Abstract: Movies and Multinationals: How Did U.S. Film Companies Operate in Foreign Markets during the "Studio Era"?

Peter Miskell


This paper looks at how U.S. firms dominated the international film industry. In particular it examines why U.S. firms, while vertically integrated in their domestic market, did not retain this characteristic as they moved into foreign markets (where they did not own and control the leading cinema chains). This is intriguing because historians of the U.S. film industry place special emphasis on the importance of film exhibition rather than production. The major firms, we are told, are better thought of as chains of cinemas that made their own films rather than as production studios that happen to own cinemas. Leading firms like Loew's were in fact film exhibitors that had integrated backward into film production. As Douglas Gomery has demonstrated, the number of cinemas a firm owned was at least as important a determinant of performance (in its domestic market at least) as the types of films it produced. Yet if the exhibition side of the industry was so crucial to the success of U.S. firms at home, why were these same companies able to achieve such dominance in foreign markets—where they did not control the leading cinema chains?