Disney is no longer just that thing from your childhood. It is a cultural powerhouse
One of the defining elements of the year in Hollywood blockbusters, from Avengers to Incredibles, has been Marvel. Often, you could trace success at the box office in 2018 to a comic book series released decades ago.
- It’s been another blockbuster year for Disney
- The studio has made some smart business deals in the past decade
- Nostalgia-driven content and new deals in 2019 may see more success
But behind that familiar storyline is a equally familiar, but sometimes overlooked entity: Disney.
This week, the family friendly entertainment company’s dominance in Hollywood was reaffirmed with news it made $US7 billion in global box office sales in the year to December 9, more than any other movie studio and close to its 2016 record of $US7.6 billion.
Mary Poppins Returns, which will hit cinemas on December 19, is expected to bring in even more money for the studio before 2018 is over.
On Thursday, Australian streaming service Stan announced a deal with Disney to carry its films and TV shows locally, while in the US, the company is preparing to launch its own streaming service, which could challenge market leader Netflix.
In short: Disney is having a major cultural moment, and it’s being driven by shrewd deal-making, clever marketing and our thirst for nostalgia.
A decade-plus of good deals
When the company founded by animater and entrepreneur Walt Disney paid $US7.4 billion for Pixar in 2006, people scoffed. The creators of Monsters Inc, Toy Story and Finding Nemo had achieved success, but that was a lot of money.
Three years later, Disney forked out $US4 billion for Marvel Entertainment, the film development arm of the comic book creators behind X-Men, Spiderman and others. Again, some thought the price was too high.
Three years later, same story, this time with Lucasfilm, Star Wars creator George Lucas’ film company, which had introduced that franchise and Indiana Jones to the world. The price tag was $US4 billion.
In the past decade, these three deals have proved hugely lucrative for Disney. They have allowed it to exploit — at the cinema, the theme park and the toy store — some of the most valuable intellectual property in the entertainment business.
It had the highest and second-highest grossing films of the year, in its Marvel Cinematic Universe titles Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther, respectively. Incredibles 2 came in fourth.
2019 could be another stellar year for the company
The studio may well continue its dominance next year, with big films and new ventures planned.
The Walt Disney Company’s $US71.3 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox is expected to be finalised in early 2019.
That will give Disney access to some of Fox’s popular television and movie properties, including 20th Century Fox, the studio behind Avatar (sequels to which are currently in production), Ice Age and other blockbusters.
Later in 2019 it will enter the streaming market with the launch of Disney+. Will it give the dominant Netflix something to be concerned about?
“I think it will,” says Victoria University lecturer in screen media Marc C Scott, “and it will come from that branding aspect.”
On top of its significant library of content, Disney+ will benefit from the brand’s familiarity, and will use franchise spin-offs as a way to lure subscribers.
That service will likely start in the US before it comes to Australia. A spokesperson for Disney in Australia said its managing director and general manager of studios were unavailable for interviews.
Mr Scott believes the Stan deal is a way for the Americans to test the waters before launching their own product in Australia.
Let’s not forget about good old nostalgia
Disney is no stranger to this. It found big success with the 2016 remake of The Jungle Book, and next year will release an updated take on The Lion King, 25 years after the original.
In this way, Disney is engaging in a clever form of multi-level marketing: millennials who grew up with these brands now introduce them to their own children.
“The variety of Marvel films now is a key thing in terms of who they appeal to,” said Dr Ari Mattes, lecturer in media and communication at University of Notre Dame.
“There are serious ones; there are the pompous, overblown superhero ones like the early Thor films, and then the Thor: Ragnarok from last year, which was like a hilarious retro-satire.
“Then there are the scarier ones, and the more comedic ones, like Ant Man and Deadpool.
“It’s familiar enough that there is that comfort from repetition, but interesting enough and diverse enough that there is something in there for everyone.”