US$450m Warner Brothers movie-making deal eyes China

Casino mogul James Packer and Warner Bros strike US$450 million deal to produce 75 movies and tap growing Asian market

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 October, 2013, 5:12pm


A consortium led by Australian billionaire James Packer and US director Brett Ratner has struck a massive movie-making deal with Warner Brothers, with an eye fixed firmly on Chinese film fans.

The co-financing deal is worth a reported US$450 million and will help cover the production of 75 movies.

Casino mogul Packer said the multi-year arrangement with his investment vehicle RatPac-Dune Entertainment was effective immediately.

It covers upcoming releases including Gravity with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, Grudge Match starring Robert de Niro and Sylvester Stallone as well as projects with Clint Eastwood ( Jersey Boys) and Russell Crowe ( The Water Diviner).

However, Packer said that ultimately he hoped to tap into the booming Chinese entertainment market through Rat-Pac Dune, whose third partner is Dune Entertainment boss Steven Mnuchin.

"There is a globalisation play here," Packer told the Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.

"There is a real chance to grab the opportunity in China. In 10 years' time, the Chinese box office will have overtaken the United States.

"I'd like to see my business interests spread out evenly across the US, Australia and China."

Since his father Kerry's death in 2005, Packer has shifted the family business away from its traditional media operations and focused on creating Crown, a worldwide gambling empire.

He operates casinos in Melbourne, Perth and Macau and is planning complexes in Manila and Sri Lanka, with Japan also in his sights.

"This is certainly not the dumbest thing I've ever done. Whether it works perfectly is another question," he told the Australian Financial Review, speaking about his new direction.

In a statement, Warner Bros chief executive Kevin Tsujihara said the deal covered films from all genres and budgets.

No figure was officially put on its worth, although the Financial Review said it was US$450 million. Mnuchin confirmed the initial investment of US$450 million, spread out over four years.

"This agreement gives us increased strength and flexibility in the motion picture division and an even greater ability to manage risk as we continue to produce high-quality filmed entertainment for the global audience," Tsujihara said.

"We look forward to working with their team as we move forward in this exciting new partnership with a truly great organisation."

Ratner, best known for directing such hits as Jackie Chan's Rush Hour movies, said that, like Packer, he was keen to branch out beyond Hollywood films into the lucrative Chinese entertainment industry.

"James is very savvy about Asia and understands the culture," Ratner told the Australian Financial Review.

The amount of the investment, could rise to as much as US$1 billion Mnuchin said in an interview on Tuesday.

"I'm a big, long-term believer in the value of content," said Mnuchin, chairman of the OneWest Bank Group, which founded Dune. "The expansion of digital will make this worth more and more."

Future films covered by the RatPac-Dune investment will also include a Batman-Superman project starring Ben Affleck that's scheduled for release in July 2015.

Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg