You could argue that Miramax died when company founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein left in 2005, but today after months of rumors, reduced production slates and layoffs, it became official: Miramax is no more.

In the immediate term, 80 people are out of jobs and a handful of films that have already been produced  will go into limbo. The long term impact is less clear. Maybe Harvey will buy the name back from Disney, but it would take more than a new-old name to make The Weinstein Company what Miramax used to be.

They were kind of easy to poke fun of, especially after Disney bought them in 1993 – Harvey’s personality rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and at a certain point Miramax seemed to stop being about putting out great movies and more about winning Oscars. The Weinstein’s business model of “buying” Oscars for smaller, quality films spawned a whole cottage industry of mini-majors as the big studios sought to replicate Miramax’s success.

The landscape of both independent cinema and the awards race were completely changed. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dead end and Miramax appears to be the latest victim of the revolution it started.

Independent cinema and Harvey Weinstein will continue, but neither one is the same. I hadn’t really thought about it until I looked back at the Miramax roster and saw how many important films have their name on them either as distributor or production company outright. Miramax made it’s first biggest splash of course when they swooped into Sundance and came away with a little film called Sex, Lies & Videotape by a young man named Steven Soderbergh.

Going back a little further though, the rise of Miramax dovetails nicely with the rise of my own cinematic conscience. I went to college in 1987 and I remember a little movie called I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing. I don’t even remember now exactly what it was about and I’ve never seen it since. It had lesbians in it and Miramax’s name on it and it seemed to be from another world beyond the suburban multiplex and drive-in where I grew up watching movies like Star Wars and Beverly Hills Cop.

After that there was Aria and Pelle the Conqueror and Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line. After Sex, Lies and Videotape there as Cinema Paradiso, Scandal, The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, My Left Foot, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, The Grifters, Delicatessen, The Double Life of Veronique, Prospero’s Books and of course Reservoir Dogs and The Crying Game.

Interestingly, Disney purchased Miramax within a year or two after I graduated from college. The company changed and so did I. Like Water for Chocolate, Farewell My Concubine, The Three Colors Trilogy, The Piano, Clerks, The Crow, Heavenly Creatures and Pulp Fiction. These films helped define the ’90s for me. Muriel’s Wedding, Blue in the Face, Dead Man, Kids, Smoke, Mighty Aphrodite, Trainspotting, Sling Blade, Swingers, The English Patient, Jackie Brown… the list goes on.

Even after the Weinstein’s left, Miramax’s name turned up on two of my favorite films of the entire last decade: There Will be Blood and No Country for Old Men.

Harvey’s still around and independent cinema isn’t going anywhere, but things are much different now. Miramax’s passing is a sad reminder of that.

12 Responses to “Miramax Films: 1979 – 2010”

  1. I actually talked about this distressing situation at CP a while back. Owen Gleiberman of EW discussed the matter in detail and I linked to his article.

    What we all have to keep reminding ourselves is that there’s art…and then there’s commerce. Almost everyone that reads or visits LiC is more attuned to the former.

    But Hollywood runs on its own particular trajectory. Great films that stand the test of time – that are original, challenging, moving, emotionally satisfying – will always be made.

    But that’s almost incidental.

    The film industry is a business. Businesses exist to make money.

    I loved many of the movies that bore the Miramax logo. Harvey’s taken a lot of hard knocks in the press over the years. But he had a sharp eye for talent and exceptionally fabulous taste.

    Everything that originated at Miramax was a quality product.

    Craig, you’ve all ready touched on many of the motion pictures in your post. But I’m all ready genuinely nostalgic for this company’s glory days.

    So here’s my take.

    Any studio that can produce films like THE ENGLISH PATIENT, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, SCANDAL, THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, the KILL BILL movies, SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE, CHICAGO, TRAINSPOTTING, MY LEFT FOOT, PULP FICTION, THE CRYING GAME, COLD MOUNTAIN, THE GRIFTERS, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE and THE THREE COLORS TRILOGY is to be commended in my estimation.

    All of those motion pictures are worthy of every accolade they ever received. They’re some of my favourite films. Period.

    The pendulum always swings back and forth – particularly in the indie sector. But I doubt that we will ever see anything like this again.

    RIP Miramax.

  2. “What we all have to keep reminding ourselves is that there’s art…and then there’s commerce.”

    This is absolutely true and both will continue with or without Miramax. Today is really no different than yesterday or the day before, but the symbolism of it is sad.

  3. I loved many of the movies that bore the Miramax logo. Harvey’s taken a lot of hard knocks in the press over the years. But he had a sharp eye for talent and exceptionally fabulous taste.
    Everything that originated at Miramax was a quality product.

    Perfectly put. As a youngin’ trying to learn about the art of film, watching IFC and Bravo (when it was great), the instant the Miramax logo popped on the screen made me giddy inside because I knew I was in for a treat, a learning experience. I am saddened by the promise of what could have been and sort of mourn the end of an era (seriously).

    So, today, I tip a 40 for my homies over at Miramax and the history the company carries with it.

  4. I still love when I see the old school Miramax logo in bright, shiny color pop on the screen or the revised silent crawl across the water into a glittering New York skyline at night. Miramax was a massive contradiction in terms. From Harvey Weinstein recutting films to suit his perception of American tastes and burying films entirely, making them near impossible to see in the states, Miramax was in some ways the worst thing that happened to foreign film in the last 20 years. On the other hand, without Miramax and the Weinsteins its uncertain if the current crop of Best Picture contender foreign and indie films would even exist. Add to that the fact that Miramax let some directors have unfettered, unrestricted claim to their work in a time when Hollywood was still clamping down on art. In that respect, Miramax likely spawned the auteur resurgence of the 90’s.

    So much history, so much controversy, so many great films (cut and uncut). RIP Miramax.

  5. Beautifully said Craig, Miranda, Dorothy, and Joel. The Miramax logo was for many years a reliable marker of exceptional quality. Harvey has always been a source of curiosity to me. On the one hand he is a man often depicted in the industry press, I don’t doubt with some degree of truth, as a ruthless, egotistical, and vulgar monstrosity not that far removed from the fictional Albert Spica (btw, I highly recommend Sam’s wonderful WitD review of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover). On the other hand here is a man who with his brother contributed to the creation of a viable art house film business model that we’ve all so much benefited from. He may at some levels be a vulgarian but as noted in the above comments his taste, eye for talent, and the courage to stake so much on his confidence in it was a godsend during the remarkable Miramax era. Although loosely related, I can’t help but recall Albert Spica’s bragging about his own talent:

    “What you’ve got to realize is that the clever cook puts unlikely things together, like duck and orange, like pineapple and ham. It’s called ‘artistry’. You know, I am an artist the way I combine my business and my pleasure: Money’s my business, eating’s my pleasure and Georgie’s my pleasure, too, though in a more private kind of way than stuffing the mouth and feeding the sewers, though the pleasures are related because the naughty bits and the dirty bits are so close together that it just goes to show how eating and sex are related. Georgie’s naughty bits are nicely related, aren’t they, Georgie?”

  6. For 2007, the three best films of the year all came from Miramax:

    -The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
    -No Country for Old Men
    -There Will Be Blood

  7. That’s an outstanding selection, Free.

  8. All three were in my Top 10 for the year if memory serves.

    The thing about Harvey as a personality… I pretty much agree with Sartre. He had a lot of enemies and I think his New York style rubbed Hollywood the wrong way, but the guy was a champion for a lot of great movies over the years.

    I might not want to have dinner with the guy, but I’m glad he’s around making movies even if TWC is a shadow of the old Miramax.

  9. It seems to me that Miramax’s rise and fall is like that of any great person in history. Revolutionary, innovative, controversial, polarizing, important, flawed, and full of drama, the center of so many other lives and conversations.

    That’s a lovely reflection on their effect on your movieloving, Craig. They were the same for me, even though I was a few years behind you there. I get that same thrill from the logo, Joel, even now.

    I’m thinking of getting “I heart 2007 films” tattooed on my body somewhere. :) Such a great year, and yes, Miramax had a hand in some of the best.

  10. You also have to hand it to them for sticking through it all as a pair of brother moguls, one out in front and one quietly in the background. I also love that the name “Miramax” is a combination of their parents’ names and always felt it was a little disturbing to have such a family-owned business bought out by a massive corporation like Disney.

    You’re right, JB, that Miramax mirrors the stories of many success stories past. And you’re all correct that ultimately, they brought a hell of a lot of goodness to all our lives.

  11. In a world of compromises, Miramax was more than acceptable and helped stave off the onslaught of what I’ll call impersonal filmmaking.

    Now that things have changed, it makes me wonder what’s next.

  12. They also had a personal passion and personal touch in an era that has been increasingly corporatized and zombiefied.

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