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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Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. may be said to have its origins in the 90-seat Cascade Theatre set up by Harry Warner and his three brothers, Sam, Albert and Jack in New Castle, PA, in 1905. The brothers soon branched out into distribution, establishing film exchanges in Pennsylvania and Virginia. In 1913, they moved into film production with Warner Features. Warner Features’ first production was 1918’s “My Four Years in Germany.” In 1920-22 they averaged only two or three features per year. Warner Bros. was incorporated in 1923 to produce as well as distribute and release 14 pictures, including the first of the famous Rin-Tin-Tin series. Scripts were written by Darryl F. Zanuck, an ambitious writer who soon worked his way up to become the company’s production chief under Jack Warner. Harry was president; Albert, treasurer; and Sam shared production responsibilities with Jack. Zanuck stayed until 1933 and was succeeded by Hall Wallis, who held the post for the next decade. In 1925, Warner acquired Vitagraph, Inc., which operated 34 exchanges in the U.S. and Canada, and two other concerns with foreign exchanges. That same year, the company began its experiments with sound, collaborating with Western Electric to produce a sound-on-disc process (called Vitaphone) for synchronized film sound.

The first Vitaphone program premiered in August 1926, including some musical shorts and the feature “Don Juan” with John Barrymore backed by a full musical and sound-effects track. Owing to this success, the studio released the feature “The Jazz Singer” in October 1927, with dialogue and certain musical numbers in sound and in 1928, “the first 100% all-talking picture—Lights of New York,” a one-hour feature that broke box office records. In 1927, Sam Warner died.

The new sound technology brought Warner Bros. to the forefront of the industry. It further expanded its theatre holdings and studio facilities, acquiring the Stanley Company of America theatre circuit in 1928, First National Pictures which had a 135-acre studio and back lot, along with exchanges and theatres, and a number of music publishing companies. Those acquisitions greatly

helped in the production of the Warner Bros. musicals including “Forty-Second Street,” the “Gold Diggers” series, “Footlight Parade” and others. Along with the other motion picture companies, Warner Bros. suffered in the early days of the Depression. Sales of some assets and theatres, along with drastic cuts in production costs, enabled the company to recover and to take advantage of the boom in the 1940s.

In 1953, the company completed the reorganization it was forced to undergo by the government’s Consent Decree. Stockholders approved a plan to separate the company into two entities: the theatres were sold to Fabian Enterprises, Inc., and the company was renamed Stanley Warner Corporation. The “new” production- distribution company remained Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. In 1956, Harry and Albert sold their shares in the company to an investment group headed by Serge Semenenko and Charles Allen, Jr. Jack retained his shares, remaining the largest single stockholder and becoming president of the company. The Warner pre1948 film library of 850 features and 1,000 shorts was sold to United Artists in 1956.

On July 15, 1967, a subsidiary of Seven Arts Productions Limited (a Canadian-based company headed by Eliot Hyman) acquired substantially all the assets and business of Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc. The company subsequently was called Warner Bros.-Seven Arts Limited. In 1969, Warner Bros.-Seven Arts was acquired by Kinney National Service, Inc., headed by Steven J. Ross, and changed its name in 1971 to Warner Communications, Inc. The studio reverted to the original name of Warner Bros. and appointed Ted Ashley as studio chief. The studio’s successes during this period included “Superman,” “The Exorcist” and “All the President’s Men.” Robert A. Daly succeeded Ashley as Warner Bros. chairman and CEO in 1980.

In 1989, Warner Communications was acquired by Time, Inc. in an $18 billion merger that created one of the largest communications and entertainment companies in the world. Time-Warner, as the new company was called, consisted of Warner and its subsidiaries, Time Publishing, Home Box Office, Cinemax, HBO Video and American Television & Communications Corp. John Peters and Peter Guber were instrumental in aiding Warner to rebound from a two-year box office slump. In the summer of 1989, Peters and Guber produced “Batman,” which brought in domestic rentals of over $150 million, making it the fourth top-grossing film of all time to that date.

In early 1991, the company announced a partnership with several European entertainment companies to produce 20 films. Time-Warner continued to hold a 50% interest in Cinamerica Limited Partnership, a company that included Mann Theatres and Festival Theatres in California, and Trans-Lux Theatres in the East. In October 1991, two Japanese companies, Toshiba Corp. and C. Itoh & Co., paid $500 million each for a combined 12.5% stake in the company. In May 1993, the company created a new division, Warner Bros. Family Entertainment, to release movies aimed at the children’s market, including the hit “Free Willy.”

In the autumn of 1995, Time-Warner began negotiations for the $7.3 billion purchase of the Turner Broadcasting System. These negotiations were the subject of intense FTC scrutiny in 1996, due to the 20% stake cable giant TCI held in Turner, but were finally approved by Warner Bros. stockholders on October 10, 1996. Although Turner-owned

New Line Cinema was originally to be auctioned off, in May of 1997 the company was removed from the sale shelf, with no plans for its future by Time-Warner, but with its release schedule and creative autonomy intact.

After 18 stagnant months, New Line scored big with the release of “The Wedding Singer.” The success was due to the new formula of releasing quirky, non-studio material such as, “Wag the Dog” and “Boogie Nights.” The company is also concentrating on producing movies with potential ancillary value. New Line’s arthouse division, Fine Line Features, went through changes of its own, under the leadership of its new president, Mark Ordesky.

In April 1998, New Line announced the launching of Fine Line’s international and distribution division, Fine Line International, headed by Mr. Ordesky and New Line International president, Rolf Mittweg.

In 1998, New Line’s domestic ticket sales climbed 42%, and the studio’s 8% market share put it ahead of majors like Universal Pictures, DreamWorks, and MGM for a sixth-place finish at the U.S. box office. New Line grossed over $200 million with “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” continuing its boxoffice success. Sara Risher celebrated her 25th year with New Line Cinema by creating a new in-house production company called ChickFlicks.

In July 1999, Robert Daly and Terry Semel stunned the entertainment world by telling Time Warner Chairman Gerald Levin and other directors of the studio’s parent company that they would not renew their contracts after their 19-year tenure with the company. Effective October 1999, Barry Meyer, executive vice president and COO of Warner Bros., was promoted to chairman and CEO, and Alan Horn, chairman and CEO of Castle Rock Entertainment, became president and COO. 1999 box office was favorable, with four films surpassing the $100 million domestic box office mark: “You’ve Got Mail,” “Analyze This,” “The Matrix” and “Wild Wild West.”

In 2000, Time-Warner agreed to an acquisition by AOL. The merger was held up by various regulatory concerns in Washington DC and Brussels. There were many plans for the new entity, AOL Time-Warner, to achieve synergies in bringing Warner’s film product to cable and the Internet.

Both Warner and New Line enjoyed box office success in 2000, with the phenomenal grosses of “The Perfect Storm” and the impressive opening of “The Cell.” With 2000’s “Pokemon: The Movie,” “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Harry Potter” in the pipeline, Warner pursued synergy with other Time-Warner-owned units. Offering numerous opportunities for TV and consumer-product merchandising, these types of movie releases allowed Warner to make the most of its distribution channels throughout the AOL-Time-Warner empire.

Warner’s slate for 2001 included “AI: Artificial Intelligence,” “Training Day,” the highly anticipated star- studded “Ocean's Eleven” and the first in the Harry Potter franchise which generated an advance ticket-buying frenzy. Warner’s future looked bright with “The Matrix: sequels, a new “Batman,” and several Harry Potter projects to come. With so many merchandising tie-ins in the pipeline, Warner created a new position for Brad Ball (McDonalds)—Executive Vice President, Domestic Corporate Marketing.

In 2001, New Line scored with “Rush Hour 2” which grossed over $225 million.

The AOL Time Warner merger was completed in 2001. Following the merger, Warner Bros. transferred its majority interest in the WB Television Network to sister company Turner Broadcasting. It also closed down all of its Warner Bros. Studio Stores citing poor sales and declining interest in movie-related merchandise. Later that year Warner Bros. Pictures released “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” which made $93.5 million in domestic box office receipts in its opening weekend, breaking Universal Pictures’ $72.1 million record with “Jurassic Park: The Lost World.” The film went on to become 2001’s top-grossing film in domestic box office receipts.

2002 was a very positive year for Warner, with several high grossing films, and more sequels (“The Matrix,” “Harry Potter”) in the pipeline.

Symptomatic of the problems plaguing the company for the last several years, Time Warner removed the “AOL” from its corporate moniker in October 2003. The SEC and the Department of Justice had been looking at the corporations accounting practices since at least the summer of 2002 and both Richard Parson and Steve Case had been subpoenaed in the ongoing probe. However, the filmed entertainment division had an extremely strong year driven by such titles as “The Matrix Reloaded,” “The Matrix Revolutions” and “Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines.”

New Line continued to scare up big box office numbers in 2003 with “Freddy v. Jason,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and the conclusion to the Tolkien trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

In Jan. 2004, Warner Bros. International Cinemas became the first Western cinema investor in history to receive approval from the Chinese Government for majority ownership in a joint venture, holding 51% of a multiplex cinema in Nanjing, which opened April 2004. Warner Bros. Pictures released the third installment in the Harry Potter franchise: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and enjoyed a more than $200 million box office take in less than a week of its release. The release of “Troy” with box office draw Brad Pitt enjoyed worldwide success and in June Warner Bros. International crossed the billion-dollar mark for the fourth year in a row and the seventh time overall—in record time for the studio.

The studio anticipated a strong holiday season at the box office, largely fueled by star power: Tom Hanks in the family-friendly “Polar Express,” “Ocean’s Twelve” with George Clooney and a star-filled ensemble cast including movie favorite Julia Roberts; Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead in “The Aviator,” and the release of “Alexander” from film master Oliver Stone.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Million Dollar Baby” packed a knockout punch at the 2004 Academy Awards: earning Best Picture, Best Actress (Hilary Swank) and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman) honors. Momentum for “Million Dollar Baby” continued through the year helping it make the top films of 2005 list along with Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” ($206 million at domestic b.o.), “Batman Begins” ($205 million at domestic b.o.), “The Aviator” (with Miramax, ($103 million domestic b.o.), “The Dukes of Hazard” ($80 million domestic b.o.), “Constantine” ($76 million domestic b.o.), Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” ($52 million domestic b.o.) and “Racing Stripes” ($49 million domestic b.o.). It released the fourth installment of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter franchise: “Goblet of Fire” November 18, 2005, and banked on the holiday season to bring out the fans who supported the three previous “Potters of Gold” at the box office.

Warner Independent Pictures also had a successful year with its release of “March of the Penguins” ($77 million in domestic b.o.), which remains the second highest grossing documentary (behind “Fahrenheit 9/11” with $119 million) and the sixth highest grossing independent film of all time, as of Oct. 10, 2005. Released late in 2005, Warner Independent created industry buzz with its release of “Good Night and Good Luck,” directed by George Clooney. Clooney also wrote the screenplay and starred in the film which follows the broadcasting legend Edward R. Murrow and his producer, Fred Friendly, (played by Clooney) during Murrow’s legendary on-air confrontations with Senator Joseph McCarthy that helped bring the infamous politician down. Whether giving the public something visually spectacular a la “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” or the introspective and thought-provoking fare served up in “Good Night and Good Luck,” Time Warner entertainment companies kept compelling films in theatres throughout the year.

Time Warner’s New Line Cinema and HBO jointly created Picturehouse in 2005 — a theatrical distribution company to release independent films. Headed by Bob Berney, Picturehouse offered a diverse 2006 release slate including “Fur,” starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr.; “Pan’s Labyrinth,” directed by Guillermo Del Toro; and Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” with Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin.

Recognizing the rapid changes in content delivery outside theatres and a spotlight on digital distribution of content, WB organized its businesses involved in the digital delivery of entertainment content to consumers under Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group in late 2005.

Warner Bros. started 2006 with “The Lake House” starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. The Wachowski brothers, known for their Matrix series, unleashed another futurisic thriller on March 19th with “V For Vendetta,” starring Natalie Portman. While Warner Bros.’ executives hoped for blockbuster status, the film underperformed expectations, bringing in just $70 million in the U.S. The release of “Poseidon,” another film anticipated to draw a huge audience, drew only $60.7 million in its U.S. release. With the absence of a Harry Potter film on its ‘06 slate, Warner Bros. needed something super to happen at the box office, and it did with the release of “Superman Returns,” which brought in $200 million in the U.S. One of Warner Bros.’ Fall releases, Martin Scorsese’s, “The Departed,” had churned out more than $95 million at the domestic box office in its first four weeks of release, which should help the studio end 2006 on a good note. This is important to parent Time Warner, because the filmed entertainment business accounted for 26 percent of the company’s total sales in the first quarter and 20 percent of operating profits. By the third quarter, TW’s earnings release noted filmed entertainment revenues decreased 10%, or by $260 million, compared to the previous year. (Filmed entertainment is comprised of Warner Bros. Entertainment & New Line Cinema.) Its filmed entertainment operating income before depreciation and amortization also declined in the third quarter 14% ($33 million) to $210 million. This figure represented lower contributions from theatrical product compared to the year-ago period. Yet, when looking at Time Warner results as a whole, investors should have been pleased. TW share price in the fall was at its highest level since 2002, hitting a 52-week trading high of $20.08.

2007 marked the seventh consecutive year that Warner Bros. did over $1.0 billion in domestic box office, driven by hit films such as “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” “300,” a holdover from 2006, “Happy Feet,” and “Ocean’s Thirteen.” Other film production and distribution subsidiaries — New Line Cinema, Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures — all produced films that worked as well. Although, Time Warner chief, Richard Parsons, has had his hands full trying to figure out what to do with AOL seven years after their merger, the filmed entertainment companies continue to deliver top-line growth for the parent.

Box office records were shattered by Warner Bros. in 2008, driven by the spectacular success of the second highest grossing film of all time, “The Dark Knight.” Earlier in the year as part of a cost-saving consolidation ordered by CEO Jeff Bewkes, New Line was restructured, a significant number of the 600 staffers and Co- CEOs Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne left the company. New Line became a production label within Warner Bros. Similarly, Warner Bros. Pictures president & COO Alan Horn announced that both Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures would be closed in an effort to reduce costs and reduce the flow of product from 25-30 films a year to 18-20.

Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution, has presided over 10 consecutive years with over $1 billion in box office receipts. For 2009, Warner Bros. was positioned to break its all-time record of over $2 billion. Warner’s market share was almost 20% at year’s end. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “The Hangover,” “Terminator Salvation” and “Watchmen” were all stand-out performers. “The Box” with Cameron Diaz opened in November as did “The Blind Side” and “Ninja Assassin.”

Warner Bros. had a strong 16.5% share of the domestic boxoffice in 2010 with strong performances by “Valentine’s Day,” “Clash of the Titans 3D,” “Sex and the City 2,” “Inception” and “Hereafter.” The studio canceled its planned 3D release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1," saying it ran out of time to properly convert the film into a 3D format, although the second installment of the film next Summer will be in 3D. After “Avatar,” became the highest-grossing film of all time, Hollywood studios rushed to produce 3D movies to take advantage of audience enthusiasm for 3D and the higher ticket prices charged for that format. However, this created a debate over the quality of 3D needed to satisfy audiences and not kill the golden goose. Warner Bros. took an interesting position and said quality issues stood at the forefront of canceling its 3D release of "Potter."

The question of succession at Warner Brothers was resolved in late 2010 as Time Warner chairman Jeff Bewkes announced that he would renew Barry Meyer's contract until 2013, while president and COO Alan Horn will be replaced with a trio of top executives, Jeff Robinov, Bruce Rosenblum and Kevin Tsujihara. Horn and Meyer have successfully run Warner Brothers together for the past 12 years, inheriting the studio from another extraordinarily long-standing partnership between Bob Daly and Terry Semel, who were at the helm of Warner Brothers for two decades.

Warner Bros. again lead all distributors in market share during 2011 with 18.67%. Long strings of success seem to be the norm for executives of Warner Bros. -Dan Fellman has presided over 11 consecutive years with over $11 billion at the boxoffice.


2001 AI: Artificial Intelligence, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Training Day, Ocean’s Eleven, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

2002 The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, City by the Sea, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Analyze That, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Scooby Doo.

2003 The Matrix Reloaded, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Kangaroo Jack, The Matrix Revolutions.

2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Troy, The Polar Express, Ocean’s 12, Alexander,The Phantom of the Opera.

2005 Racing Stripes, Constantine, Miss Congeniality 2, Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Dukes of Hazzard, Corpse Bride, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rumor Has It.

2006 V for Vendetta, Firewall, Poseidon, The Lake House, Superman Returns, The Departed, The Prestige, Flags of our Fathers.

2007 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 300, Ocean’s Thirteen, The Bucket List.

2008 The Dark Knight, Get Smart, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Four Christmases, Yes Man, Gran Torino.

2009 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Hangover, Terminator Salvations, Watchmen, The Box, Ninja Assassin.

2010 Valentine’s Day, Clash of the Titans 3D, Sex and the City 2, Inception, Hereafter, Due Date, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, Yogi Bear 3D.

2011 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Hangover 2, Green Lantern, Horrible Bosses, Crazy Stupid Love, Contagion, J. Edgar.


2000 Frequency, The Cell, Dancer in the Dark, Saving Grace, State and Main.

2001 Rush Hour 2, The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Blow, I Am Sam, Life As A House, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Anniversary Party.

2002 Austin Powers in Goldmember, Mr. Deeds, All About the Benjamins, About Schmidt.

2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, FreddyVs. Jason, Elf, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

2004 Cellular, Raise Your Voice, Blade: Trinity, Birth, After the Sunset, A Dirty Shame, Maria Full of Grace.

2005 Wedding Crashers, Monster-In-Law, Vera Drake, The Upside of Anger, King's Ransom, The Man, A History Of Violence, Domino, Just Friends, The New World, Running Scared, Take the Lead, Final Destination, The Year of the Yao, The Holy Girl, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Last Days.

2006 Final Destination 3, Take the Lead, Snakes on a Plane, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning.

2007 Rush Hour 3, Hairspray, Rendition, Martian Child, The Golden Compass.

2008 Semi-Pro, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, Appaloosa.

2009 The Time Traveler’s Wife, My Sister’s Keeper, The Final Destination 4, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, 17 Again, Friday the 13th, He’s Just Not That Into You.

2010 Sex and the City 2, Valentine’s Day.

2011 Final Destination 5, Horrible Bosses, Hall Pass, The Rite.