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Major film studios

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The logos of the "Big Five" film studios, arranged in order by the year each studio was founded
Map
The locations of the "Big Five" film studios in Los Angeles.

Major film studios are production and distribution companies that release a substantial number of films annually and consistently command the significant share of box office revenue in a given market. In the American and international markets, the major film studios, often known simply as the majors or the Big Five studios, are commonly regarded as the five diversified media conglomerates whose various film production and distribution subsidiaries collectively command approximately 80 to 85% of U.S. box office revenue.[1][2][3][4] The term may also be applied more specifically to the primary motion picture business subsidiary of each respective conglomerate.[2]

Since the dawn of filmmaking, the U.S. major film studios have dominated both American cinema and the global film industry.[5][6] U.S. studios have benefited from a strong first-mover advantage in that they were the first to industrialize filmmaking and master the art of mass-producing and distributing high-quality films with broad cross-cultural appeal.[7] Today, the Big Five majors – Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., Walt Disney Studios, and Sony Pictures – routinely distribute hundreds of films every year into all significant international markets (that is, where discretionary income is high enough for consumers to afford to watch films). The majors enjoy "significant internal economies of scale" from their "extensive and efficient [distribution] infrastructure",[8] while it is "nearly impossible" for a film to reach a broad international theatrical audience without being first picked up by one of the majors for distribution.[4] Today, all the Big Five major studios are also members of the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

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Transcription

Overview

The current "Big Five" majors (Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, and Sony) all originate with film studios that were active during Hollywood's "Golden Age". Four of these were among that original era's "Eight Majors", being that era's original "Big Five" plus its "Little Three", collectively the eight film studios that controlled as much as 96% of the market during the 1930s and 1940s.

In addition to being members of today's "Big Five", Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. were also part of the original "Big Five", along with RKO Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and 20th Century Fox.

Universal Pictures was, during that early era, considered one of "Little Three", along with United Artists and Columbia Pictures, but became quickly one of the Big Five studios. United Artists began as a distribution company for several independent producers and later began producing its own films, and was eventually acquired by MGM in 1981. Columbia Pictures eventually merged in 1987 with Tri-Star Pictures to form Columbia Pictures Entertainment.

During the Golden Age, Walt Disney Productions was an independent production company and not considered a "major studio" until 1984, when it joined 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer, Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros. to comprise the "Big Seven". The decay of MGM, in 1986, reduced the majors to the "Big Six". In 2019, Disney acquired Fox, reducing the majors to a new "Big Five" for the first time since Hollywood's Golden Age.[9] RKO went defunct in 1959 and MGM became a mini-major upon its sale from Turner to Kerkorian in 1986. In 1989, Sony acquired Columbia Pictures Entertainment, which became Sony Pictures Entertainment in 1991. Thus, Paramount and Warner Bros. are the only Golden Age Big Five members to remain as majors today.

While the Big Five's main studio lots are located within 15 miles (24 km) of each other, Paramount is the only member of the Big Five still based in Hollywood and located entirely within the official city limits of the City of Los Angeles.[10] Warner Bros. and Disney are both located in Burbank while Universal is in the nearby unincorporated area of Universal City and Sony in Culver City.

Disney is the only studio that has been owned by the same conglomerate since its founding. The offices of that parent entity are still located on Disney's studio lot and in the same building.[11][12]

Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Motion Picture Group is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment, which is owned by Tokyo-based Sony Group Corporation, and is the only US film studio owned by a foreign conglomerate, while Universal is owned by Philadelphia-based Comcast (via NBCUniversal) and the other two report to corporations headquartered in New York City — Paramount Global and Warner Bros. Discovery. Most of today's Big Five also control subsidiaries with their own distribution networks that concentrate on arthouse pictures (e.g. Universal's Focus Features) or genre films (e.g. Sony's Screen Gems); several other specialty units were shut down or sold off between 2008 and 2010.

Outside of the Big Five, there are several smaller U.S. production and distribution companies, known as independents or "indies". The leading independent producer/distributors such as Lionsgate Studios, Apple Studios, Netflix, Inc., the aforementioned Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (now owned by Amazon), A24, and STX Entertainment are sometimes referred to as "mini-majors". From 1998 through 2005, during a portion of the Big Six period, DreamWorks SKG commanded a large enough market share to arguably qualify it as a seventh major. In 2006, DreamWorks was acquired by Viacom, Paramount's then-corporate parent (Viacom, after other mergers and acquisitions and rebrandings, included its movie studio's well known name when the parent company rebranded as Paramount Global in 2022). In late 2008, DreamWorks once again became an independent production company; its films were distributed by Disney's Touchstone Pictures until 2016, at which point distribution switched to Universal.

Today, the Big Five major studios are primarily financial backers and distributors of films whose actual production is largely handled by independent companies – either long-running entities or ones created for and dedicated to the making of a specific film. For example, Disney and Sony Pictures distribute their films through affiliated divisions (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Sony Pictures Releasing, respectively) while the others function as both production and distribution companies. The specialty divisions (such as Searchlight Pictures and Focus Features) often acquire distribution rights to films in which the studio has had no prior involvement. While the majors still do a modicum of true production, their activities are focused more in the areas of development, financing, marketing, and merchandising. Those business functions are still usually performed in or near Los Angeles, even though the runaway production phenomenon means that most films are now mostly or completely shot on location at places outside Los Angeles.

The Big Five major studios are also members of the Motion Picture Association (MPA)[13] and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Majors

Current

Studio parent
(conglomerate)
Major film studio unit

Secondary studio

Date founded Arthouse/indie Genre movie/B movie Animation Other divisions and brands OTT/VOD US/CA market share (2023)[14]
NBCUniversal
(Comcast)
Universal Pictures April 30, 1912 Peacock
Hayu
Vudu (75%)
SkyShowtime (JV)
21.77%
Paramount Pictures Corporation
(Paramount Global)
Paramount Pictures May 8, 1912
Paramount+
Pluto TV
BET+
Noggin
Nick+
JioCinema (13.01%)
My5
Philo (minority stake)
SkyShowtime (JV)
9.55%
Warner Bros. Entertainment
(Warner Bros. Discovery)
Warner Bros. Pictures

New Line Cinema

April 4, 1923

June 18, 1967

Max
Discovery+
Vudu (25%)
Philo (minority stake)
15.73%
Walt Disney Studios
(The Walt Disney Company)
Walt Disney Pictures

20th Century Studios

October 16, 1923

May 31, 1935

Disney+
Hulu
ESPN+ (80%)
Disney+ Hotstar
Star+
Movies Anywhere
Philo (minority stake)
21.26%
Sony Pictures
(Sony Group Corporation)
Columbia Pictures

TriStar Pictures

January 10, 1924[17]

March 2, 1982

Sony Pictures Core
SonyLIV
Crunchyroll
Great American Pure Flix (JV)
11.26%

Past

Other major film studios of the 20th century included:

Instant majors

"Instant major" is a 1960s coined term for a film company that seemingly overnight had approached the status of major"[22] In 1967, three "instant major" studios popped up, two of which were partnered with a television network theatrical film unit, with most lasting until 1973:

Mini-majors

Mini-major studios (or "mini-majors") are the larger, independent film production companies that are smaller than the major studios and attempt to compete directly with them.[24]

Current

Studio parent
(conglomerate)
Mini-major film studio unit

Secondary studio

Year founded Other divisions and brands OTT/VOD US/CA market share (2023)[14]
Amazon MGM Studios
(Amazon)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer[25]

Orion Pictures

April 17, 1924

January 1978

Amazon Prime Video
MGM+
Amazon Freevee
ScreenPix
2.49%
Lionsgate Studios
(Lionsgate)[26][27][28]
Lionsgate Films

Summit Entertainment

1962

July 26, 1991

N/A 6.48%
A24[30] A24 Films August 20, 2012[31]
  • A24 International
  • 2AM (backing)
N/A 1.54%
STX Entertainment
STX Films March 10, 2014[32]
  • STX Digital
  • STX Family
  • STX International
N/A 0.07%

Past

Past mini-majors include:

Other significant, past independent entities

Semi-majors

Semi-major studios (or "semi-majors") are significant studios that are sisters to or had a stake held by a major film studio.[citation needed]

Current

Studio parent
(conglomerate)
Semi-major film studio unit

Secondary studio

Year founded Other divisions and brands OTT/VOD US/CA market share (2023)[14]
Amblin Partners[53]
Amblin Entertainment

DreamWorks Pictures

1980

October 12, 1994

N/A ~ 0%

Past

History

The majors before the Golden Age

In 1909, Thomas Edison, who had been fighting in the courts for years for control of fundamental motion picture patents, won a major decision. This led to the creation of the Motion Picture Patents Company, widely known as the Trust. Comprising the eight largest U.S. film companies, it was "designed to eliminate not only independent film producers but also the country's 10,000 independent [distribution] exchanges and exhibitors."[57] Though its many members did not consolidate their filmmaking operations, the New York–based Trust was arguably the first major North American movie conglomerate. The independents' fight against the Trust was led by Carl Laemmle, whose Chicago-based Laemmle Film Service, serving the Midwest and Canada, was the largest distribution exchange in North America. Laemmle's efforts were rewarded in 1912 when the U.S. government ruled that the Trust was a "corrupt and unlawful association" and must be dissolved. On June 8, 1912, Laemmle organized the merger of his production division, IMP (Independent Motion Picture Company), with several other filmmaking companies, creating the Universal Film Manufacturing Company in New York City. By the end of the year, Universal was making movies at two Los Angeles facilities: the former Nestor Film studio in Hollywood, and another studio in Edendale. The first Hollywood major studio was in business.[58]

In 1918, four brothers—Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner—founded the first Warner Bros. Studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. On April 4, 1923, the Warner Bros. incorporated their fledgling movie company as "Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.". Though their first film was My Four Years in Germany, Warner Bros. released their full-fledged movie The Jazz Singer in 1927. Warner Bros. were the pioneers of the sound film era as they established Vitaphone. Because of The Jazz Singer's success (along with Lights of New York, The Singing Fool and The Terror), Warner Bros. was able to acquire a much larger studio in Burbank, which it began to use starting in 1928 (and which is famous for its signature water tower). Warner Bros. eventually expanded its studio operations to Leavesden in London. Warner Bros. Studio Leavesden is the main studio in production of hit movies like the Harry Potter film series, The Dark Knight and the recent ones like The Batman and Ready Player One.

In 1916, a second powerful Hollywood studio was established when Adolph Zukor merged his Famous Players Film Company movie production house with the Jesse L. Lasky Company to form Famous Players–Lasky. The combined studio acquired Paramount Pictures as a distribution arm and eventually adopted its name. That same year, William Fox relocated his Fox Film Corporation from Fort Lee, New Jersey to Hollywood and began expanding.[59]

In 1923, Walt Disney had founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio and The Disney Brothers Features Company with his brother Roy and animator Ub Iwerks. Renamed as Walt Disney Productions, Disney became a powerful independent over the next three decades focusing on animation with its shorts and films being distributed over the years by various majors; primarily Leslie B. Mace, Winkler Pictures, Universal Pictures, Celebrity Productions, Cinephone, Columbia Pictures, United Artists, United Artists Pictures and finally RKO. In its first year in 1928, Celebrity Productions and Cinephone had released its first blockbuster Steamboat Willie. In the decades that followed, Disney and its associated distributors were able to achieve occasional successes, but its relatively small output and exclusive focus on G-rated films meant that it was not generally considered to be one of the majors.

The Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America and the Independent Producers' Association declared war in 1925 on what they termed a common enemy — the "film trust" of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount, and First National, which they claimed dominated the industry by not only producing and distributing motion pictures, but by entering into exhibition as well.[60]

On October 6, 1927, Warner Bros. released The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, and a whole new era began, with "pictures that talked", bringing the studio to the forefront of the film industry. The Jazz Singer played to standing-room-only crowds throughout the country and earned a special Academy Award for Technical Achievement.[61] Fox, in the forefront of sound film technology along with Warner Bros., was also acquiring a sizable circuit of movie theaters to exhibit its product.[citation needed] The development of sound films like The Jazz Singer near the end of the Roaring Twenties resulted in a massive rush of Americans to movie theaters to watch the astonishing new "talkies".[6] At the peak of the fad, every person in the United States over the age of six was watching a motion picture in a theater at least once a week.[6] The box office revenue from the first sound films is what enabled the Hollywood majors to achieve their lasting domination of the global film industry.[6]

The majors during the Golden Age

Between late 1928, when RCA's David Sarnoff engineered the creation of the RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum) studio, and the end of 1949, when Paramount divested its theater chain—roughly the period considered Hollywood's Golden Age—there were eight Hollywood studios commonly regarded as the "majors".[62][63] Of these eight, the so-called Big Five were integrated conglomerates, combining ownership of a production studio, distribution division, and substantial theater chain, and contracting with performers and filmmaking personnel: Loew's/MGM, Paramount, Fox (which became 20th Century-Fox after a 1935 merger), Warner Bros., and RKO. The remaining majors were sometimes referred to as the "Little Three" or "major minor" studios.[21] Two—Universal and Columbia (founded in 1924)—were organized similarly to the Big Five, except for the fact that they never owned more than small theater circuits (a consistently reliable source of profits). The third of the lesser majors, United Artists (founded in 1919), owned a few theaters and had access to production facilities owned by its principals, but it functioned primarily as a backer-distributor, loaning money to independent producers and releasing their films. During the 1930s, the eight majors averaged a total of 358 feature film releases a year; in the 1940s, the four largest companies shifted more of their resources toward high-budget productions and away from B movies, bringing the yearly average down to 288 for the decade.[62]

Among the significant characteristics of the Golden Age was the stability of the Hollywood majors, their hierarchy, and their near-complete domination of the box office. At the midpoint of the Golden Age, 1939, the Big Five had market shares ranging from 22% (MGM) to 9% (RKO); each of the Little Three had around a 7% share. In sum, the eight majors controlled 95% of the market. Ten years later, the picture was largely the same: the Big Five had market shares ranging from 22% (MGM) to 9% (RKO); the Little Three had shares ranging from 8% (Columbia) to 4% (United Artists). In sum, the eight majors controlled 96% of the market.[64]

The majors after the Golden Age

1950s–1960s

The end of the Golden Age had been signaled by the majors' loss of a federal antitrust case that led to the divestiture of the Big Five's theater chains. Though this had virtually no immediate effect on the eight majors' box-office domination, it somewhat leveled the playing field between the Big Five and the Little Three. In November 1951, Decca Records purchased 28% of Universal; early the following year, the studio became the first of the classic Hollywood majors to be taken over by an outside corporation, as Decca acquired majority ownership.[65] In 1953, Disney established its own distribution division, Buena Vista Film Distribution, to handle its own product which had been largely distributed by RKO. The 1950s also saw two substantial shifts in the hierarchy of the majors: RKO, perennially the weakest of the Big Five, declined rapidly under the mismanagement of Howard Hughes, who had purchased a controlling interest in the studio in 1948. By the time Hughes sold it to the General Tire and Rubber Company in 1955, the studio was a major by outdated reputation alone. In 1957, virtually all RKO movie operations ceased and the studio was dissolved in 1959. (Revived on a small scale in 1981, it was eventually spun off and now operates as a minor independent company.) In contrast, there was United Artists, which had long operated under the financing-distribution model the other majors were now progressively shifting toward. Under Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin, who began managing the company in 1951, UA became consistently profitable. By 1956—when it released one of the biggest blockbusters of the decade, Around the World in 80 Days—it commanded a 10% market share. By the middle of the next decade, it had reached 16% and was the second-most profitable studio in Hollywood.

Despite RKO's collapse, the remaining seven majors still averaged a total yearly release slate of 253 feature films during the decade.[62] Following MCA Inc.'s acquisition of Decca Records and the aforementioned Universal under Lew Wasserman in 1962, the later half of the 1960s were marked by four others — Paramount, United Artists, Warner Bros., and MGM — involved in a spate of corporate takeovers that left Columbia, Fox, and its eventual parent company Disney under original ownership. Gulf+Western took over Paramount in 1966; and the Transamerica Corporation purchased United Artists in 1967. Warner Bros. underwent large-scale reorganization twice in two years: a 1967 merger with the Seven Arts company preceded a 1969 purchase by Kinney National, under Stephen J. Ross. MGM, in the process of a slow decline, changed ownership twice in the same span as well, winding up in the hands of financier Kirk Kerkorian also in 1969. The majors almost entirely abandoned low-budget production during this era, bringing the annual average of features released down to 160.[62] The decade also saw Disney/Buena Vista commanding a prominent position in the market. Buoyed by the success of Mary Poppins, Disney achieved a 9% market share in 1964, more than Warner and its eventual subsidiary Fox. Though over the next two decades Disney/Buena Vista's share of the box-office would continue to reach this level, the studio was still not considered a major as it did not release many films, and those it did release were exclusively G-rated.

1970s–1980s

The early 1970s were difficult years for all the classic majors. Movie attendance, which had been declining steadily since the end of the Golden Age, hit an all-time low by 1971. In 1973, MGM president James T. Aubrey drastically downsized the studio, slashing its production schedule and eliminating its distribution arm (UA would distribute the studio's films for the remainder of the decade). From fifteen releases in 1973, the next year MGM was down to five; its average for the rest of the 1970s would be even lower.[66] Like RKO in its last days under Hughes, MGM remained a major in terms of brand reputation, but little more. Disney by contrast began to ascend towards major status through a resurgence in its animated movies, beginning with The Rescuers (1977), and the studio began to enter the adult market with The Black Hole (1979), its first non-G rated film.

By the mid-1970s, the industry had rebounded and a significant philosophical shift was in progress. As the majors focused increasingly on the development of the next hoped-for blockbuster and began routinely opening each new movie in many hundreds of theaters (an approach called "saturation booking"), their collective yearly release average fell to 81 films during 1975–84.[62] The classic set of majors was shaken further in late 1980, when the disastrously expensive flop of Heaven's Gate effectively ruined United Artists. The studio was sold the following year to Kerkorian, who merged it with MGM. After a brief resurgence, the combined studio continued to decline. From 1986, MGM/UA has been at best a "mini-major", to use the present-day term.

Meanwhile, a new member was finally admitted to the club of major studios and two significant contenders emerged. With the combined output of Walt Disney Pictures, the establishment of the Touchstone Pictures brand in 1984, and increasing attention to the adult live-action market during the early 1980s, Disney/Buena Vista secured acknowledgment as a full-fledged major.[21] Film historian Joel Finler identifies 1986 as the breakthrough year, when Disney rose to third place in market share and remained consistently competitive for a leading position thereafter.[67]

The two emerging contenders were both newly formed companies. In 1978, Krim, Benjamin, and three other studio executives departed UA to found Orion Pictures as a joint venture with Warner Bros. It was announced optimistically as the "first major new film company in 50 years".[68] Tri-Star Pictures was created in 1982 as a joint venture of future corporate sibling Columbia Pictures (at that time acquired by the Coca-Cola Company), HBO (then owned by Warner Bros. Discovery's predecessor Time Inc.), and CBS. In 1985, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation acquired 20th Century-Fox (thus dropping that name's hyphen), the last of both the classic Hollywood majors to be taken over by an outside corporation and five relatively healthy Golden Age majors to remain independent throughout that era and after until its eventual sale to Disney in 2019 brought back the Big Five for the first time since then.

By 1986, the combined share of the six classic majors — Paramount, MGM/UA, Fox, Warner Bros., Columbia and Universal — fell to 64%, the lowest since the beginning of the Golden Age. Fox's future parent company Disney was in third place, behind only Paramount and Warner. Even including Disney/Buena Vista as a seventh major and adding its 10% share (only for them to acquire Fox 33 years later), the majors' control of the North American market was at a historic ebb. Orion (now completely independent of Warner) and Tri-Star were well positioned as mini-majors, each with North American market shares of around 6% and regarded by industry observers as "fully competitive with the majors", much like MGM and Lionsgate by the turn of the century.[69] Smaller independents garnered 13%—more than any studio aside from Paramount. In 1964, by comparison, all of the companies outside of the then-seven majors and Disney had combined for a grand total of 1%. In the first edition of Finler's The Hollywood Story (1988), he wrote, "It will be interesting to see whether the old-established studios will be able to bounce back in the future, as they have done so many times before, or whether the newest developments really do reflect a fundamental change in the US movie industry for the first times since the 20s."[70]

1990s–2000s

With the exception of MGM/UA—whose position was effectively supplanted by Disney—the old-established studios did bounce back. The aforementioned purchase of 20th Century Fox by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation left its future parent company Disney under original ownership and presaged a new round of corporate acquisitions not long afterward. As part of that series, Columbia, Paramount and Warner Bros. received new owners once and for all while Universal changed corporate hands until the mid-2000s. Paramount's parent company Gulf+Western was renamed Paramount Communications and Coca-Cola sold Columbia to Japanese electronics firm Sony in 1989, creating Sony Pictures. The following year, Warner Communications merged with Time Inc. to birth Time Warner and Universal's parent company MCA was purchased by fellow Japanese electronics conglomerate Matsushita. At this time, both Tri-Star and Orion were essentially out of business: the former merged with Sony and Columbia, the latter bankrupt and sold to MGM. The most important contenders to emerge during the 1990s with Viacom's purchase of Paramount Communications in 1994 — New Line Cinema, Miramax, and DreamWorks SKG — were likewise sooner or later brought into the majors' fold. Shortly after, Matsushita sold MCA (and Universal) to Seagram in 1996, then Vivendi in 2000, and later NBC's parent company General Electric in 2004 to become NBCUniversal.

The development of in-house pseudo-indie subsidiaries by the conglomerates—sparked by the 1992 establishment of Sony Pictures Classics and the success of Pulp Fiction (1994) on home video, significantly undermined the position of the true independents. The majors' release schedule rebounded: the six (later five) primary studio subsidiaries alone put out a total of 124 films during 2006; the three largest secondary subsidiaries (New Line, Fox Searchlight, and Focus Features) accounted for another 30. Box-office domination was fully restored: in 2006, the then-six (now five) major movie conglomerates combined for 89.8% of the North American market; Lionsgate and Weinstein were almost exactly half as successful as their 1986 mini-major counterparts, sharing 6.1%; MGM came in at 1.8%; and all of the remaining independent companies split a pool totaling 2.3%.[71]

More developments took place among the majors' subsidiaries. The very successful animation production house Pixar, whose films were distributed by Buena Vista, was acquired by Disney also in 2006. In 2008, New Line Cinema lost its independent status within Time Warner and became a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Time Warner also announced that it would be shutting down its two specialty units, Warner Independent and Picturehouse.[72] Also in 2008, Paramount Vantage's production, marketing, and distribution departments were folded into the parent studio,[73] though it retained the brand for release purposes.[74][75] Universal sold off its genre specialty division, Rogue Pictures, to Relativity Media in 2009.[76]

2010–present

In January 2010,[77] Disney closed down Miramax's operations and sold off the unit and its library that July to an investor group led by Ronald N. Tutor of the Tutor Perini construction firm and Tom Barrack of the Colony Capital private equity firm.[78]

In March 2013, Comcast fully acquired Universal after buying out the remaining 49% of NBCUniversal from General Electric.

On December 14, 2017, The Walt Disney Company (the parent company of major film studio Walt Disney Studios) announced to acquire key assets of 21st Century Fox (including fellow major film studio 20th Century Fox along with Fox Searchlight Pictures).[79][80] After beating out Comcast in a bidding war for Fox, both Disney and Fox shareholders approved the deal on July 27, 2018, and closed on March 20, 2019.[81][82][79] The number of major film studios lowered to five, a number that not happen since the Golden Age of Hollywood,[83] the era of the "Big Six" studios and Fox as a major studio for 83 years ended.[83]

From June 14, 2018, until its acquisition by Discovery in 2022, Warner Bros. was owned by AT&T, which completed its acquisition of Time Warner, renaming it "WarnerMedia",[84] which contained all assets owned by Warner Bros. and its subsidiaries.

On August 13, 2019, Paramount Pictures parent, Viacom, announced its reunion with CBS Corporation, and the combined company would be called ViacomCBS, renamed Paramount also in 2022. The two companies previously merged in 2000 but split in 2005. The deal was completed on December 4, 2019.[85][86] Meanwhile, CBS Corporation's mini-major film studio, CBS Films was folded into CBS Entertainment Group after releasing its 2019 film slate, switching its focus to creating original film content for CBS All Access.[87]

On January 17, 2020, Disney discontinued the "Fox" name from both 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures and rebranded them as 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures respectively, to avoid brand confusion with Fox Corporation. The "Searchlight Pictures" and "20th Century Studios" name were first seen on Downhill on February 14, and on The Call of the Wild a week later on February 21 respectively.[88][89]

The studios were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with some cinema chains closing, precipitating box office flops (like Disney's Onward or Sony's Bloodshot). Several films were delayed (Universal and MGM's No Time to Die or Paramount's A Quiet Place Part II and even Disney's Black Widow and Mulan) and others were launched to the digital market (like Universal's The Invisible Man and Trolls World Tour and Warner Bros.' Birds of Prey, Scoob and Wonder Woman 1984).[90]

On May 16, 2021, it was reported that AT&T was in talks with Discovery, Inc. for it to merge with and acquire Warner Bros.' parent company WarnerMedia, forming a publicly traded company that would be divided between its shareholders.[91] The proposed spin-off and acquisition was officially announced the next day, which was structured as a Reverse Morris Trust. AT&T shareholders would receive a 71% stake in the enlarged Discovery, which would be led by its current CEO David Zaslav. As the transaction closed on April 8, 2022, Discovery renamed itself Warner Bros. Discovery and ended AT&T's investment in the entertainment business.[92][93][94]

On the same day after the announcement of the acquisition/merger of WarnerMedia by Discovery, Amazon entered negotiations with MGM Holdings to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The negotiations were made directly with MGM board chairman Kevin Ulrich whose Anchorage Capital Group is a major shareholder.[95][96] MGM already began to explore a potential sale of the studio since December 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the domination of streaming platforms due to the closure of movie theaters as contributing factors.[97][98] On May 26, 2021, it was officially announced that MGM would be acquired by Amazon for $8.45 billion, subject to regulatory approvals and other routine closing conditions; with the studio continuing to operate as a label under Amazon's existing content arm, complementing Amazon Studios and Amazon Prime Video.[99] The acquisition closed on March 17, 2022.[100]

On April 18, 2024, rumors began to circulate that Sony Pictures and Apollo Global Management were interested in jointly acquiring Paramount Global. Sony Pictures and Apollo presented a $26 billion all-cash offer to acquire Paramount Global on May 5, 2024.[101] According to The New York Times, the board of directors of Paramount Global formally commenced negotiations with Sony and Apollo over the possible sale of the company.[102] If the deal is finalized, Sony will rank third in the world's movie studio rankings, behind The Walt Disney Company and NBCUniversal. In the US and Canada alone, Sony would have a 20.81% market share.[103] On June 3, 2024, Paramount Group reportedly agreed to merge with Skydance Media instead of Sony for $8 billion. Skydance would first acquire National Amusements, which controls 80% of the voting shares of Paramount, and then pump cash into Paramount, which would then acquire Skydance.[104] On June 11, 2024, National Amusements announced that they have failed to reach an agreement with Skydance on the Paramount deal.[105]

Historical organizational lineage

The eight Golden Age majors

The eight major film studios of the Golden Age have gone through significant ownership changes ("independent" meaning customarily identified as the primary commercial entity in its corporate structure; "purchased" meaning acquired anything from majority to total ownership). For instance, this does not include Walt Disney Studios, which despite being primarily an independent animation studio during the Golden Age, is the only current existing major studio to remain under continuous autonomous ownership since its founding.

Universal Pictures

Paramount Pictures

United Artists (UA)

Warner Bros.

Columbia Pictures

  • Independent as CBC Film Sales, 1918–1924 (founded by Harry Cohn, Joe Brandt, and Jack Cohn)
  • Independent, 1924–1968 (company changes name to Columbia Pictures Corporation; goes public in 1926)
  • Columbia Pictures Industries, 1968–1987 (merger between Columbia Pictures Corporation and Screen Gems. CPI becomes the parent of both companies)
  • Columbia Pictures Entertainment, 1987–1991 (divested by Coca-Cola; Coke's entertainment business sold to Tri-Star and takes 49% in CPE)
  • Sony Pictures Entertainment, 1991–present (Columbia Pictures Entertainment rebrands itself two years after purchase)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

RKO Radio Pictures/RKO Pictures

  • Independent as FBO, 1918–1928 (founded by Harry F. Robertson)
  • RCA, 1928–1935 (merger engineered under RCA by its president David Sarnoff, bringing together FBO and Keith-Albee-Orpheum)
  • Independent, 1935–1955 (half of RCA's interest purchased by Floyd Odlum, control split between RCA, Odlum, and Rockefeller brothers; controlling interest purchased by Odlum in 1942; controlling interest purchased by Howard Hughes in 1948; Hughes's interest purchased by Stolkin-Koolish-Ryan-Burke-Corwin syndicate in 1952; interest repurchased by Hughes in 1953; studio nearly fully purchased by Hughes in 1954)
  • General Tire and Rubber, 1955–1984 (purchased by General Tire and Rubber—coupled with General Tire's broadcasting operation as RKO Teleradio Pictures; production and distribution halted in 1957; movie business dissolved in 1959 and RKO Teleradio renamed RKO General; RKO General establishes RKO Pictures as production subsidiary in 1981)
  • GenCorp, 1984–1987 (reorganization creates holding company with RKO General and General Tire as primary subsidiaries)
  • Wesray Capital Corporation, 1987–1989 (spun off from RKO General, purchased by Wesray—controlled by William E. Simon and Ray Chambers—and merged with amusement park operations to form RKO/Six Flags Entertainment)
  • Independent as RKO Pictures LLC, 1989–present (owned by Ted Hartley, who also is the CEO. As of 2015, the company's recent films released were A Late Quartet and Barely Lethal.)

20th Century Fox/20th Century Studios

See also

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  • Media related to Film studios at Wikimedia Commons
  • Media related to Film production companies at Wikimedia Commons
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