The company was founded in 1996 by Pierre Lescure. The original function was to focus on French and European productions. Over the next four years, StudioCanal began to acquire film libraries from studios that either went defunct or had merged with StudioCanal.
It was not very long before StudioCanal began co-producing films such as U-571 (2000), Bully (2001), and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001). StudioCanal also funded the last third of David Lynch's film Mulholland Drive. StudioCanal also finance French-language films, such as Brotherhood of the Wolf (which became the second-highest-grossing French-language film in the United States in the last two decades) and Intimate Strangers (which is being remade by Hollywood-based Paramount Pictures ).
Today, StudioCanal is a division of Vivendi SA, and has a catalogue that includes the film libraries of Carolco Pictures (Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Rambo: First Blood Part II, Basic Instinct, etc.), DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group (King Kong Lives, Tai-Pan, etc.), Embassy Pictures (The Graduate, The Producers, etc.), the Alexander Salkind pictures not owned by Warner Bros. (including Santa Claus: The Movie), the EMI Films library (Highlander, Death on the Nile, etc., but not including US rights to certain co-productions -- US rights to such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind [whose worldwide rights are with Sony Pictures] and The Deer Hunter are owned by other major studios, usually the original releasing studio) and the Lumiere Pictures and Television output (including The Third Man and The Avengers).
Outside France, StudioCanal does not have a formal distribution unit per se, relying on other studios and video companies to handle their product, in the US for example, studios such as Anchor Bay Entertainment, Lionsgate, Image Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, distribute StudioCanal's back catalogue on Video and DVD.
StudioCanal recently acquired UK-based distributor Optimum Releasing.