LOS ANGELES (CN) – In a case of “studio accounting on steroids,” Warner Bros. lied about profits from the 1990 hit “Goodfellas” and owes the producer $18 million for it, Irwin Winkler claims in court.
Winkler and Winkler Films sued Warner Bros. on Tuesday in superior court. The case is the Top Download today for Courthouse News.
“This was ‘studio accounting’ on steroids. It was also fraud,” Winkler says in the lawsuit. “What Warner Brothers represented as the receipts of ‘Goodfellas’ were really only a fraction of the actual receipts.”
Represented by legendary entertainment attorney Bert Fields, Winkler says Warner Bros. claims, ridiculously, that the hit movie lost money.
He says he learned only last year that “Warner Bros. concealed more than $140 million of its actual receipts.”
“Goodfellas” cost less than $30 million to produce and took in more than $275 million at the box office and elsewhere, Winkler says. “By contract, plaintiffs were entitled to 50 percent of its net profits plus 5 percent of its gross receipts after ‘breakeven,'” according to the complaint.
“But Warner Bros. quietly pocketed Winkler’s share of those profits, plus years of unearned interest on Winkler’s money,” he says.
He says Warner Bros. had the brass to charge “$40 million of ‘interest’ on its $30 million cost of production.”
“This was ‘studio accounting’ on steroids,” he says. “It was also fraud.”
The film starring Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta was a “critical and box office success,” earned six Academy award nominations and won 30 awards from film critics, in addition to the $275 million, Winkler says.
Yet “Warner has repeatedly represented to plaintiffs that there were no net profits from ‘Goodfellas,’ that the film never even reached ‘break-even’ and that it actually lost money. These representations were false, and Warner knew it.”
For example, Winkler says, in 2009 Warner Bros. claimed the movie earned $32 million in total home video receipts, though the actual amount was $128 million. He says Warner Bros. continued sending him false reports until 2014.
He calls these “false and fraudulent reports … a deliberate scheme by Warner to hide the vast bulk of its home video receipts,” by reporting only 20 percent of the home video income.
He claims his accountant discovered the fraud and concealment in 2014.
He seeks $18 million plus interest and punitive damages for fraud and breach of contract.
Winkler has produced a string of hits, including the first three “Rocky” movies, “Raging Bull,” “The Right Stuff” and others. His movies have been nominated for 50 Academy Awards, including four for Best Picture, he says in the complaint.
His attorney Bert Fields, 86, with Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger, has represented The Beatles, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, James Cameron, John Travolta, and others. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Nor could officials at Warner Bros.
Hollywood accounting, also known as creative accounting, is a longtime ignoble practice of book juggling. Through it, movie studios have claimed, and continue to claim, that some of the biggest hits of all time never earned money, in fact, lost it. When they are sued, the studios frequently settle out of court.
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