You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How ‘Resident Evil’ Producer Constantin Film Conquered the Globe

As most everyone knows, “Resident Evil” was born of a video game. Playing it, according to co-producer Robert Kulzer, is “empowering.”

“You’re sitting at the controls and you try to really conquer a new world,” Kulzer says. “And the rules at first seem really, really foreign to you. But the more you play the game, the more you master it. And at a certain point, you own it. You are completely in charge of your destiny within that world.”

That description pretty well summarizes the history of Constantin Film, the Munich-based entertainment giant. It’s the story of a close-knit group of filmmakers and business people who saw an opportunity in postwar Europe and grabbed it with both hands, but slowly and carefully, as if ensuring a joystick’s pivots and buttons are second nature before proceeding to the next level.

It’s also the story of one particular visionary, the late Bernd Eichinger, whose 2011 death was described in a Der Spiegel headline as: “German Film Loses Its Leading Man.”

As described by current executive board chairman Martin Moszkowicz, a longtime associate and close friend, Eichinger emerged from Munich’s film school in the late 1970s at a time when the most positive adjective one could choose for the German film industry would’ve been “moribund.” The nation’s foremost postwar distributor, at 200 films a year, Constantin wasn’t immune to the economic woes affecting Europe generally.
Enter Eichinger.

“He was a very self-confident guy,” Moszkowicz fondly remembers. “Hadn’t made a lot of movies, but he was one of the Rat Pack-type independent producers of that time.”

Eichinger persuaded Constantin management to sell him a share of the firm as managing director, and he began to move the company in new directions inspired by a study of the industry in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Prior distribution practices had involved striking 50, maybe 60 prints which would circulate in Germany regionally. But a run of 500-plus prints of Dino De Laurentiis’ “Conan the Barbarian” helped that film become a local blockbuster, a U.S.-inspired model that dominated in subsequent years.

More importantly, Eichinger took Constantin into production in a big way, beginning with 1984’s “The NeverEnding Story” and “The Name of the Rose” two years later, something Moszkowicz claims “changed the German production and distribution landscape completely.”

The local norm, he recalls, had been films costing $1.2 million to $2 million. “But ‘NeverEnding Story’ was, I think, $40 million, completely unheard of. Nobody had made international movies of that size in Germany.”

Not all of Eichinger’s ventures were touched with gold. He relocated to Los Angeles in the late ’80s to establish Constantin as a presence there. Moszkowicz, who remained to oversee production at home, speaks painfully of his friend’s experience.

“Pretty soon, Bernd somehow — well, he didn’t lose interest, but the business in America was very different…. He was very charismatic, but was also burning the candle at both ends, as they say.”

Moszkowicz struggles to find the right words. “He had a very rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, and he just — he didn’t really like Los Angeles very much. It was hard for him because he had been a superstar in Europe, but struggled to find his footing in the U.S., even though we had a couple of properties, ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘Silver Surfer’ and so on. But it wasn’t easy to get the movies made there. We had to start basically from scratch.”

The IPO that took the company public in 1999 set an invigorated Constantin Films onto the strong course it maintains to this day. “Suddenly we had a lot of money,” Moszkowicz says. “A lot of German companies had gone public, we were one of the last ones. With that money we built up the company into something very, very different.”

A co-production, “Nowhere in Africa,” won 2002’s foreign-language film Oscar. Joint ventures with U.K.-based Impact Pictures began with the first of the “Resident Evil” movies in 2002.

As for TV production, now amounting to 2,000 hours per year, most had been in German, barring the occasional international one-off like “The Mists of Avalon.” But in the past two years Constantin has moved into English-language telefilms in earnest. “Shadowhunters,” for Disney Freeform, has just been renewed for a second season.As for Eichinger, the six years remaining between his voluntary withdrawal from Constantin management and fatal heart attack may have been his most impactful and personally rewarding period. He produced “Perfume,” and wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for two foreign-language film Oscar nominees: 2004’s “Downfall” generally regarded as the preeminent dramatization of Hitler’s world and psychology, and 2008’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

His death was, in Moszkowicz’s words, “a huge blow to the company. He was the center of gravity for all of us….We lost our founding father and our main creative force.” Yet as an artist and a businessman, Eichinger remains an inspiration to the firm, still dedicated to big dreams grounded in solid economics.

And their employee loyalty is rare, in Germany or anywhere else. Everyone from the board and associated producers to the assistants refer to themselves as “Constantiners.” That’s a source of real pride to the chairman, who points out that he himself arrived there in the late 1980s, and that most serve “for 10, 15, 20 years or more … I guess it shows you we’re doing something right.”

More Film

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content