When last December’s hacking scandal unleashed a trove of embarrassing emails and crippled Sony Pictures, the word around Hollywood was that it was just a matter of time before co-chairman Amy Pascal resigned. Last week, the 56-year-old did, announcing plans to become an independent producer. She immediately closed a deal to produce the studio’s Spider-Man reboot for 2017.
Throughout her nearly 20-year tenure at Sony, Pascal’s work went largely unnoticed by most multiplex patrons. But the industry’s top female executive—one of Hollywood’s longest-serving backlot bosses of either gender—was renowned for being simpatico with stars and filmmaker-friendly, with an equal acumen for spotting commercial smashes and taking risky gambles on smaller movies that hauled in awards. The studio head changed the face of modern moviedom by dint of her taste, clout, and relationships. Here’s why we’re thanking her.
1. SHE USED HER SPIDEY SENSE
In an era when superhero franchises were an increasingly endangered species, Pascal pulled a beloved comic-book creation out of development limbo and greenlit 2002’s Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire. That Sam Raimi-directed film spawned a trilogy that grossed more than $2.5 billion; it remains the most lucrative superhero series in Hollywood history.
2. SHE GOT FRESH
Erstwhile Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Will Smith shot from minor-league sitcom stardom to the top of the A list on Pascal’s watch. Starting with his breakout role in 1995’s Bad Boys, she made it her business to showcase Smith in star vehicles and many of his career-defining blockbusters, notably the $1.7 billion-grossing Men in Black movies.
3. SHE ESTABLISHED A BOND
The most recent James Bond reboot starring British actor Daniel Craig catapulted the venerable spy franchise to new heights. Produced and distributed by Sony under Pascal, Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) are among the biggest entries in the series’ 53-year run. And 2012’s Skyfall stands as the first Bond title to earn more than $1 billion worldwide.
4. SHE BROKE TV
With studio emphasis shifting increasingly toward television production in recent years, Pascal’s department became a cultural force on the small screen, too, with such critically hailed TV hits as Breaking Bad, The Blacklist, and Damages.
5. SHE WENT FOR GOLD
Pascal’s blockbuster bona fides may have been established through the release of such mass-appeal movies as The Da Vinci Code and 21 Jump Street, but the executive demonstrated finesse with prestige films as well, putting her weight behind acclaimed fare including Zero Dark Thirty, American HustleThe Social Network, and perhaps most strikingly, Moneyball. She gave her go-ahead to the biographical drama centered on pro-sports number crunching, but fired director Steven Soderbergh over artistic differences just before production began. She regrouped and hired Capote director Bennett Miller, and the movie (starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill) went on to earn $110 million and six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.
5 1/2. SHE AIDED (AND ABETTED) ADAM
Credit Pascal—or perhaps blame her—for Sony’s long string of Adam Sandler hits. Since 1999, the pair’s allegiance to each other has spanned some 15 films and raked in more than $2.4 billion worldwide.