Hollywood producer behind Godzilla, Batman movies resigns as Chinese owner Wanda mulls ‘big plans’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 8:08pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2017, 10:38pm

The Hollywood movie producer behind Godzilla, The Dark Knight and Pacific Rim has resigned as head of Legendary Entertainment, only a year after he sold the film studio to China’s richest man Wang Jianlin for a staggering US$3.5 billion.

The departing executive is Thomas Tull, who founded the company in 2000 and partnered with Warner Brothers and Universal Studios to churn out a string of big-budget box office hits like Inception, Warcraft, Jurassic World as well as The Hangover franchise.

His exit has spurred a mixture of sadness and shock among film fans, and fuelled guesses regarding causes linked to Legendary’s Chinese owner Dalian Wanda Group.

“The latest management shakeup is part of a greater plan we have for our film business,” Wanda said in a statement on Thursday. “We are going to release some big news on that.”

In early 2016, Tull agreed to sell the iconic production company to Wanda for a reported US$3.5 billion in the largest takeover by a Chinese company of a US studio. Wang, who owns the world’s largest cinema chain after adding AMC Entertainment and Odeon & UCI Cinemas to his stable of assets, once called Legendary “a gateway to Hollywood filmmaking”.

Following the Legendary deal, he voiced his interest in “all big six Hollywood studios”, including Paramount Pictures and 21st Century Fox, in what would be potential billion dollar transactions.

Moviegoers resorted to social media to voice their sense of loss.

“Very sad to hear... [He] was responsible for so many fun genre pictures that probably never happened without him,” an internet user with the handle Jerry’s Ghost tweeted.

While Wanda spoke highly of Tull’s leadership when addressing the issue of his resignation, speculation grew that the Legendary founder stepped down under pressure after Wanda’s frustration with his management and recent projects such as The Great Wall, according to sources cited by The Hollywood Reporter.

The latest management shakeup is part of a greater plan we have for our film business
Wang Jianlin, chairman of Dalian Wanda

The Chinese conglomerate placed a big bet on the US$150 million Sino-US co-production starring Hollywood A-lister Matt Damon. But the lavish epic has received poor ratings on review websites. The historical fantasy grossed US$166 million in China, far less than the amount required for it to break even.

“It is totally nonsense,” Wanda said in its statement, referring to recent media reports that Tull’s resignation was in response to the poor box office of The Great Wall.

Wanda defended The Great Wall’s box office performance by saying that “there is no ground” for media to call it a “failure” because “it has just hit screens outside China”.

Legendary has been bleeding red ink over the last few years, which raised market concerns over its high valuation. It booked a loss of US$343 million in 2014 and losses worsened to $555.6 million for 2015. In August, Wanda postponed Legendary’s incorporation into its cinema business, a move that could have seen the combined group go public in Shenzhen, citing mainland China’s bumpy stock markets.

Tull, also a billionaire, will focus on his investments in life science, media and technology companies, while Wanda is searching for a full-time replacement.