Will Mary Magdalene get a North American release after all?

Will Mary Magdalene get a North American release after all? March 13, 2019

Some possible good news for those North Americans who are still waiting to see Mary Magdalene, starring Rooney Mara as the title character and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus: Deadline is reporting that former MGM chair Gary Barber is teaming up with Lantern Entertainment, the outfit that acquired most of The Weinstein Company’s assets, to form a new company that will start releasing its first theatrical titles in 2020.

Deadline doesn’t specify which films the new company will release, and the article never mentions Mary Magdalene by name. But, as far as I know, the film’s North American distribution rights would have been among the Weinstein assets acquired by Lantern, so here’s hoping. And of course, even if Mary Magdalene doesn’t get a theatrical release, it could still come out on DVD or end up on a streaming service in North America.

More impatient Bible movie fans can, of course, turn to foreign DVD vendors if they really want to see Mary Magdalene. The film was released overseas a year ago and has been available on DVD in Europe and Australia since last summer, courtesy of Universal and Transmission Films, who hold the international distribution rights.

Incidentally, Gary Barber was one of the driving forces behind the recent remake of Ben-Hur when he was at MGM. He teamed up with The Bible producer Mark Burnett on that film and eventually bought Burnett’s company… and a recent article in The New Yorker indicates that that might have led to Barber’s ouster from MGM:

Burnett was recruited to the television arm of M-G-M in 2015, by Gary Barber, the company’s chairman and C.E.O. Barber, a former accountant, had brought the studio back from bankruptcy, slashing costs and shepherding profitable titles like the James Bond franchise. In his effort to build up M-G-M, Barber wanted to augment the studio’s television business. So he bought Burnett’s company and enlisted him to oversee television production.

Ostensibly, Barber and Burnett got along. But, whereas Mark Burnett Productions had been characterized by profligate dazzle, Barber was thrifty, and monitored every expense. The chairman of M-G-M’s board is Kevin Ulrich, a financier whose private-equity fund holds a controlling stake in the company. People who know Ulrich describe him as someone who relishes the flashy perquisites of Hollywood moguldom. Whereas Barber liked to spend weekends quietly tending to the racehorses he owns, Ulrich liked going to parties and premières.

Barber was interested in selling the studio—a move that Ulrich opposed. According to several sources, Burnett began cultivating Ulrich, inviting him to events and introducing him to celebrities. Then, last March, M-G-M’s board informed Barber that he had been fired; he had just signed a contract extension, so the studio would pay him two hundred and sixty million dollars to leave. Despite this payment, he was incensed. Three months after Barber’s ouster, Burnett was promoted to chairman of television at M-G-M. Barber declined to speak with me, but a friend of his said that he was “blindsided” by his ouster: Burnett had made an alliance with Ulrich and got Barber kicked off the island.

For whatever that’s worth.

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