Last week, as part of a quarterly investor conference call, 20th Century Fox got a public dressing down by Disney chief executive Bob Iger who said Fox’s performance “was well below where it had been and well below where we hoped it would be when we made the acquisition.”
Variety has now published an in-depth report on Disney’s dissatisfaction with the Fox properties they’ve inherited, talking with several sources who indicate simmering frustrations with the viability of the studio’s product which has so far yielded only dismal numbers and holds little promise. Four Fox films opened in the quarter with only the faith-based movie “Breakthrough” being profitable – grossing $50 million from a $14 million budget.
“Dark Phoenix,” “Stuber” and “The Art of Racing in the Rain” all flopped – ‘Phoenix’ spectacularly so and heavily contributed to a $170 million write-down. The failure of Fox’s film division, and to a lesser extent the lighter-than-anticipated attendance at Disney’s theme parks, is being blamed for the studio’s Disney’s per-share stock price and revenue projections being off.
Fox vice chairman Emma Watts is seemingly being sidelined somewhat as Iger has named his top lieutenants Alan Horn and Alan Bergman as the ones “redefining 20th Century Fox’s film strategy for the future, applying the same discipline and creative standards behind the success of Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm.”
As reported a few days ago, Disney has scrapped much of Fox film’s development slate – ditching all projects not yet in production bar only a handful of survivors like the “Avatar” sequels and a few franchises with films either too far along or able to deliver reboots that will suit the Disney+ streaming service. The report today indicates that, according to rival studio executive estimates, Disney torched at least $50 million worth of development in this sudden house clearing.
It also indicates the completed films Fox has which Disney is set to release through 2020 is giving them concern. Those on the films either finished or in post-production are said to be struggling for studio support and filmmakers seeking reshoots have been asked to submit rigorous storyboards to justify additional expenses.
Original scripts and optioned properties have been ‘paused’ from going into production as Disney is prioritizing making more broadly commercial projects and safe bets – as a result “Lumberjanes” has been cancelled, Greg Berlanti won’t helm “The Editor,” and several projects from British animator Locksmith are being handed back to their creators.
The studio is also reportedly unimpressed with the horror “X-Men” spin-off “New Mutants” and believes it has limited box office potential. Taika Waititi’s Nazism takedown comedy “Jojo Rabbit,” despite being a potential major awards contender, is being seen as “a little too edgy” for Disney brass with a top exec said to have worried aloud during a screening that the material will alienate Disney fans.
Then there’s the “Deadpool” problem with the studio grappling with how to fit the very R-rated character into its PG-13-rated Marvel Cinematic Universe with the aim to find a way for the character to move seamlessly between “Avengers” spinoffs and more bloody, profane stand-alone adventures.