Aston Villa Owner Said in Talks to Acquire Millennium Films

  • Chinese businessman seeks to acquire Millenium Films producer
  • Deal would mark latest inflow of Chinese funds into Hollywood

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Scwarzenegger star in The Expendables 3

Photographer: Phil Bray/Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Chinese company that bought the U.K.’s Aston Villa Football Club is nearing the purchase of a Hollywood film producer behind action films such as “The Expendables” and one of the “Rambo” sequels, according to people familiar with the matter.

Recon Group, headed by Chairman Tony Xia, is in talks to acquire the Millennium Films label, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. The purchase is likely to be made through Shenzhen-listed Recon Wenyuan Cable Co., though there is no certainty that a deal will be struck, they said.

Should a deal go through, Xia would join the growing number of Chinese moguls that are buying their way into Hollywood and western sports teams. Big studios such as Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures and Universal Pictures have teamed up with Chinese companies for film funding and marketing partnerships.

A spokesman for Millennium Films declined to comment. Wenyuan Cable, which has a market value of about $1.2 billion and whose shares have been halted from trading since Jan. 26 pending an acquisition in the film industry, didn’t respond to calls and an e-mail seeking comment.

Founded in 1996 by Avi Lerner and Trevor Short, Los Angeles-based Millennium Films produced the three “Expendables” movies, which have totaled more than $800 million worldwide, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. The company produces, finances and handles international sales for five to eight star-driven movies a year, generally with budgets of between $20 million and $80 million, according to its website.

Other titles in its library include “Rambo,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” and “The Mechanic” -- the action series featuring Jason Statham, who’s so popular in China that the last “Mechanic” movie collected more than twice the box office in China than it did in America. He is set to star in “MEG,” a Chinese-U.S co-production that’s scheduled for release in March 2018.

Xia, who holds a doctorate from Harvard University, gained control of Wenyuan Cable -- a maker of wires and cables -- in October and the company has since turned its focus toward entertainment. Last year, Xia’s Recon Group -- a Beijing-based conglomerate that has businesses in industries ranging from health care to agriculture -- bought the Aston Villa team from former Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner.

Chinese money has financed Hollywood blockbusters including installments of the “Transformers, Mission: Impossible,” and “Fast & Furious” franchises. Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group went on a buying spree to become the largest theater operator in the U.S. and also paid $3.5 billion for its own American film production house, Legendary Entertainment. And while the U.S. box office is stagnating, China’s market has been growing at an unparalleled rate -- boosting global receipts for the small number of American films shown there.

But as China’s foray into Hollywood deepens, some U.S. lawmakers have called greater scrutiny over such deals. President Trump’s rhetoric on China’s trade practices has added further complications.

— With assistance by Anousha Sakoui, Jing Yang De Morel, and Scott Soshnick

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