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What other studios can learn from Disney


We have to remember that Marvel is just ONE WING of this mighty empire, 13 movies grossing over 15 billion now. But lest we forget they also have Pixar. And the much more impressive and consistent Disney Animation (Frozen, Zootopia). And those live action versions of Disney flicks like Jungle Book. Oh, and Star Wars. Plus the marketing juggernaut of the Disney Princesses.

It’s worth remembering that not long ago Disney was a busted flush. I remember them on their knees a couple of times. I also remember industry watchers saying that Disney would never capture the young male market like they had young female completely sewn up, but in one single buy in 2009 the Disney Stores got Marvel and everything that came with it. Shortly after they got Star Wars and the store has as many boys jostling through it as girls now when you’re in there with the kids.

But what can be learned from this? When you look at the other studios they’re reeling and though Disney SEEMS to be top dog forever more it’s worth remembering that nothing lasts forever. Will people still want Marvel movies in 10 years? Will Star Wars 12 be as exciting as Star Wars 7 was? As always there’s everything to play for, but what can studios LEARN from the Disney rebirth?



Disney’s consistent now, but they had a pretty torrid run in the 00s and they only really got over it by buying Pixar, effectively poaching Lasseter. And they’re cyclical with screwing things up really. The “Disney Renaissance” is only a thing because of how dire they were through the 70s and 80s. (I may have just published a book about Disney films. Cheap plug). And Pixar’s been getting more dependent on sequels since the buy out, which is disappointing.

Buying Marvel was smart and it’s worked for them, but it wasn’t their first attempt at the boy’s market. They bought Saban in the early 00s, presumably mainly for Power Rangers but pretty much ran it into the ground, despite it being a fairly simple thing to produce.

I can’t see Star Wars nostalgia lasting forever and if they keep churning out the films at the rate they’re going now, the shine will fall off them fairly quickly.

But I guess they can go and buy something else then. Having enough money to buy something people already like seems to be the key thing to learn from Disney.


All that plus lots of rumours going around that Disney could soon acquire Netflix too.


I was just thinking about how they’re about to have Dr. Strange, Moana (which is very good), and Rogue One all in theatres at once. That’s pretty impressive.

The key to their success might be to just buy IP. And to have your whole enterprise offset by lucrative sports contracts at ESPN.

But I think they’ve also wised up to what people want. I can’t remember the last time I was surprised by a movie under the Disney umbrella, which I sometimes use as a knock against Marvel, but there’s something to be said for reliable consistency and brand dependability too. You know exactly what you’re getting, a firm arc with a few laughs and an action scene every 10-15 minutes, decent production values, and it’s usually pretty good. It’s like ordering pizza from the same place every Saturday.

They’ve also thoroughly embraced female leads in their animation line, Pixar, and Star Wars, which makes the lack of a Black Widow movie even more perplexing. But Frozen, Zootopia, Inside Out, Finding Dory, Moana, Force Awakens…all women protagonists, and all massive hits. With Rogue One on the way. They’ve clearly tapped into something there.


As @DaveWallace pointed out to me, it’s actually 11 billion with 14 films - averaging at 775 million each.

If you look at their stock history - here - there stock was on a very gradual incline and took a bit of a jump in early 2000s with the rise of pixar, but it wasn’t long lasting.

In 2010 Disney began the skyward climb - and that’s due to two things - the purchase of Marvel and the purchase of Lucasfilm. today they’re trading at 100USD while as when they went public in 1978 they were trading at 78 cents.

For the last 20 years or so Bob Iger has been fairly vocal in saying he wanted to get products out that spoke more to boys because that’s where the toy money and merchandise money was (I’ve never seen stats on this, but historically we know companies are reluctant to make female figurines, although the princess line seems to sell well) - this was the genesis behing the Cars films, which, to this day are one of Disney’s biggest earners through Merchandise - it is also, almost certainly, the rationale behind the purchases of Marvel and Lucasfilm, and the green light on the Pirates franchise.

Pixar almost does as well as Marvel with 17 films almost grossing 11 billion with an average of 634 each.

Disney are a giant though, but that wasn’t always the case. Pre- Star Wars and Marvel, they were betting on things like The Kid and Meet the Robinsons, and it’s only now that they’re dedicating themselves to franchises that they’re soaring. It’s notable that Pixar sequels are the norm now, while as once upon a time they would have seemed sacrilege.


You saw it? Glad to hear it’s good. It’s definitely on my list. Just found out a couple weeks ago that Sheena’s friend, Chris, got a song in it too.


Tell good stories.

If you cannot tell good stories, hire (or buy) those who can.

There is more to life than a single Mouse.


Nearly all animation was shit in the 70s and 80s, not just Disney. It’s only nostalgia that provides any of that cheap nonsense any value.

I could only dream of the quality and quantity of films they put out for kids now.


What can the studios learn? Simple life lesson: “Be attractive, and don’t be unattractive”.

By that I mean 3 things:

  1. Develop good IP’s. You can’t just come up with anything and make a blockbuster out of it. If it’s an original property you need to develop it thoroughly to make sure it’s what people want. Disney hit home runs with Marvel and Star Wars, and Pixar follow a formula too, but they’ve found a way to take things like Dr Strange and Guardians and made them into hits by ensuring there’s enough meat to the IP that it’ll work. Disney also made The Lone Ranger, so they’re not infallible (and they were behind the BFG, Pete’s Dragon, Tomorrowland, Planes and a few other duds). They’re not great a giving properties the sniff test, but they are much better than average.

  2. Hit the right tone. All their hits have similar tones, whether it’s Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars, Pirates or something else. Big effects, heroes journey, humor and action mix - a safe cocktail. You need to see what going to the movies is for an average family - it’s a big time and financial investment, and given all the entertainment options available today you don’t go through all this for a shit movie. So you have to work with a safe bet, which Disney is. That action humor formula is tried and tested at this point, and I think studios that move away from that are only hurting themselves.

  3. Encourage the merchandise. Disney are merchandise masters, and I think that channel only grows the movie market, particularly for sequels. Marvel works in part because they’ve got their products in the hands of every little kid. You don’t need a Disney store, but you do need to deliver great items to the big retailers ahead of time so fans can expand their enjoyment beyond just the movie. Too many other studios don’t go that extra mile for high quality merchandise, instead either offering cheap shit or nothing at all. That only hurts them, and given that it’s really just the right licensing partners it should be an easy fix. You don’t need hundreds of products either, just a few are enough to develop that fanbase that will do the marketing for you in the future.

That to me makes for an attractive movie. Good IP that doesn’t feel old or shit, the right tone that means you’re coming out of the theater with a post movie buzz, and enough extra shit related to the movie that you can buy a t shirt, play with a toy and prolong the enjoyment of the story.

Disney has one huge exploitable weakness. They’re now the McDonalds of movies. Everyone loves them, but they know what to expect, and they’re just a little boring and plain. There’s clearly a place for an alternative - a Taco Bell or Carl’s Jr of movies. Little bit more subversive, little bit more spice. That’s what Deadpool, Kingsman, Suicide Squad, Furious 7 etc all represent. Don’t try to make a Disney movie. Try to make the movie Disney can’t make because they’re so wholesome. The studio that embraces this, offering a little bit of T&A, some swears, a little bit of adult, amps up the action, something that a post-puberty teen will enjoy rather than a pre-puberty teen - that’s where to aim. You can’t beat Disney by trying to be them, you beat them by being what they can’t be.

I have no doubt that audiences will get bored of Star Wars and Marvel. Not enough where these movies won’t make money any more, after all we still have McDonalds. But aren’t who they once were as we as consumers have moved on to something a little more alternative. (It might feel weird that I’m comparing movies to fast food, but I’m going with it). I think if each studio could figure out what vibe they’re aiming for, and then went full tilt in that direction, they could secure their place as second to Disney (rather than the alternative which is becoming irrelevant as Disney eats up all the cinema tickets). Become Taco Bell movie studios!


What would BvS represent? :wink:


A movie that grossed $872 million.


I think Jim nailed what I was going to say, in that so much of what Disney does, as it’s always been, is formulaic, geared toward pleasing the whole family. With Jack Sparrow it figured out how to expand that market, and I’m still convinced that Iron Man, and as such the entire Avengers franchise, owes a huge, huge debt to Jack. Disney still tries to do purely Disney stuff (Tomorrowland, folks, which like John Carter before it, is actually better than folks tend to admit, often going off its reputation as a nonstarter at the box office as some kind of signal that it had to be rubbish), and more often than not, because it so closely looks like Disney as we all know it, people don’t think of it as Disney anymore, because of all those cool franchises it acquired and its animation renaissance (redux). But more often than not the results are kind of hollow, which is disappointing to anyone looking for something other than movie glitz. I mean, my movie glitz is more movie pizzazz, and if you can’t tell the difference, I suggest you watch a few Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson movies. I want stuff that really knows what it’s doing, not just a cynical calculation to try and please everyone.

But generally, what Disney has been doing right in this latest rebirth (heh) is not so much developing franchises but franchises within franchises. It’s the full meta approach, kind of like how the Weinsteins in the '90s absolutely dominated the indy scene by buddying up with all the hip filmmakers. The problem is that really only one entity can have that kind of control at any given moment. Warner Bros. got that kind of synergy when it acquired DC’s intellectual property, and thanks to Star Wars, Fox Studios had that. Paramount always hoped Star Trek would do that for them, but until recently it just couldn’t really compete on the blockbuster scale as it had been redefined by Star Wars. New Line became a major player for a while, boasting the likes of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. Really, only Warner stands a chance of competing, as always, with the still-emerging DC landscape and the world of Harry Potter. Remember the dream of DreamWorks? That was basically the new version of United Artists. Now it has to partner for all its projects. But Warners, if you go through their catalogue, has more depth than Disney. I don’t know if it adds up to the bulk of what Disney is able to draw with all those big tickets, but Warner can hit with comedy (Central Intelligence), horror (The Conjuring 2), and even animation (The Lego Movie), plus the franchise material. It had the biggest-grossing movie (in the States) of 2014, American Sniper.

So I’d say Disney does have a match, in Warner, just not an immediately obvious one, because the approaches are different.


I agree with your point about Disney being a bit too wholesome. Some depth is being lost in the Marvel characters because of this - where the hell was Tony’s alcoholism? That’s the kind of story they should be telling, not cheap parlour games on who the Mandarin really is. Spidey - yes, we didn’t need to see the origin again, but when asked in Civil War ‘why do you do this?’, surely then is the time to admit your great mistake. Can’t see them even mentioning Uncle Ben now in MCU which is a damn shame because it’s the whole motivation for him. They’re at danger of their characters becoming colourful costumes with little substance.

That said, I was taken aback when wholesome Disney allowed Kingpin to decapitate a guy’s head with a car door. So you know, there’s always exceptions.


That was WB going with the alternate take I was suggesting. Except they forgot they were making a Superman movie and instead made something quite different.


One of the reasons I love Man of Steel and BvS so much is because they took such a different direction than the Marvel films. I would have still enjoyed them had they used a similar formula but the different direction was one step better to me.


Well, the darker tone of the DC films in general sets them apart from the more upbeat (even funny) Marvel Studios films. I haven’t seen Suicide Squad yet, but MoS and BvS are relentlessly grim.


I think perhaps one of the most important things Disney has done when they produce movies (whether it’s an MCU film, Star Wars, or Disney/Pixar animation) is they try to get a sense of balance. Not just in terms of demographic and making something that can appeal to old and young, but in terms of knowing what people would want, keeping it around, and also trying to freshen things up at least a little and make sure there’s something interesting still going on. Most of the stuff they put out, even if it’s fairly standard quality, still feels like a good amount of thought and time was put into it. It’s easy for the audience to care when the movie feels like it does.

So if I had to boil it down to anything, I’d say other studios could learn from the time and care Disney puts into things. It’d be so easy for any studio in their position to just crank out animation, Star Wars, and Marvel stuff to send it into the gutter within a few years without quality control. Disney’s able to put this crazy machine on the tracks that’s garnered them a reputation and level of trust from the majority of people.


I’m with you here, Dan. One thing Disney and Disneyland Anaheim in particular is not only the whole product as a well-constructed item, but how it fits in with marketing and the whole structure. I mention Disneyland as I’ve had several friends worked there, and was “backstage” myself long ago (when they were building the now-gone “It’s A Small World” ride with the world’s most annoying song). All personnel have grooming standards. There are stringent cleanliness rules for the whole park - and that is the single factor that elevates Disney parks above Six Flags and others. They set the tone from entrance to exit, and it has done well by the company.


I hate theme parks as I mostly ended up going to Six Flags Over Mid-America, Opryland and Silver Dollar City as a kid. They were all hot, smelly and dirty with little to no shade. Then, I went to Disney World and Disneyland in subsequent years and was blown away at how nice the parks are. They don’t have the big roller coasters that the other parks do but I would take a Disney park over the others any day.


I went to Disney Sea park in Tokyo which is so well designed it felt like you were actually in Venice and the other areas when you were really half the world away in Asia. (I have a friend in the UK who is a Disney fanatic and goes to one of the parks at least once a year and it is considered among her band of fanatics to be the most visually impressive of all the parks)