Vaulting Fox films won't go the way Disney thinks
Co-authored by Quinn Beeson and Eleanor McCoy
The purchase of 21st Century Fox by Disney earlier this year had been anticipated and welcomed by Marvel fans and moviegoers alike. Who wouldn’t want one of the biggest media companies in the world to have more content under their belt, giving fans a chance to see characters like the X-Men and Fantastic Four done right? Well, a lot of people. Many small theaters and consumers are hurt by the merger, if not for two reasons.
One - Disney’s policy in regards to the showing of films. To summarize, it’s terrible. Disney has insanely aggressive policies when it comes to the showing of movies, both new releases and classic properties. In regards to new releases, the best example would be The Last Jedi, the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise. In 2017, reports came out saying that Disney required any theater that showed The Last Jedi must give Disney 65% of the profit, as well as air it in the biggest auditorium the theater had for four weeks. For smaller theaters that don’t have many auditoriums and/or focus more on smaller films and classics, this is a threat to their sovereignty. They have to show Star Wars in order to keep revenue coming in to support smaller film and reshow classics. But if they show Star Wars, they barely make any money and space is taken that could be used to show movies that would draw in smaller crowds (i.e. genre films and cult classics).
Two - The vaulting of every classic Fox movie. For those who don’t know, Disney previously had a policy of vaulting their old films after a few months, reissuing them every ten years for special occasions. This created a manufactured demand for the films - if someone wanted to see, say, Snow White or Robin Hood, they would have had to have waited for the movie to be rereleased, or track down an old copy.
Disney’s now applying this policy to 21st Century Fox content. First run and independent theaters cannot show classic 21st Century Fox films, all of them now metaphorically sitting in the back of a closet for Disney to pull out when they need some extra cash, staying there for years.
Why is this an issue? The movies can still be found on DVD or streaming. They aren’t going away per say, but it’s now exponentially harder to see these movies as intended - on the big screen.
With the loss of these movies, smaller theaters lose a chance to make money and stay out of debt to the biggest movie distributors. This means that to not be shut down, they have to dedicate more time to the newest Disney, Sony and Warner Brothers films, which starts to take away time from independent filmmakers of color, women filmmakers, LGBTQ+ filmmakers, and everyone else who’s projects wouldn’t ever be funded by a major corporation.
The biggest issue is that the loss of these movies both erases the history and future of film. It cuts off access to releases of classics that are still loved today, meaning that newer generations have less of a chance to see them and be inspired. It throws dirt in the face of genre film that wouldn’t be profitable on a big screen, like horror or less marketable science-fiction. It gives a glimpse into a future where every piece of media is approved with a stylized castle. To quote one George Orwell, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.” The one wearing that boot just has a pair of mouse ears on.
Within the legal world, Disney’s acquisition of multiple media companies has been met with several challenges. The Justice Department settled a lawsuit in the summer of 2018 over the acquisition of Fox Studios, forcing Disney to sell off 22 local Fox sports stations so they would be able to acquire Fox Studios.
Although Disney’s business practices technically do not violate American antitrust laws, the company’s practices toe the line between legality and ethicality. That line has been walked by many companies, but the court has yet to decide where corporate ethics and corporate practice meet.
Allowing the Disney company to continue monopolizing the film industry is clearly unethical. The unethical nature of this practice lies in its impact on independent theaters, whose main source of revenue comes from re-releases of classic films.
It is blatantly unethical to restrict access to art for the sake of profit. Disney delegating Fox films to their vault disregards both the needs of independent theaters and the wishes of ticket-buying customers. Furthermore, the whole idea of “vaulting” is grossly outdated, and the practice only hurts the company’s bottom line and reputation.
In the age of streaming, availability is everything. Having classic films available for the viewing experience is key to the survival of theaters, theaters which are then able to drive ticket sales for Disney. Regardless of ethics, hurting the amount of revenue produced is simply a foolish idea.