Disney dumps Oscar stalwart Miramax to focus on the family

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The Walt Disney Co. has agreed to sell Miramax Films to an investor group for about $660m (£420m), ending a 17-year association with the studio and a six-month bidding process.

Miramax's Oscar-laden film library has more than 700 titles, including prestigious films such as My Left Foot (1989), Pulp Fiction (1994) and Good Will Hunting (1997). But Disney had been looking to sell Miramax amid a studio overhaul because it no longer resonated with its other family-centric studio units such as Pixar and Marvel.

"Although we are very proud of Miramax's many accomplishments, our current strategy for Walt Disney Studios is to focus on the development of great motion pictures under the Disney, Pixar and Marvel brands," said Disney president and CEO Robert A. Iger. "We are delighted that we have found a home for the Miramax brand and Miramax's very highly-regarded motion picture library."

Miramax was founded in 1979 by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who named it after their parents, Miriam and Max. In 1993, it was sold to Disney for $80m (£51m), with the brothers staying on as managers.

But the duo left in 2005 to found The Weinstein Co after years of troubled relations with Disney and a public spat over Michael Moore's 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which Disney refused to distribute. The Weinsteins' recent bid to buy Miramax with the financial backing of supermarket magnate Ron Burkle was halted after Burkle cut the offered price to about $565m (£360m) from $625m (£398m).

The entertainment company signed an agreement late on Thursday with Filmyard Holding, an investor group led by construction magnate and Hollywood outsider Ronald Tutor. Other investors include Colony Capital LLC, a real estate investment group and its CEO Tom Barrack.

Tutor and his partners put down a non-refundable deposit of $40m (£25.5m) on Thursday and Disney said the deal could close as soon as 10 September. The deal would give Filmyard rights to the Miramax catalog and other assets, including books, certain projects that are still in development and the "Miramax" brand.

Despite its past success with prize-winning films, Miramax also faces challenges.

Earlier this year, Disney stopped investing in its new projects, laying off all but a handful of staff in January in a major round of cost-cutting and reorganisation under new studios chairman, Rich Ross.

It was one of many niche labels shuttered or downsized in Hollywood recently, plagued by high costs and few commercial hits despite their occasional critical success.

Disney shares fell two cents to $33.69 (£21.40) in midday trading on Friday.