Metropolitan Filmexport, France's independent distribution leader owned by brothers Samuel and Victor Hadida, has not just survived; it has steadfastly thrived for the past 35 years.
Thanks to the Hadida brothers' deep-rooted ties to Hollywood's power players, passion for movies and guts, they've been able to stay on top in spite of the downfall of U.S. studios' specialty divisions, rampant piracy and intense competition on the French distribution front.
"Reservoir Dogs," David Fincher's "Seven" and martial-arts pics with Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1990s.
"We brought a new kind of film to France and created the Metropolitan generation, one that grew up watching American movies that were both director-driven and entertaining, like the Tarantino movies," Victor says.
The Hadidas complement each other perfectly: Samuel (known as Sammy), who focuses more on the production side of the biz, has a forceful and creative personality that meshes well with Hollywood studio execs and filmmakers. His brother Victor, who handles the distribution activities, is more discreet, mild-mannered and eloquent. He can comfortably navigate Gaul's film circuit. They're both impressive negotiators.
After a difficult 2012, Metropolitan bounced back with a successful 2013. It scored with â¬72 million ($99 million) from 12.5 million admissions on a series of hit theatrical releases, ranging from such franchise movies as "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" ($30 million) to crossover auteur-driven fare like "Lee Daniels' The Butler" ($17 million) and Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street" ($26.4 million). And this year, it did well with "American Hustle" ($5.1 million), outperforming such pics as "Philomena" and "August: Osage County."
"We launched Metropolitan with the wish to carve for ourselves a niche for independent cinema and today our goal is to have a mix studio movies and indies," Victor says.
The company has two big output deals -- with Lionsgate and DreamWorks -- while continuing to work with indies like the Weinstein Co., Nu Image, Constantin Film and FilmNation, as well as new players such as Entertainment One, Good Universe, Panorama and Red Granite.
While they're perceived as sharp businessmen, anyone who knows the Hadida brothers speaks of their genuine love for movies, especially American ones.
"What's special about Sammy and Victor is that they're not only distributors, they're also producers and above all, true movie fans," says director-producer Brett Ratner. "In the United States maybe 50 years ago, the feeling was the same with Warner Bros. where it was a family business, but now all the studios are owned by big companies. Metropolitan is a true family business and these two guys know material and they know good stories."
Jeff Small, president and chief operating officer of DreamWorks Studios, concurs: "Their passion and creativity have proven to be a winning formula for their business, from arthouse fare to tentpoles and everything in between."
Their love of movies goes back to their childhood in Morocco. "Our father, David, was a distributor of American films in Morocco. He released 'King Kong,' the RKO movies, John Wayne movies -- and my uncle was a representative of Fox in Morocco," says Samuel.
"We grew up watching genre movies," he continues. "We would spend the weekends watching 16mm movies, and our great-uncle would test them on us before they presented them to the censorship board. That's how I discovered American blockbusters of the time, from 'The Planet of the Apes' to 'Dracula.' "
Their production banner, Davis Films, is behind the "Resident Evil" (produced with Constantin Film) franchise and Christophe Gans' "Silent Hill."
The brothers have also demonstrated their ability to spot talent, investing in emerging filmmakers. Tarantino is the best example.
"I read the script of 'True Romance' when Tarantino was still working in a video rental store and was the first one to buy it," says Samuel. "We produced it and got Tony Scott on board to direct and it was the very beginning of a great adventure."
He says the "heart of every movie is still the story, no matter what budget you're working with, and that's why we buy or decide to co-produce 90% of our films at script stage."
The exec adds: "(Metropolitan) was the first to buy 'District 9' after (we read) the script, even though it had an unknown South African director and no cast. The fact that Peter Jackson was producing it reassured us and we loved the concept."
The Hadida brothers also bet on Asian talent, like John Woo and Jackie Chan, before they became bankable.