When he entered the movie business, it wasn't Mark Ciardi's goal to produce sports films. But because of his baseball résumé—he was 1--1 with a 9.37 ERA in one season pitching for the Brewers, in 1987—those types of scripts inevitably crossed his desk. And so he followed his first movie, the 2002 teen comedy The New Guy, with the underdog baseball drama The Rookie (2002); Miracle ('04), about the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team; Invincible ('06), the story of Philadelphia Eagles walk-on Vince Papale; two Dwayne Johnson sports comedies; and, this fall, Secretariat, about the 1973 Triple Crown--winning racehorse.
With over $520 million in box office receipts from those six sports movies alone, Ciardi, 49, has shown a keen eye for feel-good epics. For Secretariat, he says, he needed to humanize the script. "We talked with our screenwriter and finally found a way into the story through [breeder] Penny Chenery, and her underdog story—not so much the horse's. Once we unlocked that, we had a great potential movie."
Ciardi's future projects include Million Dollar Arm, about two cricketers plucked from India to pitch in the majors, and two track-and-field-based stories. No surprise: They're all underdog tales.