After sporting events were canceled following the Sept. 11 attacks, where did Americans turn for an escape from grim reality? To the baseball diamond—on the silver screen. Hardball, an earnest comedy starring Keanu Reeves as the coach of an urban Little League team, was the top box office draw over the weekend of Sept 14-16, earning a surprising $10.1 million. As film critic Leonard Maltin, who saw Hardball that weekend, said, "I know it's corny, I know it's predictable, but the film sends a message that one person can do some good in this world. I was vulnerable at that moment."
Expect more movies in the Hardball vein. Following the tragedies, studios have been rethinking their development slates, canceling several action-adventure projects. Instead, lighter fare, including sports films, has taken precedence. Among them are Balk of Fury, a comedy set in the arena of world-class Ping-Pong; Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan in the true story of female boxing manager Jackie Kallen; Head Case, a tennis comedy starring Dustin Hoffman as a sports psychologist working with a highly-ranked male pro; and an untitled romantic comedy about women's tennis, to star Reese Witherspoon. Although these projects were in the works before Sept. 11, they're likely to become higher priority now. Says producer Tom Brainard, who plans to start production in January on Back of the Net, a drama set in the world of professional soccer: "With sports movies, the themes are of working together as a team to settle differences noncombatively. People feel a need to be in this kind of setting."