United Artists Entertainment LLC said Thursday that it has secured $500 million in financing through Merrill Lynch to cover production for 15 to 18 films over the next five years.

Specific terms of the transaction are not being disclosed but the deal has been rumored to be near completion since the beginning of the year. United Artists said the slate will include a combination of films some developed in house as well films that are co-produced or co-financed with other studios or independent partners.

The studio said it plans to release four to six films a year.

This is the first major financing announcement from the revamped film house, which has been taken over by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner after their departure from Viacom. Both Cruise and Wagner have full green-light authority and also have a partnership with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

This deal comes more than six months after Cruise's public split with Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures after a 14-year relationship. Viacom's Chairman Sumner Redstone had said publicly that Cruise's behavior had become "entirely unacceptable" after the movie superstar exhibited odd behavior and made a series of widely publicized gaffes.

"The closing of this financing is an important milestone for the new United Artists," Wagner said. "It leaves us perfectly poised to realize our vision of making movies that are both important and commercial."

The financing is effective immediately and will cover two UA film projects already in the works.

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