Paramount Pictures can trace its beginnings to the creation in May, 1912, of the Famous Players Film Company. Founder Hungarian-born Adolph Zukor, who had been an early investor in nickelodeons, saw that movies appealed mainly to working-class immigrants. With partners Daniel Frohman and Charles Frohman he planned to offer feature-length films that would appeal to the middle class by featuring the leading theatrical players of the time (leading to the slogan "famous players in famous plays"). By mid-1913, Famous Players had completed five films, and Zukor was on his way to success.
That same year, another aspiring producer, Jesse L. Lasky, opened his Lasky Feature Play Company with money borrowed from his brother-in-law, Samuel Goldfish, later known as Samuel Goldwyn. The Lasky company hired as their first employee a stage director with virtually no film experience, Cecil B. DeMille, who would find a suitable location site in Hollywood, near Los Angeles, for his first film, The Squaw Man.
Beginning in 1914, both Lasky and Famous Players released their films through a start-up company, Paramount Pictures Corporation, organized early that year by a Utah theatre owner, W. W. Hodkinson, who had bought and merged several smaller firms, Paramount was the first successful nation-wide distributor. Until this time, films were sold on a state-wide or regional basis; not only was this inefficient, but it had proved costly to film producers.
1916 publicity photo for the takeover of Paramount Pictures. (L to R) Jesse L. Lasky, Adolph Zukor, Samuel Goldwyn, Cecil B. DeMille, Al KaufmanSoon the ambitious Zukor, unused to taking a secondary role, began courting Hodkinson and Lasky. In 1916, Zukor maneuvered a three-way merger of his Famous Players, the Lasky Company, and Paramount. The new company, Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, grew quickly, with Lasky and his partners Goldfish and DeMille running the production side, Hiram Abrams in charge of distribution, and Zukor making great plans. With only the exhibitor-owned First National as a rival, Famous Players-Lasky and its "Paramount Pictures" soon dominated the business.
Zukor believed in stars - after all, he had begun by offering "Famous Players in Famous Plays," as his first slogan put it. He signed and developed many of the leading early stars, among them Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, and Wallace Reid. With so many important players, Paramount was able to introduce "block booking," which meant that an exhibitor who wanted a particular star's films had to buy a year's worth of other Paramount productions. It was this system that gave Paramount a leading position in the 1920s and 1930s, but which led the government to pursue it on anti-trust grounds for more than twenty years.
The driving force behind Paramount's rise was Zukor. All through the teens and twenties, he built a mighty theatrical chain of nearly 2,000 screens, ran two production studios, and became an early investor in radio, taking a 50% interest in the new Columbia Broadcasting System in 1928. By acquiring the successful Balaban & Katz chain in 1926, he gained the services of both Barney Balaban, who became Paramount's president, and Sam Katz, who ran the Paramount-Publix theatre chain. Zukor also hired independent producer B. P. Schulberg, an unerring eye for new talent, to run the West Coast studio. In 1927, Famous Players-Lasky took on the name Paramount-Famous Lasky Corporation. Three years later, because of the importance of the Publix theater chain, it was later known as Paramount-Publix Corporation.
Also in 1927, Paramount began releasing Inkwell Imps animated cartoons produced by Max & Dave Fleischer's Fleischer Studios in New York City. The Fleischers, veterans in the animation industry, would prove to be among the few animation producers capable of challenging the prominence of Walt Disney.
Lasky's original studio, aka: "The Barn"; as it appeared in 1913Eventually Zukor shed most of his early partners; the Frohman brothers, Hodkinson and Goldfish/Goldwyn were out by 1917 while Lasky hung on until 1932, when, blamed for the near-collapse of Paramount in the depression years, he too was tossed out. Zukor's over-expansion and use of overvalued Paramount stock for purchases led the company into receivership in 1933. A bank-mandated reorganization team, led by John Hertz and Otto Kahn kept the company intact, and, miraculously, kept Zukor on. In 1935, Paramount Publix went bankrupt. in 1936, Barney Balaban became president, and Zukor was bumped up to chairman of the board. In this role, Zukor reorganized the company as Paramount Pictures, Inc. and was able to successfully bring the studio out of bankruptcy.
As always, Paramount films continued to emphasize stars; in the 1920s there were Swanson, Valentino, and Clara Bow. By the 1930s, talkies brought in a range of powerful new draws: Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert, the Marx Brothers, Dorothy Lamour, Carole Lombard, Bing Crosby, the band leader Shep Fields and the famous Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel among them. In this period Paramount can truly be described as a movie factory, turning out sixty and seventy pictures a year. Such were the benefits of having a huge theater chain to fill, and of block booking to persuade other chains to go along. In 1933, Mae West would also add greatly to Paramount's success with her movies She Done Him Wrong and I'm No Angel. However, the sex appeal West gave in these movies would also lead to the enforcement of the Production Code, as the newly formed organization the Catholic Legion of Decency threatened a boycott if it wasn't enforced.
Paramount cartoons produced by Fleischer Studios continued to be successful, with characters such as Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor becoming widely successful. One Fleischer series, Screen Songs, featured live-action music stars under contract to Paramount hosting sing-alongs of popular songs. However, a huge blow to Fleischer Studios occurred in 1934, after the Production Code was enforced and Betty Boop's popularity declined as she was forced to have a more tame personality and wear a longer skirt. The animation studio would rebound with Popeye, and in 1935, polls showed that Popeye was even more popular than Mickey Mouse. After an unsuccessful expansion into feature films, as well as the fact that Max and Dave Fleischer were no longer speaking to one another, Fleischer Studios was acquired by Paramount, who renamed the operation Famous Studios and continued cartoon production until 1967.
In 1940, Paramount agreed to a government-instituted consent decree: block booking and "pre-selling" (the practice of collecting up-front money for films not yet in production) would end. Immediately Paramount cut back on production, from sixty-plus pictures to a more modest twenty annually in the war years. Still, with more new stars (like Bob Hope, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Paulette Goddard, and Betty Hutton), and with war-time attendance at astronomical numbers, Paramount and the other integrated studio-theatre combines made more money than ever. At this, the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department decided to reopen their case against the five integrated studios. Paramount also had a monopoly over Detroit movie theaters through subsidiary company United Detroit Theaters as well . This led to the Supreme Court decision United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. (1948) holding that movie studios could not also own movie theater chains. This decision broke up Adolph Zukor's amazing creation and effectively brought an end to the classic Hollywood studio system.
The 1950s to the 1970s
As movie attendance declined after World War II, Paramount and the others struggled to keep the audience. Hovering nearby were the FTC and the Justice Department, still pursuing restraint-of-trade allegations. This case finally came before the Supreme Court as U.S. vs. Paramount Pictures, et al., and in May 1948, the court agreed with the government, finding restraint of competition, and calling for the separation of production and exhibition. Paramount Pictures Inc. was split in two. Paramount Pictures Corporation was formed to be the production distribution company, with the 1,500-screen theater chain handed to the new United Paramount Theaters on December 31, 1949. The Balaban and Katz theatre division was spun off with UPT. The Balaban and Katz Trademark is now owned by the Balaban and Katz Historical Foundation. Cash-rich and controlling prime downtown real estate, UPT-head Leonard Goldenson began looking for investments; barred from film-making, he acquired the struggling ABC in February, 1953.
Paramount Pictures had been an early backer of television, launching experimental stations in 1939 in Los Angeles (later to become KTLA) and Chicago's WBKB. It was also an early investor in the pioneer DuMont Laboratories and through that, the DuMont Television Network, but because of anti-trust concerns after the 1948 ruling, proved to be a timid and obstructionist partner, refusing to aid DuMont as it sank in the mid-1950s.
With the loss of the theater chain, Paramount Pictures went into a decline, cutting studio-backed production, releasing its contract players, and making production deals with independents. By the mid-1950s, all the great names were gone; only C.B. DeMille, associated with Paramount since 1913, kept making pictures in the grand old style. Despite Paramount's losses, DeMille would, however, give the studio some relief and create his most successful film at Paramount, a 1956 remake of his 1923 film The Ten Commandments. Like some other studios, Paramount saw little value in its film library (see below for more info on the early Paramount library). DeMille died in 1959.
By the early 1960s Paramount's future was doubtful. The high-risk movie business was wobbly; the theater chain was long gone; investments in DuMont and in early pay-television came to nothing. Even the flagship Paramount building in Times Square was sold to raise cash, as was KTLA (sold to Gene Autry in 1964 for a then-phenomenal $12.5 million). Founding-father Adolph Zukor, born in 1873, was still chairman emeritus; he referred to chairman Barney Balaban (born 1888) as 'the boy'. Such aged leadership was incapable of keeping up with the changing times, and in 1966, a sinking Paramount was sold to the Charles Bluhdorn's industrial conglomerate Gulf and Western Industries. Bluhdorn immediately put his stamp on the studio, installing a virtually unknown producer, Robert Evans, as head of production. Despite some rough times, Evans held the job for eight years, restoring Paramount's reputation for commercial success with The Odd Couple, Love Story, Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby and The Godfather.
Gulf and Western Industries also bought the neighboring Desilu television studio (once the lot of RKO Pictures) from Lucille Ball in 1967. Using Desilu's established shows like Star Trek, Mission: Impossible and Mannix as a foot in the door at the networks, the newly-reincorporated Paramount Television eventually became known as a specialist in half-hour situation comedies.
In 1970, Paramount teamed with Universal Studios to form Cinema International Corporation, a new company that would distribute films by the two studios outside the United States. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would become a partner in the mid 1970s. Both Paramount and CIC entered the video market with Paramount Home Video (now Paramount Home Entertainment) and CIC Video, respectively.
Robert Evans quit as head of production in 1974; his successor Richard Sylbert, was too literary and tasteful for G+W's Bluhdorn. By 1976, a new, television-trained team was in place: Barry Diller, and his 'killer-Dillers,' associates Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel and Don Simpson. The specialty now was simpler, 'high concept' pictures like Saturday Night Fever, and Grease. With his television background, Diller kept pitching an idea of his to the board: a fourth commercial network. But the board, and Bluhdorn, wouldn't bite. Neither would Bluhdorn's successor, Martin Davis. Diller took his fourth-network idea with him when he moved to Twentieth Century-Fox in 1984, where the new proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, was a more interested listener.
Paramount Pictures was unconnected to Paramount Records, until it purchased the rights to use Paramount Records' name (but not its catalogue) in the late 1960s. The Paramount name was used for soundtrack albums and some pop re-issues from the Dot Records catalogue. Paramount had acquired the pop-oriented Dot in 1958, but by 1970 Dot had become an all-country label . In 1974, Paramount sold all of its record holdings to ABC Records, which in turn was sold to MCA in 1978.
the 1980s to 1994
Paramount's successful run of pictures extended into the 1980s and 1990s, generating hits like Flashdance, Footloose, Fatal Attraction, the Friday the 13th slasher series, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels. Other examples are the Star Trek series and a string of films starring comedian Eddie Murphy (such as Beverly Hills Cop). While the emphasis was decidedly on the commercial, there were occasional less commercial efforts like I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can, Atlantic City, Terms of Endearment, and Forrest Gump. During this period responsibility for running the studio passed from Eisner and Katzenberg to Don Simpson to Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing. More so than most, Paramount's slate of films included many remakes and television spinoffs; while sometimes commercially successful, there have been few compelling films of the kind that once made Paramount the industry leader.
In 1981, Cinema International Corporation was reorganized as United International Pictures. This was necessary because MGM had merged with United Artists which had its own international distribution unit, but MGM was not allowed to leave the venture at the time (they finally did in 2001, switching international distribution to 20th Century Fox).
When Charles Bluhdorn died unexpectedly, his successor Martin Davis dumped all of G+W's industrial, mining, and sugar-growing subsidiaries and refocused the company, renaming it Paramount Communications in 1989. With the influx of cash from the sale of G+W's industrial properties in the mid-1980s, Paramount bought a string of television stations and KECO Entertainment's theme park operations, renaming them Paramount Parks.
In 1993, Sumner Redstone's entertainment conglomerate Viacom made a bid for Paramount; this quickly escalated into a bidding war with Barry Diller. But Viacom prevailed, ultimately paying $10 billion for the Paramount holdings.
Paramount is the last major film studio located in Hollywood proper. When Paramount moved to its present home in 1927, it was in the heart of the film community. Since then, former next-door neighbor RKO closed up shop in 1957; Warner Bros. (whose old Sunset Boulevard studio was sold to Paramount in 1949 as a home for KTLA) moved to Burbank in 1930; Columbia joined Warners in Burbank in 1973 then moved again to Culver City in 1989; and the Pickford-Fairbanks-Goldwyn-United Artists lot, after a lively history, has been turned into a post-production and music-scoring facility for Warners, known simply as "The Lot". For a time the semi-industrial neighborhood around Paramount was in decline, but has now come back. The recently refurbished studio has come to symbolize Hollywood for many visitors, and its studio tour is a popular attraction.
- The Dolgen/Lansing years
The Paramount logo from 1995 through the end of 2001, as shown in Panavision.The most successful period for Paramount in recent times was the administration of Jonathan Dolgen, chairman, and Sherry Lansing, president.
Under Dolgen and Lansing the studio had almost a ten year unbroken track record of success including 6 of Paramount's ten highest grossing films (as of 2007) and the highest grossing film of all time, Titanic (which, along with Braveheart, was co-produced by 20th Century Fox). The studio won Best Picture Academy Awards for the films Titanic, Braveheart and Forrest Gump, while also releasing such films as Saving Private Ryan (outside the US, DreamWorks handled American distribution) and the hugely successful series of Mission Impossible films. Dolgen and Lansing also developed the 2005 hit War of the Worlds and 2007's Transformers films (with Dreamworks) and revived the Indiana Jones series by signing Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to produce and star in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull(to be released in 2008 following their departure). Paramount's TV Division developed and produced the record-breaking Frasier .
In 1995, Viacom and Chris-Craft Industries' United Television launched United Paramount Network (UPN), fulfilling Barry Diller's 1970s plan for a Paramount network. In 1999, Viacom bought out United Television's interests, and handed responsibility for the start-up network to the newly acquired CBS unit, which Viacom bought in 1999 - an ironic confluence of events as Paramount had once invested in CBS, and Viacom had once been the syndication arm of CBS as well.
During the Dolgen/Lansing administration Paramount tripled the size of its TV library through the acquisitions of Spelling TV, Republic and Worldvision; doubled the profits of their music publishing division Famous Music, expanded the international theater group UCI to 13 foreign countries and took the Famous Players theater circuit in Canada from 25% to 53% market share. Paramount's theme park division grew to become the fifth highest attended group in the country with five consecutive years of attendance growth from 2000 (when the unit was placed under Tom McGrath) to 2005.
Dolgen and Lansing also introduced the DVD, led the formation of the Digital Cinema Initiative standards group for the future of digital film exhibition and launched the first ever online movie distribution company, Movielink. Dolgen is credited with pioneering the use of off-balance-sheet financing for movies while at Columbia Pictures and at Paramount his team (led by Tom McGrath) secured over $4 billion in financings this way.
- 2005 to present
- CBS Corporation/Viacom split
Reflecting in part the troubles of the broadcasting business, in 2005 Viacom wrote off over $28 billion from its radio acquisitions and, early that year, announced that it would split itself in two. The split was completed in January 2006.
The CBS television and radio networks, the Infinity radio-station chain (now called CBS Radio), the Paramount Television production unit (now called CBS Paramount Television) and UPN (replaced by The CW Television Network co-owned with rival Time Warner's Warner Bros.) are part of CBS Corporation, as was Paramount Parks prior to its June 2006 sale by CBS to the Cedar Fair Entertainment Company.
Paramount Pictures is now lumped in with MTV, BET, and other highly profitable channels owned by the new Viacom.
With the announcement of the split of Viacom, Dolgen and Lansing were replaced by former television executives Brad Grey and Gail Berman. The decision was made to split Viacom into two companies, which in turn led to a dismantling of the Paramount Studio/Paramount TV infrastructure. The current Paramount is about one-quarter the size it was under Dolgen and Lansing and consists only of the movie studio. The famed Paramount Television studio was made part of CBS in the split. The remaining businesses were sold off or parceled out to other operating groups. Paramount's home entertainment unit continues to distribute the Paramount TV library through CBS DVD, as both Viacom and CBS Corporation are controlled by National Amusements.
- DreamWorks, LLC
On December 11, 2005, Paramount announced that it had purchased DreamWorks SKG (which was co-founded by former Paramount executive Jeffrey Katzenberg) in a deal worth $1.6 billion. The announcement was made by Brad Grey, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, who noted that enhancing Paramount's pipeline of pictures is a "key strategic objective in restoring Paramount's stature as a leader in filmed entertainment." The agreement does not include DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc., the most profitable part of the company that went public last year.
Under the deal, Paramount is required to distribute the DreamWorks animated films for a small fee intended only to cover Paramount's out of pocket costs with no profit to the studio, including the Shrek franchise (and ending for the 2004 installment, Shrek 2). The first film distributed under this deal is Over the Hedge.
The deal closed on February 6, 2006. This acquisition was seen at the time as a stopgap measure as Brad Grey had been unsuccessful in assembling sufficient films for production and distribution and the DreamWorks films would fill the gap.
- UIP, Famous Music and Digital Entertainment
Grey also broke up the famous UIP international distribution company, the most successful international film distributor in history, after a 25-year partnership with Universal Studios and has started up a new international group. As a consequence Paramount fell from #1 in the international markets to the lowest ranked major studio in 2006 but recovered in 2007 if the Dreamworks films, acquired by Paramount, are included in Paramount's market share.
Grey has also launched a Digital Entertainment division to take advantage of emerging digital distribution technologies. This led to Paramount becoming the 2nd movie studio to sign a deal with Apple to sell its films through the iTunes store. They also signed an exclusive agreement with the failed HD-DVD consortium and subsequently gave up the guarantees they had received and will now release in the Blu Ray format.
Also, in 2007, Paramount sold another one of its "heritage" units, Famous Music, to Sony-ATV Music Publishing (best known for publishing many songs by The Beatles), ending a nearly-eight decade run as a division of Paramount, being the studio's music publishing arm since the period when the entire company went by the name "Famous Players."
This inexplicable sale is considered in the industry a sign of the emerging role of Philippe Daumann, Viacom's CEO since 2006, whose lack of knowledge of the movie, TV and music industries and consequent preference for cable TV drives the company's strategy.
- Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment
Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment (formerly Paramount Home Video' and Paramount Video') is the division of Paramount Pictures dealing with home video and was founded in 1976.
PPHE distributes films by Paramount (under its own label) and DreamWorks (under the DreamWorks Pictures Home Entertainment label), shows from MTV Networks (under the MTV DVD, Nickelodeon DVD, Nickelodeon Movies DVD, Comedy Central DVD and Spike DVD labels), PBS (under the PBS Home Video label), Showtime (under its own label), and CBS-owned programs (under the CBS Home Entertainment label) on DVD.
PHE have developed a well-known trademark, by giving their Special Edition/Director's Cut editions different names rather than the usual "Special Edition," or "Director's Edition". Paramount Home Entertainment gives them different names such as Grease: Rockin' Rydell Edition, Beavis & Butthead Do America: The Edition That Doesn't Suck and Airplane: "Don't Call Me Shirley" Edition.
Internationally, PHE holds the DVD rights to several shows on HBO. PHE also distributes in Germany the DVD releases of films distributed theatrically by Prokino Filmverleih.
As Paramount Home Video, the company once distributed several Miramax releases on video - the video rights to some of these films (such as Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth) are still owned by Paramount.
- HD DVD & Blu-ray support
Paramount brands the majority of its HD content under the label 'Paramount High Definition' which is seen both on the title box cover and as an in-movie opening. Films from Paramount subsidiaries such as Nickelodeon Movies and MTV Films as well as from sister studio DreamWorks SKG use no special branding, Paramount Vantage (another subsidiary) releases only select titles under the Paramount High Definition banner such as Babel.
On October 02, 2005, Paramount Pictures announced that it would be supporting the HD video format Blu-ray Disc in addition to rival format HD DVD, becoming the first studio to release on both formats.
On July 25, 2006, Paramount Pictures released 4 titles (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Sahara, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Sleepy Hollow) for the first time on HD DVD and on High-Definition in general.
On September 26, 2006, Paramount Pictures released 4 titles (the same as the first HD DVD releases except Four Brothers instead of Sahara) for the first time on Blu-ray.
On August 20, 2007, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks SKG, and DreamWorks Animation announced their exclusive support for the HD DVD format citing its cost benefits and superior features. However, the New York Times reported, citing two Viacom executives, that the studio was compensated $150 million for a period of 18 months exclusivity. Paramount has neither denied nor confirmed this, however Paramount's CTO Alan Bell indicated it was an indefinite commitment. Films directed by Steven Spielberg are excluded from this announcement as he controls the rights to his own works. In response to these reports of a $150 million incentives deal, DreamWorks Animation CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg stated that it was disingenuous for other companies to suggest that they were not compensated for endorsing Blu-ray.
On January 4, 2008, Warner Bros., the sole remaining format-neutral studio with a 30% share of the entire home video market announced that it would exclusively support Blu-ray and drop the HD DVD format beginning June, 2008 because sales of Blu-ray titles were much higher than their HD DVD counterparts and the studio believed that a single unified HD video format would end consumer confusion and spur sales. The effect on HD DVD was massive in that the format only had support of 30% of the home video market vs. 70% Blu-ray, causing a ripple effect on HD DVD supporting studios, various news reports reported that Paramount, DreamWorks and unrelated studio Universal were all poised to drop support of the seemingly doomed format and support Blu-ray, these reports were denied by all studios although Paramount stated that it would not announce any new titles at the Consumer Electronics Show 2008 where Toshiba cancelled the HD DVD conference.
On January 6, 2008, several industry publications indicated that Paramount's agreement with Toshiba was no longer valid, and they were therefore free to release on the Blu-ray format. This was due to a rumored clause in Paramount's agreement with Toshiba, which was subsequently triggered as a result of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment announcing plans to exclusively support Blu-ray beginning June 2008. In a statement on January 9, the studio's VP of Publicity, Brenda Cicconne disputed the rumors and commented that Paramount's current plan was to continue to support the HD DVD format.
On February 19, 2008, Toshiba declared that it would no longer market or manufacture HD DVD players. As a result, Paramount Pictures' agreement regarding the support of the HD DVD format was nullified.
On February 21, 2008, Paramount quietly sent a brief statement to The Hollywood Reporter indicating that they will again release on the Blu-ray format, however did not announce any titles or offer a timeframe.
On February 27, 2008, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg announced that the studio would remain HD DVD exclusive until Toshiba said otherwise, he stated "We have a partnership with Toshiba and have an obligation to see this through, it really is in their court at this point to really declare what the next step will be. We're poised either way to jump into the marketplace when the conditions are right to do so." He also stated "As you know we have been well compensated for our support.", confirming rumors of exclusive support compensation.
On February 28, 2008, Paramount confirmed that its final titles on the HD DVD format would be Into the Wild and Things We Lost in the Fire, which were released on March 4, 2008. The studio also confirmed that previously announced HD DVD titles There Will Be Blood, and The Kite Runner had been canceled. In addition, it was revealed that DreamWorks Animation's sole upcoming release on the format, Bee Movie, had been cancelled, stating that issues with the studio regarding HD DVD support had been resolved. The studio is not expected to release titles on Blu-ray until summer 2008, and until then all home video releases will be on standard definition DVD.
On March 4, 2008, Paramount released the two aforementioned titles, officially ending support of the HD DVD format.
On April 29, 2008, Paramount announced the first releases for their re-entry into the Blu-ray market. On May 20th 2008 Paramount will release three titles on the format, Bee Movie, Face/Off and Next followed by a further two titles, Cloverfield and There Will Be Blood on June 20th 2008, the first release day-and-date with the standard DVD release will be The Spiderwick Chronicles on June 24th 2008. These releases will mark Paramount's re-entry into the HDM market after a 3 month hiatus with the fall of HD DVD, they will also be the studio's first Blu-ray titles in 9 months since August 20, 2007 when Paramount declared exclusive support for the now defunct format HD DVD.
On April 30, 2008, Paramount further detailed their re-entry into the Blu-ray market, announcing the resumed production of 16 former Blu-ray titles (Aeon Flux, Babel, Black Snake Moan, Coming to America, Disturbia, Dreamgirls, Four Brothers, The Italian Job, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Sleepy Hollow, Trading Places, The Untouchables, The Warriors, U2: Rattle and Hum, We Were Soldiers and World Trade Center) out of a former 32, on May 20th 2008 along with the first series of new Blu-ray releases. The release will also include Blades of Glory, a title that was due to be released just days before the Paramount announcement to support HD DVD exclusively and saw limited store releases and online pre-order fufillments before being recalled as part of the exclusivity contract, the title instantly gained rarity and was often sold at many times the RRP on online websites such as Ebay and Amazon.com. Paramount releases internationally will begin with the simultaneous worldwide release of The Spiderwick Chronicles on June 24th, 2008 and will be followed by two titles in August, 2008, Cloverfield and No Country for Old Men (the latter, along with There Will Be Blood, was a co-production of Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films; Paramount Vantage distributed the former internationally and the latter domestically, while Miramax distributed the former domestically and the latter internationally).
On May 6th, 2008 an earnings report from Paramount parent company Viacom in Variety announced that there was indeed a payoff from Toshiba for exclusive support of the HD DVD format in August 2007. Viacom claimed that they were given $29 million in exchange for exclusive support and thanks to this payment revenues from home video were much higher than what they would have been if the deal was not accepted and that profits would have been down slightly from 2006. The $29 million was much lower than the earlier estimates of $150 million, however the agreement may have been for this amount originally but was lowered with the collapse of HD DVD and Paramount's subsequent inability to carry the deal for the full 18 month time period, the amount also may have been paid in installments instead of the full amount and these installments were simply not issued after February 19, 2008.
On May 8th, 2008 Paramount announced that their entire back catalogue of 32 Blu-ray titles would be re-issued by the end of May 2008.
On May 20th, 2008 Paramount released 3 titles, Blades of Glory, Face/Off and Next, as the first Blu-ray titles to be released post August 2007. The 16 former title re-issues and other titles were pushed back to June 3, 2008.
The Paramount library
Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, many of Paramount's early cartoons, shorts, and feature films are owned by numerous entities.
In 1955, Paramount acquired Frank Capra's production company, Liberty Films, which produced only 2 films in the late 1940s - It's a Wonderful Life, released originally by RKO Radio Pictures, and State of the Union, released originally by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Around that same time, as mentioned before, Paramount saw little value in its library, and decided to sell off its back catalog.
The Paramount cartoons and shorts went to various television distributors, with U.M.&M. T.V. Corp. acquiring the majority of the cartoons and live action short subjects made before 1951. Some lesser known features were included in this deal as well, as was It's a Wonderful Life. However, the Popeye cartoons were sold to Associated Artists Productions, and the Superman cartoons went to Motion Pictures for Television, producers of the Superman television series. U.M.&M. was later sold to National Telefilm Associates (or NTA). NTA changed its name to Republic Pictures (which was previously the name of a minor film studio, whose backlog had been sold to NTA) in 1984, and was sold to Viacom in 1999, hence all the material sold to U.M.&M. would return to Paramount.
The Popeye cartoons passed on to United Artists after its purchase of AAP, then to MGM after they purchased UA. After Ted Turner failed in an attempt to buy MGM/UA in 1986, he settled for ownership of the library, which included the AAP material. Turner Entertainment, the holding company for Turner's film library, would later be sold to Time Warner. Turner technically holds the rights to the Popeye cartoons today, but sales and distribution is in the hands of Warner Bros. Entertainment. WB also owns Superman's publisher, DC Comics, and although the Superman cartoons are now in the public domain, WB owns the original film elements.
The rest of the cartoons made from 1950-1962, were sold to Harvey Comics and are now owned by Classic Media. Except for the Superman cartoons and the features sold to MCA (to end up with Universal), most television prints of these films have had their titles refilmed to remove most traces of their connection to Paramount (The original copyright lines were left intact on Popeye cartoons). The Popeye cartoons have been restored for DVD release with the original Paramount titles.
When the talent agency Music Corporation of America (better known as MCA), then wielding major influence on Paramount policy, offered $50 million for 750 pre-1950 features (with payment to be spread over many years), a cash-strapped Paramount thought it had made the best possible deal. To address anti-trust concerns, MCA set up a separate company, EMKA, Ltd., to peddle these films to television. The deal included such notable Paramount films as the early Marx Brothers films, most of the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby "Road" pictures, and such Oscar contenders as Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, and The Heiress. MCA later admitted that over the next forty years it took in more than a billion dollars in rentals of these supposedly "worthless" pictures. MCA later purchased the US branch of Decca Records, which owned Universal Studios (now a part of NBC Universal), and thus Universal now owns these films, though EMKA continues to hold the copyright.
Several other feature films ended up in Republic Pictures's possession, yet others had been retained by Paramount due to other rights issues (such as The Miracle of Morgan's Creek). As for Paramount's silent features, some still are under Paramount ownership -- for example, 1927's Wings, the first "Best Picture" Academy Award winner -- but many others are either lost or in the public domain. Also, one additional pre-1950 film, the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1941 who filmed a remake that same year - this film is also now owned by WB/Turner Entertainment.
Rights to some of Paramount's films from 1950 onward would also change hands. Most notably, the rights to five Paramount films directed by Alfred Hitchcock -- Rear Window, The Trouble with Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo and Psycho -- eventually reverted to ownership by the director himself with the exception of Psycho, which was sold directly to Universal in 1968. Following Hitchcock's death, Universal eventually acquired the rights to the four other films in 1983 from the Hitchcock estate (which is overseen by his daughter, Patricia).
A number of films merely distributed by Paramount would also end up with other companies - for example, the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was sold to Warner Bros. in 1977 after Paramount showed little faith in the film, which was a failure upon original release. WB also owns the rights to several films originally distributed by Paramount that were produced by Lorimar Productions, which was sold to WB in 1989. Some other films from 1950 onward went into the public domain as well.
In the 1970s, Paramount acquired the rights to the Frank Capra film Broadway Bill, which was originally released by Columbia Pictures. Paramount had remade the film as Riding High in 1950. Then in 2004, Paramount bought all worldwide rights to the original 1975 version of The Stepford Wives (also released by Columbia), in connection with the release of the remake. Paramount owns DVD rights to many films produced by Full Moon Entertainment, due to a deal made with the company years before. Paramount also owns DVD rights to several films released by Miramax Films prior to that firm's acquisition by Disney in 1993, also a result of a deal.
Paramount has also acquired theatrical and video rights to all the films produced by the various motion picture divisions of CBS over the years, as a result of the Viacom/CBS merger. This also includes US rights to the 1951 film The African Queen, originally distributed by United Artists (the international rights are with Granada International).
As for distribution of the material Paramount itself still owns, it has been split in half, with Paramount themselves owning theatrical rights, while what became CBS Paramount Television handles television distribution (under the CBS license).
The distinctively pyramidal Paramount mountain has been the company's logo since its inception and is the oldest surviving Hollywood film logo. Legend has it that the mountain is based on a doodle made by W. W. Hodkinson during a meeting with Adolph Zukor. It is said to be based on the memories of his childhood in Utah. Some claim that Utah's Ben Lomond is the mountain Hodkinson doodled, and that Peru's Artesonraju is the mountain in the live-action logo.
The logo began as a somewhat indistinct charcoal rendering of the mountain ringed with twenty-four superimposed stars. The logo originally had twenty-four stars, as a tribute to the then current system of contracts for actors, since Paramount had twenty-four stars signed at the time. In 1952, the logo was redesigned as a matte painting. In 1974 the logo was simplified and the number of stars was changed to twenty-two. The logo was replaced in 1987, Paramount's 75th Anniversary, by a version created by Apogee, Inc. with a computer generated lake and stars. For Paramount's 90th anniversary in 2002, a new, completely computer-generated logo was created. This current visual opening to Paramount titles has no sound, occasionally sound from the film may play in the final seconds of the opening. In 2002, The Paramount 1975 fanfare is heard during the open to Mean Girls. A very rare opening fanfare is used on the 2005 remake of The Longest Yard and is available to watch on YouTube.
The logo has sometimes been incorporated into a film. In the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the logo dissolves into a shot of a silhouetted mountain peak, subtitled simply "South America", to begin the first scene of the film. The same idea would be incorporated into the beginnings of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and possibly the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Also, the logo (with the opening notes of "Mountain Town" playing over the sequence) dissolves into an opening shot in the animated film South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, turning into a mountain in the cartoon's animation style. As well as in The Core, the camera zooms down and goes to the core of the mountain. And in Four Brothers, there is snow falling on top of the mountain (with Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" as background music). During the opening credits of Coming to America, the camera flies past the mountain, over foothills and into the jungle where the fictional palace of Zamunda is located. Meanwhile, in Team America: World Police, the Paramount logo animates backwards, appearing fully formed, with the "A Viacom Company" tag disappearing and the stars flying backwards through the word "Paramount" and disappearing into the sky as the opening credits of the film begin.
There is an even more direct self-reference in Road to Utopia, a Paramount picture. Bing and Bob are riding along on a dogsled, and they see a mountain in the distance. Bob says, "There it is, bread and butter!" Bing says, "That's just a mountain." Cut to the mountain, and the circle of stars winks in around it, identifying it as the Paramount logo. Bob says to Bing, "It may be just a mountain to you, but it's 'bread and butter' to me!"
A similar self-reference appears in the 1951 Popeye cartoon Alpine for You. At the end of this cartoon, Popeye punches Bluto and he lands on the peak of a mountain top which then sprouts stars to create the Paramount logo.
Not long before the United Paramount Network (UPN) was merged with the WB to form the CW Network, there were plans to re-brand UPN as The Paramount Network, featuring a stylized mountain/stars logo to identify the newly-named network with the studio, but the plans were scrapped.
Those wishing to visit Paramount can take daily studio tours. The tours operate Monday through Friday. Reservations are required, and can be made by calling the studio. Most of the buildings are named for historical Paramount executives or the many great artists that worked at Paramount over the years. Many of the legendary stars' dressing rooms are still standing today, converted into working offices. The stages where Sunset Blvd., White Christmas, Rear Window, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and many other classic films were shot are still in use today. The studio's massive remaining backlot set, "New York Street," features numerous blocks of facades that depict a number of New York locales: "Washington Square," (where the Heiress, starring Olivia deHavilland was shot) "Harlem," "Financial District," and others.