Entertainment

Experts weigh in on repercussions of Disney's growing footprint in Hollywood

Disney's lucrative film acquisitions and upcoming streaming service mean more projects under one roof, but that can come at a price.

Disney's recent acquisitions and streaming service make the company a dominant force in film, TV

Disney is making a series of announcements about its upcoming projects at the D23 Expo this weekend in Anaheim, Calif., but the company's domination at the box office could also signal trouble for smaller studios and arthouse films. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Disney's lucrative film acquisitions — including Marvel Studios, 20th Century Fox, Pixar and Lucasfilm — as well as its upcoming streaming service, mean more projects will be under one roof, but that could also mean a lot more of the same for movie-goers.

"Is it ever good for one entity to have that much control?" said Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst for the media analytics company Comscore. "That's a bit of an open question at this point."

Disney has taken 37 per cent of the market share in the U.S. and Canada in 2019, mainly with movies built on reboots and comic book characters. 

According to Box Office Mojo, five of the six highest-grossing films so far this year were released by Disney's Buena Vista:

  • Avengers: Endgame,
  • The Lion King,
  • Captain Marvel,
  • Toy Story 4,
  • Aladdin.

The sixth, Spider-Man: Far From Home, was a co-production between Sony and Disney-owned Marvel Studios. In other words, Disney's domination has reached unprecedented levels.

Fans looking for alternative movie fare may have few options, as other studios must dance around Disney to find a date on the calendar to release their films.

If you go head-to-head with Disney, you might get run over like a steam-roller.- Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore senior media analyst

The best chance that smaller Hollywood studios have to remain successful at this point, it seems, is to stay out of Disney's way. The company is reserving key opening dates well into 2022 with highly anticipated films like Black Panther 2 and the next Star Wars.

"The release calendar is like a giant chessboard and all the other studios have to figure out, 'Where are we going to put our movie and when is Disney opening a movie?'" said Dergarabedian.

"Because if you go head-to-head with Disney, you might get run over like a steam-roller."

The Disney Plus menu, displayed on a large screen at D23 for the first time to the public Friday, shows the significant catalog of films and TV shows Disney has acquired. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

Spider-Man spat, #BoycottMulan 

But as Disney acquires more legs, there's also more responsibility and more controversy.

Fans are not hiding their disappointment about the possible banishment of Spider-Man from the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Disney couldn't come to an agreement with Sony, which owns the film rights to the beloved character. The spat, reportedly over financial arrangements, has been made unusually public and leaves the superhero's future up in the air.

"I feel like Disney has another year to think about this, because they still have another movie with him," said Michael Mendoza, a superfan attending Disney's annual expo in Anaheim, Calif. Friday. "So they're just waiting it out. Disney is being a little greedy."

Spider-Man: Far From Home's Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, ponders his fate, much like the franchise itself following a spat between Sony and Disney. (Sony Pictures )

The dispute comes on the heels of calls to boycott Disney's upcoming re-make of Mulan after its star appeared to openly support Hong Kong police in the ongoing pro-democracy protests. 

Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei voiced her controversial stance to more than 65 million followers on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. The United Nations has denounced authorities' response to the demonstrations.

Liu received support from thousands within China, but condemnation from people in Hong Kong and around the world, with #BoycottMulan sweeping Twitter and Instagram when the news surfaced. China's state-run media has tried to counter the movement by praising the film — which isn't set to be released until March of 2020 — and backing a #SupportMulan campaign.

Liu didn't show up to this weekend's D23 expo events to promote the film.

Chinese-American actress Liu Yifei appears in character as Mulan from the upcoming Disney film and is taking heat for her stance against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. (Stephen Tilley/Disney Enterprises)

Disney Plus details revealed

Fans waited for hours at the expo on Friday — some lined up overnight — to hear new details about Disney's upcoming streaming service, Disney Plus.

"This isn't my first Con [fan convention] so I'm used to having to wait in lines," said Gillian Kane with a laugh, coming prepared with books and media to stream on her phone.

Others told CBC News they'd booked a hotel room a year in advance to attend the event.

Fans Regina (in grey), Michael Mendoza (in black) and Gillian Kane (in red) wait in long lines at D23. (Zulekha Nathoo/CBC)

At the showcase, Marvel Studios revealed multiple upcoming series in production with popular characters:

  • Loki,
  • She-Hulk,
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,
  • Moon Knight,
  • and Ms. Marvel.

Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani teen named Kamala Khan, is the studio's first live-action Muslim hero.

Disney also owns the rights to Star Wars and already announced the first ever live-action Star Wars series for Disney Plus, The Mandolorian, set a few years after the events in Return of the Jedi and written by Jon Favreau (known for the live-action versions of The Lion King and The Jungle Book). Actor Ewan McGregor also announced he will be reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi for an upcoming series to begin production next year.

Ewan McGregor, one of many celebrity guests at the star-studded expo, announced he'll be reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in an upcoming series for Disney Plus to begin production next year. (Jesse Grant/Getty Images)

The company recently acquired Hollywood studio 20th Century Fox (after merging with its parent company 21st Century Fox) which helps beef up Disney Plus's catalogue and could make it a more competitive player against Netflix and other streaming services when it launches in the U.S. and Canada Nov. 12. 

The purchase gives the new platform access to decades of hits, including Moulin Rouge!, Gone Girl, The Revenant and classics such as The Sound of Music and Die Hard. But there's the question of how many more original projects will come out under the Fox banner.

Fewer originals, more franchises

Fox has a long list of successful original films under its belt including this year's best picture Academy Award nominee Bohemian Rhapsody. But Buzzfeed News senior entertainment reporter Adam B. Vary says Disney's ownership means the focus will likely shift away from that type of content (which can have unpredictable box office results — think Kumail Nanjiani's recent Stuber) and over to sure-bet action films, such as Avatar 2 and the Planet of the Apes franchise.

I don't think you should be looking to Disney as a place where original stories are going to be told.- Adam B. Vary, Buzzfeed News senior entertainment reporter

"I don't think you should be looking to Disney as a place where original stories are going to get told," said Vary. "It's all about established intellectual property and franchises and brands that you already know ... which isn't to say those movies are going to necessarily be bad, but they certainly are not original. And that is a real loss."

With Disney owning such a large part of the box office share, it could make it harder for smaller films to find a home in theatres. Unless, that is, they can find a way to do what Disney's family-friendly branding can't.

Get Out director Jordan Peele's chilling horror film Us is the 7th highest grossing film so far in 2019, and one of the few non-Disney properties in the top 10. (Universal Pictures)

The two films rounding out the top eight grossing movies so far in 2019 — which Disney had nothing to do with — were the horror film Us and the neo-noir thriller John Wick 3.

"Neither of which are movies that Disney really could make right now," said Vary. "I think you're going to see a lot more of studios trying to come up with movie titles and franchises that could not ever be released by Disney as a way of trying to compete."

With files from Eli Glasner

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