Marvel fans cheered when its parent company, Disney, bought Fox; it meant the X-Men could finally hang with the Avengers! But there was a dark side to this takeover, and as a new report by Vulture points out, it’s already affecting one part of the theatrical experience: Disney is no longer letting many theaters across North America screen their newly acquired and very deep archive of Fox classics. That means if you want to see Alien or Die Hard or The Princess Bride or The Sound of Music or Miracle on 34th Street — or cult classics like Raising Arizona or Phantom of the Paradise — on the big screen, you’re probably out of luck.
Vulture’s piece spoke to many theater owners and bookers for first-run theaters — some of whom stayed anonymous, so as not to ruffle Disney overlords — who’ve said that older Fox titles they used to show are no longer being offered. One manager in Rochester, NY said Fight Club was pulled mere days before it was scheduled to be shown, only for Disney to suddenly renege on the withdrawal. Another theater, near Vancouver, tried to book the original Alien, only to be told it was unavailable, even though it had just shown for its 40th anniversary as part of Fathom Events.
Granted, Disney’s new rule — which hasn’t been formally issued much less explained — is mostly targeted at first-run theaters that show new Disney-owned movies, such as Spider-Man: Far from Home, Frozen 2, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Non-profit and repertory houses, such as Film Forum in New York City, as well as museums will still be able to get prints and DCP packages from the Fox vaults (and from the Disney vaults, for that matter, barring their animated classics). Still, those requests will now, as per Vulture, be judged on a “case-by-case” basis, which sounds ominous.
This may be a relief to those who dwell in major cities, who can rest easy knowing they’ll probably still be able to watch All About Eve or The French Connection or Big on the big screen. Everyone else, though, may be screwed. As Vulture explains:
That collection of movies is a gold mine for many commercial theaters — particularly art houses, regional chains, and big-city multiplexes that like to mix things up by sprinkling a few older works into their screening lineups. In addition to films that have already been mentioned, Fox’s holdings include hundreds of notable films in a variety of genres and modes, a layer cake of options which, taken together, give a sense of the richness of American cinema over the last 100 years: everything from Miracle on 34th Street, All About Eve and The Sound of Music to Deadpool, The Revenant, The Simpsons Movie, and Terrence Malick’s version of The Thin Red Line.
Again, Disney has offered no explanation for why they’re hoarding their new toys, though some speculate that Disney may be simply planning to take over as many screens as it can, filling it with their latest content.
Disney considers any screen that’s taken up by an older movie, even one that’s owned by Disney, to be a screen that could be showing the new Marvel or Star Wars title instead. Or showing Orangutans 4 to an audience of three.
So unless Disney whimsically back-pedals, this is a blow to theaters that rely on repertory as part of their profit margin — who could always guarantee a solid night’s box office by showing Home Alone or David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. And it’s a blow to filmgoers who don’t only want to watch their favorites on their couch by themselves, but rather with a theater full of people who enjoy them just as much as they do.
There is, however, one Fox title that isn’t affected by this: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which, over its 40-plus years, has gone from box office bomb to cash cow. Its beloved, audience participation-heavy screenings have not been killed by its new owners, probably because, as one interviewee states, “there’ll be a full-scale audience revolt.” Now, if only there could be a riot over Disney withholding Commando.