By now, you’ve likely heard Disney made one of the single largest entertainment purchases in history. Back in December, Disney purchased 52.4 billion (with a B) dollars worth of 20th Century Fox’s stock. They didn’t buy out the Murdoch’s, and there’s a very extensive list of what Disney does and doesn’t now own, but basically the way is shakes down is FOXNews, FSN, and the local news affiliates will be owned by the Murdoch’s, while all their creative properties (FX, The film studio, the X-Men, etc.) now belong to Disney. This is quite probably the worst news to come out of Hollywood all last year.
Look, I love Disney, and for the most part, I’ve loved what they’ve done with their studio acquisitions. In 2009 they bought Marvel Studios for four billion dollars, and when I was in college they paid another 4 billion dollars for Lucasfilm. The results of their 8 billion dollar investment? The single most successful film franchise in history, one that reinvented how we think about franchises, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On top of that, The first Disney produced Star Wars movie came out only just over 2 years ago, and they’ve already made their four billion back. Not only are Disney movies financially successful, but for the most part their pretty good. The majority of MCU movies are great, and of the three Star Wars movies we’ve gotten thus far, I’ve at least enjoyed all of them.
I’m not debating the quality of Disney movies. Hell, earlier just this week I gave Black Panther a glowing review. What I am worried about, is the homogenization of film in Hollywood. When you look at the current landscape, there are really only six major voices in the film industry right now. Disney, Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, Universal, and Sony. Sure, streaming services like Netflix (which I have a lot to say about, but that’s for another rant) and Amazon are starting to make a name for themselves, but that’s a different medium. And yes, there are some great indie studio’s like A24, but let’s face it, no one see’s A24 movies. With Disney buying Fox, the amount of studio’s producing content drops from six to five.
You may be asking yourself, “Self, is that even a big deal? Disney clearly bought them because they want to do something with them, right?” You are correct. Disney wouldn’t spend over fifty billion dollars for characters they have no intention of using. What I’m worried about is how they intend to use them. I’m just going to run down some titles, bear with me: Planet of the Apes, the Alien franchise, the Predator franchise, The Simpsons, The X-Files, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Kingsman, Avatar, fucking Die Hard, the list goes on. Here’s what I’m getting at: Fox has a lot of franchises and characters that are certainly worth wanting to invest money to acquire, but a lot of these franchises are simply not Disney.
Fox has been putting out some really unique content for a very long time. When they want to reboot the Planet of the Apes franchise, they hire the worlds leading performance capture actor in Andy Serkis, and make a compelling dramatic trilogy, centered around an primate lead character. When they want a spy movie, they give it to Matthew Vaughn and produce pulpy, send ups of the spy genre with Kingsman. When the X-Men franchise isn’t quite panning out well, they pivot and give us Logan. They may not always hit it out of the park, but Fox always swings for the fences.
Disney on the other hand, is very, very safe. Every movie Disney has put out in the last five years can be seen by a ten-year-old. Sometimes, movies made for families are great, and Disney has certainly made an art form out of quality family entertainment. But look at the list above, can you imagine Disney making any of those? Bob Iger, Disney’s President and CEO, has gone on record saying they’ll never make an R-rated film. Not everything needs to be R-rated, but some stories need a more adult approach. Do you want to see a family friendly Predator? Do you want a four quadrant approved Alien movie? I’m beyond excited that the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can finally join the MCU, but do you think in the studio that made Frozen would ever greenlight Deadpool?
Where things really get interesting is in the streaming realm. With this purchase Disney now becomes the majority shareholder of Hulu. However, Disney also plans on launching their own streaming service in 2019. According to Disney, the plan is to have their branded material on their own streaming service, and then kick everything more “adult” to Hulu. What does that mean? Anything they don’t want to fully support with the Disney banner will be banished to Hulu. My question is this, how long do you really think Disney will want to keep two separate streaming services going? And when one finally goes under, do you think it’ll be the more adult one, or the family friendly one?
I’m not saying this is all bad news. I’m genuinely excited to see what the MCU looks like once the rights switch over. I’m sure Disney will mine Fox’s back catalog for some really great reboots. But the fact that we just lost one of the major creative voices in Hollywood bums me out. The fact that Fox is probably gonna stop making serious investment for the next year in a half while the deal is pending bums me out. The fact that Fox Searchlight, the indie banner that put’s out incredible material like Black Swan and Me and Earl and The Dying Girl, will probably cease to exist bums me out. Sure, maybe Disney will make a shift and produce more adult centered entertainment, but when was the last time a multi-billion dollar organization really made a change that drastic?
There’s still hope. The government technically has to approve this deal, and since Disney and Fox’s combined market share in the worldwide box office of almost 35% (their nearest competitor being 18%) we could see them deny it to prevent a monopoly. However, Trump has already publicly praised the deal, so that probably won’t happen. I guess the only thing to do now is wait and see what Disney does. I’m not really looking forward do it, but you’ve gotta assume The Mouse knows what their doing.