UPDATED: Esteemed Fox Domestic Distribution president Chris Aronson is leaving the studio as the Disney-Fox merger comes to fruition, Deadline has confirmed. The news comes as the new combined conglomerate cuts employees at the SVP, EVP and president levels, with Fox being hit first.
We also received word that Aronson’s No. 2 Spencer Klein, EVP, General Sales Manager, also was let go. Both executives were given 60 days notice.
“I am extremely grateful for my time at Twentieth Century Fox under the leadership of Tom, Jim, and Stacey. It has been an honor and a privilege to lead the domestic distribution team, which I consider to be the gold standard in the business,” Aronson said in a statement. “While I am disappointed not to continue, I look forward to starting a new chapter in this business during this exciting time of change.”
Aronson is a 30-year-plus industry veteran who joined Fox in 2005 as SVP, General Sales Manager East. He came to the company from MGM Distribution Co. where he served as EVP, General Sales Manager, responsible for all of MGM’s theatrical distribution activities in the U.S. and Canada. Aronson was promoted to EVP, General Sales Manager in 2012. A month after that announcement, Aronson was promoted again and succeeded then distribution chief Bruce Snyder.
Aronson is a respected guy in distribution circles, and his background and knowledge in this business would be prized by any studio. Aronson is partly responsible not just for the successes of Avatar (once the highest-grossing pic of all time at $760.5 million at the domestic B.O. before being unseated by Star Wars: Force Awakens), and the X-Men franchise, but for propelling Logan ($226.7M) and Deadpool (domestic franchise combined earned $687.5M) to become the first two R-rated superhero mega hits.
Aronson most recently turned Bohemian Rhapsody into a $215M-plus domestic hit. That movie was perceived as damaged goods by the industry when word hit of Bryan Singer’s exit. Aronson knew how great the film was, got it out of the holiday glut and moved it to the first weekend of November where the pic overindexed on its way to a $51M stateside opening. That grand commercial start rocketed Bohemian Rhapsody as a frontrunner in Oscar season, stealing A Star Is Born‘s wind, and winning four of its five Oscar noms including Best Actor for Rami Malek.
Other big hits under Aronson’s watch include awards contenders like The Revenant ($183.6M), The Martian ($228.4M), Gone Girl ($167.7M) and Hidden Figures ($169.6M) to name a few, as well as the reboot of Planet of the Apes franchise ($532.1M combined domestic for the trilogy), the Ice Age pics ($793.4M domestic) and much more.
Aronson is respected by the trades as a guy who never puffs up or underplays his slate’s box office potential, but gives the best estimate possible.
Disney-Fox’s loss is another studio’s gain. Netflix is in a position right now where they could use a seasoned distribution vet as they ponder a wide theatrical release for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman. A guy like Aronson with deep, big-chain exhibitor connections would work well for the streaming giant. While there have been no talks between Aronson or Netflix, Aronson’s distribution peers in town believe in his value and throwing him lots of praise.
Last fall, Aronson received ShowEast’s Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Awar” which is presented to a company or individual in the industry that has made an impact in the philanthropic community. Aronson has been heavily involved in the Will Rogers Motion Picture Foundation for two decades, having most recently served as president and chairman. He has also served on the board of the Lollipop Theater Network for over 10 years. He has been a Variety Club supporter for over 25 years for both the northern and southern California chapters.
Klein has been at Fox since 2012, and was responsible for all of Fox’s theatrical distribution activities in the U.S. and Canada. He previously held posts at The Film Group, Bow Tie Cinemas, The Weinstein Company, Loews Cineplex Entertainment, New Line Cinemas and New Yorker Films. He was promoted in June 2016 from SVP, Asst. General Sales Manager.
Disney has not forecast any specific number of layoffs, though it is widely expected to be several thousand positions. The company has told Wall Street it expects to realize about $2 billion in cost savings by 2021 due to efficiencies. And “efficiencies” in this case translates to redundant positions being eliminated, especially in areas such as marketing and distribution.