Earlier today, news broke that Disney has been in on-again, off-again talks to purchase most of 21st Century Fox. Disney would acquire everything from Fox except for the Fox broadcast network, Fox Sports, and Fox News. That would leave Fox’s gigantic library of film and TV shows in the hands of Disney, and at first blush, that may seem like a boon for fans. Personally, I sparked at the idea of A New Hope, the only Star Wars movie Fox still owns, coming to Disney and possibly leading to a Blu-ray box set of non-special edition Star Wars movies. Others immediately got on board with the idea of the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes now belonging to Marvel Studios, which is owned by Disney.
But look at the broader picture and you see a far more troubling landscape. The number of major studios would go down from six to five, and 20th Century Fox, and especially its subsidiaries like Fox Searchlight Pictures, would now belong to Disney, a studio that subsists primarily on franchises as well as a refusal to make any R-rated movies. It’s true that Disney has released R-rated movies in the past through subsidiaries like Touchstone and Miramax, but there’s no sign Disney would restart those divisions, especially when they’ve become so successful by avoiding R-rated fare. In exchange for getting more toys in the toy box, the box ends up getting smaller. Yes, the X-Men can now meet up with the Avengers on the big screen, which is neat, but the ramifications of that opportunity comes with less freedom for creatives, and ultimately, hurts fans as well.
Let’s look at what 20th Century Fox has done this year. They released the bonkers A Cure for Wellness, the masterful, R-rated Logan, the solid R-rated comedy Snatched, the controversial Alien: Covenant, and the astounding War for the Planet of the Apes. That’s not to say that it’s a studio that only makes hits, but it’s a studio that gives a lot of money to concepts that aren’t easily marketed like a western noir superhero movie, a film where an android kisses himself, and a summer tentpole that’s basically says, “Humanity deserves to die.”
Now compare that to Disney’s slate, which includes Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Cars 3, and Thor: Ragnarok. And those movies have made a lot of money for Disney. They know what franchises are valuable, and they hit them out of the park at the box office. The machine works well, and it does its job, which is to make hits and then use those hits to power ancillary revenue streams like toys, clothes, theme parks, etc. And that’s fine. It’s a business model that works and we get enjoyable movies out of it.
But I like living in a world where we have both 20th Century Fox and Disney producing different kinds of films and offering consumers more choices. If Disney purchases Fox, what happens to Fox’s slate? Do they stop making Deadpool or do they try to make it PG-13 so that it fits with the rest of the Marvel Studios brand? Does Disney bank on difficult films like A Cure for Wellness, or do they instead choose to spend it on something safer and more family-friendly? And where do creatives go to pitch their ideas? The number of major studios that will back an R-rated film goes from five to four, and if those four say “No”, that movie doesn’t get to exist.
There are also risks that we can’t foresee but tend to come with corporate consolidation. The bigger a company, the more power they have, and we can’t always trust them to wield that power responsibly. Without competition and without challenges, companies can stagnate and they can even harm consumers. Disney buying Fox may not poison anyone’s drinking water, but it can make things more expensive in the long run. For example, say you want rent a Fox movie on demand. Well Disney is building its own VOD service, and if they bought Fox, they could make all those titles exclusive to Disney’s VOD platform. That means if you want to chill out and rent The Martian or any Fox feature, you may have to just pay the monthly subscription rate to Disney.
For fans to reach the point they want—that special box set or that crossover movie—there’s a cost. It would be nice if Disney and Fox could just reach a deal similar to what Sony and Disney did with Spider-Man, but that’s not the landscape right now. It would be nice if Disney could get A New Hope back for a 4K restoration, but that doesn’t look like it’s happening. But even if these things happened, for them to occur under a Disney-Fox merger would likely cause other kinds of problems for fans. A team up between Disney and Fox would probably be more villainous than heroic.