The 2005 movie flop “Sahara” may be recalled only on DVD, but the long-running litigation between the movie production company and the book’s best-selling author, Clive Cussler, continues in re-releases.
Nearly $21 million has flown back and forth between the two sides, but ultimately, the Second District Court of Appeal left the $21 million in the hands of author Cussler.
At it’s heart, the legal battle between author Cussler and the film’s producer, Philip Anschutz, was about creative control of the move Sahara, which stared Matthew McConaughey. As the Court of Appeal said, “it was not a commercial success.”
That’s an understatement. The film cost about $160 million to make and earned only $68 million in the U.S.
Cussler agreed to sell Crusader, a film production firm, rights to Sahara and a second novel to be designated by Crusader and rights to future novels, for $20 million in seven annual installments.
The deal was that Crusader would not change the Sahara screenplay once it was “approved” by Cussler.
The relationship soured in 2001. Cussler says Crusader made unapproved changes to Sahara and Crusader said he was unreasonable in withholding approvals to changes.
Crusader paid Cussler for four of the seven years, for a total of $11.4 million, but disputed its requirement to pay him $20 million.
Cussler sued for breach of contract. Crusaider claimed the author overstated the sales of his books and disparaged the movie, despite contract terms forbidding that.
A 2007 trial lasted 14 weeks. The jury ultimately found both sides had breached the contract and neither side was entitled to damages.
The producer then sought a declaration that it was not obligated to pay Cussler for the rights to the second film. And Cussler filed a claim for the unpaid $8.5 million.
In 2008, a trial judge found Cussler owed the producers $5 million in damages because the moviemakers had prevailed in the trial.
The appeal court reversed.
Cussler couldn’t raise the money to pay a bond to continue an appeal and faced a 2009 order to pay the $5 million, plus interest and attorney fees, raising the cost to $14 milion.
Ultimately Cussler paid $21 million to Crusader in 2009 as fees and interest continued to mount.
In 2011 Cussler filed yet another motion for restitution and interest for $21 million. A month later, the trial judge granted Cussler’s motion for restitution, less a $514,000 award to the producer.
The Court of Appeal found there was no prevailing party at the beginning of the suit. Both sides lost on their claims. ‘The result therefore was a ‘tie,’ not a ‘victory’ for Crusader,” the court said.
That means there was also no victory for purposes of attorney fees.
Cussler gets the $21 million back.
And Sahara remains dry as dust to watch.
Case: Cussler v. Crusader Entertianment, No. B230770