For the past three years, one of the most hotly contested sports movie properties in Hollywood has been the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, billed as “Battle of the Sexes.” Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the project with the biggest stars attached was the film that got made first.
Battle of the Sexes, starring Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs, began filming a couple of years ago (right after HBO announced a King-Riggs project of its own) and won the race to get to screens first. Carell reunites with directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, whom he worked with on 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine.
The film chronicles the development of the tennis match at the Houston Astrodome on Sept. 20, 1973 that drew national attention, largely due to King’s prominence in the sport and Riggs’s clownish trolling. (Maybe he was one of the original trolls, had that term been in vogue at the time. Though he was an accomplished tennis player earlier in his life.) King, 29 at the time and ranked No. 2 in the world, originally turned down the challenge from the 55-year-old Riggs. Riggs then played top-ranked Margaret Court instead and defeated her handily, and challenged King again. He sweetened the pot by getting promoters to put together a nationally televised match with a $100,000, winner-take-all prize.
Stone and Carell certainly pass for the real-life figures they’re playing, based on the first trailer. Give it a look:
It’s probably unfair to Carell to say this, but he seems to be channeling his previous role as Michael Scott on The Office in his portrayal of Riggs. Stone, meanwhile, really seems to embody King’s fierce competitiveness and activism for women’s rights. Based on the trailer, she also has a more personal story to depict, notably in her relationship with Marilyn Barnett (played by Andrea Riseborough). Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming and Bill Pullman round out what looks like a strong cast.
Battle of the Sexes had a head start on its rival King-Riggs projects with a script already written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire), who had been working on the screenplay for years with King’s cooperation. (Riggs died in 1995.)
HBO has also been developing a movie with Paul Giamatti as Riggs and Elizabeth Banks as King, with David Auburn (Proof) writing that script. Additionally, another film starring Will Ferrell as Riggs has also been in development. That movie, titled Match Maker, is based on Don Van Natta’s 2013 ESPN the Magazine feature which investigated claims that Riggs threw the match to pay off massive debts to the mafia. Both projects were in the early stages of development when announced, however, and there have been no updates on where those respective productions stand.
Battle of the Sexes will be in theaters on Sept. 22 (pretty close to the date of the actual event, 44 years prior).