Legendary Pictures to produce movies in China through joint venture


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Legendary Pictures has formed a joint venture in China that aims to take advantage of that country’s booming film business by producing and distributing English-language movies there that have the potential to be worldwide hits.

Legendary Pictures Chairman Thomas Tull was in Beijing on Thursday to announce the new company, called Legendary East. Tull’s partner in the venture is Huayi Brothers Media Corp., a publicly traded entertainment conglomerate in China with businesses including film production, movie theaters, music and marketing.


There are other investors in Legendary East that have not been publicly disclosed, according to a person familiar with the matter.

By making movies in China, Legendary will be able to avoid one of the most vexing problems for American entertainment companies that want to make more money in the country: its government-imposed limit of 20 foreign films per year.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America and U.S. trade officials are in talks with Chinese officials to raise that limit, but for now the quota makes it difficult for Hollywood studios to take advantage of the nation’s fast-growing film audience.

Box-office receipts in China more than doubled between 2008 and 2010 to $1.5 billion, according to Screen Digest. In the last four years, the number of screens in the country has doubled to 6,200, a total projected to double again by 2015.

Legendary East will be headquartered in Hong Kong and expects to produce one or two English-language films per year beginning in 2013, with hopes of appealing not just to Chinese audiences but to moviegoers around the globe.

Huayi Brothers will co-produce the movies with Legendary East and distribute them in China, while Legendary’s U.S. studio partner, Warner Bros., will release them in the rest of the world.


The venture marks a significant step for Legendary as it attempts to evolve from a co-financing partner for Warner into a more independent entertainment company. That process started last fall when Tull bought out many of his original investors in order to establish more direct control of the company. Around the same time, Hong Kong company Orange Sky Golden Harvest invested $25 million in Legendary as part of a strategic partnership.

Kelvin Wu, former chief executive of Orange Sky, is chief executive of Legendary East. Tull is executive chairman.


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-- Ben Fritz