IEG punches up ‘Ali’ deal

Smith starring in boxing biopic, which began lensing Jan. 11

CANNES — Initial Entertainment Group has finalized its deal to partner with Columbia Pictures on the $105 million-budgeted “Ali.” IEG has put in more than $55 million, in return for foreign distribution rights to the pic, helmed by Michael Mann.

Will Smith stars as Muhammad Ali in the biopic, which documents the boxing legend’s personal and professional triumphs. Pic began filming Jan. 11 in L.A., with shooting also taking place in Chicago, Miami and Mozambique.

Scripted by Eric Roth and Mann, based on a story by Gregory Allen Howard, Stephen Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson, pic is being produced by Jon Peters, James Lassiter, Paul Ardaji, Mann and A. Kitman Ho. Howard Bingham and Graham King share exec producing credit on the pic.

IEG is handling distribution on “Ali” worldwide, excluding the U.S. and Canada, and is actively selling the title at Cannes. Leading U.K. indie distributor Entertainment Film Distributors, headed by Nigel and Trevor Green, will release the film in Blighty. Columbia Pictures will release the film in the U.S. and Canada. IEG is expected to close other major European territory deals during Cannes.

“We are delighted to be partnering with Columbia Pictures on this movie, which will undoubtedly be an event movie throughout the world,” King said. “It is not only about one of the most famous athletes in recent history, but it is also a fantastic human interest story.”

Starring alongside Smith are Mykelti Williamson as boxing promoter Don King, Jon Voight as Howard Cosell, Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X and Jada Pinkett-Smith, Nona Gaye and Michael Michelle as Ali’s wives.

IEG recently majority financed the multiple Oscar-winning Steven Soderbergh film “Traffic” and majority-financed, with Miramax Films, Martin Scorsese’s upcoming “Gangs of New York,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz. IEG is handling distribution outside North America on “Gangs.”