Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox left them with a few box office bombs, but it won’t worry them too much. The Walt Disney Company's much-discussed $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox and its many assets has been the talk of Hollywood for close to two years, ever since it was first announced amid a flurry of publicity. This acquisition gave them control over a multitude of networks and brands, but the most talked-about elements were the intellectual properties now under the vast Disney umbrella. Ownership of Fox gave Disney the final blocks to construct the full Marvel kingdom, including X-Men and Fantastic Four, as well as hot properties like Avatar and The Simpsons. Also part of that deal was a number of major projects either still in production, in the early stages, or fully completed. Some of these were sent to the scrap heap or left for new studios, but there were a few that Disney, whether they liked it or not, just had to release.
So far, these Fox releases under the Disney banner have not been great successes. Tolkien, the biopic of the Lord of the Rings creator, came and went with little excitement. Stuber, the comedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista, has only made around $10.5 million domestically (so far) and received tepid reviews. That’s a disappointing result but this was never a major priority for Disney, nor was it one the studio had put many hopes on as a potential hit. The bigger hit to the studio came in the form of X-Men: Dark Phoenix. The much beleaguered fourth installment of the Fox reboot franchise had its release delayed several times before Disney’s merger went through, and finally, the film was given a May release. It seemed unlikely that the movie could overcome the year’s struggling summer box office, but even experts were shocked when Dark Phoenix barely scraped past a $34 million opening weekend domestically. (It had originally been predicted to make an already disappointing $40 – 50 million.) From a projected budget of $200 million, Dark Phoenix made only $215 million worldwide.
Typically, these sorts of underperforming titles grouped together in such a short amount of time would lead to worries over a studio’s future, but for Disney, this is water off a duck’s back. These films were mere technicalities for them, projects that were already completed and only needed distribution handled. That’s not a cheap expense but it’s more cost-efficient when you haven’t had to pay $200 million for a new X-Men movie. If these films had been successful then Disney would have reaped the benefits, but they lose a lot less even as disappointments. They had no plans to continue Fox’s X-Men narrative and titles like Tolkien and Stuber never fit with the Disney brand. Either way, they won.
Disney acquired Fox for its extensive catalog and those investments are more than worth the price of a few flops. On top of having a massive amount of content they can make exclusive to their upcoming streaming service, Disney+, they have new opportunities to benefit from pre-established franchises and properties. Disney now has the Avatar franchise under their belt, the upcoming sequels for which are at the very least certain to be a hot topic for audiences. There is also the planned Kingsman prequel, The King's Man, which could give Disney a foothold in R-rated action in a way they have never really done. Then there are more prestigious offerings such as Ad Astra, Brad Pitt's sci-fi drama, and Steven Spielberg's remake of the iconic musical West Side Story.
Disney has already shown that they’re not shy about canceling Fox films if they’re seen as bad investments, so the ones that make it to the theater are either ones they think will fare well or titles they have to release that was already finished. The former presents more creatively and economically interesting options for the company and fans will be eager to see the long-term fallout from that. However, as it stands, those under-performing Fox movies are simply a necessary part of Disney’s continued growing success.