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Weinstein Co. sued over release dates for 'The Founder' and 'Gold'

Weinstein Co. sued over release dates for 'The Founder' and 'Gold'
Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc in a scene from the movie "The Founder." (Daniel McFadden / Weinstein Company)

Harvey Weinstein is currently basking in the awards glow of "Lion," nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture. But his company's Oscar-season celebration has been crashed by a new lawsuit related to its two January flops, "The Founder" and "Gold."

FilmNation Entertainment is suing the Weinstein Co. over their agreement to partner on "The Founder," an unflattering biopic of McDonald's executive Ray Kroc, starring Michael Keaton.

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In a complaint filed this week in a New York court, FilmNation argues that the Weinstein Co. violated their agreement stipulating that the Weinstein Co. couldn't release another film in cinemas in the week before and the week after "The Founder" opened.

FilmNation worked on "The Founder" through its division Speedee Distribution, which is listed as the plaintiff in the court filing. ("Speedee" was a McDonald's mascot predating the creation of Ronald McDonald.)

"The Founder" opened nationwide on Jan. 20, and "Gold," a drama starring Matthew McConaughey as an American who strikes it rich in the Indonesian jungle, bowed Jan. 27.

The films, which both explore the dark side of the American entrepreneurial spirit, had brief Oscar-qualifying runs in December, but FilmNation said its noncompete agreement with the Weinstein Co. didn't apply to those runs.

"The Founder" has so far grossed $10 million domestically;  "Gold" has reaped $6.3 million. The suit said that the budget for "The Founder" was $25 million, paid mostly by Speedee.

The Weinstein Co. reportedly paid $7 million to distribute "The Founder" domestically.

FilmNation argued in its filing that the Weinstein Co. marketed the two movies in similar ways, "conveying an effective binary choice to the viewer: to see one movie or the other."

The indie film company is seeking at least $15 million in damages. FilmNation, which has locations in New York and Los Angeles, is a major player in the specialty release market and worked on such recent releases as "Arrival," "Cafe Society" and "Sleepless."

The Weinstein Co. is disputing the claims in the suit.  "The Weinstein Company did not breach its contract and it will defend itself vigorously in court," said Evan Chesler, a partner at the law firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore, who represents the company.

The suit represents the latest challenge for the New York-based Weinstein Co., which has shrunk its theatrical slate in recent years as it contends with a tougher indie market and the rise of streaming options. The company has been devoting more resources to its cable and streaming TV projects, including two upcoming Amazon series from director David O. Russell and "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner.

"The Founder" had a complicated route to cinemas. It was first set to open in November, but was pulled in favor of "Lion" and moved to August. Less than a month before opening, it was yanked again and given a limited release on Dec. 16.

But Weinstein Co. changed its mind a third time, and with little notice opened the movie on Dec. 7 for a weeklong, awards-qualifying run in one Los Angeles cinema, with a nation-wide rollout in January.

Despite receiving generally positive reviews, especially for Keaton's performance as the opportunistic Kroc, "The Founder" failed to pick up any Oscar nominations.

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UPDATES:

Feb. 9, 9:57 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from a Weinstein Co. attorney.

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