×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

WB ends Joel Silver era with $30 million payout

'Matrix,' 'Lethal Weapon' franchises part of deal

As it ends a 25-year relationship with Joel Silver, Warner Bros. will pay the prolific producer around $30 million for the rights to more than 30 of his films produced under the Silver Pictures banner — an unusual agreement that prevents him from collecting any future coin from hit franchises like “The Matrix,” “Lethal Weapon” and “Sherlock Holmes.”

The buyout is surprising given Silver’s stature and list of hits. But it also represents the latest example of Hollywood shifting under the feet of the industry’s veteran filmmakers.

As studios focus more on their bottom line, Silver joins the rest of the biz forced to give up rich overhead deals and adapt to a more corporate way of making movies.

Giving up the rights to a large library of films that pumped out a healthy flow of ancillary dollars will hurt. But Silver didn’t have a choice: Over the years, Warner Bros. loaned him advances on films based on a percentage of the box office the pics were expected to earn. Few producers in town, if any, received such an advance.

While Silver has several notable hits to his credit, some — like “Speed Racer” — didn’t perform, costing the studio millions. With the two now parting ways by the end of the year, Warners wants its money back.

The studio came up with the $30 million figure through a complicated formula that considers the future earnings of the Silver Pictures library and after the outstanding debt — which was not disclosed — is subtracted. That includes hits like “Swordfish,” “Book of Eli,” “Demolition Man” and “Executive Decision,” but also pricey misfires. Analysts say most of the titles already have generated as much as they can from various distribution platforms.

Exit deal is similar to Charlie Sheen’s separation from Warner Bros., where the company’s TV studio paid the “Two and a Half Men” star a lump sum against future profit participation as part of that acrimonious split. Silver and Warner Bros. also had a reportedly caustic separation, and some knowledgeable observers say the up-front payment could be as much about severing ties expediently, given that the Silver Pictures library could potentially earn more than $30 million over time.

That library does not include the “Die Hard” franchise or “Predator,” produced at 20th Century Fox, or “48 Hrs,” at Paramount. It also doesn’t include 14 pics produced through Silver’s genre label Dark Castle, which operates on its own and through its own financing. Warners will continue to release Dark Castle’s pics, including the upcoming Sylvester Stallone vehicle “Bullet to the Head,” helmed by Walter Hill, and revenge drama “Motor City.”

Shingle recently released horror pic “The Apparition,” which was given a low-profile push as WB and Silver finalized their divorce. Other credits include “Unknown,” “Gothika,” “Thirteen Ghosts,” “Orphan” and “House on Haunted Hill.” Altogether, the films have earned nearly $900 million worldwide.

Over the years, Warner Bros. paid for Silver’s staff of 20 employees, including a personal driver and projectionist for his home theater, and housed him in two bungalows on the lot, once occupied by Richard Donner.

Without a rich overhead studio deal, Silver must now get creative in how he finances his films. Not that he’s in dire straits.

Silver is locking down a five-year deal with Universal in which the studio will distrib a minimum of 12 pics produced through a new banner inside Silver Pictures Entertainment. As part of the pact, Silver must find financing for those films himself, although U has agreed to pay for P&A.

Silver’s new agreement with Universal, expected to close in the coming weeks, still gives him the freedom to make movies at other studios and pursue a new first-look deal or produce one-off pictures. He’s still expected to collect around $7 million per pic as part of his producer fee.

In looking to raise financing, Silver will find that money isn’t free-flowing as it used to be: A changing investor pool is demanding more results than usual, and is less willing to make risky bets. Distribution for future films should help.

Still Emmett/Furla Films is financing Dark Castle’s “Motor City.” And StudioCanal has stepped forward to pay for Silver’s first project at Universal, the Liam Neeson vehicle “Non-Stop.” The distrib will handle the pic’s international territories, while U will broker all of the airline thriller’s domestic deals. Silver’s future slate is expected to filled with mid-range budgeted actioners like “Non-Stop” and Neeson hit “Unknown” that have appealed to investors looking for pics that are easy to sell to foreign audiences.

For now, Silver is focused on renovating new office space for Silver Pictures inside the former Venice Post Office that he purchased recently.

More Film

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    North American Box Office Declines From Last Year With Weak Presidents Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” easily won a tepid Presidents Day weekend with a $34.2 million at 3,790 North American locations, estimates showed Monday. Overall domestic moviegoing for 2019 has plunged 22.1% to $1.24 billion as of Monday, according to Comscore. That’s $350 million below the same date a year ago and the lowest figure at this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content