Disney, 20th Century Fox and other studios have famous logos and tangled histories

The searchlights and the stirring Alfred Newman fanfare remain. Picture: Shutterstock
The searchlights and the stirring Alfred Newman fanfare remain. Picture: Shutterstock

A roaring lion, a mountain, the Earth - all these are among the studio logos that have heralded the start of a Hollywood movie. Nowadays, in the more complicated world of international film financing, it's not uncommon for a film to be preceded by two, three, or even more studio or production company credits.

But the traditional, familiar single studio logos always brought hope that good things were to come.

After Disney's recent multi-billion-dollar purchase of 21st Century Fox assets, the Mouse House made some changes. It dropped Fox from the 20th Century Fox film studio's name and renamed it 20th Century Pictures. It also rebranded 20th Century Fox Television as 20th Television. The searchlights and the stirring Alfred Newman fanfare remains, however.

It's understandable Disney would want to distinguish itself from Rupert Murdoch's Fox Corporation with its Fox News, Fox Sports and Fox Entertainment brands that were not sold to Disney.

But it's slightly odd that Disney (and Murdoch) retained the "20th Century" part of the name at all, given we are now in the 21st century. Maybe there's some legal issue, or maybe it's to retain the historical link with what is, after all, one of the major Hollywood studios, founded in 1935, the output of which included best picture Oscar winners such as The Sound of Music (1965).

A depiction of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer logo. Picture: Shutterstock

A depiction of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer logo. Picture: Shutterstock

Disney's takeover meant that another of the Old Hollywood studios was gone as an independent entity.

At present the "big five" studios are Disney, Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures, and Paramount Pictures.

All were around in the so-called Golden Age of the studio era, dated roughly from the late 1920s when sound films began to 1948 when a Supreme Court ruling separated film production from the distribution and exhibition arms so studios' power and income diminished.

Some of the studios have risen, some more or less maintained their status, others have gone down, and still others have disappeared. Most have been swallowed up by larger conglomerations.

The Golden Era's so-called "big five" studios were, apart from Fox, Warner Bros, Paramount, Metro-Goldwn-Mayer and RKO Radio Pictures. The last - films from which included King Kong and Citizen Kane - went bankrupt in 1959 and the RKO name is now held by a production company.

The "little three" majors back then were Universal, Columbia and United Artists.

Columbia Pictures - the studio with the logo depicting Columbia, the female national personification of the US - was so named in 1924 after being formed six years earlier as Cohn-Brant-Cohn Film Sales.

United Artists was formed in 1919 by stars Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith.

Nowadays, Columbia (owned by Sony) and Universal (part of NBC Universal) are majors. UA was eventually sold to MGM in the 1970s and the latter, once the most powerful of studios, underwent a series of ownership changes, filed for and emerged from bankruptcy, and is now part of MGM Holdings.

Universal, with its planet Earth logo, was formed in 1912 and is the oldest studio in the US. It was known particularly for silent and sound horror movies including Frankenstein (1931). It was taken over by MCA in 1962 and is now owned by Comcast.

20th Century Fox was founded in 1935 with the merger of Fox Films (formed by William Fox in 1915) and 20th Century Pictures Inc. (formed in 1933 by Joseph Schenck and Darryl Zanuck).

Famous for its roaring lion logo, Metro Goldwyn Mayer was founded in 1924 when cinema magnate Marcus Loew gained control of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures.

MGM became prolific, prestigious and profitable. Its stable of "More stars than there are in heaven" included Clark Gable and Greta Garbo and its films included classics like The Wizard of Oz.

Paramount - with the mountain logo - began as a distribution company and in 1917 Adolph Zukor merged it with his Famous Players-Lasky. The studio - with output including comedies by Mae West and the Marx Brothers, among others - had its own ups and downs and is now owned by Viacom.

Warner Bros. was founded by Harry, Albert, Sam, and Jack Warner in 1923 after nearly 20 years of producing and exhibiting films. The company was a pioneer in using sound in movies, music and effects and later dialogue.

After various ownership changes it merged with Time Inc and Time Warner was bought by AT&T in 2018 and renamed WarnerMedia.

Walt Disney Studio, founded in 1926, had other companies distribute its films until it formed Buena Vista as its distribution arm in 1953. It became a mini-major in that decade and a major in the 1980s.

Now, of course, it's huge, owning, among other things, the American Broadcasting Company TV network and properties like the Muppets, Star Wars and Marvel supeheroes.

And there are smaller studios like the mini-major Lionsgate (founded as Cinepix in 1962), the films of which include The Hunger Games and which acquired Summit Entertainment (Twilight) in 2012.

No doubt the fortunes of the studios, all now part of huge conglomerates, will continue to ebb and flow and ownership will change. How long the names and logos - altered over the years, but still recognisable - will remain also remains to be seen, although corporations that take over studios don't seem too keen to break with the past entirely.

This story The Mouse roared and ate a Fox first appeared on The Canberra Times.