The news that has broken over the last couple days is not a little depressing. While the Seven Samurai-esque Star Wars stand-alone film to be helmed by Zack Snyder was quickly denied, we have gotten word for Disney that there would indeed be stand-alone Star Wars films. The bad news? So far, they seem to be entirely centered around well-established characters from the original trilogy. You want a stand-alone prequel involving Yoda? Or how about films centered around a young Boba Fett or a young(er) Han Solo? If so, you're going to be pretty happy over the next half-decade or so. But if you thought that Disney was buying the Star Wars franchise to somewhat expand its universe rather than merely give us unneeded origins and/or backstories for the very characters we already know a good deal about, well this news won't make you happy. In fact it reeks of the kind of lazy corporate thinking that gives entertainment corporations a bad name. It's frankly the first bit of news that might make one thing that maybe Disney, which in general has been relatively good to the properties they have purchased over the years (Muppets, Marvel, etc.) might not be the perfect owner of Lucasfilm that we all thought.
And that's worth noting because, if my theory is true, we are quickly about to enter an industry where Disney and Warner Bros. alone pretty much control the majority of fantasy-film franchises. Looking over the film-franchise landscape, it's pretty easy to see such a scenario. Unlike most of the other studios, save perhaps Warner Bros., Disney seems to have unlimited capitol on hand to make big moves like the ones they took last year and in late 2009. Paramount currently has the Star Trek franchise as well as whatever will now become of GI Joe and Transformers. But there has been speculation that Disney may eventually purchase Hasbro and steal those franchises away just as they eventually poached the Marvel films that Paramount had the distribution rights for. That Paramount sold off said rights for just $115 million led to speculation (by myself among others) that Paramount was still financially smarting from the DVD crash in 2008/2009. Then the question becomes, is Disney willing to walk up to the Paramount offices and buy Star Trek for, I dunno, $1 billion? The cross-franchise appeal may be too good to resist (Han Solo flying the Enterprise, Spock wielding a lightsaber, etc.). Suddenly Paramount has Mission: Impossible and that's pretty much it and it would be forced to either return to its 90's bread-and-butter (the mid-range star-driven genre thriller) or hope to hell that it can make film franchises out of the various Nickelodeon properties. And even if Star Trek stays with Paramount, for how long will it live and prosper past the would-be trilogy?
That leaves Fox with its Marvel characters, for as long as they can hold onto them, as well as whatever blood they can squeeze from the likes of Planet of the Apes and Alien or even real-world franchises like Die Hard (at best they've got one more Die Hard after the upcoming fifth entry). Sony will likely hold onto Spider-Man for as long as possible, but other than that they have the 007 series in whatever fashion their deal with MGM left them with it for the moment. Men In Black 3 was a lucky break for Sony in that it broke even despite costing a fortune, so don't expect a fourth one anytime soon. Don't be too surprised if Sony and Fox eventually form a truce in order to combat The Avengers with some kind of "X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man versus Galactus" mega movie, but eventually Disney will end up with all of Marvel. Fox knows the only truly valuable Marvel property they have is X-Men, which has yet to have a $500 million-grossing entry, so cross-overs are their best bet to break out. Now that Fox just lost Star Wars, X-Men is the last major live-action franchise they have until James Cameron figures out what to do with Avatar. For the moment, Fox's best "franchise" may merely be its Blue Sky animated features (IE - Ice Age) as well as its recently acquired distribution rights for Dreamworks Animation.
That leaves Universal, which is desperately attempting to revive the Jurassic Park franchise after mostly failing to revive the Bourne series and basically killing the Fockers comedy franchise. They may have something they can do with the classic monsters library, such as their alleged plans to reboot The Mummy, but other than that their main trump card is the admittedly powerful Fast & Furious franchise. They tried franchise-building last year to little success, crashing with Battleship and breaking even with Snow White and the Huntsman. With a franchise line-up like this, don't be too surprised at the plausible Jaws reboot in the next few years, to say nothing of trying to revive Back to the Future. That leaves a bunch of minor studios (minis, as one might call them), as well as Lionsgate and Warner Bros. Oh right, Warner Bros. Warner, with its Time-Warner backing and its stable of once-and-future franchises, is the one major studio that will likely stand against the Disney 'Empire'. They have DC Comics, they have Legos, they have the still popular Harry Potter franchise and the potentially relaunch-able Matrix property. Heck, if they can keep the budgets down, they've got a viable long-running franchise in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films, both of which crossed $500 million worldwide at under $120 million a pop. And, most importantly, they have the money to buy Lionsgate/Summit if they so choose.
With such a purchase, Warner Bros. would own the Twilight franchise and The Hunger Games property, and whatever can be done with The Expendables, along with the Tyler Perry stuff and whatever may eventually come of the Saw series. They have whatever future potential is left in The Matrix or The Lord of the Rings properties, along with plausible (if ill-advised) reboots of Lethal Weapon or Dirty Harry. In the end, if I'm right (and I think I am), it will soon come down to two massive studios doing battle with each other while the rest scavenge for crumbs in the franchise world. Batman vs. Iron Man, Harry Potter vs. Luke Skywalker, Bella Swan vs Princess Aurora, Bugs Bunny vs. Mickey Mouse. It is quite possible that the industry will change in such a way over the next few years that we'll basically see the vast majority of film studios no longer betting everything on fantastical tent-pole while Warner Bros. and Disney merely duke it out with each other for tent-pole supremacy. For those who don't want an entire industry of nothing but franchise pictures, this isn't exactly a gloomy scenario. So what do you think of this cockamamie theory? Is the major tent-pole world coming down to a battle between two massive studios, a battle of Disney franchises versus Warner Bros. properties? What chess moves would you make in such a position, be it Team Disney or Team Warner? Speculate below!