With Star Wars, Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean and Frozen to its name, the global phenomenon that is Walt Disney Studios is unlikely to pass anyone by. Fifty years after the death of its founder, Walt Disney, the studio is raking in billions of dollars thanks to a shrewd strategy in the field of big-screen entertainment.
The firm is in the process of notching up its best ever performance at the global box office. Thanks to releases including Captain America: Civil War, Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Finding Dory, Disney is nearing the $6 billion mark, without counting the new animated movie Moana, which just opened in the US, and Star Wars: Rogue One, opening in December. The studio could be set to break Universal’s current box-office record of $6.9 billion in 2015.
Pixar to the rescue
Disney’s box-office success didn’t happen by chance. At the end of the 1990s, box-office grosses for its productions — at the time mostly animated classics and a few family comedies — were on the wane. Plus, the 21st century brought a downturn in the home video market due to the arrival of digital downloads and streaming.
However, the studio fought back with a shrewd strategy. A partner of Pixar since the 1990s, in 2006, Disney bought the studio behind Toy Story. Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, Up and Inside Out, among the biggest hits of the big screen.
Three years later, Disney got its hands on Marvel’s superheroes, already cleaning up at the box office with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, after buying the rights from Paramount. The studio that gave the world Mickey Mouse left creative control to Marvel, but took over merchandise markets and related products.
This proved another wise move for Disney, as the characters were a hit worldwide. The two first installments of Avengers and Iron Man 3 even landed in the world’s top 10 highest-grossing films of all time, taking over $1 billion.
Star Wars scores success
In 2012, Disney hit hard once again when the studio bought Lucasfilm, the production company created 20 years earlier by George Lucas. The stakes were particularly high, since the company owns the rights to two of cinema’s most famous sagas, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.
A new Star Wars trilogy was soon envisaged, with episode seven, The Force Awakens, released three years later, bringing together old and new generations of Jedi.
The gamble paid off for Disney, as the film grossed over $2 billion at the box office and became the third highest-grossing movie of all time, after Avatar and Titanic. Two further sequels are lined up for 2017 and 2019, with spin-off episodes to keep fans entertained in between.
Disney is yet to revive the Indiana Jones franchise. However, a fifth installment is expected in 2019, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Harrison Ford. The movie will be one of 21 films due on the big screen over the next three years.
As well as its Pixar, Marvel and Star Wars movies, Disney is ramping up its strategy of updating major animated classics with live-action versions. Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins Returns and Mulan are already scheduled to land between 2017 and 2018.
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