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Tom Cruise, MGM form new United Artists

Cruise will star in and produce films for the studio, and production partner Paula Wagner will serve as chief executive.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Tom Cruise and producing partner Paula Wagner have been put in charge of United Artists, a film studio that was formed nearly 90 years ago by Hollywood actors including Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.

Wagner will serve as chief executive of the company, which is owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. Cruise will appear in UA films, but also be allowed to star in films from rival studios, MGM announced Thursday.

The development is a major comeback for Cruise and Wagner. They were unceremoniously dumped in August from their 14-year producing deal at Paramount Studios after Sumner Redstone, chairman of Paramount parent company Viacom Inc., blamed Cruise’s public antics for hurting the box-office performance of “Mission:Impossible III.”

MGM said Thursday that Cruise and Wagner have taken an ownership interest in UA, but did not specify financial terms.

Cruise and Wagner will have full control of the production slate, which is expected to be four films a year, MGM said.

'Equity owners in the company'“There is a complete alignment of interests in this deal,” MGM chief operating officer Rick Sands told The Associated Press Thursday. “They are equity owners in the company and they share with us in the upside.”

Two weeks after being cut loose by Paramount, Cruise/Wagner Productions signed a two-year financing deal with an investment partnership headed by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

That deal with First & Goal LLC covers overhead and development for films produced by Cruise and Wagner, but is not part of Thursday’s deal, Sands said.

United Artists has been virtually mothballed for several years, although the studio’s logo will appear on the latest James Bond film, “Casino Royale,” due out in two weeks.

Most recently, UA had been used to acquire or produce low-budget independent films.

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But under Cruise and Wagner, the studio is free to make $100 million action films starring Cruise, as well as lower budget fare, MGM said.

“It really depends on what they as the creative executives want to produce,” Sands said. “It’s a real studio that we are reinventing.”

Sands said financing for the films would come from partnerships with private equity funds that have become more influential in Hollywood in recent years.

A return to UA for Cruise
Cruise’s last appearance in a UA film was in “Rain Man” in 1988, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Sands said he does not have any concerns about Cruise’s public behavior having any impact on his new role atop the studio.

“We believe Tom is a terrific creative force,” Sands said. “If you look at his track record, he’s generated huge box office and we believe the relationship of being a partner is different from a studio/actor relationship.”

United Artists was founded in 1919 by Chaplin, Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. The studio operated as an artist-centered company for decades, churning out such hits as “Some Like It Hot” and a string of James Bond films, starting with 1962’s “Dr. No.”

In 1967 the company was sold to Transamerica, which owned it until 1981 when it was bought by MGM. In 1980, the studio released one of the most notorious flops in movie history, “Heaven’s Gate.”

In 2004, MGM was bought by a consortium that includes Sony Corp., Comcast Corp. and private equity companies Providence Equity Partners Inc., Texas Pacific Group and DLJ Merchant Banking Partners.