NYT columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger speak during the New York Times annual DealBook Summit on November 29, 2023 in New York City.
Michael M Santiago | Getty Images
A year after he was back at the helm of DisneyBob Iger said Wednesday that his top priority at the company is revitalizing the film studio after a string of box office disappointments, including “The Marvels” and “Wish.”
Iger admitted a number of causes for Disney's recent fall from theatrical grace, noting that during Covid lockdowns the company has conditioned audiences to expect its films on streaming.
“The experience of access [the films] and watching them at home is better than ever before,” he told Andrew Ross Sorkin at The New York Times DealBook Summit. [it’s] a bargain when you think about it. You can get streaming Disney+ for $7 per month. That's a lot cheaper than going to the movies with the whole family. So I think the bar has now been raised in terms of the quality of what gets people out of their homes and into the cinemas.”
Quality has been an issue for Disney since it launched its streaming service in late 2019. By increasing its production to feed Disney+, Iger said the company was “watering down” its quality, especially when it came to its Marvel Cinematic Universe features. He said pandemic-related restrictions made it difficult for executives to oversee the increased number of film and television productions.
“‘The Marvels’ was shot during Covid,” he explained. “There wasn't as much supervision on set, so to speak, where we have executives [that are] really looking at what is being done day after day after day.”
Iger stepped down as CEO in early 2020, handing the reins to Bob Chapek, but he stayed on as executive chairman until late 2021 to oversee creative output. Iger returned as CEO a year ago when the board fired Chapek.
Iger also defended Disney's theatrical output, suggesting it was a victim of its own success after dominating the movie business for a decade before Covid.
“And I'm not sure that any other studio will ever achieve some of the numbers that we achieved. I mean, we've gotten to the point where we were disappointed if a movie didn't make a billion dollars at the worldwide box office get,” he says. said. “That's an incredibly high standard and I think we need to become more realistic.”
In 2019, Disney was responsible for seven of the nine films that grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. However, since then it has struggled to connect with audiences. Aside from last year's “Avatar: The Way of Water,” acquired as part of Disney's $71 billion deal for most of 21st Century Fox, Disney hasn't had a movie with a gross value of $1 billion.
It has since come close with 'Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3″ from 2023, which grossed nearly $900 million at the worldwide box office, as well as the 2022 titles “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” ($955 million), “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever ($859 million) and “Thor: Love and Thunder” ($760 million).
Yet other big-budget franchise films have flopped. 2023's 'Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny' generated $378 million worldwide, 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania' took in $476 million worldwide, low for a Marvel film, and Pixar's 'Lightyear' took in less than $250 million.
Iger also reiterated comments he previously made about the need for Disney to be more selective about which Marvel superheroes get sequels and when to bring in new stories.
“I don't want to apologize for making sequels,” Iger said, speaking broadly about all Disney properties. “Some of them have done extremely well and they have been good films. I think there has to be a reason to make them, you have to have a good story. And often the story doesn't hold up. It's not as strong as the original story. That could be a problem.”
Iger said there has to be a reason “beyond commerce” to make a follow-up film to a hit, noting that Disney has made “too much” in recent years.
“It doesn't mean we won't keep making them,” he added. “We're making some of them now, in fact. But we'll only greenlight a sequel if we believe the story the creators want to tell is worth telling.”
Next year, Disney plans to release 'Deadpool 3', 'Inside Out 2' and 'Mufasa: The Lion King'.
Disclosure: Andrew Ross Sorkin is co-host of “Squawk Box” on CNBC.