Grode served as an adviser to Legendary and its parent company, the Dalian Wanda Group. He takes the helm at an uncertain time for the company, whose multibillion-dollar acquisition in 2016 was taken as a powerful symbol of rising Chinese influence in Hollywood. Nearly two years later, Wanda has been undergoing a severe retrenchment, selling off hotels, theme parks and real estate developments in China and around the globe.
In an interview, Grode said that Wanda has invested heavily in Legendary, restructuring its balance sheet and putting it in a strong position.
“We have more than enough liquidity to satisfy the business plan,” Grode said. “To the extent needed, we can finance movies completely out of cash on the balance sheet.”
Last May, Wanda exec Jack Gao — then serving as interim CEO of Legendary — told Variety that Wanda had committed $1 billion to the company with the aim of becoming a “top five studio” by 2020.
Gao, who also oversaw AMC Theatres and other international business for Wanda, left the company in October as Chinese regulators continued to hold a tight rein on capital outflows.
Asked whether Gao’s aggressive vision for Legendary is still operative, Grode said it remains a work in progress.
“The vision is to be formed,” he said. “The company has a clean and strong balance sheet. It’s not subject to larger corporate entanglements that some of the other studios have to wrestle with.”
As for next steps, he said, “We have the luxury of exploring all of it and deciding what we think is the most strategic thing to do.”
Legendary lost over $900 million combined in 2014 and 2015, and releases like “The Great Wall” and “Warcraft” were disappointments. More recently, the company scored a hit with “Kong: Skull Island,” which grossed $567 million worldwide. The company’s next release is “Pacific Rim Uprising,” the sequel to the 2013 film, which is due out in March. The company also has high hopes for “Skyscraper,” starring Dwayne Johnson, which is due in July.
The latter is the first greenlit by Mary Parent, the studio’s production chief, who was hired shortly after the acquisition in 2016. In an interview, she said she was encouraged by Grode’s hiring as CEO.
“For me, it’s the best possible news,” she said. “He played a pivotal role in getting the company to a place where we can link arms and move forward.”
Asked if Wanda might be polishing up the balance sheet in anticipation of a sale, Grode seemed unsure.
“Not that I’ve heard,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a pressing need for it. Would they like to get a return on their investment? Sure. Part of my job will be to create content that we think is generating the highest ROI.”