Ben Polkinghorne

Ben Polkinghorne

Dec 1, 2023

Dec 1, 2023

Why the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood ended

Why the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood ended

The first movies were shot on a small stage at an unmoving, wide angle.

Cutting to different scenes was limited.

Performances were silent. 

From 1910 onwards, things started to change. 

Camera technology. Innovative techniques. Sound. 

This led to more freedom for script writers - and the first stars. 

It was known as Hollywood’s Golden Age. 

A fascinating time in history not just for the innovation, but because The Big Five (Paramount, MGM, Fox, Warner Bros and RKO) controlled basically… everything. 

The studios created the films, had the writers, directors, producers and actors on multi-year contracts, owned the film processing and laboratories, created the analogue prints they distributed and exhibited them in theaters that they controlled. 

Controlled in one of two ways. 

They owned theaters which accounted for 45% of Box Office revenue. 

They also, as the Department of Justice alleged, sought control by “engaging in a widespread conspiracy to illegally fix motion picture prices and monopolize both the film distribution and movie theater markets”. 

Practices included the studios sending their movies to their own theaters exclusively for their first runs, which was invariably when most of the profit was made, before sending it to independents. 

Or ‘block booking’, where independent cinemas had to accept and exhibit films they weren’t interested in (or hadn’t seen) in order to get access to the films they were interested in. 

In 1938, the DoJ filed a lawsuit against The Big 5 and the Little 3 (Universal, United Artists and Columbia). 

There was, shall we say, some back and forth.

But 10 years later, in 1948, the United States Supreme Court’s verdict went against the studios, forcing them to divest their theaters. 

It was known as the ‘Paramount Decree’ and came at a time when only around 0.5% of U.S. households had a TV. 

As a consequence, indie producers, actors and studios could operate effectively without major studio interference.

More risks were taken, resulting in movies like ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Easy Rider’. 

And the number of indie movie theaters increased.

Ta-ta ‘Golden Age’.

It was time, in the mid-1960s, for the ‘New Hollywood’ era.

Where directors, rather than the studio, took on a key role. 

Directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

And that could be where the blog ends. 

Except in August 2022, the Paramount Decree was repealed, or annulled. 


The DoJ stated it was "unlikely that the remaining defendants can reinstate their cartel”.

They felt that while neighbourhoods 70 years ago had one cinema, with one screen, today they often have multiplexes, showing movies from many different distributors at the same time. 

We’re also no longer limited to watching movies in theaters - streaming is a thing. 

That was part of the thinking. 

Streaming services aren’t legally recognised as studios, even when they produce films in-house. They can’t be held to the same standards. 

So the repeal sought to make the film industry more equitable for the major studios, in competition with the streamers. 

But what of the indie filmmakers and theater owners? 

The latter fear studios (or streamers) might exert pressure over what films are booked.

Want this film? You have to take this film. 

Christopher Nolan noted it may limit the ability of independent filmmakers to secure distribution for their films.

The Director’s Guild of America states it’s a step in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile, Makan Delrahim, the chief of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, said, “American ingenuity is again free to experiment with different business models that can benefit consumers.”

AMC, the largest movie theater chain the world, said it could promote greater investment and innovation in the theater industry. 

So far, one of the biggest winners seems to be Taylor Swift

She produced her concert film 'The Eras Tour', bypassing the studios and distributors. She made a single deal with AMC, without needing to negotiate with individual theaters. 

Beyonce is set to do something similar with her upcoming concert film. 

Who knows what sort of innovative arrangements will happen next?

Rules are being rewritten. 

There ain’t no business like show business.