The Movie Release Schedule Will Be Totally Overhauled
Disney is already having trouble spacing out their plethora of films and franchises across the calendar in a manner that will give each of them a fair shot at financial success; Dumbo will release in late March despite being completed in time for a late 2018 spot - it was only pushed back to avoid clashing with Nutcracker & The Four Realms and Mary Poppins Returns. And, generally speaking, Disney doesn’t release all that many movies. In 2019, they’ll only have around nine titles in theaters with major releases (not including Fox properties soon to fall under their umbrella). Compare that to Universal Pictures, who will have 15 titles come out this year, while 20th Century Fox has 13 titles scheduled for release in 2019, including the repeatedly-delayed X-Men: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants. With that studio about to be consumed by Disney, the release schedule as we know it will be completely revamped. And that probably won’t be a good thing.
Fox has made some great business decisions in their past, but they’re also not immune from making a few flops. In the first two months of 2019, they have released The Kid Who Would Be King and Alita: Battle Angel, both of which are predicted to lose hundreds of millions of dollars combined for the studio. Those movies were the sort of risk Disney would probably never take, so it seems safe to assume we won’t see the likes of them coming out of the studio any time soon following the merger.
If Disney only has to compete with themselves for box office supremacy, then they have far less incentive to produce more or varied content. The Disney model of content is already one with surprising limitations. After all, this is the studio that has built a decades-long sustainable brand without releasing R-rated movies. These historically came under a different studio name like Touchstone, and so it’s unlikely they will entirely kill such Fox films post-merger, but they perhaps won’t be a priority, particularly if they’re bigger budget efforts such as the Alien movies. James Mangold, director of Logan, was one of many to express concern that the merger would limit such storytelling opportunities since they don’t fit with Disney’s brand.
In areas where Disney completely dominate, they will be less likely to invest in shows, films and the like that further crowd out the work they want to put front and center. For example, will Fox’s Blue Sky Studios animated films, which Disney will own once the merger is complete, get further investment when Disney and Pixar are the undisputed icons of American animation and don’t want anything in their way to prevent maximum grosses? The overcrowding problem Disney face can easily be solved if they continue to further focus their attention on their most popular brands, most of which they already owned pre-purchase (and aren't the focus compared to the TV weight).
This conundrum extends to the hot properties Disney will own post-acquisition, including the remainder of the Marvel properties not currently under the umbrella of Marvel Studios. This aspect of Disney buying Fox has been the most exciting part for many fans and the area that’s garnered the most enthusiastic reporting, but much of that has ignored the reality of the business. Marvel has their next phase planned out already and so whatever comes from the X-Men and Fantastic Four will have to be adjusted to fit that. Considering that Marvel Studios is already releasing three films a year, which some have argued is over-saturating the market, there's a cap to expansion in traditional terms.
Disney's Hollywood Domination Will Impact The Movies You Get To See
One way the schedule will be completely changed is in how it will affect movie theaters. Unlike most studios, Disney demands a far larger cut of ticket sales for their films and are also the strictest in terms of the conditions they impose on theaters, both independent and multiplex. For example, Disney demanded a massive 65% cut of domestic ticket sales from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Typically, studios ask for between 50 – 60%. They also demanded that theaters show the film for a minimum of four weeks and do so in their largest screens. Those who did not comply faced penalties and risk losing future access to Disney movies. If you own a two-screen local cinema in a town of a few thousand people, this model is completely unsustainable. Plenty of theaters, as a result, decided to simply not show the movie - the highest grossing of 2017 - because it would never have been worth their while. International chains followed suit. In Brazil, many theaters boycotted the Pixar film Coco after Disney demanded a majority cut of ticket sales. The film showed on less screens as a result and more attention went to the Sony film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (that film went on to become one of 2017’s highest grossing titles, while Coco made $800 million but didn’t even make the top ten of the year).
If you’re a local theater looking at the release schedule and most of it is Disney, with few other alternative routes to take from other studios who won’t impose strict demands on profit and screenings, you have very few options available to you. This unprecedented level of control over the market and annual release calendar alike benefits Disney enormously but not the theaters who show their films, and they won’t have backup options to offer if Disney’s demands become too much.