While the most exciting pop culture news of Thursday was a trailer for a movie where Bob Odenkirk gets the John Wick treatment, Disney also had its 2020 Investor Day, which some people care about. OK, a lot of people. The nearly four-hour presentation featured such an overwhelming deluge of announcements that sifting through the entirety of its ramifications would be too much to fit into one blog or podcast without turning into some weird Mickey Mouse manifesto. (This is where I’m contractually obligated to tell you to keep an eye out for more Disney Investor Day–related content in the coming days at The Ringer dot com!) In the meantime, let’s take stock of some of the company’s biggest announcements with some Disney Investor Day winners and losers.
Winner: Disney+ Subscribers
Disney made it clear earlier this year that its biggest priority as a company going forward would be its streaming empire, and the early returns have been promising. As announced during the Investor Day presentation, Disney+ is already up to 86 million subscribers. For a streaming service that’s been active for just over a year, that’s an incredible achievement—especially when you factor in that its slate of buzzy original programming basically begins and ends with The Mandalorian.
But Baby Yoda—sorry, Grogu—is finally getting some backup. Disney+ is going to be home to, per the company’s own announcement, “roughly” 10 Marvel series and 10 Star Wars shows, to go along with more new content from National Geographic, Pixar, and Disney Animation. (To say nothing of more new programming coming to Hulu and ESPN+.) All told, most of the newly announced projects from Investor Day—with the exception of 2021 blockbusters like Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, which Disney confirmed will have theatrical releases—are going straight to streaming. If there were still any doubts that Disney+ would stake its claim as one of the biggest competitors to Netflix’s streaming dominance, Investor Day was one hell of a mic (Thor’s hammer?) drop.
Loser: Original Ideas
For the exhausting number of projects that Disney flexed, looking for something with an original conceit was like finding a needle in a haystack. Take the Star Wars news: There will be not one but two Mandalorian spinoffs; an already-announced prequel show about Rogue One’s Cassian Andor; a stand-alone Lando Calrissian series; the return of Hayden Christensen in the Obi-Wan miniseries (OK, that’s lit); and something called A Droid Story, which will feature C-3PO and R2-D2. The only project that sounds remotely original is The Acolyte, a “mystery-thriller” set in the High Republic era from Russian Doll creator Leslye Headland. (The next Star Wars movie, Rogue Squadron, is also in safe hands with Patty Jenkins.)
All told, Disney seems reticent to expand its idea of Star Wars beyond the characters and ideas that George Lucas already built—even a breath of fresh air like The Mandalorian is being stripped for parts for spinoff material. (And to be fair, the two main characters on that show were already inspired by Yoda and Boba Fett—not exactly original stuff.) It’s not just Star Wars: Disney’s lack of original ideas spreads across the whole company. Even Pixar, long admired as a beacon of creative (and tear-jerking) ingenuity, is making a Buzz Lightyear movie with Chris Evans and spinoff shows featuring characters from Up and Cars. If Disney put even the slightest bit of effort into exploring new ideas instead of milking nostalgia dry, maybe it wouldn’t feel so much like the Galactic Empire.
wow, now Kathleen Kennedy is announcing that in order to ensure our security and continuing stability, the Republic will be reorganized into the first Galactic Empire, for a safe and secure society?— David Sims (@davidlsims) December 10, 2020
Winner: This Absolutely Bizarre Tweet About the Buzz Lightyear Movie
And just to be clear, this isn’t Buzz Lightyear the toy. This is the origin story of the human Buzz Lightyear that the toy is based on— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 11, 2020
This is Buzz Aldrin erasure.
Winner: Daddy’s Back
Hayden Christensen returns as Darth Vader, joining Ewan McGregor in OBI-WAN KENOBI. The Original Series begins 10 years after the dramatic events of Revenge of the Sith, and is coming to #DisneyPlus. pic.twitter.com/9WR2npRUkk— Star Wars (@starwars) December 10, 2020
This is where the fun begins.
Winner/Loser: Noah Hawley Failing Upward
It hasn’t been a great couple of years for Noah Hawley. The latest seasons of Legion and Fargo weren’t up to the showrunner’s usual high standards; his first feature film, Lucy in the Sky, was panned by critics and completely bombed at the box office. Naturally, then, the only thing to do with a guy who’s strung together a years-long series of duds is hand him the reins of … the Alien franchise?!
Alien is currently in development at @FXNetworks. The first TV series based on the classic film series is helmed by Fargo and Legion's @noahhawley. Expect a scary thrill ride set not too far in the future here on Earth. pic.twitter.com/jZe1CRFAZD— Disney (@Disney) December 10, 2020
Yes, Hawley will be helming the first ever Alien TV series for FX—and while my love of the franchise is such that I will always go to bat for Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection (they’re good!), I have my doubts that this will be a fruitful pairing between creator and material. The sparse details of the project aren’t off to a great start, either: For some reason, the universe-spanning series will be taking place on [Checks notes.] Earth?! Thankfully, Ridley Scott is in talks to be involved as an executive producer—fingers crossed he directs some episodes?—so hopefully the granddaddy of the franchise will be able to curb some of Hawley’s worst impulses. If not, well, at least we still have Raised by Wolves.
Loser: Fox Searchlight
Lost amid all the Disney-related announcements were substantive updates about the film studio formerly known as Fox Searchlight (now Searchlight Pictures). All that the Investor Day could offer was a single tweet confirming that many films from Searchlight—as well as 20th Century Studios, or what was once 20th Century Fox—will be making their way onto Hulu.
In the U.S., @Hulu will launch exclusive original films produced by 20th Century Studios and Searchlight. Expect more news on this front in the coming months.— Disney (@Disney) December 10, 2020
Searchlight is basically the “Let’s get some Oscars!” arm of Fox, responsible for distributing recent Best Picture winners like 12 Years a Slave, Birdman, and The Shape of Water—to say nothing of buzzy nominees like The Favourite, Black Swan, and The Tree of Life. Searchlight is, in other words, one of the few areas of the Disney empire that is still committed to making nonfranchise films. (In a nonpandemic timeline, the studio would have already brought us Wes Anderson’s star-studded latest, The French Dispatch.) The lack of Searchlight-related updates isn’t necessarily a death knell—Disney knows that its investors are there to learn more about Marvel and Star Wars, not less-bankable-but-mostly-better movies—but on the heels of Warner Bros. announcing that they’re dumping their entire 2021 movie slate onto HBO Max, the studio becoming a feeder system for Hulu isn’t exactly a reassuring alternative for champions of the theatrical experience and nonfranchise cinema.
Loser: HBO Max
Not only does Disney+ have a subscriber base that dwarfs that of HBO Max, but the Mouse House is also sticking with theatrical runs for 2021 releases like Black Widow and Jungle Cruise—and will almost assuredly do the same with future movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a fifth (and supposedly final) Indiana Jones entry from James Mangold.
A week after Warner Bros. put the future of the theatrical experience on blast, “some huge-ass blockbusters being confirmed to make it to theaters” counts as a bit of good news. (Hopefully movie theaters will be able to accommodate more than just $200 million–dollar blockbusters so that all other films aren’t dumped onto streaming services in our uncertain future, but that’s a worry for another day.) Meanwhile, in the middle of Disney’s showboating presentation, Dune director Denis Villeneuve published an op-ed in Variety slamming the Warner Bros. deal. This is fine.
Winner: A-listers Traveling to Cool Places on Disney’s Dime
In the event that I ever become a famous actor, I’d like to follow Will Smith’s and Chris Hemsworth’s lead. Both A-listers will be leading their own shows on National Geographic: In Welcome to Earth, Smith will take viewers on “an awe-inspiring journey to unlock the secrets of this planet’s most extraordinary, unexplained phenomena” that is, for some reason, executive produced by Darren Aronofsky; in Limitless, Hemsworth travels the world on Disney’s dime to explore the limits of the human body. (No relation to the brain-enhancing pills from the Bradley Cooper movie—as far as we know.)
Go on a mission to discover the limits of the human body and find out how to stay healthier and younger for longer. From @NatGeo, Limitless with @ChrisHemsworth is one-part science, one-part action adventure. Coming to @DisneyPlus. pic.twitter.com/hc89FD0sA9— Disney (@Disney) December 10, 2020
The way I see it, Will Smith is getting paid to travel the globe and maybe take off-screen hallucinogens with the guy who made Mother!, and Hemsworth, who already looks like a Norse god, is trying to find the secret to immortality. We will all be watching with envy.