When the news of a possible acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s film and television studios by Disney first hit, there was much rejoicing among genre film fans. The assumption is that the two Marvel Comics properties that Fox owns the film rights to – the Fantastic Four and the X-Men – would finally revert back to Disney subsidiary Marvel, allowing for those characters to finally appear alongside Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe superhero franchise.
And even though I have been enjoying the journey that Marvel Studios has taken us on in their grand experiment in long form storytelling that is the MCU, I think that ultimately such an acquisition would be a bad thing, not just for Marvels’ superhero movies but for films in general.
The Incredible Shrinking Job Pool
Before we get to why it would be a significantly bad thing for fans of the superhero film genre, let’s take a look at what the macro impact of Disney acquiring the Fox studio. With one less major studio producing films, you are going to see a corresponding drop in new film production. While most studios may step things up a bit, they will not all fill the gap that is left by Fox’s disappearance. And that just won’t be reflected in theaters. It will be reflected in screenplays that go unpurchased, potential classics that never get made. And it wouldn’t just be screenwriters jockeying for a suddenly diminished amount of chances to sell their work, all film tradespeople – from actors and directors down to sound and lighting crew – would suddenly find there being less jobs and more competition for them.
And Fox disappearing would mean one less studio taking a chance on a project that other studios might not have seen the potential in. Remember, in 1973 it was Fox’s Alan Ladd Jr who took a chance on an odd sounding project that every other studio in town had passed on called The Star Wars. What movies won’t get made in Fox’s absence?
Switching Off The Searchlight
And what of Fox’s art-house distributor Fox Searchlight? Most likely that would get shuttered as an independent outfit. With its divestiture of Miramax back in 2010, Disney got out of the indie distribution business and has not shown any signs of wanting to return. If anything, its acquisitions of both Marvel and Lucasfilm show a commitment to strengthening its hold as a purveyor of family entertainment. It would be a shame to loose the group that gave us over the years such films as The Ice Storm, The Full Monty, Boys Don’t Cry, Super Troopers, 28 Days Later, Garden State, I Heart Huckabees, Little Miss Sunshine, Once, (500) Days Of Summer, Black Swan, 12 Years A Slave, Birdman and so many other noteworthy films over the last 22 years.
The Up Side For Marvel
Of the two Marvel Comics properties that Fox has control of, their handling of the Fantastic Four has been beyond terrible. Fox’s first attempt at bringing the family superteam to the big screen in 2005 did good enough business to warrant a sequel, Rise Of The Silver Surfer, two years later. But the film never clicked with critics, nor very disappointed and vocal comic books fans. It took the studio the better part of a decade to reboot the franchise. While having Chronicle director Josh Trank head up the project certainly seemed like a good idea at the time, ultimately the behind the scenes problems with the film, including a heavy hand from studio executives, delivered a muddled mess of a movie. Under the seeming Midas touch of Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, it is very likely that fans could finally get a Fantastic Four film that lives up to their expectations and the property’s potential. Plus it would allow for a wider range of supporting characters that are part of the Fantastic Four’s rights package to enter into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
… And The Down Side
While Fox has never had much success with the Fantastic Four, they have certainly done well with their other Marvel superhero property, The X-Men. In fact, it was Brian Singer’s original 2000 X-Men film that helped shape and define the superhero genre as we know it today. And since then, the studio has not only grown their franchise outside through its Wolverine spinoff trilogy, but has had the courage to allow filmmakers to explore the boundaries of what a superhero film could be with films like Logan and Deadpool.
Logan and Deadpool stand out for another reason as well. They are both R-rated installments in a franchise that has been stalwartly PG-13 for the entirety of its existence. Given how an R-rating could potentially limit a film’s box office take, Fox took a gamble with both films that paid off handsomely. Part of their decision process was knowing that the R-rating was necessary if they weren’t going to soften the characters as compared to their comic book counterpart. But pursuing projects with a potential R-rating is also something that Marvel Studios chief Feige stated he was not interested in doing. And I don’t think that fans would react favorably if a Marvel/Disney-produced Deadpool film were to suddenly round off its edges for a PG-13 rating.
Next year, Fox will be releasing three X-Men films – Dark Phoenix, which will be part of the main franchise, the spinoff sequel Deadpool 2 and New Mutants, which will sport a horror tinged treatment. Indications are that Fox could very well have three movies lined up for 2019 and possibly beyond. But don’t look for a continuation of that kind of an aggressive schedule with the X-Men films if the characters were brought under the Marvel Studios roof.
Marvel Studios is already producing three films per year of its own. While they have been involved with Fox on the production of the X-Men films, that participation is only a fraction of what it takes to make a movie entirely on their own. Does Marvel have the resources, either creatively or more importantly financially, to basically double their output? Doubtful. More than likely, they might up their production output to add just one X-Men film to the schedule. But just one X-Men film a year would certainly kill the diversity of titles that the X-Men franchise is just starting to display.
And that would do to the X-Men franchise what the Sentinels could never manage to do.