Family & Companions
One of the most prolific film producers of the past two decades, Arnold Kopelson first entered the industry as an entertainment and banking lawyer before going on to become an Oscar-winning producer. A leading industry figure who served as either an executive producer, producer, packager, developer or distributor on over 100 films - often with wife and business partner Anne - Kopelson kicked off his career as a Hollywood mogul in 1972 with the founding of Inter-Ocean Film Sales, a company that specialized in the foreign distribution of independently produced non-American TV movies. In the late 1970s, Kopelson became an independent producer and enjoyed varying degrees of critical and commercial success, most notably with the Oscar-winning "Platoon" (1986), the controversial urban drama "Falling Down" (1993), the action-packed Harrison Ford vehicle "The Fugitive" (1993) and the grisly Brad Pitt thriller "Se7en" (1995). When all was said and done, Kopelson's films were collectively responsible for 17 Academy Award nominations and over $3 billion in worldwide receipts.
Born on February 14, 1935 in New York, NY, Kopelson graduated from New York University in 1956 and went on to earn a law degree three years later from New York Law School, the country's second oldest independent law school. Beginning his career with the law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York, Kopelson acted as special counsel in entertainment lending transactions to several institutions. In the mid-1970s, Kopelson kicked off one of the most profitable partnerships in Hollywood history, teaming up with movie producer and future wife Anne Feinberg to form Film Packages, Inc. (later known as Kopelson Entertainment.) A wizard of motion picture financing, Kopelson eventually took his act to Hollywood, where his keen financial acumen made him a natural Hollywood player. Embarking on a career as a full-time producer, Kopelson displayed an uncanny eye for picking profitable creative material.
While his earliest endeavors could scarcely be termed classics, Kopelson's films were reliable moneymakers and influential in their own right. A prime example was the horny teen comedy, "Porky's" (1981), the granddaddy of all raunchy teen sex comedies. The $4 million movie grossed a stunning $110 million domestically, spawning two direct sequels and seemingly endless knockoffs over the next two decades. Though filmed in Miami, FL, "Porky's" was technically considered a Canadian production - ironically the country's the highest-grossing film to date - an arrangement that Kopelson personally masterminded to take advantage of lower exchange rates. For his initial $20,000 investment, Kopelson earned a whopping $2 million return - which he lost a few years later on two abandoned mines in Northern California, clearly indicating his talents were in motion pictures.
Prior to "Porky's," Kopelson served as executive producer in several fair-to-middling projects, ranging from the supernatural thriller "The Legacy" (1979) to the Gary Busey-Annette O'Toole comedy "Foolin' Around" (1980) to the long-forgotten urban thriller "Night of the Juggler" (1980). In the mid-1980s, however, Kopelson's career had a major transformation thanks to the runaway success of his Vietnam War epic "Platoon" (1986). A typically low-budget Kopelson affair, Oliver Stone's passionate semiautobiographical morality tale about an Army platoon splintering between two warring commanding officers (Willem Defoe and Tom Berenger) in the midst of the Vietnam War went on to gross nearly $140 million at the box office and sweep the Oscars, including a Best Picture win for Kopelson.
Riding the crest of his newfound Oscar-winning prestige, Kopelson's budgets got bigger as studios loosed their purse strings. Another one of Kopelson's acclaimed hits of the era was the critically acclaimed World War II drama, "Triumph of the Spirit" (1989), the harrowing true story of Salamo Arouche (Willem Dafoe), a boxer imprisoned with his family in Auschwitz who is forced to compete for the Nazis. The first film to be shot entirely on location at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, "Triumph" was arguably the producer's most powerful and emotionally gripping film. Kopelson's output exploded even further as the 1990s rolled around. In addition to producing the successful Steven Seagal actioner "Out for Justice" (1991), Kopelson was again nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award for "The Fugitive" (1993), demonstrating a rare talent for being both commercially successful and artistically viable. In 1994, Kopelson was named Producer of the Year by ShoWest, while the National Association of Theatre Owners honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Filmmaking from Cinema Expo International.
In 1995, Kopelson knocked out two more high-profile releases. The first, "Outbreak," a medical thriller about the spread of a deadly virus starring Dustin Hoffman, was a marginal hit - and critical disaster - taking in close to $70 million at the domestic box office. On the other hand, Kopelson's second release, "Se7en," a stylish, yet deeply disturbing serial killer noir was a bona fide blockbuster, thanks to the star power of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, and David Fincher's deft direction. Shot on approximately half the budget of the $50 million "Outbreak," "Se7en" broke the $100 million mark in the U.S. and more than doubled that with its international release. Kopelson's next film, the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick "Eraser" (1997), about a U.S. Marshal trying to protect a federal witness, also broke the coveted $100 million barrier. Meanwhile, he followed up "The Fugitive" with "U.S. Marshals" (1998), which flipped the point-of-view and depicted Tommy Lee Jones' character as the hero, rather than the antagonist. Despite being a solid film derived from a bona fide blockbuster, "U.S. Marshals" failed to match its predecessor's box office success.
While his output dropped marginally after the 1990s, Kopelson remained a relevant force in Hollywood and even tried his hand - albeit unsuccessfully - in adapting "The Fugitive" for television. In January 2007, Kopelson signed a multi-million dollar deal with the Houston-based Equus Total Return, Inc. to finance film development. The arrangement enabled Kopelson to option books, scripts, pitches and other viable properties without studio approval. In exchange, Equus would reportedly participate in the backend. According to Kopelson, "This [deal] allows me to become a buyer." He further went on to explain that "Without funds, a producer has to go to an agent, ask to be given a property for a certain studio. Now, I can buy without going through two layers of executives. I can then go to any studio, including the newly funded production companies, to get it made. There is a shortage of good material, and this is an opportunity to fill a niche." In 2007, Kopelson continued his dominance in the industry by being elected to the Board of Directors of the CBS Corporation.
Producer (Feature Film)
First credits as an executive producer, "Lost and Found", "The Legacy", and "Foolin' Around"
Developed the immensely popular and influential teen sex comedy "Porky's"
Produced Oliver Stone's acclaimed Vietnam War drama, "Platoon", first film as a producer
Served as a judge at the 1987 Miss Universe Pageant
Produced "Triumph of the Spirit", a Holocaust drama starring Willem Dafoe; first film allowed to be shot entirely on location at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland
Acting debut, guest shot in an episode of "2000 Malibu Road"
Signed a three-year first-look deal with Warner Bros. For Arnold Kopelson Prods.
Produced the Oscar-nominated "The Fugitive"
Served as a producer on "Seven"
With wife Anne, executive produced the CBS fall remake of "The Fugitive"