Sylvester Stallone might be the perfect avatar for the past five decades of the movie business. In the mid-1970s, he maneuvered to write and star in Rocky, just as auteur filmmakers were taking over Hollywood and the modern blockbuster was being invented. Then, with the help of newly ascendant CAA and agent Ron Meyer, he got really rich in the ‘80s making action movies like Rambo that traveled internationally. One of Meyer’s first acts when he took over Universal/MCA in 1995 was to give his former client a $60 million, three-picture deal, with huge backend compensation—the richest ever at a time when movie stars absolutely ruled. Then, for the next 20 years, Stallone, like the rest of Hollywood, made millions simply by milking those franchises for sequels, spinoffs, and reboots—culminating with 2015’s Creed, the rare combination of a sequel, a spinoff and a reboot all in one movie.
Now he’s cashing out. Earlier this year, I’m told, Stallone quietly sold his remaining backends to Shamrock Capital Advisors for $43 million. (Stallone’s rep confirmed the Shamrock deal, which was previously unreported, and the price tag, but declined to comment further.)
Sly isn’t alone, of course. Once a week, it seems, an entertainer—usually a music star—trades the revenue stream from his or her life’s work for one of those Publisher’s Clearinghouse-sized novelty checks. Just last night, Billboard reported that Bruce Springsteen is selling his masters and publishing rights to Sony for more than $500 million. The cash-out conga line includes Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Stevie Nicks, and Neil Young, but also younger acts like Shakira, Calvin Harris, Ryan Tedder, the Killers and many others. The buyers? In addition to the music companies, which are flush with streaming cash, about 15 private equity funds have sprung up to buy music rights—about twice as many as just a few years ago, music consultant Barry Massarsky told Vice earlier this year. That market is going absolutely nuts right now.