Tom Rothman among leading candidates to replace Amy Pascal

Tom Rothman among leading candidates to replace Amy Pascal
From left, Tom Rothman, Emma Watts, and Jim Gianopulos arrive at the premiere of "The Watch" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 2012. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

She has been a fixture of Hollywood for nearly three decades.

Since joining Columbia Pictures in 1988, Amy Pascal has presided over a string of hits including "Groundhog Day," "Men in Black" and "The Amazing Spider-Man." She has also forged close relationships with some of the industry's biggest stars, such as Will Smith and Adam Sandler.

Now that Pascal is stepping down in May to launch a new production company in the wake of the Sony hack scandal, speculation is heating up over who might replace one of Hollywood's highest-profile female executives.

Sony insiders say the most likely successor will come from within the Culver City studio.

Among the leading contenders for the job is Tom Rothman, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Fox Filmed Entertainment with Jim Gianopulos.

Rothman was ousted from Fox in 2012 after 18 years and a track record at the studio that included the massive hits "Avatar" and "Titanic," both directed by James Cameron.  Rothman also founded and was one of the first presidents of Fox Searchlight, the specialty division that released such Oscar-winning movies as "The Descendants" and "Black Swan."

Pascal and Sony Pictures Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Lynton tapped Rothman in 2013 to help rejuvenate Sony's TriStar film label and is considered the heavy favorite for the job because of his successful track record at Fox.

"He's got a good reputation with talent, he makes good films and people like him," said one person close to the studio who asked not to be identified because she was not authorized to discuss succession plans.

But Rothman faces some competition.  Other candidates who will likely be considered are Doug Belgrad, who last year was named president of the studio's Motion Picture Group; and Jeff Robinov, the ex-Warner Bros. executive whose new film company, Studio 8, last year signed a distribution deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Twitter: @rverrier