Sony chief is Hollywood's most powerful woman

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The Independent US

The studio head of Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal, has been named the most powerful woman in the film business after a banner year in which she oversaw 12 films that opened at number one at the US box office and generated more than $1bn (£508m) in revenue - even before the lucrative Christmas season.

Industry journal The Hollywood Reporter bestowed its accolade on Ms Pascal in recognition of such money-spinners asThe Da Vinci Code, the adaptation of Dan Brown's runaway best-seller starring Tom Hanks, and Casino Royale, the new Bond film that has revived a franchise that had appeared on the verge of extinction.

Ms Pascal is a remarkably long-lived studio chief in a business where top executives are usually fired within a year or two. She ran Columbia Pictures from 1996 to 2003, then took over at Columbia's parent, Sony, following the monster success of Spider-Man, which she shepherded to completion in 2002. (Spider-Man 3 is one of next year's most hotly anticipated titles.)

Ms Pascal has also been a regular fixture at or near the top of The Hollywood Reporter's annual list. Over the past few years, she has vied for the number one spot with Sherry Lansing, the now retired longtime head of Paramount Pictures, and Anne Sweeney, who heads up the television division at Disney, which owns ABC.

Ms Sweeney was number one on last year's list - when all the big studios, not just Sony, suffered their worst slump in years - and finished up this year at number two.

Asked by The Hollywood Reporter to account for her success, Ms Pascal said: "We picked better movies this year. That's what it came down to." Sony has itself rewarded her for her performance, promoting her to co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment in September and extending her contract to 2011.

The rest of the 2006 top 100 power women featured very few household names - studio executives being, for the most part, corporate bean-counters who sell films in much the same way they might sell hamburgers or car windscreens.

Oprah Winfrey, who commands her own media empire as well as hosting a day-time television chat show, was at number seven. Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise's production partner who recently found a new berth for the pair of them at United Artists, came in at 26.

Many of the women were feted at a celebration breakfast at the Beverly Hills Hotel, an event that also saw the actress Meryl Streep take away the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award. Ms Streep was characteristically self-effacing about her qualifications for the honour. "I'm not the leader of anything or anybody," she said. "I can't even get people to put dishes in the dishwasher."