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Disney gets its movie business back, just in time

Rich Ross (L), Walt Disney Studios Presi

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

The Muppets get a Hollywood Blvd. star — and Disney turns in a solid first quarter. The movie business is still weak, however.

Disney just reported first quarter earnings, and they were pretty good. But they repeated a trend at the company: gains on theme parks and with media, including ESPN and ABC, but losses on Disney Movie Studios. 

This is from Reuters:

The film studio recorded an $84 million loss in operating income on "John Carter," which cost $250 million to produce and millions more to market.

As in recent quarters, Disney earnings were boosted by its media unit, which includes the sports channel ESPN and ABC. Operating earnings in that unit increased 13 percent to $1.7 billion in the latest quarter.

Earnings at the theme park unit rose 53 percent to $222 million.

"You've got a parks recovery that's underway, and you have a cable network business that's best in class. It showed good growth on the top-line there," said Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Tony Wible...

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Disney's film studio has no leader, but it kills at the box office anyway

Marvel Studios Celebrates Release Of "Marvel's The Avengers" At The New York Stock Exchange

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

"The Avengers" breaks box office records for its opening weekend. But will Wall Street be impressed?

Just a few short weeks after Rich Ross was ousted as head of Walt Disney Studios, a movie that he oversaw laid waste to domestic box office records. "The Avengers" brought in $200 million, neatly decimating "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" by about...oh, maybe $30 million!

If you can believe it, it was all too little too late for Ross, who did have a slate of movies coming this year that look to rock the box office for Disney. But that evidently still doesn't mean that he knew what he was doing. At The Wrap, Brent Lang has a good take:

Even with Ross at the helm, Disney often appeared directionless. Though it was probably not his intent, Disney Production President Sean Bailey unwittingly acknowledged the studio's existential crisis at one point.

Bailey said the company has asked itself, "what does it mean to be a Disney movie...and it's a difficult question."

Among the answers he arrived at were that Disney films should "speak to the core of human experience" and show "the wonderment, the joy" of life.

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Ross exit at Disney occurred as movie business was declining

Rich Ross (L), Walt Disney Studios Presi

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Rich Ross, Walt Disney Studios President, and Leron Gubler, President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, unveil the Muppets Star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Ross was ousted as head of Disney's movie studio last Friday.

At The Wrap, Sharon Waxman has a good take on the departure of Rich Ross as head of Walt Disney Studios, the moviemaking arm of the Mighty Mouse:

The removal of Ross without a successor in hand signals some other changes, most importantly that Disney is shifting its focus back to moviemaking and away from the dogma of cross-branding.

For months, Ross and his team had been pushing the notion that the Disney studio in the post-Dick Cook era was about connecting the various divisions of the Walt Disney Company -- consumer products, the television properties, theme parks, international.

It was content-meets-marketing on steroids at a global media company with the means to do that.

That was why, Iger seemed to argue, it was fine to put someone with no movie experience in the studio job. (Ross came from television.)

The theme had become a mantra in Rich Ross conversations, who constantly suggested that the moviemaking expertise would be ceded to partners like Marvel, DreamWorks and Jerry Bruckheimer, while he focused on business strategies from a higher altitude.

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