* Legendary's distribution deal with Warner expires Dec 31
* Legendary chief Tull has met with rival studio heads
(In 12th paragraph, deletes reference to conference sponsor and
By Ronald Grover
LOS ANGELES, June 14 No one has more riding on
the outcome of the summer movie season than Thomas Tull, the
former investment banker-turned-head of Legendary Pictures and a
producer of this weekend's heavily hyped "Man of Steel."
Tull, the financier with a penchant for comic books who
raised $500 million in 2004 to start Legendary Pictures, is in
the midst of Hollywood's equivalent of a roadshow, visiting
studios to pitch his outfit and seal what may become one of the
industry's richest distribution deals, according to people with
knowledge of the situation.
Legendary is one of Hollywood's most prolific producers of
big-budget films, among them director Christopher Nolan's
"Batman Begins" and his two "Dark Knight" installments that have
generated combined worldwide ticket sales of more than $2.4
billion, according to Box Office Mojo.
Now, as its distribution and financing deal with Warner
Bros. approaches a Dec. 31 expiration, Tull is intent on
striking a deal with a new studio that would enable him to
expand his company to make TV shows and license consumer
products and theme park rides, the people said.
Tull has already met with most of Hollywood's studio chiefs.
On Thursday, he lunched in Beverly Hills with Jim Gianopulos,
the head of News Corp.'s Fox film studio, according to
one of the people.
Comcast Corp.'s Universal Pictures and Sony
Corp.'s film studio are among those that have shown
interest, according to people with knowledge of the overtures,
as has Warner Bros., which is making a late bid to keep
Representatives for Universal, Sony and Warner had no
comment. A Fox spokesman was not available to comment. A
Legendary spokeswoman declined to comment or make Tull available
for an interview.
Legendary has quietly become a force to be reckoned with
during the all-important 2013 summer season. It is supplying six
movies from March to August to distributor Warner Bros.,
including alien movie "Pacific Rim," which cost an estimated
$180 million to make and will be released in the United States
on July 12. "Man of Steel," the highly anticipated reboot of the
"Superman" franchise opening in U.S. theaters on Friday, had a
$225 million budget.
Their success may help determine whether Tull manages to
snag a new deal on his terms.
'COMIC BOOK GEEK'
Tull typically either produces or provides financing for
movies. Legendary already has "The Hangover," "Inception,"
"Clash of the Titans," "300," and this year's Jackie Robinson
film "42" under its belt. Those films were all distributed by
Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc.
Legendary will likely continue to make films focused on
comics, such as "Watchmen," based on the cult graphic novel by
"I'm a full-grown comic book geek," Tull said in a 2010
Legendary is a catch because it comes with its own pile of
money, and reduces the studio's risk by shouldering some of the
costs. In December, it raised $443 million from various
financial companies, valuing the company at $2.8 billion,
according to people with knowledge of the deal.
But Legendary's reliance on big-budget movies also can
expose it to hefty losses. This year, it lost an unspecified
amount on "Jack the Giant Slayer." It co-financed the film's
$195 million budget, but the movie sold just $197 million worth
of tickets worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. Studios
generally get about half of ticket sales.
Tull is already taking steps for Legendary to control more
of its own future. Last month, it agreed to a long-term deal to
make and market films in the growing Chinese market with
state-owned China Film Co., the country's largest producer and
And a few weeks before that, Tull bought FIVE33, a marketing
company that has helped promote major films including Paramount
Pictures' "Star Trek Into Darkness."
(Reporting by Ronald Grover; Edited by Edwin Chan, Chris
Gallagher and Dan Grebler)