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The brainchild of media moguls Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen (hence the SKG on the bottom of its logo).

DreamWorks has produced or distributed more than ten films with box-office grosses totalling more than $100 million each. In 2005, the founders agreed to sell the studio to Viacom. At its peak in the early 2000s, it arguably qualified as a seventh major film studio (having outgrossed Paramount). The sale was completed in February 2006. In 2008, Dreamworks announced its intention to end its partnership with Paramount and signed a US$1.5 billion deal to produce films with India's Reliance ADA Group, with Disney to handle distribution—a bitter pill for Katzenberg.

The most successful section of the enterprise, its animation department, was spun-off in 2004 into Dreamworks Animation. Between 1996 and 2005, DreamWorks also owned a record label called, naturally, DreamWorks Records. The roster included Toby Keith, Randy Travis, Papa Roach, Jimmy Eat World, Eels, Randy Newman and a bunch of guys you've never heard of. Except for their Country Music division, they were all later acquired by Geffen's old label that he stepped down from.

In 1999, 2000 and 2001, DreamWorks won three consecutive Academy Awards for Best Picture for American Beauty, Gladiator and A Beautiful Mind (the latter two with Universal).

DreamWorks' television division was responsible for Spin City, as well as both of Judd Apatow's sitcoms, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.

Its Vanity Plate features a young boy sitting on a crescent moon while fishing. Word of God states it was made by some employees of Industrial Light and Magic. Also popularized the marketing term known as "Dreamworks Face".