United Artists had three main aims as a studio. They wanted to keep a higher percentage of profit margins from their films, to be innovative and wanted to prove to the world that they could makes movies as well as running the business side of the studio. The measure of their success has to be compared to the original aims of the studio and how effective they where in fulfilling them.
It wasn’t till around the late 1920’s that ‘United Artists’ broke into ‘reliable profits.’ Part of the reason for this was Chaplin’s lack of desire to commit to this new idea, a sign that the real stars didn’t want to take the risk. UA’s ‘business brain’ Pickford gave the studio ‘plenty of product’ such as Robin Hood (1923) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924). This was a major factor in UA finally enjoying critical and financial success, making their decision to break away from the studios actually worthwhile. It was around this time in 1925 when Chaplin jumped aboard and ‘actually worked for the new company’; his films where highly critically acclaimed, this was the final touch UA needed. The studio was heading towards the ‘glory days’, their reputation started growing with films such as The General (1927) and The Gaucho (1927). In the mid 1930’s ‘UA was reporting profits of over a million dollars a year’.
Although several of their business brains had started to fade away from their prime, other newcomers such as Howard Hughes and Alexander Korda started to flourish with films such as The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) and Things to Come (1936), demonstrating how early on in UA’s life they had people ready to fill the gap of ‘the greats’. In the mid 1930’s UA handled the short films of Walt Disney, they also concluded a deal with David Selznick; One of Hollywood’s most iconic producers of the golden age. The stars really started to pay attention to UA. The deal allowed UA to distribute the films he made when he went independent in 1935; this was probably one of UA’s most important moments it showed the lure the studio had at the time and why many other stars followed his example.
However Selznick had excluded his film Gone With the Wind from this package and sold it off to MGM in 1939, a move that slightly undermined the studios power, suggesting it was just him the star making the studio what it was. However UA won their first best picture with Selznick’s Rebecca, in a field where ‘four other UA films where nominated’, just showing the strength of the studio. At this time UA was the focal point for independent producing, ‘with over 20 films a year and domestic gross exceeding $10 million.’ Flourishing in the post-war years where the rest of the film industry was falling and in the process creating some remarkable films, a remarkable success in its own right.
By the 1950’s many stars formed their own production companies, so UA had to compete with the other big studios. However it was in this period that UA picked up many Oscar nominations and wins. They even picked up the James Bond franchise in the early 60’s – ‘which has no rival for longevity and profitability’. Times where hard for the studio, ‘Old Hollywood was crumbling away’ and many independent producers were driving hard bargains with the studio. UA also lost out on their exclusion from the television revenue explosion. It was here early cracks started to appear in the studio. However UA was bought out in 1967 by the TransAmerica Corporation. Thanks to the regimes judgement UA was able to pick up three straight best picture Oscars in the late 70s. However soon after the regime resigned other business conflicts and set up their own studio, a tragedy for UA and a sign of further things to come.
UA remained courageous and enterprising producing such titles as Apocalypse Now and Raging Bull. However there continuous belief in stars of the future lead to disaster; they decided to support Michael Cimino in the making of Heavens Gate. Originally budgeted at around $6 million it ended up costing at least 5 times this amount. Even before its release it became a laughing stock and the worst example of Hollywood extravagance. On its release it was such a failure that it lead to many resignations at UA. The risk of continuously using unknowns eventually caught up with them. In 1981 the studio sold the shell of UA to MGM and is now owned by Tom Cruise and his business partner Paula Wagner.
The studio in my opinion reflected a successful studio in everyway except its latter dismissal of the importance of stars. Although ‘United Artists’ would have been a successful studio without the help of the stars, it would have never reached the heights it did, as I stated earlier; if it wasn’t for Chaplin’s new found desire towards the idea and the historic deal signed with another star, David Selznick. The studio would probably not be talked about in the light it is today. Sadly its insistence on the ‘new’ led to its downfall.