The Walt Disney Studios is an American film studio, one of the four major businesses of The Walt Disney Company and the main component of its Studio Entertainment segment. The studio, best known for its multi-faceted film division, which is one of Hollywood's major film studios, is based at the eponymous Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California.
The Studios generated an estimated income of $2.703 billion during the 2016 fiscal year. The studio entertainment business alone (live-action and animated motion pictures, direct-to-video content, musical recordings and live stage plays) brought in $5.83 billion in 2012.
Walt Disney Productions began production of their first feature-length animated film in 1934. Taking three years to complete, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, premiered in December 1937 and became the highest-grossing film of that time by 1939. In the 1940s, Disney began experimenting with full-length live-action films, with the introduction of hybrid live action-animated films such as The Reluctant Dragon (1941) and Song of the South (1946). That same decade, the studio began producing nature documentaries with the release of Seal Island (1948), the first of the True-Life Adventures series and a subsequent Academy Award winner for Best Live-Action Short Film.
Walt Disney Productions had its first fully live-action film in 1950 with the release of Treasure Island, considered by Disney to be the official conception for what would eventually evolve into the modern-day Walt Disney Pictures. By 1953, the company ended their agreements with such third-party distributors as RKO Radio Pictures and United Artists and formed their own distribution company, Buena Vista Distribution.
By the 1980s, The Walt Disney Company's collection of film units emerged as one of Hollywood's major film studios, mostly due to newly designed efforts in branding strategies, a resurgence of Walt Disney Pictures' animated releases and unprecedented box office successes, particularly from Touchstone Pictures. The Walt Disney Productions film division was incorporated on April 1, 1983 as Walt Disney Pictures. In April 1983, Richard Berger was hired by Disney CEO Ron W. Miller as film president. Touchstone Films was started by Miller in February 1984 as a label for their PG-rated films with an expected half of Disney's 6 to 8 movies yearly slate would be released under the label. Berger was pushed out as a new CEO was appointed for Walt Disney Productions later in 1984, as Michael Eisner brought his own film chief, Jeffrey Katzenberg and film studio president, Richard H. Frank. Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures were formed within that unit on February 15, 1984 and February 1, 1989 respectively.
Organized in 1985, Silver Screen Partners II, L.P. financed films for Disney with $193 million in funding. In January 1987, Silver Screen III began financing movies for Disney with $300 million raised, the largest amount raised for a film financing limited partnership by E.F. Hutton.
In April 1988, Touchstone became a unit of Walt Disney Pictures with newly appointed head Ricardo Mestres. With several production companies getting out of film production or closing shop by December 1988, Walt Disney Studios announced the formation of Hollywood Pictures division, which would only share marketing and distribution with Touchstone, to fill the void. Walt Disney Television and Touchstone Television were grouped together under Garth Ancier as president of network television for The Walt Disney Studios on April 18, 1989.
Late in the 1980s, Disney purchased a controlling stake in one of Pacific Theatres' chain leading to Disney's Buena Vista Theaters and Pacific to renovate the El Capitan Theatre and the Crest by 1989. The Crest was finished first while El Capitan opened with the premiere of The Rocketeer film on June 19, 1991.
In September 1990, The Walt Disney Company arranged for financing up to $200 million by a unit of Nomura Securities for Interscope films made for Disney. On October 23, 1990, Disney formed Touchwood Pacific Partners I to supplant the Silver Screen Partnership series as their movie studios' primary funding source. In 1992, Walt Disney Studios agreed to fund a production company, Caravan Pictures, for exiting 20th Century Fox chairman Joe Roth. In 1993, Miramax Films was purchased for $60 million by Disney.
On March 30, 1992, Disney Studios agreed to sell KCAL-TV to Pineland, Inc. for a 45% ownership stake in Pineland, so as to have interest in TV stations in both large markets, Los Angeles and New York City, allowing for increased original programming. Instead Pineland agreed to an unsolicited bid in May from Chris-Craft Industries thus ending the planned business merger with Disney's KCAL.
David Hoberman was promoted by Katzenberg to president of motion pictures at Walt Disney Studios in April 1994 from president of Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures. While Ricardo Mestres was forced out as president of Hollywood Pictures in exchange for a production deal.
On August 24, 1994 with Katzenberg's resignation, Walt Disney Studios was reorganized spinning out a new TV group. Richard Frank became head of newly formed Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications (WDTT). Roth moved up from Caravan Pictures to helm the remaining Walt Disney Studios as chairman. Hoberman stepped down as president in January 1995 to take a five-year, multi-film deal for his production company, Mandeville Films.
Roth was appointed as chairman of Walt Disney Studios in 1996. In April 1996 due to ongoing post Disney-CC/ABC merger realignment and retirement of its president, WDTT group's division were reassigned to other groups with most transferred to The Walt Disney Studios or CC/ABC. Units returning to the studio were the television production companies, Walt Disney Television, Disney Television Animation, Touchstone Television and Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Buena Vista International - Latin America and two other companies became owners of Patagonik Film Group, an Argentina-based production company, in 1997. In late 1997, Disney bid on CDR's Epic movie library but lost to PolyGram Filmed Entertainment.
Disney's Buena Vista Distribution and Cinergi Pictures had a 25-picture distribution deal with Disney taking a 5% stake in Cinergi stock. After nine films were delivered under the agreement, Cinergi sold Disney on November 22, 1997 all of its 12 film library except for Die Hard With a Vengeance plus $20 million in exchange for Disney's Cinergi share holdings, production advances of $35.4 million and other loans.
In 1998, the Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group was formed by Roth to unite the Disney, Touchstone and Hollywood film production units with leadership under David Vogel. This was in order to centralize the various production units and to make live-action film production within Disney more cost-efficient. Roth also determined that the studio's year production slate should be cut. So in August 1998, Roger Birnbaum, Caravan's co-founder, left to co-found Spyglass Entertainment at Roth's prompting in which Disney gave Caravan's development slate, a five-year distribution agreement and an advance. Caravan after the remaining three films are release when inactive. By May 2000, Disney had taken an equity stake in Spyglass.
Peter Schneider was promoted to Studio president in January 1999, while Thomas Schumacher was promoted to president of Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Theatrical Productions while both are made co-presidents of Disney Theatrical Group. As the first Studio president, Schneider had supervisory control of all Walt Disney label released films. In July, Walt Disney Television, including Buena Vista Television Productions, were transferred out of The Walt Disney Studios to ABC Television Network to merge with ABC's prime-time division to form the ABC Entertainment Television Group.
Roth left to form his own production company in January 2000, with Schneider moving up to studio chairman. Schneider left Walt Disney Studios in June 2001 to form his own theater production company partly funded by Disney. The studio chairmanship was not filled at the time leaving the studio's major units, Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group chair Dick Cook, Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group chair Nina Jacobson and Walt Disney Feature Animation president Schumacher in charge. In 2002, Cook was named as Studio chairman to replace Peter Schneider. In January 2002, Buena Vista International - Latin America formed a joint venture production company, Miravista, with Admira, Telefónica content production and distribution division, for primarily Brazilian and Mexican film productions.
In January 2003, Disney initiated a reorganization of its theatrical and animation units to improve resource usage and continued focus on new characters and franchise development. Walt Disney Feature Animation — sans Walt Disney Television Animation — and Buena Vista Theatrical Worldwide were organized under The Walt Disney Studios. In 2003, the studio set a worldwide box office record of $3 billion gross.
In July 2006, Disney announced a shift in its strategy of releasing more Disney-branded (i.e. Walt Disney Pictures) films and fewer Touchstone titles. The move was expected to reduce the Group's work force by approximately 650 positions worldwide. This was a cost cutting move with its yearly slate would consist of 12 to 15 films.
After being transferred to various other division groups since they were acquired in 2004, The Muppets Studio was incorporated into the Walt Disney Studios' Special Events Group in 2006. In April 2007, Disney retired the Buena Vista brand, renaming Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group and Buena Vista Pictures Distribution as Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, respectively. Hollywood Pictures was also retired as well. In July 2007, Disney CEO Bob Iger banned the depiction of smoking and tobacco products from Walt Disney Pictures-branded films, as well as limiting such depictions in Touchstone and Miramax films.
In April 2009, the Studio announced the formation of Disneynature, a nature film production label. The Studio launched its Kingdom Comics division in May, led by writer-actor Ahmet Zappa, TV executive Harris Katleman and writer-editor Christian Beranek. Kingdom was designed to create new properties for possible film development and re-imagine and redevelop existing Disney library movies, with Disney Publishing Worldwide getting a first look for publishing.
On February 9, 2009, DreamWorks Studios entered a 7-year, 30-picture distribution deal with the studio's Touchstone Pictures banner starting in 2011. The deal also includes co-funding by Disney to DreamWorks for production. In late 2009, Miramax Films, a formerly independent Disney film unit, was transferred to The Walt Disney Studios, until its sale in 2010 to Filmyard Holdings. The Kingdom Comics unit's creatives/executives moved its deal to an independent Monsterfoot Productions.
On September 18, 2009, Cook was forced out as chairman allegedly having been asked to do so by Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, for resisting change Iger felt was needed and the previous year's poor results. He was then replaced by Disney Channels Worldwide president Rich Ross on October 5, 2009.
After The Walt Disney Company's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment in 2009, Disney began distributing Marvel Studios' films in 2012, acquiring the distribution rights for The Avengers and Iron Man 3 from Paramount Pictures in October 2010. Marvel Studios, however, remained a division of Marvel Entertainment during that time, working in conjunction with Walt Disney Studios for distribution and marketing.
In May 2011, Disney India and UTV Motion Pictures agreed to co-produce Disney-branded family films with both handling creative function and UTV producing, marketing and distributing the films. In 2011, Disney fired Marvel Studios' marketing department taking over marketing of their films beginning with the 2012 film The Avengers.
On April 20, 2012, Ross was fired as studio chairman. On October 30, 2012, Lucasfilm agreed to be purchased by The Walt Disney Company and a new Star Wars trilogy was announced and was finalized on December 4. Later that year on December 4, Disney agreed to have Netflix as its exclusive U.S. subscription television service for first run Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios and Disneynature feature films starting in 2016 to replace its agreement ending in 2015 with Starz.
In April 2013, The Walt Disney Studios laid off 150 workers including staff from its marketing and home entertainment units. In December of that same year, Disney purchased the distribution and marketing rights to future Indiana Jones films from Paramount Pictures, while Paramount will continue distributing the first four films and receive "financial participation" from the additional films. The studio and Shanghai Media Group Pictures signed a multi-year movie development agreement, before the March 6, 2014 announcement, in which Chinese themes would be incorporated into Disney branded movies. In March 2015, Iger expanded the studio's smoking and tobacco prohibition to include all films released by the studio—including PG-13 rated films and below—unless such depictions are historically pertinent.
In August 2015, Marvel Studios was moved into the Walt Disney Studios, with president Kevin Feige now reporting directly to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn instead of Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter, who continues to oversee Marvel Television and Marvel Animation that were previously a part of Marvel Studios. Disney received ownership rights to the thirteen DreamWorks films it distributed, in compensation for outstanding loans as DreamWorks was restructured into Amblin Partners.
On December 19, 2016, Walt Disney Studios became the first major studio to reach $7 billion at the global box office. This surpasses Universal's record from 2015 of $6.89 billion. Disney did it with five of the top 10 films of the year with a record four of them, The Jungle Book, Finding Dory, Captain America: Civil War and Rogue One, with opening weekend takes of over $100 million. Four films in 2016 grossed over $1 billion and another $966 million globally. Two studio units' (Pixar and Marvel Studios) combined lifetime library grosses passed $10 billion.
In November 2017, the studio briefly banned reporters of the Los Angeles Times from attending pre-release screenings for its films, after it had published reports on Disney's political influence in the Anaheim area that the company deemed to be "biased and inaccurate". After a boycott effort emerged among several notable critics and publications (including Washington Post blogger Alyssa Rosenberg, The New York Times, and Boston Globe critic Ty Burr), and several major film critic societies threatened to disqualify Disney films from their year-end awards in retaliation, Disney stated that the company "had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at the Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns", and had reversed its ban.
|Production||Distribution||Disney Music Group||Disney Theatrical Group||Other|
|Walt Disney Studios Special Events|
Disney Studio Services
- Former units include
- Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group (1998–c.2001+) umbrella unit for production companies
- Caravan Pictures (1992–1999) shut down
- Disney Circle 7 Animation
- Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group (c.2001) distribution and marketing (defunct)
- Walt Disney Television – two stints as a studio unit; (until 1994) transfer to Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications; (April 1996–2003) transfer to Disney Channels Worldwide
- Hollywood Pictures (defunct)
- ImageMovers Digital
- Kingdom Comics
- Miramax Films (sold)
- The Muppets Studio (2006–2014; transferred from Disney Consumer Products to Special Events Group then back to Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media Labs)
- Touchstone Television – two stints as a studio unit; (until 1994) transfer to Walt Disney Television and Telecommunications; (April 1996–)
Walt Disney Pictures is a film banner that encompasses the release of its own live-action productions, in addition to films produced by the company's animation studios, mainly Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios. Marvel Studios—acquired through Disney's purchase of Marvel Entertainment in 2009—produces superhero films based on Marvel Comics characters, including the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. Lucasfilm—acquired by Disney in 2012—develops and produces films including those in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises. Disneynature is an independent film genre label devoted to nature documentary productions.
In 1993, Disney acquired Miramax Films and its Dimension Films genre label, with the former division operating as an autonomous unit until 2009, and the Dimension label becoming absorbed by The Weinstein Company in 2005. By 2009, Miramax was folded into the Walt Disney Studios, and continued to serve as distribution label until it was sold by Disney to Filmyard Holdings in 2010. From 2007 to 2010, Disney and ImageMovers ran a joint motion capture animation facility; ImageMovers Digital.
All film productions mentioned above are distributed theatrically by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and on home media platforms by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Another film banner, Touchstone Pictures, released films targeted at more mature adult audiences and was formerly an active production unit.
Disney Music Group
Disney Music Group is a music production group led by Ken Bunt, that consists of two record labels—Walt Disney Records and Hollywood Records—and multiple publishing entities that handle Disney's music.
Disney Theatrical Group
Disney Theatrical Group is the division producing live theatrical and stage events. It is currently under the leadership of Thomas Schumacher. The Disney Theatrical Productions division has been responsible for the production of many different musicals, touring events, ice shows and other live theatrical events. Their shows include: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aida, Tarzan, Mary Poppins, Newsies and numerous incarnations of Disney on Ice.