Filmism.net Dispatch March 22, 2014

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Here's an inspirational Hollywood success story. There are six big studios that can spend hundreds of millions of dollars on movies, from which executives and presidents are fired for bad years but who enjoy almost guaranteed survival thanks to the TV revenues from a century-long back catalogue.

Then there's the new breed of mini-studios, production companies and boutique labels making inroads because of low-investment-high-return genres like horror and video on demand.

Halfway between the two – and rapidly joining the big guns – is Lionsgate, one of the appropriately named mini-majors. Its parent company, Lionsgate Entertainment, started in 1997 with an investment of $16m, and today it's one of the names releasing films teetering on the brink of billion-dollar box office like The Hunger Games.

LGE bought an old company called Cinepix, rebranded it Lionsgate Films, and since then it's bought other companies and their libraries as well as developed material in house. Looking for Jean-Claude Van Damme's Kickboxer or Artisan Entertainment's The Blair Witch Project? Look no further.

It started by releasing a swag of small movies before making its name in genre flicks, especially horror thanks to the Saw franchise. A few short years later and it had the clout to purchase Summit Entertainment a few years back, giving it stewardship of the money-spinning Twilight name, and today it's bankrolling blockbusters and enjoying the requisite spoils.

Now, Lionsgate's performance is letting the company break out of the shackles of the genre movies it grew up on. It's both making and selling high quality fare, like the latest John LeCarre adaptation A Most Wanted Man, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (more). They're also talking about making a biopic of Hillary Clinton (about as far away in tone as you could get from Saw, one would think).

In fact, one could argue they're now one of the legitimate studio majors. Because of smashes like Now You See Me (Summit) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lionsgate came in 5th on the earnings ladder in 2013, right behind Sony in 4th and ahead of Paramount in 7th. The company announced earnings in excess of a billion dollars for the second year in a row. Only in Hollywood can a company not even 20 years old play against and beat contemporaries that (in some cases) predate the First World War. Keep your eye on them.

In other news, I recently had a great time remembering the landmark year in cinema that was 1984, which you can read here. And on screens big and small in the last little while? A cracker little faux-documentary called Computer Chess, whose last scene will leave you wondering just what the writer/director's had over you the whole time.

I also finally saw Paul Greengrass' action crackerjack Captain Phillips and was surprised by The Counselor after all the vitriol.

Keanu Reeves needs to hand the keys to Hollywood back after the irascible Man of Tai Chi but Hanks went straight from the most tension-laden movie of the year to playing the sparkly Walt Disney without missing a step in Saving Mr Banks.

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