100 Years of Paramount
The year 2012 marked an exceptional milestone for Paramount Pictures - its 100th year in show business. Though this extraordinary accomplishment makes Paramount one of America's oldest motion picture companies, there have been no signs of slowing down, and Paramount and its movies are stronger than ever. From visionary epics to heart-wrenching romances to blockbuster franchises, all created by the best talent and filmmakers in the business, Paramount has set the standard in cinema for a century and continues to deliver the highest caliber of entertainment to audiences worldwide.
Adolph Zukor, Jesse L. Lasky and Cecil B. DeMille are credited as Paramount's principal founding fathers. The visionary Zukor laid the foundation for the company by acquiring the U.S. distribution rights to the silent French film Queen Elizabeth, a groundbreaking four-reel feature in a time when two reels was the norm. Its overwhelming success propelled Zukor's Famous Players Film Company to great heights, and in the process, transformed the business of entertainment forever. Inspired by Zukor's success, Jesse L. Lasky soon teamed with first time director Cecil B. DeMille to make a film version of the successful stage play The Squaw Man. It was the first feature-length film actually made in Hollywood, and marked the debut of the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company.
Zukor and Lasky combined their efforts in 1916 with the formation of their Famous Players-Lasky Corporation. Zukor served as President, Lasky as Vice President in charge of production, DeMille as Director General, and Lasky's brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfish (who would later be known as Samuel Goldwyn and soon leave to pursue his own ventures) as Chairman of the Board. Months later, after another merger with a nascent film distribution exchange called Paramount Pictures, the resulting entity became Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation.
With its symbol of a rugged, snow-covered peak from the Wasatch mountain range, Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation became the first successful nationwide film distribution company, releasing two to three new pictures a week from 1916 to 1921. It became a fully integrated company that controlled every aspect of filmmaking - production, distribution, and exhibition - until the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that it constituted a monopoly for motion picture studios to also own theatre chains.
The Great Depression proved tumultuous and while Lasky was forced out of the company, Zukor hung on until 1936 when he was replaced as President by Barney Balaban. Zukor assumed the title of Chairman of the Board of the newly named Paramount Pictures, and though it was largely a token position, he remained active in the company until his retirement in 1959. The thriving mid-century period was marked by the releases of outstanding works by directors such as Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston. Furthermore as television emerged as a potential threat, Paramount took the movie business to new heights, launching such landmarks as George Stevens' A Place in the Sun in 1951 and Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (the second version made at Paramount) in 1956.
By the 1960s however, Paramount once again faced difficult times. Charles Bluhdorn's Gulf + Western, which purchased Paramount in 1966, looked to actor-turned-studio-boss Robert Evans to pull off a turnaround. He scored with Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby in 1968, but his biggest feat was green-lighting a modestly budgeted drama based on a bestselling book. The film was called Love Story, and its word-of-mouth success and against-the-grain sentimentality gave the studio the crowd-pleaser it desperately needed. The film, which starred Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw, grossed more than $100 million worldwide (smashing all previous box office records for the studio) and received seven Oscar® nominations. After this turning point, the studio would go on to produce some of the most successful and iconic films in cinematic history. These 'New Hollywood' classics include The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Harold and Maude, The Conversation and Chinatown.
Buttressed by these triumphs, the remainder of the '70s and '80s was a steady ride for the studio. The year 1986 was particularly notable as Paramount captured a 22 percent share of total domestic box office revenue, twice that of its closest competitor, and boasted five of the year's top 10 highest grossing films, including Top Gun and Crocodile Dundee.
The '90s welcomed producer Sherry Lansing as Chairman in 1992, a position she would hold for 14 years. And, in 1994, Paramount's parent company, Paramount Communications, merged with Viacom Inc. under the leadership of Executive Chairman of the Board and Founder, Sumner Redstone. The decade was punctuated by the release of Titanic in December 1997, which reigned for more than a decade as Hollywood's top box-office attraction.
In recent years, Paramount has solidified its place as a global leader in entertainment content and has celebrated an unprecedented run of success under the leadership of Chairman and CEO Brad Grey, who arrived in 2005. In a business that demands excellence, Grey has delivered blockbuster, Academy Award®-winning entertainment with today's most gifted and respected talent.
During Grey's tenure, Paramount has released eight of its top 10 highest grossing films of all time, including the Transformers and Paranormal Activity franchises, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot. In 2010, the studio garnered the most Academy Award® nominations of any studio, owing to the critical and commercial successes of True Grit and The Fighter. Award-worthy films have proliferated in the Brad Grey era, with releases such as No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, An Inconvenient Truth, Up in the Air and Babel. And, in 2011, Paramount released an industry-record six consecutive movies grossing more than $100 million dollars at the domestic box office, with Rango, Thor, Kung Fu Panda, Super 8, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Captain America.
Our 100th year has indeed been an exceptional milestone. Upcoming releases include the continuation of the Paranormal Activity franchise, Fun Size, Denzel Washington in Robert Zemeckis' Flight, Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D, Not Fade Away, and The Guilt Trip.