Spanish Blockbuster ‘Champions’ Remake in Saudi Arabia Sparks Deals with Latido, Vox, Shahid (EXCLUSIVE)

By Anna Marie de la Fuente

Produced by Al Maha Al Arabi and Lolafilms, the Saudi Arabian remake of Javier Fesser’s “Campeones” (“Champions”), a Spanish blockbuster and Spain’s International Oscar submission, has been acquired by theatrical distributor Vox, VOD service Shahid VIP and international sales company Latido Films.

Following the success of “Born a King,” the Saudi “Champions” will be released theatrically across the Middle East in December by Vox, then stream six months later on Shahid VIP, the leading Arabic SVOD platform in the Mena region, part of the MBC Group, which has acquired both “Champions” and “Born a King” and invested substantially in both pictures.

If it were to click for the production partners, Champions could signal the kernel of ever more ambitious projects. The remake’s $4.5 million budget was produced by Al Maha Al Arabi, the production company of Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud, son of the late King Faisal (1906-1975). The fledgling company’s slate includes projects with budgets ranging between $25 million and more than $120 million, Gómez said.

Some 90 film professionals from Saudi Arabia, Spain, Lebanon and Egypt were busy filming the Saudi remake of “Campeones” in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for some seven weeks when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, forcing the production to shut down on March 17. “We had only two scenes to go,” said “Champions” producer Andres Vicente Gomez of LolaFilms.

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Location shooting is expected to resume in July while in the meantime, they have been busy with the post-production process during the lockdown, said Gomez, who has been a pioneering force in the Middle East, having produced the first English-language film in Saudi Arabia, “Born a King.” He is also the first Spanish producer to make a film in Saudi Arabia.

In a recent interview with Variety, MBC Group CEO Marc Antoine d’Halluin singled out “Born a King” as its most popular movie title.

A prolific producer, Gomez has hundreds of film credits to his name, including Fernando Trueba’s Oscar-winning “Belle Epoque.”

Champions Credit: Lola Films

In the original “Campeones,” a basketball coach, forced to do community service, is made to work with some special needs players. What begins as a source of frustration for him becomes far more rewarding than he expects.

“We switched the sport to soccer but also worked with local non- pro kids with special needs,” said Gomez, who added that as in the original, only the lead role and a few other adult characters are played by actors.

“Champions” stars Yassir Al Saggaf, the host of the Arab version of “The Voice” on MBC and Fátima Al Banawi (“Barakah Meets Barakah”).

The Faisal family also backed “Born a King,” directed by Agustí Villaronga (“Pa Negre”) with a cast led by Ed Skrein, Hermione Corfield, Abdullah Ali and Rawkan Binbella.

Set in 1919, “Born a King” relates the true coming-of-age story of King Faisal who was dispatched to London at the age of 14 on a diplomatic mission to secure the foundation of his country.

A sequel, “East Meets West,” is in the works, per Gomez, which will cover the years 1923 to 1945 during which Faisal’s father, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud, met with U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Suez Canal, heralding a special relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that continues to this day.

Antonio Saura’s Latido Films sold the original – a massive box office hit in Spain – to more than 70 countries, with some acquiring the remake rights to it as well. Latido Films is managing the sales and marketing of both “Champions” and “Born a King.”

Born a King Credit: Lola Films