The ‘Road House’ Reboot Battle: A Contested Streaming Deal, Ari Emanuel’s ‘Desperate’ Pleas and a Director Going Scorched-Earth

Jake Gyllenhaal Road House
©Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection

Hollywood loves a bare-knuckle brawl. And the town got a battle royal with “Road House.”

The reboot of the 1989 cult favorite, which launches on Amazon Prime on March 21, sparked a fierce fight behind the scenes over its release. While studio-filmmaker standoffs are not uncommon, this one featured such subplots as the involvement of a notorious private investigator, a producer given the heave-ho, a cameo from Ari Emanuel and a director going scorched-earth. Even more shocking, some of the embarrassing details began to publicly spill out in recent months, culminating with director Doug Liman promising to boycott the film’s premiere at SXSW on March 8.

Despite the drama, the movie is expected to be one of Amazon Prime’s most-watched films this year. So how did things go wrong?

In November 2021, Mike De Luca and Pam Abdy were running MGM and began negotiating with Liman to direct and Jake Gyllenhaal to star as the tough-guy bouncer, played by Patrick Swayze in the original. Joel Silver, who produced the Swayze version for MGM, was on board to bring the film into the modern era (Gyllenhaal’s character is now a former UFC fighter). At the time, MGM was making movies for the big screen, and the prospect of streaming didn’t factor into discussions. But after Amazon closed its $8.5 billion acquisition of MGM in March 2022, the trajectory of “Road House” changed.

In July 2022, De Luca and Abdy left to run Warner Bros., and the film was put into turnaround. Still, Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke quickly salvaged it and was poised to greenlight the film with a cast that also included Billy Magnussen, Daniela Melchior and Lukas Gage. Sources familiar with the negotiations say the filmmakers and Gyllenhaal were given a choice: Make the film for $60 million and get a theatrical release or take $85 million and go streaming only. They opted for the latter.

“They all took the money,” says one knowledgeable source.

(Amazon and Liman declined comment.)

On Aug. 2, 2022, Amazon put out a press release that erased any ambiguity about the film’s distribution plans. “Road House” was labeled an Amazon Prime Video movie, with Salke touting the appeal “for our global audience.” Liman and Silver both signed off on the press release, with Liman gushing, “I’m thrilled to put my own spin on the beloved ‘Road House’ legacy,” and Silver noting he was “so excited to bring this newly imagined version to audiences around the world.”

But the acrimony was only just beginning.

Silver continued to push for a theatrical release and grew so combative that the studio threatened to cut ties with him. That prompted Emanuel, CEO of WME parent Endeavor, to lobby on Silver’s behalf. Sources say Emanuel reached out to Salke and begged her not to fire the legendary producer. One source familiar with the back and forth described his pleas as “desperate.” Emanuel enlisted private investigator-turned-quasi consultant Anthony Pellicano in an effort to help Silver keep his job. (WME declined comment.)

“It made no sense why Ari cared,” says an insider. “WME doesn’t even rep Liman. CAA does.”

All the while, things continued to look rosy from the outside, with all parties onboard with the streaming plan. Deadline reported that UFC superstar and WME-repped Conor McGregor was joining the cast, noting that the film would “stream on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide at release.” The story made no mention of the fact that the two-time UFC champ was facing multiple sexual assault and violence against women allegations at the time. (McGregor has denied.)

But in late 2023, Salke finally booted Silver from working on the “Road House” rollout for verbal abuse of several staffers, including Amazon Studios and MGM marketing head Sue Kroll and Amazon film head Courtenay Valenti. The studio also severed ties with Silver on the upcoming Mark Wahlberg film “Play Dirty,” prompting the producer to hire high-profile Hollywood litigator Bryan Freedman. (It is unclear how the legal dispute was resolved.) When news of Silver’s ouster broke on Nov. 30, Pellicano became the de facto spokesperson on the brouhaha, noting, “The parting of the ways is amicable. He was not fired. There were just disagreements with creative concerns.”

Just as the maelstrom was dying down, Liman went nuclear with an open letter on Jan. 24, writing that he would boycott the film and claiming that “Amazon has no interest in supporting cinemas.”

The missive appears to be the final shot on a project fraught with discord. Ultimately, it’s left some with a bad taste. “It’s so disrespectful to everyone who worked hard on it,” says one person involved. “It’s a great big fun streaming movie.”

From Variety US