Paramount Pictures is an iconic and historically important film studio that has housed many important movies and franchises over the years. And in this article, we are going to briefly explore: how the company was created, several key moments from its history and the notable films the studio had a hand in.
The story begins in 1912 when Adolph Zukor established the Famous Players Film Company. Then in 1914, along with Jesse L. Lasky’s Feature Play Company, Famous Players began distributing films through W. W. Hodkinson’s Paramount Pictures Corporation. During this time the classic Paramount logo, 24 stars, representing the film stars it had contracted, above a mountain was unveiled. Come 1916 the three companies merged into Famous Players-Lasky. Later, the company changed its name to Paramount Pictures, Inc. as part of a reorganisation in the mid-1930s. Its origins make Paramount one of America’s longest surviving film studios.
The company’s first few decades were very successful. It was recognised for producing high-quality films (Famous Players-Lasky’s Wings won the first Oscar for best picture) and contracted bankable movie stars and talented directors like Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Ernst Lubitsch and Josef Von Sternberg. But another key to their success was their ownership of a large number of cinemas and a process called block booking. Which allowed Paramount to pack cinemas exclusively with their films.
But several hardships set Paramount back. They filed for bankruptcy in 1933. A number of factors may have contributed to this. Including the great depression, the difficulty in adapting cinemas for talking pictures and more. After recovering, in 1948 the supreme court ruled that film studios could not control cinema chains in the case United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. This loss and competition from television hit Paramount hard. Leading them to release many of their stars and reduce their personal productions to a few more, expensive pictures.
Gulf + Western bought Paramount in 1966 and restored the studio’s success with acclaimed star-driven hits and high concept pictures. It also bought Desilu Productions. With this acquisition, Paramount gained the rights to produce TV hits like Star Trek and Mission: Impossible.
This era continued until 1994 when Viacom (now ViacomCBS) gained a controlling share in Paramount. After this, they created the UPN TV network (later it became the CW after striking a deal with Warner Bros). And with 20th Century Fox it co-produced and distributed the highest-grossing film ever made at the time, Titanic. During the 21st-century things have remained relatively steady. With Paramount briefly acquiring DreamWorks and gaining the distribution rights to Miramax’s back catalogue. Recently the studio also leapt to streaming with Paramount+.
Beginning by distributing the film Queen Elizabeth through the Famous Players Film Company, Paramount and its earlier iterations would create and showcase many highly regarded projects. The studio has been responsible for making and distributing many best picture winners across the world. Including Wings, Going My Way, The Lost Weekend, The Greatest Show on Earth, The Godfather Parts 1 and 2, Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Forrest Gump, Braveheart (in North America), Titanic, No Country for Old Men (in the UK) and The Kings Speech (in Australia).
And it is also responsible for creating and distributing many successful and acclaimed film series such as The Godfather, Star Trek, Friday the 13th Parts 1 – 8, Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible, Transformers and the Paranormal Activity series. But these selections only scratch the surface of the many great, successful and important films the studio has been involved with.
Paramount has come a long way from it’s beginnings. It is one of the oldest surviving film studios, having formed over a hundred years ago. It quickly became a huge movie production, distribution and exhibition company which owned its own chain of theatres.
And over its life it has fought receivership, was at the centre of a landmark legal case and changed owners several times.
But despite this turbulent history Paramount has helped deliver many important films and franchises to audiences. And has had an immeasurable effect in shaping the modern movie landscape.
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