The Disney-Fox deal has created a serious branding problem for the Mouse House, as many of Fox’s film and television properties are R-rated — a serious problem for Disney’s merchandising machine. Disney’s business model is family-focused, and they make incredible sums of money via toys, tie-ins, and licensing (these ancillary revenues actually eclipse box office returns by a wide margin). In other words, bloody violent films like Deadpool and Logan don’t sell Happy Meals! Disney needs a way to re-brand such content, because the low-budget, R-rated superhero sub-genre is wildly profitable and its absolutely here to stay.
According to The Atlantic, Disney makes about 60% of its revenue from film and TV, while the other 40% comes from parks, resorts, and merchandise. The evidence is in plain sight. Visit the toy aisles at Target and Walmart, they’re lined with action figures and LEGO playsets from Star Wars to Captain America to the Incredibles. While box office revenues and TV viewership is dwindling, sales of toys are ever-increasing.
Consider Pixar’s Cars franchise, which has earned $1.4 billion at the global box office across three films. That’s a lot, right? Not really. According to THR, Disney has also banked an additional $8 billion in Cars-related retail sales (aka toys), making it one of their top franchises. Staggering, isn’t it? To illustrate, THR relates that over 200 million die-cast cars tied to the films have sold to-date. Disney’s secret sauce is converting TV and movie characters into toys, period.
This emphasis on toy-driven, family-friendly content greatly worries Deadpool and Logan fans. These same fans (and several prominent Hollywood creators) speculate that Disney might shy away from future investment within this emerging sub-genre. However, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, addressed the topic in an investor call earlier this week:
[Deadpool] clearly has been and will be Marvel branded. But we think there might be an opportunity for a Marvel-R brand for something like Deadpool. As long as we let the audiences know what’s coming, we think we can manage that fine.”
Disney is already walking a fine line with their mature Marvel content on Netflix, and this relationship is expected to continue (for now). However, the future of Disney is clearly their branded streaming service, which launches in 2019 — big question is whether the Deadpools, Wolverines, Luke Cages, and Daredevils will be a part of that, and if so how?
According to ComicBook, the answer might be found in Marvel’s existing “Marvel Knights” comics label, which has been around for almost two decades, and is already home to the Punisher, Iron Fist, Blade, Ghost Rider, Daredevil, and Wolverine. Elevating the Marvel Knights brand to encompass all of Marvel’s R-rated properties across TV, streaming, and film might solve the very dilemma that Disney is facing.
A Marvel Knights strategy is also familiar to Disney, who once owned Miramax and Touchstone studios, allowing them to wade into more mature content and the key demographic that it represents. Marvel has a great many dark and dangerous characters that could thrive here, and give them all a shared sandbox to play within. It makes sense, and provides Disney with yet another channel for selling toys. (We all know a few grown-ups with a passion for action figures, don’t we?)