The Emergency of the American Independent Cinema

Table of Contents


Independent Cinema is also known as the indie film is a film that is produced on a low budget and usually by a small film studio. In addition, the independent film refers to art films that are produced with little focus on commercial purpose and are usually distinct from the plot based mainstream cinema such as those of Hollywood. Usually, independent films are distinct in their style and content. Moreover, the playwright and director’s original personal creative vision – authorial intent – is normally preserved in the final movie.

Independent Cinemas are usually created by a subsidiary of bigger studios. However, part of their budget is derived from the main film studio. According to MPAA (2005) about fifteen percent of the United States, local box office returns were derived from the independent film studios.

Film companies supplement films with independent productions. The low-budget movies are produced independently from the main studio. Independent movies normally insist on professionalism in quality while being produced and in particular, during directing, acting, and screenwriting. Moreover, creativity and innovation are emphasized.

Independent movies depend on niche marketing as well as critical to attracting an audience. These films usually have a high profit-to-expenses ratio and losses are not defined with big margins. Therefore, studios fund these productions together with their release to the market.

Some facts about American independent cinema

American independent cinema was invigorated in the tardy 1980s and early 1990s with the release of movies such as Reservoir Dogs Do the Right Thing and Clerks. Regarding screenwriting, editing, and directing these films displayed innovation. However, they depicted irrelevance and usually contradicting traditional Hollywood films. What’s more, their substantial successes financially and acceptance in the main culture reengineered the commercial feasibility of independent film. Ever since the independent film sector has established itself as a plainly defined and additionally significant in American films. As a result, several major studios embarked on establishing subsidiaries to produce similar cinemas in an attempt to capitalize on the prevailing opportunity.

Subsidiaries that are credited with the emergence of independent cinemas include Orion Pictures, Miramax Films, Newline Cinema as well as the classic’s divisions of Focus Features and Sony Pictures. In addition, apart from Orion Pictures, all these companies are a subsidiary of major entertaining conglomerates.

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures Classics supported the development of independent cinema in several aspects. The unit acquires produces, distributes, and finances independent films in and out of America (Rudolph, 1994).

Sony Pictures Classics, which was established in 1991, is a specialty film unit of the Sony Pictures Entertainment incorporated. However, Sony Pictures Entertainment Incorporated is a subsidiary of the media conglomerate, Sony Corporation, which is based in Japan. It specializes in film production and distribution as well as television services. It resulted from the acquisition and the consequent renaming of Columbia Pictures Entertainment Inc., which owned the Columbia pictures and TriStar Pictures, by Sony in 1989 (Rudolph, 1994).

The contribution of Sony Pictures to the emergence of American Independent Cinema cannot be attributed, solely, to the classic division of Sony Pictures. Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures Group which was created from the Columbia Pictures and the TriStar Pictures merger of 1998 has a library exceeding four thousand films that include independent films. In addition, Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group distributes films for independent companies such as Revolution Studios, United Artists, and MGM. The unit, as of 2004, distributed approximately twenty-two million films in a year (Sony Pictures, 2004).

Columbia Pictures resulted from the reorganization, restructuring, and eventual renaming of the CBC Film Sales Corporation in 1924. CBC Film Sales Corporation which was founded in 1919 by Harry Cohn, Jack Cohn, and Joe Brandt was characterized by low-budget productions of films which led to its nickname “Corned Beef and Cabbage.” After the renaming, Columbia Pictures continued to produce low-cost films which were categorized as serial, westerns, and action movies. Gradually, the company started to produce higher-budget films. Columbia Pictures Corporation rose in popularity with the subsequent production of movie hits in the 1930s like Lady for a Day, It Happened One Night, and many others.

TriStar Pictures which is a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures was established in 1982 as an attempt to split the increasing costs of producing movies.

Focus Features

Focus Features which was originally known as USA Films is the division of NBC Universal – a subsidiary of Universal Studios- that specializes in art-house films. It produces and distributes its films as well as distributes foreign films. In addition, Focus Features produces and distributes low-budget films through its action and horror movie division, Rogue Pictures.

Focus Features was created from a unification of USA films, Good Machine and Universal Focus in 2002. In 2005, it released a successful movie known as Broken Mountain and generated eight-five million dollars at the box office.

Orion Pictures

Orion Pictures Corporation was established in 1978 for the production of American films. The company was created as a joint undertaking between some executives of United Artists and Warner Bros. Pictures.

Orion Pictures Corporation merged with Filmways Inc. in 1982. Although Orion was a second-string production house in the 1970s, it possessed American International Pictures and became an independent studio whereafter it engaged in the production and distribution of television series.

Orion Pictures is credited with films such as Time After Time, Arthur, 10, Caddyshack, A Little Romance, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and Excalibur.

In 1997, Orion Pictures was sold to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer while its subsidiary was merged with The Samuel Goldwyn Company in 1996. To date, Orion Pictures still operates as an in-name-only unit of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Orion Pictures established the Orion classic in 1983. The subsidiary was concerned with films that used mostly foreign languages such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Mystery Train, and Babette’s Feast.

Miramax Films

Miramax Films produces and distributes films. It was a leading independent cinema company in the United States with its headquarters in New York before The Walt Disney Company bought it. The company was known for many years for its quasi-independence after its purchase by Walt Disney.

Originally, the company was established for the distribution of independent films that were regarded as not commercially viable by major film companies.

Miramax Films released successful films into the United States market. In addition, it also foretold a modus operandi which is used in the 1980s to acquire films from filmmakers worldwide and remaking them to fit in the United States market.

Some of the films distributed by the companies and became a hit in the U.S. included lies, and videotape, Scandal, The Crying Game, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Moreover, Miramax obtained and created numerous films that succeeded financially and the Studio came to known as the leader in independent film in the 1990s; its gross returns out of the distribution and production of seven films totaled more than a hundred million dollars (2005).

Miramax Films created a family division in 1992 known as Miramax Family Films.

Miramax Film attracted controversy. It was criticized for replacing, dubbing, and editing the soundtracks of several alien films it released. Moreover, Miramax made a history of purchasing films and failing to release them into the market (2005).

Some of the reasons that caused delays and failure to releases films were due to accounting system that one of the Miramax executives utilized to push forward financially unfeasible films to the next years so that they would be rewarded with bonuses from Walt Disney whilst in an attempt to prevent traders from selling the genuine DVD version of the movies (2005).

New Line Cinema

New Line Cinema was founded in 1967. Although it is categorized among the major American film companies, it started as an independent film company; presently, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner after its acquisition in 1996. However, New Line Cinema after acquisition maintained its entity.

New Line Cinema has various units with a division that is particular to independent films, Picturesque – initially known as Fine Line Features.

Distinctly, New Line Cinema grew and developed into a major film company with subsequent releases of several hits like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The studio also distributed Reefer Madness which became a success in the United States.

New Line is not responsible for the distribution of its movies outside the United States. Somewhat, it contracts other companies to distribute its films beyond the United States border. Within the United States, the studio’s films were distributed by RCA – Columbia Pictures Home Video for some years.


The work of these film companies resulted in the development and growth of the Independent Cinema industry. Although the companies produced films with autonomy, the funding was partly from the parent company which sought to make profits in the expanding industry.

The independent cinema in America grew to an extent of being more successful than the mainstream studio. The major entertainment companies produced films that did not target a particular market. This resulted in the decline in reception by the American market which was being attracted by the independent cinemas. As a result, the major films production company made huge losses further giving an advantage to the independent filmmaker. The prompted the mainstream film companies to invest in the independent film industry.


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