UA's future seemed uncertain after Sony, Comcast and a group of private equity firms acquired its parent MGM in 2004. But now, along with "substantial ownership," Cruise and Wagner will set United Artists' production slate and Wagner will serve as CEO. Cruise will star in and produce films for the revamped company, which plans to deliver about four movies a year to start. Marketing and distribution will be handled by MGM.
"Tom and I are excited to take this classic brand into the future and create a new, artist-centric, artist-friendly company driven by strong business principles," says Wagner, who likened their vision for UA to that of the Medici family's patronage of the arts during Italian Renaissance. In the works since early September, the UA deal has left Wagner and Cruise "completely open right now" to all varieties of film projects, Wagner told TIME, "ranging from high concept to smaller, character-driven films."
In the eyes of many in Hollywood, Paramountwhere Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone publicly blamed Cruise's "inappropriate behavior" for the disappointing box office returns of Mission: Impossible IIIis no longer such a place. Under Cruise/Wagner Productions' unusually generous Paramount deal, the studio paid out as much as $10 million a year in overhead and development. When Cruise began jumping on Oprah's furniture in rapture about fiance Katie Holmes and finger-wagging about psychiatry on the Today Show, "he was embarrassing the studio," Redstone says in December's Vanity Fair. Not to mention costing Paramount, the outspoken executive estimates, $100 to $150 million on Mission: Impossible III in lost ticket sales.
Cruise's first post-Paramount professional announcement was underwhelming for a star who had generated $3 billion at the box office in his 14 years at the studio. In August, Cruise/Wagner secured a two-year financing deal with First and Goal L.L.C., an investor group headed by Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins and chairman of the Six Flags amusement parks. Since then, Cruise seemed more interested in cheering at his kids' soccer games and planning his wedding to Katie Holmes this month in Italy than acting or deal-making.
But by helping to revive UA as an artist-led studio, Cruise will be the latest entrant in an old-school Hollywood tradition. Like Chaplin's original vision, Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope and Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg's Dreamworks SKG (now owned by those baddies at Viacom), Cruise's UA will, apparently, attempt to nurture a creative environment for filmmakers. In an ever-more bottom-line-conscious era of movie-making, it sounds like an impossible mission. But then, we hear this guy has experience with that sort of thing.