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Call it a franchise recession.
After years of Marvel and Star Wars movies and shows inundating screens big and small, Disney is putting the brakes on the output of some of its biggest franchises and brands following Bob Iger’s Feb. 8 comments that the company needs to be “better at curating” franchise content that’s “extraordinarily expensive.” Added Iger: “We want the quality on the screen, but we have to look at what they cost us.”
The directive to rein in costs and output arrives as Disney prepares to release Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania on Feb. 17 and as The Mandalorian season three awaits its March 1 Disney+ debut. Marvel is Disney’s most important supplier of product, the subsidiary with the highest output — and under Iger’s directive, it could feel cuts the soonest. “There is going to be a level of rigor on Marvel and across the entire company,” one company insider says. “Numbers matter now, and costs are going to be outlined and enforced.”
In what feels like a different timeline ago, at July’s San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel chief Kevin Feige put the pedal to the metal when he outlined five Disney+ shows for 2023 — What If …? season two, Echo, Loki season two, Ironheart and Agatha: Coven of Chaos. Now, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Loki season two and the Samuel L. Jackson-led Secret Invasion are the only sure bets to debut this year. Even projects that wrapped months ago, such as the Hawkeye spinoff Echo and Wakanda Forever spinoff Ironheart, are unlikely to arrive in 2023 as the studio spreads out its content and tinkers in postproduction. And shows in development, such as Nova, are now on a slower path.
As a point of comparison, during its Phase 4, Marvel Studios released a breakneck 18 projects across theatrical and streaming: four films and five TV shows in 2021; three films and three TV shows in 2022; plus a few specials. (The studio released just 11 projects from Phase 3, which ran from 2016 to 2019.)
Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige echoed the new direction. “The pace at which we’re putting out the Disney+ shows will change,” Feige told Entertainment Weekly in an interview published this week, noting that there will be fewer shows and that they will more spaced out.
Star Wars is facing the opposite challenge. After being absent from the big screen since 2019 and having had false starts with Patty Jenkins’ Rogue Squadron, which may never materialize, Disney has ramped up its efforts to return the franchise to theaters. Damon Lindelof led a writers room in July to hash out a story for a feature, and Taika Waititi is still developing his own take on the franchise. Disney is expected to unveil film plans at Star Wars Celebration, set for April in London. On top of season three of Mandalorian, shows expected to hit the streaming service this year include Ahsoka, starring Rosario Dawson, and the Jon Watts-produced Skeleton Crew. “Lucasfilm may ramp up, but it will have to abide by the same fiscal discipline as the rest of the company,” says the insider.
Observers are calling it a “massive correction” from only a few years ago, when the entertainment industry was hell-bent on giving consumers endless amounts to watch, and spending endlessly in doing so. “You can have 10 mediocre shows or you can have five great shows,” says one agency partner whose clients work on the franchise plays. “People will still stay on Disney+.”
On the animation front, 2022 was a tough one for Disney, which saw Pixar’s Lightyear underperform and Disney Animation’s Strange World outright bomb. Iger announced three new sequels to $1 billion brands — Toy Story, Frozen and Zootopia — and Disney insiders have acknowledged recent box office woes were exacerbated by confusion in the marketplace from families who were trained during the pandemic just to wait for animated features to end up on Disney+. There is talk of longer theatrical windows for Elemental (June 16) and Disney Animation’s Wish (Nov. 22) in hopes of luring families back to theaters.
The pullback on Disney+ is coming amid an industrywide shift in rethinking the best way to achieve profitability in streaming. Adds one producer working on multiple projects around town, “Every studio and streamer is being forced to behave fiscally responsibly.”
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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