Legendary Pictures Inc., co-producer of Warner Bros. releases including “The Dark Knight,” agreed to make movies with China Film Co., gaining a foothold in the No. 2 film market while weighing its options in Hollywood.
Legendary East, with operations in Beijing and Hong Kong, will work with China Film to develop movies for worldwide audiences over an initial three-year term, the companies said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Terms weren’t disclosed. China Film is a unit of the government-backed China Film Group.
A presence in China may strengthen Legendary Chief Executive Officer Thomas Tull’s hand as he considers breaking away from Warner Bros. when his current deal expires in December. Tull has held discussions with other studios about partnerships, people familiar with the situation said in February.
“This should be very attractive for other studios,” said Robert Cain, a consultant for U.S. producers working in China. “It’s very significant.”
Co-productions in China are appealing to Hollywood studios because they are exempt from the country’s quota limiting the number of foreign movies released there to 34 a year. China Film Group should help Legendary avoid entanglements in the government’s approval process, Cain said in an interview.
“These are films that will be designed to be developed in China and really conform fully with the co-production rules,” Cain said. “They’ll know very early on whether the scripts are approved.”
Legendary East and China Film Co. tentatively plan to release their first movie by late 2014, said Cain, who recently met with Legendary East CEO Peter Loehr.
Loehr ran Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency’s China offices until he was hired by Tull last year, Cain said. Before going to CAA, he worked in China as an independent producer of English and Chinese-language films.
Theater ticket sales in China increased 36 percent to $2.7 billion last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Films in development at Legendary include “The Great Wall,” which centers on the construction of the Great Wall of China.
Legendary, based in Burbank, California, has co-financed and co-produced some of the Time Warner Inc.’s studio’s biggest franchises, including the “Hangover” and “Clash of the Titans” movies.
Time Warner, based in New York, rose 0.6 percent to $59.58 yesterday in New York. The shares have added 25 percent this year, outpacing the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s 16 percent gain.
Paul McGuire, a spokesman for Warner Bros. in Burbank, California, declined to comment.