Twentieth Century Fox (or 20th Century Fox) was among the first and the last major Hollywood studios to coalesce, initially emerging in the mid-teens as the Fox Film Corporation but not taking on its ultimate configuration until a 1935 merger with 20th Century Pictures, an upstart independent production company run by the inimitable Darryl F. Zanuck (1902–1979). Although the Fox Film Corporation had been an important industry force, not until the 20th Century merger and the installation of Zanuck as production chief did the studio finally come into its own. Arguably the top production executive of the studio era, Zanuck possessed a unique combination of filmmaking and management skills, as well as keen commercial instincts. Through some three decades under Zanuck, Fox's output struck an effective balance of lightweight entertainment and powerful drama— The Mark of Zorro and The Grapes of Wrath in the same year (1940), for instance, both of which Zanuck himself produced. Zanuck also enabled 20th Century Fox to sustain Hollywood's traditional mode of production and marketing strategies far longer than the other studios—well into the 1960s, in fact, when a few big hits like The Sound of Music (1965) were offset by too many costly flops, bringing an end to Zanuck's regime. Fox quickly adapted to the changing industry, enjoying a massive surge with the release of Star Wars (1977) and its first two sequels, which fashioned the consummate New Hollywood movie franchise and carried Fox into the 1980s.
The studio underwent another historic transition in the mid-1980s with the installation of Barry Diller (b. 1942) as president in 1984, and the ensuing purchase of the studio by Rupert Murdoch's (b. 1931) global media giant, News Corporation. While Diller had the commercial and creative instincts that Fox had been lacking since Zanuck's departure, Murdoch brought massive resources and an even broader vision. Together they created a new breed of media conglomerate and fundamentally recast the studio, beginning with the launch of Fox Broadcasting in 1985–1986. The tremendous success of the movie-television "synergy" at Fox changed the landscape of American media, auguring the later studio-network amalgams of Disney-ABC, Paramount-CBS, and NBC-Universal. Moreover, the current alignment of News Corp., with its multiple conduits to media consumers, and Fox Filmed Entertainment, the parent company of 20th Century Fox, has reformulated vertical integration for the cable and digital delivery era. So although the Fox of the early twenty-first century is a far cry from the movie studio(s) that generated it, many obvious affinities and connections persist. There is an affinity, too, between Murdoch, who controlled News Corp. as of 2005, and William Fox (1879–1952), whose equally boundless vision and reckless expansionism laid the groundwork for Murdoch's vast media empire.