Touchstone Pictures was an American film distribution label of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, created and owned by The Walt Disney Company. Feature films released under the Touchstone label were produced and financed by The Walt Disney Studios, and feature more mature themes targeted towards adult audiences, than those films released under the studio's flagship Walt Disney Pictures banner. As such, Touchstone is merely a pseudonym brand for the studio, and does not exist as a distinct business operation.
Established on February 15, 1984 by then-Disney CEO Ron W. Miller as Touchstone Films, Touchstone operated as an active film production division of Walt Disney Studios during the 1980s through the early 2010s, releasing a majority of the studio's PG-13 and R-rated films. In 2009, Disney entered into a five-year, thirty picture distribution deal with DreamWorks Pictures by which DreamWorks' productions would be released through the Touchstone banner. Touchstone then distributed DreamWorks' films from 2011 to 2016.
BackgroundDue to increased public assumption that Disney films were aimed at children and families, films produced by the Walt Disney Productions began to falter at the box office as a result. In late 1979, Disney Productions released The Black Hole, a science-fiction movie that was the studio's first production to receive a PG rating.
Over the next few years, Disney experimented with more PG-rated fare, such as the 1981 films—the horror-mystery The Watcher in the Woods, the spy-themed comedy Condorman and the Paramount Pictures co-produced fantasy epic Dragonslayer. With Disney's 1982 slate of PG-rated films—including the thriller drama Night Crossing, and the science-fiction film Tron—the company lost over $27 million. Tron was considered a potential Star Wars-level success film by the film division.
In late 1982, Disney vice president of production Tom Wilhite announced that they would produce and release more mature films under a new brand. Wilhite elaborated to the New York Times:
A loss of $33 million was registered by the film division in 1983 with the majority resulting from films such as the horror-fantasy adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, a horror-comedy starring Elliott Gould and Bill Cosby The Devil and Max Devlin, two dramas Tex and Never Cry Wolf, a latter PG release that featured male nudity, did well as the studio downplayed the film's association with the Disney brand.
Touchstone FilmsTouchstone Films was started by then-Disney CEO Ron W. Miller on February 15, 1984 as a label for their PG films with an expected three to four movies released under the label. Touchstone's first film was Splash, a huge hit for grossing $68 million at the domestic box office was released that year. Incoming Disney CEO Michael Eisner and film chief Jeffrey Katzenberg considered renaming the label to Hollywood Pictures.
In 1986, Down and Out in Beverly Hills was another early success for Touchstone and was Disney's first R-rated film, followed in 1987 by Disney's first PG-13 rated film, Adventures in Babysitting. Disney increased the momentum with additional PG-13 and R-rated films with Ruthless People, Outrageous Fortune, Tin Men, and other top movies. In April 1985, Touchstone Films were licensed to Showtime/The Movie Channel for five years starting in 1986.
Touchstone PicturesTouchstone Films was renamed Touchstone Pictures after the film Ruthless People in 1986. With the Touchstone movies, Disney moved to the top of box office receipts beating out all the other major film studios by 1988. In April 1988, Touchstone became a unit of Walt Disney Pictures with newly appointed president Ricardo Mestres.
On October 23, 1990, The Walt Disney Company formed Touchwood Pacific Partners I to supplant the Silver Screen Partners partnership series as their movie studios' primary funding source.
With several production companies getting out of film production or closing shop by December 1988, the Walt Disney Studios announced the formation of the Hollywood Pictures division, which would only share marketing and distribution with Touchstone, to fill the void. Mestres was appointed president of Hollywood. In July 1992, Touchstone agreed to an exclusive, first-look production and distribution agreement with Merchant Ivory Productions to last three years.
Following the success of the Disney-branded PG-13-rated in 2003, and other films that in the 1980s and 1990s would have been released as Touchstone or Hollywood Pictures films, Disney weighed distribution of films more toward Disney-branded films and away from Touchstone Pictures, though not entirely disbanding them as it continued to use the Touchstone label for R and most PG-13 rated fare. In 2006, Disney limited Touchstone's output to two or three films in favor of Walt Disney Pictures titles due to an increase in film industry costs. Disney indicated scaling back on using multiple brands in 2007 with the renaming of Touchstone Television to ABC Television Studio in February and the outright elimination of the Buena Vista brand in April. Two Touchstone co-productions flopped at the box office minimized by its co-producers financial contributions to the movies. On January 14, 2010, Sean Bailey was appointed the president of live-action production at Walt Disney Studios, overseeing all films produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone.
Distribution labelDisney revived Touchstone in 2009 to serve as a distribution label for DreamWorks Studios' films. Disney financed DreamWorks productions with $90 million more available under its agreement if DreamWorks cannot get additional equity funding. In 2012, Disney reportedly was in early stages in considering Touchstone's fate, including a possible sale.
Following Disney's decision not to renew their long-standing deal with Jerry Bruckheimer Films in 2013, producer Jerry Bruckheimer revealed that he insisted on revitalizing the Touchstone label for production. Disney was uninterested, with studio chairman Alan Horn admitting that Touchstone's output had been reduced to distributing DreamWorks' films as those films are in the label's wheelhouse. In addition to DreamWorks' films, Touchstone also released non Disney-branded animated films such as Gnomeo & Juliet, The Wind Rises and Strange Magic.
By the end of the DreamWorks deal in August 2016, Disney had distributed fourteen of DreamWorks' original 30-picture agreement, with thirteen through Touchstone. The deal ended with The Light Between Oceans being the final theatrical film released by Disney under the Touchstone banner. Universal Pictures then replaced Disney as DreamWorks' distributor. Disney retained the film rights to these DreamWorks films in perpetuity as compensation for the studio's outstanding loan.
FilmographySome well-known Touchstone Pictures releases include Beaches, Turner & Hooch, Splash, The Color of Money, Good Morning, Vietnam, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Dead Poets Society, Pretty Woman, Sister Act, Ed Wood, The Insider, The Royal Tenenbaums, Sweet Home Alabama, The Help, War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies. Its highest-grossing film release is Armageddon. Although animated films produced by Walt Disney Studios are primarily released by Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone's animated releases include the original theatrical release of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Gnomeo & Juliet, The Wind Rises, and Strange Magic. Six Touchstone films have received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture; Dead Poets Society, The Insider, The Help, War Horse, Lincoln, and Bridge of Spies.
Through Touchstone, Disney's first R-rated film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, came on January 31, 1986 and was a large box-office success. Ruthless People followed on June 27, 1986 and was also very successful. Both of these pictures starred Bette Midler, who had signed a six-picture deal with Disney and became a major film star again with these hits as well as Beaches and Outrageous Fortune.
One of the key producers behind Touchstone films was Jerry Bruckheimer, who had a production deal with Disney from 1993 to 2014. His Touchstone titles include The Ref, Con Air, Armageddon, Enemy of the State, Gone in 60 Seconds, Coyote Ugly, and Pearl Harbor. In addition, Bruckheimer has also produced several other films released under the Disney and Hollywood labels.
DistributionReleases from Touchstone Pictures were distributed theatrically by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and through home media platforms by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. Touchstone was also a distribution label for Disney.
Highest-grossing Touchstone films
Touchstone Television's former non-Disney branded television division Touchstone Television Productions, LLC is known for being the production company of the series The Golden Girls, Blossom, Home Improvement, The Sinbad Show, Boy Meets World, My Wife and Kids, Desperate Housewives, Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, Miracles, and Monk.
On February 8, 2007, at the Disney Investor Conference, then-Disney–ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney, announced that they would rebrand Touchstone Television to ABC Television Studio in order to tie its successful productions more closely with the ABC brand. The announcement was made as part of a company-wide strategy to focus on three core brands, Disney, ABC, and ESPN. In May 2007, the television production company yet again changed its name, this time to ABC Studios.