Lionsgate’s Long, Long Road to a Lifeline

Jon Feltheimer, Rachel Zegler and Tom Blyth at the premiere of "The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes" held at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 13, 2023 in Los Angeles.
C.E.O. Jon Feltheimer (left) has been frustrated over the lack of new franchises to help lure potential buyers of the company. Photo: Michael Buckner/Variety via Getty Images
Matthew Belloni
January 14, 2024

Lionsgate replaced its film chairman Joe Drake with Adam Fogelson this week, which I don’t think surprised anybody who was paying attention. The small studio—what we used to call a “mini-major” until the majors became mini compared to the tech giants—had a good year, with new installments of John Wick, Saw, and Hunger Games. But C.E.O. Jon Feltheimer has been frustrated over the lack of new franchises to help lure potential buyers of the company, and recent efforts like Chaos Walking and Borderlands haven’t panned out. (Side note: Borderlands, a pricey video game adaptation from filmmaker Eli Roth, finished shooting back in 2021 with Cate Blanchett and Kevin Hart, and it’s been super troubled. It isn’t scheduled to hit theaters until August, more than four years after the green light.)

So when Fogelson, the former Universal and STX studio chief, joined Lionsgate in July 2022 to help with marketing, many saw it as a first step toward a new film leader. (Lionsgate’s spokesman declined to comment.) And it’s a particularly interesting time for the company. Everyone’s obsessing over the future of Paramount and Warner Discovery, but Lionsgate might be the more interesting company to watch this year. After trying various schemes to juice the stock, merge and/or sell the company, Feltheimer landed on a SPAC deal with industry veterans Harry Sloan, Jeff Sagansky, and Eli Baker that will make Lionsgate much more appealing to potential buyers. The film and TV studios will go public in a new entity called Lionsgate Studios, eventually leaving the loser Starz TV channel and streamer behind. If all goes according to plan, Lionsgate Studios will end up in the loving embrace of a tech or entertainment company looking to grow. Investors will get a much higher valuation, bankers will get paid, and shareholders won’t have to keep giving Feltheimer, who’s had this job since way back in 2000, his $21.5 million in annual compensation. Will that work?