Three years after reinventing itself as U.S. distributor, Summit Entertainment has achieved a level of prestige that comes only from winning Oscars.

With “The Hurt Locker” winning Best Picture along with the directing, original screenplay, editing and both sound categories, Summit has elevated its status in the kudos realm to complement its box office success as home to the “Twilight” franchise.

“We have a deep debt of gratitude to Summit Entertainment,” said producer Greg Shapiro in his acceptance speech.

It’s an outcome that few could have foreseen in April 2007, when Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger began transforming Summit from a foreign sales company into a full-service production and distribution studio. Friedman, who had been vice chairman at Paramount, came aboard as Summit announced a $1 billion financing deal with Merrill Lynch and a consortium of investors.

A year and half later, Summit bought “The Hurt Locker” at the Toronto film festival — a few months before “Twilight” opened.

“We fell in love with it,” Friedman recalled last year of the decision to acquire “Locker” for $1.5 million. “We see this as being about heroes like Steve McQueen and John Wayne, and it just happens to be set in Iraq.”

When Summit hit it big with “Twilight,” it followed up almost immediately with plans for three more films based on the Stephenie Meyer novels. Friedman and Wachsberger said Summit would stick to its original strategy of releasing and distributing 10-12 films per year with a focus on the mid-range films that the majors are less likely to greenlight.

Summit also decided to hold off on a 2008 release for “Hurt Locker,” staying out of the fall scramble for kudos despite having received mostly laudatory reviews and a Venice film fest grand prize. The reasoning was that the film might stand a better chance with a platformed summer release, so Summit screened the pic at ShoWest in March of 2009, began a low-key publicity campaign and launched the pic in four theaters on June 26.

The film never went wider in the United States than 535 locations during its run, which generated $14.7 million — far better than most other Iraq dramas such as “In the Valley of Elah,” which grossed $6.8 million. “Locker” took in another $6 million overseas.

That’s miniscule compared to the $1.1 billion combined worldwide grosses thus far for Summit’s two “Twilight” films, but the company now has a level of added status that comes from backing a film that enjoyed a strong awards-season run.

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