Nemesis is in the throes of a major twenty-first-century overhaul, a Deadline exclusive reports on Thursday. Ben Stiller is directing a blockbuster adaptation of the British science-fiction espionage series The Champions, starring himself and Cate Blanchett in lead roles. The two will be playing United Nations operatives imbued with superhuman abilities. Blanchett is physician and researcher Sharron Macready while Stiller is primed to fill the shoes of either Craig Stirling, a pilot, or Richard Barrett, a codebreaker. The press reveal doesn’t specify which.
Ben Stiller and Cate Blanchett are producing their version of The Champions under their respective film banners (Red Hour Productions and Dirty Films), with Brian Oliver and president Bradley Fischer of New Republic Features and original series network ITV Studios America hopping along for the ride. Coco Francini (The Hateful Eight, Wish I Was Here) and Blanchett’s husband of 24 years Andrew Upton are also involved on behalf of Dirty Films. Fischer tells Deadline in a statement: “New Republic Pictures is thrilled to be teaming up with Ben Stiller and Cate Blanchett — an irresistible cinematic spy duo if ever there were one — along with our friends at ITV and Dirty Films, as we reimagine ITV’s fun and iconic 1960’s espionage franchise, The Champions. Literally can’t wait.” Philippe Maigret, president of ITV Studios America, adds: “There’s no doubt that we have a superhuman team on board to bring this riveting series to life for a new audience.”
The Champions tells the riveting larger-than-life story of three Nemesis agents moonlighting as both super spies and superheroes in the post-wartime period. Craig Stirling (Stuart Damon), Sharron Macready (Alexandra Bastedo), and Richard Barrett (William Gaunt) crash land in the Himalayas and come across a futuristic civilization hidden away in the freezing mountaintops of 1960s Tibet. These would-be Celestials grant the trio untold powers of precognition and extrasensory perception (ESP), enhanced senses, and superhuman mental prowess and physiology. The Champions, led by clueless Nemesis chief W. L. Tremayne (Anthony Nicholls), travel the world solving extralegal criminal cases outside of any nation’s jurisdiction. It’s basically Marvel’s Avengers meets James Bond meets Shazam or Eternals, with a dash of Josh Trank’s Chronicle. The cinematic re-rendering helmed by Ben Stiller and Cate Blanchett will presumably take place in the present day, involving more recent sociopolitical issues.
The original series had the Champions partake in missions of the postwar nature. Villains were often rogue Nazis, fascist South American military regimes, and the Chinese mercenaries of Mao Zedong’s era. Most episodes involve our heroes having to master their abilities while battling great evil. They’re typically found using their powers irresponsibly, humiliating others in a cartoonish fashion, while also promising to act with professionalism and dignity. It’s the kind of goofy contradiction that made the show a pop culture phenomenon. Similar to Adam West’s Batman and Star Trek: The Original Series, the depiction was both campy and serious in parts, and like Sean Connery’s James Bond, theatrical without falling into thematic excess. Ben Stiller and Cate Blanchett’s remake will presumably do away with all of that and reinterpret The Champions based on today’s more streamlined standards.
“Champions is a long-forgotten gem that will excite a new generation in the same strange and magnificent way that the original series spoke to us,” Cate Blanchett tells Deadline. “I’ve long wanted to work with Ben — the director and the actor. He is one of the most engaged and versatile directors working today. Anyone who can make both Zoolander and Escape at Dannemora is a creative force to be reckoned with.” Ben Stiller echoes the same zest for collaboration, saying, “I’m a huge fan of Cate’s for a very long time. I’m hoping this project will help people to finally take her seriously as an actress,” the Night at the Museum star adds jokingly.
The Champions was created by Dennis Spooner (Department S, The Avengers) and Monty Berman (The Adventurer) for ITC Entertainment. It ran for 30 episodes on ITV and NBC from 1968 to 1969. Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Nightmare Alley) and Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible, Jack Reacher) were previously tied to the project on two separate occasions, in 2007 and 2008, respectively, as writer and producer. Ben Stiller and Cate Blanchett took control of The Champions as part of a first-look movie deal between New Republic and Dirty Films.