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DreamWorks Studios to part with the Walt Disney Co. next year

DreamWorks Studios to part with the Walt Disney Co. next year
Steven Spielberg on the set of "War Horse," the 2011 film he directed for DreamWorks Studios. (Andrew Cooper, SMPSP)

DreamWorks Studios, the production house of Steven Spielberg, is expected to part with the Walt Disney Co. next year when the companies' marketing and distribution pact expires, according to multiple people who were not authorized to comment publicly.

The impending move has been the subject of speculation among Hollywood observers in part because Disney has moved away from the sort of adult dramas for which Spielberg's production company is known. DreamWorks' recent films include "The Hundred-Foot Journey" and "Lincoln."

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Disney has marketed and distributed Universal City-based DreamWorks' films since 2009. Their agreement expires next August.

Among the potential new homes for DreamWorks is Universal Pictures, a studio with which Spielberg has had a long, fruitful relationship. The companies are in talks about a possible deal, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Spielberg, whose critical and commercial successes including "Jaws," "Schindler's List" and "Lincoln," executive produced for Universal the biggest hit of 2015: "Jurassic World."

The movie, which has grossed more than $1.6 billion worldwide, will get a sequel in 2018 that Spielberg will also executive produce. The director helmed the first film in the dinosaur franchise, 1993's "Jurassic Park."

A person close to Universal who was not authorized to comment publicly said that the company would "be happy to have him here."

However, in addition to discussions with Universal, DreamWorks also is having talks with other studios about a prospective pact, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

DreamWorks and Universal declined to comment.

A relationship with Spielberg, who is DreamWorks' principal partner, would be coveted by any major movie studio. As one of the most preeminent figures in Hollywood, the 68-year-old Academy Award-winning filmmaker would lend gravitas to the studio that partners with him, and also attract A-list on-screen talent.

When Disney and DreamWorks announced their agreement six years ago, the companies said that Disney would market and distribute "approximately six DreamWorks films each year."

However, in recent years, DreamWorks, co-founded by Spielberg in 1994, has produced only a handful of films annually. And several have underperformed, including its two 2013 pictures, "Delivery Man" and "The Fifth Estate."

The company has also faced money issues — a $200-million investment from India's Reliance Entertainment was required to shore up finances in 2012 — and lost former chief executive Stacey Snider last year. (Snider left DreamWorks for a top job at 20th Century Fox.)

Disney, meanwhile, has pursued a strategy centered on tentpole films, focusing on making superhero and adventure movies such as this year's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" and last year's "Maleficent."

Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion the same year it inked the deal with DreamWorks. The Burbank entertainment giant's acquisition of Marvel supplied it with a trove of franchises, among them "Iron Man," "Captain America" and "The Avengers."

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Then, in 2012, Disney bought Lucasfilm, the producer of the "Star Wars" film series. In December, Disney will release the first new live-action movie in that franchise in more than a decade.

Disney declined to comment.

Spielberg's next picture will be "Bridge of Spies," a spy thriller that stars Tom Hanks and will debut Oct. 16. The last film to be released under the DreamWorks-Disney deal is expected to be "The BFG," a forthcoming Spielberg-directed children's movie scheduled to be released July 1. Walt Disney Studios is co-producing the picture with DreamWorks.

News of DreamWorks' upcoming departure from Disney and potential move to Universal was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

Follow @DanielNMiller for film business news

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