Change is in the air. Disney’s two major franchises are about to evolve. While Marvel Studios is keeping their post-Infinity War plans close to the vest, execs have repeatedly implied that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be very different. It’s reasonable to think that the completed trilogies of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor will be the final solo films with the characters in their current incarnations. Those heroes may die, be recast, or otherwise step back for younger heroes to take the lead. Disney will also have to move past their obvious plays with their acquisition of Star Wars. Fans were clamoring for a third Skywalker trilogy, but what now? Soon the series will be over and there are only so many gaps to be filled with ‘A Star Wars Story’ prequels. A new trilogy by ‘The Last Jedi’ director Ryan Johnson is in the works, which is exciting, but it may be time for something more outside the box. Disney could reinvent movies.
I say Disney because they are in the unique position of having a huge audience pre-sold on franchises. These series began with good will and grew to total fandom because the films have been, so far, mostly great. Disney also has near unlimited resources to change the game before the ‘Justice League’ movies are good enough to compete. The first big step Disney is taking is their upcoming streaming service. This will undoubtably be a success with kids and parents if they preload it with exclusive films and access to their existing tv lineup on The Disney Channel and Disney Junior. Pair that with original content like a continuation of the Marvel shows currently on Netflix and the rumored live-action Star Wars program and it will be a home run for all ages. Disney doesn’t exactly reinvent TV here so much as it borrows from Netflix and HBO’s business models, but what if it doesn’t stop there?
MoviePass is a subscription to in-theater films in the same same way that Netflix is a subscription to in-home films. It’s unclear if the new MoviePass business model will last, but something like it probably will demonstrating that the line between TV and film is blurring. Don’t believe me? Look at the content. Shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Westworld’ have production values that would have fit right in at theaters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is so serialized that it feels like a weekly viewing spread out over a decade. In these cases, the content is meeting somewhere in the middle. Maybe distribution should too.
Distribution, along with runtime and budget, are what makes modern tv shows different from film — but it’s an arbitrary distinction. A movie could have a theatrical release of just a week. It could be just an hour long. It sounds like breaking the rules, but there are no rules anymore. Imagine a character-driven Star Wars flick without the high stakes and big bankroll. It’s no secret that this format would allow for a better story. What’s more, it could allow for better studio profits. Disney could make a new tier of films that are cheaper to make, cheaper to see with a decreased ticket price, and with a quicker turnaround. Capitalize on how bad we want to see the next film by releasing it six months after the last!
The great fear of every studio is putting significant resources into a product that could tank. Making theatrical films on a schedule and budget closer to television takes that edge off. Diversify. There’ll always be room for another Infinity War.