Since its emergence as a major Hollywood studio in the late 1920s, Warner Bros. has remained at the forefront of the American film industry, proving itself time and again as the boldest innovator among the studios. Warner coalesced as an integrated major studio on the basis of its pioneering role in the coming of "talkies," quickly developing under Harry (1881–1958) and Jack Warner (1892–1978) into a competitive industry force with perhaps the most distinctive house style in Hollywood. After struggling through the early postwar era, Warner Bros. again played a pioneering role when, in the mid-1950s, it led major studios into television series production, which quickly proved to be a more reliable and profitable endeavor than movie production. Once the most factory-oriented of the integrated majors, Warner Bros. eventually came to terms with independent production, and in fact it was a major proponent of the director-driven American New Wave of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
That movement was soon overwhelmed by the New Hollywood, with its media conglomerates, blockbuster films, and entertainment franchises. Here too Warner Bros. helped shape and define a changing industry—albeit as a subdivision of two successive corporate juggernauts. The first of these parent companies was Warner Communications Inc., which became an American entertainment giant during the 1970s under Steve Ross, and continued to expand in the 1980s despite huge losses incurred by its ground-breaking video-game division, Atari. The second was Time Warner, Inc., whose creation via merger in 1989 spurred a new era of global media conglomerates. The Warner Bros. film studio was a key component of the vast Time Warner empire, even after the 1996 acquisition of Turner Broadcasting, which added extensive broadcast and cable assets, the world's largest media library, and three additional film companies (including New Line) to the mix.
In the twenty-first century the pioneering impulse led to disaster, with the hugely unsuccessful merger of Time Warner with the Internet giant America Online (AOL). Time Warner and its myriad media divisions survived, however, thanks largely to a new breed of global entertainment franchise launched by The Matrix movies (1999–2003), the Harry Potter series (2001–2005), and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–2003). Meanwhile, other subsidiaries, notably cable movie channels HBO and TCM (Turner Classic Movies), have exploited the vast Time Warner library and kept the Warner Bros. trademark and its movies in continuous circulation. Thus Warner Bros., as a studio and a movie-industry brand, remains enormously successful more than eighty years after its birth.
Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: