Disney Needs to Stop Vaulting Classic 20th Century Fox Movies
20th Century Fox holds a strong foot in cinema history and has made some of the most popular movies since its inception in 1935. Created from the merger of Twentieth Century Pictures and Fox Studios, 20th Century Fox was one of the “Big Six” film studios until The Walt Disney Company announced their intention to purchase Fox in 2017. A purchase which would cost end up costing them an eye-gouging $71.3 billion.
The purchase gave Disney ownership over classics like How Green Was My Valley (1941), Carmen Jones (1954), M*A*S*H (1970), The French Connection (1971), Cabaret (1972), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), as well as franchises like Planet of the Apes, Alien, Predator, and Home Alone.
Already a controversial purchase for multiple reasons, including the fear of Disney monopolising the American film industry, although many also saw it as a highlight since the purchase would mean Disney would gain the film rights to the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Deadpool.
Soon after the purchase was complete, reports alleged that Disney was withdrawing Fox movies from theatres and placing them into their famous Disney vault. The lone exception is The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which, due to never having left the cinemas since its release in 1975, is the long-running cinema release in the world. Even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t stop it because theatre owners continued to play the film without audiences so the movie could maintain its record.
Classic Fox movies aren’t the only victims of Disney’s tight marketing and distribution strategy. Then unreleased 20th Century films which they inherited were largely buried or put up against tough competition, for instance, Nightmare Alley and The King’s Man, both were released against the likes of The Matrix Resurrections and Disney’s own Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Even the 20th Century movies made under the Disney umbrella have faced difficulties with The Last Duel and The Bob’s Burgers Movie both receiving quiet theatre releases with poor advertising to support them.
It’s a great shame because many independent cinemas make most of their money from playing classic films. Such establishments are massively popular among cinephiles in London, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
The vaulting of Disney movies isn’t new at all. In the 1980s, Disney began a practice of releasing their films for a limited time before placing them in the vault for a certain amount of time, around 10 years. With the launch of Disney+ and the rise of Video-on-Demand, Disney has retired the Disney Vault – all except their recently acquired Fox movies.
Included in this “Fox Vault” are films like Carmen Jones, the 1954 all-Black musical starring Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey and Harry Belafonte. A film which was deemed culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant by the United States National Film Registry, just 4 years after the Library of Congress established the preservation archives in 1992.
Currently, Carmen Jones can only be rented or bought via services like Prime Video and Apple TV. However, the film hasn’t received a wide DVD/Blu-ray release since 2013 (prior to the Disney purchase) and it’s currently unavailable on any of Disney’s streaming services.
Disney’s streaming services do have a chunk of 20th Century Fox content available, but with a couple of exceptions, most of the libraries are franchises. with Alien, Predator and Planet of the Apes all readily available to stream via Disney+, Disney+ Hotstar, Hulu, and Star+, depending on the region.
For a deeper look into films missing from Disney’s streaming services, check out this list by What’s On Disney+.
Disney has had a lot of bad press of late, and these continued allegations of them hoarding movies that many generations have loved since the 1930s, even the ones that have been deemed important to be preserved by the United States government, are no longer able to see these classics on the big screen.