Huge news broke this morning that Disney is acquiring a sizable chunk of 21st Century Fox, including the film production studio 20th Century Fox, but we’ve known this was coming for a few weeks now. That means we’ve had some time to weigh the pros and cons of such a deal, and the consequences that will be felt in the marketplace. Make no mistake, this is not simply about combining superhero movie universes—this is a massive business deal whose impact reaches far wider than multiplexes, and there are a lot of questions still up in the air about what happens next and what this means for the industry.
But on a micro level, one of the big concerns about the merging of 20th Century Fox under the Disney umbrella is whether they’ll continue to make R-rated movies, specifically R-rated superhero movies. With the X-Men franchise getting a bit stale, Fox started taking huge swings in recent years with its superhero properties, competing with Disney-owned Marvel Studios by doing something they wouldn’t do: creating R-rated superhero movies. That began with Deadpool, which scored over $700 million worldwide, and continued with this year’s Logan, which garnered some of the best reviews of Fox’s entire X-Men franchise.
Fox indeed planned on continuing to diversify is superhero content by leaning hard into genres—The New Mutants is a horror film, while X-Men: Dark Phoenix is going to space—but with this Disney deal now official, all of that is up in the air. Deadpool 2 hits theaters next summer and is Rated R, but will R-rated superhero movies continue to be a staple at the Disney-owned Fox, or will they fall by the wayside so Disney can keep its squeaky-clean image?
Disney CEO Bob Iger hopped on a call this morning to answer some questions, and he specifically brought up Deadpool when talking about his desire to continue making sequels, after which he noted that R-rated Marvel movies could still have a place under this new deal:
Iger specifically calls out “Deadpool,” wants to keep making sequels. “There may be an opportunity for an R-rated Marvel brand as long as we let audiences know what’s coming.”
— Ben Fritz (@benfritz) December 14, 2017
That’s a pretty non-committal answer, but granted this deal is still in the early stages (it won’t officially close for over a year). While it’s true that Disney itself doesn’t make R-rated movies, it does have a history of allowing companies it owns to do so, like Miramax. If 20th Century Fox is set up as its own arm, like Marvel Studios or Pixar, it’s possible Disney allows them to forge ahead as-planned with more R-rated superhero movies. But if Disney/Marvel Studios wants to combine the characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that may pose a serious problem—consistency of tone is everything, and one imagines if Disney has invested so much money into building the Marvel Studios brand as something kids can enjoy, adding Deadpool to the mix muddles the waters and threatens to turn consumers off the brand entirely—again, this is about more than movies, it’s about merchandizing, TV spinoffs, etc.