Thomas Tull to Exit Legendary Entertainment (Exclusive)

Thomas Tull-Getty-H 2016
Tiffany Rose/Getty Images

Tull founded the studio in 2005 and sold to China's Dalian Wanda Group for $3.5 billion in 2016.

In a major Hollywood executive shake-up, Legendary Entertainment chairman and CEO Thomas Tull is resigning under pressure from the company's Chinese owner.

Tull, a former financial-industry executive who founded Legendary in 2005, sold the company to China's Dalian Wanda Group for a reported $3.5 billion in early 2016. He had been retained as CEO, but sources say Wanda became frustrated with his management and recent projects such as The Great Wall and the currently shooting Pacific Rim 2.

The exit is a dramatic shift for Wanda, whose Hollywood ambitions were cemented when its Legendary acquisition became the largest purchase of a studio by a Chinese company. The deal helped transformed Wang Jianlin, Wanda's chairman and China's richest man, into a major entertainment power player considering he also owns AMC cinemas and Dick Clark Productions. 

With Tull out, Jack Gao, Wanda's CEO and senior vp international investments and operations, will lead Legendary as it seeks a full-time CEO. Mary Parent, the studio's head of production, is said to be staying on and will receive the full financial backing of the company.

“We are thankful to Thomas for his founding vision of Legendary as well as his commitment, leadership and partnership this past year. He will forever be part of the company’s already rich legacy and powerful DNA,” Gao said in a statement. “As we move forward, Wanda aims to transform Legendary into a next generation studio of the future with a far-reaching creative and global platform. We look forward to working with the creative team to manage our already viable film slate with more to come in the near future.”

Legendary, which began as a financing vehicle for investing in big-budget films such as Warner. Bros.' The Dark Knight and the Hangover franchise, became an independent studio in 2013 based at Universal before selling to Wanda. Legendary's past major tentpoles include Godzilla, Pacific Rim, Jurassic World and Warcraft.

Sources say that Tull and Parent recently have been seeking out other sources of financing in moves that imply that the company was under financial strain. The company has a slew of big-budget projects in development, including a Pokemon movie, a new take on Dune directed by Denis Villeneuve and a China-set Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson action movie.

There also had been other signs of financial strain when Wanda, in August, scrapped a plan that would have combined its cinema business with Legendary and other entertainment properties. The combined entertainment group was to have gone public on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in a deal estimated at an estimated $5.6 billion. Wanda said at the time that conditions in China's choppy stock markets was the reason behind the postponement.

Though earlier on Tuesday, Wang told Reuters he plans to invest mightily in the U.S. entertainment industry despite coming trade tensions between Washington and Beijing. The real estate tycoon turned movie mogul said Wanda has set aside $5-$10 billion for overseas investments each year. He specified that entertainment and sports will be his focus, while the United States is his first choice of target market, followed by Europe.

Tull was said to be in a multiyear contract with Wanda. However, terms of his deals have not been disclosed. The studio executive said in a statement that "building Legendary has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life."

"After a year of transition, I know that the company is stable with great leadership, so at this point I am able to leave and pursue the new interests and endeavors I have been planning," he said.

According to a statement from Legendary, Tull will turn his focus to his Tull Investment Group, which invests in life science, media and technology companies such as Magic Leap, Oculus Rift, Pinterest, Heal and Zoox. He will retain the title of founding chairman and remain a stakeholder in Legendary, and will remain involved as a producer on the Monsterverse movies and Legendary projects based on Dune.