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World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon has launched WWE Films, a division that will produce and fully finance genre films costing up to $20 million that star his wrestlers.

McMahon has completed production on two films and signed “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to a three-picture deal. Austin just wrapped a supporting role opposite Adam Sandler in the Pete Segal-directed “The Longest Yard.”

Austin will make his screen starring debut later this year in the WWE-financed “The Condemned,” a Rob and Andrew Hedden-scripted drama that casts Austin as a framed ex-cop given a reprieve from death row when chosen to compete on a fight-to-the-finish reality show.

McMahon and George Vrabeck will exec produce the pic, which will be produced by newly minted WWE Films head Joel Simon in association with Michael Gruber and Matt Walden. Latter duo developed the script for MGM and then sold it to WWE.

Pair of deals

McMahon has made a deal with 20th Century Fox to distribute his first film, “The Marine,” an action vehicle for WWE star John Cena. He has enlisted Lions Gate for “Goodnight,” a horror film vehicle for villainous wrestler Kane.

With the exception of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, grapplers haven’t fared well onscreen. In fact, ring stars like Hulk Hogan have failed miserably. McMahon said it’s because he wasn’t involved in helping guide those wrestlers.

“We had nothing to do with Hogan’s movie choices, and they weren’t great,” McMahon said. “The Hollywood formula is to take a big muscular guy, put him in a ridiculous film and make fun of him. We’re different. We understand their limitations and where they perform best. … We produce the equivalent of a two-hour movie on television on Monday and Thursday, using 14 cameras for the Monday live show. The storytelling process is similar, and this is a logical extension for our star power.”Marketing maven

McMahon said he plans to set his self-financed films piecemeal at studios. Each will have the benefit of the marketing and promotion exposure of wrestling telecasts broadcast in 14 languages and covering most of the world.

Though McMahon is a Hollywood newcomer, his formula harks back to the golden days of the Hollywood studios. He has service contracts with all his wrestlers, and if a studio wants Austin or another wrestler, it will have to make a loan-out deal.

“The difference is, I’m putting my money where my mouth is, investing in unknown talent but rewarding them with bigtime backend earnings that don’t have Hollywood accounting methods,” McMahon said.

One signature grappling villian who won’t be transitioning to the bigscreen: McMahon, who said he will limit his exposure to his TV broadcasts.

“It is not really a good use of resources to have the CEO sitting on a movie set, saying the same lines over and over again,” he said.