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Universal lures 'Dark Knight' producer Tull from Warner Brothers

By Ronald Grover

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBCUniversal, cable giant Comcast's Hollywood unit, has signed Thomas Tull, luring the producer behind big budget blockbusters such as "The Dark Knight" and "Man of Steel" away from Warner Brothers and beating out other studios including Sony and 20th Century Fox.

The agreement with NBCUniversal is scheduled to be announced on Wednesday, according to a person with knowledge of the transaction. Financial details are not immediately available.

Tull, a former investment banker, started Legendary Entertainment in 2000 with $500 million from private equity investors and in 2005 signed a seven-year deal with Warner Brothers to jointly produce up to 40 films.

Legendary, which also produced "The Hangover" series of films, generally provides half the financing for movies whose budgets can run to $200 million or more. Warner Brothers co-financed the films and also collected a fee to distribute them.

Warner Brothers, a unit of Time Warner, made a last minute bid to keep the producer, according to a person with knowledge of the overture.

Tull's company produced two of the industry's ten top-selling films for Warner Brothers, "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises," according to the site Box Office Mojo.

Its latest movie, the science fiction film "Pacific Rim," is scheduled to be released by Warner on July 12. Legendary provided 75 percent of the film's $180 million budget.

Representatives for Legendary and NBCUniversal declined comment.

Legendary started a comic book unit in 2010 and in June said it hired Bruce Rosenblum, formerly the head of Warner Brothers TV, to head its television and digital media operations.

Earlier this year, Legendary also announced an agreement with China Film Co., the largest and most influential film company in China, to co-produce movies.

Legendary's agreement with NBCUniversal was first reported by the trade publication Variety.

(Reporting By Ronald Grover and Liana Baker; Editing by David Cowell)

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