On this day in 2005, after a yearlong negotiation process, the Walt Disney Company ends its productive but sometimes contentious relationship with Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the founders of Miramax Films.
The name “Miramax” came from a conjunction of the first names of their parents, Miriam and Max. Soon, Miramax had confirmed its reputation for both distributing and producing some of the most talked-about films on the market, including Scandal (1989) and Tie Me Up! In 1993, seeking greater financial stability, the Weinsteins sold Miramax to Disney for a reported $80 million sum.
Despite the apparent disconnect between Disney’s family-friendly reputation and the edgy, adult-oriented content of most Miramax films, the Weinsteins seemed to be comfortable with the new arrangement, including their relationship with Disney’s top executives at the time, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Miramax started out strong, turning a shelved Columbia Tri-Star project, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), into the highest-grossing independent film in history ($108 million).
With the money rolling in thanks to critical and commercial hits like Good Will Hunting (1998), Life is Beautiful and Shakespeare in Love, Miramax launched a major new division, Miramax/Talk Media, in 1998. Helmed by the former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, the venture included the monthly Talk magazine and other film, television and book projects.
Miramax began making bigger-budget films (including Martin Scorsese’s epic Gangs of New York), not all of which found success at the box office, and (according to a New York Times article announcing the Weinsteins’ split from Disney in March 2005) discord developed between the brothers and Eisner, Disney’s chief executive.
As reported in the Times, the final straw came when Disney refused to distribute Michael Moore’s politically charged documentary feature Fahrenheit 9/11, which Miramax had financed. Harvey and Bob Weinstein would take Dimension Films, the profitable division that produced hits such as Scream and Scary Movie, as well as about $130 million to start a new film production company.
According to the Times article, Miramax produced nearly 300 movies over the 12 years the Weinsteins spent at Disney. Together, those movies generated some $4.5 billion in domestic ticket sales and won 53 Academy Awards (including Best Picture honors for The English Patient in 1997, Shakespeare in Love in 1999 and Chicago in 2003) out of 220 nominations.
Birthdays, March 29
1914 – Phil Foster (Feldman) (stand-up comedian; actor: Bang the Drum Slowly, Conquest of Space, Hail; died July 8, 1985)
1943 – Eric Idle (actor: Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Casper, Splitting Heirs, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen)
1948 – Bud Cort (Walter Edward Cox) (actor: Harold and Maude, Brewster McCloud, M*A*S*H)
1957 – Christopher Lambert (actor: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, To Kill a Priest)