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This article is about the film studio. For the cinema chain, see Regal Entertainment Group. For the former record label, see United Artists Records.

United Artists Entertainment LLC (UA) is an Americanmarker film studio. The current United Artists was formed in November 2006 under a partnership between producer/actor Tom Cruise and his production partner, Paula Wagner, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., an MGM company. Paula Wagner departed the studio on August 14, 2008.

Cruise owns a small stake in the studio, a subsidiary of MGM Studios. MGM is owned by MGM Holdings, Inc., which was formed by a consortium including Sony, Comcast, TPG Capital, L.P. and Providence Equity Partners.

The early years

early UA Logo
UA was incorporated as a joint venture on February 5, 1919, by four of the leading figures in early Hollywoodmarker: Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith. Each held a 20% stake, with the remaining 20% held by lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo. The idea for the venture originated with Fairbanks, Chaplin, Pickford, and cowboy star William S. Hart a year earlier as they were traveling around the U.S. selling Liberty bonds to help the World War I effort. Already veterans of Hollywood, the four film stars began to talk of forming their own company to better control their own work as well as their futures.

They were spurred on by established Hollywood producers and distributors making moves to tighten their control on star salaries and creative control, a process which would evolve into the rigid studio system. With the addition of Griffith, planning began, but Hart bowed out even before things had formalized. When he heard about their scheme, Richard A. Rowland, head of Metro Pictures, is said to have observed, "The inmates are taking over the asylum." The four partners, with advice from McAdoo (son-in-law and former Treasury Secretary of then-President Woodrow Wilson), formed their distribution company, with Hiram Abrams as its first managing director.

The original terms called for Pickford, Fairbanks, Griffith and Chaplin to independently produce five pictures each year. But by the time the company got under way in 1920-1921, feature films were becoming more expensive and more polished, and running times had settled at around ninety minutes (or eight reels). It was believed that no one, no matter how popular, could produce and star in five quality feature films a year. By 1924, by which time Griffith had dropped out, the company was facing a crisis: either bring in others to help support a costly distribution system or concede defeat. The veteran producer Joseph Schenck was hired as president. Not only had he been producing pictures for a decade, but he brought along commitments for films starring his wife, Norma Talmadge, his sister-in-law, Constance Talmadge, and his brother-in-law, Buster Keaton. Contracts were signed with a number of independent producers, most notably Samuel Goldwyn, Alexander Korda and Howard Hughes. Schenck also formed a separate partnership with Pickford and Chaplin to buy and build theaters under the United Artists name.

Still, even with a broadening of the company, UA struggled. The coming of sound ended the careers of Pickford and Fairbanks. Chaplin, rich enough to do what he pleased, worked only occasionally. Schenck resigned in 1933 to organize a new company with Darryl F. Zanuck, Twentieth Century Pictures, which soon provided four pictures a year to UA's schedule. He was replaced as president by sales manager Al Lichtman who himself resigned after only a few months. Pickford produced a few films, and at various times Goldwyn, Korda, Walt Disney, Walter Wanger, and David O. Selznick were made "producing partners" (i.e., sharing in the profits), but ownership still rested with the founders. As the years passed and the dynamics of the business changed, these "producing partners" drifted away, Goldwyn and Disney to RKO, Wanger to Universal Pictures, Selznick to retirement. By the late 1940s, United Artists had virtually ceased to exist as either a producer or distributor.

Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers (1940s and 1950s)

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers was founded in 1941 by Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney, Orson Welles, Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Alexander Korda, and Walter Wanger — many of the same people who were members of United Artists. Later members included William Cagney, Sol Lesser, and Hal Roach.

The Society aimed to advance the interests of independent producers in an industry overwhelmingly controlled by the studio system.

SIMPP fought to end ostensibly anti-competitive practices by the seven major film studios — MGM, Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Universal Studios, RKO, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. — that controlled the production, distribution, and exhibition of films.

In 1942, the SIMPP filed an antitrust suit against Paramount's United Detroit Theatres. The complaint accused Paramount of conspiracy to control first-run and subsequent-run theaters in Detroit. It was the first antitrust suit brought by producers against exhibitors alleging monopoly and restraint of trade.

In 1948, the U.S.marker Supreme Courtmarker Paramount Decision ordered the Hollywood movie studios to sell their theater chains and to eliminate certain anti-competitive practices. This effectively brought an end to the studio system.

By 1958, many of the objectives that led to the creation of the SIMPP had been obtained and SIMPP closed its offices.

The 1950s and 1960s

In 1951, two lawyers-turned-producers Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin approached Pickford and Chaplin with a wild idea: let them take over United Artists for five years. If, at the end of those five years, UA was profitable, they would be given an option to buy the company. Since UA was barely alive, Pickford saw nothing to lose and agreed. Chaplin was against the deal, but changed his mind in late 1952 when the US government revoked his re-entry visa while he was in London for the UK premiere of Limelight. He sold his remaining shares of UA several years later.

early 1960s UA Logo

In taking over UA, Krim and Benjamin created the first studio without an actual "studio". Primarily acting as bankers, they offered money to independent producers. UA leased space at the Pickford/Fairbanks Studio, but did not own a studio lot as such. Thus UA did not have the overhead, the maintenance or the expensive production staff which ran up costs at other studios.

Among their first clients were Sam Spiegel and John Huston, whose "Horizon Productions" gave UA one major hit, The African Queen (1951) and one slightly less successful one, Moulin Rouge (1952), based on the life of Toulouse-Lautrec. Others followed, among them Stanley Kramer, Otto Preminger, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, and a number of actors, newly freed from studio contracts and anxious to produce or direct their own films.

UA production-head Arnold Picker could do no wrong in selecting the properties which the company would back. With UA's new success, Pickford saw a chance to exit gracefully, though she still held out for top dollar, walking away with $1.5 million in 1955. That same year, UA won its first Best Picture Oscar, for the film Marty. It starred Ernest Borgnine, who won a Best Actor Oscar for his performance.

UA went public the following year, and as the other mainstream studios fell into decline, UA prospered, adding relationships with the Mirisch brothers, Billy Wilder, Joseph E. Levine and others. In 1961, United Artists released West Side Story, an adaptation of the Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim stage musical, which won a record ten Academy Awards (including Best Picture).

In 1963 United Artists released two Stanley Kramer films, the epic comedy It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the drama A Child is Waiting. In 1964, UA introduced U.S. film audiences to The Beatles by releasing producer Walter Shenson's A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965). (The group had already made wildly successful television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show).

At the same time it backed two expatriate Americans in Britain, who had acquired screen rights to Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. For $1 million, UA backed Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli's Dr. No (which was a sensation in 1962) and served as the launching point for the James Bond series. That franchise has outlived UA's life as a major studio, still running forty years later. Other successful projects backed in this period included Blake Edwards's Pink Panther series, which began in 1964, and Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, which made a star of Clint Eastwood.

In 1958 United Artists Records was created, initially to release soundtracks from UA films, but it later diversified into many types of music. In 1968, UA Records was merged with Liberty Records, along with their many subsidiary labels such as Imperial Records and Dolton Records. In 1972 the group was consolidated into one entity as United Artists Records. It was later taken over by EMI.

In 1959, United Artists offered its first ever television series, The Troubleshooters (after failing to sell several pilots in the previous few years), an adventure/drama on NBC, starring Keenan Wynn and Bob Mathias, as employees of an international construction company. In 1960, United Artists purchased Ziv Television Programs and, using the idea of financial backing for television, UA's television division was responsible for shows like CBS's Gilligan's Island and three ABC programs, The Fugitive with David Janssen, Outer Limits, a science fiction series, and The Patty Duke Show with Patty Duke and William Schallert. The television unit also had begun to build up a substantial — and profitable — rental library, having purchased Associated Artists Productions, owners of Warner Bros. pre-1950 features, shorts and cartoons, as well as Popeye cartoons, purchased from Paramount Pictures a few years earlier. (See note below at Film archives for more on this).

In 1964, the French subsidiary Les Productions Artistes Associés released its first production That Man From Rio. On the basis of its fantastic string of film and television hits in the 1960s, the company was an attractive property, and in 1967 Krim and Benjamin sold control of UA to the San Franciscomarker-based insurance giant, Transamerica Corp.

That year, UA released what would turn out to be another Best Picture Oscar winner, In the Heat of the Night, starring Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, and a nominee for Best Picture, The Graduate, an Embassy production which UA distributed overseas.

The 1970s and 1980s

Transamerica Logo

United Artists opening and closing logo, 1975-1981.
For a time the flow of successful pictures continued, including the 1971 screen version of Fiddler on the Roof. New talent was encouraged, including Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Sylvester Stallone, Saul Zaentz, Miloš Forman, and Brian De Palma. In 1973 UA took over the sales and distribution of MGM's films (ironically, MGM would soon be distributing UA's films in the future).

However, Transamerica was not pleased with UA's frequent releases of films rated X by the Motion Picture Association of America, such as Last Tango in Paris; in these instances, Transamerica demanded the byline "A Transamerica Company" be removed from the UA logo on the prints and in all advertising. At one point, the parent company expressed their desire to phase out the UA name and replace it with Transamerica Films. Finally in 1978, following a dispute over administrative expenses, UA's top executives, including chairman Krim and president Benjamin, walked out. Within days they announced the formation of Orion Pictures, with backing from Warner (which, ironically, would eventually be a part of MGM along with United Artists.)

The new leadership of UA agreed to back Michael Cimino's pet project, a big-budget western, Heaven's Gate. After a tumultuous two-year gestation, the picture turned out to be a colossal box office bomb, angering critics and alienating audiences. The publicity about runaway costs far overshadowed any appeal the film might have had. United Artists recorded a major loss for the year; to Transamerica, it was only a blip on a multi-billion dollar balance sheet, but it soured the relationship forever. To the greater Hollywood community, it also signaled that this was a company that could no longer produce bankable pictures.

MGM, led by Kirk Kerkorian, made an unsolicited bid for UA by estimating that MGM would pay UA $350 Million in distribution fees if the expiring distribution deal was renewed and used the estimated amount to offer the $350 million to Transamerica to buy United Artists. Transamerica said yes and MGM absorbed UA.

The Heaven's Gate fiasco may have saved the United Artists brand as UA's final head before the sale, Steven Bach, wrote in his book Final Cut that there was talk about renaming United Artists to Transamerica Pictures.

Despite the financial ruin, UA's blockbuster franchise films (Pink Panther, James Bond, and eventually Rocky) were emphasized more heavily than the financially unsuccessful films.

In 1975, Harry Saltzman sold UA his 50% stake in Danjaq, LLC, the holding-company for the Bond films. UA was to remain a silent partner, putting up money, while Albert Broccoli took producer credit.

Danjaq and UA have remained the public co-copyright holders for the Bond series ever since, and the 2006 Casino Royale release shares the copyright with Columbia Pictures, part of the consortium that now owns MGM/UA.

United Artists opening logo, 1981-1987.
This logo also would replace the Transamerica "T" in most pre-1981 prints.
studio, which was essentially bankrupt following the disaster of Heaven's Gate, cut its production schedule sharply. MGM and UA were merged into MGM/UA Entertainment Co. from 1981 to 1987. UA was essentially dormant after 1989, releasing no films for several years. In part this was due to the continuing turmoil at MGM/UA; bought by Ted Turner in 1986, he could not get financial backing to complete the deal and, seventy-four days later, re-sold UA and the MGM trademark to Kerkorian, while keeping the MGM/UA library for himself (with the exception of those MGM/UA releases by United Artists). (See below for a note on the film library.)

In 1981, United Artists Classics, a speciality film division for UA, was created by Michael Barker, Tom Bernard, and Marcie Bloom, who would later go on to form Orion Classics and Sony Pictures Classics. The label mostly released foreign and independent films such as Ticket to Heaven and The Grey Fox, and occasional first-run reissues from the UA library, such as director's cuts of Joan Micklin Silver's Head Over Heels and Ivan Passer's Cutter's Way. When the three founders left to form Orion Classics, the label was briefly rechristened MGM/UA Classics before it was finally shut down in the late 1980s.

The 1990s-2000s

In 1990 came the sale to Italian promoter Giancarlo Parretti. Having bought MGM/UA by overstating his own financial condition, within a year Parretti had defaulted to his primary bank, Crédit Lyonnais, which foreclosed on the studio in 1992, also resulting in the sale or closure of MGM/UA's string of US theaters. In an effort to make MGM/UA saleable, Credit Lyonnais ramped up production, reviving two long-running franchises, the Pink Panther and James Bond films. MGM was sold in 1997, again to Kirk Kerkorian.

During the 2000s, UA was repositioned as a specialty studio. MGM had just acquired The Samuel Goldwyn Company, which had been a leading distributor of arthouse films, and after that name was retired, UA assumed SGC's purpose. The distributorship, branding, and copyrights for UA's main franchises (James Bond, Pink Panther, and Rocky) were moved to MGM, although select MGM releases (notably the James Bond franchise co-held with Danjaq, LLC and the Amityville Horror remake) carry a United Artists copyright.

UA (re-christened United Artists Films) distributed a few "art-house" films, among them Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine; 2002's Nicholas Nickleby and the winner of that year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, No Man's Land; and 2004's Hotel Rwanda, a co-production of UA and Lions Gate Entertainment.

On April 8, 2005, a partnership of Comcast, Sony and several merchant banks bought United Artists and its parent, MGM, for a total of $4.8 billion.

In March 2006, MGM announced that it would return once again as a distribution company domestically. Striking distribution deals with The Weinstein Company, Lakeshore Entertainment, Bauer Martinez and other independent studios, MGM distributes films from these companies. MGM continues funding and co-producing projects that are released in conjunction with Sony's Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group on a limited basis and is producing "tentpoles" for their own distribution company MGM Distribution.

Sony has a minority stake in MGM but otherwise MGM and UA will operate under Stephen Cooper's (CEO of MGM and a minority owner himself) direction.

The Tom Cruise Era

On November 2, 2006, MGM announced that actor Tom Cruise and his long-time production partner Paula Wagner were resurrecting UA (this announcement came after the duo were released from a fourteen-year production relationship at Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures earlier that year). Cruise, Wagner and MGM Studios created United Artists Entertainment LLC and, today, the producer/actor and his partner own a small stake in the studio, with the approval by MGM's consortium of owners.

The deal gave them control over production and development of films. Wagner was named CEO of United Artists, which was allotted an annual slate of four films with different budget ranges, while Cruise serves as a producer for the revamped studio as well as serving as the occasional star.

UA became the first motion picture studio granted a WGA waiver in January 2008 during the Writers' Strike.

On August 14, 2008, MGM announced Paula Wagner will leave United Artists to produce films independently. Her output as head of UA was two films, both starring Cruise, the flop Lions for Lambs and Valkyrie, which despite mixed reviews was successful at the box office. Wagner's departure led to speculation that an overhaul at United Artists was imminent.

Historical List of Films

Film archives

The value of film libraries has increased exponentially in recent years, even as ownership gets more fractured. Few studios had the foresight or ability to maintain control over every picture they produced or released.

United Artists, through various strategic purchases, built up a substantial film library. Included were rights not only to some of UA's own releases, but to the pre-1950 Warner Bros. and RKO libraries. Having passed through numerous hands, this catalog now belongs to Time Warner's Turner Entertainment unit. However, one post-1950 WB film, the 1956 version of Moby Dick, is still owned by UA.

Since UA produced very few of the pictures it released, ownership of UA's output often rests with the individual or company producing. Some UA films of the 1930s, 1940s and early 1950s fell into the public domain, to be picked up by Republic Pictures (today part of Paramount Pictures) or studios like Castle Hill Productions (with distribution by Warner Bros. Entertainment). A small fraction of UA's silent output is now owned by Kino International.

A good number of United Artists' films from the 1920s through the 1940s, in the public domain, are seldom shown. Of the hundreds of films distributed by UA over eighty-plus years, those which it owns outright today are its own productions from 1951 forward, plus a few pre-1951 films such as 1933's Hallelujah, I'm a Bum and Howard Hawks' Red River (1948).

The Big Four (Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks and Griffith)

  • Charlie Chaplin's films, features and shorts are controlled by his estate, with most rights handled by French distributor MK2.

  • Most of the films Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith made at United Artists now rest with film restoration company Film Preservation Associates.

  • In 1931, Mary Pickford considered destroying her films, afraid they might seem ridiculous to future generations of viewers; however, her friend Lillian Gish managed to persuade her otherwise. The rights to all of her films are now held by the Mary Pickford Foundation.

Disney, Lantz, and Twentieth Century Pictures' productions

  • All of the Disney shorts released through United Artists in the early 1930s were allways owned by The Walt Disney Company.

  • All of the Walter Lantz cartoons distributed by UA during 1947 up to 1948 are now held by Lantz's original home, Universal.

  • The Twentieth Century pictures released by UA between 1933 and 1935 rest with the successor company, 20th Century Fox.


Films made by UA in co-production with other companies rest with several studios in certain territories or under contractual agreements.

  • As of the present, UA owns domestic distribution (including television syndication, theatrical, and internet) and the copyright to Return of the Pink Panther. All other rights reside under Universal Pictures' Focus Features division in partnership with ITC and its successor ITV Global Entertainment Ltd.. Ironically, MGM/UA's rights are the result of their theatrical distribution license for the ITC/ITV library.

  • In another twist of irony, UA also owns theatrical distribution rights to the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep (another ITC production originally released by UA) by virtue of MGM's distribution rights to ITC's theatrical output.

  • U.S. rights to the film Network (a co-production with MGM) are now owned by Warner Bros./Turner Entertainment, as the domestic rights were originally held by MGM and incorporated into the Turner library in 1986. But in other countries, the film still resides with MGM (due to UA distributing the film outside the U.S.).

  • Most ancillary rights to Convoy (an EMI Films production) are now with EMI's successor company, StudioCanal, although its copyright and home video re-release issues are with MGM, but an official home video/DVD re-issue has yet to be announced.

  • Showgirls is still owned by MGM/UA in the USA, but worldwide distribution rights are still in the hands of various companies (under license from StudioCanal, the successor to Carolco Pictures).

Independent producers

  • The pre-1941 Samuel Goldwyn films released by UA (as well as the films made during his tenure at RKO) were temporarily handled by The Samuel Goldwyn Company (with HBO Home Video handling home entertainment rights) but are now currently held by successor company MGM, with which Goldwyn feuded for years.

  • The U.S. rights to The African Queen are now owned by CBS (part of the current version of CBS Corporation), with Paramount Pictures (part of Viacom) handling theatrical distribution on the network's behalf, and Trifecta handling television syndication. CBS Corp. and Viacom are both controlled by National Amusements.

  • Rights to Mike Todd's Around the World in Eighty Days and the UA-distributed Lorimar and Saul Zaentz films are now in the hands of Warner Bros.

  • Several of Otto Preminger's UA films are now with Warner.

The Selznick library

  • Like Gone with the Wind, The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) is also owned by Turner/Warner Bros. Unlike the case of Gone with the Wind, which Selznick sold to MGM in 1944, It is assumed that The Prisoner of Zenda was bought by MGM themselves because they planned to produce a would-be 1952 remake of the film and wished to better the original film (a similar situation occurred when MGM filmed a version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1941, having also bought the 1931 version from Paramount). When the pre-1986 MGM library was bought by Turner Entertainment, both productions were included in the roster as well.

Pre-1986 MGM/UA library

  • The pre-1986 MGM films released through United Artists are also now with WB/Turner Entertainment.

  • Some of the pre-1986 MGM/UA films made around the early 1980s still remain in the MGM library and were not picked up by Turner Entertainment due to most of these films produced by UA (ex. The James Bond and Rocky franchises).

  • However, a specific film from the official UA library, the 1937 film The Prisoner of Zenda, has managed to enter the Turner library, thus part of the Warner catalogs. (See above)

  • One WB film in the a.a.p. package, Rope, had its rights reverted to director Alfred Hitchcock in later years. His estate then sold the rights to Universal Studios in 1983, although UA still holds the film's copyright.

  • The 1975 documentary, Bugs Bunny: Superstar, is also now with WB/Turner, as it featured several full cartoons in the a.a.p. package.

The Beatles' films

  • Most of The Beatles' films, all distributed by UA, are now owned by the surviving members of the group and the estates of the deceased members through Apple Corps, with licensing from EMI.

  • While losing the rights to most of their films, UA held on to Yellow Submarine, meaning MGM would gain rights to it when they purchased UA.

UA Films on DVD

As of now, several United Artists films, such as the James Bond pictures and Man of La Mancha , have been released on DVD and/or shown on television with only an MGM Leo the Lion logo, and not a United Artists one. This sometimes leads to some confusion over which studio originally released the films.

United Artists Broadcasting

United Artists owned and operated two television stations between the years of 1968 and 1977. Legal ID's for the company would typically say "United Artists Broadcasting: an entertainment service of Transamerica Corporation," along with the Transamerica "T" logo. The company was permittee of another station KUAB (TV) in the Houston, TX area. The station signed on in a time when KVVV-TV was and KHTV (now KIAH) were beginning.

United Artists also owned one radio station, WWSH in Philadelphiamarker, from 1970 to 1977.

UAB/Transamerica left the broadcasting business in 1977 by selling WUAB to the Gaylord Broadcasting Company and WWSH to Cox Communications.

DMA Market Station Years Owned Known Today As Notes
17. Clevelandmarker - Akronmarker - Cantonmarker WUABmarker 43 1968-1977 MyNetworkTV affiliate owned
by Raycom Media
Licensed to Lorainmarker. The call letters stand for United Artists Broadcasting, which founded the station.
Kaiser Broadcasting owned a minor stake from 1975-1977 following the closure of crosstown WKBF.
NR San Juanmarker - Poncemarker - Mayagüezmarker WRIK-TV 7 1970-1972? Independent station WSTE
owned by Univision
Licensed to Ponce. Operates 3
booster stations throughout
Puerto Rico.

See also


  1. Dennis Rice Leaves Disney to Join United Artists As Marketing And Publicity Chief April 4, 2007
  2. Siklos, Richard (March 4, 2007). Mission Improbable: Tom Cruise as Mogul. New York Times
  3. Alex McNeil, Total Television, New York: Penquin Books, 1996, p. 866
  4. You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story (2008), p. 255.
  5. WB retained a pair of features from 1949 that they merely distributed, and all short subjects released on or after September 1, 1948; in addition to all cartoons released in August 1948.
  7. WB retained a pair of features from 1949 that they merely distributed, and all short subjects released on or after September 1, 1948; in addition to all cartoons released in August 1948.


  • Bach, Steven. Final Cut. New York: Morrow, 1985.
  • Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company Built by the Stars. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976.
  • Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.
  • Berg, A. Scott. Goldwyn. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
  • Gabler, Neal. An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. New York: Crown Publishers, 1988.
  • Schickel, Richard. D.W. Griffith: An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983.
  • Thomson, David. Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick. New York: Alfred A, Knopf, 1992.

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