Sorry to get to a Halloween headline a few days late, but Erica Orden had a very good piece in the Wall Street Journal Thursday about how Disney's $4.05 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm, announced this week, will basically place in-house filmmaking at the feet of CEO Bob Iger's purchases: Pixar for $7.4 billion in 2006 and Marvel for $4 billion in 2009.
With the new "Disney-Lucasfilm" brand set to release a "Star Wars" sequel every other year beginning in 2015, the original studio is likely to face an even-further-reduced capacity to produce and distribute its own live-action fare. In total, Disney distributes roughly a dozen films each year.
Disney Chief Executive Robert Iger indicated this week that the coming "Star Wars" films will supplant Disney movies on the release schedule. Disney doesn't plan to spend more than it already does on film production, Mr. Iger said, meaning each new "Star Wars" film will lead to one less Disney film.
That sounds bad, but maybe it isn't. As I've noted in the past, Disney's film business hasn't been so great. "The Avengers" changed that rather massively for the better — but of course that was a movie that came out of the Marvel deal. It was preceded by the box-office and creative debacle that was "John Carter," a movie that Disney made itself and which lost an estimated $200 million.
You could actually argue that Iger is quietly excusing Disney from making a a whole lot of movies on its own in the future. Alan Horn, the relatively new head of Walt Disney Studios, is a movie executive's executive. But he's also nearing the end of his career. In many respects he's the perfect guy to manage other filmmakers, rather that worry about taking risks himself.
Disney is also performing far better financially with theme parks and broadcast. It's weak on interactive, an area that urgently needs to be fixed. In this context, movies are a challenging proposition. Disney needs to keep making them — Disney isn't Disney without filmed entertainment — but it does look like Iger is willing to spend money to effectively turn Disney into a holding company for other studios.