Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way first: Yes, it would be amazing if all of Marvel’s mutants and superheroes could align under one roof. No one would love that more than we would. Unfortunately, Disney isn’t Captain America, and 20th Century Fox isn’t Professor X.
What was mere speculation a few weeks ago is rapidly becoming a likelihood: 20th Century Fox is planning to sell off the majority of its assets to Disney. The approximately $68 billion worth of media properties are being negotiated as we speak, with a deal expected to be announced as early as Wednesday. Deadline has published a lengthy investigation into precisely what this would mean for the mass media landscape, and while there’s a lot of moving parts to this potential sale, there are two main takeaways:
1) This will be awesome for Marvel fans.
2) This will be terrible for all of us in a broader sense.
First, the good news. According to the report, Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige is excited to get his hands on the X-Men universe, meaning all the rest of the Marvel mutants and superheroes currently in Fox’s stable. That includes “Deadpool 2, New Mutants, Dark Phoenix, Gambit, X-Force and the James Franco-starrer Multiple Man all on the assembly line,” as Deadline notes, with a telltale hole where any reference to the Fantastic Four would go. Still, there’s at least one person who’s ready for some crossover between that last team and the Avengers:
Sounds good! That’s honestly a fun, potentially very rich merging of two universes that always belonged together. This past summer’s Spider-Man/Iron Man combo is just the tip of the iceberg, and a movie universe where there’s no reason that the Punisher couldn’t suddenly stumble upon Colossus fighting Hulk would be a gift to longtime Marvel fans. Unfortunately, that’s about the only real positive to come out of this situation.
In the long run, all this merger does is contribute to an increasingly homogenized and calcified corporate dominance of the entertainment industry, with fewer and fewer media companies able to challenge the major studios. And in particular, it will make Disney arguably the most powerful studio that has ever existed. The company will exert even more outsized control than it currently does, muscling in on any turf where it can wrench an extra dollar away from someone who deserves it more. (One current example: Disney is demanding a massive increase in booking and profits—65 percent of profits and a guaranteed four-week screening window—from any theater that wants to screen the new Star Wars film, to the point where smaller movie theaters and locations in smaller markets are forced to turn down The Last Jedi, simply because it would be financially ruinous to keep a film up for two more weeks after everyone in their little town has already seen it.)
Also, it will strip the Fox broadcast network from the studio that produces most of its properties—and in a world where profitability increasingly requires networks to pair with a studio to sell shows in other arenas, that could mean the death knell for Fox television as we know it. Deadline notes Disney would likely keep brand-affiliated shows like The Gifted and beloved institutions like Simpsons and Family Guy, but beyond that, “observers do not see Fox continuing as a network focused on scripted programming.” Without control of the studio that provides most of its content, the assumption is that Fox will instead focus more on “sports programming, news magazines, and possibly reality shows” to fill its primetime lineup.
It also means FX, FXX, and more will be under the aegis of family-friendly Disney. It’s not unheard of for the Disney brand to acquire edgy content (it has a 20 percent stake in Vice, for example), and it has used its different shingles in the past to put out harder fare—it was the Disney-owned Miramax that released Pulp Fiction—to profit off R-rated material from an arm’s-length distance. Presumably, the more arthouse-oriented Fox Searchlight film wing is hoping it currently falls into a similar category. But it’s also not unusual for Disney to water down film and TV to make it more accessible to the Mickey Mouse brand. Now that its deal with Netflix is ending, can anyone imagine an equivalent version of The Punisher being produced for a streaming service explicitly identified as “Disney”? “Just look at Marvel!” is not a good counter-argument, either. Just wait until the first Marvel bomb, then see how hands-off Disney remains.
The deal also means Disney will have a greater stranglehold on the streaming market, as it will almost certainly gain control of Hulu should it go through—which would be a lot simpler than Disney trying to launch its own streaming service, as currently planned. It also means we’re one step closer to a full-blown Disney entertainment monopoly. Even if there will always be smaller alternatives, in the end, none of them will be able to compete on the same level. We may soon be left with a world where Disney and Amazon are circling each other, squeezing everyone else out on the way to their own inevitable merger.
Still, there’s enough awful news in the world right now that it’s easy to place this latest corporate streamlining as roughly the 400th most unfortunate thing currently happening. So we wouldn’t blame you for shrugging at it. After all, you might finally get a chance to see Scarlet Witch go up against Jean Grey!