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United Artists is an American film studio.

The company was founded in 1919, one year after the founding of Warner Bros. It stood out from the other Hollywood studios at the time for two reasons:

1. As the name "United Artists" indicates, UA was founded not by executives, but actors and directors—namely, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford, all major names in the era's film industry.note  The founders intended to avoid Executive Meddling by taking control of their own work. To date, DreamWorks is the only other big studio formed by creators.

2. UA were little more than backer-distributors for assorted independent producers; the company never owned actual studio facilities of its own. Because of this, they were usually the Butt-Monkey of the studio system during The Golden Age of Hollywood. In fact, sometimes it was like there were seven big studios and United Artists.

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Things changed with the Fall of the Studio System in the 1950s. While the other studios suffered as a result of this (especially RKO Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer), UA prospered. Their method of business—no high-overhead studio facilities, but instead a system that bankrolled outside production companies, giving creators freedom that no studio would—was ideally suited for the post-studio era. In the 1960s, this paid off with the company with releasing more hits every year, especially with The Pink Panther and James Bond series, along with many a Spaghetti Western from Sergio Leone.

During the 1950s and the 1960s, United Artists released seven films (Marty, Around the World in 80 Days, The Apartment, West Side Story, Tom Jones, In the Heat of the Night, and the initially X-rated Midnight Cowboy) which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Three of the victorious films were produced by the Mirisch Corporation of Delaware, a firm run by brothers Walter, Marvin and Harold Mirisch that became closely identified with UA through a number of other films, including, as aforementioned, The Pink Panther.

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United Artists was successful enough to diversify during The '50s. In 1956, the company started a TV production division, most noted for such programs as The Outer Limits (1963), The Patty Duke Show, and The Rat Patrol. UA also launched United Artists Records in 1957; like other labels owned by film studios, it was initially an outlet for soundtrack albums, but evolved into a major name in the music industry.

In 1967, UA was purchased by insurance company Transamerica, which had purchased the studio in order to strengthen themselves to form a conglomerate in the veins of General Electric, RCA or Gulf + Western (which bought Paramount the same year). This worked well for them, and soon nearly every studio had been bought up by a larger company (excluding Disney, who remained independent). Throughout The '70s, the James Bond and Pink Panther movies maintained their popularity, and UA also did well with Woody Allen films, a film version of Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof, and the Rocky franchise (the first installment of which was an Academy Award winner for Best Picture). In 1973, UA became the North American theatrical distributor of films made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Despite the long string of hits UA enjoyed during the 1970s, disputes between the studio's executives and those of Transamerica were quite common. UA's executives got into trouble with Transamerica's regarding the releases of such X-rated films as Midnight Cowboy (which had to be recut to achieve an R rating after winning Best Picture) and Last Tango in Paris. Jack Beckett, one of the Transamerica executives, had wanted to phase out the United Artists name completely, while UA executive Arthur Krim wanted the studio spun off as a separate entity. Neither plan would ever come into fruition. Another UA executive, Eric Pleskow, was enraged when he found out that Transamerica wanted each UA executive's medical records. The infighting between the UA and Transamerica executives came to an end on January 13, 1978 when Pleskow, Krim, and other key officers decided to leave United Artists to form Orion Pictures. Their departures so alarmed many Hollywood figures that they took out an ad in Variety warning Transamerica that it had made a fatal mistake in letting all of the UA executives go.

Initially, this had yet to be based on fact. Under new president Andy Albeck, UA had four major successes in 1979, with such films as Rocky II, Woody Allen's Manhattan, the 007 installment Moonraker, and The Black Stallion.

The final nail in the coffin for the idyllic lifestyle cultivated by UA for so long came in 1980, when UA distributed Heaven's Gate. It had a big budget, but it ended up one of the most notorious creator-killing failures in history. So much that Transamerica's aforementioned ambition was dashed, and they were forced to sell the studio to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Meanwhile, the record label had already been sold to EMI.

At first, MGM treated UA as an equal in the business, and in fact, several films were released under joint MGM/UA branding. However, they fell out of favor when MGM began getting their hands on other libraries left and right. They then became more of an arthouse distributor.

A revival was attempted in 2006, when Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner joined forces to revitalize UA. Unfortunately, the comeback never materialized, due to a combination of MGM's financial problems and Paula Wagner's departure, and MGM reclaimed full ownership.

Like MGM, United Artists was reduced to little more than a production company, getting its films distributed by other entities. In 2014, United Artists was briefly relaunched as an indie label headed by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey (producers of The Bible (2013)) intended to handle multiple platforms such as film, television, and Christian media. However, it wasn't long before MGM bought the group wholesale, merging them into its TV unit and putting the UA name back into dormancy.

Fortunately, in 2019 MGM and Annapurna Pictures announced that their joint distribution venture would be named as United Artists Releasing, giving the brand new life—and all on the company's 100th anniversary to boot. Their first release was the Stephen Merchant comedy Fighting with My Family.

United Artists as an independent studio (1919–1981):

Later UA productions:

  • The third, fourth, and fifth installments in the Rocky series (after the MGM takeover)

United Artists TV series with TV Tropes pages:

United Artists is also used as the banner for Mark Burnett programs produced after 2014.


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