Barry Reardon Dies: Former Warner Bros Theatrical Distribution Exec Behind Hits Like ‘Batman’ & ‘The Fugitive’ Was 92


D. Barry Reardon, former longtime Warner Bros. President of Sales and Distribution, has died at 92. The exec known as “The Dean of Distribution” among industry peers and filmmakers passed May 27 in Vero Beach, FL.

Reardon was the head of theatrical distribution at Warner Bros from 1978-99, and was known for breaking the mold on the motion picture business, i.e. getting a jumpstart on summer before Memorial Day (read, Twister in 1996 opening in mid-May in advance of Paramount’s Tom Cruise juggernaut, Mission: Impossible) and dating blockbusters during the early days of August, previously considered a dead zone (i.e. Clint Eastwood’s ultimate Oscar Best Picture winner, Unforgiven, in 1992, and the Harrison Ford hit, The Fugitive, in 1993 — the latter dating maneuver that pic’s late producer Arnold Kopelson told the L.A. Times was “pure genius”).

Also before his departure from Warner Bros. in March 1999, Reardon had developed an internal marketing data system with fellow executives that was ahead of its time, tracking rivals’ trailers from the last ten years, their grosses, and actors’ track records with box office and critics. This allowed executives to steer a film with a particular actor away from a critic who has had problems with that actor. The data system also broke down production and marketing costs, as well as audience demos for all major motion picture studios.

During Reardon’s run as Warner Bros. Distribution Boss, the studio ranked among the top three studios in North American box-office market share, 16 out of his 20 years. Eight years it placed first and five years it was second. The Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman movies were released during Reardon’s reign grossing $1.25 billion worldwide through four movies, in addition to the four Lethal Weapon movies which racked up close to $1 billion worldwide. Reardon was also a big champ for Chariots of Fire and Driving Miss Daisy which became respective Oscar Best Picture winners for 1981 and 1989 and tentpoles in their day.

Reardon not only mentored current day distribution bosses such as Warner Bros. current President of Domestic Distribution, Jeff Goldstein, but also was the gold standard to some of the greats.

In a 1999 Los Angeles Times profile on Reardon, late Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, a longtime friend of the exec, said “Barry was one competitor who insisted on getting his way. . . . The clincher was he did it in such a gentlemanly way it could really be irritating.”

“Barry single-handedly changed the way distribution is looked at as an art form in the business today,” Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Century Fox’s Domestic Film Group told the L.A. Times.

Exclaimed Goldstein in an internal email to staff, “He was THE O.G.  ‘Dean of Distribution’ whose many accomplishments are legendary.  His mentorship has inspired generations of entertainment leaders.  The impact of his legacy is long lived.  Warner Bros is a better company because of his leadership.  Our lives were enriched by his friendship.”

Reardon was born on March 8, 1931 to David and Anne Cotter Reardon in Hartford, CT. He graduated from The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA in 1953 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in
Economics. From 1953-1956 he worked for Army Intelligence in Europe. He attended Trinity College from
1956-1957 and earned an MBA in Economics. After his first job at United Technologies, Reardon worked for Litton Industries in their Eureka-Carlisle Division in Scranton, PA until 1967. At that time, it was the largest printer of trading stamps and seals in the world and the second largest printer of catalogs in the United States. He was the purchasing agent for the paper they needed, and he met his wife Marsha then as she worked for the paper company from which he purchased paper.

In 1967, Reardon began his career in the entertainment business. He joined Paramount Pictures in NYC as the associate to the VP of Finance. Then he moved to marketing and distribution as Vice President and Assistant to the President. In 1975 he joined General Cinema Corporation in Boston, MA, in charge of marketing and film procurement. At that time General Cinema was the largest movie circuit in the US. In 1978 he was recruited by Warner Brothers and the family moved to Los Angeles. This turned out to be his “dream” job.

The exhibition confab forerunner of CinemaCon, Sho West, honored Reardon with the title “Dean of Distribution”.

Reardon retired in Vero Beach, FL., spending summers in Wilmington, VT. I first heard about Reardon in high school during the late 1980s, growing up in Southern Vermont: My mother came home one day to tell me that a big Hollywood exec from Warner Bros. was opening a cinema in the nearby ski haven of Dover, VT, a hub he owned for several years.

Reardon is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marsha, and his daughter Lisa.

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