Mike Fleming

Michael Eisner Tornante UniversalBREAKING: Michael Eisner, who got out of the movie business when his 21-year run ended at Disney in 2005, is back in the feature game. Eisner’s Tornante Company has made a multi-year worldwide distribution deal at Universal Pictures for a slate of films his Tornante will fully finance.

Eisner will shortly begin putting together a staff of executives to develop a slate of pictures. He chose Universal because he liked the team there. The arrangement gives the studio more product for its distribution pipeline, without requiring it to fund or supervise the films. Universal will only put up the P&A and supervise marketing. The studio will release Tornante product globally and receive a distribution fee. The move gives the town a much-needed new buyer for material.

“Michael Eisner has been a powerful creative force behind some of the world’s greatest films and we’re confident that with Tornante, he’ll continue that tradition,” said Universal Pictures chairman Adam Fogelson and co-chairman Donna Langley. “Our organization is the perfect partner for Tornante and we look forward to bringing quality commercial films to the global marketplace together.”

Eisner founded Tornante shortly after leaving the Mouse House. The privately held concern buys, invests in and operates media and entertainment companies. That includes founding Vuguru, an independent studio that develops and finances scripted, story-driven content for digital and international platforms including Hulu, AOL and Yahoo, and recently made an international distribution output deal with FremantleMedia Enterprises. Tornante also teamed with Madison Dearborn Partners to acquire the sports trading card company Topps.

Eisner’s experience in the film business goes back to his tenure as president of Paramount Pictures, a run that included Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Beverly Hills Cop (he offered Sylvester Stallone the Det. Axel Foley role, then pulled it and courted Murphy after Stallone rewrote it into an action pic), and Terms Of Endearment. Eisner’s long run at Disney ended in turmoil, but it was under his tenure as chairman/CEO that the corporation grew into a global media empire with huge businesses in theme park, TV, feature animation and cable television. Over 400 feature films were made during Eisner’s reign, including the animated hits The Lion King, Beauty And The Beast and The Little Mermaid. Live-action family film output was often spotty, but the hits under Eisner included Pretty Woman, the Three Men And A Baby franchise, Pearl Harbor and Pirates Of The Caribbean. Eisner also bought Miramax Films for a bargain price of around $70 million. That brought Eisner the prestige library and Oscar winners, along with plenty of clashes with Harvey Weinstein, particularly when Eisner refused to finance The Lord Of The Rings. Disney eventually spun off Miramax for around $660 million.