Disney closes US$71B acquisition of Fox's entertainment assets
You may see fewer holiday classics at your local cinemas this year as Walt Disney Co. puts 21st Century Fox Inc. films into the vault.
Disney’s US$71.3-billion acquisition of Fox’s entertainment assets became official in March, with Disney gaining control of the massive Fox catalogue, including holiday staples such as Home Alone and Die Hard.
Historically, Disney films – particularly the older animated classics like Snow White or Fantasia – have been unavailable to theatres of any kind. This is because of the Disney vault, the term used by the company to refer to its policy of freezing all releases of its home videos. Through this policy, Disney films are made available for a limited time, then put into the vault and are not made available until their re-release years later.
“As soon as they announced the merger I knew that all those great Fox titles were going to be put into the vault right away,” Lee Demarbre, programmer of the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, told BNN Bloomberg in a phone interview.
The programming director of Toronto’s Revue Cinema, one of the few not-for-profit theatres in Canada, shared a similar feeling when the deal was announced.
“We feared that this was coming,” Eric Veillette said in a phone interview. “So in 2019 I played as many Fox movies I could.”
Although Disney’s move to put Fox films into its vault doesn’t stray from standard practice, this policy has spelled trouble for some theatres across Canada and the U.S.
“We have shown The Rocky Horror Picture Show once a month for the past 10 years,” Demarbre said. “And the Tuesday before Christmas we show Die Hard and sell out. These are the traditions that people expect us to carry out.”
While The Rocky Horror Picture Show has reportedly been spared the fate of the Disney vault, other flicks have not been so lucky. Holiday classics like Home Alone, Die Hard and The Sound of Music are off limits to independent theatres and major chains like Cineplex Inc. The films will be unavailable for television broadcast as well.
Cineplex Events, the company’s alternative programming business, also used to curate hugely popular screenings of Home Alone, Die Hard and Miracle on 34Th Street for its holiday programming.
“While our guests have traditionally enjoyed watching these titles on the big screen, this year we’re leveraging the film catalogues of our other studio partners to round out that programming,” Sarah Van Lange, a Cineplex spokesperson told BNN Bloomberg in an email.
While major chains like Cineplex will surely miss the popular screenings of holiday classics, they have blockbuster franchise like Marvel and Star Wars to fall back on. The loss of the Fox back-catalogue is felt most deeply by the independent theatres that thrive from the rich cinematic history of the production company.
“Everyone is talking about Die Hard and Home Alone,” Veillette said. “And sure from a financial standpoint that was a pretty major blow. But there are all these other amazing films that Fox has produced over the past century, and I can’t play those anymore.”
However, Disney swallowing the Fox catalogue has not entirely dampened Veillette’s holiday spirits.
“Obviously it makes things more difficult,” he said. “But there are plenty of distributors who are willing to work with us. Have they made it a little bit harder? Yes, but we’re adapting and its forcing us to get more creative with our programming choices.”
As for the sudden dearth of Christmas films available for the big screen, both theatres are ready to get more than a little creative.
“Die Hard wasn’t always the Christmas movie,” he added. “That is something that only started in the past couple of years. We have an opportunity to create new cult Christmas classics.”
Demarbre, who was able to book one last holiday screening of Die Hard back in March, is humorous about the whole situation.
“We will find other ways to have fun,” he said. “After all, Gremlins is still available – that is until Disney buys Warner Brothers.”