Ron Howard, Brian Grazer Ending Their 30-Year Deal With Universal Amid New Money

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Ron Howard (left) and Brian Grazer

Imagine Entertainment is close to finalizing a deal for an investment of more than $100 million from The Raine Group that will allow the production company to set up new film and TV projects.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

A new chapter at Imagine Entertainment is about to begin as its long-standing relationship with Universal Pictures comes to a close. The production company — which dates back to 1986, a few years after founders Brian Grazer, 64, and Ron Howard, 61, first teamed up on 1982's Night Shift — is close to finalizing a deal for an investment of more than $100 million from The Raine Group that will allow Imagine to set up new film and TV projects.

Raine, a New York-based merchant bank focusing on technology, media and telecommunications, was founded in 2009 by Joe Ravitch and Jeff Sine in partnership with WME. It has previously invested in South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Important Studios, Vice Media and action sports company Nitro Circus, and it recently closed an $850 million fund for growth investments. Although the parties involved declined comment on the pending deal, it is expected that Grazer and Howard will head the new partnership, which also hopes to attract other investors. They also will sit on a board that includes Ravitch.

Imagine's production and distribution deal with Universal runs out at the end of 2016, and the studio doesn't plan to renew it, sources tell THR. The Imagine/Universal pact — which has turned out such movies as best picture Oscar winner A Beautiful Mind as well as 8 Mile, Friday Night Lights and American Gangster — was last renewed in 2010, when it was downgraded to a first-look deal.

In recent years, the relationship appeared to have run its course. Imagine had to turn to other sources of financing for its 2013 racing drama Rush, the last film it released through Universal. And Imagine's most recent release, the sea-faring adventure In the Heart of the Sea, was produced with Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow. The expensive period piece cost $100 million and ran aground at the box office, grossing just $90.5 million worldwide to date.

Howard is now in postproduction on the Tom Hanks-starring Inferno, his third adaptation of one of Dan Brown's mystery thrillers, which Sony will launch on Oct. 14. Imagine, according to the most frequently heard scenario, could move its film business to 20th Century Fox, where it also has a separate TV deal (which it is in the process of renewing) and the hit Fox series Empire.

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