Disney closed its $71.3 billion merger with Fox earlier this year, marking one of the most gigantic media shifts in history. While fans around the world were excited about the prospect of the Fox-owned X-Men and Fantastic Four finally getting to join in on the fun in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many in the industry noted this wasn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Now we’re seeing why. Theater chains are no longer allowed to book screenings of classic Fox movies, as they’ve been seemingly locked in the vault by Disney. This is going to have wide-ranging consequences for movie lovers and those in the movie business.
In a new in-depth report, it’s been revealed that many independent theatre owners are not being allowed to book classic Fox movies, such as Alien, Die Hard, The Omen and near countless others, for revival screenings. For smaller theatres, revival screenings are big business and Fox used to grant rights to screen its back catalog regularly. Since Disney took over, things have changed in a big way. Even major theater chains, such as Cineplex in Canada, are being denied such screening opportunities. So this isn’t an example of the big guy trying to squash the little guy. It’s far more complicated, and arguably much more troubling.
For one, Fox’s massive library from its decades-long history includes abundant classics such as Miracle on 34th Street, All About Eve, The Sound of Music, The Fly, Fight Club and Planet of the Apes. Even modern classics like Deadpool, or comedies like Ms. Doubtfire and Home Alone. All under the Fox umbrella. All off-limits for screenings. As one film programmer who wished not to be named explained, repertory screenings for small theaters represent a big chunk of their business.
“It may not seem like a big deal, losing access to movies that might only make the theater $600 or $1,000 once you deduct the costs attached to booking them. But over the course of a year, it all adds up. A lot of these movies are what you’d call ‘steady earners’ for theaters. You show them, and people turn up.”
Indeed, as someone who lives in Austin, Texas, a city with a lot of theaters that show repertory screenings of old classics, I’ve taken advantage of my fair share of seeing Fox titles on the big screen. The real question is, why would Disney do this? Why turn away a steady revenue stream? After all, they’ve got to make back those billions somehow. The answer isn’t clear, but it more than likely has to do with streaming.
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Disney is getting ready to launch Disney+ next month. The service will include a host of classic Disney titles, as well as certain titles from Fox’s library. Additionally, Disney now owns Hulu and it’s expected plenty of other Fox titles that don’t suit the core Disney brand will be made available on there in the future. The idea seems to be that Disney wants to encourage subscriptions and, presumably, revival screenings could get in the way of that.
Disney has used the so-called vault for years for its titles. Lock them away for several years, re-release them later with new packaging and count the cash. From a business perspective, why not try to create similar demand with Fox titles as well? It’s also worth pointing out that one major title, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, isn’t being locked away. Since that is such a huge favorite in the revival circuit, it’s speculated by unnamed sources in the article that Disney would be facing a riot if that one were to go away. Still, this is just one example of how things, in terms of the big picture, may get worse, not better, for moviegoers with this merger. This news comes to us via Vulture.