New Line Cinema was established in 1967 by the then 27-year-old Robert Shaye as a film distribution company, supplying foreign and art films for college campuses in the United States. Shaye operated New Line's offices out of his apartment at 14th Street and Second Avenue in New York City. One of the company's early successes was its distribution of the 1936 anti-cannabis propaganda film Reefer Madness, which became a cult hit on American college campuses in the early 1970s. New Line also released many classic foreign-language films, like Stay As You Are, Immoral Tales and Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (which became the first New Line film to win an Oscar). The studio has also released many of the films of John Waters.
In 1976, New Line secured funding to produce its first full-length feature, Stunts, an action thriller about murders of a number of stuntmen in Hollywood. The film was directed by Mark Lester and released in 1977. Although not considered a critical success, the film performed well commercially on the international market and on television.
New Line produced or co-produced three more films in 1981 and 1983: Alone in the Dark, a horror film about escapees from a lunatic asylum; Xtro, a science fiction fantasy; and Polyester, directed by John Waters. Polyester was one of the first films to introduce a novelty cinema experience, Odorama, where members of the audience were provided with a set of "scratch and sniff" cards, to be scratched and sniffed during appropriate times during the film, which provided an additional sensory connection to the viewed image.
A Nightmare on Elm Street was produced and released by New Line in 1984. The franchise was New Line's first commercially successful series after a devastating financial slump, leading the company to be nicknamed "The House that Freddy Built". The low-budget flick had a production cost of $1.8M and grossed over $25.5M at the US box office. It was the first film to feature actor Johnny Depp. A year later, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge was released. It grossed $3.3M in the first three days and over $30M at the domestic box office. Nightmare 3 was released in 1987. In its first weekend it grossed more than any previously released independent film and went on to make almost $45M at the US box office.