By Jerry Chandler
Some ongoing news popped its head up into the social media world this last week, and fandom suddenly felt its heart grow three sizes that day. Unfortunately, this was one of those things where fandom really needed to stop and think and maybe play the part of the Grinch a little more. Outside of seeing some interesting speculation with regards to some Marvel properties (which was what most of the people I saw salivating over this were initially talking about) I saw little about this that made me think it was a good idea. Even seeing the Marvel properties “go home” to Disney- while that could open up some interesting possibilities for the next phase of Marvel films -might not ultimately be the great thing some initially thought it could be. To be honest, perhaps the only good thing in such a deal would be straightening out a lot of the remaining issues around Star Wars: A New Hope.
The fact that 20th Century Fox was even entering into talks about this says a lot more about the state of things over there than any number of editorials could. The simple fact that they were entertaining dumping so much potential revenue generating materials and such a huge television and movie library is not a good sign that the powers that be have much faith in their ability to get things back on track.
This possible lack of faith is somewhat understandable. Their movie division has not exactly been knocking it out of the park. A trip over to BoxOffice Mojo’s annual box office data shows that it’s not all that common to see a 20th Century Fox studio film in the top 25 films of the year over the last seven years. It may be further back than that, but I stopped looking past that point. In years where you actually see more than two in the top 25, there’s likely an X-Men related film in the mix or a Planet of the Apes film in there. In the case of X-Men, it’s obviously not a property they actually own. Marvel’s merry mutants belong to Disney since they own Marvel. It’s also a bit of a problem when, if you remove apes and mutants from the mix, you almost never see any 20th Century Fox films in the top 15 of most recent years.
20th Century Fox (on the entertainment end of things) is also not the television powerhouse it once was. They’re having some very noticeable successes of late, but their willingness to entertain dumping their TV division may indicate that the successes are not fully compensating for their other efforts.
So they found themselves talking to Disney about selling so much of their assets.
Immediately, fandom was rubbing its collective hands and salivating at the idea of seeing The Fantastic Four and the X-Men coming home to Disney and Marvel’s cinematic universe. Admittedly, that was the first thing that went through my mind as well. But, then I actually got to thinking about it.
Barring a miracle, Fantastic Four is pretty much a corpse in the cinematic morgue for the foreseeable future. Seeing a return to Marvel and an introduction to the MCU of The Fantastic Four and the various characters related to the licensing sometimes feels inevitable at this point. Certainly it often feels like there might not be any great surprise to an announcement that they’re coming back home in the next waves of MCU films. But it’s not yet true that the possibility for a decent FF film from 20th Century Fox is totally dead, and it’s certainly not true for the X-Men universe.
While reviews of the X-Men films have been mixed, they’ve been the backbone of one of the few consistently successful franchises for 20th Century Fox in recent years. The X Universe has certainly been the source for one of the biggest successes 20th Century Fox has recently had in the theaters. Deadpool was not only the #6 ranking film of 2016, but the film’s box office success combined with its modest budget made it a huge financial success for the studio. The Deadpool sequel will likely also do well at the box office, and, while not quite the perceived surefire bet as a Deadpool sequel, the New Mutants film is getting some nice early buzz. Moreover, while X-Men: Apocalypse may have staggered at the domestic box office and left some fans a little cold, there are a lot of fans who would love to once again make a good X-Men film the box office success that many of the early films were.
If Disney were to buy 20th Century Fox, you could basically kiss some of those films goodbye. Alternately, we keep these films coming, but we kiss goodbye some other possible fan favorite films.
Let’s take a look at the average MCU release schedule from the first of the shared universe films to now.
2008 – Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk
2010 – Iron Man 2
2011 – Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger
2012 – Marvel’s The Avengers
2013 – Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World
2014 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy
2015 – Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man
2016 – Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange
2017 – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok
Since 2008, the average release numbers for Marvel’s films has been no more than two films per year. Plus, look at some of those years. 2010 only saw one film released, and 2013 saw the release of two films that are almost universally seen as the bottom of the MCU barrel. 2017 is the only year where we’ve seen more than two MCU films released in the calendar year, and that’s only because one of the MCU films wasn’t technically an MCU film. Spider-Man: Homecoming was a joint venture where Sony did most of the work with Marvel overseeing the film. 2018 is supposed to (barring rescheduling by the powers that be) see three actual MCU films, but by 2019 it’s back to two MCU films and a Spider-Man film.
So what am I getting at? As much as so many of us who have loved the MCU would love to see some of the characters that are currently out there under licensed control of other studios play in the shared universe sandbox, the tradeoff is possibly seeing even less of some of them than we do now. The other tradeoff, supposing Marvel immediately makes room on the slate for X-Men and Fantastic Four films, is losing films with characters they won’t then use in new films and will not license out.
A lot of people who grew up as fans of the original New Warriors series have said they’d love to have a version of that team in the MCU. Let’s pretend for a moment that somewhere in an MCU studio office they’re looking at the movie scheduling of the next five years and actually have New Warriors up there on the board. Disney buys 20th Century Fox and Marvel gets the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Of those three properties, which one gets bumped or dumped? Now, assuming 20th Century Fox could get its act together, we could instead be seeing a year with two or (with Sony’s Spider-Man) three MCU films as well as a combination of an X universe film, a Fantastic Four film, and/or a Deadpool film. Plus, well, DC is out there as well. Even if Fox calls it quits on the FF, that’s still two more possible films for us geeks in fandom to look forward to than we would be looking forward to if Disney owns all those Marvel properties again.
Additionally, think about this a moment. Think about the Disney owned MCU films; their shared tone, style, and content. Now think about what Deadpool would have been like as executed by that creative universe. I don’t think we see the Deadpool film we saw in theaters by any stretch of the imagination. We needed Deadpool to be outside of the shared universe of the MCU to be what it was, and, based on past conflicts with directors; it’s not a stretch to say that there would be creative restrictions on films like Deadpool because of the overall narrative of the MCU. Would we be seeing an interesting new twist with the presentation of New Mutants if it was an MCU film, or would it be restricted by MCU narrative into being the same flavor of film as every other MCU film and partially focused on telling an overall MCU arc story?
Think about that aspect of it for a moment as well. Yeah, it would be really cool to see some of the mutant family of characters in the MCU alongside some of the characters we’ve been given so far in the MCU, but do we really want to see the X-Men shoehorned into an MCU-wide story rather than having their own thing focused on mutant stories? The universe of the X-Men- even if separated from the mainstream Marvel universe –is such a story rich environment all by itself. Why would we want to see that limited rather than properly explored? I’d rather see 20th Century Fox get the franchise fully back on track than I would see it go to the Disney owned MCU. I’d rather have these other stories, originals as with the upcoming New Mutants concept or classics as with Days of Future Past, from the X universe out there to enjoy along with the MCU phase arcs than I want to have the occasional X-Men film where they get to show they exist in the same universe as Iron Man and various other cool X characters are relegated to the status of background characters in those films because there isn’t room on the schedule for something like a New Mutants film.
Marvel, at absolute best, is going to put out three films a year, but the likelihood is they stay with their formula of two films for a typical year. But even if they put three or four out each year, they can’t give us what we’ve had with Marvel, Sony, and 20th Century Fox all having the ability to put films out featuring the characters from the Marvel Universe. We would also face the likelihood of decreased diversity in storytelling if everything was all about helping to build a Marvel phase arc.
Would we at the very least (for those of you now mentally citing the less than great stories of some recent films not under Marvel’s control) see better stories for some of these characters? Well, again, I honestly don’t think an MCU incorporated Deadpool would have been as good as the film we got. I’m also not sure we’d see X-Men improved. Let’s be honest about something here; the list of films already released under Marvel’s shared universe banner includes easily six films that even the fans of the MCU films consider lesser efforts to outright bad films. Even Spider-Man: Homecoming, as good as it was, took some criticism over the fact that it felt less like a Spider-Man film than it did a side plot film in the greater MCU. Bringing the properties “home” is not going to be a guarantee of having their next films being largely better in every way.
Well, okay… There’s no way they couldn’t make a Fantastic Four film that’s better in every way than the last one we got, but I’m pretty sure even Uwe Boll could somehow manage to accidently make a better Fantastic Four film than that one.
Beyond looking at just the Marvel fandom end of this, it’s a horrible idea on so many other levels. Beyond essentially restricting where someone may be able to take a good idea for a television show or movie and get it approved, I don’t want Disney holding all the properties they already have and the 20th Century Fox library of properties.
We’re slowly seeing a change in how the world views its entertainment. Streaming entertainment and the idea of pay services by various entertainment entities is becoming as mundane and ordinary a concept to the average consumer as cable did once the newness wore off. Yes, we’re starting to complain that there are too many services being started up these days; especially since they all want exclusive properties. Yes, this seems like a great deal if you think that you can get the Fox library on the same service as the currently owned Disney properties. But what happens when Disney owns that much and you cut out competition?
The more consolidated the studios and the services become, the less it benefits us. Less competition always leads to higher costs. It also leads to creators having fewer places to go with ideas. If you have 20 places to go and pitch a concept, you have a better chance of getting support than if you have 5 to 10. The services also have less incentive to invest in as much original content in order to compete and get our dollars. Cut down the places for creators to go and lessen the incentive to greenlight projects from those creators and we maybe don’t get the next Stranger Things.
We also risk losing variety. These services can stream a lot of stuff, but they do have limits. If you reduce the number of owners and maybe the services, you consolidate a lot of property. Something will have to go. When you can claim that you have the best of the best from multiple decades of TV and movies, you can afford to trim the lesser followed stuff. But there are fans of those lesser followed properties out there, and, even better, you might even be a fan and simply not know it. You can discover some of that when they have to flesh out their content with more ‘B’ material and you’re browsing through it. You can’t discover anything that’s cut for digital storage space.
Consolidating and creating a huge library of the better rated materials in that library while cutting space for other things may also lead to not discovering new favorites. A lot of people have complained online that Netflix doesn’t have as much good stuff these days. The truth is that this complaint isn’t entirely true. What Netflix does not have compared to ten years ago is as much better known movies and shows in their library. To make up for it, Netflix and others have been getting a lot of stuff that never made it to theaters and may have never seen a television broadcast of any kind. Some of this stuff is pretty bad, but I’ve found a lot of cool little horror films and comedies buried in the lesser known Netflix (and Amazon and Shudder) content that I’ve really taken a liking to. Plus there are the foreign films they’re adding that I’ve never heard of but are at times great horror or action discoveries.
Some of that content is only there to flesh out their library with things that are lower cost for them. Consolidate companies and eventually the services and you may well get more of the “best” on each service, but the possible eventual loss is the ability to discover the really cool unknown stuff that could become a quirky new personal favorite. A healthy competition with a lot of competitors is always preferable when you’re a consumer. The smaller the number of companies competing, the worse it gets for consumers in every way.
I don’t want to see Disney buy 20th Century Fox. I don’t want to see them or anyone else buying 20th Century Fox. I want to see more companies and more options available to us as consumers. I don’t want to see Marvel get all of their properties back at this point. I very much like the fact that there are other voices than Marvel’s out their telling stories with the characters that Marvel might not tell, might not tell as well, or might not tell at all because they don’t have the room on their schedule for them.
This is not the kind of news that makes me happy. It’s probably not the kind of news that should make you happy either.
Jerry Chandler follows geek stuff. When not found writing here he can be found occasionally contributing to Gruesome Magazine and very often at his own blog. He has a Twitter. He can also occasionally be heard talking pro wrestling with the amazingly talented crew at of the ESO Pro: The Pro-Wrestling Roundtable podcast. He has recently become a member of the newly formed The Assignment: Horror podcast as well.