20 years ago, many film industry insiders compared Dimension Films, the genre wing of indie distribution darling Miramax, to that of New Line Cinema in the ‘80s. Both led by vocal figureheads in Bob Weinstein and Robert Shaye, respectively, each studio was redefined thanks to an iconic horror slasher from the mind of Wes Craven, paving the way for new films from up-and-coming storytellers within the genre. Much like the House that Freddy Built would become an integral division of Warner Brothers, housing such popular mainstream titles as the Lord of the Rings, Rush Hour, The Conjuring and Austin Powers franchises, the House that Ghostface Built was on an upward trajectory that aimed to put Miramax and, later, The Weinstein Company, to greater heights than ever before. And with a roster of beloved genre franchises, daring international filmmakers, and a cunning distribution team with an eye towards a massive video marketplace, Dimension went into the new millennium as the next powerhouse of genre cinema.
Now, Dimension Films is barely clinging to life, with its future more unsure than ever before in the wake of a ground-shaking scandal impacting its parent company, The Weinstein Company. To be honest, even before the many severe and shocking allegations came out against Harvey Weinstein (whose behavior had been subject to rumors and whispers throughout the industry for years prior), Dimension was already suffering in a very public manner, as TWC’s financial woes directly stripped Dimension of whatever financial autonomy had been previously associated with the company, causing major film releases to be scrapped at the last moment in favor for behind-doors deals that fulfilled contracts while relegating the project to streaming services or unpublicized direct-to-TV deals. And with all of this following one of the most soured reputations in the industry, with many filmmakers and producers allegedly burned by Dimension either through unfavorable edits onto their work, overdue or unfulfilled residual and profit participation, or films outright never being released due to unmaterialized remake development, any chance for a bailout or even a buyout becomes slimmer by the day.
While some might say the graceless fall for Dimension Films and TWC is karma catching up with the company’s founders following their alleged professional and personal behavior, the collapse of the Dimension brand is nonetheless shocking. Not since the likes of Carolco and Cannon Films in the ‘90s has such an impactful and promising outlet for genre film turned into an utter cinematic graveyard, especially with the level of talent previously associated with the company including a Who’s Who of major Hollywood players. Yet to fully understand how Dimension Films ended up in such dire straits, one should go back to the company’s beginning.
Though they would gain most of their notoriety in the 1990s, primarily for their cutthroat business tactics that allowed Miramax to steer independent cinema closer to the mainstream than ever before, the Weinstein Brothers would begin their complicated history with the horror genre in 1981, adapting the regional New York legend of “Cropsey” into a horror film entitled The Burning. While the film was not a domestic success, repackaging itself for various re-releases under different distributors to recoup only half of its budget stateside, The Burning would become an international sensation, especially in Japan, and later earned a reputation as a cult classic with frequent circulation on cable, which often excised the film’s graphic gore sequences entirely from their broadcast. Following the disappointing returns for the film, which largely was lost in the post-Halloween slasher boom, the Weinstein Brothers would turn their focus elsewhere, finding better luck in racy art house pictures, sex comedies, and investing in international productions that would turn profits.
It would be the latter category that would inspire the Weinsteins to eventually establish Dimension Films, as the duo would find success in the release of Richard Stanley’s Hardware, a visually experimental post-apocalyptic film featuring killer robots. With their focus still steady on sensational yet distinctively dramatic independent features, Miramax created Dimension Films, led by the more genre-minded Bob Weinstein, in order to get their foot back into the genre doorway yet with a new business-savvy developed from their international dealings. But beyond that, the Weinsteins had a clear understanding that their ambition for acclaim and awards would be fruitless if Miramax was labeled as a “horror studio,” even if the profitable genre titles (dubbed as “disreputable” by those within the company) could go a long way towards covering the risky spending costs intended for prestigious festival fare.
Seeing the value in franchised horror, even as the Nightmare and Friday the 13th series began to dwindle, Miramax quickly grabbed the rights to the UK horror sensation Hellraiser, producing the franchise’s third entry, Hell on Earth, for Miramax as the inaugural title under their label. Fortunately for them, the experiment worked: despite critics panning the threequel, Hellraiser III would gross over $12 million domestically, marking it as the second highest grossing film in the franchise. Following this success, Dimension Films quickly entered the realm of distribution, releasing a series of low-budget successes and acquisitions, including Children of the Corn II, Godzilla vs. Biolante, and Fortress.
During this time, Miramax began to build a formidable series of art-house darlings, including Delicatessen, Reservoir Dogs, The Crying Game, and The Piano, fostering a roster of up-and-coming independent filmmakers from around the globe. On the financial success of The Crying Game alone, Miramax was acquired by The Walt Disney Company, infusing, even more, cash into the operations of Dimensions. Yet as the company began riding high on critical and commercial success, Miramax and Dimension decided to take a massive gamble, acquiring the previously slated-for-video film The Crow following the accidental on-set death of star Brandon Lee.
Surrounded by controversy, Bob Weinstein put up the funds to complete filming of The Crow, hiring new writers to write around Lee’s absence, while promising a theatrical release to the film under the Miramax label. Yet even as ethical debates raged on, history would prove Dimension and Miramax right, as the film was a massive box office success, providing Dimension with their first #1 hit, sported a best-selling soundtrack, and hit popular culture in a major way, inspiring merchandise, apparel, and even professional wrestling gimmicks. With The Crow being their proverbial feather in the cap, Dimension began to seek more ambitious projects, including the star-studded religious horror film The Prophecy. Yet Dimension was still in the franchise horror game, and while they toiled on the troubled production of Hellraiser: Bloodlines, the company made another major play within the genre by acquiring the rights to the Halloween franchise.
During this time, Dimension Films began riding a wave of momentum that caught the attention of the film industry, enticing filmmakers both new and old to flock to the studio. On the franchise front, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was a box office success, even if it stirred fans and critics the wrong way, and led Dimension to pursue further sequels to The Crow, The Prophecy, Children of the Corn, Hellraiser and more. Likewise, Dimension essentially became the genre wing of the Walt Disney Company, who were glad to rake in the massive turnover from direct-to-video releases and video store profits. Furthermore, Dimension began acquiring foreign action titles by the handful, finding great success with the Supercop and Crime Story franchises, which further allowed them to go forward with original productions.
However, Dimension Films would cross a threshold with two particularly prolific titles in 1996. The first title was From Dusk Till Dawn, Quentin Tarantino’s first post-Pulp Fiction project and the first big-budget project for Robert Rodriguez, both of whom owed their careers to Miramax at the time. While the film was a minor success and is now cemented as a beloved cult classic, From Dusk Till Dawn represented Dimension becoming a true Hollywood powerhouse, complete with A-list actors (including George Clooney in his first major leading role), incredible special FX, and two of the most in-demand filmmakers at their disposal, all of whom were working on a non-union set, a cardinal sin within Hollywood at the time. In that sense, Dimension was no longer just for waning stars and journeyman filmmakers: it opened the door for many other prolific collaborators to indulge their dark sides.
Yet Dimension would find their greatest success ever with another title that landed right before Christmas in 1996: Wes Craven’s Scream. Not only did Dimension lure a bona fide Master of Horror to their table with Scream, as well as one of the most buzzworthy screenwriters in town with Kevin Williamson, but Scream essentially revived what was a largely aimless and failing genre, creating the first horror mega-hit since Freddy and Jason dominated the multiplex. Accumulating over $100 million domestically and $170+ million worldwide, Scream put Dimension as next-in-line for the horror production throne and inspired countless teen-based slashers in its wake, as well as three successful sequels and a television show that remains in production as of this writing.
Suddenly, Dimension was popping out major theatrical releases left and right, including Guillermo del Toro’s creature feature Mimic, the star-studded Dean Koontz adaptation Phantoms, the Jamie Lee Curtis-starring Halloween: H20, Rodriguez’s alien thriller The Faculty, and even David Cronenberg’s sci-fi/horror hybrid eXistenZ. While each of these films came with varying degrees of success (or, for some, failure), the company was churning out frequent titles in the marketplace at a fraction of the cost for other competing studios. And despite some behind-the-scenes chatter regarding on-set and edit bay interference, especially in regards to Mimic, Miramax’s growing reputation among independent American filmmakers would keep the trades and entertainment journalism outlets fairly quiet.
At the dawn of a new millennium, Dimension Films would find more success in the most unlikely of places: comedies and children’s films. Though the company still found their bread and butter in horror, Dimension’s one-two punch of Scary Movie and Spy Kids would gross over $425 million worldwide on the first film alone, let alone their several sequels earning over $1 Billion combined. Meanwhile, Dimension began pursuing new territories for their genre work, as their previous franchises began losing steam: Halloween: Resurrection prompted unprecedented fan backlash, Hellraiser and From Dusk Till Dawn became direct-to-video properties, and even Scream was beginning to feel tired by the third entry in the franchise.
However, rather than churning out serious coin to grab the rights to any other major horror franchises, Bob Weinstein began courting auteurs and international talent for the next phase of their output. Dimension would once again infiltrate the zeitgeist in 2001 with Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others, a box office behemoth that inspired water-cooler talk with stunning visuals, fantastic performances, and unpredictable twist. Dimension would later enlist in major independent talent and Hollywood free agents to shepherd productions by more affordable filmmakers, whether it be Darren Aronofsky with David Twohy’s Below, Wes Craven with Robert Harmon’s They, Jan de Bont with Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium, and The Coen Brothers with Bad Santa.
While Dimension remained extremely profitable with their never-ending horror sequels and international acquisitions, that doesn’t mean the company did not encounter some public misfires. With the rise of the internet in the late ‘90s and in the early ‘00s, more and more stories about Dimension’s tactics of disenfranchising filmmakers, acquiring titles and scripts without intention of development or release, and various collaborative faux pas were unearthed on message boards, various horror movie blogs, and in horror rags such as FANGORIA. To further that point, the company very nearly lost all their ties with Wes Craven following his experiences on the werewolf film Cursed, whose extensive rewrites, reshoots, and re-edits have become somewhat of Hollywood lore among the horror community. Similar stories about the Weinstein Brothers interference would pop up again not long afterward on the set of Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm, a film that Gilliam has since disowned.
Nevertheless, Dimension was an undeniable genre powerhouse, raking in millions upon millions with their Amityville Horror reboot, Sin City, Wolf Creek, as well as their new “Dimension Extreme” line of direct-to-video gore flicks. Furthermore, to combat their reputation, Dimension would participate in the third season of Project Greenlight, which oversaw the production of John Gulager’s insane horror comedy Feast. However, there was some troubling news on the horizon, as video sales were slowly, but surely, declining, and video stores were facing competition from an ambitious start-up called Netflix that offered a rental-by-mail service that would give cinema enthusiasts unprecedented access to titles from around the world.
Around this time, Dimension would also face their first major box office bomb: the horror double feature experiment that was Grindhouse. Though hardcore genre fans immediately embraced the idea of a three-hour experience that included new films from Rodriguez and Tarantino, as well as fake trailers from rising talents such as Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, and, in select markets), Jason Eisener, general audiences rejected the film, which earned less than half its production budget at the box office. The film not only hurt Dimension, who invested much in advertising as the film was set as a tentpole release for the company, but even hurt Tarantino and Rodriguez, both of whom lost a good deal of stock as “sure-thing” investments from the film industry at large. Fortunately for Dimension, the loss was padded by a pair of successful releases that summer: the Stephen King adaptation 1408 as well as Rob Zombie’s reboot of Halloween.
Yet following the failure of Grindhouse, Dimension saw a significant shift in business, focusing much more on direct-to-DVD titles while saving theatrical windows for event titles, such as Halloween II, remakes such as Pulse or Piranha 3D, or films in the vein of their hits, such as the Scary Movie-esque Superhero Movie. Meanwhile, competition began to arise from other studios unlike ever before: Lionsgate dominated the Halloween moviegoing season with the Saw and Hostel films, Relativity’s subsidiary Rogue Pictures found success with Shaun of the Dead, Seed of Chucky, and The Strangers, and even New Line was getting back into horror following their massive success with the Lord of the Rings films. Combined with early chatter about “internet streaming” and “VOD,” Dimension decided to make some plays, both familiar and new.
In terms of the familiar, Dimension would lure back Craven for a fourth Scream film, team up with the newly successful Blumhouse Pictures for the film Dark Skies, and acquired some of the hottest festival titles available, including Bustillo & Maury’s Livid and Jonathan Levine’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. They would also establish a new genre wing to reflect their branding into The Weinstein Company, Radius-TWC, which would aim at more adult-oriented and art house-friendly fringe titles, including Horns and It Follows. Unfortunately, these decisions were met with a string of decisions ranging from unlucky to outright boneheaded: Scream 4 was a critical and commercial disappointment, Livid remains shelved and unreleased following a stillborn remake development, Mandy Lane was delayed for years before being unceremoniously dumped to video, and the decision to simultaneously release Horns in theaters and on VOD resulted in embarrassment. And even though It Follows became an acclaimed and massively profitable investment on the part of Radius-TWC, the company was soon met with further disappointment as the visionary head of the division, Tom Quinn, would leave not long afterward to establish NEON alongside Drafthouse magnate Tim League.
The bad news didn’t just stop there: with social media and film blogging on the rise, the shady business and personal conduct of the Weinstein Brothers began to bubble like ever before. Stories about films like Clown, Kristy, and Demonic getting shelved for months upon months were becoming par for the course while rumors of The Weinstein Company’s financial trouble grew louder with each passing week. Meanwhile, their video business became utterly decimated, with streaming robbing the distributor of their bread-and-butter, forcing The Weinstein Company to ultimately partner with Netflix with a first-run deal that favored the latter far more than the former. And their inability to produce another Halloween movie in 2015 cost the company the rights to the franchise, which were snatched up by Blumhouse mere months later.
The past year-and-a-half has not been particularly kind to Dimension, the once-king of the horror castle. Kristy and Demonic were both given quiet television premieres before going on Netflix, their contagion flick Viral was pulled from their release schedule and given a brief VOD release before going to Netflix, and the Scream TV series saw a complete show overhaul to prevent cancellation. Dimension also saw a film they sold off,47 Meters Down, go from a direct-to-DVD ambition to big box office success under a different distributor earlier this summer. And after nearly 3 years of delays, as well as numerous reshoots and re-edits, Dimension scrapped their wide theatrical release plans for the reboot Amityville: The Awakening, for a free release via Google Play and a limited theatrical that saw an opening weekend gross of $742. As of this writing, all future Dimension productions currently have no release date, including Polaroid and the next chapters of the Hellraiser and Children of the Corn franchises.
And then, mere weeks ago, news broke revealing Harvey Weinstein as an alleged sexual predator, with various Hollywood actresses revealing shocking and disturbing experiences that accused the producer of sexual assault, lewd behavior, and rape. Almost overnight, filmmakers who had established, decades-long relationships to Miramax, The Weinstein Company, and Dimension severed ties with all three companies, all of which see their future cast under a very dark and ominous cloud.
Now, as the House that Freddy Built sees skyrocketing profits from The Conjuring films and a blockbuster adaptation of Stephen King’s It, Dimension Films is broke, disgraced, and may wind up being a controversial footnote in horror history. While this writer has learned to “never say never,” it seems that the book is so close to being closed on Dimension that one shouldn’t be surprised if their library and completed titles are bought off by Netflix or an akin streaming competitor. For years, the journey from The Burning to Scream and beyond looked to have been a Cinderella story, but with a shattered reputation and a scorned executive in its wake, the story of Dimension Films will go out like Citizen Kane.