hallstrom-directed adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Annie L. Proulx novel “The Shipping News,” which has Kevin Spacey set to star, with “Hannibal” headliner Julianne Moore close to set as his love interest.

Miramax has taken over the latter film, which deals with the dicey prospect of a man rebuilding his life by moving to Newfoundland after rescuing his daughters, whom his wife sold into prostitution.

New Line has taken over two SPE-originated films: the Alexander Payne-directed dark drama “About Schmidt,” with Jack Nicholson expected to star; and “Life as a House,” the macabre but riveting script by “As Good as It Gets” scribe Mark Andrus which will star Kevin Kline and Kristin Scott Thomas.

SPE will still distribute “Adaptation,” the reteaming of “Being John Malkovich” director-scripter team of Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman. But the financial burden of the film, which stars Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper, has been assumed by Intermedia.

Bets conservative

The recent housecleaning has been part of an effort by SPE to place its bets conservatively on sequels and pics with high commercial potential, to offset the 10 pics on its 2001 release schedule being financed by Joe Roth’s upstart Revolution Studios. “We’re not going to make movies for audiences that need to be dynamited out of their homes,” SPE chairman John Calley told Daily Variety. “I would rather make ‘Star Wars’ than ‘Man’s Fate.’ ”

Mann’s fate in making the Ali pic could unleash a star war the studio doesn’t want, as the star in question, Smith, is front and center in one of SPE’s most important films, the sequel to its highest grosser ever, “Men in Black.”

As the Ali deals were being negotiated, Smith has warmed to donning the Ray-Bans and the dark suit once again with Tommy Lee Jones for director Barry Sonnenfeld.

Big role for Smith

But Ali is the role of his career, and Smith has been working so hard in the gym to play the fighter that speculation is he may rethink the “MIB 2” proposition if Mann and producer Jon Peters are unable to set up the Ali project elsewhere.

The latter, however, is such a high-profile, star-studded undertaking that one of those entities with German stock market funding might gamble on it as a way to become a player in a big film, despite the so-so results of boxing’s last big biopic, “The Hurricane.”

More Film

  • Billy Dee William Star Wars the

    Billy Dee Williams on Getting Back Into Lando's Cape for 'The Rise of Skywalker'

    A long time ago (1980) in a galaxy far, far away (where a movie ticket cost about $5), Billy Dee Williams first played Lando Calrissian, the smooth-talking smuggler-turned-administrator of Cloud City in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Despite having about 15 minutes of total screen time in “Empire” and “Return of the Jedi,” the character stole [...]

  • 1917 Movie

    How Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins Pulled Off the One-Shot War Epic '1917'

    When cinematographer Roger Deakins opened the script for “1917,” he was greeted with the news that the entire, two-hour World War I epic would unfold as one continuous shot. “I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Deakins remembers. “This is a gimmick.” Gimmick or not, it’s certainly the aspect of “1917” that’s generated the lion’s share of [...]

  • Parasite

    What Happens When a Best International Film Nominee Is Also a Best Picture Contender?

    There is, in the Oscar prognostication game, no such thing as a sure bet. But as close as we’re likely to get this year is Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” receiving South Korea’s first-ever best international film (formerly best foreign language film) Academy Award nomination. In 2018, Lee Chang-dong’s brilliant “Burning” was the first South Korean [...]

  • Ryuichi Sakamoto poses during a photo

    Oscar Winning Composer Ryuichi Sakamoto Signs Publishing Deal With Kobalt (EXCLUSIVE)

    Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning composer renowned for scores ranging from 1983’s “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” to 2015’s “The Revenant,” has signed on with Kobalt for a publishing deal that covers most of his catalogue around the world, with the exception of his native Japan. “Kobalt is an exciting company,” Sakamoto said in [...]

  • John Boyega

    John Boyega on if He'll Do More 'Star Wars': 'You Ain't Going to Disney Plus Me!'

    If you know anything about “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” it’s that the movie from director J.J. Abrams marks the official conclusion of the three-trilogy Skywalker Saga. But that does not necessarily mean that the characters created for the final trilogy — especially Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) [...]

  • Nathalia, Juan-pablo, Andrés (L-R)

    Magma Cine, Chemistry Unveil Strategic Production Alliance (EXCLUSIVE)

    Magma Cine, a pioneering company on the pan-Latin American co-production scene, and top Mexican post-production house Chemistry have sealed a strategic alliance to produce high-quality contents. Unveiled at Buenos Aires’ Ventana Sur, the partnership aims to respond to the strong appetite of regional OTT services as well as pan-regional studios, and forms part of an [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content