Friday, May 10, 2019

Disney's Plans For 20th Century Fox Are Coming Into Place And They Aren't Pretty

This week, a more concrete picture of what exactly Disney has in place for 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight came into light by way of an updated schedule for upcoming Disney theatrical releases and a comment made by Disney head Bob Iger regarding how many annual releases we can expect from the new version of 20th Century Fox. Let's first talk about the more light-hearted news regarding release date changes for upcoming 20th Century Fox movies before we move on to the more pressing matter of the substantially smaller release slate we can now expect from what used to be one of the biggest movie studios on the planet.

But, first the updated release schedule. On Tuesday morning, Disney announced a vast overhaul of their release schedule that finally gave updated release dates for a bevy of Fox projects Disney acquired when they purchased the company. Thanks to Frank Pallotta for tweeting out a handy dandy list of what the schedule for upcoming Disney releases looks like:
Everyone has already talked endlessly about the new release dates for the Avatar sequels and the Untitled Star Wars spin-off's, so I'm just here to talk about the smaller movies Disney has penciled in release dates for, which include the Kevin Costner talking dog movie The Art of Racing in the Rain, which now arrives in August. Will Smith's pigeon spy movie Spies In Disguise is also now a Christmas tentpole release with a new December 25, 2019 release, which means previous 20th Century Fox Christmas 2019 release Call of the Wild is now getting an awkward post-President's Day weekend release date.

Speaking of delays, New Mutants has got another release date, this time for April 3, 2020, nearly two years after its original release date. It'll be opening against a new James Bond movie, so this final non-MCU X-Men movie has got an uphill climb to box office success. Meanwhile, three months before New Mutants, Underwater, a Kristen Stewart submarine thriller, finally arrives nearly three years after it began filming in April 2017. Presumably, the project was shelved for so long because of all the legal troubles faced by one of its stars, T.J. Miller. Now, Fox is finally releasing it on January 10, 2020 likely in the hopes of capitalizing on Kristen Stewart's elevated profile as an action star in the wake of November 2019's Charlie's Angles. Also interesting to note is that Locksmith Animation's first release with 20th Century Fox, Ron's Gone Wrong, is still slated for a November 6, 2020 release. One can only wonder how long Disney will allow 20th Century Fox to keep releasing animated fare. Finally, it is interesting to note that Fox Searchlight title Lucy in the Sky did not get a release date despite it having released a trailer that has been playing on theatrical features for two months now. A couple of other major 2019 releases from Fox Searchlight haven't gotten release dates yet, so right now I'd say that's a more peculiar turn of events rather than an ominous indicator for the Noah Hawley features future.
After 2020, Disney has mostly just penciled in release dates for untitled movies, with two Fox titles, Nimona and Avatar 2, being the lone 2021 Disney films with titles currently. It also appears that after the studio deals with all the inherited Fox projects throughout 2020, that 2021 is the year when Disney's model for how many movies 20th Century Fox will release annually will begin to transpire. That model was finally established by Disney head Bob Iger on Wednesday when he said that 20th Century Fox would only produce five or six movies a year, substantially down from the studio's traditional output, which reached 17 new releases year as recently as 2014 and 2015.

It's yet another disturbing sign, following on the heels of Disney shutting down Fox 2000, for how Disney plans to treat 20th Century Fox. In recent years, 20th Century Fox was willing to use its expansive slate of features to take risks on original concepts across all sorts of genres ranging from The Post to The Greatest Showman to Widows to Love, Simon to Spy and so much more. It's highly likely those type of projects will be put on the back-burner given how much Disney has been emphasizing that they want to exploit well-established franchises at 20th Century Fox. Not only is that a worrying trend for creativity and originality, it's also a puzzling strategy given how the biggest box office misfires in the last few years of pre-Disney 20th Century Fox came from attempts to milk long-running franchises.

Alien: Covenant, Independence Day: Resurgence, Fant4stic, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, Diary of a Wimpy Kid; The Long Haul and The Predator all flopped in their attempts to capitalize on the success of past Fox fare while OK domestic grossers like X-Men: Apocalypse, War for the Planet of the Apes and Kingsman: The Golden Circle all fell fall short of their predecessors. By contrast, the biggest recent Fox movies were riskier original fare like The Revenant or The Greatest Showman while even a more modest grosser like Love, Simon turned a healthy profit. Franchises-only doesn't really work all the time as a business model for current Disney brands like Lucasfilm (hi Solo!), PIXAR (hi Cars 3!) or Walt Disney Pictures (hi Dumbo!), so it's shocking and perplexing that Disney is already so gung-ho in emphasizing how they'll be exploiting all the 20th Century Fox franchises now that they own studio.

Combining this franchises-heavy approach to the new unveiled vastly reduced 20th Century Fox release slate is one of the worst things to come out of this merger, though it's still nowhere near as bad as the 4,000 jobs lost in the wake of Disney purchasing the studio. The future looks bleak for 20th Century Fox, to say the least, and just thinking about how Disney is able to make one of the longest-running movie studios vanish in the blink of an eye just makes me feel both despondent and frustrated. Hopefully, the new version of 20th Century Fox is still able to produce some quality features even as we head towards a future where Disney inevitably green-lights a motion-capture remake of Mrs. Doubtfire while I'm sure that Die Hard prequel that was already in development is a certainty now...

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