Above: Disney chief Bob Iger and George Lucas, above, make the Lucasfilm acquisition official this past October.
Hollywood pulled the trigger on dozens of significant deals in 2012, a year peppered with optimism after an extended rough patch. The following deals weren’t necessarily the biggest in terms of dollars, but each signaled a shift in the way showbiz is operating in a post-recession world where homevideo sales no longer prop up bottom lines and international markets emerge as the industry’s great hope.
- Disney buys LucasFilm
How did we not see this coming? In a surprise October announcement, Walt Disney Co. paid $4.05 billion in October for LucasFilm, simultaneously announcing that it plans to release three new live-action “Star Wars” sequels starting in 2015. Disney’s recent big bets on IP have paid off — box-office on “The Avengers” was pretty decent, we understand — and now the owner of the Pixar and Muppet franchises has the Star Wars universe to play with. Reaction to the news was highly positive, as fans of the franchise seem to have more faith in the Mouse House these days than in George Lucas.
- Wanda buys AMC for $2.6 billion
The Beijing-based giant in May bought the second-largest theater chain in the U.S., creating the world’s largest theater group. It was also the biggest Chinese corporate takeover of an American company in history, and yet represents only one piece of the growing partnership between Hollywood and the exploding market that’s poised to be the world’s top box-office grosser in a few years’ time. On that note. . .
- Lionsgate closes $800 million financing deal
When Lionsgate closed its re-fi in September with JP Morgan and Bank of America, it was the biggest sack of bank coin any one studio had scored in recent memory. The “Hunger Games” studio had only sought $750 million, but institutional investors were so hot to get in on the action that the number grew. Not only will the restructured money save Lionsgate millions in the coming years, it catapulted the studio that had just merged with Summit and emerged from a protracted fight with corporate raider Carl Icahn into Hollywood-major territory, cementing a new player in the blockbuster game. Two months later, Warner Bros. partner Village Roadshow eclipsed Lionsgate’s deal wtih a $1.125 billion debt facility — another sign that big banks are re-entering showbiz with the right kind of deal.
- ‘Iron Man 3’ seeks co-production status
Marvel Studios and DMG Entertainment in April announced that they were partnering on the superhero sequel, the first co-production of a multi-billion dollar franchise between Hollywood and China. It was also the biggest milestone since China finally bowed to pressure from Hollywood to increase the quota of revenue-sharing foreign films from 20 per year to 34, and boost the profit-sharing from 13% to 25%. It hasn’t been an easy road since, though, with Chinese regulators issuing stern warnings that only “true” collaborative co-productions — not just Hollywood pics with token Chinese elements — would be afforded the lucrative status. No final word yet on whether “Iron Man 3” clears that high bar.
- “The Hobbit” split into three pics
We’re going to see a lot more of this kind of thing, aren’t we? Yikes.
- “Assassins Creed” package comes together with Fassbender attachment
Movie studios and gaming companies have struggled for years to adapt such hit games as “Halo” and “Gears of War.” This could be the year when that all changes. Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” was packaged by the company with Michael Fassbender attached to star and co-produce, with the gaming company retaining some creative control. After earlier negotiations with Sony broke down, the deal came together with New Regency and Fox, which are seeking a writer and director. The fact that Ubi Soft was able to get this package together may bode well for more major game properties in the future.
- “Fifty Shades of Grey” becomes bidding-war bonanza
The “Fifty Shades of Grey” bidding war could easily have been made into a movie itself, given all the behind-the-scenes action. Universal and Focus Features did eventually win the rights, but not before seeing one of the craziest book-to-movie auctions in recent years with almost every major studio, minus Disney, spending an entire week meeting with the book’s author E.L. James and her agent Valerie Hoskins. The exact figure isn’t known but sources say the final number came in around $3 million, a number not seen since author Dan Brown saw similar figures for the rights to “The Da Vinci Code.” The question now becomes: Can a major studio successfully adapt erotica for a mass audience?
- Jennifer Lawrence gets a raise for “The Hunger Games” sequel “Catching Fire”
Though she was already signed on to all four pics, sources tell Variety the thesp got a $10 million upfront offer for “Catching Fire,” plus whatever backend she worked out. That’s a pretty big raise from the $1 million she got for “Hunger Games,” which is more in line with today’s practice of small upfront, big backend talent deals. That’s what makes J-Law’s raise significant: it’s a sign that such a thing is still possible.
- “The Counselor” comes together at breakneck pace
Any agent or exec will tell you that dealmaking takes time — particularly when several big names are involved. With the Cormac McCarthy spec “The Counselor,” it wasn’t just speedy — it was to the point where if you blinked, you missed an entire major film coming together. Timeline went like this: McCarthy comes to his ICM Partners agents at the beginning of January with the spec, which quickly attached producers. Two weeks later Ridley Scott was in talks to direct and two weeks after that Michael Fassbender was attached to star. Two months later Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz filled out the ensemble with Fox coming on to distribute and setting a June production start date. While it may not change how the industry works, it’s certainly worth a tip of the cap here.
- Joel Silver leaves Warner Bros., signs distribution deal with Universal
Several first-look deals came and went this year, but none signaled the demise of sweetheart on-the-lot pacts quite like Silver ending his 20-plus-year run at Warner Bros. Though Silver brought huge franchises like “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon” and “The Matrix” in his years at the studio, constant internal disputes eroded the relationship. He went on to sign a nine-picture distribution deal with Universal, but will have to find financing for them from here on out. Silver has already started amping up his slate with projects like “The Outsider” and “The Prone Gunmen” currently in development and the Liam Neeson starrer “Non-Stop” in production, but his departure from Warners is the end of a luxurious era.