With Disney’s $66B acquisition of key 21st Century Fox assets, today marks the dismantling of a legendary studio that got its start all the way back in 1904 — about a century ahead of the iconic New York Street set (and the lamented poor cell-reception in Building 88) of the Pico Boulevard lot. Times have suddenly changed and the dust will be a while in settling.
The long and storied history of 20th Century Fox (pre-Rupert Murdoch) began when Hungarian immigrant William Fox started screening hand-cranked films in 1904 New York. From there grew a 25-chain set of theaters in the city. In 1915, Fox left NY for LA, shaping such movie stars as Tom Mix, Theda Bara, and boxing champ turned actor George O’Brien. In 1935, the company merged with 20th Century Pictures founded by the legendary Darryl F Zanuck, and Joseph M Schenck, and creating 20th Century Fox.
From then, it was on to such classics as the classically embattled Cleopatra, the Oscar-winning The Sound Of Music and 1977’s light saber heard through the galaxy, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. More recently James Cameron’s Avatar became the No. 1 all-time biggest grossing film at the worldwide box office with $2.8B in 2010 (not forgetting 1997’s $2.2B grosser Titanic, also from Cameron and an epic that was inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry this week).
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation bought into Fox in 1981 and completed an ownership deal in 1984. It launched the Fox Broadcasting Company in 1986.
Here’s a look at a select few of the pivotal moments in Fox’s history since Murdoch took over the Pico lot:
1989: The Simpsons begins airing and ultimately becomes the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American animated program and the longest-running American scripted prime-time series
1993: The X-Files begins airing; makes a generation “want to believe” and spawns a pair of movies plus a recent reboot
1996: Fox News Channel launches
1997: Titanic (released domestically by co-finance partner Paramount in December that year) bows and becomes the first movie to gross $1B worldwide
2005: MySpace is acquired for $580M in a deal that became perhaps Rupert Murdoch’s biggest misstep. In 2011, the social network was sold to investors including Justin Timberlake for $35M, and in 2016 ends up with Time for a fraction of that.
2007: News Corp buys The Wall Street Journal publisher Dow Jones & Co, ending decades of family control.
2009: Titanic helmer James Cameron breaks his own record with Avatar becoming the highest grossing movie of all time. It retains the title worldwide and internationally, but cedes the domestic crown to Disney’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015
2011: News Corporation is embroiled in a phone-hacking scandal, forcing the closing of the News Of The World newspaper and prompting a detailed investigation into news-gathering practices in the UK and tarnishing several Murdoch lieutenants
2013: News Corp spins off of the media and publishing business and the entertainment assets into two entities
2016: Sexual harassment allegations begin to rock Fox News leading to the eventual firing of founder Roger Ailes and star anchor Bill O’Reilly
2017: In a deal worth $66.1B including debt, Fox sells most of its assets to Disney