Tom Zickler, Producer of German Blockbusters, Dies at 55

Tom Zickler
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He produced several hit films with star Til Schweiger, including 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door,' 'Barefoot' and 'Head Full of Honey.'

Tom Zickler, a German film producer who teamed with star actor-director Til Schweiger to create some of the most successful German films of the last 20 years, has died. He was 55.

Studio Babelsberg, the German backlot with whom Zickler set up a production joint venture, Traumfabrik Babelsberg in 2017, confirmed Zickler died Monday after a brief illness.

“We are stunned, upset and deeply sad,” said Studio Babelsberg head Christoph Fisser in a statement. “The German film scene loses one of its biggest film producers and the most passionate storytellers who knew how to thrill audiences like no other. Cinema was his life. Far too soon we have to say goodbye to a wonderful man and longtime good friend. Our thoughts are with his son, his parents, the entire family and all the people who loved him as much as we did.”

Born in 1964 in East Germany, Zickler began his career at Babelsberg when the studio was still under the control of the communist state government. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, he joined forces with Schweiger to make broad comedies and action movies, many of which were huge box office hits and helped define commercial German cinema of the 1990s and 2000s.

The pair were business partners and co-founders of production shingles Mr. Brown Entertainment and Barefoot Film. They had a hit right out of the gate with 1997's Knockin' on Heaven's Door, which Schweiger co-wrote, together with writer-director Thomas Jahn. Made for less than $2 million, the Tarantino-esque crime comedy — about two terminally ill cancer patients who stage a robbery to finance a final bucket-list road trip — earned about $40 million at the box office.

Other hits followed, most of them romantic comedies written and directed by and starring Schweiger. They included 2005's Barefoot, which earned more than $10 million in Germany, 2007's Rabbit Without Ears ($74 million) and, most recently, Head Full of Honey, which made close to $67 million in Germany.

“I am deeply shaken and very sad that my longtime friend and partner Tom Zickler died so suddenly,” Schweiger told Germany's Bild newspaper. “With Knockin' on Heaven's Door we started our very special journey. It was our first joint film, with which we together with Thomas Jahn wrote a piece of film history. … My deepest sympathy go to Tom's family. They are in my thoughts and I send them love and strength.”

Zickler also had success with other filmmakers, including Markus Goller, producing the 2010 comedy Friendship! ($14 million German gross) and last year's sleeper hit 25 Km/H ($10 million). Zickler's last film, Dream Factory, a 1960s period rom-com from director Martin Schreier, came out in Germany in July. In total, Zickler's films grossed about $300 million, a huge figure for the German market.