Tull will take the title of founding chairman of the company, with Wanda executive Jack Gao assuming the CEO post while the company conducts a search for a permanent chief executive, an announcement said.
Gao is group senior vice president and CEO for International Investments and Operations at the Wanda Cultural Industry Group.
Tull scheduled a town hall meeting for Tuesday afternoon to tell employees about the transition at the company, the maker of such films as “300,” “Pacific Rim,” “Man of Steel” and the “Dark Knight” trilogy. He sold the company to Wanda a year ago for a reported $3.5 billion. That price raised eyebrows, given Legendary’s slim film library and checkered track record of producing its own movies. However, it also spoke to Tull’s salesmanship and his deep relationships in China.
The announcement said that Wanda “has built a solid platform and business to expand the release of the studio’s tentpole films into China and beyond” in the year since it acquired the Hollywood company. It pledged to “continue to fully support” Legendary’s production chief, Mary Parent, and her team to push ahead with their current and future film slates.
Legendary’s track record has been spotty. The company invested in a number of blockbusters over the years through deals with Warner Bros. and now Universal, but has been less successful with its own in-house productions. Through Warners it was involved in “The Dark Knight,” “Inception,” and “The Hangover,” and it backed “Jurassic World” during its partnership with Universal.
However Legendary lost millions on the fantasy film “Seventh Son” and cyber thriller “Blackhat,” both of which it developed and produced. “Warcraft,” an adaptation of the popular video game, flopped domestically, making $47.4 million, but earned $386.3 million overseas. The studio’s “Pacific Rim” was another stateside under-performed that was rescued by foreign audiences — the bulk of its $411 million global gross came from overseas. The studio did score with “Godzilla” and has a followup, “Kong: Skull Island” due out in March. “The Great Wall,” a Chinese co-production with Matt Damon, has earned an impressive $194.5 million in China, but has yet to open in the States.
Gao in a statement thanked Tull for “his commitment, leadership and partnership this past year,” saying he would remain “part of the Company’s already rich legacy and powerful DNA.” The interim CEO pledged that Legendary would become “a next generation studio of the future with a far-reaching creative and global platform.”
Tull was respected as having a savvy financial mind and earned respect in the film business for his tenacious dealmaking. But he also has a healthy ego that alienated some who worked with him and made Legendary’s departure from Warner Bros. contentious.
Wanda has been expanding its reach in Hollywood, including the purchase last year of Dick Clark Productions — producer of several awards programs and the company’s namesake New Year’s Eve show. The Chinese giant previously took control of AMC theaters. The expansion into U.S. entertainment has been so broad that some American lawmakers have asked whether it is time to give greater scrutiny to the deals.
The statement made unclear who initiated Tull’s departure as chief executive. It said he planned to focus on his investment firm, which has money in multiple companies including Magic Leap, Oculus Rift, Pinterest, Heal and Zoox. He serves on multiple boards, including for his alma mater, Hamilton College, and for Carnegie Mellon University, along with the boards of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the National Football Foundation, the San Diego Zoo, and the Smithsonian Institution. He also owns a piece of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a statement, Tull said that “building Legendary has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.” He said that, going forward, the company is “stable with great leadership, so at this point I am able to leave and pursue the new interests and endeavors I have been planning.”