EXCLUSIVE: A surprise entry in the race to mount the seminal film about the gender battle tennis match that scored the highest TV ratings since the Moon Landing: Fox Searchlight has set a fall start for Battle Of The Sexes, with Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris directing Emma Stone as Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs. Simon Beaufoy wrote the script and the film’s being produced by Danny Boyle through his Decibel Films and Christian Colson through his Cloud Eight banner. That gives Searchlight a project with as good a prestige pedigree as you’re going to find, by the makers of some of Searchlight’s biggest hits: Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours (Beaufoy, Boyle, Colson), Little Miss Sunshine (Dayton & Faris and Carell) and Birdman (Stone). Beaufoy (who also scripted the FS hit The Full Monty) has quietly been working several years on the script, with cooperation from King (Riggs died in 1995). It is ready to go.

Emma StoneThis puts Searchlight in fine shape against two rival projects. HBO and Playtone just set Proof scribe David Auburn to write one that has Elizabeth Banks to play King and Paul Giamatti playing Riggs. Chernin Entertainment and Gary Sanchez are percolating the film Match Maker with Steve Conrad writing and Will Ferrell attached to play Riggs.

carellsteveBattle of the Sexes will be ready for release in 2016, when the public will likely again be focused on the subject of gender and what a woman is capable of. Hillary Clinton should be full swing into her campaign to re-enter the White House, this time as president. The story of King and Riggs became a zeitgeist event back in 1973, when the 29-year old No. 2 ranked female star rose to the challenge and beat the 55-year old retired former Wimbledon champion Riggs.

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The film will be presented as a comedy with dramatic and political overtones, handled in the quirky warm and engaging way that Little Miss Sunshine was. King and Riggs became the representatives for their gender, even though each was a complicated person trying to figure out their place in the world. At that time, they had to do it under the glare of an unprecedented media spotlight.

WME reps Boyle, Carell, Stone and King; Dayton & Faris are repped by UTA. Beaufoy is repped by Susan B. Landau.