The Second in a Series on Hollywood’s Changing Landscape
Surveying the domestic box office revenues of the past several years, it’s no surprise that the Big Six of studios hold court at the top of the list, consistently commanding upwards of 90% of the market share. These household-name media conglomerates—Paramount, Warner Bros., Sony, Disney, Universal and 20th Century Fox—have long dominated the upper rankings year after year. But the mini-majors are worth a closer look; these smaller companies are fast rising in the ranks, one steady percentage point at a time. The mini-majors perform the same functions as the majors whom they directly compete with: They finance, produce, market and distribute films. But they operate without the safety net of a diversified parent company.
A growing number of mini-majors are launching commercially successful films. In that regard, 2011 was a breakthrough year. For the first time, five mini-majors— Summit Entertainment, The Weinstein Company, Relativity Media, Lionsgate and Film District—each claimed market shares of greater than 1% of 2011’s $10.17 billion total domestic box office. 2012 saw similar results, with four of the five companies claiming more than 1% of that year’s $10.82 billion domestic haul. And the most recent reporting period for total domestic grosses—January 1 to March 10, 2013—shows the market share of mini-majors continuing their rise. Indeed, four mini-majors appear in the top ten rankings in the first quarter: The Weinstein Company earned the second slot and Lionsgate claimed the fourth, shrinking the gap between them and the major studios even further.
Here’s a look at six mini-majors giving the Big Six a run for their money, listed in order of their 2012 market share standings:
Boosted by the January acquisition of independent studio Summit Entertainment (producers and distributors of the blockbuster Twilight Saga films and producer of Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker), Lionsgate Entertainment finished 2012 in fifth place among the studios’ market share, claiming 11.6% of the domestic box office. As separate entities, both Lionsgate and Summit had been rising in tandem over the past several years, with Summit leading the mini-majors for three consecutive years, from 2009 to 2011, and Lionsgate placing within the top ten of all studios during the same period. From January 1 to March 10, 2013, Lionsgate continued its climb, ranking fourth in studio market share with earnings of 9.8% of the total domestic box office.
In 2012, the company also celebrated a gross of more than $1.2 billion in domestic box office largely due to the success of The Hunger Games and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2. It was a game-changing milestone, the first time that a mini-major broke the billion-dollar domestic box office mark in a single calendar year. It appears that the financial world is confident in the future of Lionsgate’s young-adult franchises, as the company’s stock hit an all-time high on March 13, 2013.
Founded in 1997 by Canadian financier Frank Giustra, Lionsgate became the most successful North American movie studio based outside of Los Angeles. (In 2006, the company relocated from Vancouver to its current Santa Monica headquarters.) With the mission of backing Vancouver’s burgeoning film industry, Giustra and Lionsgate became known for producing films considered too controversial for major studios, such as American Psycho, Affliction, Gods and Monsters and Farenheit 9/11. Other Lionsgate films include Crash, Precious, Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, the Matthew McConaughey vehicle The Lincoln Lawyer, the acclaimed Richard Gere financial thriller Artbitrage, historical war drama Emperor, The Last Stand with Arnold Schwarzenegger,and the Tyler Perry and Saw franchises. Among the studio’s upcoming releases are The Hunger Games: Caching Fire, the third and forth Hunger Games films (Mockingjay 1 and 2), the adaptation I,Frankenstein, the Kristen Wiig comedy Girl Most Likely To and the horror pic You’re Next.
The Weinstein Company
Fresh off its back-to-back Oscar wins for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (for The King’s Speech in 2011 and The Artist in 2012), The Weinstein Company claimed 2.4% of the 2012 domestic total, slightly down from its 2011 market share of 2.9%. However, the mini-major ranks second only to Universal in market share for the first reporting period of this year, earning 15.2%.
Brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein created The Weinstein Company in 2005 after leaving Miramax Films, which they co-founded in 1979. The company also encompasses Dimension Films, founded in 1993 by Bob Weinstein, as a genre label primarily focusing on action, horror and comedy films.
Two of The Weinstein Company’s late 2012 releases were the dramedy Silver Linings Playbook starring Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and the Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence and Quentin Tarantino’s acclaimed Western Django Unchained. Both films were Best Picture nominees and contributed to TWC’s impressive market share for the opening months of 2013. Among the company’s other releases are the extraterrestrial thriller Dark Skies starring Keri Russell; the animated sci-fi Escape from Planet Earth; Scientology drama The Master with Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams; crime-drama Killing Them Softly starring Brad Pitt; biopic The Iron Lady starring Meryl Streep, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds; the acclaimed dramas My Week With Marilyn and Blue Valentine, both starring Michele Williams; and Chinese import The Grandmaster. TWC’s upcoming films include the March 22 release of musical dramedy The Sapphires starring Chris O’Dowd; Fruitvale, one of the hottest films at this year’s Sundance; the J.D. Salinger documentary Salinger; Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela; Grace of Monaco starring Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly; August: Osage County, the adaptation of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, with an ensemble that includes Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor; Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, the sequel to noir hit Sin City with an ensemble including Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Josh Brolin and Clive Owen. The Dimension roster includes movie franchises Scream, Scary Movie, Children of the Corn, Spy Kids and the later Halloween films.
Relativity finished 2012 with 4.3% of the overall domestic box office, up from its market share of 4% in 2011. For the period of January 1 to March 10 of this year, the company claimed 5.1% of market share.
Relativity Media was founded in 2004 by CEO Ryan Kavanaugh as a film company and has since expanded to seven other divisions ranging from music to sports. Kavanaugh, with a background in venture capital, sought a more efficient way to approach film financing, devising a model to predict the profitability of a potential film project based on mathematical tools rather than on traditional Hollywood finance methods.
More recently, Relativity has made several noteworthy moves, including the 2009 acquisition of Universal’s genre label Rogue Pictures, taking over that company’s 2009 film lineup together with more than 30 projects in development and the Rogue film library. In 2010, Relativity took over the marketing and distribution operations of Starz’ Overture Films, effectively making it a mini-major studio.
Relativity’s releases include 21 and Over, Identity Thief, Les Miserables, The Bourne Legacy, Bridesmaids, The Fighter and The Social Network. Upcoming films include revenge thriller Out of the Furnace with Christian Bale and Zoe Saldana; a remake of the Paris-set Banlieue 13 entitled Brick Mansions; Malavita, a mafia comedy; and animated comedy Turkeys. The company recently acquired the rights to the screenplay Silver or Lead, about the manhunt for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the rights to fantasy-adventure book series Tunnels about a hidden world beneath London.
Open Road Films
The youngest company on the list, Open Road Films, was founded in 2011 and didn’t waste any time breaking into the upper tier of the studios’ market share, claiming 1.3% of 2012’s overall domestic box office and 4% of first-quarter revenues of 2013. Open Road Films is a joint venture by the country’s two largest theater chains, AMC Entertainment and Regal Entertainment, forming their own domestic theatrical distribution company with CEO Tom Ortenberg. The partnership effectively puts these exhibitor giants—Regal and AMC together own more than 12,500 screens across the U.S.—into a role usually reserved for studios: the distribution and marketing of films. Open Road’s movies aren’t limited to only AMC and Regal screens and open in wide-release across the U.S.
Open Road’s earliest releases were Killer Elite starring Robert De Niro, Clive Owen and Jason Statham, thrillers Silent House and Silent Hill: Revelation 3D,survivalist pic The Grey starring Liam Neeson,slapstick chase pic Hit and Run and cop drama End of Watch. In 2013, the company has released the Steven Soderbergh thriller Side Effects and the comedy-horror A Haunted House. Scheduled for a March 29, 2013 release is The Host, based on the best-selling book by Twilight series author Stephanie Meyer. Additional upcoming releases include JOBS, the biopic on visionary and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; the Robert Rodriguez-directed action pic Machete Kills; Ten starring Arnold Schwarzenegger; and the JFK assassination drama Parkland. Within its development slate, Open Road Films is currently working on two more thrillers, Fair Trade and The Key Man.
Out of the gate, Film District jumped over the 1% market share hurdle in 2011, claiming 1.2% of the year’s total domestic box office. Though the company dropped to a .7% finish for 2012, it held 1.4% of the domestic box office haul for the first quarter of this year.
Founded in 2010 by CEO Peter Schlessel, Graham King and Tim Headington, Film District was formed to acquire, produce, finance and distribute wide-release, commercials films with a goal of four to eight per year. Though King and Headington are partners in GK Films (Argo, The Town, Hugo), Film District operates independently from the production company and has distribution relationships with other entities as well. Film District’s releases include horror story Insidious starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, Soul Surfer, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the Ryan Gosling art-house action movie Drive, The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Red Dawn, Parker and the terrorist thriller Olympus Has Fallen,which opens on March 22, 2013. Upcoming films include Insidious Chapter 2, Evil Dead, Walk of Shame and the Spike Lee action thriller Old Boy.
Hovering just under the 1% market share benchmark, CBS Films debuted on the market share list in 2010, after the release of its first film, Extraordinary Measures the medical drama starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser. The mini-studio earned .8% of total domestic box office for 2012 and .7% of the total for the first quarter of this year.
Started in 2007 as the theatrical film division of CBS Corporation, CBS Filmshas a target of producing and distributing four to six star-driven films per year, with budgets of up to $50 million. The company released two other movies in 2010: the romantic comedy The Back-Up Plan starring Jennifer Lopez and the Dwayne Johnson action flick Faster. CBS has picked up the distribution pace over the past few years, with releases including Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Words, The Woman in Black, Seven Psychopaths and The Last Exorcism Part II. Among upcoming releases are Last Vegas, a comedy starring Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman; horror-thriller 7500; The To Do List, a teen comedy starring Rachel Bilson; thriller Ends of the Earth; and Inside Llewyn Davis, a 1960s-set music-themed drama. Projects in development include Oliver Twisted, a female-driven update on Oliver Twist starring Ashley Greene; the Bruce Willis action-thriller American Assassin; and a Halloween horror tale entitled Hellfest.
All six of these companies seem poised to become significant challengers to the majors’ dominance of the film industry, prompting both industry players and watchers to look beyond the traditional Big 6 in sizing up the ever-shifting landscape of the “New Hollywood.” While 2011 may have been their defining moment, the rise of the mini-majors has only just begun.
Click here to read the first installment in this series, Independents Day: Rise of the Financiers
Next up in the series is Studio Output Deals: The Unsung Heroes of Hollywood.