While actors may seem to have it all, like anyone they must diversify their portfolios in order to have a successful career both on and off-screen. In addition to acting, many go into producing not only as another revenue stream but as a way to influence what movies are being made in Hollywood and in many cases what roles they themselves get to play.
Therefore, many big-name actors decide to start their own production studios. These include award-winning actors like Brad Pitt and Will Smith, comedic talent like Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler, and even Bollywood actors such as Shah Rukh Khan. These smaller more intimate studios have helped many actors earn their prestigious awards and get to tell the stories that inspire them. Here are 10 actors who founded their own production companies and their most important produced projects to-date.
10 Brad Pitt – Plan B Entertainment (Moonlight)
Plan B Entertainment was founded in 2001 by Brad Pitt along with Brad Grey and his then-wife, Jennifer Aniston. In 2005 Pitt became the sole owner of the company when he and Aniston divorced and Grey went on to become the CEO of Paramount Pictures.
The studio has been involved in 34 movies and several TV Shows, some of which star Brad Pitt himself like Moneyball (2011) and The Big Short (2015). Plan B Entertainment produced three films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture including The Departed (2006), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and Moonlight (2016); the latter of which was the first film with an all-black cast and the first LGBTQ-related film to win the award.
9 Leonardo DiCaprio – Appian Way Productions (The Revenant)
Appian Way Productions was founded in 2004 by actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The studio is known for several films starring the founding actor including The Aviator (2004), Shutter Island (2010), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).
Most notably the production company was behind The Revenant (2015) which not only had 12 nominations at the 88th Academy Awards but also finally won DiCaprio the award for Best Actor which he had been nominated for 5 times previously.
8 Clint Eastwood – Malpaso Productions (Million Dollar Baby)
Malpaso Productions was founded in 1967 by Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood. The name comes from the Malpaso Creek in California which is near Fort Ord where Eastwood went through U.S. Army basic training. He later bought 650 acres of land along the creek which he then sold in 1995 for over $3 Million.
The studio has produced over 40 films including famous Eastwood hits like Dirty Harry (1971) and Gran Torino (2008). In 2004 Clint Eastwood produced and directed the awards juggernaut, Million Dollar Baby which went on to win four Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Hilary Swank), and Best Supporting Actor (Morgan Freeman).
7 Will Ferrell – Gary Sanchez Productions (Daddy’s Home)
Comedian Will Ferrell along with SNL head-writer Adam McKay founded Gary Sanchez Productions named after a fictional “Paraguayan entrepreneur and financier”. The duo went on to produce a slew of comedic films, many of which star Ferrell himself.
Notable movies included Step Brothers (2008) and The Other Guys (2010). To date, their most successful film is Daddy’s Home (2015) which starred Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg and grossed almost $250 Million worldwide. In 2019, Ferrell and McKay announced that they would be leaving the company and it would be run by new producers going forward.
6 Laurence Fishburne – Cinema Gypsy Productions (Black-Ish)
The year after he played Morpheus in The Matrix (2000), Laurence Fishburne founded Cinema Gypsy Productions. Since 2000, the studio has produced several projects such as Akeelah and the Bee (2006).
Most recently the studio is behind the ABC hit comedy series Black-ish which has gone on to win 28 awards and nominated for 64 others across the industry. The show’s success has earned two spin-offs; Grown-ish and Mixed-ish with a third on the way called Old-ish starring Laurence Fishburne himself.
5 Ice Cube – Cube Vision (Straight Outta Compton)
Rapper/Actor, Ice Cube produced Friday in 1995 but it wasn’t until 1998 that he founded his production studio Cube Vision. Their first film was Next Friday (2000) and since then they have gone on to produce several film franchises including Barbershop, Are We There Yet?, and Ride Along.
In 2015 Cube Vision produced the biopic called Straight Outta Compton that told the story of N.W.A. who Ice Cube himself was a member along with Eazy-E and Dr. Dre. The film starred Ice Cube’s son O’Shea Jackson Jr. who played his father. The film went on to be nominated for several awards including the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
4 Shah Rukh Khan – Red Chillies Entertainment (Chennai Express)
Shah Rukh Khan a.k.a. the “King of Bollywood” is arguably the biggest actor in Indian cinema appearing in more than 80 Hindi films. In 2003, Khan took over the production company Dreamz Unlimited and in 2004 transformed it into Red Chillies Entertainment with his wife Gauri Khan.
The studio has produced 27 films and several TV series. Their biggest success came with Chennai Express (2013) which at the time was the highest-grossing Bollywood movie worldwide.
3 Spike Lee – 40 Acres And A Mule Filmworks (Do The Right Thing)
40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks was founded in 1979 by Director/Actor Spike Lee. The name is in reference to “Special Field Order 15” by General Sherman in 1865 that gave the emancipated black families land no larger than 40 acres and surplus mules from the army. Sadly, President Andrew Jackson revoked this order, returning the land to the previous owners.
All of Spike Lee’s movies have been produced by his studio beginning in 1986 with She’s Gotta Have It to American Utopia in 2020. Lee himself has stated that Do The Right Thing (1989) is the movie he’s most proud of. The movie received much acclaim, including Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor. In 1999, it was added to the National Film Registry.
2 Adam Sandler – Happy Madison Productions (Grown Ups)
The former Saturday Night Live star, Adam Sandler founded Happy Madison Productions in 1999. The name comes from Sandler’s first two big hits Happy Gilmore (1996) and Billy Madison (1995). The studio bumper features an old man golfing who is actually Sandler’s late father, Stanley, who is also the man who says the accompanying audio, “Terrific.” The studio has produced 38 feature films many of which star or at least cameo Adam Sandler.
Happy Madison Productions’ most profitable movie to date is Grown Ups (2010) which grossed $271.4 Million worldwide. In 2014 Sandler signed a contract with Netflix to produce 4 original films. That same contract has been renewed twice in 2017 and 2020 which will total 12 films in the end. While Sandler’s movies have been critical bombs in recent years, his 2019 movie, Murder Mystery, was reported as the most-watched Netflix movie of 2019.
1 Will Smith – Overbrook Entertainment (The Pursuit Of Happyness)
Overbrook Entertainment was founded by Will Smith in 1998. Similar to Smith’s career in both film and music, the company is both a film production company and a record label. The name “Overbrook” came from Will Smith’s neighborhood in West Philadelphia.
The studio has made over 25 films starting with Ali (2001) to Bad Boys for Life (2020). The studio’s most important film was the inspiring The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) which Smith himself was nominated for both an Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actor.
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