Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group has bought U.S. film studio Legendary Entertainment for about $3.5 billion, turning its chairman into a Hollywood movie mogul as China’s richest man steps up a drive to diversify his business empire overseas.
At a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday, Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin said he plans to package Legendary, behind hits like “Jurassic World”, with existing movie production assets in China and sell shares in the merged operation in an initial public offering (IPO).
The move makes Wanda the first Chinese firm to own a major Hollywood studio – a sign of the country’s growing power in the global movie world, industry watchers said.
“Wanda Cinema already has made tremendous development in China, but it isn’t enough,” said Wang, whose personal wealth is estimated by Forbes magazine to be about $27 billion. “Movies are global, and our company certainly wants to add our voice to the world film market.”
The deal is Wanda’s biggest overseas acquisition ever and comes as Wang accelerates a drive to diversify a giant with 2015 revenue of $44 billion away from its core, but slowing domestic property operations. With deals to buy into everything from financial services to Spanish soccer club Atletico Madrid, Wanda said on Monday revenue rose 19 percent last year.
Founded in Dalian, a city on China’s northeast coast, and now based in Beijing, Wanda is already the world’s biggest movie theater operator, having bought AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc, North America’s second-largest cinema chain, for $2.6 billion in 2012. It also owns Australian movie theater company Hoyt’s Group, and Wanda Cinema Line Corp, the group’s domestically listed firm, is the biggest theater operator in China.
China’s booming movie industry, fueled by the country’s growing urban middle class, saw box office revenue increase 49 percent last year and exceeded 40 billion yuan ($6.1 billion) for the first time, according to data from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.
In 2013, Wang, flanked by Hollywood A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicole Kidman, broke ground on a 50 billion yuan “motion-picture city” project in the eastern city of Qingdao, demonstrating his ambition to build China’s own version of Hollywood.
Founded in 2000, Legendary has made hits such as “The Dark Knight” and “Man of Steel”, as well as “The Hangover” film franchise.