Lights, Camera, Action: The Largest Movie Studios Revealed

From arthouse cinema to multi-million dollar blockbusters, the world’s biggest movie studios have been entertaining us for over a century, but they’re not just renowned for their artistic prowess. The largest film production companies are global economic powerhouses. And who made the biggest movie set? Let’s find out…

Building Big Engineering
19 January 2024

In the ever-evolving and rapidly-changing landscape of global entertainment, the biggest movie studios in the world stand as colossal pillars of creativity, commerce, and cultural influence. They’re not just movie-makers, they are trendsetters, tech developers and significant contributors to the global economy.

Indeed the influence of these titanic companies extends far beyond the confines of cinema halls, shaping the very fabric of popular culture. From merchandise and theme parks to streaming services and digital innovations, the world’s largest film studios have their fingers in many pies, making them multifaceted entities in the entertainment domain.

From humble beginnings in the early twentieth century to their current status as global behemoths, their journey is a fascinating tale of ambition, innovation, and the relentless pursuit of entertaining the masses. The transformation of these studios over the decades is not just a story of business growth but a mirror reflecting the changing tastes and technologies of the times.

The largest movie studios in the world can change over time depending on the factors involved, such as box office income, market capitalization or number of employees. Here’s a rundown of some of the largest.

Paramount Pictures | Paramount Global

Paramount Studios with the Hollywood sign in the background (Credit: Paul Harris via Getty Images)

Location: Hollywood, California, USA | Founded: 1912

Paramount was founded about a week after Universal in 1912 and is the second-oldest movie studio in the USA. One of the world’s largest movie studios, it’s the last major studio still located in Hollywood and its trademark mountain logo has been rumoured to be Ben Lomond or the Pfeifferhorn in Utah, Artesonraju in the Peruvian Andes, Monviso or the Matterhorn in the Italian Alps or even Mount Huntingdon in Alaska! Paramount Pictures have made some of the highest-grossing films of all time, including Titanic, Beverly Hills Cop, Forrest Gump, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Warner Bros. Pictures | Warner Bros. Discovery

The Warner Bros Studio lot Los Angeles, CA (Credit: Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Location: Burbank California, USA | Founded: 1923

WarnerMedia merged with Discovery Inc. in 2022 to form Warner Bros. Discovery, one of the largest movie studios in the world. The company was founded in 1923 by brothers Harry, Sam, Albert and Jack Warner. In 1927, they released the first ever ‘talkie’, The Jazz Singer starring Al Jolson.

As well as huge movies such as Barbie, the Harry Potter franchise, The Hangover and Aquaman, Warner Bros. are perhaps as famous for cartoons like Bugs Bunny, Looney Tunes, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, and Yosemite Sam.

Columbia Pictures | Sony

Columbia Pictures in Culver City, California (Credit: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images)

Location: Culver City, California, USA | Founded: 1918

Originally formed as Cohn-Brandt-Cohn Film Sales Corporation by Harry and Jack Cohn and their business partner Joe Brandt in 1918, the name Columbia – the female personification of the United States – was adopted six years later.

One of the biggest movie studios in the world, Columbia has been responsible for some of the best-known films ever, including almost 200 movies by The Three Stooges, 1980s and 1990s blockbusters Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Bad Boys, and Men in Black, and contemporary classics The Da Vinci Code, the Spider-Man franchise, and Zombieland.

Walt Disney Pictures | The Walt Disney Company

Walt Disney Studios, Burbank, CA (Credit: AaronP/Bauer-Griffin via Getty Images)

Location: Burbank, California, USA | Founded: 1923

Disney has been at the forefront of movie making for over a century. Alongside stablemates 20th Century Studios, Marvel Studios, Pixar, and Lucasfilm, the company is one of the largest film studios in the world. Founded by Walt and Roy Disney to make cartoons, Disney has made some of the most famous films ever committed to celluloid.

Probably best known for Mickey Mouse and theme parks, Walt Disney Pictures has produced some of the biggest-grossing films of the last two decades including the Toy Story franchise, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Finding Nemo and Frozen.

Universal Pictures | Comcast

Cinema rooms at Universal City. (Credit: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

Location: Universal City, California, USA | Founded: 1912

Universal is the oldest film studio in America and the fifth oldest in the world. Universal Pictures, one of the world’s largest film production companies, is owned by NBCUniversal, who are themselves owned by Comcast. The studios are located in Universal City, California and the corporate headquarters are in New York City.

Some of Universal’s highest-grossing films include Jurassic Park, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, Jaws, and No Time To Die, the twenty-fifth James Bond movie.

The Biggest Movie Set in the World

Lighting equipment and folding chairs in film studio

The contenders for the title of world’s biggest movie set are awe-inspiring architectural marvels, not to mention eye-wateringly expensive. These sets aren’t just movie backdrops, they are vital characters in storytelling, bringing to life the vision of filmmakers and immersing audiences in entirely new worlds, including futuristic cityscapes such as Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis, ancient landmarks like the Forum of Rome in the 1963 epic Cleopatra, or the fourteen-acre Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Ben-Hur | 1959

At the time, the biggest movie set ever constructed was the chariot arena in William Wyler’s 1959 classic Ben-Hur starring Charlton Heston. It was modelled on one of Jerusalem’s historic circuses and the eighteen acre set cost over $1 million. A team of a thousand people crafted the racetrack from a rock quarry for the set, taking over a year to complete. This endeavour required over 40,000 metres of metal tubing and 36,000 tonnes of sand, sourced from Mediterranean beaches, to cover the arena’s floor. Additionally, an identical track was constructed next to the set for meticulous planning of camera angles and horse training.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind | 1977

One of the most famous scenes in movie history, the UFO landing site at the end of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is believed to be one of, if not the biggest movie set constructed entirely indoors. The filmmakers needed an indoor location they could convincingly pass off as a state park in Wyoming so they found a disused 283,000m2 World War II airship hangar in Alabama. The set measured 27m high, 137m long and 76m wide.

Titanic | 1997

James Cameron’s $200 million blockbuster was the first film to gross a billion dollars and the star of the show was the ship, rumoured to have cost anywhere from $20 million to $40 million. It was a 90% scale model of the real thing and since the studio couldn’t find a space big enough for one of the biggest movie sets ever constructed, they bought forty acres of coastline and built a 250 x 30 metre tank filled with sixty-five million litres of seawater.

The Final Curtain: The World’s Largest Movie Studios

Studio spotlight with a red stage curtain in the background. (Credit: Bet_Noire via Getty Images)

These studios, with their colossal sets, astronomical budgets, and far-reaching cultural impacts, are more than just entertainment providers. They are architects of dreams and narratives that resonate across the globe.

The sheer size of the planet’s largest film production companies offers a unique perspective into the world of film, highlighting not only their role in shaping popular culture but also their significant economic and creative contributions. It is also a reminder of the enduring power of cinema and the ever-evolving landscape of movie-making, where the blend of art, technology, and business continues to captivate and inspire audiences worldwide.


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