Everyone recognizes Disney as a titan of the animation world. It revolutionized the medium in 1937 with Snow White, and the rest, as they say, is history. Since then, it has slowly but surely amassed a collection of properties that has taken it to the next level as a studio. While before, Disney made its buck on animated classics like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, it has since extended its reach out, buying up the most lucrative properties Hollywood has to offer.
While other studios like Sony, Warner, and 20th Century Fox have focused on acquiring tentpole franchises, Disney has been busy buying up the people making those franchises. Owning the rights to properties like X-Men, Spider Man, The Hunger Games, and Twilight is one thing. But the one thing better than owning a golden egg is owning the goose that lays it. And that’s exactly what Disney has done, one goose at a time.
1. Marvel/Marvel Studios
In 2008, the first installment in what later became the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to life with Iron Man. A year later, Disney bought Marvel for a cool $4 billion, and in turn acquired the rights to all its heroes not already in the possession of other studios. Now, six years after the fact, it’s pretty clear that Disney has more than made back its money.
The studio has raked in more than $5 billion at the box office thanks to the MCU, with another five years of movies in the pipeline. All this isn’t even taking into account the profits Disney has likely garnered owning the Marvel publishing house. The most similar relationship we can see in Hollywood is the Warner-DC partnership, but it’s far from as lucrative for obvious reasons.
In Pixar’s early days, it operated under a contract with Disney: It handled the animation, and Disney took on distribution. It was a symbiotic relationship that benefited both parties, so it was only natural that eventually it would turn into a permanent affair.
In 2006, Disney bought Pixar for $7.4 billion, and so a beautiful partnership was born. John Lasseter was given full rein of Disney’s animation arm, a move that only served to further strengthen it across the board (birthing stellar offerings like Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6). While Pixar’s quality has waned as of late, it’s still managed to make its parent company untold amounts of money since the deal went through.
This was one no one saw coming. In the wake of George Lucas’s newer Star Wars trilogy, his self-owned studio had moved on to other projects. Lucasfilm still managed to make money hand-over-fist on merchandise, its wildly popular Clone Wars TV show, and, of course, its expansive video game empire. But clearly Disney saw potential for more, forking over $4 billion in 2012 to own the whole shebang.
It didn’t take long before they capitalized on the deal, announcing a plan for a brand new Star Wars trilogy, a series of spinoff movies, six novels, four comic books (published through Marvel), two TV shows, and a Battlefront video game. As it stands now, it’s a safe bet that The Force Awakens could very well be one of — if not the — biggest releases in history come December.
4. Reinventing classic Disney
Disney is never one to rest on its laurels. While it has Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm working their own respective franchises, Disney is taking its beloved properties of the past and remaking them into something entirely new.
It already has another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel in the works, along with Tomorrowland due out this year to go along with plans for another try at a Haunted Mansion movie. To top it all off, Disney is taking virtually all its animated classics and giving them live-action adaptations. Cinderella kicked off things first, and others will include Mulan, Beauty and the Beast, and The Jungle Book.
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