Former 20th Century Fox Film chief Jim Gianopulos has emerged as the front-runner to rebuild the struggling Paramount Pictures movie studio.
Gianopulos, who ran Fox for 16 years as it produced such hit franchises as “X-Men” and “Avatar,” is the prime candidate to replace Brad Grey as head of the Viacom Inc.-owned studio, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment.
Michael De Luca, the former Sony executive who produced this year’s Oscars, is being courted to run the studio’s film division under Gianopulos, the people said.
Viacom Chief Executive Bob Bakish has been moving quickly to secure a replacement for Grey, who ran Paramount for 12 years until he was pushed out as chairman and chief executive last month after a string of box-office flops and steep financial losses.
Representatives of New York-based Viacom and Los Angeles-based Paramount declined to comment Tuesday.
Sources cautioned that no formal decisions have been made about who will run Paramount and that the situation could change. However, the two respected executives had long been seen as top contenders for leadership positions at the Melrose Avenue studio.
Other Hollywood power players who have been considered for the top management roles at Paramount include former Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Co-Chairman Rob Friedman, movie producer Scott Stuber and former Warner Bros. studio head Jeff Robinov. Stuber, a former Universal executive, is expected to take a job a Netflix. Robinov’s production company Studio 8 is stationed at Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The Paramount job would be a major rebound for Gianopulos, who was pushed from his perch at Fox to make way for Stacey Snider. He was said to have been in serious talks to lead Legendary Entertainment for China’s Dalian Wanda Group, but may have been holding out for one of the major studio vacancies. Sony is also looking for someone to replace its former Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO, Michael Lynton, who is now chairman of the board at Snap Inc.
The Hollywood Reporter first reported Gianopulos’ front-runner status.
A team led by Gianopulos and De Luca would have clear benefits for a studio looking to make more global hits. As head of Fox, Gianopulos proved to be an adept navigator of the increasingly global film landscape, and he is admired for his business acumen.
In De Luca, Paramount would get a talent-friendly executive with A-list relationships in Hollywood and the ability to pick hit movies — something Paramount has struggled with in recent years. He has an impressive track record as a producer, making hits including “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Social Network” and “Captain Phillips.”
De Luca left his post as president of production for Sony’s Columbia Pictures in 2015 for a producing deal at Universal, which released “Fifty Shades of Grey.” He has also held executive positions at New Line Cinema and DreamWorks.
Last month’s Academy Awards ceremony, which De Luca produced, turned into a public relations debacle when the wrong best picture winner was announced. However, De Luca was not blamed for the gaffe, and longtime Oscar accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers accepted responsibility for the mix-up.
Bakish, who recently replaced Philippe Dauman as Viacom’s CEO, indicated Tuesday that the media giant was moving quickly to secure its next set of leaders at Paramount, telling investors at a conference that the process was “well along.”
Whoever takes over Paramount will have a mighty task in trying to return the studio to financial health after it lost $445 million last year. The company has weathered multiple flops including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Rings” and “Monster Trucks,” which resulted in a $115-million write-down for Viacom before the movie was released.
“For Paramount, the first thing is the simplest thing: stop losing money,” said Barton Crockett, a media analyst at FBR & Co. “They’re looking to hire all sorts of talented people and looking to leverage the brands they have.”
Bakish has recently promised a major overhaul of the studio, including changing Paramount Pictures’ strategy for finding films. He has called for more collaboration with Viacom’s cable networks such as Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, and has expressed frustration that Comedy Central stars including Amy Schumer and Jordan Peele have turned out hits for other studios. Bakish has been on the hunt for executives who will be willing to collaborate with Viacom brass on its film slate rather than running it as a silo, according to multiple people who declined to be named.
Some candidates questioned whether Bakish would grant them enough autonomy to make their own decisions about what movies to greenlight. However, Gianopulos probably would be given such authority, people familiar with the matter said.