Fox Merges With Disney: The Storied Studio’s 102-Year History

Carrie Fisher Star Wars
20th Century Fox/Lucasfilm/REX/Shutterstock

Movies weren’t yet talkies and the headquarters were located in New Jersey when Fox Film was founded in 1915. William Fox couldn’t have imagined that his modest film company would get bulked up by merging with 20th Century, produce some of the highest-grossing movies of all time, and become a global empire. Here’s a look back at Fox’s long history as it prepares to merge with Disney.

Fox Studios’ East Lot on Western Avenue at Sunset in Hollywood

1915 Fox Film Corp. created by William Fox. A key element was the Fox Theatres, which went into bankruptcy in 1933 and sold to National Theatres. The company moved from New Jersey to Echo Park and then Hollywood before settling in its present location west of Beverly Hills in 1926.

1935 On May 31, Fox merges with 20th Century, created by Joseph Schenck and Darryl F. Zanuck, and becomes the last of the “big six” studios to be established (though film historians still argue whether this was the start date, or whether it traces back to the 1915 founding by William Fox).

1939 Pint-sized Fox contract star Shirley Temple was named No. 1 box office attraction for fifth consecutive year. In the 1940s, the studio’s Betty Grable became No. 1.

1950 “All About Eve” wins the best picture Oscar and five other Academy Awards.

1953 Fox releases “The Robe” in its own new Cinemascope, a format promoted for its wider screen and more depth without 3D glasses; it was one of Hollywood’s big screen attempts to lure viewers away from the new medium of television.

 1953 Marilyn Monroe, under contract to Fox, became a star with three high-profile projects: “Niagara,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “How to Marry a Millionaire”

1956 After two decades at the company, Zanuck resigns as head of production and moves to Paris to become an independent producer.

 The Fox back lot’s harbor set before it was demolished to become Century City.

Nov. 24, 1958 Variety reports that Fox president Spyros Skouras is near a deal to sell 176 acres of the Pico Avenue back lot for $40 million. The land was purchased by William Zeckendorf and turned into the current Century City shopping and office development. Hollywood legend says “Cleopatra” was to blame, but it hadn’t even begun filming. The real culprit: the growing popularity of TV forced a rethink of studio finances.

1958 The company launches 20th Century Records, which lasts until 1982.

June 27, 1962 “Cleopatra,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, ends principal photography, two years after the start of production. Originally budgeted at $5 million, it ended up costing $44 million, including marketing costs. That translates to $360 million in current dollars — still one of the most expensive productions of all time.

1962 Darryl F. Zanuck returns to Fox and installs his son as Richard Zanuck as head of production.

1963 “Cleopatra” opens and becomes the highest-grossing film of the year. Still, it took years to earn a profit and because of its enormous costs, the lavish production forced massive layoffs and ended many planned productions.

1964 20th Century Fox TV debuts “Peyton Place,” America’s first prime-time soap, airing two new half-hour episodes each week.

 1965 “The Sound of Music” becomes the all-time box-office champ, earning $158 million, winning the best picture Oscar, and helping Fox rebound.

1972 The Korean War-set series “MASH,” starring Alan Alda, debuts on CBS and the beloved half-hour comedy has a lengthy 11-year run until 1983. The finale earned a record 125 million viewers.

May 25, 1977 Under Fox production head Alan Ladd Jr., the George Lucas-directed “Star Wars” opens and becomes the all-time box-office winner, with $775 million, passing the 1975 “Jaws.”

1977 Fox pioneered the new format of home video. When Andre Blay pitched all the studios on the idea of transferring films to videocassettes for consumers; Fox was the only studio interested.

1981 Oil exec Marvin Davis and financier Marc Rich buy the studio for $722 million.

1984 Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp. buy Rich’s interest in 20th Century Fox  for $250 million. Murdoch later buys Davis’s stake for $325 million.

1985 20th Century-Fox drops the hyphen.

1986 “The Late Show with Joan Rivers” launches Fox Broadcasting Co., a bold bid to launch a fourth broadcast network and challenge the decades-old dominance of ABC, CBS, and NBC.

1987 “Married … With Children” helps kicks off Fox’s first night of primetime programming on Sunday.

1989 “The Simpsons,” the animated comedy spun off from Fox’s “The Tracey Ullman Show,” debuts on Fox Broadcasting and becomes an instant hit. The show is currently in season 29, breaking longevity records for an American series. The show is produced by 20th Century Fox Television, making it hugely profitable for the Murdoch empire.

1993 Fox launches “The X-Files,” a prestige drama that becomes a massive global hit for 20th Century Fox Television.

1994 Fox launches the FX cable channel.

1996 Fox News Channel debuts. By 2009, it was airing 9 of the top 10 cable-news shows.

1997Titanic” opens and holds the No. 1 position at box-office for 15 consecutive weeks, earning a record $1.8 billion and winning best picture at the Academy Awards. Fox has worldwide rights to the film, while Paramount distributes it domestically. It becomes the highest grossing film ever until it’s dethroned by another Fox movie, “Avatar.”

2000 Fox Music created.

2009 Director James Cameron breaks his own record as all-time box-office victor, as his “Titanic” is bested by “Avatar,” which scores $2.7 billion.


Fox Searchlight’s “Slumdog Millionaire” wins the best picture Oscar.

2013 News Corp. remains a publishing company and spins off the media and entertainment portion, which becomes 21st Century Fox.

Fox Searchlight’s “12 Years a Slave” wins best picture Oscar.

2014 “Birdman,” another Fox Searchlight title, wins best picture.

2015 Brothers James and Lachlan Murdoch take on oversight of 21st Century Fox as CEO and executive chairman, respectively.

2017 The Murdochs begin discussions with Disney and other suitors for the film and TV operations of 21st Century Fox.