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Arnold Kopelson, the Oscar-winning producer behind such features as Platoon, Seven and The Fugitive who pioneered the practice of presales in motion pictures, died Monday in his Beverly Hills home of natural causes, his wife, Anne Kopelson, said. He was 83.
Kopelson was a rare producer who had the knack of making big-budget action movies as well as smaller, more intellectually challenging films. He won the best picture trophy for Oliver Stone’s Platoon (1986) and was nominated again for Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive (1993), and His features received 17 Oscar nominations and amassed more than $3 billion in worldwide receipts.
In all, Kopelson produced or executive produced nearly 30 features, also including Triumph of the Spirit (1989), Falling Down (1993), David Fincher’s Seven (1995), Outbreak (1995), Eraser (1996), The Devil’s Advocate (1997), the sequel U.S. Marshals (1998), A Perfect Murder (1998), Thieves (2001) and Twisted (2004).
He was honored as producer of the year at ShoWest in 1994. A year later, he signed an exclusive deal with 20th Century Fox after five and a half years with a first-look agreement at Warner Bros.
Kopelson began his career in New York as a banking attorney representing institutions that lent money to the entertainment industry.
In 1972, he and future wife Anne Feinberg formed Inter-Ocean Film Sales to represent independent producers in marketing their films internationally. The company was an instant success, licensing Ted Kotcheff’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), starring Richard Dreyfuss.
Inter-Ocean recognized the growing demand for U.S. films aboard and capitalized on that need during the 1970s and ’80s. For years, he worked the film markets at MIFED, Cannes and AFM, sometimes selling films by the foot.
During this period, Inter-Ocean represented producers on more than 100 motion pictures; those films included Bud Yorkin’s Twice in a Lifetime (1985) and Stone’s Salvador (1986).
With sales declining, Kopelson turned to producing, launching Film Packages Inc. (later known as Kopelson Entertainment) to develop and produce movies. He personally financed his company’s overhead and development costs and produced his first three movies with Boston-based General Cinema Group. Among his early successes was the box-office comedy sensation Porky’s (1981).
More auspiciously, Kopelson teamed with Stone on the Vietnam-set Platoon, which received four Oscars in all. He followed up with Warlock (1989) and Triumph of the Spirit, a story of a Balkan boxing champion (Platoon‘s Willem Dafoe) sent to Auschwitz. The drama, shot at Auschwitz, was praised by Holocaust survivors.
Kopelson acquired the rights to the famed 1960s ABC series The Fugitive and produced the adaptation at Warner Bros. that starred Harrison Ford as Dr. Richard Kimble.
Kopelson had been in the news recently as it was reported this summer that in January, he had made a secret video of Sumner Redstone, his friend of 17 years, that could have emerged in the legal battle between Shari Redstone and members of the CBS board who supported CEO Leslie Moonves.
Kopelson denied he had made the video surreptitiously. It could have bolstered claims that Redstone, 95, is no longer competent to weigh in on his businesses, but it was never released and litigation was resolved just as Moonves departed following increasingly serious allegations of sexual misconduct. As Shari Redstone took control of the CBS board, Kopelson was among several directors who departed.
Arnold Kopelson was born on Feb. 14, 1935, in Brooklyn. His father was a pianist who died when Kopelson was 10. Raised in Sheepshead Bay in the borough, he studied piano as well.
Kopelson earned a degree in business and marketing from NYU, then entered New York Law School while working full time at a law firm.
As a lawyer at Gettinger & Gettinger, he was assigned to the Chemical Bank account, which loaned money to the film industry. He worked at the firm for a decade, negotiating deals for United Artists and learning the business side of filmmaking.
At Chemical, Kopelson noticed there was a need for foreign distributors to have access to U.S. movies. He acquired the low-budget indie The Last Rebel (1971), starring New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath, and started selling the film, getting names of indie companies from around the world.
As checks arrived from around the globe, Arnold and Anne set up Inter-Ocean and started looking for other movies to grow their business.
In addition to his wife and business partner of 42 years, Kopelson is survived by his children Peter, Evan and Stephanie.
A funeral service will be held at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills. A memorial will take place at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
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