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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METRO-GOLDWYN-MAYER / UNITED ARTISTS, INC. (OWNED BY SONY CORP. AND GROUP OF EQUITY PARTNERS)


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. was originally founded by exhibitor Marcus Loew. In 1910, after several years of expansion, Loew organized Loew’s Consolidated Enterprises, succeeded the next year by Loew’s Theatrical Enterprises. In 1920, Loew's acquired the Metro Pictures Corporation, which later turned out such films as “The Prisoner of Zenda,” “Scaramouche” and “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” In 1924, Loew and his associates, Nicholas and Joseph Schenk and Adolph Zukor, acquired the Goldwyn Company (founded in 1917), and Loew’s became the owner of the merged

Metro-Goldwyn stock. Loew’s then acquired Louis B. Mayer Pictures and the services of Mayer, Irving Thalberg and J. Robert Rubin. The company was renamed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

In 1936 and 1937, legal control of the entire production and distribution organization was vested in Loew’s, with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer used merely as a trade name. On February 6, 1952, the consent decree against Loew’s, Inc. provided for a divorce between the producing and distributing phases of the corporation and its domestic exhibition activities and interests. Among notable pictures in the company’s history have been “Ben Hur” (silent), “The Thin Man,” “Mutiny on the Bounty,” “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” “Mrs. Miniver,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “King Solomon’s Mines,” “Ben Hur” (sound), “Doctor Zhivago,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and many more.

In 1973, the company ceased its own distribution and licensed domestic distribution to United Artists and foreign distribution to CIC. In June 1980, the motion picture operations of MGM, Inc. were sold to stockholders as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Co. United Artists was purchased by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Co. in 1981, with the former company becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the latter. In 1983, the name of the parent company was changed to MGM/UA Entertainment Co. In 1986, Turner Broadcasting System purchased MGM/UA and sold the UA portion to Tracinda Corporation along with MGM motion picture and television production, distribution and the home entertainment division. The MGM lot and lab were sold by Turner to Lorimar-Telepictures. Turner retained only the MGM film library. During this period, MGM-UA produced “Moonstruck,” “Rain Man” and “A Fish Called Wanda.”

Pathe Communications Corporation acquired MGM/UA in November 1990 with Giancarlo Parretti as chairman. The new company was now renamed MGM-Pathe. In 1991, Parretti was removed as chairman with control given to Alan Ladd, Jr., and MGM-Pathe was given a $145 million loan from Credit Lyonnais, allowing them to start film distribution after months of inactivity. Due to loans and transactions totalling $885 million, Pathe was $395 million in debt to Credit Lyonnais. In 1992, Credit Lyonnais bought up 98.5% of MGM, thereby officially disposing of Parretti. Following this move, the company was again renamed Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. In July of 1993, Alan Ladd, Jr. was replaced by former Paramount Pictures chairman Frank G. Mancuso. In 1994, the distribution arm was once again bearing the title MGM/UA and the revived studio had a major hit with the science-fiction film “Stargate.” 1995 proved that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was again a major force with a number of critical and financial successes such as “Get Shorty” and “Leaving Las Vegas.” Although “The Birdcage” was a big hit, in early 1996, MGM was the target of yet another bidding war. In late July of 1996 MGM was purchased (again) by Kirk Kerkorian and a consortium of investors, including Australian television magnate Kerry Packer, for $1.3 billion.

In 1997, MGM purchased the movie-related business of John Kluge’s Metromedia Group, including Orion Pictures. Less than two years after buying MGM for the third time, Kerkorian put MGM on the auction block again. Faced with a cash crisis, MGM froze television production and made cutbacks in the number of features planned for release.

In October of 1997, MGM, Inc. announced Goldwyn Films, a division specializing in film production that takes on horror pics, oddball comedies and off-beat movies. Not to be confused with Samuel Goldwyn Co., the reincarnation of the company was swallowed up first by Metromedia, then by MGM. MGM continued to struggle, despite the box office success of “Armageddon” and “Tomorrow Never Dies.” By the spring of 1999 however, things were beginning to look up. As part of a plan to revitalize the ailing studio, MGM announced a companywide restructuring under the new leadership of Alex Yemenidjian, the new chairman & CEO. Through the Orion and PolyGram acquisitions, MGM had the world’s largest film library with over 5,000 titles. MGM also won its legal battle with Sony over the rights to the James Bond franchise, negotiated an early termination of its Home Video contract with Warner and signed a multi- picture deal with Miramax.

In October 1999, MGM posted the results of its first profitable quarter in over three years. A $750 million equity offering was expected to provide funding for new film and television production initiatives while the company turned an eye toward expansion in cable and satellite.

2000 saw the profits continue, with 3rd-quarter results showing improved cash flow and exceeding expectations. Much of the credit went to MGM’s film library and aggressive licensing to television and home video and DVD sales though MGM’s own distribution channels. MGM also closed several movie-channel deals worldwide for which they can provide current and future content through their film library and new product.

MGM had slated 21 films for 2001 release under new head of production, Alex Gartner and new distribution head, Ian Sutherland. By September of 2001, however, the studio had only released 10 of the 21 films planned, pushing seven releases back to 2002. MGM’s biggest successes of the year were “Hannibal,” “Bandits” and “Legally Blonde” which helped to offset the disappointing performance of “Original Sin” and “Antitrust.”

MGM planned to release a total of 20 films in 2002, mostly at non-peak times in an ongoing effort to pull itself out of the box office doldrums. As it turned out, MGM hit its goal of profitability one quarter earlier than expected. By the third quarter of 2002, in spite of slightly lower than expected box office, the studio was in the black, thanks in part to strong home video performance and TV revenues. The studio continued to emphasize lower-cost filmmaking, with the production budget for 2003 set at $250 million — the same level as in 2002, minus costs on the James Bond picture, “Die Another Day.” With successes like “Barbershop,” which cost only $12 million, the formula was working.

Charman-CEO Alex Yemenidjian continued to stress this theatrical philosophy in 2003, with modestly budgeted films aimed at target demos, with a mix of sequels and remakes such as “Legally Blonde 2,” “Walking Tall” and “Barbershop 2.” Meanwhile, MGM’s library continued to generate substantial revenue, with both DVD and home video revenue up over 50% compared to 2002. The Lion found itself in play again in 2004. Time Warner had all but sewn up a deal to acquire MGM, when Sony Corporation of America swept in at the last minute with a proposal that was ultimately approved by MGM’s board of directors in late September. The $4.9 billion transaction involved Sony and a consortium of equity investors which included: Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Comcast Corporation and DLJ Merchant Banking Partners. The offer shook out to $12 in cash per MGM share plus the assumption of MGM’s approximately $2 billion in debt and closed in mid-2005. Shaping the role of consortium investors, defining future product distribution channels and tackling day-to-day studio operation issues made the transaction complex by both Hollywood and Wall Street’s standards.

During 2005 MGM co-financed “The Amityville Horror,” the much-nominated and awarded “Capote” and “Into the Blue,” all of which were distributed by Sony Entertainment or Sony Pictures Classics. Upcoming projects included three storied franschises; the new Bond film, “Casino Royale,” the new Rocky film, “Rocky Balboa” and “The Pink Panther” featuring Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau. MGM post-transaction highlights included: MGM remains a private company owned by the consortium; Comcast, which invested $300 million, will create several cable and video-on-demand channels using the combined MGM & Sony library; JP Morgan Chase also committed to lead a bank syndicate to provide up to $4.25 billion in senior debt financing together with Credit Suisse First Boston; MGM continues as an active producer of film and TV projects, and continues to greenlight projects under the MGM and United Artists banners.

After the transaction, MGM’s executive suite was virtually swept out. An interesting development happened in late 2005 when Harry Sloan was named chairman and CEO of MGM and also became a private investor in the company. Sloan, who had just sold SBS Broadcasting, Europe’s second largest broadcast company, had previously headed New World Entertainment, Marvel Entertainment Group and Lions Gate. Many thought the deal with Sony would mark the end of MGM, but there was a clause in the Sony deal where MGM could become their own distributor and cease that arrangement.

Operationally, Sloan came with a plan. He had been quoted in the trade press, saying, “The best product is being made outside the studio system” and shared the observation that studios are at their best when they are marketing and distributing films. Reflecting this viewpoint, he quickly assembled a management team adept at film marketing and distribution. In Jan. 2006, Rick Sands, formerly of independent-spirited DreamWorks and Miramax, became COO. A 25-year Paramount Pictures distribution veteran, Clark Woods, joined as MGM president, domestic theatrical distribution. With diminished emphasis on production, MGM made cuts, eliminating 1,000 staff for $200 million in savings. The 400 remaining staffers began working from Sloan’s new, straightforward playbook. It read: Produce, but produce selectively, releasing only two to three films a year; and, aggressively market and distribute an annual slate of up to 20 independent films. Yet, in a surprise move that signaled plenty of sizzle left to MGM’s production ambitions, MGM announced Nov. 2, 2006, that its United Artists division snagged the production duo of Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise to reignite the artist-friendly label. Wagner signed on as CEO and Cruise is producing and starring in UA films, giving UA an A-lister with proven box office appeal. MGM indicated the label would produce up to four films a year.

MGM Chairman Harry Sloan announced in 2007 that he was putting together funding for the studios’ franchise pictures — James Bond, The Pink Panther, The Terminator and The Hobbit and also putting together funding for the films produced by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner’s revitalized UA. Having concluded a distribution deal for the bulk of the product from the Weinstein

Company last year, MGM is starting to become a significant distributor again, with 20 titles on next year’s release slate. The first of the new UA product to be distributed this year was the $35 million-budgeted, “Lions for Lambs,” with Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford.

2008 saw a shift in strategy for MGM: with the cancellation of the Weinstein distribution deal and other “rent-a distributor deals,” the company starting focusing on ambitious in-house production and financing of their own slate for distribution. To that end, Mary Parent, a former Universal executive, was hired and began buying scripts and books aggressively. However, Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise’s long time partner, left UA in August, although she retains an ownership interest. Wagner’s departure raised questions about the $500 million revolving fund from Merrill Lynch that was alloted to UA features, particularly when MGM has two J.P. Morgan credit lines for $450 million that will not cover Parent’s ambitious production plans. The studio is looking to raise another $500 to $600 million which will be extraordinarily difficult given the state of the capital markets.

Harry Sloan was ousted as MGM CEO in 2009 but remained as non-executive chairman. Management duties were turned over to a trio of executives: Mary Parent, CFO Bedi Singh and turnaround specialist, Stephen Cooper, who was brought in as vice chairman. Providing some stability on the distribution front was veteran Erik Loomis, who is President of Worldwide Theatrical Distribution, Home Entertainment and Acquisitions. There was not much on the release schedule until “Fame” opened in September and MGM’s share of the boxoffice was not even in the top twelve among distributors for 2009. “The Cabin in the Woods” was pushed back until February 2010. Films planned for the rest of 2010 included “Hot Tub Machine” on March 19th and Kevin James in “Zookeeper” for October. Re-makes of “Red Dawn” and “Poltergeist” will arrive in the Fall.

2010 was a tumultuous year for MGM as Spyglass Entertainment’s Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum battled Lionsgate, supported by Carl Ichan, for control of the studio. Barber and Birnbaum were in advanced talks to run MGM with a plan to merge their company’s assets into MGM and change the $4 billion creditors debt into equity in the merged entity. Late in the year, Ichan and Lionsgate came up with their proposal. Icahn currently owns 33% of Lionsgate. Ironically, Icahn is backing Lionsgate on the MGM bid, but has been fighting with their management for years and still plans to replace the Lionsgate board at their next annual meeting.

He already held a substantial part of MGM’s $4 billion debt and offered to buy $963 million more by guaranteeing to debtholders that they will receive at least 45¢ on the dollar as long as they agree to vote against the proposed merger with Spyglass. Production and Distribution at MGM have come to a standstill and in the middle of these negotiations, Mary Parent, Chairman and Co-CEO left the company in mid-October. In late October 2010 MGM creditors voted to accept Spyglass Entertainment's plan to take over leadership of the company and take the company through a prepackaged bankruptcy.

In early 2011, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum moved quickly to reconfigure MGM as a production entity and shed its distribution operation. That put the studio’s most valuable title, 007, in play for a financing, distrubution partner. Bidders began mobilizing before MGM made it out of bankruptcy. By January, several of the studios vying for Bond rights became increasingly frustrated by the attempts by MGM to leverage 007 distribution rights to get co-financing rights to plum projects at whatever studio won the deal.

In April, MGM announced Sony Pictures would cofinanace and distribute “James Bond 23” and several other MGM films including the completed “Red Dawn” and “Cabin in the Woods.” MGM walked away with the right to be co-financier on several interesting Sony films, including “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo,” as well as others to be added to the mix, including the remake of “Total Recall.” The latter film might be particularly painful for Sony because MGM will distribute “Total Recall” in the lucrative international TV market.

One day after making a deal to co-finance the next two James Bond films and other feature films over the next five years, MGM chiefs Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum solidified another piece of the studio’s distribution needs by renewing its DVD deal with Fox through 2016. With other interesting titles including the next two “Hobbit” films directed by Peter Jackson to be released in the next two years, it looks like MGM has taken a definite turn from its roots, but it is definitely coming back to life.

RECENT MGM RELEASES/CO-PRODUCTIONS

2000 Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, Supernova, Original Sin.

2001 Hannibal, Jeepers Creepers, Legally Blonde, Bandits, No Man’s Land, Ghost World. 2002 Babershop, Die Another Day, Windtalkers, Bowling for Columbine.

2003 Legally Blonde 2: Bigger, Bolder, Blonder, Agent Cody Banks, Jeepers Creepers II, Out of Time.

2004 De-Lovely, The Dust Factory, The Yes Men (UA release), Hotel Rwanda (UA release), Undertow (UA release).

2005 Beauty Shop, The Amityville Horror. 2006 Casino Royale, Romance & Cigarettes (UA release), National Lampoon’s Van Wilder—The Rise of Taj, Harsh Times, Flyboys.

2007 Halloween, 1408, Lions for Lambs, The Mist, The Great Debaters.

2008 Deal, Igor, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Valkyrie.

2009 Fame.

2010 Hot Tub Time Machine.

2011 Zookeeper, Solders of Fortune, Red Dawn.