Who is David Ellison? Heir to the Oracle fortune celebrates his biggest deal ever by clinching control over ‘Top Gun’ studio Paramount



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Top Gun: Maverick producer David Ellison emerged out from behind the shadow of his centibillionaire father on Sunday after his Skydance Media company clinched a $28 billion deal to take control of ailing entertainment giant Paramount.

Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s son, a fifteen-year financing partner of the Hollywood studio, announced he reached terms with company chair Shari Redstone to acquire her controlling stake as part of a two-stage merger.

It followed months of high drama, including competing bids from tycoon Byron Allen as well as Sony, the abrupt departure of Paramount CEO Bob Bakish, and a last-second collapse in the talks after Redstone changed her mind in June.

Ellison likely wouldn’t have crossed the finish line had his lifelong passion for flying not led to a fateful encounter that put him on the path to becoming a movie mogul. 

An accomplished stunt pilot who took his first flying lesson with his father at 13 and went on to learn aerial acrobatics a year later, Ellison shared the same instructor as a Hollywood filmmaker Tony Bill, best know for The Sting.

The latter, who met Ellison when the latter transferred to the University of South California, tapped the young man to star in his 2006 film Flyboys. According to Ellison’s own account, Bill insisted on having a bonafide pilot in the lead cast, although the Oracle heir is believed to have helped finance the picture. 

Once in front of the camera, Ellison opts for new career behind it

The movie proved a commercial failure, but Ellison seemed to have decided that Tinseltown was his calling. 

“For a career, I’d really want to act and make movies, and keep flying as much as I can. If I can act and I can fly, I’ll be happy,” he told Smithsonian Magazine on the sidelines of an airshow where he was performing to promote the film. “My dream project is a move that takes place in the world of aerobatics.” 

But his acting career proved ephemeral, appearing in such low-budget flicks as Hole in One, a teenage comedy marketed as “American Pie Plays Golf”, where he met his future wife Sandy Modic (they married in 2011 with their nuptials attended by none other than Tom Cruise himself).

Not exactly a natural in front of the camera, Ellison retreated behind it.

Former nepo baby becomes vital Paramount partner

Invariably Ellison was peppered with unflattering portraits decrying both him and his sister Megan, a producer as well and founder of Annapurna Pictures, as the quintessential nepo babies and trust fund kids.

Yet money talks in Hollywood and banks affected by the global financial crisis began pulling back from high-risk movie deals. It was then that Ellison’s star began to rise.

After Paramount Pictures’ negotiations over with Deutsche Bank collapsed in 2008, leaving the studio without a movie-slate financing deal, Ellison later stepped in to save the day. 

In what would prove a seminal moment, he strung together a $350 million package in 2010, the same year that he founded Skydance in a hangar at the Santa Monica airport.

This made him a vital partner to Paramount, giving him the right to co-produce a number of films, starting with Cruise’s own “Mission Impossible” sequel, Ghost Protocol.

Checkered track record

His record since has been hit and miss.

Alongside the Mission Impossible tentpoles and critically acclaimed streaming series like Amazon’s Reacher, he also bankrolled two failed attempts to revive the “Terminator” franchise, a soft reboot that reunited original stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton. 

Ellison’s 2019 action vehicle Gemini Man, about a contract killer facing off against a younger clone of himself, likewise flopped despite pairing proven star Will Smith with acclaimed director Ang Lee.

The Skydance founder finally landed his biggest blockbuster to date by linking up with Cruise for Top Gun: Maverick.

The film, for which he underwrote a quarter of the financing, hauled in more than $700 million domestically to become the fifth highest-grossing film of all time, despite hitting theaters in the aftermath of the pandemic.

According to Skydance, its films have now earned more than $8 billion at the global box office, not including revenue from its other businesses like TV and sports.

No longer dumb money

“There was a period of time where people just looked at us as money, and we knew that,” Ellison told the New York Times a few months before the film debuted. “But there has been a shift. Our content – the ideas, the execution – has become more important than our capital.”

Now the passionate stunt pilot has swooped in to bag his biggest deal yet, after reportedly bonding with Paramount chair Redstone over growing up under someone else’s shadow. 

Sumner Redstone—who had a strained relationship with his daughter—began forging the Paramount empire with the 1987 acquisition of Viacom.

Next in line for Ellison is an eighth Mission Impossible sequel and the next instalment of Top Gun, which the newly crowned media mogul is once more expected to co-produce alongside his still youthful-looking 62-year-old star. 

“It’s so easy to get David to commit to a movie,” one industry insider told Vanity Fair back in 2013. “It just has to have a plane.” 

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