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Creator / Touchstone Pictures

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"Audiences don't know who made Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Arknote . They do know who made TRON and The Apple Dumpling Gang. If you put Disney's name on top of Emmanuelle, and had "X-rated" at the bottom, people would say, 'We can bring our children.'
Richard Berger, Touchstone's first president

Touchstone Pictures was a distribution label (or "banner" in Disney-speak) created and owned by The Walt Disney Company, which released films aimed for more mature audiences than the usual Disney-branded fare.

Beginning in 1979, when they released The Black Hole, Disney had begun making numerous PG-rated adult and teenage-oriented films such as TRON, Never Cry Wolf, Trenchcoat and The Devil and Max Devlin (the latter two of which caused a media uproar over their subject material in a Disney film) to remain competitive in the market of live action movies. But none of their efforts were commercially successful. It was as if the Disney name was more of a burden than an asset with large segments of potential audiences, as Disney had been for the longest time associated with G-rated family-friendly fare such as Mickey Mouse cartoons and The Love Bug. Then-CEO Ron Miller (son-in-law of the late Walt Disney) announced in 1984 the creation of Touchstone Films (as it was then called) as a new label to 1) protect the wholesome family-friendly image of the Disney name and 2) to remain commercially relevant.

Beginning with Splash, Touchstone soon became Disney's go-to brand for mainstream live-action films that weren't saccharine enough for the Company's flagship brand. At first, Touchstone was by far Disney's most-used brand for theatrical releases (far more so in terms of quantity than the Disney branded stuff), and television productions. Studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg adopted a strategy of "singles and doubles", in essence producing lots of low-cost High Concept movies which once in a while would turn into great successes. Three Men and a Baby - the highest grossing movie of 1987 - is a perfect case in point: a remake of a French film, with television actors in the lead roles and filmed in Canada. In 1990 Disney CEO Michael Eisner even created a competing division within Disney - Hollywood Pictures - which eventually got scaled back towards the end of the decade.

One little-known expansion attempt was into the comics market; as part of a new self-publishing comics division at Disney, plans were in place for a mature comics label known as Touchmark (echoing the Touchstone name), along with Hollywood Comics (modeled after Hollywood Pictures) and Vista Comics (offering superhero and sci-fi titles based on other Disney properties like TRON). However, overexpansion and poor sales forced Touchmark's demise before anything was published; editor Art Stone subsequently returned to DC Comics and used several of the intended Touchmark titles as launch titles for the famed Vertigo imprint.

In the mid-2000s, with the Pirates of the Caribbean series (the first film being the first Disney-branded movie to get a PG-13 rating, which was introduced just a few months after Touchstone was established), the once clear distinction between Disney and Touchstone territory began to blur, and Touchstone became more pigeonholed. In 2006 new Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that the company would be making an effort to focus more heavily on its three main core brands (Disney, ABC and ESPN), as well as on major acquired properties (such as Pixar and The Muppets, and later Marvel and Lucasfilm). As consequence, in 2007, it was announced that the Disney studio would scale back on the number of live-action films produced, the majority of which would now be Disney-branded.

The arrival of Rich Ross as Dick Cook's replacement as Disney Studios chairman in 2009 was a huge blow to Touchstone. In an effort to streamline the studio and cut back on losses, Ross announced a new business plan: to trim the number of films that Disney distributed to eight a year, and to only make films that the studio knew how to sell. Namely, in terms of live action films this meant either big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer produced movies or Marvel Cinematic Universe films (and Star Wars movies after the company's 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm), or lower-budget Disney Channel-esque films. Most of the films in Touchstone's pipeline were cancelled, including sequels to sleeper hits The Proposal and Wild Hogs. The last in-house studio made film released through Touchstone was the 2010 ensemble comedy You Again, which flopped at the box office.

In 2011, Touchstone saw new life as the distribution label for DreamWorks SKG's live action films in North America. In 2012, Disney hired Alan Horn, who had previously had a very successful tenure at Warner Bros., as its replacement for Rich Ross after the latter resigned due to a series of high-profile flops, making Ross's "only make films the studio knows how to sell" edict rather ironic in hindsight. While the production side remained moribund, there had been interest by new studio chairman Alan Horn of increasing Disney's yearly output and diversifying the types of movies the studio makes.

However, this didn't happen. In 2013, as part of Disney's breakup with Jerry Bruckheimer, Horn admitted that the studio wasn't interested in reviving Touchstone as a producer (Bruckheimer wanted to head up a new version of the label). Instead, when Disney took over full distribution rights to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Star Wars sequel trilogy, they chose to brand them under the respective internal studios that made them (Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm). Touchstone was then used to distribute Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, as its subject matter apparently did not fit the Disney brand's profile. Strange Magic, having started production by Lucasfilm when it was acquired by Disney in 2012, was Touchstone's most recent non-DreamWorks release, and the last for the foreseeable future. There was a chance that 2019's Glass— a film Disney is releasing with Universalnote — would be a Touchstone release outside the United States, but Disney instead used the Buena Vista International brand.note .

In the end, DreamWorks cut ties with Disney upon the contract's expiration and jumped ship to Universal, with both of its final two releases with Disney receiving shoddy box office numbers; The BFG was released under the regular Disney label on July 1, 2016 to heavy competition from fellow Disney release Finding Dory, as well as competition in the coming week with Universal/Illumination's The Secret Life of Pets, while The Light Between Oceans, which marks the official end of Touchstone's DreamWorks deal, was released on September 2, 2016note , a terrible time for a theatrical release. No further projects were announced since, leading to speculation that Touchstone had been rendered inactive, if not flat out defunct, though Disney itself said next to nothing on the matter, and CEO Bob Iger reinforcing the current Disney status quo of less risks and more franchises at an investor's meeting in late September 2016 didn't help its case. In the meantime, the label was relegated to a catalog label for Disney (similar to the current structure of the defunct Hollywood Pictures), responsible for handling the copyrights to and distribution of all of Touchstone's films, including the rights to all of the DreamWorks films under Touchstone, which Disney now own outright as payment on loans Disney made to the company.

Touchstone's fate was officially sealed on December 14, 2017, when Disney announced it would buy Twentieth Century Fox and a number of other Fox properties from 21st Century Fox, the media group controlled by Rupert Murdoch; the deal, which closed on March 20, 2019, gave Disney a permanent foothold in the mature film market while rendering the Touchstone brand superfluous (Disney had an exclusive license to the Fox trademarks until early-2020, after which it had to drop the "Fox" name from all of its Fox properties).

They had their own television unit until 2007, when it was renamed ABC Studios as part of Iger's above-mentioned company refocusing efforts. ABC Studios later merged with its ABC Signature unit, with the combined entity assuming the latter name.

After the loss of the Fox license, Disney rebranded Fox 21 Television Studios (a sibling of the former Twentieth Century Fox Television, now 20th Television) by reviving the Touchstone Television name for that studio, marking the first time since 2016 that Disney has used the Touchstone name...only to be retired after four months and absorbed into 20th Television.

    Notable films released by Touchstone Pictures 
    Notable television productions from Touchstone Television (now known as ABC Signature)
Touchstone Television logo
ABC Signature logo
For series produced after the renaming, see ABC.