100 years ago when motion pictures were still in their infancy, a magical place was created to house this burgeoning entertainment medium that was transfixing people all over the globe; they were called ‘cinemas.’ Unfortunately, at around the same time there arose another place whose self-indulgence, hypocrisy and arrogance threatened to derail the entire fledgling industry; it was called ‘Hollywoodland.’ Though it would soon pare down to simply ‘Hollywood,’ it didn’t entirely shed the veneer of respectability that masked its deleterious operations.
Business being business, however, those early movie moguls knew a good thing when they saw it, and the rest as they say, is history. Hollywood cranks out more popular, famous and successful films than any other motion picture production facility on Earth; billions are reaped annually in what has become the world’s largest ever fantasy factory. While studios constantly bemoan the rising costs of film making, there’s no denying that as an enterprise, Hollywood is one of the most successful industries in the whole of the Western world, exporting its vision of what cinema can be across the entire planet.
All of which means, that at the end of the day, Hollywood studios are immensely wealthy. How rich, you may ask? Why rich enough to make one of the The Richest’s rich lists, that’s all. Bearing in mind that the following figures are not the final tally for the calendar year, let’s see who is currently among Hollywood’s biggest studio money makers for 2014.
11) DreamWorks SKG Studios – $180,900,000
Considered one of the most diverse Hollywood mega-studios, DreamWorks was created in 1994 by the holy powerhouse trinity of director Saint Steven Spielberg and Archangel producers Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Incorporating both film and television production as well as a healthy focus on animation, the studio has grown to become a major industry player.
After a string of commercial and critically acclaimed hits including the Shrek franchise, Castaway, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can and Anchorman, Katzenberg became the CEO of the newly created DreamWorks Animation (DWA), which became a mutually traded enterprise and entirely independent company in 2004.
By 2006, DreamWorks SKG had been sold to Viacom’s Paramount Pictures division and two years later Geffen had left as well, leaving Spielberg seeking a new partnership with The Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, whoever the hell they are. At over $180 million gross in 2014 however, DreamWorks is still doing something right.
10) The Weinstein Company (TWC) – $181,726,400
Independent producers, brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein started The Weinstein Company in 2005, and have run up a string of film and television hits ever since. With the likes of the Spy Kids, Scary Movie and Scream franchises, as well as The King’s Speech and Django Unchained, the studio has made an impact from its inception.
Having already founded Miramax Films in 1979 to great industry acclaim, TWC (which also includes Dimensions Films, created by Bob in 1993) has expanded on that success exponentially, culminating in the 2012 Academy Awards which saw the studio earn eight Oscars, setting a new record for them. This included 5 alone for The Artist, the studio’s brilliant homage to the silent film era.
TWC’s film division brought in nearly $182 million in 2014, and while that represents an over 60% decline from their 2013 revenues (sweet mercy), it’s still good enough for them to earn tenth place on the list.
9) Lionsgate – $420,419,393
Lionsgate Films was created in 1997 from what was previously Cinepix Film Properties, a Canadian independent film producer, and was renamed Lionsgate Entertainment Corporation (LGE). The studio’s first success came with the release of American Psycho in 2000 and has followed it with Girl with a Pearl Earring, Fahrenheit 9/11, Hotel Rwanda, Crash, 3:10 to Yuma, Precious, Kick-Ass as well as the global phenomena of the Saw, Transporter, The Expendables, Twilight Saga and Hunger Games franchises, which saw Lionsgate reap over $400 million this year.
8) Paramount – $882,022,462
Long one of the most fabled studios in Hollywood, today’s Paramount Pictures is the culmination of over a century of motion picture production. Originally founded as Famous Players Film Company in 1912 by innovative cinema entrepreneur Adolf Zukor, in 1916 he brought in legendary director Cecil B. Demille, producer extraordinaire Jesse L. Lasky (Lasky Feature Play Company) and a Utah-based film distributor (Paramount Pictures Corporation) to form Famous Players Lasky Corporation.
The company instantly became the largest producer and distributor of films in the United States. By 1936, years of consolidating smaller studios finally resulted in the birth of Paramount Pictures, which has created some of the most memorable films in movie history ever since; Wings, The Virginian, The Four Feathers (their last silent feature), Shanghai Express, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup and the immensely popular Hopalong Cassidy series.
Having survived the Great Depression, the studio’s later output includes The Ten Commandments, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Psycho, Vertigo, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, Forrest Gump, Titanic and the Iron Man franchise. At nearly $900 million in revenues for 2014, Paramount is alive and kicking it as well as ever.
7) Universal – $956,267,478
One of Hollywood’s original studios, The Universal Film Manufacturing Company was incorporated in New York in 1912. Created by cinema impresario Carl Laemmle, the company broadened their operations to include California later that year, and the rest is film history.
Some of their early successes were The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, All Quiet on the Western Front, Dracula, The Mummy, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. In 1952, Universal was sold to Decca Records and saw yet more success with the likes of The Glenn Miller Story, Spartacus and To Kill a Mockingbird. By 1958 Universal had merged with the Music Corporation of America (MCA), and became a major television producer during the 1960s, and by the 1980s had expanded once again to include theme parks. In 2004 the company was combined with Vivendi Universal Entertainment and NBC to form NBC Universal.
Later studio hits include Jaws, Animal House, The Deer Hunter, Coal Miner’s Daughter, E.T. The Extraterrestrial and Sophie’s Choice. Currently the studio is known for the success of its films like Bridget Jones’ Diary, Gladiator, Meet the Parents, American Pie/Fast and the Furious/Bourne franchises, Bridesmaids and Dumb and Dumber To.
After more than one hundred years in operation, Universal seems poised to take their nearly $1 billion in revenues for 2014 well into the next century.
6) Sony/Columbia Pictures – $1,181,819,246
Columbia is another of Hollywood’s hallowed studios, having been first created as CBC Film Sales Corporation in 1920 by brothers Jack and Harry Cohn and Joe Brandt, all of whom had worked at Universal, and later incorporated as Columbia Pictures in 1924. Harry handled the Hollywood production side, while Jack directed overall operations in New York which included accounting, marketing and distribution. Their feuding was so epic that by 1932, Brandt had seen enough and quit. After signing legendary director Frank Capra, the brothers went on to create some of Hollywood’s most beloved classics, such as It Happened One Night (the first film to win 5 Academy Awards in 1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The studio’s numerous other talents gave us Lost Horizon, His Girl Friday, The Lady from Shanghai, Gilda, All the King’s Men and You Can’t Take It With You. Even after the deaths of Jack in 1956 and Harry in 1958, the studio continued to produce major hits like The Wild One, Picnic, The Caine Mutiny, On The Waterfront, Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Picture Show, Taxi Driver, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Saturday Night Fever.
After first being purchased by the Coca Cola Company in 1982, they in turn sold Columbia Pictures Entertainment to Sony Corporation in 1989, becoming Sony Pictures Entertainment in 1991. Their more recent blockbusters such as the Men in Black/ Spider-Man/Da Vinci Code franchises, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Zero Dark Thirty and The Social Network are keeping Columbia in the black to the tune of nearly $1.2 billion in 2014.
5) Warner Bros. – $1,311,488,764
Another famed Hollywood studio, Warner Brothers was started by brothers Harry, Albert, Samuel and Jack Warner who began purchasing film theaters as early as 1903. Ten years later they were producing and distributing their own films and had moved their operations to Hollywood by 1917, creating Warner Brothers Pictures Inc. in 1923. It was Sam who convinced his brothers to invest in a technologically advanced up-and-coming enterprise called Vitaphone that was to revolutionize motion pictures forever. The studio released the smash film of its day in 1927, the first full-length hit ‘talkie’ with Al Jolson as The Jazz Singer.
In New York, Harry handled the business end while Albert was head of sales, distribution and treasurer, leaving Sam and Jack to run production from Warner’s growing lot in Burbank. However it was really Jack Warner who had the most influence and power at the studio, and he wielded it ruthlessly to build it into one of cinema’s greats. Hits like Little Caesar, The Public Enemy and Captain Blood made stars of Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Errol Flynn. By the 1940s it was The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Big Sleep, Key Largo and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, while the ’50s gave us A Streetcar Named Desire, Strangers On A Train, Dial M for Murder and A Star is Born.
The so called ‘modern’ era of film making saw Warner deliver Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, My Fair Lady, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt and All the President’s Men. The studio was purchased as a subsidiary of Warner’s Communications Inc. in 1969 which later merged with Time Inc. in 1989, becoming Time Warner Inc. The studio’s recent film hits include the Batman, Harry Potter and Hangover franchises, 300, The Bucket List, The Blind Side, The Lego Movie and Interstellar. At over $1.3 billion gross in 2014, the little studio the Warner brothers built is among the most successful media companies in history.
4) Buena Vista – $1,395,509,401
Originally designed by Walt Disney following the release of Peter Pan as a film distribution wing of his empire in 1953 (though the name had long been associated with Disney’s various production divisions), Buena Vista Pictures was restructured in 1998 combining its own Disney, Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone Pictures film studios into a monster live action, animated and television production behemoth known as Buena Vista Motion Pictures.
However in 1999 they sold Buena Vista Television and Disney Television productions to ABC, and realigned Buena Vista Worldwide Theatrical distribution with Walt Disney Feature Animation to become The Walt Disney Studios, effectively ending BV’s film production era, though it has remained Walt’s main distribution arm for all Disney motion pictures, particularly for home entertainment releases, hauling in a huge portion of Disney’s annual revenues. Films like The Lion King, the Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean and Iron Man franchises, The Avengers and Frozen have helped Buena Vista to rake in nearly $1.4 billion in 2014.
3) MGM – $1.53 billion (approx.)
Metro Goldwyn Mayer is a name as synonymous with motion pictures as any in the business. The undisputed giant of film production during Hollywood’s ‘Golden Era’, MGM was created in 1924 by Louis B. Mayer (Louis. B. Mayer Productions) Samuel Goldwyn (Goldwyn Pictures) and Marcus Loew (Metro Pictures), who combined their motion picture enterprises into one company.
The studio became renowned for its lavish costume extravaganzas, light comedies and magnificent musical productions. From their enormous Culver City backlot, MGM made some of the most beloved films of all time; Ben-Hur (1925 and 1957), Flesh and the Devil, The Kiss (the studio’s last silent), The Champ, Tarzan the Ape Man, Grand Hotel, The Thin Man, A Night at the Opera, The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, The Philadelphia Story, National Velvet, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Guys and Dolls, Lust for Life, Sunset Boulevard, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Dr. Zhivago, In the Heat of the Night, Midnight Cowboy, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Network, Rocky, Annie Hall, Rain Man and Dances With Wolves.
Louis B. Mayer died in 1957, leaving the iconic Hollywood studio without a leader for the first time in its history. In the late 1960s the studio was in serious financial difficulty due to a succession of expensive flops, and was sold to Edgar Bronfman of Canada’s Seagram Company Limited, who then sold the studio to Nevada businessman Kirk Kerkorian in 1969.
After absorbing United Artists in 1982 and becoming MGM/UA Entertainment Company, media mogul Ted Tuner briefly owned the studio, before selling it back to Kerkorian. Following a brief ownership by France’s Credit Lyonnais, Kerkorian once again purchased MGM, who by 2007 had an unimpressive record of success as its steward. However the studio has certainly survived its darkest hours and continues its run of hits like Casino Royale, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, 21 Jump Street and The Hobbit series. The studio racked up a healthy 1.5 billion dollars in 2014.
2) Fox – $1,560,253,473
This was yet another of the classic Hollywood film studios from the dawn of motion pictures. In 1904 Hungarian immigrant William Fox (born Wilhelm Fried) began showing movies in nickelodeons in New York and quickly built up a following. Within a decade, Fox was producing and distributing his own films, owned 25 theaters and was so successful that by 1915 he had moved his Fox Film Corporation to Hollywood.
In 1927 the studio bought the rights to a German audio recording system which they employed in their hugely popular Fox Movietone News series. However the company’s assets had been heavily invested in this new enterprise, which forced the departure of William Fox from the company he founded in 1930. The studio remained in limbo until 1935 when Fox merged with 20th Century Pictures (founded in 1933 by Darryl F. Zanuck and Max Schenk) to become 20th Century Fox.
The studio has made some of the greatest films in history; The Three Musketeers, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Grapes of Wrath, Western Union, How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street, Gentleman’s Agreement, Give My Regards to Broadway, All About Eve, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Viva Zapata!, The Seven Year Itch, Oklahoma! The King and I, Bus Stop, South Pacific, The Diary of Ann Frank, Zorba the Greek, The Sound of Music, Fantastic Voyage, The Sand Pebbles, Planet of the Apes, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hello Dolly, The French Connection and countless other film and television classics.
After Zanuck retired in 1971, the studio’s future was uncertain as it passed between a number of brief owners until it was finally bought by Rupert Murdoch in 1985, bringing it much needed cash and stability. The studio’s recent hits include the X-Men and Night at the Museum franchises, the likes of which saw Fox draw over $1.5 billion at the box office this year.
1) Disney – $1.78 billion (approx)
The big D nails down top spot as the highest earning film studio for 2014. Disney has had a license to print money forever, and their films continue to be the backbone of their brand, as in ‘What Uncle Walt hath wrought, let no critic put asunder.’
Arriving in Hollywood in 1923, Roy and Walt Disney began the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studios, and would attain international stardom with the 1928 release of Steamboat Willie, the first animated talkie introducing who else but Walt’s iconic symbol, Mickey Mouse. It was a smash hit and established the brothers, who had by now shortened the company name to The Walt Disney Studio, as up-and-coming players. A seemingly endless series of famous classics followed; Flowers and Trees, Three Little Pigs, Whose Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Treasure Island, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, 101 Dalmations, Mary Poppins. The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles.
By the mid 1960s, Walt was envisioning an expansive new project in Florida to be called DisneyWorld that would outdo his successful California Disneyland theme park opened in 1955. Sadly, Walt died in 1966 and Roy in 1971, but their empire survived them in a big way. The Walt Disney Studios owns Touchstone, Pixar, Marvel and The Walt Disney Motion Pictures and Animation Studios, which is pretty much like owning Fort Knox. These sub-studios of the company have recently produced the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy to help pull in over $1.78 billion for the Disney Mint this year.
But hey, you don’t get an industry rep like ‘Don’t f*ck with the Mouse,’ by signing a lot of cheques.