Embassy Pictures

Embassy Pictures Corporation (also and later known as AVCO Embassy Pictures as well as Embassy Films Associates) was an American independent film production and distribution studio responsible for such films as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!; The Graduate; The Producers; The Lion in Winter; Carnal Knowledge; The Night Porter; Watership Down; Phantasm; The Fog; Prom Night; Scanners; The Howling; Escape from New York; and This Is Spinal Tap.

Embassy Pictures
IndustryFilm studio
Headquarters1901 Avenue of the Stars
Los Angeles, California
ProductsMotion pictures


The company was founded in 1942[1] by Joseph E. Levine, initially to distribute foreign films in the United States. Some of Levine's early successes were the Italian-made Hercules films with Steve Reeves; Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956, a much re-edited version of Ishirō Honda's original Godzilla from 1954); and the adaptation of The Thief of Baghdad (1961), also with Reeves in the lead. Embassy also distributed Federico Fellini's film (1963) and Rick Carrier's Strangers in the City (1962).

In 1963, Levine was offered a $30 million deal with Paramount Pictures to produce films in the vein of his previous successes. Paramount would finance the films and Embassy would receive part of its profits.[2] Under the deal, Levine produced The Carpetbaggers (1964) and its prequel Nevada Smith (1966), which were successes, along with flops such as Harlow (1965), starring Carroll Baker, and The Oscar (1966).

By the 1960s, Levine had transformed Embassy into a production company. Later in the decade, Embassy functioned on its own with many Rankin/Bass animated features, including The Daydreamer (1966) and Mad Monster Party? (1967), and successful live-action productions including The Graduate (1967), The Lion in Winter and The Producers (both 1968).

New ownership and dissolution

In 1967, Embassy enjoyed its greatest success with The Graduate. This enabled Levine to sell his company to Avco for a deal worth $40 million.[3][4] Levine stayed on as chief executive. Levine also started a record label with music industry executives Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, Avco Embassy Records, later shortened to Avco Records. In 1969, the company bought out Mike Nichols production company and signed him to make two movies.[5]

In 1968, Avco Embassy launched Avco Embassy Television, to syndicate films from the Avco Embassy library on TV. In 1976, Avco Embassy sold their broadcasting division and Avco Program Sales to Multimedia, Inc., becoming Multimedia Entertainment; Multimedia Entertainment is now known as NBCUniversal Television Distribution,

The company became less successful in the 1970s and in 1973 recorded a loss of $8.1 million.

In 1972, the company had begun cutting back on production and by 1975 had stopped making movies altogether.[6] Levine resigned in mid 1974 to re-enter independent production.[7]

Robert Rehme years

In late 1977, Avco Embassy announced its intention to resume production. In 1978, Robert Rehme was appointed president and chief operating officer and he convinced the company to give him $5 million for a production fund.

Under his stewardship, Avco Embassy concentrated on lower budgeted genre films, six of which were successful: The Manitou (1978), Phantasm (1979), The Fog (1980), Scanners (1981), Time Bandits (1981) and The Howling (1981). They benefited in part from the fact that American International Pictures recently left the exploitation field, lessening competition in this area.

Rehme left the company in 1981, having seen it increase its revenue from $20 million to $90 million.[8][9]

In 1981, Tom Laughlin offered to buy the company for $24 million but withdrew his offer.[3]

Norman Lear and Jerry Perenchio

In January 1982, television producer Norman Lear and his partner Jerry Perenchio bought the studio for $25 million,[8] dropped "Avco" and changed the name of their own TV company T.A.T. Communications to Embassy Television and T.A.T. Communications Company to Embassy Communications, Inc. The company was producing such hits as The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and The Facts of Life, and by Tandem, Diff'rent Strokes and Archie Bunker's Place. During this period, they launched Silver Spoons, Square Pegs, Who's the Boss?, It's Your Move, and Gloria. They also expanded into making made-for-TV movies, including Grace Kelly and Eleanor, First Lady of the World.

In late 1982, Embassy bought out Andre Blay Corporation and renamed the company as Embassy Home Entertainment; prior releases from its film catalog had been handled through Magnetic Video, as well as reissues of the Blay Video catalog. In 1984, Embassy Pictures was renamed to Embassy Films Associates. That same year, Fanny and Alexander, which it distributed in the United States, received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

During this period, Rob Reiner, whom up to that point had been most famous for playing Mike "Meathead" Stivic on All in the Family, began his directorial career with two Embassy releases, This is Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing. His third film, Stand By Me, started at Embassy, but it almost got cancelled because of the sale to Columbia days before filming was to begin. Norman Lear ended up putting up his own money for completion funds. [10]

Coca-Cola and others

Lear and Perenchio sold Embassy Communications (including Tandem Productions) to The Coca-Cola Company for $485 million on June 18, 1985,[11][12][13]

Coca-Cola kept Embassy's television division active; under their ownership the hit series 227 and Married... with Children began. Embassy Television was renamed Embassy Communications in 1986, then was merged with Columbia Pictures Television into the combined unit Columbia/Embassy Television later that year (though both companies continued to use their separate names for their various shows); February 1988 saw Columbia/Embassy being merged with TriStar Television, into a combined Columbia Pictures Television, resulting in Embassy-produced shows now being produced solely by CPT with Columbia logos at the end, but with copyrights crediting ELP (Embassy Limited Partnership) Communications.

Coca-Cola, which also owned Columbia Pictures at the time, sold the theatrical division to Dino De Laurentiis, who folded the company into De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, and the home video division became Nelson Entertainment, run by Barry Spikings, along with some executives who had previously worked at DEG before it went bankrupt. Nelson Entertainment was the American subsidiary of Nelson Holdings International (NHI), a company based in Vancouver, Canada. Although De Laurentiis was now owner of Embassy, he was not given rights to then upcoming films such as Crimewave and Saving Grace (both 1986), and an adaptation of Stephen King's The Body, which became Stand by Me (1986), which became properties of Lear and Perenchio.[14][15] Nelson Entertainment, in addition to primarily handling the Embassy library for home video, also financed theatrical films in conjunction with Columbia Pictures. They were one of the primary partners, along with Columbia, in the formation of Castle Rock Entertainment, due to the home video success of co-founder Rob Reiner's Embassy-produced films which they still handled. In 1988, Nelson gave the physical manufacturing and distribution duties of their home video company to Orion Pictures, and some of their film productions were acquired by Orion as well. In 1991, Nelson was sold to New Line Cinema, who renamed the video division New Line Home Video and also briefly took over Nelson's stake in Castle Rock Entertainment.


By the early 1990s, key rights to the Embassy library transferred from company to company due to the bankruptcies of the companies that separately owned them (De Laurentiis for theatrical, Nelson for home video). Dino De Laurentiis's assets went to Parafrance International, in conjunction with Village Roadshow, while Nelson's assets were acquired by Credit Lyonnais Bank and later sold to PolyGram. Nelson's parent company, NHI continued to exist well into the mid-1990s.

Library ownership and property rights

Today, the Embassy corporation, its divisions and film and television holdings, are split. The underlying rights to a majority of the Embassy library are currently held by French production company StudioCanal, with individual media rights leased to other companies. The theatrical rights to the Embassy film library were previously managed by Stuart Lisell Films, and are now serviced by Rialto Pictures.

Home entertainment rights (DVD, Blu-ray) were previously divided among Image Entertainment, The Criterion Collection, and Anchor Bay Entertainment, via separate output deals. Currently, the majority of the best-known Embassy titles are controlled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer due to previous VHS or DVD releases through their inheritance of PolyGram's “Epic” film library, with Universal Pictures Home Entertainment handling distribution for MGM, and in turn sublicensed to other video companies for its prestige titles packaged as special collectors’ editions. Any other remaining titles are handled by Lionsgate Home Entertainment, due to their longtime relationship with StudioCanal over their Carolco library.

Sony Pictures Entertainment retained the television rights to most of the Embassy theatrical library and the Embassy logo, names, and trademarks through its subsidiary ELP Communications.[16]



  1. Dick, p. 79
  2. Dick, p. 80–81
  3. "Perenchio Lear to Purchase Avco Embassy Pictures: EMBASSY: Sale May Be $25 Million" Harris, Kathryn. Los Angeles Times 25 Nov 1981: e1.
  4. "Avco to Buy Embassy Pictures From Levine For $40 Million of Common, Preferred Stock" by STANLEY PENN Staff Reporter. Wall Street Journal 06 May 1968: 8.
  5. "Mergers Set in Show Business: Avco Buys Nichols Unit MERGERS SHAPED IN SHOW BUSINESS" by LEONARD SLOANE. New York Times 19 Mar 1969: 61.
  6. "Avco Apparently Will Produce Movies After 5-Year Hiatus: Concern Would Likely Work With Others Instead of Making Films on Its Own" Wall Street Journal 6 Dec 1977: 10.
  7. "Levine, Producer, Quits as President Of Avco Embassy: Amicable Resignation" by A. H. WEILER. New York Times 30 May 1974: 33.
  8. 'Avco's Way to Lick the Movie Giants of Hollywood', New Straits Times, 6 Dec1981 p 8
  9. ROBERT REHME, KING OF THE LOW-BUDGET SHOCKERAljean Harmetz, 'Robert Rehme, King of the Low Budget Shocker', New York Times, 30 Nov 1981 Section C p13
  10. Lang, Brent (July 28, 2016). "'Stand by Me' Oral History: Rob Reiner and Cast on River Phoenix and How Coming-of-Age Classic Almost Didn't Happen". Variety.com. Variety. Archived from the original on December 15, 2018. Retrieved December 15, 2019.
  11. "Norman Lear" Coke Buys Embassy & Tandem Archived 2013-05-02 at the Wayback Machine normanlear.com Michael Schrage The Washington Post, Retrieved on January 25, 2013.
  12. "Norman Lear" Lear, Perenchio Sell Embassy Properties Archived 2013-05-18 at the Wayback Machine normanlear.com AL DELUGACH and KATHRYN HARRIS, Los Angeles Times, Retrieved on January 25, 2013
  13. "Norman Lear" Coke buys Embassy: 485 million. Archived 2013-05-18 at the Wayback Machine normanlear.com CHRISTOPHER VAUGHN and BILL DESOWITZ The Hollywood Reporter, Retrieved on January 25, 2013
  14. "De Laurentiis to Market Own Films" by ALJEAN HARMETZ Special to The New York Times. New York Times 4 Oct 1985: C3.
  15. "DE LAURENTIIS' EPIC PLAN FOR EMBASSY: FILM CLIPS FILM CLIPS" Mathews, Jack. Los Angeles Times 9 Oct 1985: h1.
  16. "Justia Trademarks"EMBASSY PICTURES - Trademark Details trademarks.justia.com, Retrieved on October 14, 2012

Further reading

  • Dick, Bernard F. (2001). Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Pictures and the Birth of Corporate Hollywood. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2202-1.
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