Anghus Houvouras on Disney and ‘the franchise war’…
When it comes to long term strategies, Disney has orchestrated a masterful game of chess. Like a master playing multiple games moving from board to board using a variety of techniques to back every other Hollywood studio into a corner. A few years ago it became clear that Disney saw the long-term benefits of investing in huge franchises, creating a stable of properties that would make them the king of blockbusters.
In the last decade Disney acquired Marvel, Star Wars and the vast catalog of 20th Century Fox which includes everything from The Simpsons to Alien. Other studios have lacked the vision or the capital to make such bold moves. Not that they haven’t tried. You can give Sony credit for finally capitalizing on that lucrative Spider-Man movie license with the one-two punch of Venom (Over $800 million worldwide) and the Oscar winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Warner Bros. has been getting better with their DC Comics adaptations, both financially and creatively, after several years of glaring misfires. Universal is attempting to test the stretch of their Fast & Furious franchise with Hobbs & Shaw while licking their wounds from the disaster that was ‘Dark Universe’. Paramount has done well with Mission: Impossible and is attempting to bring the Terminator back from the bottom of the drain with Dark Fate.
But we’re dealing with two kinds of studios in the Franchise War: Disney and everybody else.
If you don’t think that Disney is on their way to winning this war handily, you haven’t been paying attention. This year they already have the billion dollar plus Captain Marvel, a live-action Aladdin that will probably do well enough to justify its existence, the guaranteed $3 billion dollar worldwide Avengers: Endgame (book it!), the live action Lion King AND Star Wars: Episode IX to end the year. Sure, Dumbo isn’t going to be a massive hit, but when you look at this line-up the occasional ‘thud’ like Dumbo, A Wrinkle in Time or Nutcracker and the Four Realms doesn’t really do any damage.
This week, Disney announced another exclusive for their Disney+ streaming service; a Hawkeye TV show/mini-series which will also feature a Scarlet Witch series, a Tom Hiddleston-starring Loki series, Falcon and Winter Soldier, and the Star Wars themed Mandalorian. Disney isn’t just looking to win the Franchise War at the movie theaters, they’re looking to win it on every connected device on Earth. Netflix is just another target alongside every other company out there trying to get your entertainment dollar.
They are not completely impervious. There are mistakes made in the ‘House of the Mouse’, like the aforementioned ‘thuds’ and complete disasters like last year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. Disney has proven that they might be a little too eager to crush the competition by releasing so much product back to back. But the fact that they have five movies guaranteed to cross the billion mark worldwide (Captain Marvel, The Lion King, Toy Story 4, Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Episode IX) and a few more capable of hitting that marks (Spider-Man: Far From Home might get there, Aladdin feels like a long shot), Disney is not just beating the competition, they are bludgeoning them.
Is the war over? Not completely. Maybe companies like Netflix will continue to develop enough new intellectual properties like Stranger Things that become pop-culture mainstays. Perhaps Amazon Prime will finally get a foothold into the streaming game with their Lord of the Rings series. Maybe Hollywood Studios will find unique ways to build on their current franchises and find some innovative new ones to challenge the status quo. Much like The Avengers fighting Thanos, there are small slivers of hope. But who am I kidding? Even my metaphors are owned by Disney.
It feels like we’re about five years away from every major franchise either being owned by Disney or dead by their hands. How much longer can other studios compete with all this high-quality Disney content flooding theaters? How long can Netflix continue to subsidize original content at this rapid-fire rate throwing everything against the wall hoping to find something that sticks?
Disney is rolling over the competition and staking out enough media real estate to ultimately control the cinema and the small screen. The final shots in the Franchise War may have already been fired… with Mickey Mouse sitting atop the throne of the entertainment kingdom having crushed their enemies as a cackling, red-eyed rodent bathes in the blood of the fallen.