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The Fascinating Implications of a Disney–21st Century Fox Deal

If Fox ends up selling off most of its assets to one of its biggest competitors for a reported $60 billion, everything from ‘Star Wars’ to streaming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be drastically changed

Disney/Fox/Ringer illustration

A disturbance in the force has emerged in the entertainment industry, as CNBC reported Tuesday that Disney is closing in on a deal to acquire a large portion of 21st Century Fox. If it went through, Fox would keep its news and sports assets, but would sell its cable networks—such as National Geographic and FX—its stakes in Hulu and the British TV company Sky, and its film and TV studios. (21st Century Fox contains both the film production company 20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment Group.)

While nothing is set in stone—though the deal could be finalized as early as next week—this acquisition would have major implications for the TV and film industry. And while there is certainly something to be said about the legality of this deal, and how it would likely tamp down creativity and competition, some of the other implications of a Disney-Fox team-up are genuinely exciting and interesting to think about. Here are just a few effects the Disney deal would have on both TV and film.

The Expansion of the MCU

The biggest takeaway for superhero nerds is that Disney would be able to add to its already impressive slate of superheroes. In addition to the Avengers, Disney would have its hands on characters from the X-Men and Fantastic Four.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already a massive, hugely profitable enterprise, but it will soon be moving into a new phase of development after Avengers 4, likely the last film that will feature some of the MCU’s biggest heroes, such as Chris Evans’s Captain America and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. There’s been a healthy amount of speculation as to whom the MCU would lean on once the Avengers were phased out. It’s not like Disney and Marvel were going to run out of heroes—Black Panther and Captain Marvel movies are on the way, and we just got reintroduced to Spider-Man—but acquiring Fox would give the MCU even more to work with. It’d be particularly interesting to see Disney take a swing at a film featuring the Fantastic Four since, despite multiple attempts, there has yet to be a serviceable movie made about those superheroes. Either way, before long, you may be seeing Magneto toss a vending machine at the Incredible Hulk.

A Streaming Site That Could Actually Disrupt the Status Quo

Even if Netflix says it isn’t worried about Disney launching its own streaming service sometime in 2019, the Disney-Fox merger would ostensibly give the Mouse House even more tantalizing, exclusive titles to work with. Star Wars, the MCU, Pixar, and Disney’s animated films would all be part of the new service—Netflix has some of these movies now, but Disney plans to pull its titles from the streamer ahead of its offering’s launch. Plus, the company is planning a live-action Star Wars series that could have some “next Game of Thrones vibes, and that you could only watch on its service.

Now, add to that shows from networks like FX (maybe this would finally get people to watch The Americans), a backlog of classic television (In Living Color, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all of The Simpsons), and movies from 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures (the Planet of the Apes franchise! Wes Anderson!), and you have a library with some of the best, widest-ranging content out there. A Disney streaming site on its own may not have been strong enough to make Netflix sweat, but adding Fox and everything that comes with it could do just that.

The Uniting of the Star Wars Franchise

I don’t know about you, but I associated the start of a Star Wars movie with 20th Century Fox’s theme for so long; it was like Pavlov’s dog for a galaxy far, far away. It genuinely threw me off when The Force Awakens—the first Star Wars movie after Disney acquired Lucasfilm—began in silence.

With this merger, all of the Star Wars movies would be under one roof again. That doesn’t mean some seismic shift for the franchise—Disney was always going to make more Star Wars movies—but it does bring everything together. That’d allow Disney to do big things in distributing the franchise—think of the massive box set it could put together, or the prospect of all the Star Wars movies being neatly packaged on that new streaming service. And maybe we’d get that familiar theme back.

A Whole New World of IP

Superhero movies notwithstanding, Disney would gain valuable franchises from 20th Century Fox in other areas. Remember James Cameron’s Avatar, the highest-grossing movie of all time? Disney would have its hands on the film’s four planned sequels. Say what you will about the actual quality of Avatar—I contend it’s quite unmemorable; can someone tell me what happened to Sam Worthington?—but that is a valuable piece of IP to include with Disney’s massive entertainment empire. Add to that the Planet of the Apes series, Ridley Scott’s future Alien movies, the Predator franchise, Ice Age, Die Hard (Bruce Willis still needs paychecks), and more. This is a lot of stuff.

Disney could also reboot any number of franchises from Fox’s older titles. Horror movies are having a critical and commercial renaissance thanks to the likes of Get Out and It; could we see another Omen film? What if Disney decided to reboot M*A*S*H? Who would say no to a new Sound of Music, aside from Julie Andrews purists? Assuming the deal goes through, Disney would basically become a synonym for entertainment.

OK, a Few Negative Effects

This deal would be so massive, it might be illegal. And in terms of creativity, the merging of studios and elimination of diverse production strategies is almost definitely a bad thing.

Marvel head Kevin Feige has described the MCU as a “shared sandbox,” and that’s an apt description for Disney as a whole. While the Mouse House knows how to make a box office hit—be it a Marvel movie, an animated movie, or a Star Wars movie—it doesn’t have a great reputation for being a haven for creativity. Auteurs like Edgar Wright (who was going to direct Ant-Man) and the directing tandem Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the original Han Solo movie directors) have been pushed out the door for assuming too much creative liberty; something like Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok or James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise is probably the edgiest thing you’ll see under Disney.

Can you imagine that what Ryan Reynolds pulled to get Deadpool to the big screen would ever fly at Marvel or Lucasfilm? Would Marvel have let Hugh Jackman turn Wolverine into a depressed, suicidal alcoholic in a gritty, R-rated Western? Would Disney look at War for the Planet of the Apes and think, “Sure, let’s spend $150 million to make The Bridge on the River Kwai, but with monkeys”? Even 20th Century Fox’s recent flops, like whatever the hell A Cure for Wellness was supposed to be, are at least audacious attempts to reinvigorate the box office with something people haven’t seen before.

Just from a general standpoint, decreasing the number of studios that make movies and TV in turn decreases the amount of creative voices or perspectives. It’s not that bold, eccentric movies would no longer exist, but fewer would be green-lit if two of Hollywood’s biggest studios were under the same, controlling roof.

Of course, all of this is speculative—for now. Disney is already the Galactic Empire of the entertainment industry, with or without the deal. However, having 21st Century Fox under its corporate umbrella would be like giving Disney a Death Star. Who could stop it then?