Wednesday, February 6, 2013

There can only be two! A possible future where Disney and Warner Bros. dominate franchise tent-pole film making...

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!       

Scott Mendelson


corysims said...

If the rumor about Disney looked to purchase Hasbro is true, you're scenario pretty much plays out as stated. Eventually (because the Disney lawyers will make it so) Disney will get all of the Marvel characters under the banner. I don't know how long it'll take but you have to think it chaps their ass that they don't own Spider-Man and having him interact with the Avengers at this moment. Again, this will happen. The Fox Marvel characters will follow suit.

For WB, I just see them moving forward with their DC properties and essentially buying up all the YA novels that have potential to be franchises in the future. They'll get as many as they can. Amongst all of that, Snyder, Del Toro, Affleck, Wachowskis, and Nolan will continue to churn out "their" films for the studio. WB just purchased the Friday the 13th series so you can expect reboots for that one. I fully expect to see remakes/reboots of the WB already own franchises in the future (Matrix, Potter, Lord of the Rings). Not sure about the Lionsgate purchase though. Could it happen? Sure. But, with Hunger Games and a reboot of Twilight on the horizon, I think Lionsgate can stay as it is for a good long while.

The losers are Universal and Paramount, especially Paramount. Universal has options. Paramount doesn't, unless they think Trek and Mission Impossible are their options. That's not really saying much because I don't see Cruise making too many more Missions and with Abrams leaving Trek, Paramount's going to be scrambling to keep that afloat.

Sad state of affairs when two studios rule the landscape. I'm more partial to WB because they seem to have really good working relationships with their directors/talent to let them do their thing and hope for the best.

We will know more after Man of Steel. Scott, is it me or does it feel like WB has had their finger on the button for a while, waiting to lauch all things DC in one shot but they're just waiting for the right film to do that with? By letting Nolan do his thing with Batman, they couldn't do it then eventhough I'm betting they wanted to do so after Batman Begins. Now, with it over, Man of Steel seems to be the "if it hits big, we're all in with DC" film for WB. Almost like launching a thousands ships to Troy for the war to end all wars.

Nathan Donarum said...

Some of this sound plausible. Other pieces sound like a stretch. There's just very little box office potential in Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games past the movies already released/being made. The studios stretched those to their breaking points already by splitting up the final entries, so although it seems at first that either acquiring them or using them in some way would be smart, it's doubtful that anyone would really be able to. When and how would these properties be used?

It's possible that Harry Potter could get a reboot, but when? And how? Think of that undertaking. No one s going to reboot Twilight or make more movies with that property. It's been milked as far as it can go. The same can be said of The Lord of the Rings. After The Hobbit (another property stretched almost into oblivion) is over, where else do you go with that? The Silmarillion?

I think your conclusion is somewhat interesting and certainly not out of the realm of possibility, but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the argument for acquiring some of these franchises. In other words, their box office gold has run its course for the foreseeable future.

PB210 said...

Original post will have functioning links.

Odd bit of polarization, with Warner Bros. and Disney:

Through a long process which I will not recall here,
Time/Warner owns DC, and they own the Looney Tunes. They released or produced
via New Line, the Lord of the Rings films, soon to receive a three part prequel
trilogy. WB does not own the Lord of the Rings, however.

bought MVL, and they obviously own the Disney cartoon properties. They acquired
Star Wars, a property which had a three part prequel trilogy (quadrilogy
counting the animated film; since Star Wars derives from Flash Gordon serials, I
feel no umbrage at including a cartoon film).


If Disney acquires Hasbro, then one will have Mattel as Warner Bros. counterpart,
as Mattel has an extensive and comprehensive arrangement for toys based on their
properties via Mattel (although WB does not own Mattel).


Owns the Justice League
Owns the Merrie Melodies
Produced via a subsidiary but does not own the Lord of the Rings
Extensive arrangements with but do not own Mattel

Owns the Avengers
Owns Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, etc.
Owns Star Wars
May soon own Hasbro?

Incidentally, some may observe a bit of an oddity; historically, some
would say (excuse the "weasel words") Bugs Bunny stood as less well-known than
Mickey Mouse, yet Superman stood as more famous than the Hulk, Captain America
or Iron Man. (The list of most famous fictional personnages supposedly included
Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan, Superman, Mickey Mouse and Sherlock Holmes.)

Disney must make MVL adaptations, as they bought MVL, but Warner Bros. did not buy DC.


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