With its $8.45 billion deal to buy MGM, Amazon will stock Prime Video with the studio’s cache of 4,000 movies and 17,000 hours of television. It’s a huge library, but notably absent are some of MGM’s most iconic films, including “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Gone With the Wind.” Those titles — and all other MGM movies made before 1986 — belong to WarnerMedia.
In 1986, Ted Turner made a series of deals that resulted in Turner Broadcasting taking ownership of all prior MGM films. Not unlike Amazon, he wanted the films for programming his growing cable empire and the library became one of the pillars that built Turner Classic Movies. Today, WarnerMedia owns both TCM and Turner’s MGM library. Many titles, including “The Wizard of Oz,” are available to stream on HBO Max.
Today, the public is more likely to chatter about the latest program that happens to be floating on the streamers’ sea of top-notch TV shows. However, it’s a testament to the staying power of those iconic films that many outlets led the MGM-Amazon news with the idea that Amazon would be their new home. A WarnerMedia spokesperson confirmed to IndieWire that the company retains ownership of those titles.
MGM’s library has always been key to its appeal. The late Kirk Kerkorian bought and sold the studio’s name and assets three times over 35 years in a complex series of deals that helped make him a billionaire. Kerkorian bought United Artists and its library in 1981 and merged it with MGM. Those assets were not part of the Turner deal and today’s MGM retains the UA library, with the James Bond catalog as its crown jewel.
After Kerkorian sold the company in 1990, he bought it back for a third and final time in 1996 with a focus on beefing up the studio’s library. The following year MGM bought Metromedia’s Orion Pictures, Goldwyn Entertainment, and Motion Picture Corporation of America, primarily for their 2,000-title library that includes “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Sid and Nancy,” and “Dumb and Dumber.”
In 1997, MGM bought PolyGram’s library, which includes “The Graduate” and “Fargo.” At that point, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, MGM’s library was so large that it represented more than half of the Hollywood studio films produced since 1948.
Former MGM executive Kenneth McCormick recalled one of those 1990s dealmaking sessions to The Wall Street Journal. McCormick said that Kerkorian turned to him during negotiations and commented that movies “just don’t go down in value. … Something new comes along that you can use them again.”