The now-infamous Disney/Fox merger that took place in 2019 still has many in the entertainment business reeling, and there have been many, many questions from both professionals and consumers as to the full ramifications of a business deal of this size. We now know, at the very least, that Disney intends to fully rebrand their recently-acquired Fox properties; It was reported on January 17th that Disney will be dropping the “Fox” name from all 20th Century Fox properties, and releasing them under the banner of 20th Century Studios. Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight – once Fox’s well-regarded indie brand – will be renamed merely Searchlight Pictures.
On the surface, this change may not seem like much – something done for mere aesthetic streamlining – but in business ventures of this size, a change like that can mean everything.
Disney, after all, has just purchased several famous R-rated film franchises that had previously been associated strongly with the Fox name. Aliens, Predator, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show have historically been, in the minds of those films’ many fans, associated with one particular studio. Those of us who have grown up watching any of those films recognize the famous 20th Century Fox fanfare (which Disney also now owns), and have become accustomed to seeing the studio’s logo at their heads. The name change, though, isn’t just a small quirk of rebranding. It is instead – we can conjecture – a full attempt by Disney to lay a new sort of claim to its now-even-more-gigantic back catalog of film titles.
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That means any new fans of Alien, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, and, yes, even Star Wars, are now going to consume those films without the same sort of associations to the Fox name. Fox is not going to be, we now see, a smaller imprint beneath the ever-widening Disney umbrella, but a relic of the past. Moving forward, film viewers will be encouraged to think of Star Wars as a Disney property exclusively.
This makes a good deal of business sense. Disney, after all, has long been eager to put their own personal brand on everything they own. Throughout the ’90s, the entertainment behemoth kept separate brands for more “daring,” off-beat projects (who here remembers Touchstone Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, and the time Disney owned Miramax?). Eventually, though, they consolidated under one roof, sometimes even changing the studio tag at the head of their films to make everything fit under the “Disney” name (this happened with The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was released as a Touchstone film). With the dropping of the “Fox” name, Disney is actively terraforming the landscape, urging audiences to think of everything as made by them from the start.
This might have some fans of Fox films feeling a bit wistful. Those of us with a deeply-held fandom of certain Fox properties will have to be newly reminded of this giant merger – and of Daddy Disney – every time we see the altered name at the head of our favorite films. As a longtime fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it will take some time for this author to get used to the fact that Dr. Frank-N-Furter is now technically a Disney Princess.
But the rebranding involves more than wounded nostalgia and Disney openly staking its claim on its new acquisitions. It has to do with an active separation from what the Fox name has come to represent. The Disney/Fox merger, as attentive readers may recall, did not include Fox News, which remained its own entity, and which will be benefiting directly from the enormous sum that Disney paid out. Fox News is the nation’s most-watched cable news network, and has, since 1996, presented a distinct brand of right-wing punditry.
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Fox News’ very aggressive brand of politicking and editorializing is something, one may surmise, Disney may not want to be directly associated with via a name. The Fox brand is, after all, something more than the innocent handle of a run-of-the-mill, usual film-and-TV company. Through their own branding, Fox has come to represent a very certain flavor of American political discourse. Disney, as an entertainment company that seeks to reach the widest possible audience (as has always been their wont), must often feel pressure to present itself as apolitical as possible. Sure, their individual films may have political messages, and the filmmakers they hire certainly have political points of view, but the company itself likely strives to stay neutral, as good business may dictate. The Fox brand is now so strongly associated with Fox News that Disney likely felt the need to drop the name altogether, and remind audiences that Disney is in the entertainment biz, not the news biz.
So one can easily understand why Disney has scrubbed the Fox name from their new acquisitions, even if the legion of fans of Star Wars, Aliens, Die Hard, Planet of the Apes, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show must slowly and perhaps dolefully readjust their long-held pop associations for the foreseeable future.
For even more on the Disney Fox Deal, be sure to check out how this new deal makes Disney the most powerful film studio around. Or catch up on the X-Men projects that are on hold due to the merger, and what Disney taking over Fox could mean for the TV landscape.