Film Industry Research Paper

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Since the last years of the nineteenth century, filmmaking, distribution, and exhibition have been a major cultural activity around the world. The usual disciplines associated with the social sciences—including political science, geography, history, law, psychiatry, psychology, and sociology— have been used to study the influence of the film industry. But at its core, any film industry consists of economic institutions that seek to maximize profits. These corporations produce the first copy of a film, make copies in various forms for distribution, and then rent (as in theaters) or sell copies (as in home videos). There is a small film community independent of Hollywood in the United States, as well as large and small industries in nations around the world.

Yet, since the early 1920s Hollywood has dominated the world’s film industry. In 1915 Adolph Zukor combined his production company (Famous Players Lasky) with Paramount distribution, and after World War II he began to acquire a chain of theaters, mostly in major U.S. cities, some outside the United States. Adroit competitors quickly followed: Loew’s/MGM, Fox, Warner Bros., and the Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO). All owned production, worldwide distribution, and vast chains of theaters. The so-called Big Five permitted minor companies to survive, hoping the U.S. government would not sue them for antitrust violations, but in May 1948 the U.S. Supreme Court forced the production-distribution divisions to sell theater divisions.

From 1965 to 1975, led by agent-turned-mogul Lew Wassermann, the Hollywood industrial system reinvented itself as a series of media conglomerates. Today television production provides a steady base of revenues, and the cinema blockbuster—the first being Wasserman’s Jaws in 1975—can pay off in billions. Other media business divisions synergize—meaning they cross-promote films with other products—as with Disney’s theme parks. Although film revenues from cinema attendance plunged, Hollywood companies prospered by selling videos in the 1980s and DVDs since the late 1990s. By 2000, theatrical revenues in the United States had fallen to an average of only 15 percent of the profits of an average Hollywood film; the bulk came from revenues associated with watching films on TV (including VHS, DVD, via cable, satellite, and broadcast).

The Hollywood industry still dominates world film revenues while making fewer films than India or Hong Kong. The Hollywood firms of Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. represent an exceptional oligopoly; although these six corporations are competitors, they also cooperate on many things, including issuing ratings to inform viewers on the appropriateness of film content for children and keeping open international distribution by working closely with the U.S. Department of State. Indeed, the agency they have fashioned for cooperation—the Motion Picture Association of America— ranks as one of the top lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

By the late twentieth century, although still called a film industry, Hollywood knew it was in the television business. In the United States each of the major studios (except Sony) is allied with a major television network: Disney-ABC, News Corporation’s Fox TV network, Viacom’s [Paramount] CBS, Warner’s CW, and General Electric’s Universal-NBC. They thus make television stories and series for their networks on the same lots where they make feature films. Indeed, some films, called “madefor-TV films,” premiere on television.

The “Hollywood” film industry has spanned the globe since the 1920s. Only Paramount has a Hollywood address, and it and its rivals distribute their films over the entire world, so although India and Hong Kong produce more movies, more Hollywood films are seen in more places than is any typical film from Asia. Indeed, all developed nations have film industries of their own, but all are limited in their globalization.

In addition, although Hollywood is the center of instudio production and the final creative steps in film production, feature films are regularly shot away from Hollywood, on location. All states in the United States and most nations around the world are willing to subsidize production in their territories. For example, many Hollywood movies are filmed in Canada, which has fought to draw film production north of the United States. More often than not, a film set in New York City is really shot in Toronto or Vancouver, where it is cheaper to make. And although films are typically finally cut in studios in and around Los Angeles, the final decisions about which films will be made, which will be distributed, and in what forms they will be seen are made inside offices located in and around New York City.

Hollywood is also the most unionized industry in the United States today, because with a six-member oligopoly, unions face a common foe. Their members—from directors to the men and women who push sets and equipment—all are represented by guilds, or unions. Regularly, Hollywood’s six members sign a basic agreement with each union, and occasionally a guild will go on strike. This most often happens with the Writer’s Guild of America. These Hollywood-based unions are growing, bucking a trend of falling union membership in the United States.

Hollywood certainly has the most far reaching and profitable film industry in the world, but two other centers need to be singled out. India’s film industry is mostly concentrated in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), and is commonly referred to as “Bollywood,” an amalgamation of Bombay and Hollywood. The Indian film industry is multilingual and the largest in the world, producing more than 1,000 films per year as compared to Hollywood’s 200. The industry is supported mainly by a vast film-going Indian public (the largest in the world in terms of annual ticket sales), and Indian films have been gaining increasing popularity in the rest of the world—particularly in countries with large numbers of expatriate Indians.

Hong Kong is a filmmaking hub for the Chinesespeaking world (including the worldwide diaspora) and East Asia in general. For decades it was the third-largest motion picture industry in the world (after India and Hollywood) and the second-largest exporter (after Hollywood), principally with kung-fu action films dubbed into English and other languages. Despite an industry crisis starting in the mid-1990s, and Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997, Hong Kong film has retained much of its distinctive identity and continues to play a prominent part on the world cinema stage. Unlike many other film industries, Hong Kong has enjoyed little to no direct government support, through either subsidies or import quotas. It has always been a thoroughly commercial cinema, concentrating on crowdpleasing genres such as comedy and action, and heavily reliant on formulas, sequels, and remakes. As is typical of commercial cinemas, its heart is a highly developed star system, which in this case also features substantial overlap with the pop music industry.

The dominance of the industries in Hollywood, Bollywood, and Hong Kong has made it hard for the film industry to include independent filmmaking and documentaries. Yet these genres—truly independent filmmaking and filmed documentaries—turned to video in the late twentieth century; they were not shot on film, but on Beta video, then were premiered on TV networks, both privately owned and state-owned. Indeed, in most small nations of the world the few films made are subsidized by the government, and more and more often shot on video to lower costs. This is where the TV industry meets the film industry.

The much-anticipated coming of high-definition television (HDTV) at the beginning of the twenty-first century seemed to signal the end of the film industry. Yet, as HDTV standards develop, so does the quality of film.

Thus, film remains easily the highest resolution of all “movie making.” HDTV may “look like film,” but engineers agree that the film image offers more information than any as yet developed or standardized high-definition image. As the twenty-first century began, if one wanted to see the highest definition, one still should attend a wellrun cinema.


  1. Bordwell, David. 2000. Planet Hong Kong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. Ganti, Tejaswini. 2004. Bollywood. New York: Routledge.
  3. Gomery, Douglas. 1992. Shared Pleasures: A History of Movie Presentation. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  4. Gomery, Douglas. 2006. The Hollywood Studio System: A History. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  5. Jackel, Anne. 2004. European Film Industries. London: British Film Industry.
  6. Variety Web site.

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