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Joel Silver: End of an Era as Studios Pull Back from Deluxe Producer Deals

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 25, 2012 at 3:56PM

How are the mighty fallen. After 25 years on the lot, Warner Bros. has unceremoniously kicked producer Joel Silver, of "Matrix" and "Lethal Weapon" fame, to the curb.
Joel Silver and Robert Downey, Jr.
Joel Silver and Robert Downey, Jr.

How are the mighty fallen. After 25 years on the lot, Warner Bros. has unceremoniously kicked producer Joel Silver, of "Matrix" and "Lethal Weapon" fame, to the curb.

This smacks of when Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone axed Tom Cruise after 14 years at Paramount, as the star threatened to take home more back-end cash on "Mission: Impossible II" than the studio. Or when Disney shut down Bob Zemeckis's rich deal after "Mars Needs Moms" lost a fortune.

Both Silver and Zemeckis are finding new homes at Universal, but not on the same terms. Silver will have to find financing for his upcoming films just like everyone else. He's fixing up a new office in Venice as Warners pays off the producer with $30 million, reports Variety, estimating the future worth of his WB projects (which do not include his indie-financed Dark Castle films) against the loans they advanced him over the years, so that the studio won't have to continue paying him his share on the movies that he originated with them.

'Lethal Weapon'
'Lethal Weapon'

This is a sign of the times. Studios are recalibrating the worth of their on-lot producers. For Silver this is a new day because for decades he was at the top of the studio food chain. He specialized in wrangling big-budget actioners, often with macho stars and VFX elements. But he never had the kind of creative commercial savvy that Jerry Bruckheimer commanded over the years, turning out (with inevitable exceptions) surefire tentpoles such as "Armageddon," "Con Air," "National Treasure," "Black Hawk Down," "Crimson Tide," and "Pirates of the Caribbean." Truth is, even Bruckheimer has had some slips of late at Disney, such as "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "Prince of Persia." (It's a good thing he's so successful in television, as "The Lone Ranger" looms large in his future.)

And Silver never earned the kind of respect commanded by uber-producers Scott Rudin or Imagine's Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, who have managed to more quietly renegotiate less lucrative studio deals at Sony and Universal, respectively. For 25 years Silver was the 500-pound gorilla on the Warners lot with a well-appointed corner bungalow, deluxe gross deal and perks like a projectionist and driver. But he was also not a popular fellow who played well in the sandbox, and ran into trouble with WB motion picture chief Jeff Robinov for criticizing the studio's marketing on the latest "Sherlock Holmes" installment. (Yes it's true: I had run-ins with Silver, when I was at Premiere.)

This article is related to: Warner Bros. Pictures

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.