Ricardo Mestres is out as president of Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Pictures movie division, bringing an abrupt end to a six-year reign that left a string of lackluster films ranging from "Super Mario Bros." to "Swing Kids."
Mestres, 36, stepped down Tuesday and was given a long-term production deal at the studio. The move was widely expected, based on long-running speculation that Disney management had grown impatient with the division's poor performance.
Despite the rumors, Mestres' departure came so suddenly that Disney did not even have a successor in place. Sources say the front-runner for the position is a non-movie executive: Michael Lynton of Disney-owned Hyperion Books.
Lynton is a close friend of David Hoberman, who heads Disney's Touchstone Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures.
Mestres' resignation came after a brief high-level meeting at Disney's Burbank headquarters. Sources described the meeting as "curt" and "pleasant."
The move was largely seen throughout the industry as a forced resignation because Disney executives are hoping to overhaul a studio that, for whatever reason, was failing to produce hit films.
"I think they're businessmen at Disney, and that division wasn't working," one agent said.
In defense of Mestres, other executives pointed out that it was Walt Disney Studios Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, not Mestres, who gave the go-ahead to many of Hollywood's failed movie projects.
It was a struggle for power in 1988 between Hoberman and Mestres that led Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner and Katzenberg to create Hollywood Pictures, which they then funded with about $100 million in the hopes that Mestres could mold it into a powerful studio.
But despite the box office success of "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and the critical acclaim of "The Joy Luck Club," Hollywood Pictures more often produced such forgettable films as "Blame It on the Bellboy," "Born Yesterday" and "Guilty as Sin." It also tried to make comedian Pauley Shore into a movie star with "Encino Man" and "Son-in-Law."
Mestres said he did not regard his resignation Tuesday as a crushing personal blow.
Instead, he characterized his new deal with Disney as a unique opportunity and said he hopes to work closely with Hoberman on film projects.
"I've had 14 very fun, prosperous and challenging years with Jeffrey and Michael," Mestres said. "Now I'm eager to launch into a new territory."
Mestres refused to comment on his rivalry with Hoberman. "It was time for a change," he said of his departure. "I embrace it. I'm excited by the new opportunities."
Under terms of the new arrangement, Mestres will continue to develop and produce motion pictures for the studio on an exclusive basis and will have offices on the lot. Terms were not disclosed.
Mestres joined Disney Studios in 1984 as vice president of production and was promoted to senior vice president 13 months later. During that time, he supervised such films as "Three Men and a Baby" and "Good Morning, Vietnam."
He began his career with Paramount Pictures as a development executive for producer Don Simpson and went on to serve for four years under Katzenberg, supervising the development and production of numerous films, including "Beverly Hills Cop."