Robert S. Moore is leaving his post as vice chairman of Paramount Pictures, people briefed on his departure confirmed Friday. Those people said superiors at Viacom forced his departure after killing the proposed sale of a studio stake to China’s Wanda Group, a sale of which Moore was a strong advocate.
It is has been widely rumored that Jim Gianopulos, who recently left his job as chief executive of the Fox studio, would take a role at Paramount; but Gianopulos, who has already enjoyed a tour as studio chief, seems an unlikely candidate for a No. 2 spot, and there was no immediate indication that Paramount chief Brad Grey was headed for the door. People briefed on the turmoil at Viacom said Gianopulos remains a contender for that company’s chief executive spot, recently vacated by Philippe Dauman, and then his short-term successor, Tom Dooley. Dooley had been a close corporate ally of Moore’s; but the Viacom board bypassed Dooley in its search for a new long-term chief.
News of Moore’s exit was first reported today by Variety.
Paramount has been under pressure, as its market-share has dwindled and corporate in-fighting at Viacom brought close scrutiny of its past underperformance and future plans. A recent movie flop closely identified with Moore was Ben-Hur, an expensive faith-based epic that did poorly and raised new questions about Paramount’s movie program. In the last few days, Viacom raised eyebrows by taking a $100 million write-off on Monster Trucks, a film that won’t be seen until next year.
Moore left Revolution Studios to join Paramount’s then newly installed chief executive Brad Grey in 2005. From the beginning, speculation had it that Grey’s administration would be short-lived, as he brought an old-school talent manager’s eye and associations to a movie business that was fast turning toward superhero and comic-book franchises that — with some notable exceptions, including the Transformers series — largely seemed to elude Paramount.
Under Grey, Moore functioned partly as a kind of financial consigliere — his background, starting with a tenure at Disney in 1987, was mostly in financial and administrative jobs. Moore left Disney behind its studio chief Joe Roth, and joined Roth in starting Revolution.
For the last several years, Moore has been instrumental in Paramount’s bridges to China — ties that might have culminated in a Wanda deal that is now off the table. He recently noted that he had made about 20 trips to China in the last four years, some of them related to China’s interest in the Transformers films.
At the same time, Moore was known as Hollywood’s highest-ranking Evangelical Christian. A member of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship church in West Los Angeles, he repeatedly sought ways to bring the faith-based audience to mainstream Paramount films. But Ben-Hur badly missed the mark, with roughly $26 million in domestic ticket sales on a reported budget of about $100 million. And Darren Aronfsky’s Noah, released in 2014, was only a little less problematical. The film had a middling $363 million in worldwide sales on a budget of around $125 million, as wary believers criticized the liberties it took with the Biblical book of Genesis.
Moore is well-known in Hollywood as a wily, hard-headed negotiator; but both his faith and his political leanings have made him, unlike Grey, a perpetual outsider. Though often identified as a Republican in a mostly Democratic culture, he is actually a self-styled libertarian, who has argued that the government should have a smaller role in individual decisions. Born in Orange County, he grew up in La Mirada, CA, the son of a warehouse forklift-driver, and attended Pepperdine University, a Christian college in Malibu. Moore has often said his real ambition was to become a baseball announcer, but Disney offered a fast-track to the upper reaches of a film industry that was booming when Moore joined it in the 1980s.
A decline in home entertainment revenue cooled the industry at-large. But Paramount, under Grey and Moore, faced special challenges. They had a notable misfire in the failed acquisition of DreamWorks, an independent studio whose executives clashed with Paramount’s chiefs, and parted ways after a brief period of ownership. Paramount’s market share was bolstered for a time by a distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation; but that company later moved its family animated movies to Fox (and will eventually be moving to Universal, in the wake of a corporate acquisition by NBCUniversal). Similarly Marvel, once in business with Paramount, gravitated toward Disney, where it has become the mainstay of that company’s nearly overwhelming box office success.
While Moore was identified with the disappointment of Ben-Hur and the controversy around Noah, his eye for inspirational films helped bring the success of Selma, a much-praised movie about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. That film was nominated for a best picture Oscar in 2015.
This year, Paramount is in the awards race with Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, Robert Zemeckis’ Allied, and Denzel Washington’s Fences. But the studio ranks sixth at the domestic box office, far behind industry leader Disney, with only about $610 million in domestic ticket sales. Its biggest hit this year has been Star Trek Beyond, which had about $158 million in domestic ticket sales — a soft performance for a high-profile franchise.
Those performance issues led Dauman to press for a sale that might have put nearly half the studio in the hands of a new owner, likely Wanda. But Viacom’s controlling shareholder, Sumner Redstone, and his daughter, Shari, who wields increasing influence on a newly restructured Viacom board, opposed the sale. They instead began a rigorous review of Paramount’s operations, and, while expressing support for Grey, pushed Moore out the door.
Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr and Anita Busch contributed to this report.