STX Sued for Allegedly Backing Out of 'Killer's Game'

STX Films logo is displayed during presentation - Getty-H 2019
Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage

STX has been hit with a multi-million-dollar breach of contract suit for allegedly backing out of a film it agreed to distribute and tanking its chances of finding other distributors.

Endurance Media on Tuesday filed a complaint against STX Financing and John Friedberg, president of STX's international division. Endurance's founder Steve Richards says his company owns the film rights to Jay Bonansinga's novel Killer's Game, which tells the story of an assassin who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and puts out a contract on his own life only to find out the diagnosis was incorrect.

Jason Statham was originally attached to play the lead and DJ Caruso was set to direct, according to the complaint. STX expressed interest in financing the project in early 2018, according to the complaint, but after multiple delays, Statham decided not to move forward on the pic and was replaced by Dave Bautista. A rep for Bautista tells THR the Guardians of the Galaxy star was in discussions about the role, but was never attached.

In the spring of this year, STX announced at CinemaCon that it was working with Bautista on a new film but later expressed concern about the financing arrangement. So Endurance agreed to co-finance it. After striking that deal, Endurance says key stakeholders became concerned about STX's "enthusiasm" for the project and speculated that it might not be able to obtain loans to put up its half of the approved $48.75 million budget. STX asked to change the deal again, according to the complaint, so that it would only be the domestic distributor for the film and not provide financing. From June to August, Endurance claims STX was actively weighing in on decisions regarding talent and international distribution after agreeing to distribute the pic to at least 1,500 U.S. theaters in exchange for a 10 percent distribution fee and potential for a share of the revenue. 

But, when the international sales agent announced via email that the film was on the market at the Toronto International Film Festival, Friedberg responded by telling potential international distributors that STX left the project because "producers were not able to deliver a talent package or production budget that made any sense" after Statham left the pic, according to the complaint. 

"Friedberg's blatantly false and defamatory email not only was a breach of the Agreement but also was deliberately intended to prevent Plaintiffs from selling the international rights to the Picture," writes attorney Jeremiah Reynolds in the complaint. An Endurance lawyer emailed STX and said as much, and, in response, STX notified Endurance it was withdrawing. 

"STX's breach of its agreement with Endurance has left the Picture with no domestic distributor," writes Reynolds. "While Plaintiffs are continuing to search for domestic and international distributors, the confusion in the marketplace caused by STX and Friedberg has made buyers reluctant to pursue the licensing of the film. It appears likely that the Picture will not be able to proceed in its entirety."

Endurance is suing for breach of contract and of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and intentional interference with contract, among other claims, and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of at least $20 million. 

STX spokesman Steve Elzer on Thursday sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement in response to the complaint: "This lawsuit is baseless and ignores fundamental facts. STX was never contractually obligated to finance or distribute this film, and Endurance’s announcement of the studio’s involvement at the Toronto International Film Festival was false, harmful, and inexcusable. We look forward to aggressively presenting the facts of our case as this issue is arbitrated.”

Oct. 4, 5:25 p.m. Updated with information that Bautista wasn't attached to the project. This story was also previously updated with a statement from STX.