Most moviegoers my age will remember the iconic Pegasus logo (I picked out the older version for the article, which is probably better known) of the film studio TriStar Pictures. For a while, TriStar pictures popped up regularly every year, but have you noticed you haven’t seen the Pegasus take flight much in the past decade? So, let’s sit back and re-live the glory days of the studio that gave us Robin Williams playing Peter Pan, David Bowie singing to Muppets, an army of giant bugs, a sports agent who screams over the phone, and a giant lizard who eats a lot of fish…
Who Were They?
TriStar originally began, fittingly, in 1982 as a pooled effort by three entities, HBO, Columbia, and CBS, to share costs in a film industry that had been growing expensive. However, CBS and HBO would divest their interests in TriStar, and later Coca-Cola, which owned Columbia, would sell that studio to TriStar in 1987. Columbia and TriStar were then reformed into separate film studios, later to be bought by Sony, creating the TriStar Pictures that we know to this day.
TriStar got off to a good start with their first produced film, the Robert Redford headliner The Natural, a hit that also scored a few Oscar nods. The studio also secured distribution deals with mini-majors like Carolco, Cannon, Hemdale, as well as the Salkind producers for Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie. TriStar also worked with Jim Henson on his film projects after Henson’s previous partner, ITC, went under. TriStar scored another coup by bankrolling a few Robin Williams projects, Hook, The Fisher King, and Jumanji, all hits or cult classics that retain followings to this day. With a lot of successes under its belt, TriStar flourished in the 1980s and 1990s.
What Were They Known For?
Having a film logo that everyone, especially children, would love to ride.
As far as their movies, a pretty well rounded collection of audience favorites, Oscar winners, and a few stinkers. Not terribly different from what most big studios would put out.
The Studio’s Peak Moment
1996’s Jerry McGuire. Big hit and five Oscar nods, and that catchphrase, “Show me the money!” Yeah, how long did we go listening to that everywhere?
The Studio’s Most Notorious Movie
TriStar had a few duds, even a few really infamous ones:
I Know Who Killed Me is credited with burying Lindsay Lohan’s film career even deeper than it already was.
Baby Geniuses was pretty horrible but its reputation was eclipsed by its sequel, which would surely have made it on here if it wasn’t distributed by Sony’s Triumph division instead. TriStar, you dodged a bullet…
And then there’s Bruce Willis’ Hudson Hawk, a movie to this day is held as a premiere example of a flop although its notoriety has faded with time.
Suspense and horror author Dean Koontz found TriStar’s adaptation of his novel Hideaway to be pretty notorious. Many of his fans would agree.
But the prize for TriStar’s most notorious flick has to go to one of the most infamous slasher flicks of all time: Silent Night, Deadly Night. Serial killers dressed in painted William Shatner masks or hockey masks, no problem. A killer dressed like jolly old Saint Nick, big frickin’ problem. Yes, the killer of Silent Night, Deadly Night is a man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit and hunts his victims with an axe. This film was utterly hated by parents who did not like the killer Santa motif in the movie’s ad campaign. It even pissed off Gene Siskel, who called out the ad campaign, called out the movie for its horribleness, then called out the movie makers by name: LINK.
After two weeks, the studio actually pulled the movie from theaters. Today, TriStar no longer owns the rights, and is no doubt happy not to. Not surprisingly, the movie spawned a lot of cheapie sequels.
The Studio’s Up and Comers
Jennifer Connelly. Labyrinth was her first major motion picture, though it would take a while for her career to really take off.
English actress Helena Bonham Carter had one of her early film roles in the Kenneth Branagh directed Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Bruce Willis’ first feature film role was in Blind Date.
Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman got great mileage out of Glory, with Freeman’s performance garnering great notice and Washington winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
One of Billy Zane’s first starring roles was in 1993’s Sniper.
Future Bond girl Denise Richards and future Romulan senator Dina Meyer got early gigs in Starship Troopers.
One of Mark Wahlberg’s first starring roles was in The Big Hit.
Catherine Zeta-Jones won a star-making role in The Mask of Zorro.
Director Neill Blomkamp had his breakout hit District 9 partially produced by TriStar, and the studio would later bankroll his followup, Elysium.
Finally, TriStar gave John Travolta’s film career a big shot in the arm (he had been on the wane in the 80s since his Grease glory days) with Look Who's Talking, a comedy that nearly made 300 million worldwide (seriously). Travolta’s career resurrection would be completed a few years later with Pulp Fiction.
The Natural, Runaway, the Short Circuit movies, Labyrinth, Sunset, The Blob (remake), Look Who's Talking (and sequels), The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Last Dragon, Steel Magnolias, Glory, The Freshman (1990), Real Genius, Peggy Sue Got Married, Switching Channels, Hudson Hawk, Weekend at Bernie's II, So I Married an Axe Murderer, Family Business, The Fisher King, Hook, Rudy, Philadelphia, Guarding Tess, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Devil in a Blue Dress, Legends of the Fall, The Quick and the Dead, Jumanji, Mary Reilly, Matilda, Donnie Brasco, Starship Troopers, Godzilla (1999), The Mask of Zorro, Universal Soldier: The Return, Elysium.
What Happened To the Studio?
TriStar’s streak was stomped on by their monster-sized would-be blockbuster, Godzilla. TriStar and Sony thought they had the surest thing of surest things, a CGI-powered remake of a well known franchise directed by the guys who did Independence Day. The studio even picked out the release date to correspond with the day Spielberg’s The Lost World came out. They figured they’d beat that movie’s opening weekend with a 100 million gross on opening weekend.
Instead, the moviegoing public was largely turned off by the hype, and the final result left a lot of people cold, with the acting, script, and the new Godzilla singled out for criticism. The film was ridiculed as the worst example of studio overhype. Some people claimed the Taco Bell commercials featuring the Taco Bell dog trying to trap Godzilla to be more entertaining than the movie they was promoting.
The movie wasn’t a flop - it did make around 300 million worldwide - but the backlash and underperformance was so stinging that it knocked a studio that was once riding high on its heels. In 2000, the next year after Godzilla, TriStar released nothing except an English dub of Toho-produced Godzilla 2000. For pretty much the entirety of the 2000s, TriStar limped along with low-budget efforts, comedies like Daddy Day Care, or foreign-made films and a few anime movies.
TriStar found a niche in the 2010s as a distributor of Christian-themed films like Soul Surfer, Courageous, Heaven Is for Real, Moms' Night Out, and When the Game Stands Tall. Since most of these films were made by the Sony-owned Affirm Films, we can say synergy was a factor.
The studio got back into the big-budget game with 2013’s Elysium, a not-well received movie that probably drained a lot of goodwill for its director Blomkamp, as his current flick, Chappie, debuted with a thud. As of today, TriStar has definitely fallen from its glory days, sticking mostly to low-budget fare, and although it’s owned by Sony, the Japanese corporation has seen fit to place its big budget movie eggs in Columbia instead.
The studio’s iconic Pegasus logo remains a fond memory for many moviegoers. The logo has inspired a number of parodies, including the “Joe Swanson Theatres” logo from Family Guy as well as this “Tri Sunn” parody on Youtube: LINK.
So what is your favorite TriStar picture? What do you think of the studio? Any other thoughts?