Originally created 06/02/06

Fantasy sports fans draft blockbusters like ball players



NEW YORK - If you'd rather be Harvey Weinstein than George Steinbrenner, then this might be the game for you.

Just as number-crunching sports fans that draft, analyze and trade players in baseball, football and other sports, some people are turning to the movie biz for a new kind of statistics-based game.

In fantasy movie leagues, after picking a roster of upcoming films, you monitor the box-office results and Oscar hype. With each dollar your films earn at the multiplexes, and with each Oscar nomination reaped come winter, your studio earns points.

Until now, movie leagues have been run mostly by a handful of playful Hollywood producers and writers. Soon, though, fans more accustomed to drafting Alex Rodriguez or Peyton Manning than "Mission: Impossible III" can do it, too.

Later this summer, the popular fantasy sports Web site Talented Mr. Roto (http://www.talentedmrroto.com) will begin a new service making such leagues available to members.

The site's founder, Matthew Berry, has been playing movie leagues with friends for three years. And he believes his other career in TV and film makes him aptly suited to spearhead movie fantasy leagues. (His credits include co-writing the screenplay to "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" and work on several TV shows.)

"I think, you need someone who really understands fantasy and also really understands Hollywood," says Berry, 36. "You've got to test these games. I've played the movie league with buddies for three years to see what works."

In Berry's current league, the most in-demand films were "Cars," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and "Superman Returns."

"The Da Vinci Code" was viewed as the Albert Pujols of the league: a virtual lock for huge box-office returns, just as the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman is a perennial power-hitting stud. "The Da Vinci Code" has already mostly pleased "owners" with its opening two weeks of $145 million nationwide.

Right now, though, "X-Men: The Last Stand" is looking more like Pujols, who has hit a league-leading 25 homers through Tuesday. "X-Men" blew away the competition with a record-breaking opening weekend of more than $122 million.

When ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons ("the Sports Guy") heard about Berry's league, he was hooked. He recently wrote: "Yes, I need to belong to a fantasy movie league, if only so I can spend $45 on 'Snakes on a Plane' and taunt someone because he overpaid for Vin Diesel's next movie."

There have been a few scattered attempts at turning movies into a game of their own. The Web site Hollywood Stock Exchange (http://www.hsx.com) allows players to invest fictional money in films like you would a stock.

As in sports fantasy leagues, much of the fun comes from identifying sleepers - picks that aren't as obvious as "Da Vinci."

Berry's 2006 sleeper, the spelling bee film "Akeelah and the Bee," didn't pan out. ("It killed me," he says.)

But his unlikely choice of a 2004 subtitled, period film won him the league two years ago.

"Everyone thought I was nuts, but 'Passion of the Christ' did all right for me," he says of the Mel Gibson film that made more than $370 million domestically. Berry compares the pick to nabbing Chicago White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik in his rookie year, when the surprising speedster stole 43 bases.

There are also those who play fantasy leagues based on TV ratings, but it doesn't stop there. Other leagues exist for TV shows such as "Survivor" and "The Apprentice"; for fashion, based on what celebrities wear; and Simmons has put forth an idea for a league based on Us Weekly covers.

As Berry says, "If there's a way to keep score, there's a fantasy version of it."