What is Hollywood?


Hollywood was incorporated as a municipality in 1903. It was consolidated with the city of Los Angeles in 1910, and soon thereafter a prominent film industry emerged, eventually becoming the most recognisable in the world.

Read about Bollywood and Lollywood.

Hollywood: The Neighbourhood

Hollywood is a neighbourhood in the central region of Los Angeles, California.

Its name has come to be a shorthand reference for the US film industry and the people associated with it. Many of its studios such as Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros., and Universal Pictures were founded there and Paramount still has its studios there.

  • Hollywood was incorporated as a municipality on 14 November 1903, by a vote of 88 for and 77 against.
  • On 30 January 1904, the voters in Hollywood decided, by a vote of 113 to 96, to banish the sale of liquour within the city, except for medicinal purposes.
    • Neither hotels nor restaurants were allowed to serve wine or liquour before or after meals.
  • In 1910, the city voted for a merger with Los Angeles in order to secure an adequate water supply and to gain access to the L.A. sewer system.
    • With annexation, the name of Prospect Avenue was changed to Hollywood Boulevard and all the street numbers were also changed.

Soon thereafter a prominent film industry emerged, eventually becoming the most recognisable in the world.

Other Hollywoods

In 1994, Hollywood, Alabama, and 10 other towns named Hollywood successfully fought an attempt by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to trademark the name and force same-named communities to pay royalties to it.

A key point was that Alabama’s Hollywood was the first incorporated Hollywood in the US, whereas the one in California did not incorporate until 1903, six years after Alabama’s. In addition, it merged with Los Angeles in 1910 and was no longer identified as a separate city.

Special Events

  • The Academy Awards:
    • Held in late February/early March (since 2004) of each year, honouring the preceding year in film.
    • Prior to 2004, they were held in late March/early April.
    • Since 2002, the Oscars have been held at their new home at the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
  • The Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade:
    • The 2006 parade on Nov 26 was the 75th edition of the Christmas Parade.
    • The parade goes down Hollywood Boulevard and is broadcast in the Los Angeles area on KTLA, and around the US on Tribune-owned stations and the WGN superstation.
  • The Hollywood Half Marathon:
    • Takes place in April (since 2012) of each year, to raise funds and awareness for local youth homeless shelters.
    • The event includes a Half Marathon, 10K, 5K, and Kids Fun Run along Hollywood Blvd.

Cinema of the United States

The cinema of the United States has had a large effect on the film industry in general since the early 20th century.

The dominant style of American cinema is the classical Hollywood cinema, which developed from 1913 to 1969 and characterises most films made there to this day. Classical Hollywood cinema is a termed used in film criticism to describe both a narrative and visual style of filmmaking which became characteristic of American cinema between the 1910’s and 1960’s. It eventually became the most powerful and pervasive style of filmmaking worldwide.

While Frenchmen Auguste and Louis Lumière are generally credited with the birth of modern cinema, American cinema soon came to be a dominant force in the emerging industry.

It produces the largest number of films of any single-language national cinema, with more than 700 English-language films released on average every year. While the national cinemas of the UK (299), Canada (206), Australia, and New Zealand also produce films in the same language, they are not considered part of the Hollywood system. That said, Hollywood has also been considered a transnational cinema. It produced multiple language versions of some titles, often in Spanish or French. Contemporary Hollywood off-shores production to Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Transnational cinema is a developing concept within film studies that encompasses a range of theories relating to the effects of globalisation upon the cultural and economic aspects of film. It incorporates the debates and influences of postnationalism, postcolonialism, consumerism and Third cinema, amongst many other topics.

Hollywood is considered the oldest film industry where earliest film studios and production companies emerged, and is also the birthplace of various genres of cinema – among them comedy, drama, action, the musical, romance, horror, science fiction, and the war epic – having set an example for other national film industries.

In 1878, Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated the power of photography to capture motion. In 1894, the world’s first commercial motion-picture exhibition was given in New York City, using Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope. The US produced the world’s first sync-sound musical film, The Jazz Singer, in 1927, and was at the forefront of sound-film development in the following decades. Since the early 20th century, the US film industry has largely been based in and around the 30 Mile Zone in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. Director D.W. Griffith was central to the development of a film grammar. Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) is frequently cited in critics’ polls as the greatest film of all time.

The major film studios of Hollywood are the primary source of the most commercially successful and most ticket selling movies in the world. Moreover, many of Hollywood’s highest-grossing movies have generated more box-office revenue and ticket sales outside the US than films made elsewhere.

Today, American film studios collectively generate several hundred movies every year, making the US one of the most prolific producers of films in the world and a leading pioneer in motion picture engineering and technology.

History of the Film Industry & Hollywood

The first recorded instance of photographs capturing and reproducing motion was a series of photographs of a running horse by Eadweard Muybridge, which he took in Palo Alto, California using a set of still cameras placed in a row. Muybridge’s accomplishment led inventors everywhere to attempt to make similar devices. In the US, Thomas Edison was among the first to produce such a device, the kinetoscope.

The history of cinema in the US can trace its roots to the East Coast where, at one time, Fort Lee, New Jersey was the motion-picture capital of America. The industry got its start at the end of the 19th century with the construction of Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria”, the first motion-picture studio in West Orange, New Jersey. The cities and towns on the Hudson River and Hudson Palisades offered land at costs considerably less than New York City across the river and benefited greatly as a result of the phenomenal growth of the film industry at the turn of the 20th century.

The industry began attracting both capital and an innovative workforce. In 1907, when the Kalem Company began using Fort Lee as a location for filming in the area, other filmmakers quickly followed. In 1909, a forerunner of Universal Studios, the Champion Film Company, built the first studio. Others quickly followed and either built new studios or leased facilities in Fort Lee. In the 1910’s and 1920’s, film companies such as the Independent Moving Pictures Company, Peerless Studios, The Solax Company, Éclair Studios, Goldwyn Picture Corporation, American Méliès (Star Films), World Film Company, Biograph Studios, Fox Film Corporation, Pathé Frères, Metro Pictures Corporation, Victor Film Company, and Selznick Pictures Corporation were all making pictures in Fort Lee. Such notables as Mary Pickford got their start at Biograph Studios.

In New York, the Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, was built during the silent film era, was used by the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. The Edison Studios were located in the Bronx. Chelsea, Manhattan was also frequently used. Picture City, Florida was also a planned site for a movie picture production center in the 1920’s, but due to the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane, the idea collapsed and Picture City returned to its original name of Hobe Sound. Other major centres of film production also included Chicago, Texas, California, and Cuba.

The film patents wars of the early 20th century led to the spread of film companies across the US. Many worked with equipment for which they did not own the rights to use and so filming in New York could be dangerous; as it was close to Edison’s company headquarters, and close to agents the company set out to seize cameras. By 1912, most major film companies had set up production facilities in Southern California near or in Los Angeles because of the region’s favorable year-round weather.

The Rise of Hollwood (1910’s)

In early 1910, director D.W. Griffith was sent by the Biograph Company to the west coast with his acting troupe, consisting of actors Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore and others. They started filming on a vacant lot near Georgia Street in downtown Los Angeles.

While there, the company decided to explore new territories, travelling several miles north to Hollywood, a little village that was friendly and enjoyed the movie company filming there. Griffith then filmed the first movie ever shot in Hollywood, In Old California, a Biograph melodrama about California in the 19th century, when it belonged to Mexico. Griffith stayed there for months and made several films before returning to New York.

After hearing about Griffith’s success in Hollywood, in 1913, many movie-makers headed west to avoid the fees imposed by Thomas Edison, who owned patents on the movie-making process. Nestor Studios of Bayonne, New Jersey, built the first studio in Hollywood in 1911. Nestor Studios, owned by David and William Horsley, later merged with Universal Studios; and William Horsley’s other company, Hollywood Film Laboratory, is now the oldest existing company in Hollywood, now called the Hollywood Digital Laboratory.

California’s more hospitable and cost-effective climate led to the eventual shift of virtually all filmmaking to the West Coast by the 1930’s.

At the time, Thomas Edison owned almost all the patents relevant to motion picture production and movie producers on the East Coast acting independently of Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued or enjoined by Edison and his agents while movie makers working on the West Coast could work independently of Edison’s control.

In Los Angeles, the studios and Hollywood grew. Before World War I, films were made in several American cities, but filmmakers tended to gravitate towards southern California as the industry developed. They were attracted by the warm climate and reliable sunlight, which made it possible to film their films outdoors year-round and by the varied scenery that was available.

There are several starting points for cinema (particularly American cinema), but it was Griffith’s controversial 1915 epic Birth of a Nation that pioneered the worldwide filming vocabulary that still dominates celluloid to this day.

In the early 20th century, when the medium was new, many Jewish immigrants found employment in the US film industry. They were able to make their mark in a brand-new business: the exhibition of short films in storefront theatres called nickelodeons, after their admission price of a nickel (five cents).

Within a few years, ambitious men like Samuel Goldwyn, William Fox, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor, Louis B. Mayer, and the Warner Brothers (Harry, Albert, Samuel, and Jack) had switched to the production side of the business. Soon they were the heads of a new kind of enterprise: the movie studio.

It is interesting to note that the US had at least one female director, producer and studio head in these early years: French-born director Alice Guy-Blaché. They also set the stage for the industry’s internationalism; the industry is often accused of Amero-centric provincialism.

Other moviemakers arrived from Europe after World War I: directors like Ernst Lubitsch, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir; and actors like Rudolph Valentino, Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Colman, and Charles Boyer. They joined a homegrown supply of actors – lured West from the New York City stage after the introduction of sound films – to form one of the 20th century’s most remarkable growth industries.

At motion pictures’ height of popularity in the mid-1940’s, the studios were cranking out a total of about 400 movies a year, seen by an audience of approximately 90 million Americans per week.

Sound also became widely used in Hollywood in the late 1920’s. After The Jazz Singer, the first film with synchronised voices was successfully released as a Vitaphone talkie in 1927, Hollywood film companies would respond to Warner Bros. and begin to use Vitaphone sound – which Warner Bros. owned until 1928 – in future films. By May 1928, Electrical Research Product Incorporated (ERPI), a subsidiary of the Western Electric company, gained a monopoly over film sound distribution.

A side effect of the “talkies” was that many actors who had made their careers in silent films suddenly found themselves out of work, as they often had bad voices or could not remember their lines.

Meanwhile, in 1922, US politician Will H. Hays left politics and formed the movie studio boss organisation known as the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA). The organisation became the Motion Picture Association of America after Hays retired in 1945.

In the early times of talkies, American studios found that their sound productions were rejected in foreign-language markets and even among speakers of other dialects of English. The synchronisation technology was still too primitive for dubbing. One of the solutions was creating parallel foreign-language versions of Hollywood films. Around 1930, the some American companies opened a studio in Joinville-le-Pont, France, where the same sets and wardrobe and even mass scenes were used for different time-sharing crews.

Also, foreign unemployed actors, playwrights, and winners of photogenia contests were chosen and brought to Hollywood, where they shot parallel versions of the English-language films. These parallel versions had a lower budget, were shot at night and were directed by second-line American directors who did not speak the foreign language. The Spanish-language crews included people like Luis Buñuel, Enrique Jardiel Poncela, Xavier Cugat, and Edgar Neville. The productions were not very successful in their intended markets, due to the following reasons:

  • The lower budgets were apparent.
  • Many theatre actors had no previous experience in cinema.
  • The original movies were often second-rate themselves since studios expected that the top productions would sell by themselves.
  • The mix of foreign accents (Castilian, Mexican, and Chilean for example in the Spanish case) was odd for the audiences.
  • Some markets lacked sound-equipped theatres.

In spite of this, some productions like the Spanish version of Dracula compare favourably with the original. By the mid-1930’s, synchronisation had advanced enough for dubbing to become usual.

The Golden Age of Hollywood (1913 to 1969)

The Gold Age of Hollywood, also known as Classical Hollywood Cinema, is defined as a technical and narrative style characteristic of American cinema from 1913 to 1969, during which thousands of movies were issued from the Hollywood studios. This classical style began to emerge in 1913, was accelerated in 1917 after the US entered World War I, and finally solidified when the film The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, ending the Silent Film era and increasing box-office profits for film industry by introducing sound to feature films.

Most Hollywood pictures adhered closely to a formula – Western, Slapstick Comedy, Musical, Animated Cartoon, Biographical Film (biographical picture) – and the same creative teams often worked on films made by the same studio. For example, Cedric Gibbons and Herbert Stothart always worked on MGM films, Alfred Newman worked at 20th Century Fox for twenty years, Cecil B. De Mille’s films were almost all made at Paramount, and director Henry King’s films were mostly made for 20th Century Fox.

At the same time, one could usually guess which studio made which film, largely because of the actors who appeared in it; MGM, for example, claimed it had contracted “more stars than there are in heaven.” Each studio had its own style and characteristic touches which made it possible to know this – a trait that rarely exist today.

For example, To Have and Have Not (1944) is famous not only for the first pairing of actors Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) and Lauren Bacall (1924-2014), but because it was written by two future winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature: Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), the author of the novel on which the script was nominally based, and William Faulkner (1897-1962), who worked on the screen adaptation.

After The Jazz Singer was released in 1927, Warner Bros. gained huge success and were able to acquire their own string of movie theatres, after purchasing Stanley Theaters and First National Productions in 1928. MGM had also owned the Loews theatres since forming in 1924, and the Fox Film Corporation owned the Fox Theatre as well. RKO (a 1928 merger between Keith-Orpheum Theatres and the Radio Corporation of America) also responded to the Western Electric/ERPI monopoly over sound in films, and developed their own method, known as Photophone, to put sound in films.

Paramount, who already acquired Balaban and Katz in 1926, would answer to the success of Warner Bros. and RKO, and buy a number of theatres in the late 1920’s as well, and would hold a monopoly on theatres in Detroit, Michigan. By the 1930’s, almost all of the first-run metropolitan theaters in the US were owned by the Big Five studios – MGM, Paramount Pictures, RKO, Warner Bros., and 20th Century Fox.

The Rise of the Studio System (1920’s to 1940’s)

Movie-making was still a business, however, and motion picture companies made money by operating under the studio system. The major studios kept thousands of people on salary – actors, producers, directors, writers, stunt men, crafts persons, and technicians. They owned or leased Movie Ranches in rural Southern California for location shooting of westerns and other large-scale genre films, and the major studios owned hundreds of theatres in cities and towns across the nation in 1920 film theatres that showed their films and that were always in need of fresh material.

In 1930, MPPDA President Will Hays created the Hays (Production) Code, which followed censorship guidelines and went into effect after government threats of censorship expanded by 1930. However, the code was never enforced until 1934, after the Catholic watchdog organisation The Legion of Decency – appalled by some of the provocative films and lurid advertising of the era later classified Pre-Code Hollywood- threatened a boycott of motion pictures if it did not go into effect. The films that did not obtain a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration had to pay a $25,000 fine and could not profit in the theatres, as the MPPDA controlled every theatre in the country through the Big Five studios.

Throughout the 1930’s, as well as most of the golden age, MGM dominated the film screen and had the top stars in Hollywood, and they were also credited for creating the Hollywood star system altogether. Some MGM stars included “King of Hollywood” Clark Gable, Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Jeanette MacDonald, Gene Raymond, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, and Gene Kelly. But MGM did not stand alone.

Another great achievement of US cinema during this era came through Walt Disney’s animation company. In 1937, Disney created the most successful film of its time, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This distinction was promptly topped in 1939 when Selznick International created what is still, when adjusted for inflation, the most successful film of all time in Gone with the Wind.

Many film historians have remarked upon the many great works of cinema that emerged from this period of highly regimented filmmaking. One reason this was possible is that, with so many movies being made, not everyone had to be a big hit. A studio could gamble on a medium-budget feature with a good script and relatively unknown actors: Citizen Kane, directed by Orson Welles (1915-1985) and often regarded as the greatest film of all time, fits this description. In other cases, strong-willed directors like Howard Hawks (1896-1977), Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), and Frank Capra (1897-1991) battled the studios in order to achieve their artistic visions.

The apogee of the studio system may have been the year 1939, which saw the release of such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Wuthering Heights, Only Angels Have Wings, Ninotchka and Midnight. Among the other films from the Golden Age period that are now considered to be classics: Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night, the original King Kong, Mutiny on the Bounty, Top Hat, City Lights, Red River, The Lady from Shanghai, Rear Window, On the Waterfront, Rebel Without a Cause, Some Like It Hot, and The Manchurian Candidate.

The Decline of the Studio System (1940’s to 1960’s)

The studio system and the Golden Age of Hollywood succumbed to two forces that developed in the late 1940’s:

  1. A federal antitrust action that separated the production of films from their exhibition; and
  2. The advent of television.

In 1938, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released during a run of lackluster films from the major studios, and quickly became the highest grossing film released to that point. Embarrassingly for the studios, it was an independently produced animated film that did not feature any studio-employed stars. This stoked already widespread frustration at the practice of block-booking, in which studios would only sell an entire year’s schedule of films at a time to theatres and use the lock-in to cover for releases of mediocre quality.

Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold – a noted “trust buster” of the Roosevelt administration – took this opportunity to initiate proceedings against the eight largest Hollywood studios in July 1938 for violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The federal suit resulted in five of the eight studios (the “Big Five”: Warner Bros., MGM, Fox, RKO and Paramount) reaching a compromise with Arnold in October 1940 and signing a consent decree agreeing to, within three years:

  • Eliminate the block-booking of short film subjects, in an arrangement known as ‘one shot’, or ‘full force’ block-booking.
  • Eliminate the block-booking of any more than five features in their theatres.
  • No longer engage in blind buying (or the buying of films by theatre districts without seeing films beforehand) and instead have trade-showing, in which all 31 theatre districts in the US would see films every two weeks before showing movies in theatres.
  • Set up an administration board in each theatre district to enforce these requirements.

The “Little Three” (Universal Studios, United Artists, and Columbia Pictures), who did not own any theatres, refused to participate in the consent decree. A number of independent film producers were also unhappy with the compromise and formed a union known as the Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers and sued Paramount for the monopoly they still had over the Detroit Theatres – as Paramount was also gaining dominance through actors like Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Veronica Lake, Betty Hutton, crooner Bing Crosby, Alan Ladd, and longtime actor for studio Gary Cooper too – by 1942. The Big Five studios did not meet the requirements of the Consent of Decree during WWII, without major consequence, but after the war ended they joined Paramount as defendants in the Hollywood antitrust case, as did the Little Three studios.

Impact of the Sherman Antitrust Act

The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the major studios ownership of theatres and film distribution was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. As a result, the studios began to release actors and technical staff from their contracts with the studios. This changed the paradigm of film making by the major Hollywood studios, as each could have an entirely different cast and creative team.

The decision resulted in the gradual loss of the characteristics which made Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, Columbia Pictures, RKO Pictures, and 20th Century Fox films immediately identifiable. Certain movie people, such as Cecil B. DeMille, either remained contract artists until the end of their careers or used the same creative teams on their films so that a DeMille film still looked like one whether it was made in 1932 or 1956.

Also, the number of movies being produced annually dropped as the average budget soared, marking a major change in strategy for the industry. Studios now aimed to produce entertainment that could not be offered by television: spectacular, larger-than-life productions. Studios also began to sell portions of their theatrical film libraries to other companies to sell to television. By 1949, all major film studios had given up ownership of their theatres.

This was complemented with the 1952 Miracle Decision in the Joseph Burstyn Inc. v. Wilson case, in which the Supreme Court of the US reversed its earlier position, from 1915’s Mutual Film Corporation v. Industrial Commission of Ohio case, and stated that motion pictures were a form of art and were entitled to the protection of the First amendment; US laws could no longer censor films. By 1968, with film studios becoming increasingly defiant to its censorship function, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had replaced the Hays Code – which was now greatly violated after the government threat of censorship that justified the origin of the code had ended – with the film rating system.

The ‘New’ Hollywood (1960’s to 1980’s)

Post-classical cinema is the changing methods of storytelling in the New Hollywood. It has been argued that new approaches to drama and characterisation played upon audience expectations acquired in the classical period: chronology may be scrambled, storylines may feature “twist endings”, and lines between the antagonist and protagonist may be blurred. The roots of post-classical storytelling may be seen in film noir, in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and in Hitchcock’s storyline-shattering Psycho.

The New Hollywood is the emergence of a new generation of film school-trained directors who had absorbed the techniques developed in Europe in the 1960’s as a result of the French New Wave after the American Revolution; the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde marked the beginning of American cinema rebounding as well, as a new generation of films would afterwards gain success at the box offices as well.

Filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski, and William Friedkin came to produce fare that paid homage to the history of film and developed upon existing genres and techniques. Inaugurated by the 1969 release of Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie, the phenomenon of adult erotic films being publicly discussed by celebrities (like Johnny Carson and Bob Hope), and taken seriously by critics (like Roger Ebert), a development referred to, by Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times, as “porno chic”, and later known as the Golden Age of Porn, began, for the first time, in modern American culture. According to award-winning author Toni Bentley, Radley Metzger’s 1976 film The Opening of Misty Beethoven, based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (and its derivative, My Fair Lady), and due to attaining a mainstream level in storyline and sets, is considered the “crown jewel” of this ‘Golden Age’.

In the 1970’s, the films of New Hollywood filmmakers were often both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. While the early New Hollywood films like Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider had been relatively low-budget affairs with amoral heroes and increased sexuality and violence, the enormous success enjoyed by Friedkin with The Exorcist, Spielberg with Jaws, Coppola with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, Scorsese with Taxi Driver, Kubrick with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Polanski with Chinatown, and Lucas with American Graffiti and Star Wars, respectively helped to give rise to the modern “blockbuster”, and induced studios to focus ever more heavily on trying to produce enormous hits.

The increasing indulgence of these young directors did not help. Often, they wouldd go overschedule, and overbudget, thus bankrupting themselves or the studio – or at least causing major financial headaches for companies. The three most famous examples of this are Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and One From The Heart, and particularly Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which single-handedly bankrupted United Artists. However, Apocalypse Now eventually made its money back and gained widespread recognition as a masterpiece, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes.

The Rise of the Home Video Market (1980’s to 1990’s)

The 1980’s and 1990’s saw another significant development – the full acceptance of home video by studios opened a vast new business to exploit.

Films which may have performed poorly in their theatrical run were now able to find success in the video market.

It also saw the first generation of filmmakers with access to videotapes emerge. Directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson had been able to view thousands of films and produced films with vast numbers of references and connections to previous works. Tarantino has had a number of collaborations with director Robert Rodriguez. Rodriguez directed the 1992 action film El Mariachi, which was a commercial success after grossing $2 million against a budget of $7,000.

This, along with the explosion of independent film and ever-decreasing costs for filmmaking, changed the landscape of American movie-making once again and led a renaissance of filmmaking among Hollywood’s lower and middle-classes – those without access to studio financial resources.

With the rise of the DVD in the 21st century, DVDs have quickly become even more profitable to studios and have led to an explosion of packaging extra scenes, extended versions, and commentary tracks with the films.

The Impact of Modern Cinema (1990’s to 2000’s)

Spectacular epics which took advantage of new widescreen processes had been increasingly popular from the 1950’s onwards.

Film makers in the 1990’s had access to technological, political and economic innovations that had not been available in previous decades. Dick Tracy (1990) became the first 35 mm feature film with a digital soundtrack. Batman Returns (1992) was the first film to make use of the Dolby Digital six-channel stereo sound that has since become the industry standard.

Computer-generated imagery was greatly facilitated when it became possible to transfer film images into a computer and manipulate them digitally. The possibilities became apparent in director James Cameron’s Terminator 02: Judgement Day (1991), in images of the shape-changing character T-1000. Computer graphics or CG advanced to a point where Jurassic Park (1993) was able to use the techniques to create realistic looking animals. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menance (1999) became the first film that was shot entirely in digital.

Even the Blair Witch Project (1999), a low-budget indie horror film by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick, was a huge financial success. Filmed on a budget of just $35,000, without any big stars or special effects, the film grossed $248 million with the use of modern marketing techniques and online promotion. Though not on the scale of George Lucas’s $1 billion prequel to the Star Wars Trilogy, The Blair Witch Project earned the distinction of being the most profitable film of all time, in terms of percentage gross.

The success of Blair Witch as an indie project remains among the few exceptions, however, and control of The Big Five studios over film making continued to increase through the 1990’s. The Big Six companies all enjoyed a period of expansion in the 1990’s. They each developed different ways to adjust to rising costs in the film industry, especially the rising salaries of movie stars, driven by powerful agents. The biggest stars like Sylvester Stallone, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts received between $15-$20 million per film and in some cases were even given a share of the film’s profits.

Screenwriters on the other hand were generally paid less than the top actors or directors, usually under $1 million per film. However, the single largest factor driving rising costs was special effects. By 1999, the average cost of a blockbuster film was $60 million before marketing and promotion, which cost another $80 million.

Since then, American films have become increasingly divided into two categories:

  • Blockbuster films; and
  • Independent films.

Studios supplement these movies with independent productions, made with small budgets and often independently of the studio corporation. Movies made in this manner typically emphasise high professional quality in terms of acting, directing, screenwriting, and other elements associated with production, and also upon creativity and innovation. These movies usually rely upon critical praise or niche marketing to garner an audience. Because of an independent film’s low budget, a successful independent film can have a high profit-to-cost ratio while a failure will incur minimal losses, allowing for studios to ‘sponsor’ dozens of such productions in addition to their high-stakes releases.

American independent cinema was revitalised in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when another new generation of moviemakers, including Spike Lee, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino made movies like, respectively: Do the Right Thing, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Clerks and Reservoir Dogs. In terms of directing, screenwriting, editing, and other elements, these movies were innovative and often irreverent, playing with and contradicting the conventions of Hollywood movies. Furthermore, their considerable financial successes and crossover into popular culture reestablished the commercial viability of independent film. Since then, the independent film industry has become more clearly defined and more influential in American cinema. Many of the major studios have capitalised on this by developing subsidiaries to produce similar films; for example, Fox Searchlight Pictures.

By this time, Harvey Weinstein was a Hollywood power player, commissioning critically acclaimed film such as Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting, and the Academy Award-winning The English Patient. Under TWC Weinstein had released almost an unbroken chain of successful films. Best Picture winners The Artist and The King’s Speech were released under Weinstein’s commission.

Contemporary Cinema (2010’s)

Unlike in the golden age of Hollywood, where studios took risky gambles on their pictures, the contemporary industry is far more reliant on the safe marketability of film franchises. Blockbusters are now calculated and market tested productions usually based on an already popular intellectual property that has franchise potential and makes significant profits. In the early 21st Century, the theatrical market place has been dominated by the superhero genre, with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Dark Knight Trilogy being two of the most successful film series of all time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a substantial impact on the film industry, mirroring its impacts across all arts sectors. Across the world and to varying degrees, cinemas and movie theatres have been closed, festivals have been cancelled or postponed, and film releases have been moved to future dates or delayed indefinitely. As cinemas and movie theatres closed, the global box office dropped by billions of dollars, streaming became more popular, and the stock of film exhibitors dropped dramatically. Many blockbusters originally scheduled to be released between March 2020 and November 2020 were postponed or cancelled around the world, with film productions also being put on a halt. After actor Tom Hanks became infected with the coronavirus, the Elvis Presley biopic he was working on in Queensland, Australia was shut down, with everyone on the production put into quarantine.

  • The 2019 film Frozen II was originally planned to be released on Disney+ on 26 June 2020, before it was moved up to 15 March 2020.
    • Disney CEO Bob Chapek explained that this was because of the film’s “powerful themes of perseverance and the importance of family, messages that are incredibly relevant”.
  • On 16 March 2020, Universal announced that The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma – all films in theatres at the time – would be available through Premium video on demand as early as 20 March at a suggested price of US$19.99 each.
  • After suffering poor box office since its release at the start of March, Onward was made available to purchase digitally on 21 March and was added to Disney+ on 03 April.
  • Paramount announced on 20 March Sonic the Hedgehog is also planning to have an early release to video on demand, on 31 March.
  • On 16 March, Warner Bros. announced that Birds of Prey would be released early to video on demand on 24 March.
  • On 03 April, Disney announced that Artemis Fowl, a film adaptation of the 2001 book of the same name, would move straight to Disney+ on 12 June, skipping a theatrical release entirely.
  • Trolls World Tour was released directly to video-on-demand rental upon its release on 10 April, with limited theatrical screenings in the US via drive-in cinemas.
    • NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell told The Wall Street Journal on 28 April that the film had reached $100 million in revenue, and stated that the company had not ruled out performing releases “in both formats” as cinemas reopen.
    • The US National Association of Theatre Owners, have highly discouraged film distributors from engaging in this practice, in defence of the cinema industry.
    • On 28 April, in response to Shell’s comments, US chain AMC Theatres announced that it would cease the screening of Universal Pictures films effective immediately, and threatened similar actions against any other exhibitor who “unilaterally abandons current windowing practices absent good faith negotiations between us”.

Hollywood and Politics

In the 1930’s, the Democrats and the Republicans saw money in Hollywood.

President Franklin Roosevelt saw a huge partnership with Hollywood. He used the first real potential of Hollywood’s stars in a national campaign. Melvyn Douglas toured Washington in 1939 and met the key New Dealers.

Political Endorsements

Endorsements letters from leading actors were signed, radio appearances and printed advertising were made. Movie stars were used to draw a large audience into the political view of the party. By the 1960’s, John F. Kennedy was a new, young face for Washington, and his strong friendship with Frank Sinatra exemplified this new era of glamour. The last moguls of Hollywood were gone and younger, newer executives and producers began pushing more liberal ideas.

Celebrities and money attracted politicians into the high-class, glittering Hollywood lifestyle. As Ronald Brownstein wrote in his book “The Power and the Glitter”, television in the 1970’s and 1980’s was an enormously important new media in politics and Hollywood helped in that media with actors making speeches on their political beliefs, like Jane Fonda against the Vietnam War. Despite many celebrities and producers being left-leaning and tending to support the Democratic Party, this era produced many Republican actors and producers. Former actor Ronald Reagan became governor of California and subsequently became the 40th president of the United States. It continued with Arnold Schwarzenegger as California’s governor in 2003.

Political Donations

Today, donations from Hollywood help to fund federal politics. On 20 February 2007, for example, then-presidential Democratic candidate Barack Obama had a $2,300-a-plate Hollywood gala, being hosted by DreamWorks founders David Geffen, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Steven Spielberg at the Beverly Hilton.


Hollywood producers generally seek to comply with the Chinese government’s censorship requirements in a bid to access the country’s restricted and lucrative cinema market, with the second-largest box office in the world as of 2016.

This includes prioritising sympathetic portrayals of Chinese characters in movies, such as changing the villains in Red Dawn from Chinese to North Koreans. Due to many topics forbidden in China, such as Dalai Lama and Winnie-the-Pooh being involved in the South Park’s episode “Band in China”, South Park was entirely banned in China after the episode’s broadcast. The 2018 film Christopher Robin, the new Winnie-the-Pooh movie, was denied a Chinese release.

Although Tibet was previously a cause célèbre in Hollywood, featuring in films including Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet, in the 21st century this is no longer the case. In 2016, Marvel Entertainment attracted criticism for its decision to cast Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” in the film adaptation Doctor Strange, using a white woman to play a traditionally Tibetan character. Actor and high-profile Tibet supporter Richard Gere stated that he was no longer welcome to participate in mainstream Hollywood films after criticising the Chinese government and calling for a boycott of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The US Film Industy and International Markets

In 1912, American film companies were largely immersed in the competition for the domestic market. It was difficult to satisfy the huge demand for films created by the nickelodeon boom. Motion Picture Patents Company members such as Edison Studios, also sought to limit competition from French, Italian, and other imported films. Exporting films, then, became lucrative to these companies. Vitagraph Studios was the first American company to open its own distribution offices in Europe, establishing a branch in London in 1906, and a second branch in Paris shortly after.

Other American companies were moving into foreign markets as well, and American distribution abroad continued to expand until the mid-1920’s. Originally, a majority of companies sold their films indirectly. However, since they were inexperienced in overseas trading, they simply sold the foreign rights to their films to foreign distribution firms or export agents. Gradually, London became a centre for the international circulation of US films.

Many British companies made a profit by acting as the agents for this business, and by doing so, they weakened British production by turning over a large share of the UK market to American films. By 1911, approximately 60% to 70% of films imported into the UK were American. The US was also doing well in Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.

More recently, as globalisation has started to intensify, and the US government has been actively promoting free trade agendas and trade on cultural products, Hollywood has become a worldwide cultural source. The success on Hollywood export markets can be known not only from the boom of American multinational media corporations across the globe but also from the unique ability to make big-budget films that appeal powerfully to popular tastes in many different cultures.

With globalisation, movie production has been clustered in Hollywood for several reasons: the United States has the largest single home market in dollar terms, entertaining and highly visible Hollywood movies have global appeal, and the role of English as a universal language contributes to compensating for higher fixed costs of production.

In the meantime, Hollywood has moved more deeply into Chinese markets, although influenced by China’s censorship. Films made in China are censored, strictly avoiding themes like “ghosts, violence, murder, horror, and demons.” Such plot elements risk being cut. Hollywood has had to make “approved” films, corresponding to official Chinese standards, but with aesthetic standards sacrificed to box office profits. Even Chinese audiences found it boring to wait for the release of great American movies dubbed in their native language.

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