Legendary Entertainment CEO Joshua Grode on ‘Dune’ Success and Optimism for Future Theatrical Releases

Josh Grode Legendary Entertainment
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Legendary Entertainment CEO Joshua Grode, the keynote speaker at Variety’s Power of Law breakfast on April 20, is having a good year.

For one thing, his company scored big at the Oscars with its epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel “Dune” (produced in partnership with Warner Bros.), which earned 10 nominations, including best picture, and took home six statuettes.

Additionally, in January he engineered the $760 million sale of a minority stake in Legendary to private equity firm Apollo, which reduced the ownership position of its majority shareholder, Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, and returned operational, creative and strategic control to Legendary’s management. The move puts Grode firmly in the driver’s seat, flush with cash to explore M&A opportunities even as “Dune: Part II” is on track to hit theaters in fall 2023.

As CEO, Grode oversees Legendary Pictures, which in recent years has released the blockbuster hits “Godzilla vs. Kong” and “Pokémon Detective Pikachu,” as well as Legendary Television (Netflix’s “Lost in Space,” Amazon’s “Carnival Row”), Legendary Comics and divisions covering digital media and VR. In addition to “Dune: Part II,” the company’s feature slate includes the sequel “A Christmas Story Christmas” and a big-budget reboot of the cult classic “The Toxic Avenger”.

Grode is optimistic about Legendary’s fortunes, as well as the immediate future of theatrical exhibition, which has been the backbone of its business.

“I am probably in the minority, but I think there’s going to be a terrific run of theatrical business for those who make the right movies,” says Grode, pointing to the increasing value of pay-one deals and the still-significant returns from home entertainment rights. With Legendary not having its own streaming platform, “we’re in a fortunate position where we can decide what we want to do with every product,” says Grode. “We may make a movie that we think is best-suited for exploitation with Netflix, and we may make another that is best-suited for exploitation theatrically with Warner Bros.”

Before taking the helm of Legendary in late 2017, Grode was a partner at law firm Irell & Manella, where he chaired its transactions practice, overseeing mergers and acquisitions, equity and debt financing and day-to-day corporate governance. He developed and executed the business strategies that transformed Marvel Entertainment from an iconic comic book brand into a top Hollywood studio, launched Summit Entertainment as a mini-major and facilitated its eventual sale to Lionsgate Entertainment, and created the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ tax-exempt Oscar Bonds that raised $341 million to finance the construction of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Perhaps most significantly, he advised Dalian Wanda Group on its $3.5 billion investment in Legendary in 2016, which brought him to where he is today.

Looking back at his journey, Grode attributes his success more to persistence of effort than intellectual brilliance. “I never thought I was the smartest guy in the room, but I figured I’m smart enough to be in the room,” he says, modestly. “What I can control is my work ethic.”

Truly the words of someone who is often the smartest guy in the room.