Histories of the Motion Picture Studios

Producers & Distributors

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Corporate histories of the Major Motion Picture Studios from their founding to the present day, including recent releases.

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Adolph Zukor formed the Engadine Corporation in 1912, which evolved into Famous Players Film Company. W. W. Hodkinson, from General Film Company, formed Paramount Pictures Corporation in 1914, distributing Zukor products and the products of the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company and others. Famous Players- Lasky Corp. was incorporated in 1916. In 1917, twelve production companies merged with it and the corporation integrated production and distribution by acquiring a national distribution system through a merger with Artcraft Pictures and Paramount Pictures. Famous Players-Lasky began acquiring theatres in 1919 with Southern Enterprises, Inc. (135 theatres); followed in later years by New England Theatres, Inc. (50 theatres), the Butterfield Theatre Circuit (70 theatres) and Balaban & Katz (50 theatres). Theatres in the West and Midwest were acquired later.

Paramount’s first great star was Mary Pickford. B.P. Schulberg was named head of production in 1925. In April 1927, the corporate name was changed to Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation, and in April of 1930 it became Paramount Publix Corporation, which declared bankruptcy in 1933. Lasky and Schulberg left the company at this point. In 1935, it was reorganized under the name of Paramount Pictures. During this period, the studio’s greatest asset was Mae West, whose outrageous hits, “She Done Him Wrong” and “I'm No Angel,” caused much furor among censors.

The company regained its footing in the late 1930s and 1940s with such popular stars as Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Ray Milland and Dorothy Lamour, as well as high- profile films from notable directors Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder and Cecil B. DeMille. The 1940s saw such blockbuster hits as “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “Going My Way” and “Samson and Delilah.” In 1949, as a result of the Consent Decree, Paramount split into two companies: Paramount Pictures Corp. for production and distribution, and United Paramount Theatres for theatre operation. After WWII, Paramount introduced a new process called VistaVision to compete with 20th Century Fox’s Cinema Scope. The first film in the process was the Bing Crosby-Danny Kaye hit musical “White Christmas,” followed by Cecil B. De Mille’s 1956 remake of “The Ten Commandments.”

Paramount merged with Gulf & Western Industries in 1966, with Paramount as a subsidiary retaining its own management. Robert Evans was brought in as production head under Charles Bludhorn, head of Gulf & Western. Bludhorn expanded theatrical film production and increased the company’s investment in TV production (an area Paramount had been slow to develop). Evans had great success with “Love Story” (1970) and two Francis Ford Coppola pictures, “The Godfather” (1972) and “The Godfather, Part II” (1974). With the departure of Evans in 1975, the company moved ahead under Barry Diller as CEO and later under Frank Mancuso, promoted from vice president of distribution to chairman of Paramount Pictures in 1984. The decade of the 1980s brought the company many successes including the “Star Trek” series, the “Indiana Jones” films, “Fatal Attraction” and “Top Gun.” Ned Tanen left Universal Pictures to become president of Paramount. In 1989, Gulf and Western changed its name to Paramount Communications, Inc. and Davis began streamlining Paramount Communications in order to focus on entertainment and publishing.

In 1991, Mancuso was replaced by former NBC head Brandon Tartikoff, who resigned in 1992 to be replaced by Sherry Lansing. In the winter of 1994, Viacom, Inc. purchased the company for $9.75 billion. Viacom head Sumner Redstone appointed Jonathan Dolgen, formerly of Sony, to oversee entertainment at both Paramount and Viacom.

Earlier in 1994, the studio soared at the box office with “Forrest Gump” which became the highest grossing movie in Paramount history.

In 1996, Viacom president and CEO Frank Biondi was dismissed with no replacement. That summer, “Mission: Impossible,” a remake of the classic television show, became a smash hit, taking in $75 million over the six- day Memorial Day weekend.

Viacom entered 1997 in a slump and with investor confidence low, for the most part due to the poor fortunes of the Viacom-owned Blockbuster Video chain.

In March 1998, James Cameron’s “Titanic” grosses reached a record $1 billion plus, worldwide. Although the revenues of “Titanic” more than covered the $200 million production cost, the hard fact remains that the already phenomenal cost of movie production keeps going up.

Parent company Viacom’s fortunes improved dramatically in 1999. Viacom decided to sell a minority stake in the Blockbuster video chain in 1999 with plans to shed the rest over the next year. Viacom agreed to buy TV network CBS in an enormous deal valued at about $35 billion. The acquisition was the biggest media transaction in history and catapulted Viacom to the second-largest entertainment firm in the world (behind Time Warner). Chairman Sumner Redstone, who controls 67% of Viacom’s voting stock through his privately held company, National Amusements, remained as chairman and CEO of the combined firm. CBS president Mel Karmazin became president and COO.

Like the other studios, Paramount spent 2000 streamlining its operations, ridding itself of costly production deals and creating synergy between broadcast, cable and motion picture divisions for multi-franchise content. In 2001, Paramount joined MGM, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Universal Studios and Warner Bros. in a joint venture to create an on-demand movie service, the first service to offer a broad selection of theatrically- released motion pictures via digital delivery for broadband Internet users in the United States.

The studio enjoyed box office success with “Zoolander,” "Rat Race,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and the highly anticipated “Vanilla Sky.”

In 2002, Paramount had a few disappointments at the box office. “K-19: The Widowmaker” and “The Four Feathers” underperformed, but were offset by the success of “The Sum of All Fears.”

Under the leadership of Sumner Redstone, Viacom became a huge media conglomerate that in addition to Paramount included: Paramount Television, CBS, MTV, Showtime, Infinity Broadcasting, BET and Blockbuster. Throughout 2003, Mel Karmazin served as president and COO of Viacom Entertainment Group, with Sherry Lansing, chairman of the Motion Picture Group. “The Italian Job” and “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” were 2003 hits and “Paycheck” opened at year end.

During 2004, Paramount executives announced a departure from “holding the line on expenses” and pursued a pricier, higher profile production strategy for its future releases. To retain more control over future projects, Paramount acquired between $200 million and $300 million in equity production funding from Merrill Lynch in Aug. 2004. For the past decade, Paramount minimized its risk by seeking co-financing from other studios and would sell off foreign rights to its films. With its new funding, Paramount planned to retain more control over its projects and attract proven box office talent to their titles. Whether Paramount uses its new funding for acquisitions like its 2004 purchase of “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow,” plan more annual releases than its current 16-18 per year, or spend more than Paramount’s current $60-$70 milllion per film remained to be seen.

Paramount’s parent, Viacom, spent 2004 shaking up its executive slate. The often-stormy relationship between Chairman Sumner Redstone and President and COO Mel Karmazin culminated in Karmazin’s June 2004 resignation. When Redstone’s replacement was not Karmazin’s number two, Jonathan Dolgen (chairman of Viacom’s Entertainment Group), he, too, resigned. Redstone tapped two veteran broadcast and cable executives from among Viacom’s management ranks to lead the company. Leslie Moonves and Tom Freston were annointed co-president and co-COOs of Viacom. Moonves was chairman and CEO of CBS, while Freston helmed Viacom’s MTV Networks unit, a position he had held since 1987. Redstone indicated he would step down as CEO within three years and the appointments were part of a corporate succession plan to prepare for the next generation of Viacom’s senior management.

There were major people changes at Paramount in 2005. Sherry Lansing who ran the studio for a dozen years retired and was replaced by television veteran, Brad Grey. He in turn hired Gail Berman from Fox television to take over the production reins from Donald De Line. Even Paramount Classics received a new chief, talent agent John Lesher. Profits for Paramount surged in 2005, primarily on the strength of higher theatrical revenue, domestic home video and international pay TV.

In 2005 Sumner Redstone split Viacom into two in an effort to unlock shareholder value, separating its high growth cable and film operations from its “value” broadcast and radio business. After the split, Viacom was run by Tom Freston. CBS Corporation, which included CBS, UPN (deceased operating in Sept. 2006), new broadcast network The CW, Simon & Schuster and Infinity Broadcasting, is run by Les Moonves. Redstone controls both companies and also serves as chairman of both. It is interesting that National Amusements, his closely held exhibition company, is the vehicle through which he controls these two huge media entities. Tom Freston was shown the door in 2006 because an underperforming Viacom didn’t live up to Redstone’s expectations. Redstone brought in two trusted executives, Philippe Dauman and Thomas Dooley to reshape the company. Dauman’s history with Redstone goes back 20 years. He served as principal outside counsel to Viacom and represented Redstone in acquiring Viacom in 1987. He then served in several key senior management positions through the years, including Viacom’s general counsel and secretary; deputy chairman and exec. v.p. Dauman was also a director on Viacom’s bd. from 1987 to 2000. He left Viacom in 2000 and co-founded DND Capital Partners, a private equity firm specializing in media and telecommunication investments. In Sept. 2006, Redstone tapped Dauman to be president and CEO of Viacom. Dooley, Dauman’s founding partner of DND Capital Partners, spent the majority of his career also working for Redstone, holding various corporate positions at Viacom from 1980 to 2000. Dooley rejoined Viacom’s board in 2006 and in September Redstone created a new post for Dooley, senior executive v.p. & chief administrative officer. One of Dooley’s key goals is to improve communication with investors and Wall Street analysts. He reports to Dauman.

Freston was not the only big name to be shown the door in 2006. Paramount did not renew its long-time production deal with C/W Productions, comprised of the duo of actor/producer Tom Cruise and producer Paula Wagner. Since C/W Prods. began in 1993, the company produced films as varied as “War of the Worlds,” “The Last Samurai,” “The Others” and “Vanilla Sky.” It has generated worldwide box office grosses in excess of $2.9 billion.

Eyes will be on Paramount execs to see how they fill the void of losing live-action star Cruise and his box office appeal to another studio. (Cruise and Wagner announced in November 2006 they would be teaming with MGM’s United Artists unit and structured a deal that includes them running the studio and taking a “substantial minority financial stake” in UA.)

Because of the cyclical nature of the movie business, investors may be willing to give Paramount more time for its execs to improve studio performance. The true critics to please will be the ones from Wall Street, and their eyes are on Dauman to outline a plan to shore up earnings which lag behind competitors Disney and News Corp. Investors also want to know how Viacom will regain its younger viewers being lured to Internet sites like YouTube and other social networking and entertainment sites. Freston didn’t have answers fast enough for Redstone or investors. Dauman knew this going in, so look for Viacom to develop an aggressive strategy for tackling this issue.

Paramount had the largest share of the domestic box office in 2007, powered mostly by films from DreamWorks — “Transformers,” “Shrek the Third,” “Blades of Glory” and “Norbit,” which is ironic because Steven Spielberg and David Geffen stated that they are not particularly happy and have been talking to other studios about moving when their contracts expire in 2009. Philippe Dauman countered that while they were important to Paramount, their leaving would have a negligible impact on Viacom’s bottom line. Revenues for Viacom in 2007 rose 24% to $3.27 billion from $2.63 billion last year, mostly attributed performance of film and home video. Sumner Redstone, Viacom Chairman, also got in a very public feud with his daughter, Shari Redstone, over succession and the ultimate disposition of the family theatre circuit, National Amusements.

Dreamworks did separate amicably from Paramount at the end of 2008, once again becoming an independent studio and signed a distribution deal with Universal, returning Steven Spielberg to his roots where he has maintained his production offices even after Dreamworks was acquired by Viacom. DreamWorks and Paramount plan to remain partners on 30-40 projects, while, separately, Spielberg will be involved as producer in another four Paramount projects, including the “Transformers” sequel that will be released next summer. Paramount took the opportunity of Dreamwork’s departure to reduce their release schedule to 20 films annually and restructured Paramount Vantage, merging its marketing, distribution and production units with Paramount’s.

There was considerable financial turmoil at year end, when Sumner Redstone had to sell $233 million of Viacom and CBS stock to meet loan covenants for parent holding company, National Amusements. Although Redstone did not sell any preferred shares, with Viacom’s 53% price drop and CBS down over 70%, control of Viacom may become an issue in 2009.

The distribution deal with the new DreamWorks Studios fell apart in February 2009, but projects remained in the pipeline to help Paramount finish 2009 with a 16.6% market share, number two behind Warner Bros. Jim Tharpe, president of domestic distribution for Paramount, and his team released three extraordinary films during the Summer with “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” (with DreamWorks) doing over $400mm, J.J. Abrams’ re-imagined “Star Trek” beaming up $260mm and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra” delivering $150mm. Christmas brought George Clooney in “Up in the Air” and Peter

Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones,” with Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon and Rachel Weisz. “Shutter Island,” based on the Dennis Lehane best selling book, will be the first release of 2010, followed by a Dreamworks Animation 3-D film, “How to Train Your Dragon,” in March. In Summer, Paramount will release new installments of “Iron Man” and “Shrek” in 3-D. That will be followed by “The Last Airbender” and “Dinner for Schmucks” starring Steve Carell.

Paramount Chairman and CEO Brad Grey fired Paramount Film Group President John Lesher and Production President Brad Weston in June. After the shakeup, Adam Goodman was upped to president, Paramount Film Group. Grey may be banking on the former DreamWorks executive continuing to muster boxoffice success under the Paramount banner.

In 2010, Paramount Pictures had a terrific year and was the first studio to cross $1 billion for the fourth year in a row. The studio currently holds the top spot in market share, driven by films like “Iron Man 2,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Shrek Forever After,” “Jackass” and “Paranormal Activity.”

However, Viacom continues to struggle with its Filmed Entertainment businesses, primarily due to a massive drop in DVD sales. In the last quarter, revenue from the Filmed Entertainment segment was down 10% year- over-year and management reduced headcount by 53. Licensing and consumer products will merge into the Motion Picture Promotions unit. The production and development of home entertainment and digital formats will remain under Paramount Digital Entertainment, whereas the Paramount Pictures Worldwide Television Distribution will manage the distribution of movies on digital platforms.

This year the company acquired the global rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the remaining 51% interest it did not own of the DreamWorks live-action film library.

Paramount Pictures’ parent, Viacom, Inc., said that its net income increased 37 percent in the third fiscal quarter ending June 30, 2011 thanks to growing advertising sales and higher fees from cable TV, Netflix and other companies that carry its programs. The company earned $574 million, or 97 cents per share, up 37 percent from $420 million, or 69 cents per share, a year earlier. The company's filmed entertainment segment, which includes Paramount, saw revenue increase 13 percent to $1.41 billion, thanks to gains in DVD sales and TV license revenue.

In July 2011, in the wake of critical and box office success of the animated feature, Rango, and the possible departure of DreamWorks Animation upon completion of their distribution contract in 2012, Paramount announced the formation of a new division, devoted to the creation of animated productions. The first films from this new animation studio is expected to be released sometime in 2014.

Driven by “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Thor,” “Captain America,” “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Super 8,” Paramount was neck and neck with Warner Bros. for the largest market share in North America of 19% - although most of the top grossing films Paramount distributed this year were produced by companies like Dreamworks or Marvel that have ended their relationship with the Studio.


2001 What Women Want, Zoolander, Rat Race, Along Came a Spider, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Vanilla Sky, Jimmy Neutron.

2002 K-19: The Widowmaker, The Sum of All Fears, Serving Sara, Four Feathers, Narc. 2003 The Italian Job, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Lara Croft Tom Raider: The Cradle of Life, The School of Rock, Paycheck.

2004 A Series of Unfortunate Events (with DreamWorks), Alfie, The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Team America, The Manchurian Candidate.

2005 Sahara, The Longest Yard, The War of the Worlds, Four Brothers, Aeon Flux, Yours, Mine & Ours.

2006 Last Holiday, Failure to Launch, Mission Impossible III, Nacho Libre, Barnyard, World Trade Center, Broken Bridges, Jackass Number Two.

2007 Shrek the Third, Transformers, Bee Movie, Beowulf, Blades of Glory, Disturbia, Norbit.

2008 Iron Man, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Kung Fu Panda, Tropic Thunder, Revolutionary Road, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

2009 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Star Trek, G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, Up in the Air, The Lovely Bones.

2010 Shutter Island, Iron Man 2, How to Train Your Dragon, Shrek Forever After, Jackass 3-D, Dinner for Schmucks, Paranormal Activity, The Fighter.

2011 Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, Captain America, Kung Fu Panda, Super 8, Rango.