Last Wednesday, the long-anticipated Disney/Fox merger was officially complete. The $71.3 billion purchase is one of the largest corporate consolidations in the entertainment industry — giving Disney control over 35 percent share of the entire movie market — and is undoubtedly going to reshape the future of Hollywood. Almost immediately, Disney added to its corporate website home page several notable Fox properties, including The Simpsons, The Shape of Water and Deadpool. They’re placed next to works from Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm, showed off as the newly gained territories of Disney’s already massive media empire.
During the long months when Disney and Comcast were trying to outbid each other, I, like most MCU fans, was anxiously hoping that Disney will emerge as the winner. The reason was simple: The Marvel characters that were owned by Fox, including the X-Men and Fantastic Four, would all get to come home to the MCU, and there would no longer be questions like “which Quicksilver is the actual Quicksilver.” So suffice to say that when the final deal was announced, I was quick to celebrate and didn’t even think twice about what the acquisition really meant on a bigger scale.
That bubble burst real quick on Friday, when Disney announced the decision to shutter Fox 2000 after the merger, a department that produced mid-budget films aimed at audience groups that are often underserved, and had over the years turned many brilliant literary pieces into cinema. In retrospect, the move shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise, given that while Fox 2000 has produced some acclaimed hits over the years, including Devil Wears Prada, The Fault in Our Stars, Life of Pi and most recently, Hidden Figures, it lacked a well-defined brand. Additionally, most of its projects did not achieve the commercial success of the same caliber as films from the main branch, nor have they snatched Oscars the way Fox Searchlight’s productions have. Corporate restructuring and reorganization are inevitable with a merger of this scope, and from a business perspective, it’s not difficult to see why Fox 2000 was sacrificed.
What is disconcerting, however, is the implication behind this decision and the message Disney is sending, intentionally or unintentionally. Having seen how ferociously Disney pushed for Black Panther in the Oscar race this year, it’s clear that the Mouse wants its films to gain recognition during award season almost as much as it wants them to smash box office records. But often times they’re only capable of one or the other, and even when blockbusters do get nominated for awards, their wins are still mostly limited to technical categories. So it’s likely that Fox Searchlight, being the Oscar powerhouse it is, would come out of this ordeal largely unscathed. By giving up mid-budget productions that are often objectively good movies but neither make quite enough money nor bag awards, Disney is essentially affirming and perhaps furthering the divide between blockbusters and small indie productions. Franchises like the MCU and Star Wars are responsible for raking in the cash, while indie films are more likely to become the Academy’s favorites. They have been assigned roles, forced into boxes that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.
But the merger is also likely part of Disney’s larger strategy to compete with Netflix and other burgeoning streaming services. The traditional cinema experience is, unfortunately, getting old for many people. Small productions, without the lure of fancy special effects or the loyal fanbase of some franchises, have a hard time drawing enough of an audience to the theaters. The film may be great, and people would love to see it, but many of them would rather wait until it comes out on Netflix than pay what’s basically a month of Netflix subscription for just one movie. With Fox now under its wing, Disney has gained invaluable additions to the collection of blockbuster films, mini-series and animated movies that they will be putting on Disney+ when the platform launches. The Mouse is by no means losing its grip on the movie market, and will surely continue its streak of making box office records. But the way the public consumes cinema has changed enough in recent years for it to feel the need to evolve, too. Can it challenge Netflix’s chokehold on streaming services? It seems more and more likely.
What does this all lead to? As much as I love many of Disney’s subsidiaries, I’m apprehensive about how drastically this acquisition could alter the film industry, steering it in a direction where the artistic value and diversity of films are grossly overlooked, where the cinema becomes purely an event — a spectacle — rather than an art form. Monopolies are rarely good for the long-term health and balance of an industry, and Disney’s ambition, as it stands now, is verging on dangerous. At the same time, I’m aware and somewhat ashamed to admit that as a consumer and audience member, my movie-going habits are very much part of the problem. The tide of change is irreversible.
I recall seeing a meme on Reddit, back when the deal was first announced, that photoshopped the Mouse’s face onto Thanos and replaced the infinity stones in his gauntlet with logos of the subsidiaries, which is ironically accurate and kind of chilling. I could only hope that instead of wiping out half of the film industry, Disney can use its new-gained power to usher in an exciting era of motion pictures.
Andrea Yang is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Five Minutes ‘Til Places runs alternate Mondays this semester.