Bob Iger has repeatedly said that Fox Searchlight is one of the parts of 21st Century Fox that he was most interested in acquiring. While Disney formally had the prestige brand Miramax, they struggled to succeed. The hope is that with the team at Searchlight, Disney will once again have films that succeed during awards season. And while Bob has made it clear that theatrical releases will remain focused on big and branded films, there will be a special place reserved for Searchlight. While they will still release films to the theater, the true value of these films can be seen once they hit streaming platforms. With critically-successful films destined for Hulu, Disney’s general audience streaming service will have a way to compete with Netflix, which has made it clear that it wants to grow with “award season” movies.
There are still things to work through. Disney does not yet control Hulu even though negotiations with Comcast have taken place. In addition, Fox’s distribution agreement with HBO reportedly goes to 2022. But as Bob has made it clear, he is playing the long-game. The long term plan is to give the organization some prestige with the help of a team that has successfully produced and marketed arthouse films. Once the time comes for a home release, it will be available on Hulu.
And while Searchlight will continue to release films theatrically. There is also a chance some projects would be direct-to-streaming. Particularly, Seachlight’s recently launched TV division could create series for Hulu.
Fox Searchlight released their first film since the acquisition this weekend. Unlike Searchlight’s traditional pattern, Tolkien was given a wide-release instead of going city-by-city. Perhaps the film’s tepid early reception might have had a role in that. The film is currently at 49% on Rotten Tomatoes. (For our take, read Alex’s review). Any hope of making up for middling reviews with box office mite were dashed with the expectation of an 8th place opening with $2.4 million.
Should Bob be concerned that Searchlight has lost its luster? I wouldn’t be too worried. Last year, Searchlight’s The Favourite was nominated for Best Picture. Searchlight short Skin won the award for Best Live Action Short Film. Later this year, Fox Searchlight will release Ready or Not and has Lucy in the Sky and Jojo Rabbit set for the not-too-distant future. So Fox Searchlight will have other opportunities to prove their worth to their new home at The Walt Disney Company
FanBoy is a Disney dweeb who has worked at Disneyland and Walt Disney World