1982 marked the end of an era for the film industry, in more ways than one. Coca-Cola’s purchase of Columbia Pictures (which had narrowly escaped Kirk Kerkorian’s fatal clutches1) for $692 million, following oil tycoon Marvin Davis’s $725 million acquisition of Twentieth Century-Fox the previous year, saw the last of the old majors pass into corporate ownership. In the twenty years since MCA’s takeover of Universal in 1962, all of the seven surviving members of the studio-era ‘Big Eight’ had been absorbed into larger conglomerate entities. Only Walt Disney Productions,2 with its once unique (but soon to be widely emulated) business model in which filmed entertainment played a subordinate role (to theme parks and licensed merchandise), still retained its autonomy. However, in many ways both the Fox and Columbia deals looked backwards to an older business model – that of the mid-1960s – which by the early eighties was already fast being superseded by another. Davis’s buyout of Fox, in particular, adding to his holdings in oil and gas, banking and real estate in the booming Sunbelt states, harked back to the concept of diversified conglomeration that informed the move into movies by Gulf + Western, Kinney (as was), and Transamerica. But in the 1980s and subsequently, the trend – discernible since Steve Ross remodelled Kinney into the more strongly media-focused Warner Communications in 1972 – was away from cross-industrial diversification and towards the concentration of business activity in related, complementary fields – or, to use the era’s new buzzword, synergy.
The Davis/Fox and Coca-Cola/Columbia tie-ups at the start of the 1980s were old-fashioned because neither offered the kinds of synergistic business opportunities that became the industry’s new Holy Grail. (Flush with the revenues from distributing the first two entries in the Star Wars franchise, Fox in the late 1970s had already diversified into unhelpful non-core areas like Colorado ski resorts, golf courses and soft-drink bottling, apparently under