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Inside Move: Good sportsmanship in pix

With jock films in play, biz bets on underdogs

Hollywood loves an underdog, or so it seems when it comes to sports movies.

Despite a history of modest box office success, it’s a genre beloved by execs, producers, directors and thesps.

A few days before U’s July 25 opening of “Seabiscuit,” Paramount gave a go-ahead for Adam Sandler‘s production company to remake the 1974 prison gridiron pic “The Longest Yard” and producer Brian Grazer signed Peter Berg to direct high school football chronicle “Friday Night Lights.”

“The subject of sports never really gets old, because the stories offer a classic structure,” asserts Mike Tollin, who with partner Brian Robbins produced “Varsity Blues,” “Summer Catch,” “Hardball” and “Ready to Rumble” along with HBO’s “Arli$$.”

Tollin/Robbins started in the world of sports docs and their slate includes “The Ken Carter Story” (basketball), “Radio” (football) and “Fever Pitch” (baseball).

Even though Hollywood is littered with underperformers like “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” “The Babe,” “The Fan,” “Celtic Pride” and “BASEketball,” Hollywood’s passion for sports pics overcomes the twin handicaps of limited mass appeal plus dull foreign prospects.

“It seems like every time one of them really works — like ‘The Rookie,’ ‘Remember the Titans’ or ‘Varsity Blues’ — everyone realizes it and pushes on,” says Tollin.

Keys to success include strong story plus believable action, the partners say. “We don’t cut from the shooter’s hand to the ball going in the basket,” Tollin says. “If you alienate the core audience, how can you reach the general audience?”

Only seven sports pics, including the first, third and fourth “Rocky” films, have topped $100 million domestically; only “Rocky” and “Chariots of Fire” have won a best picture Oscar.

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