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

by Anne Thompson
September 25, 2012 3:56 PM
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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.)

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More: Warner Bros. Pictures


  • Peter Nellhaus | September 27, 2012 1:16 PMReply

    I would also laud Silver for the racial diversity in his casting. "Predator 2" was probably the first major movie where a black man, Danny Glover, saved the world.

  • sf | September 26, 2012 10:38 AMReply

    Aww that's too bad. This article started like it was going to be about an actual end of an era and how studios have had to adjust to a wider array of competitors. That might have been an interesting read. But it turned out just to be an exercise in crapping on Joel Silver. I remember when IndieWire wasn't a rag.

  • Brad | September 26, 2012 9:42 AMReply

    Executive Decision should be lauded for killing Steven Segal off in the first half hour. Also the Last Boy Scout was a pretty good flick.

  • Maxim | September 25, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    Awesome producer. Thanks for making movies like "Speed Racer" (which is awesome) possible.

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