Top Movie Studios

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Most film historians would agree that once the motion picture industry became recognized as a respectable business entity in the mid to late 1800s, there were no more than a handful of small studios. As the industry grew, so did the amount of players. Currently, there is a group of six major motion picture studio conglomerates whose various subsidiaries control around 90% of the Canadian and North American box office. Those “big six” conglomerates are:

  • Comcast/General Electric – Universal Pictures
    Paralleling Paramount Pictures as one of the oldest American film studios, Universal Pictures was founded in 1912. Carl Laemmle, the studios founder, took an unusual approach and grew the company in the early years by financing all the films himself, refusing to take on debt. A risky venture that nearly bankrupt him, Laemmle’s approach eventually paid off and Universal Pictures positioned themselves as a top-tier film studio for several decades.
  • News Corporation – 20th Century Fox
    Founded in 1935, 20th Century Fox found its greatest success partnering with big-name directors George Lucas (Star Wars) and James Cameron (Avatar). To date, Avatar holds the record for highest worldwide box office gross sales. They also produced some of the industry’s most well-known stars including Shirley Temple and Marilyn Monroe. 20th Century Fox also found great success in TV, with popular series such as The Simpsons and Family Guy.
  • Sony Corporation – Columbia Pictures
    Originally founded in 1919, Columbia Pictures quickly got off its feet (partially due to its association with leading director Frank Capra) to become one of the top five studios by the late 1920s. They made their mark through the unconventional yet popular “screwball” comedy genre. Now producing a variety of film categories, Columbia Pictures continues to place first in domestic gross box office sales with hits like Spider-Man, 50 First Dates and The Da Vinci Code.
  • The Walt Disney Company – Buena Vista/Walt Disney Pictures/Touchstone Pictures
    Known for their wholesome, animated films, Walt Disney Pictures is a big contender in both the international and domestic film market. They are the only studio to have four feature films surpass the $1 billion box office sales mark (two occurring in the same year), with the releases of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. They continue to work with innovative production partners such as Pixar and Jim Henson Pictures to produce unique, progressive films.
  • Time Warner – Warner Bros. Pictures
    In 2010, Warner Bros. Pictures broker their own record for leading worldwide box office gross sales at $4.814 billion, their eleventh consecutive year surpassing the billion dollar mark. Their most recent motion picture hit series, Harry Potter, has contributed $7 billion to date in box office sales throughout its eight movies. Also, Warner Bros. maintains over 20% market share in US home video sales, a significant portion.
  • Viacom – Paramount Pictures
  • Dating back to 1912, Paramount Pictures is known as America’s oldest film studio. Founder Adolf Zukor grew the company (barely withstanding the great depression) into a leading studio that focused on employing and marketing the brightest stars. With the explosive success of Titanic, the 1997 movie that shattered box office records with $1,843,201,268.00 in worldwide gross sales, Paramount continues to produce and distribute today’s top grossing motion picture films.

What has become known as Hollywood’s golden age, the 1930s and 40s set the pace for the popularity of films across the United States. It wasn’t until the 1970s however, that the pace of innovation was established by a group of young film school graduates (Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and Francis Coppola) who brought a level of creativity to feature-films that had never been seen before. By this point, restrictions on language, violence and sexual content had become more relaxed, allowing for more experimentation and a wider genre of films. The “Big Six” studios created some of their most successful pieces of work after this pivotal turning point. Below, we list their highest grossing films to date:

20th Century Fox –Avatar (2009), $2,782,275,172 worldwide gross sales
Paramount Motion Pictures – Titanic (1997), $1,843,201,268 worldwide gross sales
Warner Bros. Pictures- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011), $1,325,594,909 worldwide sales
Walt Disney Pictures – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), $1,066,179,725 worldwide gross sales
Universal Pictures –Jurassic Park (1993), $914,691,118 worldwide gross sales
Columbia Pictures –Spider-Man 3 (2007), $890,871,626 worldwide gross sales

It should be understood that statistics do not necessarily make these studios the best. The quality of a feature film is a very opinion-based subject which can be debated widely. Instead, these considerations only show the big six studios to be the most profitable. There are many comparatively smaller studios and “independent” studios that have produced some very successful and profitable films. Such studios include:

MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) – Julius Caesar (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), Ben-Hur (1959), the James Bond series
Lions Gate Entertainment – Dogma (1999), American Psycho (2000), the Saw series, Tyler Perry franchises
DreamWorks – Antz (1998), the Shrek series, Madagascar (2005), Kung Fu Panda (2008), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Summit Entertainment – the Twilight series, The Hurt Locker (2009)

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