This article has been written several times in several places, I’m just going to try to put it all in one place.
Star Wars is the single most influential movie of all time. Starting from a minute 40-theater release in May 1977, the film was so well-received that it forced its way not only into an international release, but international re-releases in ’78, ’79, ’81 and ’82. Altogether, the film turned an $11 million budget into a $775.4 million smash hit, almost doubling the box office record set by Jaws two years earlier. An instant classic in every sense of the word, there’s a myriad of things that just wouldn’t exist in Hollywood without this movie’s success.
20th Century Fox
Probably the biggest thing that would be gone is 80-year old production studio 20th Century Fox, which would have gone under if it hadn’t taken a flyer on Star Wars. Fussy stars and directors had hamstringed the studio over the better part of the past 20 years, with them actually posting losses in 1969, ’70 and ’71. The company was trading at $6 per share in 1976, but a year after Star Wars’ release, shares had rocketed up to $27. The studio would go on to distribute the subsequent Star Wars films, as well as Titanic and Avatar, the two highest-grossing films of all time. It owns the rights to the ongoing X-Men, Planet of the Apes, Alien and Predator franchises and many others, and its host of television properties include The Simpsons, Family Guy, Archer and How I Met Your Mother.
Industrial Light and Magic
With Fox’s visuals department not operating in 1975 — they really were that broke — in order to bring his movie to life, George Lucas founded his own visual effects company, Industrial Light and Magic. Star Wars is, famously, the first movie ever to have both computer generated and live-action elements in the same shot, probably its most dramatic technical achievement. Industrial Light and Magic was the toast of Hollywood, and has remained so for going on 40 years, never ceasing to push the envelope on visual effects. The studio is responsible for the entire Star Wars series, several Star Trek films, the Terminator franchise, the Jurassic Park franchise and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, among a near-endless list of visually groundbreaking series and films.
Lucas also created his own sound-mixing contractor for Star Wars. Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound are collectively referred to as Lucasfilm. Initially founded as Sproket Systems in 1975, since their debut in 1977, Skywalker Sound has not gone a single year without at least an Oscar nomination. The studio boasts 57 nominations and 15 wins, total, over that span.
Like Fox but worse, Marvel was hemorrhaging money in the ’70s. However, a six-issue Star Wars tie-in series just after the film’s release was so successful, according to former editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, it single-handedly saved the company. Ironically, the publishing company would start its own studio in the late ’00s, when it was again on the verge of going under, and become the model for the 21st century film franchise — with a little help from Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound, of course.
Lucas famously took a cut to his directorial fee for all the rights to Star Wars related merchandise. Fox thought it was making a steal at the time, but tens of billions of dollars later, no studio would ever even consider such a deal again. With the bulk of his fortune dependent on the merchandise instead of the films themselves, Lucas’ later films, beginning with the ewoks and Lea’s much more extensive wardrobe in Return of the Jedi, would feature a strong commercial undercurrent that undermined the films themselves.