The session began with a sizzle reel of brief clips from Disney and Fox movies, melding numerous expressions such as “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” to Hugh Jackman in character as Wolverine saying “What is this place?” to “Sometimes change can be good,” among many others. The reel drew loud applause from exhibitors.
“Hello, everybody. Well, I have to say, that reel just blows me away. I’m still getting my mind around this,” said Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn as he took the stage at the annual gathering of exhibitors and Hollywood studios. “So we are truly excited because together we believe we will be more than the sum of our parts.”
After sharing new footage from Avengers: Endgame, Horn introduced Disney’s distribution chief Cathleen Taff, who in turn introduced 20th Century Fox vice chairman Emma Watts, who joked that it must be “some form of Disney hazing that I follow Avengers.”
While Disney touted a number of its other upcoming films with new footage — including The Lion King and Aladdin — it didn’t show anything from Star Wars: Episode IX or Frozen 2. Instead, a major theme was Disney’s assimilation of Fox. “It’s a bit of a shock to be here as colleagues,” said Watts, who will guide Fox properties.
“This is a historic time in our business,” she continued. “While we may be living through a lot of change, the good news is the formula for good movie and the studio role hasn’t changed, and that is a single dedication to filmmakers. That will never change.”
Watts added that Disney is known for big tentpoles, and “we intend to do our part. It is in that spirit that we will continue to create new stories,” she said, listing off franchises Kingsman, Alien, Planet of the Apes and “of course, Avatar.” The exec also talked about the success of such films as Bohemian Rhapsody, a different sort of proposition for Disney. “Though much has been written about the Fox legacy in past tense, we are ready to write our next great chapter.”
Watts then showed off some footage from Dark Phoenix, calling it a “perfect sendoff for our X-Men team.”
The historic merger gives Disney dominion over James Cameron’s Avatar franchise, the Kingsman series and the X-Men universe, including Deadpool, which will now be guided by Kevin Feige’s Marvel Studios. Avatar 2 has a plum year-end release date of Dec. 18, 2020.
Neither Watts nor Taff made any announcements about whether any Fox titles will be relocated. Fox’s 2019 slate includes the faith-based film Breakthrough (due out April 17), X-Men spinoff Dark Phoenix (June 7), Stuber (July 12) and New Mutants (Aug. 2).
And in November, Watts has James Mangold’s untitled Ford v. Ferrari movie, starring Christian Bale and Matt Damon. Exclusive first footage of the awards hopeful tells the story an eccentric American engineer and a British driver who are tasked by Henry Ford II to build a new car to compete in Le Mans.
Disney closed its $71.3 billion acquisition of a wide swath of 21st Century Fox late last month, giving Horn dominion over 20th Century Fox and Oscar powerhouse Fox Searchlight. Fox 2000 had also been expected to join the Disney fold, but at the 11th hour, chief Elizabeth Gabler was told the label would be shuttered later this year.
During his remarks, Horn also celebrated the 25th anniversary of Searchlight, headed by Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley.
It was Horn’s first public appearance since the merger closed. Ditto for Watts. Even before the union, Disney was already positioned to have its best year on record.
Wednesday’s CinemaCon presentation was bittersweet for many who work in marketing and distribution at Fox, since their fates are unclear. Taff thanked outgoing Fox domestic distribution president Chris Aronson and international distribution president Andrew Cripps.
“The Fox team has done a fantastic job over the years,” she said.