LOS ANGELES — One of corporate Hollywood’s most enduring double acts is calling it quits.
Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley, senior executives at Searchlight Pictures for 21 of its 27 years, who shaped global culture with Oscar-winning hits like “12 Years a Slave,” “Black Swan,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” announced their surprise retirement on Tuesday. They will leave the Disney-owned specialty studio by the end of June, adding to a conspicuous changing of the guard at Walt Disney Company.
“You don’t want to be the show that stays on the air two seasons too long,” Ms. Utley said. “Get out while everything is still going well.”
She was joking — mostly. Searchlight has long been the gold standard of art film studios, packing its slate with diverse offerings long before Hollywood got the memo, and thriving in a changing marketplace — the DVD collapse, the rise of streaming competitors — even as once-formidable competitors like the Weinstein Company imploded. If the latest Searchlight success, “Nomadland,” wins the Academy Award for best picture on Sunday, as many expect, Mr. Gilula, 70, and Ms. Utley, 65, will have taken the top prize in four of the last eight ceremonies. That is a run unmatched by any specialty studio, even Miramax, which at its height won three best-picture Oscars.
The Shape of Water” (2018), “Birdman” (2015) and “12 Years a Slave” (2014). “Slumdog Millionaire” won in 2009.
The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Netflix has been chasing such a victory for years as the ultimate symbol of supremacy in Hollywood.
Searchlight has been rising to the challenge of streaming. “Nomadland,” from the Chinese-born filmmaker Chloé Zhao, was released in theaters and on Hulu, a Disney streaming service. But competing with Amazon, Apple and Netflix — and their seemingly bottomless wallets — for talent and material has become harder and harder. That has made the art film market more precarious for traditional studios like Searchlight, which will now be run by David Greenbaum and Matthew Greenfield, the current presidents.
“Every time my contract was up, to be candid, I always questioned whether I had the intestinal fortitude to fight through the next set of changes,” Mr. Gilula said. “Ultimately, pride and loyalty kept me going. And there has always been another fantastic film in the pipeline. Well, maybe after ‘Shape of Water,’ maybe after ‘Three Billboards.’ But this is it. With ‘Nomadland,’ which has shown that we haven’t lost our edge at all, adapting quickly to the pandemic, there is a great feeling of fulfillment.”