Disney Signals That It’s Ready to Embrace Fox’s Edgy Movies

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A runner passes in front of signage at Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. Studios in the Century City neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg
Walt Disney Co. plans to keep most of 20th Century Fox’s film management when it acquires the business next year, a sign that the squeaky-clean entertainment giant will let the studio continue to make adult dramas and R-rated features. At least for now.
Emma Watts will remain vice chairman of 20th Century Fox Film, according to a statement Thursday. Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula will continue to run Fox Searchlight Pictures, which makes art-house films, and Elizabeth Gabler will remain the head of the Fox 2000 label.
Hollywood has been on edge about possible changes wrought by the combination of two of the industry’s six big film studios. Disney’s $71 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox Inc.’s entertainment assets is expected to close in the first half of next year. The two companies have taken different strategies in the past. Disney abandoned R-rated films, which have proven a riskier sell at a time when movie audiences are shrinking. Fox, in contrast, has several franchises that go after adult audiences, such as “Kingsman.”
Disney will also retain executives for Fox’s animation and family units. All will report to Alan Horn, the current head of Walt Disney Studios.
‘Shape of Water’
Still, some changes are afoot. Stacey Snider, chief executive officer of the Fox film business, won’t be joining Disney. She could start her own production company or move to one of the tech giants pushing into the industry. Under her leadership at Fox, the studio brought home a best picture Oscar this year with “The Shape of Water.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger previously oversaw a major shift in the film industry. He sharply reduced the number of movies Disney releases and focused on major film franchises, such as superhero, fairy-tale and animated features. In the process, Iger jettisoned labels such as Miramax that made artier or more adult fare.
The industry has been watching closely to see if he’ll do something similar with Fox. Iger has said that he’s a fan of Fox Searchlight, which released “The Shape of Water,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Birdman,” and wants that label to continue. But he hasn’t said to what extent Disney as a whole will continue to make the kind of one-off, lower-budget dramas that Fox 2000 often releases — such as “The Hate U Give,” in theaters now.
Searchlight Plans
“We have every intention once the acquisition is approved to maintain the business of Fox Searchlight,” Iger said at Disney’s annual meeting. “We think they’re in the business of making high-quality films.”
Disney, based in Burbank, California, declined to get more specific about its plans.
As it integrates Fox, Disney takes on billions of dollars worth of films that are already in production and due for release. That includes three more “Avatar” movies that are planned for 2020 and beyond. Fox has a full slate to release next year, and the executives that have been developing those productions will need to continue that work.
The company will likely need a broad array of content as it focuses on three direct-to-consumer streaming services, including Hulu and a Disney-branded one scheduled to be launched next year.