In 1979, on this day movie director Michael Cimino (pictured) filed a breach-of-contract suit against United Artists after UA decided to withhold part of his promised $500,000 salary for making the never-completed Western saga Heaven's Gate. Shooting on the troubled film had been terminated a month earlier due to cost overruns and seemingly endless production delays; the salary withholding decision was made in an effort to recoup some of UA's losses on the movie.
Heaven's Gate by Chris OakleyThe lengthy fight between Cimino and United Artists derailed Cimino's once-promising filmmaking career; by the time the parties finally settled out of court in 1983, Cimino had become an industry joke, his name synonymous with high profile failure and the acclaim received by his debut movie The Deer Hunter all but forgotten. His lone post-Gate filmmaking venture, the 1987 gangland drama Year of the Dragon, was a box office disaster that effectively killed what was left of his professional reputation.
Ironically UA, who some movie industry analysts had feared might go bankrupt as a result of the Gate fiasco, emerged from the ordeal stronger than ever-- by 1984 the studio was riding a new wave of success thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator franchise and prestige projects like the Tom Hanks World War II drama Saving Corporal Ryan. In 1993 UA formed a distribution and production partnership with MGM that reaped huge dividends for both companies.
By 2008 UA and MGM were tied for second on the list of the ten most profitable entertainment companies in America.
The Gate fiasco and its aftermath would be chronicled at length in former UA executive Steven Bach's tell-all book Final Cut: Dreams and Disaster In The Making Of Heaven's Gate.