If there’s an Earth-shattering development in the media landscape, it’s usually a safe bet that Disney has something to do with it. And it usually means the Mouse House bought something. We’ve seen a fair bit of this in recent years, from their 2009 acquisition of Marvel Entertainment to the stunning 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm. And now we might be on the verge of yet another.
The news broke this afternoon that Disney has over the past several weeks been engaged in talks to buy “most of” 21st Century Fox. The move reportedly stems from a growing belief among Fox’s higher ups that their best bet to remain competitive in the changing marketplace of twenty-first century media is to narrow their focus rather than continuing to cast a wide net. Specifically, the Fox execs are said to favor an approach that emphasizes their news and sports properties. Accordingly, the deal – if it goes through – would not include the Fox News and Fox Business networks or Fox’s various sports assets. Nor would it include the Fox broadcast network. These exceptions result primarily from a combination of Fox’s future plans and concerns relating to antitrust laws.
The biggest benefit to Disney, meanwhile, is obvious: this presents them with an opportunity to bring yet another film studio, a variety of TV production assets, and potentially an ungodly number of intellectual properties under their corporate umbrella. This is especially so as the entertainment behemoth is preparing to launch its own streaming service in the near future.
But what does that mean for us? Well, perhaps unexpectedly, the biggest implications may well be related to Marvel. After all, this would finally bring the rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four back home, something that, despite a certain amount of wishful thinking among the fanbase, was not otherwise likely to happen anytime soon. Despite Fox’s ongoing struggles to make something worthwhile out of the Fantastic Four license, the studio had seemed intent on holding onto it, if only to deny Marvel Studios a potential hit (indeed, it has long been speculated that, like the Roger Corman film before it, Josh Trank’s ill-fated ‘Fantastic 4‘ was made largely for the sake of holding onto the film rights), whereas Fox’s ‘X-Men’ films have been thriving of late. In fact, while it may seem to be a given that Marvel’s Merry Mutants would join the MCU, the most interesting question going forward might be the implications for that franchise. While the smart money would likely be on a Marvel rebooting the property in order to bring it into the MCU (much as we just saw them do with Spider-Man), given the sheer number of ‘X-Men’ projects that are either planned or in production at the moment, one can’t help but wonder what the fate of those projects would be and how those plans might affect any hypothetical incorporation of the X-Men into Marvel’s wider universe.
And then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: ‘Star Wars’. When Disney scooped up Lucasfilm, the first thing that occurred to many fans was that with George Lucas no longer in the picture, the road may have finally been cleared for a proper re-release of the unaltered theatrical cuts of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy. And of course, rumors of just such a release continue to surface on a fairly regular basis. Disney, however, has been mum on the possibility from the start. And the reason is simple: despite their ownership of Lucasfilm, the theatrical and home video distribution rights (with the exception of TV broadcasts and digital releases) to ‘The Phantom Menace’, ‘Attack of the Clones’, ‘Revenge of the Sith’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, and ‘Return of the Jedi’ have all remained with Fox and are currently scheduled to revert to Lucasfilm (and thus, to Disney) in May 2020. You may have noticed something missing from that list, and rest assured that I didn’t forget about the original ‘Star Wars’ (or ‘A New Hope’, if you prefer). No, the reason for that glaring exception is that while the distribution rights for the other five films are scheduled to revert to Lucasfilm, Fox owns the distribution rights to the original in perpetuity. Put another way, as it stands right now, Disney couldn’t legally release the theatrical versions of these films even if they wanted to. And there’s yet to be any indication that they actually have any interest in doing so regardless. That being said, Disney buying Fox would certainly go a long way toward making the prospect feasible. Though as always, I would advise against getting your hopes up on that front.
Neither Fox nor Disney has offered an official comment on the potential sale at this time.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more on this story as it develops.