Disney CCO and co-chairman Alan Horn says the studio is disappointed by the number of Fox films that flopped at the box office. Earlier this year, the Mouse House's acquisition of 20th Century Fox became official, and Disney inherited a full slate of projects - many of which they had nothing to do with beforehand. While there's much excitement about the longterm possibilities of the purchase (including the X-Men and Fantastic Four finally joining the MCU), the immediate future was far more underwhelming. Disney was tasked with over seeing the releases of uninspiring films, such as Stuber and The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Unsurprisingly, these movies didn't gain much traction commercially. These days, Disney is synonymous with box office success, but they've had a rough go at it with their first batch of Fox films. Dark Phoenix was probably the most infamous example, bombing with only $65 million total domestically. In fact, religious drama Breakthrough is the only Fox/Disney film to be profitable so far. For Horn and company, it's an unfortunate turn of events.
Speaking with Variety, Horn addressed Fox's poor performances at the box office the past few months, partially chalking things up to the competitive nature of the industry:
“Of course it was disappointing. There’s a good old saying: ‘The crow doesn’t taste very good but it is nutrition.’ Everyone learns from failure. I certainly experienced failure in my career. We were disappointed at the results of those [Fox] films. We didn’t know anything about them, we didn’t see them. Before the acquisition, we were not allowed to see them because of the so-called gun jumping rules. We are not allowed to interact with them, give them advice, tell them what to do or what not to do. We were completely hands off, it was up to them.
"But it’s the movie business. I don’t want to be critical. Some of these pictures, I enjoyed them. I liked them. The Art of Racing in the Rain, I enjoyed the movie. It’s just rough out there. It’s competitive. It’s more challenging than ever before. There are good films that will lose money and there are films that are not so good that will make money. Who knows.”
Disney's led a charmed life the past few years, riding the popularity of major subsidiaries like Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. Those properties routinely clean up at the box office (with the rare exception), so a string of failures is something new for the studio. It'll be interesting to see what lessons they take away from this turn of events. With the launch of Disney+, it's possible some mid-budget projects might be better served for that platform than a traditional theatrical release. Something like The Art of Racing in the Rain likely had limited commercial appeal, but maybe it could have found an audience on the streaming service. Disney's already experimenting with this model, releasing Lady and the Tramp and Noelle as Disney+ originals.
Of course, there will still be 20th Century Fox films playing on the big screen, and Disney would like to see a few of them turn a profit. Next up is James Mangold's racing drama Ford v Ferrari, which earned positive reviews and is generating some Oscar buzz. That could emerge as a box office success. Looking ahead to 2020, Fox has intriguing projects like The King's Man, Free Guy (starring Ryan Reynolds), and Steven Spielberg's West Side Story that all sound promising. The big guns are James Cameron's Avatar sequels, followups to the second-highest grossing film of all-time. Hopefully, it won't be much longer until Disney starts reaping the benefits of their latest purchase.