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U suits up for D’Works’ ‘Gladiator’

Studios split rights, costs

Universal has hitched its chariot to DreamWorks’ big-budget Russell Crowe starrer “Gladiator,” which it will co-finance and distribute overseas.

With the budget for the Ridley Scott-helmed actioner hovering in the $100 million range, DreamWorks is looking to reduce its downside risk by partnering with a rival studio, according to insiders.

DreamWorks will release the “Spartacus”-style epic in North America; Universal will handle distribution in the rest of the world. The two studios will split the worldwide proceeds 50-50.

Co-financing between studios has become increasingly common in recent years as production and marketing costs — and the potential for losses — have spiraled upward.

In its relatively young life, DreamWorks has already shown a propensity for split-rights deals, having shared financing and distribution on two of the seven films it has released to date: Both “Saving Private Ryan” and “Deep Impact” were co-financed with Paramount.

It will also co-finance and split distribution with Fox on two upcoming Robert Zemeckis pics, “Castaway” and “What Lies Beneath.”

Other recent studio co-financing pacts have included “Twister” (Warner Bros. and U), “Face/Off” and “Snake Eyes” (Paramount and Disney), “Starship Troopers” (Sony and Disney) and “Titanic” and “Braveheart” (Paramount and Fox).

“Gladiator” stars Crowe as a general whom the emperor tries to have assassinated and who is subsequently enslaved as a gladiator. He gains the people’s favor at the Coliseum and leads a rebellion against the monarch.

David Franzoni and Doug Wickwill produce.

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