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Orion Classics

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The Bigger Picture

Orion Classics was an American film production and distribution company that was founded in 1982 as an autonomous division of Orion Pictures. The company specialized in the acquisition and distribution of independent and foreign films, and it quickly became one of the leading distributors of arthouse films in the United States.

Orion Classics was dissolved in 1996 after Orion Pictures was acquired by MGM. However, the company was revived in 2018 by Sony Pictures Classics, and it has since released a number of critically acclaimed films, including “The Souvenir” (2019), “First Reformed” (2017), and “Ida” (2013).

Logo and Look

Orion Pictures chose to represent its company with the constellation of Orion, and the astral theme was extended to be used in the logo for Orion Classics. The constellation is named after the Greek hunter Orion, who was known for his strength and courage. Orion Classics is a company that is known for its commitment to distributing classic and independent films. 


The logo for Orion Classics is a stylized version of the Orion constellation, with the word “Classics” in a white sans-serif font underneath. The Orion constellation is made up of seven stars, which are arranged in a way that resembles a warrior holding a bow and arrow. The stars are all different sizes, with the largest star in the center. The logo is simple but effective, and it is instantly recognizable as the logo for Orion Classics.

The logo was designed by the graphic design firm Saul Bass & Associates. Bass was a renowned graphic designer who is known for his iconic logos, including the logos for AT&T, United Airlines, and Warner Bros. The Orion Classics logo is one of Bass’s most famous designs, and it has been used by the studio since 1982.

Here are some interesting facts about the Orion Classics logo:

  • The logo was designed to be simple and easy to remember.
  • The seven stars in the logo represent the seven founders of Orion Classics.
  • The logo was originally designed in black and white, but it was later changed to blue and white.
  • The logo was slightly modified over the years, but the basic design remained the same.

Title Cards

Title cards for movies distributed by Orion all generally look the same, with the division (Classics, Pictures, Home Video, etc) name appearing below the name “Orion” which is positioned in the center of the screen.

They are animated and have an orchestrated theme with an electronic beat playing. Audiences first see an astral background and then the seven stars of the Orion constellation appear in their natural formation. The stars are animated to begin rotating in a circular motion which spin at an increasingly quick rate to eventually  turn into the “O” of Orion. The “O” illuminates, glows, and grows in size for a millisecond before the rest of the company name appears in a stylized font with a slight italic lean to the right.

The title card is iconic of the 1980s.

A few movies that were originally distributed by Orion Classics in the 80s and 90s are streaming as we write this in August 2023. We found Europa Europa and Slacker on max, and My Beautiful Laundrette on HBO. However, those movies do not contain the Orion Classics title card. Instead, they begin with the title card for The Criterion Collection. 

History and Lore

Many favorite films of the 80s were distributed by powerhouse Orion Pictures, which created Orion Classics in 1982 to focus on independent film. When Orion Pictures began having more failures than successes in the late 80s, and by late 1991 the company was in serious financial trouble. Orion Classics executives Tom Bernard, Michael Barker, and Marcie Bloom left Orion Classics that year and set up Sony Pictures Classics. They had rights to an adaptation of Howards End from their time at Orion, and this movie because the first release for Sony Pictures Classics. 

There were a number of factors that led to the demise of Orion Classics, primarily that parent company Orion Pictures was struggling financially in the early 1990s. This led to budget cuts and layoffs at Orion Classics, which made it difficult for the company to continue to operate.

Also, the market for independent films was changing in the early 1990s. Before Orion Classics, indie films fans had to travel to major cities like Los Angeles and New York City and buy tickets at tiny, unheard of theaters. Or, they saw the movie on tapes and reels passed around in movie communities.  When major studios and distributors saw the successes had by Orion Classics, their additudes changed and more attention was given to producing and showing more experimental indie movies, which made it more difficult for Orion Classics to compete.

The final nail in Orion Classic’s coffin was the departure of Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, the co-presidents of Orion Classics, in 1992 when they formed Sony Pictures Classics. This was a major loss for Orion Classics, as Barker and Bernard were responsible for many of the company’s most successful films.


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Orion Classics was an important studio in the history of the independent film movement. The company helped to raise the profile of independent films and to make them more accessible to audiences. Orion Classics also played a significant role in the development of the arthouse film market in the United States.

Before Orion Classics, independent films were often seen as niche products that only appealed to a small audience. However, Orion Classics helped to change this perception, and today independent films are widely seen as being just as important as big-budget blockbusters.

Orion Classics was one of the first companies to release independent films on video, which made them more accessible to audiences outside of major cities. The company also helped to develop the arthouse film market in the United States, which made it easier for independent films to be shown in theaters.

Orion Classics released a number of classic films, including “My Beautiful Laundrette,” “Wings of Desire,” and “Babette’s Feast.” These films helped to establish Orion Classics as a leading distributor of independent films.

Orion Classics worked with a number of talented filmmakers, including Stephen Frears, Wim Wenders, and Gabriel Axel. These filmmakers went on to have successful careers, and their films helped to define the independent film movement.

Orion Classics, through Orion Pictures, took many risks in the late 80s that didn’t pan out, and the company quickly went into financial ruins. Orion was ahead of its time, which was realized by others as seen in its re-formation in the 2000s. The movie distributor continues to distribute films.

The company’s legacy also continues to live on through Sony Pictures Classics, which has released a number of critically acclaimed films in recent years, including “The Souvenir” (2019), “First Reformed” (2017), and “Ida” (2013).


The success of Orion Classics was due in large part to the people who worked at the company. The company’s co-presidents, Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, were two of the most respected figures in the independent film industry. They had a keen eye for talent and a passion for great films, and they helped to make Orion Classics a highly recognized independent film distributor.

Other key figures at Orion Classics included Marcie Bloom, the company’s vice president of acquisitions; Arthur Cohn, the company’s co-founder; and Mike Medavoy, the former chairman and CEO of Orion Pictures. These individuals all played a vital role in the success of Orion Classics, and they helped to make the company a valuable asset to the independent film community.


Many of Orion Classics’ films have been critically acclaimed and have won numerous awards, including Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and BAFTA awards. They have also been commercial successes. Some of the most successful films released by Orion Classics include:

  • “My Beautiful Laundrette” (1985)
  • “Wings of Desire” (1987)
  • “Babette’s Feast” (1987)
  • “The Sacrifice” (1986)
  • “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988)
  • “My Own Private Idaho” (1989)
  • “Europa Europa” (1990)
  • “The Sweet Hereafter” (1997)
  • “American Beauty” (1999)


  • 19 Academy Award nominations
  • 4 Academy Awards
  • Over $100 million in worldwide box office gross
  • Over 200 films released

Tid Bits

  • Following closure in 1991, Orion’s film library moved from Sony Pictures Classics. Some Orion Classics films are now distributed by The Criterion Collection.
  • Orion Classics was the first American distributor to release a film by the renowned director Ingmar Bergman.
  • The company’s films have been featured in the Criterion Collection, a prestigious series of home video releases that showcases classic and important films.
  • Orion Classics was a pioneer in the development of the home video market, releasing many of its films on VHS and DVD.


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