R.I.P. Miramax

source: variety.com

The inevitable has come to pass. Miramax Films is no more.

The specialty label’s New York and Los Angeles offices have closed their doors for good, leaving 80 staff members jobless and six films in distribution limbo.

Walt Disney Studios, who acquired the company in 1993, claim that Miramax will now consolidate its operations within Disney studios in California, releasing a smaller number of films than previous years.

Regardless, Miramax as we know it is dead.

A brief history:

Brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein founded the company in New York back in 1979. Named after their parents Miriam and Max, it was their intention to distribute the smaller, independent films that major studios wouldn’t touch.

They achieved mild success with the U.S. distribution of The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, a concert film which introduced America to the Monty Python troupe. The U.S. version of the film was made up of two concert films that had been separately released in the U.K. The brothers then spent much of the 1980’s acquiring foreign films and cutting them to appeal to an American audience. This approach would eventually spread to their U.S.-made releases, earning Harvey the nickname: “Harvey Scissorhands”.

Things didn’t really kick off until they picked up the distribution rights to Sundance hit sex, lies and videotape from director Steven Soderbergh. The film did gangbuster numbers and proved that there is a viable audience for arthouse (or should we say “specialty”) flicks.

In 1992, Bob set up another label entitled Dimension Films within Miramax, intended specifically for genre films. It was under Dimension that the Weinsteins developed the cheap Scream and Scary Movie franchises.

In 1993, Disney acquired Miramax for $US70 million. Bob and Harvey continued to run the company independently, although they found they had lost complete autonomy in the Mouse House. Disney would not allow Miramax to distribute the controversial Kids or Fahrenheit 9/11, much to the brothers’ displeasure.

The company became known for scoring Academy Awards for their releases. The Weinsteins aggressively publicised their films. Aside from their successful marketing campaigns, the brothers’ were best known for their extreme bullying tactics; against employees, clients and anyone to (unwisely) enter negotiations with them over anything.

Miramax produced some of the defining films of the 1990’s, including Clerks, Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love and The Cider House Rules.

However, Bob and Harvey could never get along with Disney CEO Michael Eisner. The brothers and Disney went their separate ways in 2005. Disney retained Miramax, while Bob and Harvey set up The Weinstein Company, taking Dimension Films with them. British exec Daniel Battsek was put in charge of Miramax.

Late last year, Disney announced that Miramax would only release 3 films per year, and all of the company’s marketing, distribution and administrative functions would be folded into Disney’s studio in California. This has finally come to fruition, and is why we are today mourning the death of Miramax.

As mentioned, there are six films still awaiting release from Miramax. They include The Debt and Last Night (both starring Sam Worthington) and Julie Taymor‘s adaptation of The Tempest.

It is unknown whether Disney will sell these films, or if they will be dumped in cinemas at some point. Perhaps they’ll even go straight-to-DVD.

While Miramax might be dead as we know it, perhaps it will return with a vengeance in the near future. Nikke Finke at Deadline Hollywood believes that Harvey Weinstein wants to buy back his first label’s name. The Weinstein Company has not been as successful as Miramax, and was close to bankruptcy last year (stalled thanks to the blockbuster success of Inglourious Basterds). Perhaps he believes his parents’ names are lucky charms?

Discuss: I’m currently reading Peter Biskind’s novel Down and Dirty Pictures, which documents the rise of Miramax and the Sundance Film Festival. Umm, does today’s news count as a spoiler?

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