Disney has taken a crucial step in laying out how it will absorb the film assets of 20th Century Fox, a complex task that will have lasting implications for the movie business and reduce the number of major Hollywood studios from six to five.
The small cadre of top Fox film execs anointed by Disney to be part of its historic acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox include 20th Century Fox vice chairman Emma Watts, Fox 2000’s Elizabeth Gabler and Fox Searchlight chiefs Steve Gilula and Nancy Utley. The Hollywood Reporter revealed earlier this month that Watts would be making the jump to Disney.
As expected, Fox film chairman-CEO Stacey Snider won’t be going.
Once at Disney, Watts will continue to serve as vice chairman of 20th Century Fox Film and president of production, guiding such marquee franchises as James Cameron’s Avatar and Kingsman. Utley and Gilula will likewise retain their titles, while Gabler’s will be Fox 2000 president of production (her current title is Fox 2000 president). All four, who are widely respected, will report directly to Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn.
Additionally, Fox’s Andrea Miloro and Robert Baird will remain co-presidents of Fox Animation, while longtime Fox exec Vanessa Morrison will serve as president of family. Baird, Miloro and Morrison will report to both Horn and Watts.
While Disney didn’t reveal specifics of how 20th Century Fox will co-exist within the Disney empire, all indications are that it will be a brand alongside Disney’s Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney’s live-action studio and Disney Animation — ditto for Fox Searchlight and Fox 2000.
Nor did Disney lay out how many movies a year it will release from the various Fox entities, or spell out its plan for how the additional titles will serve its new streaming service or Hulu in which it has a major stake. Sources indicate that 20th Century Fox proper may release four or more pics annually.
Regarding animation, the Disney announcement did not mention Blue Sky Studios, which is owned by Fox and makes movies for Fox Animation. It is noteworthy that Miloro and Baird will report to both Watts and Horn, signaling that Fox Animation will live under the 20th Century Fox umbrella, versus joining forces with Pixar or Disney Animation. (Disney recently shut down Disneytoon Studios, which made movies directly for home entertainment.)
“We’re pleased that these talented executives will be joining our incredible team of studio leaders once the acquisition of 21st Century Fox is completed,” said Walt Disney Co. chairman-CEO Bob Iger. “Under Alan Horn’s leadership, Disney, Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm have reached unprecedented levels of creative and box-office success, and adding Fox’s impressive film brands and franchises to our studio will allow us to create even more appealing high-quality entertainment to delight audiences.”
“The addition of these respected film groups under the umbrella of The Walt Disney Studios will create endless possibilities as we continue to deliver first-rate motion pictures to audiences around the world,” said Horn. “This is an experienced group of executives, and Alan Bergman and I look forward to welcoming them to our leadership ranks upon completion of the acquisition.”
The Disney-Fox merger is expected to close early next year. Once it does, it’s unclear when Disney will take over releasing movies from 20th Century Fox, Fox 2000 and Fox Searchlight. Widespread layoffs are expected in Fox’s marketing and distribution divisions.
In the meantime, Watts has a busy fall lineup. Bohemian Rhapsody will debut in theaters Nov. 2, followed by Steve McQueen’s Widows on Nov. 16. There’s also an “untitled” Deadpool movie set to unfurl Dec. 21. (There is widespread speculation it will be a PG-13 version of Deadpool 2.)
Watts, who has long overseen production at 20th Century Fox, has been instrumental in guiding the universe of X-Men films, as well as the birth of Deadpool. Those properties will now go to Kevin Feige’s Marvel.
Since the Disney-Fox merger was announced late last year, Iger has repeatedly praised Fox Searchlight, which puts Disney — the former owner of Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax — back in the awards game in a major way. Upcoming Searchlight titles include Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which debuts in select theaters this weekend, and The Favourite (Nov. 23).
Fox 2000 is likewise currently in theaters with the critically acclaimed The Hate U Give.
Borys Kit contributed to this report.