Friday, June 16, 2017

The New Line Files: Intro

I've looked at long dead companies like Embassy and Carolco and gone through the life, death and rebirth of Orion but here is a deeper look at a studio that still exists... Sort of. Gonna get the history stuff out of the way in the intro here as we have a long road to go down and I really want to focus on the movies.

Started in 1967 by Robert Shaye, New Line has been a plain and simple distributor; a solid indie company churning out horror flicks and comedies by the truckload, a branch of Ted Turner's media empire, a brief period of being huge thanks to a certain trilogy of fantasy films and finally a division of Warner Brothers.

It's sort of funny to think about, but the truth is that for most of its existence, New Line has been more of a high grade B-movie company with most of their hits being horror films (Freddy Krueger anyone?); comedies (Austin Powers, the House Party and Friday franchises) along with scores of action films both theatrically released and DTV (I'll be covering some of those as well). They also bolstered their film library thanks to partnerships with CineTel Films, Castle Rock Entertainment and others. Their blockbuster period really only goes from 1999 into 2003 and even then we're only talking the last two Austin Powers flicks, the Rush Hour films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Most of their other hits have been sleepers, which I believe is movie industry shorthand for "Really? That made money? Okay then!"

New Line spent its first ten years of existence in the distribution business. Like many companies at the time, the bulk of their product was English dubs of foreign films but right from the start, New Line took a slightly different approach to things. In addition to those films, they also put out a decent number of films from maverick director John Waters as well as handling re-releases of Reefer Madness, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

 Their output was sparse in the late 70's and early and it wasn't until the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 that they actually began to achieve a measure of success. Buoyed by the success of the new franchise, they spent the next few years chugging along nicely with a solid if not spectacular array of genre films mixed in with the occasional drama.

 In 1994 they were bought by Ted Turner who would subsequently pair them with Warner Brothers but kept as a separate company two years later (the Time Warner deal in 1996). The films kept coming with some hitting the mark (1994 was a good year to be Jim Carrey and New Line); some getting some critical acclaim and awards (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and others not doing much of anything at all (more or less everything else) but the real coup would come in 2001 with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This gave the company a level of success that most companies would kill for but thanks to some shady accounting, said success ended up killing them.

Generally, announcing that the biggest trilogy since the original Star Wars films ended up not making a profit even though they cleaned up at the box office ten times over is a good way to get your ass sued and your company shut down.

In 2008, New Line was merged into Warner Brothers as a sort of extension. They've had several co-productions and some actually pretty good films since but it just isn't the same. New Line at its best was a sort of down and dirty genre picture studio. Its biggest success led to its ultimate downfall. Probably their best period was from the late 80's to the mid 90's as they had the Nightmare on Elm Street films and some other solid flicks. When I think of the company, I think of a sort of grungy mall theater in the early 90's on a hot summer day. The big leagues were sort of an odd fit for them, really.

At the end of the day, New Line found success by sticking to its strengths (mid-budget genre films supported by more serious fare from time to time) and managing to hang around by making smart business decisions when needed (regardless of how the Time Warner merger ended, it started off just fine). That it's still around after fifty years says something.

Well that's enough history for now, stay tuned for the first part of their cinematic output.

Coming Next: The Lord of the Rings and Other Epics

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.