The Russo brothers, directors of the all-time top grossing film “Avengers: Endgame,” quietly secured a roughly $50 million cash infusion for their production company AGBO from Saudi Arabia earlier this year, multiple sources tell Variety.
In a deal brokered and closed at the beginning of the pandemic, the Russos received the investment from an undisclosed Saudi bank in exchange for a minority stake in the brothers’ Los Angeles-based shop. The money is earmarked to help fund development, production and overhead, two people familiar with the transaction said.
The Russos count multiple other investors and maintain a controlling interest in their company, which recently produced Chris Hemsworth’s Netflix hit “Extraction” and Tom Holland’s forthcoming “Cherry.”
Joe and Anthony Russo declined to comment on the matter. One insider said the Saudi money is a one-time cash infusion. Another source said the investment was much higher than $50 million.
Many Hollywood entities, from the Walt Disney Co. to Live Nation, have received significant investment from sources that include the sovereign wealth fund in the Middle Eastern kingdom. Both Disney and Live Nation were open market stock purchases, as opposed to companies actively seeking investment. Saudi Arabia’s involvement in western media became a source of huge controversy following the October 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — and subsequent reports that appeared to implicate Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the assassination. SRMG, a Saudi Arabian publishing and media company which is publicly traded, remains a minority investor in PMC, Variety’s parent company.
While the Russos did not draw from any public fund, the Saudi Arabian government has stakes in the kingdom’s banks, though not all are majority holdings. One person with knowledge of the landscape said a bank investment versus cash from the Saudi public funds was “a distinction without a difference.”
Uproar over Khashoggi’s death created a human rights crisis for the kingdom just as the crown prince embarked on an ambitious effort to modernize the country. AMC Theatres brokered a lucrative deal to build cineplexes. The kingdom, which is hoping to create large-scale live music infrastructures, took a $500 million minority stake in Live Nation. The state granted women permission to drive, all in the hopes of fueling a robust entertainment economy.
As a result of Khashoggi’s death, Hollywood agency Endeavor returned a $400 million investment to the Saudis. Many premium media corporations including Viacom and Uber dropped out of a 2019 conference set in Saudi Arabia, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” meant to showcase bin Salman’s efforts.
AGBO was founded in 2016 by the Russos to deliver artist-led content based on innovative story universes across film, television, and digital platforms. The brothers will begin production in three weeks on “The Gray Man,” a spy thriller starring Ryan Gosling, Chris Evans and Ana de Armas, set up at Netflix. They’ll then move to producing the Amazon Prime Video original series “Citadel,” and are prepping a sequel to Netflix’s top-rated “Extraction.” On Friday, they announced a new feature with “Stranger Things” star Millie Bobbie Brown, set up at Universal.
The brothers announced a planned reboot of “The Thomas Crown Affair” in 2019, with Michael B. Jordan attached to star, though insiders say the project is no longer in active development.
“Avengers: Endgame” remains their crowning achievement. The fourth installment of Marvel Studios’ superhero extravaganza shattered domestic and global opening weekend records, and went on to gross $2,797,800,564 worldwide.