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Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
American motion picture distribution company
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Buena Vista Film Distribution Company, Inc. (1953-1960)
Buena Vista Distribution Company, Inc. (1960-1987)
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc. (1987-2007)
The company was originally established in 1953 as Buena Vista Film Distribution Company, Inc. (later renamed to Buena Vista Distribution Company, Inc. and Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc.). It took on its current name in 2007.
A dispute over the distribution of Disney's first full-length movie, The Living Desert, in the True-Life Adventures series of live-action documentary featurettes in 1953 led to Walt and his older brother Roy O. Disney to form its wholly owned subsidiary, the Buena Vista Film Distribution Company, Inc. (BVDC), to handle North American distribution of their own products. RKO refused to distribute the film. The name "Buena Vista" came from the street in Burbank, California, where the Disney Studios was located (and remains to this day). Buena Vista's first release was the Academy Award-winning live-action feature The Living Desert on November 10, 1953, along with Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom, Buena Vista's first animated release. Notable subsequent releases include the foreign film, Princess Yang Kwei Fei (Most Noble Lady), released in US theaters in September 1956,The Missouri Traveler in March 1958, and The Big Fisherman in July 1959 (the first third-party production financed by Disney).
By July 5, 1957, RKO Japan, Ltd. was sold to Disney Productions and British Commonwealth Film Corporation. In allocating the foreign film licenses to the company, Disney would use 5 and Commonwealth 8.
In April 1960, the company dropped "Film" from its name. In 1961, Disney incorporated Buena Vista International (BVI), distributing its first PG-rated film, Take Down, in January 1979. The low-budget movie was not produced by the Disney studios and was acquired from an independent studio, making The Black Hole the first PG-rated Disney film. In July 1987, Buena Vista changed its name to Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc. (BVPD).
Late in the 1980s, Disney purchased a controlling stake in one of Pacific Theatres' chains leading to Disney's Buena Vista Theaters and Pacific to renovate the El Capitan Theatre and the Crest by 1989. The Crest was finished first while El Capitan opened with the premiere of The Rocketeer film on June 19, 1991.
In 1992, Buena Vista made production loans totaling $5.6 million to Cinergi Pictures for its film Medicine Man and its 1994 films Renaissance Man and Color of Night and were distributing Cinergi's films. The corporation purchased a 12.8% share in Cinergi with its initial public offering in 1994. Soon, BVPD signed a 25 picture distribution deal with Cinergi.
By 1997, BVPD's share in Cinergi dropped to 5%. After nine films were delivered under the agreement, Cinergi sold Disney on November 22, 1997 all of its 12-film library except for Die Hard with a Vengeance plus $20 million in exchange for Disney's Cinergi share holdings, production advances of $35.4 million and other loans. In 2002, Disney signed a four animated film deal with Vanguard Animation; however, only one film was released under that negotiation.
In 2004, BVI and Gaumont dissolved their French distribution joint venture, Gaumont Buena Vista International. Buena Vista International agreed to a distribution deal with MegaStar Joint Venture Company Limited in April 2006 for the Vietnam market.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
In April 2007, Disney discontinued the usage of the Buena Vista brand in its distribution branding.
In 2009, Disney entered a distribution agreement with a reorganized DreamWorks; the deal called for an estimated 30 films over a five-year period from DreamWorks and they would be released through the Touchstone Pictures label. In 2011, GKIDS acquired the North American theatrical distribution rights of the Ghibli films, with Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment retaining the home video rights until July 2017.
Disney's distribution deal with DreamWorks ended in 2016, after the two studios decided to not renew their agreement in December 2015, with Universal Pictures replacing Disney as DreamWorks' distributor. By the end of the deal, Disney had distributed 14 of DreamWorks's original 30-picture agreement; thirteen through Touchstone and one through Walt Disney Pictures. Disney took complete ownership rights of those 14 DreamWorks films from Amblin Partners in exchange for loans made to that company.The Light Between Oceans, the final film in that distribution deal, was also the last film released under the Touchstone banner.
In late 2020 and early 2021, Disney reorganized the studio, placing Theatrical Distribution under Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution unit which also oversees distribution to Disney+. Under this structure, the Theatrical Distribution unit will oversee the domestic and internation films produced by all the studios within the Walt Disney Studios umbrella -- Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, Blue Sky Studios and Searchlight Pictures.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International was formed in 1961 as Buena Vista International. On May 4, 1987, Disney signed a theatrical distribution agreement with Warner Bros. International for the release of Disney and Touchstone films in overseas markets, with Disney retaining full control of all distribution and marketing decisions on their product. Warner previously had an overseas distribution partnership with Columbia Pictures, but it was dissolved in 1988. In 1992, Disney opted to end their joint venture with Warner Bros. to start autonomously distributing their films in the aforementioned overseas markets. In those territories from 1993 to 2007, Disney reactivated the Buena Vista International name, and also sent distribution under it in countries that did not have any current arrangements with other companies.
Italia Film, a Lebanese film distribution and production company, is Disney's exclusive theatrical film distribution partner for various Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets since 1993, after making a deal directly with Buena Vista International at the time. Prior to this, Warner Bros. originally handled said MENA markets.
In Taiwan, MGM first handled Disney's distribution followed by Fox and WB. A local distributor called Era Communications took over distribution from 1992 to 1995. At that time, Buena Vista began its Taiwanese operations. Columbia ended its joint distribution unit with Fox and switch to Buena Vista in 1999.
In Germany, Disney distributes films theatrically released by Universum Film.
In Spain, Disney handles the distribution of films through Filmayer S.A. before the WB joint venture operating as Warner Española S.A.
Disney and Sony Pictures Entertainment formed in 1997 a film distribution joint venture in Southeast Asia. By December 2006, 14 joint distribution ventures with Sony Pictures Releasing International were formed and exist in countries including Brazil, Mexico, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. In January 2007, their fifteenth such partnership began operations in Russia and CIS. In February 2017, Sony starting leaving the Southeast Asia venture with the Philippines. In August 2017, Sony terminated the joint venture agreement for their own operations. On January 31, 2019, in anticipation of the then-pending acquisition of the most 21st Century Fox assets (which includes 20th Century Fox), Disney agreed to sell its stake in the Mexican joint venture named Walt Disney Studios Sony Pictures Releasing de México to Sony Pictures Releasing.
In October 2017, it was announced that Disney would be handling international distribution of M. Night Shyamalan's Glass, released in 2019, through the Buena Vista International banner. The film is a sequel to his earlier films Unbreakable (distributed by Touchstone) and Split (distributed by Universal Pictures). Through an arrangement made with Disney, Universal will retain domestic rights to the film, while Disney will distribute in international territories under the label. The UK-produced film Patrick was also released in 2018 by Disney under the Buena Vista International label in the UK.Missing Link was also released by Disney under Buena Vista International in Latin America and Asia.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures has released the most films that have crossed the $1 billion mark (twenty-five, in worldwide grosses among major Hollywood studios, with thirteen of the twenty highest-grossing films of all time being distributed by Disney. These include the highest-grossing film worldwide (Avengers: Endgame) and in North America (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).  Of those twelve films, three of them have crossed the $2 billion mark in worldwide grosses, the most for any studio. In addition, Disney is the first of only three studios that have released at least two billion-dollar films in the same year (the others being Warner Bros. and Universal Pictures). Furthermore, Disney is the only studio that has achieved this seven times, in 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 of which included four $1 billion releases, and 2019 in which included five $1 billion releases, a record for any studio. Eight of the top ten highest-grossing animated films have been released by Disney, as well as sixteen of the twenty highest-grossing G-rated films. In addition, four of the top five opening weekends were Disney releases. In 2015, Disney achieved its largest yearly box-office gross worldwide and in North America. In 2016, Disney surpassed $7 billion in worldwide yearly box-office gross--the first of any major studio--surpassing the previous 2015 record. In 2019, Disney became the first studio ever to have seven releases cross $1 billion each in a single year. In the same year, Disney broke the previous records by making an unprecedented $13.2 billion at the global box office.
^D'Alessandro, Anthony (January 30, 2020). "Emma Watts Leaves Disney's 20th Century Studios". Deadline.com. Archived from the original on January 31, 2020. Retrieved 2020. Post-merger, Fox Searchlight, now re-branded Searchlight Pictures, enjoys a lot of autonomy in the Disney empire, greenlighting pics they know and operating their own distribution, publicity and marketing teams. 20th Century Studios (which recently dropped the Fox) was melded into the bigger Disney fold, fusing all its operations.
^The North American theatrical rights to Studio Ghibli's film library were sold by Disney to GKIDS in 2011. Disney continued to distribute the existing films they owned on home media (as well as The Wind Rises) until 2017, when GKIDS purchased home media rights to Ghibli's library, excluding The Wind Rises. The rights to that movie reverted from Disney to GKIDS in 2020. Disney continues to distribute Studio Ghibli's film library in Taiwan (through Deltamac) and Japanese Home Media.