With ‘Tron 3‘ recently going from in development to unwanted pile of toys in very quick succession, I experienced a fleeting moment of joy with a period of disappointment and questions. This resulted in a couple of things for me , I now recognise how my fiancée feels on a regular basis, and a niggling thought reoccurred to me about Disney. Does The Walt Disney Company have a stranglehold over the film & cinema industry?
It’s only ‘Tron 3’ I hear some of you cry, and yes for a very short time it is just another sequel to a film that made a few million, but there is something more to the reasons of something like ‘Tron 3’ not being produced that makes me uncomfortable. Variety mentions in their post that a Disney executive reportedly said “Things in the queue got ahead of it and we have such a big slate out in front of it, we started to think, ‘Where does it go?’ And it’s a pretty big investment to make if you are not even sure when you are going to release it.”
Sure studios develop films on and off constantly, and it’s not uncommon to have to push something back or make room for another release, but to drop something for an indefinite amount of time despite it’s tidy profit is strange. ‘Tron: Legacy’ grossed around $400 million worldwide on a budget approximately at $170 million, a nice little margin there not including home media & toy sales linked to the film. If this film were produced by Lionsgate, Blumhouse Productions, 20th Century Fox or Paramount, then the chances are we’d have had a third ‘Tron’ film by now or in the imminent future. But it is owned by Disney, and we don’t.
The reported reason from this ‘Disney Executive’ is a reasonable one; looking ahead they have ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales‘, a sequel to ‘Alice in Wonderland‘ and live action versions of ‘The Jungle Book‘, ‘Dumbo‘ & ‘Beauty & The Beast‘ to name a few. That is a reasonably hefty slate before you even delve into the other studios under the Disney banner. When you do delve into these though, is when you can get an idea of how much an influence Disney can have over certain aspects of the industries of both film & cinema.
2009 was a landmark year for Marvel fans, the film industry and the cinema industry. It was in that year that The Walt Disney Company acquired Marvel Entertainment, Inc. in a deal totalling approximately $4 Billion. However there is more to the landmark than just the sale of Marvel, it was the proper start of a united assault on the Worldwide Box Office. Because of this acquisition we have been treated to a feat most thought impossible moons ago, the plausible and effective portrayal of a team of superheroes, on the silver screen, saving the world, twice. The behemoth that Marvel Studios has become under the all seeing eye of the mouse house is nothing short of impressive, and for comic fans and blockbuster fans alike it’s success means more films that will tantalise, entertain and most certainly make millions. Hooray for everybody…No?
Marvel Studios are operating at a reasonable pace, only releasing two films per year as it journeys down a road to riches. No major issue there, they’re preventing themselves from saturating the market and building interest in properties that nobody ever envisaged working on the big screen (If you ever predicted Ant-Man would have his own film 6 years ago please stand up…). However in the quest to make their film products superior, and to stop the market from being overcrowded, they have mercilessly taken back as many Marvel properties & characters they can get their hands on. Spider-Man is the most recent one, but characters such as Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Blade, Elektra & The Punisher have all been brought back home as well. For the fan who wants to see all these characters on screen together, it makes for a mouth watering prospect. However, are we not just being robbed of seeing these characters on screen sooner? or at all? & Is the cinema industry being starved of film product that would get people into seats? Not every film with a superhero needs to be a blockbuster.
If Marvel Studios & Disney want to stick to their release schedule then we are not going to be seeing new films featuring these characters in significant roles any time soon. Kevin Feige himself has suggested these properties won’t see the light of day in the near future. As a fan of at least 3 of those characters that actually makes me a little sad. Considering how different these characters are tonally & thematically to the heroes owning the box office at the moment, they would not saturate the market or take anything away from other films box office receipts. If you aren’t going to use the character, why not let another studio have a crack at it? If the resultant film is crap you win by rebooting the character, if it does well then I’m sure there are monetary gains to benefit from. Surely a Win-Win.
It’s also not like Marvel aren’t waiting with bated breath either over Fantastic Four, X-Men & the like. I’m sure one hiccup along the road on any other Marvel property will find the affected character snatched back into the stable of characters Marvel Studios already houses, and quite frankly I find that a troubling scenario. Lets pretend, Marvel Studios reacquires rights to all it’s characters, what then? Do we have to wait years to see an X-Men film? Will we be exposed to a never ending line of superhero team up films where dozens of characters are crammed into 2 hour films? Will refreshing stuff like Black Panther be pushed aside to focus on the more popular properties? Speaking of Back Panther, because Spider-Man is now once again in the Marvel wheelhouse ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, ‘Captain Marvel’, ‘Black Panther’ & ‘Inhumans’ have all been pushed back. The latest date in those titles is 2019. So it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we aren’t going to see a film about Blade or The Punisher until at least 2020, and even that is unlikely. That is not a good future for film, cinema or the fan.
Having other studios develop characters from the Marvel brand, or any brand for that matter, can help keep product distinctive and refreshing. Not so long ago Marvel Studios was receiving praise for making effective standalone films within a franchise, but looking ahead ‘Ant-Man’ looks pretty similar in story to ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War’ has a cast fit for a third Avengers film. A single studio, with one direction can only have so many ideas. There needs to be variety, and having other studios use dormant characters is one way of doing that.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing the films as I think they are great. However retaining rights to characters and just letting them lie dormant for years isn’t necessarily productive. No matter how long you leave The Punisher on the sidelines, he is never going to be the star of a film that grosses hundreds of millions.
Moving on, everybody remembers what happened in 2012 right? George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney. A huge move for both parties, but most specifically Disney. As a fan I was beaming at the prospect of more Star Wars films, which fan wasn’t? A limitless mine of potential stories, new directors and actors, it is going to be huge. Then as time rolled on news of spin-offs and sequels churned out every other day. It’s great that we will be seeing more of the Star Wars universe than just the story that occurred in the films released to date, but is that not just going to affect the special nature of a Star Wars release? Episodes I-VI were released over a period of 28 years. I’d not be surprised if we had 10-12 films in that same period starting now. The idea of more films is great for the fan, and should be good for cinema but the extensive activity from this division will surely affect other studios working under Disney. ‘Tron 3’ clearly being one of those films affected. If Lucasfilm had not been purchased by Disney then I imagine again we would have had ‘Tron 3’ by now. However it is too soon to analyse the effects of the new Star Wars film universe on the wider Disney structure and the industry.
Problem is, Star Wars is not the only major franchise banner under Lucasfilm. ‘Labyrinth’ & ‘The Land Before Time’ fall under Lucasfilm, and personally I’m in no hurry to see the spin Disney might put on these films. Primarily though, Lucasfilm is also home to Indiana Jones, another blockbusting franchise primed for revisiting. It’s not on the schedule yet for Disney but it is definitely on the radar.
So what point am I making? (I frequently ask myself this, and never sure if I actually do make one). Looking at Lucasfilm & Marvel individually, apart from the huge tent poles that exist within those studios there might not seem much product, however if you add up all of the titles that now fall under the Walt Disney banner it’s a little bewildering. Lucasfilm, Marvel & Pixar all operate under Disney, and that is not including their own production companies. If this were any other business surely it would be deemed a monopoly, and they would have to relinquish some of it to make fair competition. The film industry doesn’t seem to think like that. Slowly but surely Disney seem to be coiling around the film & cinema industry, squeezing and tightening until they gain dominance or the kill. The more success they have, the more ridiculous terms they can try to negotiate with cinema chains. The conflict over ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a key example of this. Resistance was notable but ultimately futile.
As a result of the abundance of product that they have at their feet Disney are able to nonchalantly cast aside product without batting an eyelid, a la ‘Tron 3‘ . Great for Disney, not so much for the industry. At a time when we are hearing news of ‘Star Wars Episode VIII‘, the best 20th Century Fox can muster is a reboot of ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen‘ & lets not forget who distributed Star Wars before Disney got their hands on it….Fox. Franchises, like it or lump it, are currently the life support of the cinema and film industry. So when one company holds the majority of those that make billions, not millions, how can it be good for anybody other than the one in charge? The future doesn’t bode well either, as popular franchises from other studios draw to a close or already have Disney are pretty much going to be the only ones left standing. The worlds of Twlight, Potter & Middle-Earth have drawn to a close (for now), Katniss takes a final stand this year and Divergent will soon follow. There is one real challenge to the might of Disney, and they are standing on shaky ground. Warner Bros really need to pull a rabbit out of the hat with their DC universe plan, otherwise before you know it Disney will own DC too.
That is enough of my rambling & digression for now, do you think Disney poses a threat to the cinema industry with it’s dominance?