Major film studio
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A major film studio is a movie production and distribution company that releases a substantial number of films annually and consistently commands a significant share of box-office revenues in a given market. In the North American, Western, and global markets, the major film studios, often simply known as the majors, are commonly regarded as the six diversified media conglomerates whose various movie production and distribution subsidiaries command approximately 90 percent of the U.S. and Canadian box office. The term may also be applied more specifically to the primary movie business subsidiary of each respective conglomerate. The "Big Six" majors, whose movie operations are based in or around Hollywood, are all centered in film studios active during Hollywood's Golden Age of the 1930s and 1940s. In three cases—20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., and Paramount—the studios were one of the "Big Five" majors during that era as well. In two cases—Columbia and Universal—the studios were also considered majors, but in the next tier down, part of the "Little Three." In the sixth case, Walt Disney Studios was an independent production company during the Golden Age; it was an important Hollywood entity, but not a major.
Most of today's Big Six also include formerly independent companies that have been acquired and brought in under the corporate umbrella—for instance, Time Warner's New Line Cinema. The majors have also established a variety of specialty divisions to concentrate on arthouse pictures (e.g., Paramount Vantage) or genre films (e.g., Fox Atomic). The six major movie studios are contrasted with smaller movie production and/or distribution companies, which are known as independents or "indies." The leading independent producer/distributors—Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment, and former major studio MGM—are sometimes referred to as "mini-majors," along with fledgling studio Overture Films and the fading Weinstein Company. From 1998 through 2005, DreamWorks SKG commanded a large enough market share to arguably qualify it as a seventh major, despite its relatively small output and frequent reliance on outside distributors. In 2006, DreamWorks was acquired by Viacom, Paramount's corporate parent; in autumn 2008, it once again became an independent production company, with its films to be distributed by Universal.
The major studios are today primarily backers and distributors of films whose actual production is largely handled by independent companies—either long-running entities or ones created for and dedicated to the making of a specific film. The specialty divisions often simply acquire distribution rights to pictures with which the studio has had no prior involvement. While the majors do a modicum of true production, their activities are focused more in the areas of development, financing, marketing, and merchandising.