The studios were constructed in the suburb of Geiselgasteig in 1919 shortly after the First World War. During their early years they were known as the Emelka Studios, while Geiselgasteig has also often been used to refer to them. They provided a provincial rival to the emerging dominance of Berlin studios, particularly the UFA conglomerate. Bavaria Film took over the studios, and became the dominant non-Berlin production company.
During the Nazi era, Bavaria was one of the four major companies that dominated the German film industry alongside UFA, Terra and Tobis. In 1942 the companies were merged into a single administrative UFI. When the Cold War began in the 1940s, many of the former Berlin studios were now in East Berlin on the other side of the Iron Curtain and the Bavaria Studios assumed major importance in the West German cinema, gradually recovering from the later war years. Although severe restrictions were placed on the former Nazi-era companies by Allied occupation forces, Bavaria Film was ultimately revived. It has produced numerous films at the studio alongside a variety of independent producers. While other German companies of the same vintage have disappeared, Bavaria Film continues to produce both domestic and international productions including various TV series.
Alfred Hitchcock made his first film, The Pleasure Garden, in Geiselgasteig in 1925, a silent co-production for Britain's Gainsborough Pictures. He also made The Mountain Eagle in 1926 on the Emelka stages.
In 1934 Peer Gynt was made there. The studios have been used by many notable directors, including Elia Kazan (Man on a Tightrope, 1952), Max Ophüls (Lola Montès, 1955), Stanley Kubrick (Paths of Glory, 1957), Richard Fleischer (The Vikings, 1958), John Huston (Freud: The Secret Passion, 1962), Robert Siodmak (The Nina B. Affair, 1960), Billy Wilder (One, Two, Three, 1961 and Fedora, 1978), John Sturges (The Great Escape, 1963), Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, 1965), Orson Welles (The Deep, 1967), Jerzy Skolimowski (Deep End, 1970 and King, Queen, Knave, 1972), Mel Stuart (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, 1971), Bob Fosse (Cabaret, 1972), Wim Wenders (Ein Haus für uns (2 TV episodes), 1974), Ingmar Bergman (The Serpent's Egg, 1977), Robert Aldrich (Twilight's Last Gleaming, 1977), Wolfgang Petersen (Enemy Mine, 1985), Claude Chabrol (The Bridesmaid, 2004), and Oliver Stone (The Snowden Files, 2016).
- Berghahn p.11
- Meza, Ed (31 January 2019). "Bavaria: Studios With a Rich Cinematic Heritage". Variety.
- Meza, Ed (31 January 2019). "German Giant Bavaria Looks Ahead to Changing Media Landscape". Variety.
- Perry p.13
- "Bavaria Film – History for more than 90 years". Archived from the original on 2016-12-06. Retrieved 2014-04-06.
- "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer Production Notes" (Press release). Pathé Distribution. Archived from the original (RTF) on October 12, 2009. Retrieved December 11, 2009.
- Berghahn, Daniela. Hollywood Behind the Wall: The Cinema of East Germany. Manchester University Press, 2005.
- Perry, George. Hitchcock. Doubleday, 1975.