Thomas Tull, who co-founded Legendary Entertainment 11 years ago before selling the company to Chinese conglom Dalian Wanda Group a year ago in a cash deal valued at $3.5B, is leaving his post as Chairman and CEO of Legendary. His exit follows news out of China that Dalian Wanda posted its first sales decline in 11 years, despite the fact that income from its global film operations was up 31.4% last year. The investment in entertainment is widely seen as its way out of its real estate woes.
Tull’s agreement with the Chinese was built on performance guarantees and was said to have provided no upfront cash to the Legendary co-founder. Wanda decided months later to delay putting the company into its entertainment portfolio because of the tenuous state of China’s stock market. At the time of the purchase, Wanda — which acquired 100% of the equity stake in Legendary — boasted that it marked the “largest cross-border cultural acquisition.” It also had plans to take the company public.
Tull’s exit comes as a surprise to the industry, as Wanda’s chairman Wang Jianlin specifically had named Tull as one of the reasons he had so much faith in Legendary in the first place. Legendary produced the Chinese box office hit Warcraft and has a number of tentpole films on its way including Kong: Skull Island and Pacific Rim Uprising. We understand that it was a short honeymoon as Tull and his Chinese bosses began to clash over the management of films. Tull was responsible for Legendary’s day-to-day operations which included TV, digital and its a comics unit. The company says he will be replaced.
In the meantime, two things are happening at Legendary now: Jack Gao, Group SVP & CEO of International Investments and Operations at Wanda Cultural Industry Group, has been named as the Interim CEO, while Mary Parent now becomes the senior-most American film executive at Legendary. Parent, who has a great deal of experience in production, is remaining on board.
Legendary produced the Matt Damon-starring The Great Wall, the first tentpole-sized English-language film produced in China. Directed by local helmer Yimou Zhang, the film, which also includes some of China’s biggest box office draws, has grossed $160M in the Middle Kingdom alone out of a $200M international gross.
Here is the release from Wanda Group:
Thomas Tull has resigned from Legendary Entertainment and effective immediately will assume the role of Founding Chairman of the company he established and led as Chairman and CEO since 2005. Wanda Cultural Industry Group has named Dr. Jack Gao, Group Senior VP & CEO, International Investments and Operations, Wanda Cultural Industry Group as Interim CEO, Legendary Entertainment while the Company pursues the identification of a full-time CEO.
Wanda acquired Legendary in January 2016 and in a year’s time has built a solid platform and business to expand the release of the studio’s tentpole films into China and beyond. Wanda will also continue to fully support Mary Parent and her creative team with the resources needed to develop and produce its existing and future film slate.
“We are thankful to Thomas for his founding vision of Legendary as well as his commitment, leadership and partnership this past year. He will forever be part of the Company’s already rich legacy and powerful DNA,” said Gao. “As we move forward, Wanda aims to transform Legendary into a next generation studio of the future with a far-reaching creative and global platform. We look forward to working with the creative team to manage our already viable film slate with more to come in the near future.”
Stated Tull: “Building Legendary has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I have had the unique opportunity to be at the forefront of where the business is going and lead an incredible group of people as we innovated the way we thought about the film and television business, and the possibilities of collaboration between the west and the east. After a year of transition, I know that 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.”
Under his stewardship, Thomas Tull built Legendary Entertainment into a leading media company with film, television, and digital and publishing businesses. During his time, in aggregate, Legendary’s associated productions realized grosses of more than $13 billion worldwide with films such as Godzilla, 300: Rise of an Empire, Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, the Dark Knight trilogy and the Jackie Robinson biopic 42.
Tull plans to focus time on his Tull Investment Group which invests in life science, media and technology companies such as Magic Leap, Oculus Rift, Pinterest, Heal and Zoox. Tull serves on the Board of Directors of Hamilton College, his alma mater, and Carnegie Mellon University. He also sits on the boards of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the National Football Foundation, the San Diego Zoo, the Smithsonian Institution and is part of the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers ownership group, where he also holds a board seat.
Tull will retain the title of Founding Chairman and remain a stakeholder in Legendary; he will remain involved as a producer on the Monsterverse movies and Legendary projects based on Dune.