UPDATED: Toby Emmerich is out as the head of Warner Bros. motion picture studio. Replacing him are Michael De Luca and Pam Abdy, who recently exited the helm of MGM. This had been rumored since before they exited that studio (they’ll stay into the summer until their contracts expire). This is part of Warner Discovery CEO David Zaslav‘s grand plan to split Warner Bros into multiple labels, with Warner Bros proper/New Line, DC Entertainment and Animation.
Facing a new construct where he would have given up oversight of DC and Animation, Emmerich instead chose to step down and right into a lucrative production deal at Warner Bros, given him by Zaslav, so even though Warner Discovery is the home of Game of Thrones, this wasn’t nearly as ruthless. The fates of DC Boss Walter Hamada and the other executives who’ve been loyal to Emmerich, ie New Line’s Richard Brener and Warner Bros Motion Pictures Group COO Carolyn Blackwood are unclear at this moment. This bubbled all morning at the studio with a senior management meeting to start the day at 9 AM.
Emmerich will stay at the helm until the summer, until Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy board, and they will run DC in the short term along with Animation until Zas makes his permanent hires. MGM, which is losing De Luca and Abdy, is aggressively looking for new leadership to remain a generator of theatrical content. Deadline hears that former Fox motion pictures boss Emma Watts is the candidate most often mentioned for what could be a plum job.
The mix of personalities will be interesting and in a way De Luca comes full circle, but in a much bigger job. When De Luca was fired from New Line in January 2001 after a string of unsuccessful films including Little Nicky, he was replaced by New Line Music president Emmerich, so this is an interesting turnabout. He was a wunderkind back in the day when owner Bob Shaye appointed him one of Hollywood’s youngest ever production presidents, and he rewarded them with hits from the Austin Powers to the Rush Hour and Blade series, to the Jim Carrey comedies The Mask and Dumb and Dumber to critically acclaimed pics like Boogie Nights, Se7en and Magnolia. Many of the execs there are long timers who have relationships with De Luca — New Line president Richard Brener among them — and so De Luca might not feel the need to clean house with people he grew up with. In De Luca, Warners gets an executive known for having strong relationships with filmmakers like David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson and he’s known for a willingness to go hard at getting big pictures, and for betting on his gut. As a producer, his films include Moneyball, Captain Phillips and the Fifty Shades of Gray franchises He’s got the bona fides for a big job like this.
All this news comes at a time after Emmerich and Zaslav traveled to Cannes together, and sat next to each other at the world premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis which received the fest’s longest standing ovation this year at ten minutes. Deadline spoke with Zaslav briefly at the premiere on the Croisette and he was over the moon about the reception of Elvis, and wowed by Lurhmann. It was reported in WSJ recently that Zaslav raked Warner Bros. brass over the coals over their expenditures on the 2021 slate (which went day-and-date on HBO Max), specifically zeroing in on Clint Eastwood and his Cry Macho, that Oscar-winning filmmaker known for being frugal and delivering his final cuts in on a timely basis. It’s our understanding that Emmerich was never in such meetings when Zaslav went off on budgets. It will be an interesting adjustment for Zaslav, whose background is in fiscally efficient non-scripted fare. Elvis took years of care and feeding to guide it through a pandemic where its star Tom Hanks was the first major celebrity to catch Covid. Keeping in the fold filmmakers like Clint Eastwood (who delivered the surprise blockbuster American Sniper a few years ago). Even at 92 years young, Eastwood directs like he’s double parked, and has never been known as a profligate spender. De Luca has always prized filmmakers, and it will be interesting to see how patient Zaslav will be. One of De Luca’s signature films at New Line was Se7en, a picture that tested horribly, but turned out to be a seminal New Line film. You don’t rush the David Finchers, and Warner Bros found out how these fragile relationships can be when Jason Kilar put the entire 2021 slate on HBO Max to build subscribers. Nolan, whose Warner Bros blockbusters included The Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, didn’t invite Warner Bros to bid on his next film, Oppenheimer, which Universal swooped in to win and they hope become Nolan’s new home. Tom Rothman did a similar thing at Sony when Quentin Tarantino became a free agent on Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood. Tarantino had final cut and leverage when China threatened to banish the film from its marketplace unless a scene with Bruce Lee was removed. Even though it cost them money, Sony stuck by him, and has the incumbent’s advantage when Tarantino is ready to direct his next film, which he has said will be his last.
Emmerich took the top job at Warner Bros after leading New Line as President and COO in December 2016. Greg Silverman then stepped down as President of Creative Development and Worldwide Production with Emmerich becoming President and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros Pictures Group.
Warner Bros. just had a blockbuster in the Matt Reeves-directed The Batman with Robert Pattinson making over $770M and a sequel was announced at CinemaCon in April. Elvis off the heat of Cannes opens on June 24. Also upcoming for Warner Bros is the Dwayne Johnson-starrer DC film Black Adam through New Line, Shazam! Fury of the Godsa Salem’s Lot remake and New Line’s Don’t Worry Darling with Olivia Wilde directing Harry Styles. Next year comes The Flash (though Ezra Miller’s odd behavior leaves a question mark), Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Barbie with Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, New Line’s zombie thriller The Last Train To New Yorkthe DC superhero film Blue Beetleand Wonka, the next installment of Willy Wonka, with Timothee Chalamet taking the role last played by Johnny Depp. There is also a Blitz Bazawule-directed remake of The Color Purple. One of the notable movies released during Emmerich’s run was DC’s Joker which became the highest grossing R-rated movie of all-time with $1.07 billion.
An announcement is expected today that should formalize all of this.