''Amistad,'' James Bond, and ''Scream'' got tangled up in legalese this year

By Gregg Kilday
Updated December 26, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

To sue or not to sue? When it comes to Hollywood dealmaking, the answer is obvious. A look at ’97’s court calendar proves that ”studio suits” now has a whole new meaning.

SCREAMING MATCH Sony Pictures yelled last year when Miramax changed the title of its Scary Movie to Scream; Sony claimed that was too close to its 1996 Screamers. The MPAA sided with Sony in April, exposing Miramax to millions in fines (the two companies reached an undisclosed settlement instead). Miramax took revenge in October when Sony’s Columbia billed I Know What You Did Last Summer as a movie ”from the creator of Scream.” Saying the honorific belonged to Scream director Wes Craven — not just Kevin Williamson, who wrote both films — Miramax sued Sony, which dropped the ad line.

BOND, BAIL BOND MGM chairman Frank Mancuso thought he had a lock on the James Bond character. Which explains why he went ballistic when Sony president/COO John Calley announced in October that he’d made a deal with Thunderball and Never Say Never Again producer Kevin McClory to create rival Bond films. Last month, MGM sued Sony, Calley, and McClory for $25 million, charging them with trying to steal Bond. ”It has absolutely no merit,” a Sony spokesman says of MGM’s claim.

OF MICE AND MEN Former Disney studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, who left the company in 1994, had sued his former employer for $250 million in profit participation for The Lion King and other projects; Disney insisted he had forfeited any bonuses when he walked. All summer long, Disney suggested that Katzenberg was a credit hog, while Katzenberg’s allies painted Disney chairman Michael Eisner as a vindictive boss. In November, the two reached an anticlimactic, 11th-hour out-of-court settlement. The agreement acknowledged Katzenberg’s claims — he’ll reportedly get at least $100 million, but the final figure is still subject to arbitration.

SHIP HAPPENS Just as Steven Spielberg’s Amistad was set to sail, its launch was marred by a $10 million suit filed by author Barbara Chase-Riboud, accusing the director of plagiarizing her 1989 novel, Echo of Lions. Spielberg’s lawyer countercharged that Chase-Riboud had pilfered from the 1953 book Black Mutiny, and insisted the movie was based on historical fact. On Dec. 8, Chase-Riboud failed to persuade a federal judge to halt the movie’s opening, but she has vowed to pursue her suit.