By David Poland email@example.com
Bruckheimer & Disney
“Happy 70th birthday, Jerry Bruckheimer. Now fuck off.”
(That would be Disney talking, not me.)
Jerry Bruckheimer’s 70th birthday is tomorrow (Saturday, September 21). He has been on his own at Disney for over 15 years. (His partner, Don Simpson, died January 1996, with a number of projects already in the pipeline.)
There was a lot of heat around Simpson/Bruckheimer and then Bruckheimer on his own in the late 1990s. But the planets shifted immeasurably for Bruckheimer in 2000… or a couple years earlier, if you will, when Disney decided not to extend their successful movie relationship with Bruckheimer when Jerry got serious about being a TV producer. The company, then led by Michael Eisner (remarkably out of the CEO job only 8 years now), decided to let Bruckheimer take his TV efforts elsewhere. This turned out to be one of the worst decisions in the history of Disney or, really, in the history of Hollywood. “CSI” (and “CSI”-named spinoffs) = 650 highly-rated episodes and still going… not only a huge revenue producer, but a lost opportunity for the then-struggling ABC TV network. Also, another 350 episodes of Emmy-dominator “The Amazing Race,” not to mention another 350+ episodes spread over a number of hit shows. Want to linger in Netflix’s success? Jerry Bruckheimer’s television company has delivered, on average, over 100 hours of successful television every year for the last 13 years and change. Netflix’s entire line-up of new shows is around 40 hours a year.
Oh yeah… let’s get back to the business Bruckheimer was doing with Disney… movie business. Pirates. 2003. Then 3 more. $3.7 billion in theatrical. God knows what in ancillaries. National Treasure (conceived by Oren Aviv) was good for another $800 million in theatrical.
Yes, there have been flops. A few very expensive ones. But he has made only 4 movies out of 23 since 2000 that have grossed under $100m worldwide.
And as usual, in studio politics, it isn’t the flops that kill… it’s the philosophy.
When Iger took over from Eisner in 2005, his first take on the movie business was to get behind Dick Cook and to make The Disney Brand the #1 priority. That lasted until September 2009, when Iger pulled the trigger on Iger’s Disney 2.0, which would be a distribution and marketing company led by TV guy Rich Ross. That first year of clearing out the pipeline had some lows and some big highs, including the Cook-generated Alice in Wonderland, the second $1b+ grosser in the history of the company and the car wrecks Prince of Persia (which did over $300m worldwide) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which was taken on by Ross’ outsider marketing chief MT Carney as the first movie for whose marketing she would be completely responsible. It bombed. And both of those bombs were produced by Bruckheimer.
The philosophy of Iger’s Disney 2.0 was to bring in companies that were self-funded. Disney would only make/fund a few small Disney Channel-level movies and established Disney franchise films – including both Disney and Pixar animation – in-house… except for Bruckheimer. The new philosophy started, as Cook was being shown the door, with the purchase of Marvel. When Marvel was purchased they came to Disney with their own funding. Honestly, I have no idea how that may have been adjusted since. Disney also did a distribution & marketing deal with DreamWorks, their production funding coming from Reliance. But DreamWorks wouldn’t deliver their first film to Disney until 2011.
Insiders around Bruckheimer said at the time that Disney was pressuring Bruckheimer to self-fund as well. 2011′s terrible Pirates sequel was notably only the second of the franchise to generate more than a billion dollars at the box office. So Bruckheimer, even with the bombs, had an ace in his sleeve. So they tip-toed around him. No IPO for him. (A bad economy didn’t help the prospects for him to make that choice.)
The problem was, Disney didn’t have a very strong marketing department at that time and that was supposed to be its strength. So the studio was forced by powerful content providers like Bruckheimer and DreamWorks to hire, basically, separate teams to oversee their movies. This was expensive and not a workable ongoing strategy.
Rich Ross (and Iger 2.0) was fired in April 2012, shortly after the biggest loser in Disney history and just before the biggest winner in Disney history. In many ways, the oncoming success of Avengers signed Ross’ (business) death warrant. Ross was having a lot of problems connecting to non-Disney Hollywood anyway. But a big part of that was the philosophy of putting the studio out of the non-Disney moviemaking business. He was never really a buyer.
Look at 2012. $1.5b for Disney-owned Marvel’s Avengers. Brave and Wreck-It-Ralph combined… $1 billion worldwide. 10 other releases… about $1b worldwide combined. And that includes John Carter‘s $243m, which was in many way a Pixar-connected project.
So the template of Iger’s Disney 3.0 was coming together. Rich Ross out. Charming industry insider Alan Horn in (less than a month after Avengers launched).
Three months later, the defining choice of Iger’s Disney 3.0. Disney would now pay for all of their movies… and they would all be franchise movies. Disney added the seeming ultimate franchise play by buying Lucasfilm with Kathy Kennedy running that Star Wars show.
And by the way… they still have Disney Earth and the Muppets in-house.
So look at the schedule for the next year… three more DreamWorks movies in the next 6 months and a fourth – in theory – next summer.
Two films in the same month next summer from The Potential Next Bruckheimer-ish Joe Roth… one of which is a Disney franchise character (Maleficent).
And that’s it for movies not being made in-house (not counting Maleficent). Five total. (And the one for Roth is, in the great Bruckheimer tradition, a little something on the side after agreeing to produce two huge and expensive films for the studio.) And only a marketing and distribution spend on the four DreamWorks movies.
Three Marvel movies, three animated movies, two Disney franchises in Maleficent and Saving Mr. Banks. A Disney Earth film. And a new Muppets movie.
The highest budget on the non-in-house titles is probably about $50 million… except for Need For Speed, the budget on which I have no idea.
How many movies being released in the next year with budgets over $150m, being made and paid for in-house? I count four or five.
But this was a piece about Bruckheimer’s deal not being renewed, right?
Well… like I said before… not IPOing or outside funding. Not paying for movies out of his pocket. And nothing much there to buy with a 70-year-old master of the universe.
All of a sudden, Disney is fat with franchises, between Marvel and Star Wars and Pixar and even Disney animation… the studio is looking, after planning on getting out of the business of funding all but a couple bigger movies a year, at the likelihood of at least a few coming years with three or more $200 million+ movies every year as Marvel, Pixar, and LucasFilm all make very expensive films, pretty much every time out. Any year with one Marvel, one Lucasfilm, and one Pixar means a commitment of over $1 billion to release three films.
With the price tag on Pirates films now in the $300 million range, plus backend, a billion dollar gross is still profitable… but not nearly as profitable as a movie without Johnny Depp and Jerry Bruckheimer getting paid, grossing a billion.
No one has announced that Pirates 5 is dead. But until Disney gets back to licking one 70-year-old’s behind, you can bet it’s dead. Big money… but neither JB or JD NEEDS the money. And people & corporations don’t work together a lot right after a break-up.
Meanwhile, Bob Iger just extended his tenure into 2016… which is plenty of time in which to conceive of Iger’s Disney 4.0. You’ll know it’s coming if you hear about Iger snuggling up to Bruckheimer again. How might it happen? Bad number for Guardians of the Galaxy would do it. A $500m worldwide gross for the first new Star Wars movie. Pixar’s first theatrical bomb.
Meanwhile happy birthday to Jerry Bruckheimer. I bet he’s out there on his hockey rink skating around like a 50-year-old. Good on him.