Universal Pictures is the oldest existing major American movie studio. Founded in 1912, the studio relocated from the east coast to its current home in an unincorporated area called “Universal City.” Its diverse backlots on 400 acres of property earned it the nickname it still carries today: The Entertainment Capital of Los Angeles. Famous for serials in the 1920s and horror movies in the 1930s, Universal now creates content across a variety of platforms and genres.
Carl Laemmle entered the movie industry in 1906 as the owner of a nickelodeon
in Chicago. In 1909, he founded the Independent Motion Picture Company, which created
and distributed motion pictures. That company would join several others in
becoming the Universal Film Manufacturing Company in 1912. Laemmle was voted
the studio’s first president. New studios were built in Fort Lee, New Jersey
(at one time the movie capital of the United States) in 1916. When Universal
decided to base its production in California, the company bought 230 acres of
land in the San Fernando Valley. “Universal City” was the first self-contained
filmmaking community, boasting five-hundred residents including stuntmen and
1920s, Universal released films across a range of genres, such as the romance Showboat and the drama/ horror film The Phantom of the Opera. In 1930,
Universal’s movie All Quiet on the
Western Front won Best Picture at the Academy Awards ceremony. That decade
also saw the emergence of the Universal Monsters films and Laemmle’s retirement
in 1936. The studio was then sold to the Standard Capital Company. In the late
1940s, Universal merged with International Pictures and won Best Picture again,
this time for Hamlet. Universal
expanded its lot by purchasing one-hundred fifty more acres in 1950. Decca
Records then bought Universal-International in 1952.
came to the studio during the 1950s and 1960s. For one, the traditional studio
system disintegrated after the landmark de Havilland Decision of 1948. Without
stars under long-term contracts, studios had to rethink their structures.
Television also boomed in popularity, becoming a threat until Universal began
producing television shows like Leave it
to Beaver and Alfred Hitchcock
Presents. The studio had another big hit with Hitchcock in 1963, The Birds, and also struck gold with the
rom-com pairings of Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Universal merged with MCA in
1962 and was later purchased by the Music Corporation of America in the 1970s.
Universal has changed hands many times. Most recently, NBC and Universal merged
in 2004. Comcast then bought part of the company in 2011, partnering with
General Electric. They bought GE out in 2013, becoming the sole owner.
Recently, Universal has put out such successes as Parks and Recreation, Jurassic
World, and the Despicable Me
franchise. They also expanded into the world of amusement parks. Universal gave
tours until the advent of sound prevented guests from walking through lots
during filming. Tours resumed in 1964 and added attractions based on movies
such as Jaws and King Kong along the way. Today Universal owns four theme parks
in the U.S. and Asia.