Logan director James Mangold spoke for many when he described himself during an awards-season event as “very curious” about the future of 20th Century Fox, the 82-year-old studio where he has made more films (four) than any other.
A game-changing sale of assets owned by studio parent 21st Century Fox is expected to be announced this week. Disney is believed to be the leading contender to take the reins, though Comcast has also held talks with 21st Century Fox brass.
Studio regimes come and go, Mangold reasoned, but there is a much larger question looming about how Fox’s pipeline would fit into Disney’s leaner, meaner (and non-R-rated) one. “If they’re actually changing their mandate, if what they’re supposed to do alters, that would be sad to me because it just means less movies,” the director said after a post-screening panel discussion at Midtown Manhattan’s Whitby Hotel with stars Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. He added, “I just hope what we end up with is going to be a positive in terms of movies.”
Agreed Stewart in a separate interview, “Whatever happens, I want it to be a good thing for the studio.”
The X-Men franchise, which began in 2000 at Fox and holds great upside for Disney as a potential complement to its Marvel Cinematic Universe (to say nothing of Avatar, Blue Sky animation titles and assorted other treasures). But the Logan panel highlighted one difference between present-day Fox and a hypothetical Disney-fied one: Fox execs permitted an R rating, a move that shaved at least $100 million off internal revenue projections, by Mangold’s estimate, but also enabled the creative team to take a more mature tack.
“The real thing that happens when you make a movie rated R, behind the scenes, is that the studio has to adjust to the reality that there will be no Happy Meals. There will be no action figures,” Mangold said. “The entire merchandising, cross-pollinating side of selling the movie to children is dead before you even start. And when that’s dead, it means you’re making a grown-up movie.”
Once the studio adjusts its expectations, he added, “you don’t come under the pressure of how a 12-year-old is going to react to the movie, not just in terms of violence or language but in terms of pace or even the depth of interest in what people are talking about.”
Mangold poked the Hollywood machine multiple times during the session. He noted that while the fact that characters died at the end of Logan gave the film a particular resonance, it also is tricky business to manage such exits in the industry context of a billion-dollar franchise.
“We’ve now so co-opted this idea that these movies are not really stories, but are merchandise entities,” Mangold said. “You can’t kill the characters because they’re worth so much effing money.”