Towards the end of the 1940s, the Rank Organisation, founded in 1937 by J. Arthur Rank, became the dominant force behind British film-making. It acquired a number of British studios, and bank-rolled some of the great British film-makers which were emerging in this period.
Building on the success British cinema had enjoyed during World War II, the industry hit new heights of creativity in the immediate post-war years. Among the most significant films produced during this period were David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945) and his Dickens adaptations Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), Carol Reed's thrillers Odd Man Out (1947) and The Third Man (1949), and Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1946) and The Red Shoes (1948). British cinema's growing international reputation was enhanced by the success of The Red Shoes, the most commercially successful film of its year in the U.S., and by Laurence Olivier's Hamlet, the first non-American film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Ealing Studios (financially backed by J. Arthur Rank) embarked on their series of celebrated comedies, including Whisky Galore (1948), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) and The Man in the White Suit (1951).
In the 1950s the industry began to retreat slightly from the prestige productions which had made British films successful worldwide, and began to concentrate on popular comedies and World War II dramas aimed more squarely at the domestic audience. The war films were often based on true stories and made in a similar low-key style to their wartime predecessors. They helped to make stars of actors like John Mills, Jack Hawkins and Kenneth More, and some of the most successful included The Cruel Sea (1953), The Dam Busters (1954), The Colditz Story (1955) and Reach for the Sky (1956).
Popular comedy series included the St Trinians films and the "Doctor" series, beginning with Doctor in the House in 1954. The latter series starred Dirk Bogarde, probably the British industry's most popular star of the 1950s. Bogarde was later replaced by Michael Craig and Leslie Phillips, and the series continued until 1970. The Rank Organisation also produced some other notable comedy successes, such as Genevieve in 1953.
The writer/director/producer team of twin brothers John and Roy Boulting also produced a series of successful satires on British life and institutions, beginning with Private's Progress (1956), and continuing with Brothers in Law (1957), Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1958), I'm All Right Jack (1959) and Heavens Above! (1963). The Italian director-producer Mario Zampi also made a number of successful black comedies, including Laughter in Paradise (1951), The Naked Truth (1957) and Too Many Crooks (1958).
After a string of successful films, including the comedies The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) and The Ladykillers (1955), as well as dramas like Dead of Night, Scott of the Antarctic and The Cruel Sea, Ealing Studios finally ceased production in 1958, and the studios were taken over by the BBC for television production.
Less restrictive censorship towards the end of the 1950s encouraged B-movie producer Hammer Films to embark on their series of influential and wildly successful horror films. Beginning with black and white adaptations of Nigel Kneale's BBC science fiction serials The Quatermass Experiment (1955) and Quatermass II (1957), Hammer quickly graduated to deceptively lavish colour versions of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. Their enormous commercial success encouraged them to turn out sequel after sequel, and led to an explosion in horror film production in the UK that would last for nearly two decades. Hammer would dominate British horror production throughout this period with acclaimed English actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee at the forefront, but other companies were created specifically to meet the new demand, including Amicus Productions and Tigon British.