We have a Disney problem, and we’re running out of time to do something about it.
If you’ve seen a movie in theaters recently, odds are it was a Disney project. Over the last decade, the Walt Disney Company has been slowly gobbling up pop culture cornerstones everywhere.
First it was Pixar in 2006. This deal was hardly surprising—Disney and Pixar already had a 20 year partnership and the distinction between the two was mildly confusing at best. Disney came out of the deal finally formally owning the Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles and Finding Nemo franchises.
Then it was the financially troubled comic book titan Marvel in 2009. The deal made sense for both parties: Marvel couldn’t afford to produce its own movies, and Disney had the means but lacked the properties to keep expanding its reach.
Three years later, a significantly more important deal was struck: Disney was to acquire Lucasfilms, the studio behind Indiana Jones and Star Wars. While Marvel presented an opportunity to leverage the popularity of comic book characters in a different medium, the Lucasfilms acquisition essentially gave Disney two of the biggest pop culture movie franchises.
The year was 2012, and Disney outright owned Pixar, Lucasfilms and Marvel, as well as countless other production studios including major network ABC and its subsidiary ESPN. It was also the year the first Avengers movie came out, leading the year’s box office charts with a mind-bending $1,500,000,000 USD earning. The stage was set for Disney’s eventual conquest of all things cinema.
I should also mention it was around this time that Hulu was rising as a competitor to the dominant Netlflix. And because Disney didn’t already own enough stuff, they acquired a 30% stake in Hulu. This is important because Hulu gave Disney a path to dominating not only movies, but also television.
Now, in 2019, we can look back on Disney’s acquisitions and consider how these investments paid off. The answer is unbelievably well. Since 2012, 20 Disney movies have surpassed the coveted $1 billion dollar box office metric, with nearly every one of those movies taking place in franchises Disney acquired. It’s important to mention that this is nearly half of the 42 movies to have ever grossed more than 1 billion. Over the last five years, Disney has produced the highest domestically grossing movie every year. In culmination of this unprecedented box office success, this year’s Avengers: Endgame became the highest grossing movie of all time.
None of these accomplishments includes Disney’s success on the television, sports media or merchandising fronts.
This picture of cultural dominance and near monopoly is menacing. Disney simply controls too many pop culture cornerstones, giving them unprecedented cultural power.
Unfortunately, antitrust regulators didn’t see it that way, and permitted Disney to acquire 21st Century Fox in March. Some of the major properties Disney now holds the key to include X-Men, Alien, Predator, Avatar (the former highest grossing movie of all time), Deadpool and even The Simpsons. This acquisition and subsequent deals also put Disney on track to own 100% of Hulu by 2024.
Disney now sits on a veritable treasure trove of characters and worlds, and has both the capital and intention to keep pumping out remakes, sequels and adaptations of any even remotely well-known property. We’re even getting Lizzie McGuire and Home Alone remakes on Disney’s upcoming streaming platform, Disney+.
How long until Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers and Netflix fall to Disney? Unless regulators step in, or we stop consuming everything Disney makes (I’m looking at you, people who paid to see the new Lion King) all of entertainment is going to be in the House of Mouse.