Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox undeniably comes with some positive results, but adding to the list of disappointing effects is that Disney is making it more difficult for theaters to screen classic Fox films. Disney has notoriously been protective over their films, with many fans growing frustrated by how it will only make select titles available on home video for brief periods of time before it is placed by into the "vault," in addition to repertory theaters, whose goals are to celebrate cinema instead of aiming to turn a profit, being denied access to a majority of Disney's titles.
A new report from Vulture chronicles one programmer's attempts to acquire the rights to screen Fox films that were previously available and the setbacks he has faced since Disney acquired those Fox films. Joe Neff, programmer at the Drexel Theater in Columbus, Ohio, claims his film broker told him, "Our Fox booking contact offered a very brief apology that she could no longer book repertory titles with the theater."
While Disney has yet to address the matter, there are a number of reasons why the company would pursue this path, and none of them are good for the consumer.
When Disney would tout that a film was coming out of its vault, it created a sense of urgency for those releases, inspiring the idea in a consumer that if they didn't purchase the film on home video, no matter what the cost, they wouldn't have the chance to do so again for years. The same theory holds true for theatrical screenings, that we might only get the chance to see a classic film on the big screen once in a decade as opposed to every few months.
Another reason is that, with Disney about to launch its first streaming service, Disney+, they no longer have to grant access to theaters to screen a film, as they can direct fans to check out the movie on Disney+ instead. Currently, it is unclear how Disney will handle its thousands of newly-acquired Fox titles, other than the ones made available on Hulu. If those titles are added to Disney+ or integrated into another streaming service, there will be no reason to grant permission for another exhibitor to screen the film when they could be adding another subscriber.
Yet another possibility is that Disney wants to dominate as many screens as possible, however they can. Small, independent theaters aren't the only venues for classic Fox films, as even major cineplexes offer vintage screenings in honor of anniversaries. With it being the 40th anniversary of Alien, any screen that celebrates the sci-fi classic is a screen that can't be showing The Lion King or Spider-Man: Far From Home. Even if Disney will reap the rewards either way, they could be focusing on their own original content as opposed to what they acquired.
Stay tuned for details on Disney's handling of vintage 20th Century Fox films.