The rise and fall of the studio that changed Hollywood -- As the Weinstein brothers part ways with Disney, leaving Miramax behind, both sides face an uncertain future

By Mark Harris
Updated March 14, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST
Michael Eisner, Harvey Weinstein
Credit: Michael D. Eisner and Harvey Weinstein: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg News. /Landov

Nobody died. Nobody went broke. Nothing went out of business. Harvey and Bob Weinstein will continue to make movies, and a business called Miramax will continue to exist. But as the news that Disney would end its 12-year relationship with the Weinsteins finally became a matter of signing contracts and finalizing financial arrangements after months of whispers and rumors, it was hard to shake the feeling that the movie industry was bearing witness to a passing of sorts. The Weinsteins will live to fight another day. And so, presumably, will Miramax. But it was the combination of the two that, over the last two decades, changed the course of American moviemaking and moviegoing by bringing the independent-film business into the Hollywood-studio mainstream.

The track record of the company that the Weinsteins founded 26 years ago, and from which they’re now being forcibly parted, is astonishing — $4.5 billion in grosses, 249 Oscar nominations, and the reinvention of the idea of a movie company as an entity whose very name meant something to moviegoers. Of course, exactly what Miramax signifies to people within the industry has varied wildly over the years, depending on which side of the Weinsteins’ often volcanic tempers and galactic ambitions one found oneself on. The Weinsteins’ detractors — and there are many — see the rise and fall of Miramax as a fable about the perils of getting too big for one’s britches, not to mention karmic payback for all the movies Harvey reedited or shelved, all the buyers he muscled out of a festival auction, and all the rivals he trampled in an Oscar campaign. Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s detractors — and there are plenty — see this as one more demonstration of his inability to maintain relations with outside talent. (Exhibit A: Miramax. Exhibit B: Pixar.) Those who disparage the studio-owned indie labels as ”dependents” and believe that grabbing for corporate dollars means you lose your artistic integrity will doubtless take this as a lesson in the virtues of staying small.

And those who are inclined to see corporate shifts as grim fairy tales can finally write a great one: the story of a king named Michael who was chronically uncomfortable with anyone below him getting too powerful, and a prince named Harvey who was chronically uncomfortable with anyone above him saying no. ”You can take it in many different ways,” says Bob Berney, an admiring rival of the Weinsteins who runs Newmarket Films. ”They wanted to make money, their ego is huge. . .but their legacy is really showmanship and passion for the whole business. They created a new audience, and kept it going. That sort of force of personality is something that, whether you like it or not, you kind of miss.”

Last week, as the year’s biggest showbiz split (sorry, Brad and Jen) finally started to wrap up, everyone was left with the same questions: What becomes of the Weinsteins without Miramax? What becomes of Miramax without the Weinsteins? And since it’s always the kids who suffer in an ugly breakup, what happens to all those movies?