Studio system  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The studio system was a means of film production and distribution dominant in Hollywood from the early 1920s through the early 1950s. The term studio system refers to the practice of large motion picture studios (a) producing movies primarily on their own filmmaking lots with creative personnel under often long-term contract and (b) pursuing vertical integration through ownership or effective control of distributors and movie theaters, guaranteeing additional sales of films through manipulative booking techniques. The United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. case against those distribution and exhibition practices hastened the end of the studio system. In 1954, the last of the operational links between a major production studio and theater chain was broken and the era of the studio system was officially dead. The period stretching from the introduction of sound to the court ruling and the beginning of the studio breakups, 1927/29–1948/49, is commonly known as the Golden Age of Hollywood.

After the system

As of 2007, five of the Golden Age majors continue to exist as major Hollywood studio entities, each as part of a larger media conglomerate: Columbia (owned by Sony), 20th Century Fox (owned by News Corporation), Warner Bros. (owned by Time Warner), Paramount (owned by Viacom), and Universal (owned by General Electric/NBC Universal). In addition, The Walt Disney Company's Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group has emerged as a major, resulting in a "Big Six." With the exception of Disney, all of these so-called major studios are essentially based on the model not of the classic Big Five, but of the old United Artists: that is, they are primarily backer-distributors (and physical studio leasers) rather than actual production companies.

Sony, in addition to ownership of Columbia, also has effective control of the relatively small latter-day incarnation of MGM and its subsidiary UA; under the Sony umbrella, MGM/UA operates as a "mini-major," nominally independent of but closely associated with Columbia. In 1996, Time Warner acquired the once-independent New Line Cinema via its purchase of Turner Broadcasting System. In 2008, New Line was merged into Warner Bros., where it continues to exist as a subsidiary. Each of today's Big Six controls quasi-independent "arthouse" divisions, such as Paramount Vantage and Disney's Miramax Films (which originally was an independent studio). Most also have divisions that focus on genre movies, B movies either literally by virtue of their low budgets, or spiritually—for instance, Sony's Screen Gems and Buena Vista's Hollywood Pictures brand. One so-called indie division, Universal's Focus Features, both releases arthouse films under that primary brand and also oversees the conglomerate's genre specialty division, Rogue Pictures. Both Focus and Fox's arthouse division, Fox Searchlight, are large enough to qualify as mini-majors. Two large independent firms also qualify as mini-majors, Lionsgate and The Weinstein Company. They stand somewhere between latter-day versions of the old "major-minor"—like Columbia and Universal in the 1930s and 1940s, except Lionsgate and The W.C. have about half their market share—and leading Golden Age independent production outfits like Samuel Goldwyn Inc. and the companies of David O. Selznick.

See also



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Studio system" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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