Disney to Cut Quantity and Cost of Upcoming Films, Focused on ‘Improving Quality’

CEO Bob Iger also noted that “Avatar: The Way of Water” was on track to be Disney’s biggest domestic electronic home video release

Disney CEO Bob Iger (Photo Credit: Getty Collection)
Bob Iger (Photo Credit: Getty Collection)

Amid a mixed earnings report for the third quarter of 2023, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger announced plans Wednesday to reduce both the quantity and cost of upcoming motion pictures. This echoed earlier sentiments made during previous earnings calls when Iger pledged to offer more creative control for artists in exchange for reining in production costs.

“Looking to Disney’s entertainment studios, we’re focused on improving the quality of our films, and on better economics, not just reducing the number of titles we release, but also the cost per title,” Iger said at the start of the earnings call.

Predecessor Bob Chapek, who took over just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, infamously sent Pixar movies straight to Disney+ instead of theaters. Disney over the last year has been less aggressive about throwing theatrical releases into the streaming sandbox quite as quickly, giving titles like “The Little Mermaid” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” a longer window between multiplexes and Disney+ availability.

This year has seen a handful of Walt Disney tentpoles like “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” which were so comparatively expensive that they failed to be robustly profitable despite middling-to-good theatrical revenue.

While not quite an example of a cheaper tentpole, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is both the third-biggest global grosser of all time with $2.3 billion worldwide and is also on track to become Disney’s biggest domestic electronic home video release ever.

Iger nodded to this on Wednesday’s earnings call, noting that Disney was “maximizing the full impact of our titles by embracing the multiple distribution windows at our disposal, enabling consumers to access their content in multiple ways.”

IT’S “ELEMENTAL” -- In a city where fire-, water-, land-, and air-residents live together, a fiery young woman and a go-with-the-flow guy are about to discover something elemental: how much they actually have in common. Directed by Peter Sohn (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Party Cloudy” short) and produced by Denise Ream (“The Good Dinosaur,” “Cars 2”), Disney and Pixar’s “Elemental” releases on June 16, 2023. © 2023 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.
Ember and Wade in “Elemental” (Credit: Disney/Pixar)

Iger’s comments were just one more sign that Hollywood realizes that spending $300 million on an action movie or $200 million on a lower-level franchise title like the third “Ant-Man” no longer pencils out.

Concerning an improvement in quality, as noted earlier in TheWrap, much of Disney’s 2010s success was partially achieved by letting filmmakers like Ryan Coogler and Rian Johnson color outside the lines amid top-tier IP titles. Over the last several pre-COVID years, Disney’s less conventional entries, including big movies fronted by women and people of color, tended to outgross the more conventional fare. 

Even just this summer, Pixar’s “Elemental,” an original immigration parable, nearly doubled the global box office take of “Lightyear.” Time will tell if the surprisingly strong post-debut legs of “Elemental,” which eventually topped $425 million after a soft mid-June launch, is a starting point for Pixar’s reemergence as a theatrical brand or a new best-case-scenario for non-franchise animated films.

But however future Disney movies perform, they’ll have to make it on tighter budgets.