Disney looks to build on sports film success with a 'Freak' streamer

Disney’s long history of giving inspirational sports stories the cinematic treatment is getting an update for the streaming age with the development of a movie based on the life of NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo for its upcoming Disney+ service.

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The tentatively titled “Greek Freak” – a reference to Antetokounmpo’s nickname – will track the Milwaukee Bucks forward’s early life as the son of Nigerian immigrants in Greece, Deadline reported. Lacking full citizenship in his home country until age 18, Antetokounmpo evolved from a fledging prospect in a second-tier Greek pro league into a surprise NBA All-Star – all while learning the intricacies of life in a new country.

The story is a natural fit for a Disney live-action film studio that has experienced success with various drama-heavy sports movies ripped from the headlines, including “Remember The Titans,” “Miracle” and “The Rookie.” While the box-office appeal of such films can be limited, the “Greek Freak” could be a valuable tool as Disney attempts to lure viewers to sign up for Disney+ for $6.99 per month.

“They’re planting the seeds of future content for Disney+ right now and that’s great for subscribers,” said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst at Comscore. “I may say, well, there may not be anything there now that I’m crazy about, but look at all this great content that’s on the way. That’s really powerful for getting people to sign up.”

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Of the ten Disney-produced sports films based on real-life events released since 1992, six have surpassed $50 million in box office proceeds, with one, Remember the Titans, exceeding the $100 million mark, according to Comscore data. Without a need for CGI, animation or massive sets, most have managed to out-earn their production budgets.

While measuring success on streaming platforms is difficult without verifiable viewership figures, the value proposition in films like “Greek Freak” lies in their role of providing options other than the Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar releases so often associated with modern Disney. By releasing to streaming audiences rather than movie theaters in various markets around the world, Disney can also avoid marketing spend that often causes production costs to balloon.

“I don’t know if they’re planning theatrical, but it would seem to me that the plan would be for an entity like Disney+ that they’re going to create this for the platform. That makes this much more financially prudent, because if you have to do a worldwide marketing campaign, that costs a ton of money,” Dergarabedian said.

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Deadline reported that “A Private War” screenwriter Arash Amel will write the script for “Greek Freek.” It’s unclear when the movie could reach the Disney+ service.

Disney representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sports films based on real-life events have been a common sight at movie theaters for decades, with Disney just one among several production companies to have made investments. Movies such as Universal’s “Cinderella Man,” Warner Bros.’ “The Blind Side” and Sony’s “Moneyball” were released to critical and commercial acclaim in recent years.

But few of those movies – especially the successful ones – have relied solely on sports to connect with audiences.

“It’s within the framework of sport that we find so many great human stories. That’s what I think this is all about,” Dergarabedian added.

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