In a series of Tweets over the weekend, Phil Hellmuth gave us all some insight into what happened to The Madison Kid. The Madison Kid was meant to be a biopic of Hellmuth’s life up until the 1989 WSOP. Originally floated as an idea in 2001 with a script by Hellmuth’s friend Bob Soderstrom, the movie didn’t start making waves until 2006 when Hayden Christensen was announced to play the role of Hellmuth.
But despite that, The Madison Kid never got made.
“For sure “The Madison Kid” (movie about my life) will get made, it’s a good script,” Hellmuth wrote. “We need a 20-something-year-old actor that looks like me, as the script ends in 1989 w me winning the @WSOP main event. Ashton Kutcher and Hayden Christensen both would have been great!”
In 2006, Empire reported that the estimated budget was going to be around $6-$8 million. This is a relatively small budget. For reference, Rounders cost about $12 million to make.
The budget here suggests some of that pre-Casino Royale (2006) level of caution about poker movies. Lucky You (2007) was in the can, but the production company was sitting on it, unsure of when best to release it.
With Christensen in place, John Chu was offered the director’s chair. At the time, John Chu was unknown. He was working on his first feature film (Step Up 2 The Streets (2008)). Chu continued to be pretty much unknown until ten years later. Now, he’s the guy who directed Crazy Rich Asians (2018).
Christensen was a good choice. We knew he could play stroppy back then, as he was hot of his role in the Star Wars prequels. But George Lucas’s writing on those movies nearly killed Christensen’s career. At the time Hellmuth is discussing, Christensen turned down both Hannibal Rising (2007) and The Madison Kid, choosing instead to do Jumper (2008).
Jumper finished what Lucas had started. Christensen should have gone with the Poker Brat.
Will we ever get to see The Madison Kid
Hellmuth fleshed out some details surrounding the movie’s place in development hell. For example, Ashton Kutcher was the first pick before Christensen.
“Ashton Kutcher was committed to play me in “The Madison Kid” (a script about my life) in 2004,” Hellmuth explained. “In 2007, Hayden Christensen was committed to play me. The movie was almost green lit, we had 43 out of 44 pieces in place, but Hayden was 44th piece and chose to shoot “Jumper” instead.”
Things have changed a little since 2004. For a start, poker has lost its shine in Hollywood. In 2004 when Hellmuth says Kutcher was slated to play him, the poker boom was underway.
That wave has broken and rolled back now.
Hollywood was left with a back catalog of mediocre (Lucky You, Shade (2003)) and downright bad (Deal (2008), Runner, Runner (2013)) poker movies to look at. Worse still, in the movie industry’s eyes, none of them were huge box office successes.
Getting The Madison Kid into theatres now is a very different challenge now than it was back then.
Last year’s excellent The Card Counter (2021) didn’t make anyone gobs of money but has done well with the critics. If someone can put The Madison Kid together on the cheap, this might be a good time for a solid poker flick to follow up on that and garner some laurels.
Now that we’ve got The Irishman (2019) style de-aging tech, Hellmuth could play himself. Time to stop chasing WSOP bracelets, Phil. You’ve got an EGOT to win.