Why We Think Legendary’s Thomas Tull Could Soon Be A Billionaire
There’s a dirty little secret in Hollywood. Although the movie industry is arguably America’s most glamorous place to work, it doesn’t net very many billionaires. Sure the people who make it big earn more money than most people could ever dream of. But only a very few (the Spielbergs, the Lucases) ever get their net worth up to $1 billion.
One mogul who we think has a good chance of becoming a billionaire soon is Thomas Tull. The financier, who isn’t exactly a household name, is the founder and chief executive officer of Legendary Entertainment. For the past eight years, Legendary has had a deal at Warner Bros. where Tull has back such hits as theBatman franchise, The Hangover trilogy and the recent successful reboot of Superman.
Tull built his business at a time when Wall Streetmoney was pouring into Hollywood. Tull, a native of Binghamton, N.Y., came to L.A. with $500 million of Wall Street money and quickly partnered with Warner Bros.
His first movie was Christopher Nolan‘s reboot of Batman, Batman Begins. The 2005 film grossed $375 million on a budget of $150 million. The next two films in the franchise each earned over $1 billion at the global box office.
We estimate that Tull’s net worth is a conservative $840 million mostly thanks to Legendary. Last year a $443 million investment in the company by Waddell & Reed Financial valued Legendary at $2.5 billion.
But sources close to Legendary say investments since then have increased the value of the company to as much as $3.5 billion. We like to be conservative so we’re sticking with the $2.5 valuation but that could change by the time we do our Billionaires list in 2014.
Part of the growth of the company’s value comes from its recent move away from Warner Bros. and to Comcast CMCSA 0%‘s Universal Studios. Although Legendary leaves most of its rights to sequels and reboots for films starring Batman and Superman behind at Warner, Tull has the opportunity to develop new films which he will (in most cases) co-finance with Universal, or to take a position in films originating at Universal.
Tull also owns a small stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The rest of his fortune is made up of real estate holdings in Calabasas, Calif., a private jet and an extensive baseball memorabilia collection. Tull and his representatives would not confirm our valuation.
There’s a significant chance Tull is going to see his net worth grow over the next few years. Legendary is currently working to untangle future films from Warner Bros. That studio will still distribute movies like the upcoming Godzilla and a sequel to the 2007 hit film 300. But once the separation is complete, Tull will be able to focus on growing his company.
Last year Legendary bought Nerdist industries, a fan boy news company focused around a weekly podcast by King of the Nerds Chris Hardwick. The company, which includes a website and a YouTube channel, speaks directly to the fans Tull is trying to reach with him movies. Nerdist is expanding on XBox and Hulu, reaching more young men who really want to hear about the people Legendary is working with like director Guillermo del Toro who’s latest movie, Pacific Rim, was a Legendary film. (Even though the movie didn’t do very well in the U.S., it made up for it by earning $300 million internationally. Pacific Rim has grossed $407 million on a $190 million budget.)
Tull is also expanding into China. In May, Legendary signed a deal with China Film Group to co-produce tent pole films for the global market. By co-producing with a Chinese company, Legendary can work around the limits that China places on how many American films can be shown each year. The Great Wall, a film about why the Great Wall of China was really constructed, could be the first joint production.
TV is also in the works but that’s still a few years off. Tull recently hired Bruce Rosenblum after he lost a bake-off to become the new head of Warner Bros. Rosenblum is the man behind some of Warner Bros.’ biggest hits including Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
Tull’s success rides on a lot of risk and big bets. Without access to the D.C. library he’ll have to find new sources for big franchises. These big movies cost so much to make (often as much as $200 million to produce and millions more to market) that they have to do incredibly well to make money. And the market is starting to feel a little over-saturated with big action films. But he may have gotten big vote of approval when Universal recently ousted studio head Adam Fogelman in favor of Jeff Shell. The move seems to place a lot of stock in Tull to become one of the studio’s top movie pickers. With a few more hits under his belt, Tull could be on his way to making the Forbes 400 next year.