Disney's Rich Ross Exit: Speculation Swirls Around Possible Replacements

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The recently named studio chair raised eyebrows when he brought in a new marketing and production team in late 2009. On Stranger Tides," the first film he greenlighted, is also the first big franchise flick for his new staff.

Several names have emerged as possible successors to the fired studio head.

With Rich Ross forced to resign Friday from his post of chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Disney CEO Bob Iger is now tasked with replacing an executive whose rocky tenure demonstrated an inability to transition his success in television to film.

Sources say Iger informed studio insiders Friday that he doesn’t have anyone in mind for the job yet and is no rush to fill the position. The studio has dramatically trimmed the number of movies it is making and is in production on only one film, Johnny Depp's The Lone Ranger, limiting the destabilizing effect of a studio head exit.

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Regardless, speculation has begun throughout Hollywood about who might succeed Ross. Although the job will be coveted by some -- studio chief positions rarely come open, especially considering the relative stability atop Disney's rivals -- but Disney's limited output might discourage some top executives from taking on the position. Here are some names being debated around town: 

  • Stacey Snider: A respected producer and executive who ran Universal in the early 2000s, Snider is CEO and co-chairman (with Steven Spielberg) of DreamWorks, which has a distribution deal with Disney. DreamWorks has had a mixed record, with hits for Disney like The Help and disappointments including I Am Number Four. "Would Stacey jump into that cauldron?" one insider asks. If Snider took the job, the big question would be the fate of DreamWorks. Some say that if Snider moved into the Disney position, her company, which is securing a new round of funding from India-based Reliance to produce a fresh slate of movies, could collapse into a Disney-based production company (if Spielberg didn't merely revert to his Amblin shingle). However, others say DreamWorks already is on that course, with physical production president Steve Molen laid off and former marketing chief Christine Birch leaving for FilmDistrict.
  • Mary Parent: One of the town’s most respected producers and execs, Parent also was a top Universal exec and ran MGM for two and a half years during a time of financial turmoil that limited her ability to make and release movies (The Cabin in the Woods, for example, was only opened by Lionsgate last week). She has had a first-look deal with Paramount since February 2011. Parent has experience and the talent relations needed for the job, but she is busy: She's wrapping production on Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim for Legendary and is set to produce Darren Aronofsky’s biblical tale Noah.
  • Kevin Feige: The Marvel chief has had amazing success making superhero movies for the past five years, and Marvel's most anticipated film, The Avengers, is about to hit theaters. Feige has been part of Disney since it bought Marvel for $4 billion in 2009, meaning he could be asked to sprinkle some of his Marvel magic on the rest of Disney's limited slate -- similar to John Lasseter taking over all of Disney animation when his Pixar was acquired in 2006. But Marvel is famously insular, and Feige, a self-professed comic book nerd, might balk at taking over a slate of movies.
  • Alan Bergman: Disney's studio president is involved in every aspect of the company's business, including managing its franchises. "The job is about following sixth-floor instructions, which Alan is good at doing," one Disney veteran says, referring to the location of Iger's offices. Still, Bergman, a former CFO, has limited experience with creative decisions and is not perceived as the strongest candidate in some quarters. But elevating an existing executive would spare the studio the upheaval of a new leader just two and a half years after Ross took over.