Pact includes 'Mummy,' 'Hellboy II,' 'Wanted'

In what NBC Universal calls “a groundbreaking deal,” cabler FX will pony up more than $100 million to buy 15 Universal theatrical movies, the bulk of which are prebuys of titles to be released throughout the year, including “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.”

Frances Manfredi, executive VP and general sales manager of NBC U Domestic TV Distribution, said FX made “a preemptive bid” as part of its “aggressive film acquisitions strategy.”

Chuck Saftler, exec veep of FX, said he has embarked on a forceful movie strategy because fresh primetime theatricals are big draws in the coveted 18-49 demo. Although FX finished 11th in total viewers last year among ad-supported cable networks, it wound up fifth overall in adults 18-49.

It’s impossible to put a precise license fee on the Universal/FX deal because the final number is directly tied to each picture’s domestic box office performance. FX will pay an average of 11% of the gross U.S. revenue of the movies for a four-year license term, which takes effect about 18 months after the pictures make their debut on HBO in the exclusive pay TV window.

FX will allow Universal to sell a run or two of the titles to a broadcast network within FX’s four-year window. Universal has given FX free video-on-demand rights to the movies for a portion of its license term.

Other titles in the package include “Wanted,” a thriller starring Angelina Jolie as an assassin; “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” directed by Guillermo Del Toro; “Death Race,” with Jason Statham; Judd Apatow comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”; “The Express,” a biopic about the first black athlete to win the Heisman Trophy; “Changeling,” a drama with Jolie helmed by Clint Eastwood; and “Leatherheads,” directed by and starring George Clooney; comedy “Baby Mama,” starring Tina Fey, and the Liv Tyler thriller “The Strangers.”

The U pic package also includes a few titles already in theaters: Focus Features’ “In Bruges,” Rogue Pictures’ “Doomsday,” “Eastern Promises,” “Jarhead” and “Definitely, Maybe.”

“This deal is a tremendous vote of confidence in Universal Pictures,” said U Pictures vice chairman Rick Finkelstein.

FX often schedules the premiere of a big-budget theatrical as lead-in to the debut of the first episode of a new scripted original series on the network. FX has a number of high-visibility primetime series including “Nip/Tuck,” “Rescue Me,” “Damages,” “Dirt” and “The Riches.”

The Universal deal is just the latest in a series of prebuys of theatricals by cable networks that has swept the industry in the last three months. Earlier this year, the Turner networks bought a whole slate of Warner Bros. movies, including “10,000 B.C.,” the “Batman” sequel “The Dark Knight,” “Get Smart” and “Speed Racer.” (Daily Variety, Feb. 28)

USA has locked up “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and “Sex and the City: The Movie,” among others, and FX earlier engineered a five-picture prebuy from Columbia, highlighted by two Judd Apatow movies: “Step Brothers,” with Will Ferrell, and “Pineapple Express.”

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