By John H. Foote
With Disney buying 20th Century Fox, one of the oldest, greatest studios in movie history has been brought to its knees, forever now a part of the conglomerates that destroyed Miramax after buying it, and will bring down Marvel, mark my words.
As far back as 1935, Fox has been turning out great films, their heyday in the forties under Darryl Zanuck. Films such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Ox Box Incident (1944), The Snake Pit (1948) and All About Eve (1950) were all Fox prestige productions, Oscar nominees or winners, elevating the studio’s reputation with their artistic presentation.
In the sixties, facing down bankruptcy after failures like Cleopatra (1963) and Dr. Doolittle (1967), the studio was saved by science fiction, fighting off bankruptcy with the hits Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Planet of the Apes (1968). The latter would become one of the most profitable franchises in film history and enjoy a reboot in the 2010’s that took the series to a while new level.
The Sound of Music (1965) would prove to be a massive hit, win five Academy Awards and become one of the most beloved films of all time, despite the reviews. A year later, The Bible…In the Beginning (1966) would be crucified by the critics but make enough money to be considered a success. The musical score is among the most beautiful ever written for a film, the soundtrack adding to the profits for the year.
Through the landmark seventies the studio enjoyed great success beginning with Patton (1970), which won the Academy Award for Best Picture; M*A*S*H (1970) and the Oscar winning crime thriller The French Connection (1971). Popular hits such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) allowed the studio to take some risks, and they did with Star Wars (1977) which with the first trilogy, and prequels has made Fox millions, but made George Lucas more. But they were not just making money, they were making fine important films that made it into the Oscar dance, film such as The Omen (1976), Phantom of the Paradise (1975), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Julia (1977), An Unmarried Woman (1978), The Rose (1979), Alien (1979) and Norma Rae (1979).
The eighties began with another massive hit, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) which was both better and more visually arresting than the previous film. Success, both box office and critical, came with The Verdict (1982), Silkwood (1983), Prizzi’s Honor (1985), Aliens (1986), Broadcast News (1987), Raising Arizona (1987), Working Girl (1988), and Die Hard (1988). They filled both coffers and earned solid reviews, many heading to the Academy Awards with multiple nominations.
Fox had less Oscar success in the nineties, though their co-production of Titanic (1997) would sail to a record tying 11 Academy Awards and the film sailed to box office glory, becoming the highest grossing film of all time. Box office hits like Edward Scissorhands (1990), Home Alone (1992), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Speed (1994), Independence Day (1996), Bulworth (1998), Star Wars – The Phantom Menace (1999) and Fight Club (1999), the latter film also earning rave reviews, driving its status on DVD to even greater profits.
The success of Fight Club demonstrated to the studio they could risk making edgy, tough films, still make their money and make prestige films that the critics would admire. Fox began the new millennium with Cast Away (2000), a mammoth box office hit containing the finest performance of Tom Hanks’ career. Equally huge was X-Men (2000), one of the first big super hero films that crossed over into the mainstream and 19 years later is still going strong.
The Star Wars prequels continued to be massive hits, and the company scored big with Moulin Rouge (2001), Minority Report (2002), the Ice Age franchise, and at the end of the decade, James Cameron did it again with Avatar (2009) which became the highest grossing film of all time and broke new ground in visual effects. The studio scored with a new Planet of the Apes franchise, won a Best Picture Oscar with The Shape of Water (2017), another with Green Book (2018), and their Freddie Mercury biography, Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), won four Academy Awards and was a world-wide hit.
How will Disney change Fox?
Consider what they did to Miramax.
They bought the indy studio and promised the Weinstein brothers they could make any film – without asking – on a budget of a certain amount of money. But when the executives got wind of certain projects, Kids (1998) among them, they insisted the brothers Weinstein move the film from the studio. That was not the first time, but it did prove damaging to the company as Miramax was no longer looked upon as the edgy company they had been before the Disney purchase. They drove the brothers away, kept the name, but stopped making films under the name. Effectively, they eliminated Miramax.
How soon before Fox is a distant memory because they will not conform to the Disney model, which is driven entirely by money. Look at what they are doing right now. In the last 15 years they have purchased Lucasfilm Ltd. to own Star Wars, and right away began making new films in that genre. They own Marvel, thereby essentially owning the comic book genre because DC has not proven a worthy challenger with their films. Long ago they partnered with Pixar, and now have cornered the market on the best of the best of computer animated features. In the nineties they purchased Miramax in hopes of creating an edgy independent arm for the studio, but they found they could not abide the films the brothers Weinstein wanted to make, so they effectively shut them down drove them out of their own studio and have killed off Miramax. Since 2010 they have been remaking their greatest animated films into live action movies, cannibalizing their own animated classics, some to great success, some not, though there is no way to hide the greed that doing that projects. And now Fox. With their purchase they gain the rights to the X Men franchise, another comic book/super hero series as well as Deadpool, though I would think the latter would be far to dark for Disney.
As a father of two small girls, I have often walked the aisles of a toy store at Christmas time and witnessed the merchandising wonders from Disney. And not just toys, but games, bed sheets, music, you name it, if they can slap a label on it they will because it all brings cash flow to them. And once every seven years they bring an animated classic out of the vault, re-release it on video, when video existed, and now DVD and Blu Ray. Their greed knows no bounds.
So, there is one less studio willing to make edgy films today, willing to make pictures like Fight Club. Do you think Disney would green light a film like that? Think again.
Something unique in the film industry died today and deserves to be mourned.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.