In a statement posted to its website, the Dalian Wanda Group says it did not force the exit of Legendary Entertainment co-founder Thomas Tull over the box office performance of The Great Wall. On Tuesday, Wanda announced Tull had resigned from the company he sold to the Chinese conglomerate for $3.5B in 2016, and thanked him for his “founding vision” as well as his “commitment, leadership and partnership this past year.”
In its current statement, Wanda said that online media reports blaming The Great Wall‘s returns for Tull’s exit were “a serious misrepresentation.” The “personnel adjustment,” it said, is “part of Wanda Pictures’ strategic planning.” The company also declared that there will be “major news” announced soon.
(Deadline confirmed yesterday that former Fox Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos, who is helping interim CEO Jack Gao figure out what to do with the company in the wake of Tull’s surprise exit, has been heavily courted by Wanda.)
Tull produced the Zhang Yimou-directed Great Wall, a project long in the building which is billed as the largest film ever shot entirely in China. Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin on Wednesday told the World Economic Forum in Davos that Legendary invested $150M. Through last weekend, it had grossed $194.5M worldwide, including over $160M in China. Universal is releasing outside the Middle Kingdom with the Matt Damon-starrer opening No. 1 in France last frame and No. 2 in Germany, topping several comps.
In response to press reports condemning the film’s fortunes, Wanda said in its statement that the movie, “has just begun global release… the failure is fictitious.”
Wang said earlier this week that the U.S./China co-production is “an experiment” in melding the two cultures and bringing a Chinese movie to the global stage. He suggested that if it gets to $400M-$500M globally, it will be a hit. While it’s too early to label it a miss, it’s unlikely The Great Wall gets to the heights that Wang mentioned. Box office is lower than hoped for in China, but the epic has many territories yet to come, including North America where it releases February 17.
The film has been seen as a potential model for cross-cultural collaboration directed at the global box office market with a big focus on the Middle Kingdom. Prior to release, there were skeptics who saw an expensive gamble to mix East and West and mine global dollars, but after Legendary’s summer success with Warcraft, folks couldn’t help but pay attention.
Even if it misses, an exec told me at the time regarding China, “No one is going to stop doing it. It’s 1.4 billion people… There’s too many studios hovering for it to be this one is the one that counts. This is a process that will keep unfolding because you can’t ignore this country.”
Wang is certainly showing no signs of slowing his global ambitions. In Davos, he said that Wanda is prepared to spend up to $5B-$10B on overseas assets in the entertainment and sports sectors this year, with a priority on the U.S. Wanda recently posted its first sales decline in 11 years, while income from its global film operations was up 31.4% in 2016.