BREAKING: After coming through a major fall restructure and flying out of the gate with two box office hits in 2014 and overhauling Fast & Furious 7 so it can resume production in March, Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley has extended her contract through 2017. Langley, who oversaw the production businesses of Universal Pictures and Focus Features, is adding oversight of international production and international and domestic marketing to her duties.
Marketing president Josh Goldstine and International president David Kosse will now report to Langley. Like Langley, they will also report to Universal Filmed Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell, whom Comcast installed as head of Universal Studios last September as part of a shakeup that saw Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson ousted and co-chairman Langley upped to sole chairman while Ron Meyer was named NBC Universal vice chairman of NBC Universal.
While Universal released the pricey holiday bomb 47 Ronin, the studio has been on a good run with The Best Man Holiday, the surprisingly strong Lone Survivor (director Peter Berg agreed to direct Battleship on condition Universal make the military drama), and Ride Along, a sleeper buddy comedy which Langley plucked out of turnaround from New Line and which has won the weekend box office for the second straight week. She is in the process of making sequel deals with director Tim Story, Ice Cube and Kevin Hart and already has a script written so that the sequel can be fast tracked. Just as important, Langley and her team have scheduled a March re-start to its most lucrative movie franchise, Fast & Furious 7, which was halfway completed when stalwart star Paul Walker died tragically in a fiery car accident while the film was on a Thanksgiving holiday hiatus. The studio’s highly profitable family film unit, Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, has grossed $965 million on Despicable Me 2 and counting. After a China roll out, it is creeping up on Jurassic Park’s $1 billion gross to be the studio’s largest grosser ever. Illumination has a Minions spinoff and another Despicable Me coming, and just set an untitled Pets Project with Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet and Kevin Hart voicing, with the Despicable Me creative team behind it, for early 2016 release.
In short, the film studio is in as good shape as it has been in a long time, with reboots of Jurassic Park and The Mummy in the works, and a sequel to the Bourne Identity spinoff Bourne Legacy with Jeremy Renner. According to the studio, Universal finished 2013 with $3.7 billion in worldwide grosses, the largest total in the studio’s 101-year history.
“During the past five months, I’ve gotten to know Donna and together we’ve found a great working rhythm that is both comfortable and complementary,” Shell said in a statement. “She has terrific creative instincts and I’m continually impressed by the depth of her talent and filmmaker relationships, her experience and her work ethic. I’m thrilled to have her as my partner.”
Those who know her say that Langley, who came to Universal from New Line in 2001 as a senior veep, is a shrewd picture picker and a survivor, having survived several regime changes. She also has taste. Two of the studio’s most intriguing films have her fingerprints all over them. After seeing Angelina Jolie’s helming debut In The Land Of Blood and Honey, Langley tapped her to helm Unbroken, based on the Laura Hillenbrand book which Langley acquired as a way to tell the remarkable but long stalled story of track prodigy-turned WWII POW Louis Zamperini, to be released Christmas Day at the height of Oscar season. She also spearheaded the very competitive acquisition of the E.L. James saucy blockbuster novel trilogy that starts with Fifty Shades Of Grey, giving former TV exec James unprecedented creative input for a first time author. Langley set Sam Taylor-Johnson and assigned that film to prestige label Focus Features (she ousted James Schamus and replaced him with Peter Schlessel). That film will be released Valentine’s Day weekend 2015. She has also gotten the studio into the urban film game making an overall deal with producer Will Packer, and the micro-budget horror game with a deal with Jason Blum’s Blumhouse.
“Donna is one of the finest all around motion picture executives I’ve ever known and I’m delighted she is getting this well-deserved extension and expanding her duties as Chairman,” said NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Meyer. “I’m confident that Donna and Jeff will continue to create long-term success for our film group and I’m looking forward to our ongoing collaboration.”
The studio would not comment on the resumption of production on Fast & Furious 7.