Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures is an American film distributor owned by The Walt Disney Company.[2] It handles theatrical distribution, marketing and promotion for films produced and released by the Walt Disney Studios, including Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures and Blue Sky Studios.

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)
IndustryMotion pictures
FoundedJune 23, 1953 (1953-06-23)
FounderRoy O. Disney 
Headquarters500 S. Buena Vista Street, ,
United States
Key people
  • Cathleen Taff (President of theatrical distribution, franchise management and business & audience insight)
  • Asad Ayaz (President of marketing)[1]
ServicesFilm distribution and marketing
ParentThe Walt Disney Studios
  • Walt Disney Studios Marketing
  • Worldwide Special Events

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.[3][4]


Buena Vista era

Before 1953, Walt Disney's productions were distributed by Winkler Pictures, Powers Pictures, Universal Pictures (Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts), Columbia Pictures (1930–1932), United Artists (1932–1937) and RKO Radio Pictures (1937–1953).[5] However, 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[5] 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.[3] RKO refused to distribute the film.[5] 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.[6] Notable subsequent releases include the foreign film, Princess Yang Kwei-Fei (Most Noble Lady), released in US theaters in September 1956,[7][8][9] The Missouri Traveler in March 1958,[6] and The Big Fisherman in July 1959 (the first third-party production financed by Disney).[6]

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.[10]

In April 1960, the company dropped "Film" from its name.[4] In 1961, Disney incorporated Buena Vista International (BVI),[11] distributing its first PG rated film, Take Down, in January 1979.[6] 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.[12] In July 1987, Buena Vista changed its name to Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc. (BVPD).[4]

Late in the 1980s, Disney purchased a controlling stake in one of Pacific Theatres' chain[13] leading to Disney's Buena Vista Theaters and Pacific to renovate the El Capitan Theatre and the Crest by 1989.[14] The Crest was finished first while El Capitan opened with the premiere of The Rocketeer film on June 19, 1991.[15]

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.[16] Soon, BVPD signed a 25 picture distribution deal with Cinergi.[17][18]

The Gaumont Film Company and Disney formed Gaumont Buena Vista International, a joint venture in French distribution, in 1993.[19] In August 1996, Disney and Tokuma Shoten Publishing agreed that Disney would distribute internationally Studio Ghibli animated films.[20] In September 1996, following Disney's acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, Inc. was merged[4] into ABC, Inc.,[21] the parent company of that group.

For the November 1995 premiere of Toy Story, Disney rented the Hollywood Masonic Temple — adjacent to the El Capitan Theatre — for Totally Toy Story, a multimedia funhouse and a promotional event for the movie.[22] In July 1998, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution purchased the Hollywood Masonic Temple building to continue using it as a promotional venue.[23]

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.[17][18] In 2002, Disney signed a four animated film deal with Vanguard Animation,[24] however, only one film was released under that negotiation.[25]

In 2004, BVI and Gaumont dissolved their French distribution joint venture, Gaumont Buena Vista International.[19] Buena Vista International agreed to a distribution deal with MegaStar Joint Venture Company Limited in April 2006 for the Vietnam market.[26]

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In April 2007, Disney discontinued the usage of the Buena Vista brand in its distribution branding.[3] In 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired UTV Motion Pictures through UTV Software Communications.[27] Since then, UTV Motion Pictures became the exclusive distributor for all Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures releases for the South Asian market from 2013 onward.

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.[28] The distribution deal ended in 2016, after DreamWorks and Disney decided to not renew their agreement in December 2015, with Universal Pictures replacing Disney as DreamWorks' distributor.[29][30] By the end of the deal, Disney had distributed 14 of DreamWorks's original 30-picture agreement.[31][32] Disney took complete ownership rights of those 14 DreamWorks films from Amblin Partners in exchange for loans made to that company.[33] The Light Between Oceans, the final film in that distribution deal, was also the last film released under the Touchstone banner before it was retired by Disney from theatrical distribution.

In December 2017, The Walt Disney Company announced plans to purchase 21st Century Fox, which includes 20th Century Fox. In March 2019, the acquisition of 21st Century Fox was completed.[34]


Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures has distributed 28 films that have received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Picture; four from Walt Disney Pictures, six from Touchstone Pictures, two from Hollywood Pictures, one from Marvel Studios, and fifteen from Miramax Films.[35] Of those nominations, four Miramax films won the accolade; The English Patient (1996), Shakespeare In Love (1998), Chicago (2002), and No Country for Old Men (2007).[36]

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures currently distributes films from Walt Disney Studios, other Disney film units and some third-party studios including:

Walt Disney Studios[37] Active distribution deals Former distribution deals

Other Disney units

International arrangements

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International was formed in 1961 as Buena Vista International.[6] 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.[52] Warner previously had 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 1993–2007, 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.

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.[53]

Beforehand, distribution rights in West Germany were given to MGM (under CIC in the early 1970s) and later to 20th Century Fox before the Warner Bros. joint venture.

Disney and Sony Pictures Entertainment formed in 1997 a film distribution joint venture in Southeast Asia.[54] 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 15th such partnership began operations in Russia and CIS.[55] 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.[54] 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.[56]

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.[57] The UK-produced film Patrick was also released in 2018 by Disney under the Buena Vista International label in the UK.[58]

Highest-grossing films

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures has released the most films that have crossed the $1 billion mark (twenty-four, in worldwide grosses among major Hollywood studios, with twelve 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). [59] 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).[60] Furthermore, Disney is the only studio that has achieved this seven times, in 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019- 2016 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.[61] In addition, four of the top-five opening weekends were Disney releases.[62] In 2015, Disney achieved its largest yearly box-office gross worldwide and in North America.[63][64] In 2016, Disney surpassed $7 billion in worldwide yearly box-office gross—the first of any major studio—surpassing the previous 2015 record.[65] In 2019, Disney became the first studio ever to have five releases to cross $1 billion each in a single year. [66]

Highest-grossing films in North America
RankTitleYearStudio labelBox office gross
1 Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015 Lucasfilm $936.7
2 Avengers: Endgame 2019 Marvel $858.4
3 Black Panther 2018 $700.1
4 Avengers: Infinity War $678.8
5 The Avengers 2012 $623.4
6 Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017 Lucasfilm $620.2
7 Incredibles 2 2018 Disney/Pixar $605.6
8 The Lion King 2019 Disney $543.3
9 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 2016 Lucasfilm $532.2
10 Beauty and the Beast 2017 Disney $504.0
11 Finding Dory 2016 Disney/Pixar $486.3
12 Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 Marvel $459.0
13 Toy Story 4 2019 Disney/Pixar $434.0
14 Captain Marvel Marvel $426.8
15 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest 2006 Disney $423.3
16 The Lion King 1994 $422.8
17 Toy Story 3 2010 Disney/Pixar $415.0
18 Iron Man 3 2013 Marvel $409.0
19 Captain America: Civil War 2016 $408.1
20 Frozen 2013 Disney $400.7
21 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 2017 Marvel $389.8
22 Finding Nemo 2003 Disney/Pixar $380.8
23 Frozen II 2019 Disney $372.3
24 The Jungle Book 2016 $364.0
25 Inside Out 2015 Disney/Pixar $356.5
Highest-grossing films worldwide
RankTitleYearStudio labelBox office gross
1 Avengers: Endgame 2019 Marvel $2,797.8
2 Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015 Lucasfilm $2,068.2
3 Avengers: Infinity War 2018 Marvel $2,048.7
4 The Lion King 2019 Disney $1,654.6
5 The Avengers 2012 Marvel $1,518.8
6 Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 $1,405.4
7 Black Panther 2018 $1,347.0
8 Star Wars: The Last Jedi 2017 Lucasfilm $1,332.5
9 Frozen 2013 Disney $1,276.5
10 Beauty and the Beast 2017 $1,263.5
11 Incredibles 2 2018 Disney/Pixar $1,227.4
12 Iron Man 3 2013 Marvel $1,214.8
13 Captain America: Civil War 2016 $1,153.3
14 Captain Marvel 2019 $1,128.3
15 Toy Story 4 2019 Disney/Pixar $1,073.3
16 Toy Story 3 2010 $1,067.0
17 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest 2006 Disney $1,066.2
18 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 2016 Lucasfilm $1,056.1
19 Aladdin 2019 Disney $1,050.6
20 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 2011 $1,045.7
21 Frozen II 2019 $1.040.0
22 Finding Dory 2016 Disney/Pixar $1,028.6
23 Alice in Wonderland 2010 Disney $1,025.5
24 Zootopia 2016 $1,023.8
25 The Lion King 1994 $968.5

—Includes theatrical reissue(s).


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  1. 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 will revert from Disney to GKIDS in 2020. Disney continues to distribute Studio Ghibli's film library in France, Taiwan (through Deltamac) and Japanese Home Media.
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