Icon Distribution, a division of Mel Gibson's Icon Productions, is suing the Regal Entertainment Group for more than $40 million, claiming that the nation's largest theater chain failed to pay Icon its fair share of box office receipts for "The Passion of the Christ," which has taken in about $370 million in the U.S. and Canada alone.
In the suit, filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Icon alleged Regal backed down on a commitment to "studio terms" under which the chain -- which operates 6,020 screens in about 545 theaters worldwide -- was to pay the company 55% of the box office revenues.
"We were attempting to resolve this informally," said George Hedges, a partner in the law firm Quinn Emanuel who is representing Icon. "They low-balled us, offering 34% instead. Being an independent [instead of a major studio] was a factor. They think they can push us around because of their size. 'The Passion' made their first quarter of this year, and you'd think there would be some goodwill. Because they've stonewalled us, we're going to aggressively pursue this, opening up their books if they force us to."
Regal, which also owns the Edwards and United Artists theaters, declined to discuss the suit. "We do not comment on our business practices with the studios," said Dick Westerling, senior vice president of marketing for the chain. Newmarket Films, the U.S. distributor, wasn't named as a party in the suit because Icon owns all the rights to the movie. Although it gets a cut of Icon's box office take as a distribution fee, Newmarket declined to comment.