‘Dune’ studio Legendary gets $760-million Apollo investment
Legendary Entertainment, the film and TV production company known for “Dune” and “Godzilla vs. Kong,” is getting a monster new investor.
Private equity giant Apollo Global Management and affiliated funds agreed Monday to make a $760-million investment in the Burbank-based company in exchange for a minority stake.
The company did not disclose the valuation, but people familiar with its finances last year said Legendary’s value was about $2 billion.
The deal comes as firms that make movies and TV shows have been fetching giant sums from investors amid the surging demand for content on streaming services, which are spending billions of dollars a year to compete for subscribers.
Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine was sold to Blackstone-based investment vehicle Candle Media, run by former Walt Disney Co. executives Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, in a deal valuing the shingle at $900 million. A deal with RedBird Capital pegged the valuation of LeBron James’ SpringHill Co. at $725 million. “Cocomelon” studio Moonbug was sold to Candle Media for nearly $3 billion.
Legendary Entertainment, owned by China’s Wanda Group, is mounting a comeback with projects like ‘Godzilla vs. Kong.’ Can the upcoming ‘Dune’ pay off?
Speculation swirled during the better part of the last year that Legendary would also be sold amid the gold rush for content, or try to go public through a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.
Legendary Chief Executive Josh Grode said in an interview that the company had looked at all of those options. However, he saw the private equity deal as a step toward a larger transaction down the road as the company continues to grow.
“What we realize is that, as we’ve achieved profitability, I really believe the tail winds around content are accelerating,” Grode said.
Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group bought Legendary for $3.5 billion in 2016. Wanda will remain Legendary’s majority shareholder after the Apollo deal.
Legendary said 2021 was its most profitable year to date and it is heading into the streaming wars with a strong balance sheet and a ramped up production slate.
Founded in 2004 by billionaire investor Thomas Tull, Legendary gained a foothold in the industry by investing in films such as “Batman Begins” and the “Hangover” movies. It weathered ups and downs with flops such as “The Great Wall” and “Warcraft,” which were targeted at audiences in China. Tull left the company in 2017.
Grode, an entertainment lawyer, stepped in as CEO in 2018. He cut excess spending and scuttled divisions, including a low-budget reality TV arm and an analytics business. The savings enabled the company to more easily start production of movies and shows, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, Legendary has been on an upswing. Recent successes include the sale of “Enola Holmes,” starring Millie Bobby Brown, to Netflix, and Warner Bros.’ releases of “Dune” and “Godzilla vs. Kong” last year in theaters and through streaming service HBO Max simultaneously.
Upcoming films include a “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” revival and the dark thriller “Fresh.” Its television business includes the Netflix update of “Lost in Space” and Amazon’s “Carnival Row,” plus soon-to-launch series “Paper Girls” and “Lightyears.”
Apollo said in a statement that it sees strong opportunities for Legendary to grow and seek acquisitions in the entertainment sphere. Apollo partners Aaron Sobel and Lee Solomon will join the Legendary board of directors, joining representatives from Wanda and Legendary’s management.
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