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Film: Hollywood's youngest power-player

Megan Ellison is being hailed as the saviour of serious mainstream movies Adam Sherwin finds out why

Move over, Harvey Weinstein, there's a new movie mogul in town – and she boasts deeper pockets than the Oscar-laden king of independent film will ever have.

Megan Ellison, the 26-year-old daughter of the software billionaire Larry Ellison, is being hailed as the "saviour" of cinema after distributing her largesse over a series of films whose artistic ambitions far outweigh their box-office potential.

With the Wall Street money tap drying up for risky "indie" cinema, directors are hustling for an audience with Ellison, the motorcycle-riding film-school drop-out, who has shot to the top of Hollywood's "producers-to-watch" list by asking open-mouthed supplicants, "How much do you need?"

When Paul Thomas Anderson set out his vision for The Master, the director's allegory for the birth of Scientology, Ellison said, "I'll pay for it all," and wrote a cheque for $40m.

Her Annapurna Productions backed Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty, a dramatisation of the Navy Seal hunt for Osama bin Laden released in January, to the tune of $45m, boosting its original budget by $6m.

Ellison backed Brad Pitt's crime thriller Killing Them Softly, and has financed four films at a total cost of $100m this year.

David O Russell, whose perky romcom Silver Linings Playbook (released this week) is creating an Oscar buzz, is the latest director to persuade Ellison to back his vision. "She's gonna finance this next movie that we're gonna do with Christian Bale and Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner," he told US Esquire. "People are calling her [Ellison] a saviour."

Ellison did not work her way up from the post room. Father Larry, the chief executive of computer giant Oracle, is the third-richest man in the United States. Megan financed a few low-budget films after leaving the University of Southern California's film school but her prospects changed when she inherited $2bn on her 25th birthday.

She spent $20m building headquarters for her Annapurna company and began backing her own taste for determinedly high-minded films, Ellison's hands-on involvement extending to on-set discussions of camera lenses.

Softly spoken, and with an aversion to publicity, she has revealed her insecurities on Twitter: "The control freak in me really clashes with the social anxiety in me, which drives me to drink in social situations. It's a real lose, lose."

Described as the "Medici of the movies", critics argue Ellison's unlimited funds are skewing the market for independent cinema, lavishing money on loss-making films which could be made more cheaply, deterring harder-nosed investors from backing projects.

However, Ellison's sights extend beyond what might appear to be arthouse projects. Annapurna splurged a reported $20m for the rights to make a fifth "Terminator" film.

A recent tweet, quoting Ayn Rand, has placed the studio giants on notice that Ellison is ready to make the leap to blockbusters: "The question isn't who's going to let me. It's who's going to stop me."