Barry Reardon, who led theatrical distribution at Warner Bros. for nearly 20 years starting in the late 1970s, died on May 27 at his home in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 92.
A respected 31-year industry veteran, Reardon was known as the “dean” of theatrical distribution and was credited with transforming the way that studio films are marketed and released. During his tenure, the industry began to place more of an emphasis on daily and weekend box office reports and expanded the scope of the all-important summer blockbuster season.
At the time of his retirement in 1999 — after 21 years at the studio and 17 as distribution chief — he exited with an enviable track record. Under his leadership, the studio had 22 films cross the $100 million mark domestically — an impressive milestone since movie tickets were much less expensive back then, and one that’s proven to be challenging to match again in these pandemic times. And Warner Bros. spent most of those years among the top three studios in terms of North American box office share.
In Variety’s, he was referred to as a “straight shooter who loves movies” and revered for his close relationships with longtime Warner Bros. filmmakers and producers, including Clint Eastwood, Joel Silver and Richard Donner. Despite the tricky nature of the job, where executives haggle to secure screens over competitor’s titles and usually have to answer for a box office misfire, he was admired by rivals and the exhibition community.
“Barry is the OG ‘Dean of Distribution,’ leaving a uniquely innovative legacy on the entertainment industry,” said Jeff Goldstein, the current president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros, who calls Reardon a mentor.
Reardon was born on March 8, 1931 in Hartford, Conn. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1953 and earned a degree in economics before being dispatched to Europe to work for Army Intelligence. Reardon returned to the States in 1956 to attend Trinity College and received an MBA in economics. After his first job at United Technologies, he worked for defense contractor Litton Industries in Scranton, Penn. as the purchasing agent to secure the paper the company needed to print trading stamps, seals and catalogs. There, he met his wife Marsha, who worked for the company from which he purchased paper.
Reardon began his entertainment industry career in 1967 at Paramount Pictures as an associate to the VP of finance. Based in New York City, he then moved to marketing and distribution as VP and assistant to the president. In 1975, he moved to Boston and joined the country’s then-largest movie theater circuit, General Cinema Corporation, as the head of marketing and film procurement.
Given his expertise in exhibition, he was recruited by Warner Bros. and moved with his family to Los Angeles. According to his wife, it turned out to be his “dream” job. Some notable credits include “The Shining,” “Blade Runner,” Michael Keaton’s “Batman” trilogy, “Goodfellas” and “Twister.” He attempted to retire several times before the end of the millennium, but WB chairmen and co-CEOs Robert Daly and Terry Semel persuaded him to stay at least a few more years.
During his retirement, he didn’t stray too far from Hollywood as he served on several industry and charitable boards. A snow bird who spent summers in Vermont and winters in Florida, he filled his time with travel (and managed to visit all seven continents), golf, skiing and lawn mowing.
He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Marsha, and his daughter Lisa.