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A Brief History of 20th Century Studios And What To Expect in Future
One of the most recognizable names in the film industry is 20th Century Studios with its famous logo, fanfare and incredible list of movie titles. Although the name is instantly recognizable, very little is known about the company itself because, naturally, you don’t think about the studio while enjoying a good movie. In fact, if a viewer inquires about the studio that made a film while watching it, then the studio has not done a good job. So, in case you didn’t know where exactly you saw the 20th Century logo, here are some popular titles – Die Hard Series, Home Alone, Avatar, Star Wars, Deadpool, and many, many more.
For the curious among us, it will be interesting to learn more about the studio that brought us some of the most memorable movies in our lifetime. We hope that this peek behind the curtain will yield a new level of appreciation for the people who create the most incredible characters we know and love. From humble beginnings to success
The founding year of 20th Century Studios is still disputed to this day, with the company claiming to be founded in 1935 while most film historians stating that the company was actually founded in 1915. The reason for this dispute is because of a merger that took place in 1935, but the true origins date back to 1915 with the Fox Film Corporation. From a young age, William Fox had already started to create films and by age 25 (1904) he had bought his first nickelodeon on which people would pay 5 cents to watch a film. He was an aggressive entrepreneur and went on to acquire 24 more theaters in New York by 1915. He then created the Fox Film Corporation and moved to Hollywood where he would also create Fox West Coast Theaters.
Meanwhile, in 1919 a group of 4 actors including Charlie Chaplin and David D. W. Griffith had formed United Artists Corp. in response to the emerging studio system they didn’t like. Initially, the company was not as successful and Griffith left leaving UA in a crisis. Then Joseph Schenck was hired as the president, and with his connections to popular actors, helped to revive UA and even grow it internationally to over 40 countries. However, Schenck was still denied ownership shares and he resigned in 1935.
At this time, Fox Film Corporation was suffering due to a series of terrible events for William Fox that all occurred in 1929. First, Fox had moved to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) but Louis Mayer had conspired to have Fox sued for federal antitrust violations by the Justice Department. Second, Fox had suffered a car accident that left him badly hurt. Finally, the stock market crash in October wiped out Fox’s fortune and ended any hopes of Fox Film acquiring MGM.
Joseph Schenck saw this as an opportunity after leaving UA and with his company 20th Century Pictures organized a hostile takeover of Fox Film Corp. to create 20th Century Fox in 1930. For the next decade and a half, 20th Century Fox would release a series of hit films that would propel the company to top ahead of MGM and RKO studios. But all good things must come to an end, right?The decline and rise of 20th Century Fox
After the end of World War II, audiences had found a new distraction in TV and movie theaters weren’t as packed anymore. The number of movie-goers had nearly halved by 1953 compared to 1946 numbers, and then president Spyros Skouras knew he had to try something new. The idea was to make use of Cinerama technology that created the illusion of depth even without the use of glasses. This brought in more revenue for 20th Century Fox for a while, but other studios quickly adopted the same process and profits started to slide once again.
To add insult to injury, President Skouras make several mistakes during the filming of several movies by the studio that would cost 20th Century Fox a lot of money. For instance, the budget while filming of Cleopatra starting in 1959 quickly rose to $40 million due to problems in production and disruptions from Elizabeth Taylor. This forced the studio to sell its back lot just to raise the necessary funds. These problems as well as the death of Marilyn Monroe slowed movie production and the studio was in trouble.
Following a turbulent 2 decades, Darryl Zanuck took over as chairman of the studio and his son Richard Zanuck became president, ousting Skouras. Zanuck had been Schenck’s partner in the creation of 20th Century Pictures and was the largest shareholder in 20th Century Fox. With Zanuck as president, the studio cut its expenses by laying off staff, shutting down the studio and making cheap yet popular pictures. These moves restored some of the company’s fortunes by releasing titles such as Planet of the Apes and Fantastic Voyage, but it was the release of Star Wars in 1977 that really propelled 20th Century Fox. A new era
The newfound success of 20th Century Fox attracted investors Marc Rich and Marvin Davis who bought the company in 1981 for $700 million. Rupert Murdoch would later purchase the company for $250 million in 1985 and an additional $325 million and integrate it into News Corporation. Then in 2012 News Corp. was split into News Corp. and 21st Century Fox – the latter would run Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox. Finally, Walt Disney acquired 21st Century Fox in 2018 and resulted in the currently named 20th Century Studios to distinguish the studio from the Fox Corporation. What the future holds for 20th Century Studios
As you can see above, 20th Century Studios has had a long history of over a century. During that time, it has endured two world wars, ebbs and tides in the company’s financials, half a dozen presidents and several changes of hands. Nevertheless, the studio has still remained the same iconic symbol of hit movies and unforgettable actors. Today, Walt Disney Studios has the highest market share in the US at 33.5%, far above the second highest Warner Media at 13.9%.
This already shows that 20th Century Studios is well poised as a movie studio at the moment, but to keep that market share Walt Disney will have to keep up with new technologies to keep audiences’ attention. 20th Century Fox had been the first to implement CinemaScope followed by its competitors, but it was one of the last to move to Panavision in 1966 long after other studios had already made the switch. Was this a case of complacency on its part? We’ll never know.
What we do know is that the future of entertainment is certainly in streaming services as movie theaters are now much less visited by millennials. During this period of the Coronavirus pandemic, the company has rolled out Disney Plus as a streaming service for its products, but it is unclear whether Walt Disney will fully roll out the product afterwards. The company recently reported ‘deep financial problems’ following the closure of its theme parks like Disneyland.
So far, it has been encouraging to see 20th Century Studios produce some excellent movies and even more scheduled to be released in the coming years. These should be enough to keep the company thriving in the coming years, but it is the huge market share 20th Century Studios and Walt Disney share that almost guarantees the success of the company in the coming future.