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The Surprising Connection Between Coca-Cola And The Oscar-Winning Gandhi

Some of the most prominent companies to boast Oscars include indie darling A24, Disney's 20th Century Studios, and... The Coca-Cola Company's Columbia Pictures?

Yes, The Coca-Cola Company, the billion-dollar beverage corporation behind the world's most popular carbonated beverage was once in the film game and owned the iconic Columbia Pictures for a brief period of time. The studio was founded in 1918 as the Cohn-Brandt-Cohn (CBC) Film Sales Corporation, before receiving the truncated and classy Columbia moniker in 1924 (via Sony Pictures). Competing with the likes of RKO, United Artists, and Universal Pictures, Columbia Pictures struggled in its early days, before finding its footing after World War II. The studio went on to produce Oscar-winning classics such as "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and "Lawrence of Arabia," becoming a prominent player and worthy competitor to the big studios. 

Despite proving its worth culturally with its steady output of quality films, Columbia wasn't in the best financial shape. The 70's brought fears of bankruptcy, with multiple entities attempting to purchase the studio (via New York Times). That story changed when the '80s came knocking. Columbia Pictures had Oscar triumphs and box office hits like "Kramer vs. Kramer" under its belt and a much, much healthier balance sheet. The prospect of diversifying its assets became increasingly appetizing for The Coca-Cola Company and in 1982, the drink makers paid a refreshingly cool $750 million for the studio (via The Washington Post).

Under the leadership of Coca-Cola, Columbia Pictures' output included "The Karate Kid," "Ghostbusters," and the Oscar-winning "Gandhi," making the beverage company one of the most interesting winners of the prestigious Best Picture award. However, Coke's love affair with movies would end just as quickly as it nabbed its first Oscar.  

Gandhi was a huge success for Coke but not enough to keep them in the movie business

The Coca-Cola Company may have exited from Columbia Pictures in 1989 (via The Washington Post) but they managed to make cinematic magic during their 7 years as owners. After being stuck in development hell (via NBC), Richard Attenborough's biopic on Indian activist and politician Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi finally began to roll cameras in 1980. While speaking with India Today, Attenborough discussed the difficulties of filming the Gandhi biopic in India and how its completion had become a personal mission of his. "I'm not even sure I would direct another film at all after this," he said in 1980. "At this moment I cannot see beyond 'Gandhi.'"

"Gandhi" was released in 1982 and was praised across the board, with audiences and critics relishing Attenborough's labor of love. It went on to gross over $127 million across the globe (via The Numbers). The Ben Kingsley-starring "Gandhi" went on to win eight of its 11 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Actor, and Director. The immediate success of Columbia Pictures' Oscar-winning "Gandhi" should have inspired Coca-Cola to stay on in the film business but investors worried about the string of flops the company had accumulated, like "Krull." Once considered to be one of the worst movies ever made, the 1987 box office failure of "Ishtar" compelled Coke to sell off the studio, per CNN.

Sony would go on to purchase Columbia Pictures and its sister studio Tri-Star Pictures from Coca-Cola in 1989 for $3.4 billion (via The New York Times). In total, Columbia Pictures has won 12 Best Picture Oscars, the highest of any studio, per Statista. Under Coca-Cola's ownership, both "Gandhi" and 1988's "The Last Emperor" won the highly-coveted Oscar.