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Studio report card


The studio has always had the industry’s best brand, but never has it been more opportunistic about exploiting its strengths. Under Cook’s leadership, the studio has expanded the Disney nameplate to include everything from sports comedies “Game Plan”) to Jerry Bruckheimer extravaganzas (“National Treasure: Book of Secrets”).

The studio production cutback had its skeptics — myself included — but Disney had four of the year’s 15 top-grossing films, led by a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel that made nearly $1 billion worldwide. In part because it released so few films, it generally kept quality high, earning critical accolades with Pixar’s “Ratatouille” and “Enchanted,” made by Kevin Lima, who’s been at Disney as an animator and director for 20 years.

Performance: A

Quality: B+

Overall: A- (Disney Enterprises / Pixar Animation)

The biggest and best indie in the business. They rarely make award-worthy films anymore, but no one has a shrewder grasp of genre films and youth culture, as is evidenced by their string of low-budget successes. They’ve sustained their gruesome “Saw” franchise, had two more Tyler Perry urban-audience hits, enjoyed a comedy comeback with “Good Luck Chuck” and turned a tidy profit releasing “3:10 to Yuma.” Like the B-movie studios of old, this is a lean, mean operation that prides itself on keeping its risks to a minimum.

Performance: B+

Quality: C-

Overall: B- (Richard Foreman / Lionsgate)
20th Century Fox

When I read the names of nearly half of the directors Fox used last year to a rival studio chief, he was stumped. “Who are those guys, hockey players?” But at Fox, no-name directors are part of the business plan. At this studio, filmmakers are employees, not auteurs. This results in movies like “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and “The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” product that is profitable but drearily anonymous. The studio made lots of money with its usual share of solid hits, including an especially lucrative rollout of “The Simpsons Movie.” But its B-movie programmers (“The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising,” “Pathfinder”) did less business than usual, while its efforts to broaden the audience for sequels like “The Hills Have Eyes II” weren’t as successful as in the past.

Performance: A-

Quality: D+

Overall: B- (20th Century Fox)

If nothing else, the studio proved it could be owned by GE and still make good movies. It had to get by largely on acquisitions until June, when it hit pay dirt with “Knocked Up,” the year’s best comedy. The studio’s still looking for an A-plus franchise, but it cranked out another sizzling installment in the “Bourne” series and enjoyed a solid “American Gangster” outing from director Ridley Scott. The biggest failure was “Evan Almighty,” which exhausted all the goodwill of the original hit. The verdict is still out on “Charlie Wilson’s War,” but the studio’s Working Title producers delivered another big overseas hit with “Mr. Bean’s Holiday,” giving Universal its most profitable year since its record 2001 showing.

Performance: B-

Quality: B-

Overall: B- (Suzanne Hanover / Universal Pictures)
Warner Bros.

Big changes are afoot here, with Jeff Robinov becoming head of the Warner Pictures group and marketing chief Dawn Taubin being let go. Even rivals admire the studio’s efficiency, especially when it comes to the superb job it’s done managing the “Harry Potter” franchise and the huge worldwide success of action films “I Am Legend” and “300.” The studio’s monster hits helped obscure its failings, which included an inability to make good comedies, indifferent marketing of its few quality films (“Michael Clayton”) and a poor showing from in-house producer Joel Silver, who oversaw “The Invasion,” “The Brave One” and “Fred Claus.”

Performance: B+

Quality: C+

Overall: (Myles Aronowitz / Warner Bros. Pictures)

The surprise star at this studio was Screen Gems chief Clint Culpepper, who released a string of hugely profitable low-budget genre films, including “Resident Evil 3" and “Stomp the Yard.” The studio had another giant “Spider-Man” sequel, a nice hit with “Ghost Rider” and a surprise showing from the comedy “Superbad.” But its other sequels (“Daddy Day Camp” and “Are We Done Yet?”) faded badly, while its summer animated family film (“Surf’s Up”) came up short. Sony has become much more disciplined about its production choices, but the studio somehow managed to go an entire year without making any classy entertainment for adult filmgoers.

Performance: B+

Quality: C+

Overall: (Sony)
New Line

After another lackluster year, it’s hard to imagine how much longer its Time Warner parent company -- with Jeff Bewkes under pressure to sell off underperforming assets -- will go without putting the studio on the block or folding it into Warners. The studio had a rousing success with “Hairspray,” but its other tent poles had problems, with “Rush Hour 3" fading and “Golden Compass” taking a dive after being bashed by religious zealots (though the film is performing well overseas). The studio has a new marketing chief, but only an alchemist could’ve worked any magic with duds like “Shoot ‘Em Up,” “Rendition” and “Martian Child.”

Performance: C-

Quality: C-

Overall: C- (New Line Cinema)