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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Columbia Pictures can trace its beginnings to the CBC Films Sales Co., formed in 1920 by Harry Cohn, Jack Cohn and Joe Brandt, all of whom had previously worked together at Universal Studios. CBC was set up to make a series of shorts known as Screen Snapshots, showing the off-screen activities of movie stars to publicize their current pictures. Soon the new company expanded to produce westerns and other comedy shorts and in 1922 produced its first feature, “More To Be Pitied Than Scorned.” In 1924, the owners renamed their company Columbia Pictures.

Two years later, Columbia had advanced to the point where it began to open film exchanges of its own instead of selling films outright to theatres for a flat fee and established a studio with two stages and a small office building. Sam Briskin was hired as general manager. In 1929, it produced its first all-talking feature, “The Donovan Affair.” This low-budget murder mystery was directed by Frank Capra. By this time, the company had opened a home office in New York where Jack Cohn functioned as vice president and treasurer, while Harry ran the production operation on the West Coast.

In 1931, Brandt sold his interest in Columbia and retired. The next year, Harry Cohn assumed the title of president, while retaining his post as production chief. In 1935, Columbia purchased a 40-acre ranch in Burbank for location filming (later expanded to 80 acres). The company’s first big artistic success was in 1934 with Capra’s “It Happened One Night,” which was not only the top box office draw of 1934, but a winner of five major Academy Awards including Best Picture. Capra followed this with such hits as “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” (1936), “Lost Horizon” (1937), “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938) and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939).

Throughout the ‘40s Columbia prospered and by the end of the decade, it could claim to be one of the industry’s major studios. Unlike the other studios, Columbia did not own any theatres and was not affected by the industry’s Consent Decrees which forced those studios to divest themselves of their exhibition properties. Commercial hits of the period included “Gilda” (1946), “The Jolson Story” (1946) and “Jolson Sings Again” (1949).

In 1951, Columbia diversified into television by forming Screen Gems, a wholly owned subsidiary set up to make programs and commercials. Founder Harry Cohn died in 1958. The successor management—headed by veterans of the company Abe Schneider and Leo Jaffe—made major investments in British film production and released “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “A Man for All Seasons” (1966) and the musical “Oliver!” (1968). Other hits of the ‘60s were “Guess Who's Coming to Dinner” (1967) and “To Sir With Love” (1967). The success of these and others was attributable to Mike Frankovich, who became production head in 1954 and was succeeded by Stanley Schneider, whose father, Abe, headed the company at the time. Another son of Abe, Bert, and Bob Rafelson coproduced “Easy Rider” in 1969, one of the biggest hits in Columbia’s history.

At the beginning of the ‘70s, Herbert Allen, Jr., a former Wall Street banker, bought control of Columbia and took over as president and CEO. Allen brought in new management headed by Alan Hirschfield and David Begelman, who produced such hits as “Shampoo” (1975) and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977). Begelman's successor as production chief was Frank Price (who had previously headed Universal Television) and under his regime the company produced such successful films as “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Tootsie” (1982) and “Ghostbusters” (1984). In 1982, Columbia was purchased by the Coca-Cola Company. Under its aegis Columbia, Home Box Office and CBS, Inc. joined forces to finance a new production company, TriStar Pictures. At the start, it was emphasized that the new company would be separate from Columbia, with TriStar using Columbia’s distribution. Price departed in 1985 and in 1986 David Puttnam, an independent British producer, was signed as chairman. Succeeding him was Dawn Steel, who was named president. In 1989, TriStar was made a unit of Columbia Pictures with Jeff Sagansky, president of TriStar, reporting to Ms. Steel.

Columbia Pictures Entertainment was formed in 1987 by Coca-Cola to restructure its entertainment business. CPE consisted of two film-production companies: Columbia Pictures and TriStar Pictures; two television arms: Columbia Pictures Television, Merv Griffin Enterprises, and Loews Theatre Management Corp.

In September 1989, Columbia Pictures Entertainment was purchased by the Sony Corporation of Japan. Sony previously acquired CBS Records in 1987. Producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber were brought in as co-chairmen. In 1991, Peters resigned from his position as cochairman, the company was renamed Sony Pictures Entertainment, Inc. and Mark Canton left Warner Bros. to become the new chairman of Columbia Pictures. In June, 1994, Fred Bernstein was put in charge of the motion picture units at Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics and Triumph Releasing Corporation. Later that summer, the marketing and distribution arms of these divisions were consolidated under the direction of Sid Ganis as president. In September 1994, Peter Guber announced his resignation as Sony chairman, with Alan J. Levine named as his successor. Sony was forced to write off $3.2 billion in 1995, but the Japanese parent company vowed to maintain its Hollywood commitment. In September of 1996, Canton was removed as chairman of Columbia Pictures, followed in October of that year by the resignation of Levine, who was replaced by John Calley, formerly of MGM/UA. Mr. Canton’s removal was accompanied by that of Lisa Henson and Barry Josephson, Columbia Pictures presidents; Marc Platt was ousted as was his successor Robert Cooper, TriStar Pictures president along with Stacey Snider, Tristar production president, Alan Levine, Sony Pictures chairman, and Fred Bernstein, Columbia TriStar president. This was a rather strange turn of events, as the deposed team was responsible for Sony’s record $1.3 billion in domestic box office for 1997, having developed such movies as “Jerry Maguire,” “Anaconda,” “The Fifth Element” and “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

Calley reorganized and restructured Sony Pictures Entertainment, closing the TriStar Motion Picture Group and bringing the remaining executives over to Columbia Pictures which became Sony Pictures Entertainment's principal production arm. SPE also resurrected a past label, Screen Gems, to make films in the $4-5 million range.

In 1998, Jeff Sagansky left Columbia to join the newest network, Pax TV. Sony Pictures Classics, the art film distributor arm of Sony Corp., despite a profitable 1998, came under criticism for its co-presidents’ insistence on earning a profit on each of their releases and failing to take on more commercial fare. Although its revenues of $20 million for the first seven months of 1998 were twice its 1997 grosses, SPC was surpassed in 1995 by Miramax, a younger arthouse, but one that has taken more financial risks. After a two-year legal battle, Sony lost its claim to the movie rights for the lucrative James Bond franchise. In a settlement with MGM, Sony gave up its claim for a meager $5 million, but ended up with the rights to Spiderman.

In early 1999, Sony Pictures Entertainment signed a groundbreaking deal with 30 screenwriters stating that in exchange for one film each over the next four years, each writer would receive up-front fees as well as 2% of gross receipts.

On October 3, 1999, Sony bade a final farewell to its cofounder, Akio Morita who died at the age of 78. In 2000, Sony continued to struggle, releasing several expensive features that generated little box office interest. “What Planet Are You From?” cost $50 million and grossed only $6.5 million, while “I Dreamed of Africa” cost $40 million and brought in $6.5 million. Even the highly anticipated summer films, “The Patriot” and “Hollow Man” underperformed at the box office, barely breaking even. John Calley did slow the outrageous spending and losses that once plagued the studio, but as of 2000, was still looking for blockbusters to return Sony to its former prominence. Despite Monday-morning box office woes, Sony Pictures Entertainment increased overall sales 55% since Calley took over in 1996 through 2000. In large part sales increases were attributed to its pay-TV, video and TV-content businesses.

In 2000, parent Sony restructured, and Sony Pictures Entertainment was placed under the Sony Broadband Entertainment umbrella. That year the company created a digital entertainment unit, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment, and restructured its top management in preparation for Chairman and CEO John Calley’s planned departure in 2003. In a move geared to meet the targeted programming needs of the upcoming broadband decade, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) consolidated its two domestic television operations into a new division, Columbia TriStar Domestic Television.

Sony’s 2000 sales were $6,106 million, showing one year growth of 34.6%.

In 2001, Sony had hits with “The Wedding Planner,” “A Knight’s Tale,” “Ali” and “Not Another Teen Movie” while Sony Pictures Classics continued to enjoy box office and citical success with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

In 2002, Sony sold its stake in exhibitor, Loews Cineplex Entertainment and scored a record breaking year with a number of huge releases, including “Spider-Man,” “Men in Black II,” and “Stuart Little 2.” On Aug. 19, 2002, SPE surpassed $1.27 billion in domestic ticket sales, breaking a respected ent. industry record. Before year-end, SPE

planned 12 additional releases starring industry box office stars like Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Lopez and Nicolas Cage in films such as “I Spy,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Eight Crazy Nights” and award season hopefuls “Punch Drunk Love” and “Adaptation.” Going into the holiday season, SPE commanded more than 20 percent of the total box office marketshare.

Anticipating the retirement of longtime studio head John Calley, Sony Corp. of American chairman & CEO, Howard Stringer renewed his contract and promoted Yair Landau (president, Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment), Amy Pascal (Columbia Pictures chair) and Jeff Blake (president, worldwide marketing and distribution for Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group) to the co-equal posts of vice-chairmen, Sony Pictures Entertainment. They replaced former COO, Mel Harris, who left the company in September.

While not as huge as 2002, Sony had a big year at the box office in 2003. Meanwhile the electronics coglomerate announced a reduction in 20,000 jobs over the next three years, of which 1,700 would be cut from the studio workforce. Sony paid 55% of the budgets for Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios and has been very dependent on them for hit films. In 2003 Revolution delivered hits, such as “Anger Management” along with misses like “Gigli.” Sony also signed a co-production deal with the very successful Spyglass Productions run by Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum. The year also marked the exit of John Calley after nearly seven years as chairman. The company brought in Harvard-educated Michael Lynton as its new chmn. & CEO in Jan. 2004. With a finance background in mergers and acquisitions, Lynton entered the entertainment industry in 1987 as president of Disney Publishing and later as pres. of Disney’s Hollywood Pictures. Before joining SPE, Lynton also had been president, Time Warner International; president, AOL International, and CEO of AOL Europe.

Lynton’s mergers & acquisition background made him ideally suited to lead Sony’s next evolution as an entertainment company: the acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn- Mayer. On September 23, 2004, Sony Corporation of America announced a definitive agreement to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). MGM had been courted by other companies, but in a move that took the industry somewhat by surprise, Sony and its equity partners Providence Equity Partners, Texas Pacific Group, Comcast Corporation and DLJ Merchant Banking Partners, put together the winning deal. The investor group would pay $12 in cash per share, plus would assume MGM’s approximately $2 billion in debt. Additionally, J.P. Morgan Chase committed to lead a bank syndicate that would provide up to $4.25 billion in senior debt financing together with Credit Suisse First Boston.

Post-acquisition MGM continues as an active producer of film and television projects, and greenlights projects under the MGM and United Artists banners. MGM still operates under the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer name as a private company headquartered in Los Angeles, CA. SPE’s role will be to co-finance and produce new motion pictures with MGM as well as distribute MGM’s existing film and television content through Sony Pictures’ global distribution channels.

In a strategic move to bring SPE and MGM content to a broad cable viewing base, SPE and the equity partners in the MGM transaction agreed to a broad programming and distribution arrangement that allows for the distribution of Sony Pictures’ and MGM content on equity partner Comcast Corporation’s video on demand platform, and for the creation of a joint venture, to be managed by Comcast. The venture would establish new cable channels featuring Sony Pictures and MGM content, bringing Sony product to Comcast’s more than 21 million cable television customers.

Howard Stringer replaced Noboyuki Idei in June of 2005 as Chairman and CEO of Sony Corp. and became one of the few non-Japanese to run a major Japanese company. The parent consumer electronics manufacturer had been struggling and in 2005 was in the midst of its second restructuring plan in three years. The movie division had some disappointments during the year, including “Stealth” and “Bewitched;” both underperformed and failed to drive positive financial results for Sony, especially if compared to the previous year’s blockbuster “Spider- Man 2” and how it bolstered the bottom line.

Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) executives enjoyed 2006. More than 50 percent of its releases debuted in the top slot, with 10 number one opening weeks for SPE films. By September, Sony Pictures nabbed first place in the 2006 industry market share race, generating more than $1.15 billion in North American ticket sales and capturing 17.6% off all tickets sold. In Sept., chairman of the studio’s Motion Picture Group, Amy Pascal, extended her deal with the studio to 2011 and was elevated to cochairman of SPE, alongside Michael Lynton, SPE chairman & CEO. Sony Pictures Animation, formed in May 2002, launched its first feature film in September 2006 with the release of “Open Season.” Its first forayinto animation delivered respectable box office receipts of $77.1 million in its first 31 days in theatres. Columbia Pictures made it into the Top 20 of all-time largest opening weekends with its release of the controversystirring “The Da Vinci Code,” a highly revisionist view of Jesus Christ’s life and based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown. Add the star power of Tom Hanks and direction by Ron Howard to this compelling story, and SPE could predict a public flocking to theatres. And they did. The “Code” raked in $77.1 million during its opening weekend and had a cumulative worldwide total of $747.2 million through early fall. On the lighter side of its 2006 slate, writer-star Will Ferrell delivered comic relief, NASCAR- style, to theatres this summer in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” with box office receipts of $148.2 million through mid-October.

Sony broke industry records in 2006 with more than $1.6 billion in box office receipts in the U.S., but their share dipped 15% in 2007 to just over $1.0 billion, in spite of the top grossing film worldwide, “Spider-Man 3,” which did $890.5 million. Michael Lynton signed a new contract extension to lead the company’s film and television units until 2012. Lynton and Amy Pascal, co-chairman of the unit, both report to Howard Stringer, who has been chairman since 2005. The company has made a major push in production and distribution internationally over the last few years both in film and television, often with local partners. Sony Pictures Classics remains the champion of the specialized distributors, winning their seventh Best Foreign Language Oscar for “The Lives of Others.”

In 2008 Michael Lynton entered his fourth year as Chairman and CEO and Amy Pascal, Co-Chairman, SPE and Chairman, Sony Motion Pictures Group, finished her 20th year of employment with the company. Total sales for the fiscal year ended March 2008 was $7.6 billion and interestingly, Howard Stringer threw his support behind rival Toshiba’s Blu-Ray Disc to make that the de facto standard for high definition recording and playback, at the expense of Sony’s HD DVD format. Sony Pictures Releasing grossed considerably more than one billion domestically, with “Hancock” doing $600 million at the boxoffice worldwide.

Amid the financial gloom in late 2008, Sony slashed its profit and sales forcasts for the second time for fiscal 2008 in the last two quarters. For the fiscal year beginning March 2009, Sony expected operating profit to decline 57% from $4.7 billion to $2 billion.

Under Chairman-CEO Howard Stringer, Sony moved aggressively to cut costs in 2009, slashing 16,000 jobs and closing eight plants. These efforts have finally started draining the sea of red ink, and Sony now expects its net loss for the fiscal year to total $1.04 billion, down from the previous prediction of $1.32 billion. The picture division reported a 30.4% year-on-year drop in sales — or 20% on a U.S. dollar basis — to $1.52 billion, with both theatrical and home entertainment revenues falling. There was no hit to match “Hancock” from the fiscal second quarter last year, though “District 9,” “The Ugly Truth” and “Julie and Julia” recorded solid numbers. Sony Pictures Animation’s “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” landed in 2009’s domestic gross boxoffice Top 20 with $121mm, coming in at number 17 on the list.

Howard Stringer continued to trim costs in 2010, while overhauling Sony’s businesses units to create better synergies between its content and its electronic devices. However, profit has been elusive in Sony’s television and video game units. Those businesses are now back on track and should remain strong due to rising consumer interest in 3-D televisions and brisker sales of game consoles.

Sony Pictures Entertainment, which last year cut about 3.5 percent of its workers, executed a new round of job reductions that eliminated 6.5 percent of its global workforce. In a letter to employees, Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal said the cuts would be spread across the studio’s divisions, though most would be in its home entertainment and information technology operations. A steady decline in DVD revenue has forced Hollywood studios to cut staff and consolidate operations. Sony’s theatrical- market share in 2010 was 13.3% or fifth among the major studios.

Howard Stringer took a 16% pay cut in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, reflecting the electronics and media giant's third straight year of losses as it looks for new ways to spark growth. Kazuo Hirai, the head of PlayStation videogame and consumer electronics business, looks to eventually succeed Mr. Stringer. At the annual meeting, Mr. Hirai laid out his plan to turn around the company's television business, saying reversing seven straight years of losses at the division was the "most important task" facing Sony's electronics arm. Sony expects another year of losses at the TV business this fiscal year to March 2012.

Sony is also rebuilding customer trust and repairing its brand image after hacker attacks on its popular online videogame platform and other online entertainment services compromised personal data for more than 100 million user accounts worldwide.

Sony’s market share was third highest - 12.5% among the Studios at the end of the third quarter 2011. The 4th Quarter of 2011 saw the release of eleven serious dramas, all of which appreared in the Toronto Film Festival, including “Moneyball,” “The Ides of March,” “Anonymous” and eight films from Sony Pictures Classics.


2001 The Wedding Planner, A Knight’s Tale, The Animal, America’s Sweethearts, Ali.

2002 Spider-Man, Men in Black II, Stuart Little 2, Swept Away, XXX, I Spy.

2003 Bad Boys II, Anger Management, S.W.A.T., Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Once Upon A Time in Mexico.

2004 Spider-Man 2, Secret Window, White Chicks (with Revolution Studios), Little Black Book (with Revolution Studios), 13 Going on 30 (with Revolution Studios), Christmas With the Kranks (with Revolution Studios), Closer, Spanglish,The Forgotten, The Grudge.

2005 Hitch, Are We There Yet, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Bewitched, The Mask of Zorro, Rent, All the King’s Men, Fun With Dick and Jane.

2006 RV, The Da Vinci Code, Click (with Revolution Studios), Monster House, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, The Pink Panther, Oliver Twist, Running With Scissors.

2007 Spider-Man 3, Superbad, Ghost Rider, Stomp the Yard, Surf’s Up, We Own the Night

2008 Hancock, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, Quantum of Solace.

2009 Angels & Demons, Julie & Julia, This Is It (Michael Jackson documentary), Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs.

2010 The Karate Kid, Grown Ups, The Other Guys, Salt, Eat Pray Love, The Bounty Hunter.

2011 The Smurfs, Just Go With It, Bad Teacher, The Green Hornet, Battle: Los Angeles, Zookeeper, Friends with Benefits, Soul Surfer.


2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Bossa Nova, Trixie, Groove, Pollock.

2001 Pauline and Paulette, Secret Ballot, Haiku Tunnel.

2002 Sunshine State, Mad Love, Autofocus, Love Liza, My Wife Is an Actress.

2003 Winged Migration, The Tiplets of Bellville, The Fog of War, The Company.

2004 Riding Giants, The Triplets of Belleville, Carandiru, The Fog of War, Being Julia, Baadasssss!, She Hate Me, Bad Education, Warriors of Heaven and Earth.

2005 Kung Fu Hustle, House of Flying Dragons, The Merchant of Venice, Junebug, Capote, White Countess, Breakfast on Pluto.

2006 Who Killed The Electric Car?, Sketches of Frank Gehry.

2007 The Lives of Others, Volver, Curse of the Golden Flower, Black Book, The Valet, Sleuth.

2008 The Wackness, Baghead, When Did You Last See Your Father, Rachel Getting Married, The Class, I’ve Loved You So Long.

2009 It Might Get Loud, Coco Before Chanel, The Damned United.

2010 You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Animal Kingdom, Please Give.

2011 Midnight in Paris, Incendies, Des Hommes et Des Dieux, The Guard,The Illusionist.