Alan Horn has been named the new chairman of Walt Disney Studios, the company said Thursday.
The former Warner Bros. chief will oversee production, distribution and marketing for Disney, Pixar and Marvel, as well as marketing and distribution for DreamWorks films released under Touchstone Pictures.
In Horn, a prominent executive steeped in film studio experience, Disney has turned the page on its disastrous Rich Ross experiment.
When Ross, the former head of Disney's television arm, was picked to replace Dick Cook in 2009, he was meant to transform the studio into a brand making factory, much as he had the Disney Channel. His mandate was to produce fewer films and focus on movies with blockbuster potential that could be seamlessly integrated across the company's sprawling entertainment empire -- from its merchandising division to its theme parks.
Yet his lack of experience was problematic as it proved alienating to top talent on and off the lot. It was clearly a gamble the studio hoped to avoid this time.
The choice of Horn, who retired from his job at Warner Bros. in 2011, will likely be regarded as safe move by Disney, but the reality is that in many ways he may be the best suited for a job that consists of managing high profile demands from the likes of Pixar chief John Lasseter, DreamWork's Steven Spielberg, and Marvel Studios' production chief Kevin Feige.
The recent box office success of Marvel's "The Avengers" and the June premiere of Pixar's girl warrior film "Brave" illustrate just how crucial these brands have become to the studio's overall prospects.
"The best thing [Horn] can do is let the talented people do what they do best," Tony Wible, an analyst at Janney Montgomery Scott, told TheWrap.
In contrast to Ross, Horn is an industry veteran with a deep background in film. Not only was he at Warner Bros. for 12 years, but he co-founded Castle Rock Entertainment and was President and COO of Fox.
In a statement announcing the hire, Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger hailed Horn's decades in the film trenches and eye for commercial projects.
“Alan not only has an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience in the business, he has a true appreciation of movie making as both an art and a business,” Iger said in statement. “He’s earned the respect of the industry for driving tremendous, sustained creative and financial success, and is also known and admired for his impeccable taste and integrity.”
The heavy amount of ego-stroking is one reason that more top executives were not seeing as jockeying for the position. Unlike at say Sony or Fox, power at Disney's studio division is very much diffused over its Marvel and Pixar brands, making the job of studio chief more ringmaster than supreme commander.
Indeed, what Disney gets in Horn is something safe, sedate and familiar, yet unencumbered by the studio's tumultuous recent history. Instead of promoting someone from within, like production president Sean Bailey or Marvel's Feige, they get a fresh face, but one who will be more interested in restoration than innovation.
Unlike Ross, he won’t shake things up by trying new things, but he will provide stability to a studio that has been derided as directionless in recent years. Moreover, he is well-liked by the creative community, helping to make Warner Bros. a destination for top-shelf filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh and Ben Affleck.
Moreover, Horn also boasts experience in the tentpole strategy that Iger has sought to implement at the company's film division. Under the veteran executive, Warner Bros. fielded many top franchises including the Harry Potter series, a successful reboot of its Batman films under Nolan, and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy.
Ross was pushed out in April, roughly a month after the studio's "John Carter" became one of the biggest flops in film history. The company has acknowledged that the adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel lost $200 million.
Horn will get the benefit of a box office phenomenon at his back when he takes the helm. "The Avengers" has grossed nearly $1.3 billion worldwide -- meaning that having left Batman and Warner Bros. behind, Horn can still look forward to a lot more superheroes in his future.
"Horn needs to to make sure he doesn't mess up Marvel," Wible said. "No disrespect to Pixar, but Marvel has the strength to extend beyond the studio and into things like video games, licensing, and cruise ships for decades if they give it the resources and latitude it needs."