Back in March, Disney acquired 20th Century Fox for a whopping $US 71.3 billion. On the surface, it seemed like an exciting acquisition, one that would see the likes of X-Men and Fantastic Four head back home to Marvel Studios where they belong. However, outside the realm of comic book movie geekery, the Disney-Fox acquisition was a scary notion, one that was rightfully met with scepticism by film journalists.
What would happen to the smaller movies that were in the midst of production over at Fox? What about the art films under the Fox Searchlight banner? Heck, what about the unreleased comic book movies that Fox had produced? While everything seemed simply dandy at the start, things have slowly started to change.
A couple of weeks ago, Disney chief executive Bob Iger pretty much threw Fox under the bus while commenting on the company’s quarterly earnings.
“the Fox studio performance … was well below where it had been and well below where we hoped it would be when we made the acquisition.”
The movies Bob Iger is referring to are X-Men: Dark Phoenix, the R-rated action-comedy Stuber, starring Kumaail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista and The Art of Racing in the Rain. Dark Phoenix, the biggest of those releases merely grossed $US 252 million at the global box office with a reported production budget of $US 200 million. The other two films are flops as well. The question is, did the higher-ups at Disney actually expect Dark Phoenix to do gangbusters at the box office when they acquired Fox? If they did, it would seem rather foolish given how little fanfare the movie had.
A new report by Variety discussing the goings-on at the House of Mouse states that the company decided to blame Fox’s film division for their failings although a thorough examination of Disney’s quarterly report indicates that their earnings were also lower-than-expected because of less than stellar attendances at their theme parks. It seems like Disney is simply trying to use the Fox properties as a scapegoat.
The report also states that Disney is unimpressed with New Mutants, an X-Men horror spinoff directed by Josh Boone. The project is now stuck in limbo, unsure if it’s going to make it into theatres. This in and of itself isn’t a problem. If Disney feels a movie that they own isn’t top-notch, it’s more than understandable that they’d rather not release it. However, it’s Disney’s reasoning that rubs me the wrong way. Apparently, Disney believes that New Mutants has “limited box office potential”. According to the report:
“Many original scripts and optioned properties have been paused from going into production, one studio insider says. Disney is prioritizing making more broadly commercial projects, which includes ongoing work on sequels to James Cameron’s Avatar and starry safe bets like the on-screen reunion of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in the drama The Last Duel.”
The beauty of a film like New Mutants (at least in concept) is that it’ll be the antithesis to films like Endgame and Captain Marvel. It’s meant to be a smaller more experimental film whose contents you wouldn’t normally see in a mega-budget commercial extravaganza. Unfortunately, that’s something that Disney doesn’t want.
Disney is a company that consistently makes safe-ish commercial films that appeals to the widest possible demographic and regularly grosses $US 1 billion. This wasn’t a big deal before as we had studios like Fox push the envelope, experiment and produce films like Logan and Deadpool, both of which aren’t remotely interested in pleasing your grandmother nor your five-year-old niece. Now that Disney has bought over one of its biggest competitors, don’t expect to see another Wolverine film in the realm of Logan anytime soon. (Of course, there are still major studios like Warner Bros and Sony out there.)
On the bright side, at least we’ll still be getting bold content through the Fox Searchlight division (their ‘indie/arthouse’ banner that produced films like The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri). At least that was the news last week. While the Variety report does note that Taika Waititi’s much anticipated Jojo Rabbit will be hitting the awards circuit as planned, some Disney executives aren’t too happy. In fact, one executive reportedly “grew audibly uncomfortable,” concerned that the film will not appeal to Disney fans. Per the report:
“His unease may have been over the film’s cutting-edge satire, but it was also an expression of the culture clash taking place as the two studios embark on their new union.”