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Jeff Robinov Out at Warner Bros. UPDATE

Jeff Robinov Out at Warner Bros. UPDATE

UPDATE: Following several weeks of speculation, it has been confirmed that Jeff Robinov has left Warner Bros as the president of its Motion Picture Group. He will be replaced by a three-person team: Production president Greg Silverman (now president of creative development and worldwide production), marketing chief Sue Kroll (now president of worldwide marketing and international distribution) and New Line chief Toby Emmerich. They will report to Warner CEO Kevin Tsujihara for the time being.

EARLIER: There comes a moment when all Hollywood knows that a given studio chief is done. You feel it when things just aren’t going smoothly, too many flops, not enough hits, cost overruns, bad vibes inside the studio, management kerfuffles. When an executive is about to jump, the saying goes, “he’s on the roof.”

Warner Bros. motion picture president Jeff Robinov, breathlessly reports Nikki Finke, has left the studio. Finke makes no secret of where her allegiance lies. She’s in Robinov’s corner. He must be a good source. (She was on a tear Thursday, dissing Peter Bart and Mike Fleming’s admittedly unexciting new Variety column.) THR and The Wrap weighed in on Robinov, along with The New York Times. Variety, which recently ran a harsh assessment of Robinov’s Warners position, posted their reliably well-reported story late Thursday on Robinov’s departure, which made clear that the exec has not resigned and hopes to settle his employment contract, which runs through 2014. His week off was due to sinus surgery, apparently.

Robinov is disgruntled that he is getting the silent treatment from new studio chief Kevin Tsujihara, who landed the top job over him and now-departed TV chief Bruce Rosenblum, who went to Legendary, which has been squabbling with Robinov. Robinov could be leaving the lot as a negotiating ploy, as some say he’s talking to Twentieth Century Fox, which let go of co-chairman Tom Rothman last fall–after he met with Universal. Chairman Jim Gianopulos continues to run Fox, and has been looking for a second-in-command, which Robinov would presumably not want to be. 

Things are not settled at several studios now. There’s much at stake.

Sony may be facing a tough summer following the much ballyhooed flop “After Earth.” Ironically Disney is looking relatively stable, with Marvel dominating the year’s box office with “Iron Man 3” and Pixar’s “Monsters University” expected to soar. Part of the relative calm is due to steady leadership from ex-Warner Bros. exec Alan Horn, who despite his careful decade-long shepherding of Warners’ blockbuster “Harry Potter” series, was basically pushed off the lot to make room for Robinov. Another animated film, “Despicable Me 2,” is expected to boost the good fortunes of Universal, still on a high from the global performance of “Fast & Furious 6.”

I’ve been worried about Robinov’s longevity partly because he is one of the few studio chiefs who is willing to take bold risks on moviemakers. This is not a cookie cutter formula guy, although he makes his share of tentpoles.  Robinov recognizes the need to bet on exciting filmmakers like David O. Russell (“Three Kings”), Christopher Nolan (“Insomnia” led to “Batman Returns” and other tentpoles), and Ben Affleck (Robinov is the one studio head who saw the actor’s directing talent in “Gone Baby Gone,” which yielded “The Town” and Oscar-winning “Argo”).

Robinov is nothing if not loyal to filmmakers such as the Wachowskis (“The Matrix” series paid off, but “V for Vendetta,” “Speed Racer” and “Cloud Atlas” did not), Spike Jonze (who got extra time and money to fix “Where the Wild Things Are,” which still flopped at the box office), and Zack Snyder, whose innovative “300” scored with collaborator Frank Miller, but “Watchmen” and “Sucker Punch” were disappointments in relation to cost. Nonetheless the visually adept director landed the Nolan-supervised studio plum “Man of Steel.” Robinov & Co. aimed this mainstream commercial action picture straight at fanboys. 

The movie pushed Warners to its current number one rank among the studios for market share. But it remains to be seen if “Man of Steel,” starring new Superman Henry Cavill, which opened well around the world, is a four-quadrant movie able to sustain strong grosses and stay ahead of its gargantuan production and marketing costs. 

Robinov thrived at WB with temperate and experienced Horn at his side, and has struggled more since the exec’s departure, with a series of recent flops, including “Gangster Squad” (delayed after the Aurora shootings), New Line’s $200-million “Jack the Giant Slayer” and the less expensive magic movie “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.” 

But not only did Warners score with “Argo” ($221 million worldwide) and “The Hobbit” ($1 billion worldwide), but the studio has enjoyed a sudden turnaround in its fortunes, from Brian Helgeland’s “42” ($86 million domestic) to Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby.” Some have praised the global box office performance of “Gatsby”–a turbulent and expensive ride that cost some $125 million plus $90 million in global marketing, and accrued interest costs while its release was delayed five months. So far the Jazz Age drama has grossed $300 million worldwide, just slightly more overseas than domestic. While Warners did the right thing delaying the film to May, and it should do well in ancillaries, star Leonardo DiCaprio usually takes home a healthy share of the gross. That’s not a hugely profitable movie. Advance tracking and buzz is less upbeat on Guillermo del Toro’s “Pacific Rim,” however. 
You’d think Warners would want Robinov’s division to remain calm, but management has always been about trusting your lieutenants and believing that they are serving your vision, not the other way around. While Tsujihara is a new chief executive learning his job, he clearly wants to be the man in charge.  

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