Warner Brothers was founded by four brothers, Albert, Sam, Harry, and Jack, who were born to Polish immigrant parents. The boys started out as traveling film exhibitors in Ohio and became movie moguls in California and New York. Today’s studio was originally home to First National Pictures, with whom Warner Brothers merged in the 1930s. The studio has created classics, such as The Maltese Falcon, and recent hits, such as Justice League.
The four Warner brothers, Albert, Sam, Harry, and Jack, first entered the movie business as film exhibitors traveling around Ohio. They bought their first theaters in New Castle, Pennsylvania and became major distributors on the east coast. They soon realized, however, that maximum profits could only be had by producing films as well as distributing and exhibiting them. So, they headed west to California. In 1918, the brothers built their first studio on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. This was their home base for such hits as those directed by Ernst Lubitsch and those starring the courageous canine Rin Tin Tin. Warner Brothers became the main studio for sound shorts by working with Vitaphone technologies. In 1927, they released the first feature-length sound film with dialogue, The Jazz Singer. Another milestone was achieved when the studio bought the Stanley Company of America for its theaters. Now Warner Brothers was vertically integrated like its competitor studios, controlling the production, distribution, and exhibition of their films.
Warner Brothers merged with First National Pictures in the 1930s. First National’s studio in Burbank, California, built in 1926, became the main studio. During the “Golden Era” of Hollywood, Warner Brothers had a slew of stars under contract: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, and Humphrey Bogart, among many others. They released such classics as The Public Enemy, 42nd Street, and Casablanca during this time. Also in the 1930s, Warner Brothers established an animation unit that would go on to create the iconic Looney Tunes characters. Warner Brothers stood out from other studios because of its use of realism. Gangster and crime films were common, as were “social issue” films, often inspired by contemporary headlines. An example is I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, which highlighted the problems of the prison system at the time.
Then came a long period of change for Warner Brothers. First, television came along to compete with movies. In 1955, Warner Brothers faced this threat head-on by creating TV shows, starting with Cheyenne and adding Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, and others. The 1960s saw the studio change hands. First, the Warners sold it to Elliot and Ken Hyman. They then sold it to the Kinney Corporation, who had recently purchased DC Comics. More successes came in the 1970s through movies such as A Clockwork Orange and Dirty Harry. Robert A. Daly and Terry Semel took things over in the 1980s and bought Lorimar, a TV production company who made such shows as The Waltons.
The studio accomplished a lot before the end of the millennium. Warner Brothers merged with Time, Inc., and began utilizing the Internet for promotions. The animation unit was revived, turning out programs like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. Soon-to-be-smash-hits E.R., Friends, and The Drew Carrey Show premiered. The studio released Goodfellas, The Matrix, and other notable films. Warner Brothers also built its first international theme park, Movie World in Australia. After a successful run, Daly and Semel handed the reins over to Barry Meyer and Alan Horn.
The 21st century has not slowed Warner Brothers down. They released the Harry Potter movies, each one a box office sensation. There was also the return to Batman movies, starting with Batman Begins. On television, Warner Brothers currently has among its successes Westworld and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The studio has made and beaten new records year after year. Warner Brothers is the only studio to break the one-billion-dollar mark for receipts for sixteen consecutive years.
Warner Brothers has seen the evolution of film, from brief flickers in nickelodeons to talking pictures to movies as we know them today. Their studio is a reminder of all that has changed in the industry since its conception.