In today’s modern box office, one dominated by blockbusters and superhero movies, you can’t help but avoid the biggest name in the industry; Disney. Over the past 9 years, The Walt Disney Company has steadily, quietly and somewhat surprisingly transformed itself into a powerhouse like none other. Boasting tentpole franchises such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pixar and the king of them all, Star Wars, Disney has a firm grasp on the movie world and its fans. But what makes them so effective at what they do? Is it that they put out the highest quality and most diverse set of films? Is it CEO Bob Iger’s leadership skills? Or has he simply inherited the golden egg of cinema, one laid by pioneer and legend Walt Disney? I contend that it’s a mix of all three.

How Disn‍‍‍ey Built Their Empire - The Business Behind Film

Pictured above: A master at work.  I sincerely hope that Disney does have his head frozen underneath one of their rides.  I'd love to pick his brain sometime in the future.

Disney is a company that has never been afraid of spending the big bucks to get what they want. From their buyouts of Pixar ($7.5 billion), Marvel Entertainment ($4 billion) and Lucasfilm ($4.07 billion) Disney has never been shy about how deep their pockets are. Over the past 12 years, they’ve shown that they’re willing to spend massive sums of money when they have a plan for a franchise. And it’s paid off. With a combined $20 billion gross on these films’ ticket sales alone (not including merchandising revenues), Disney may have actually gotten a bargain with these companies. In sports, giving a max contract to a franchise player can mean the difference for a team, and that’s the idea that Disney is using when writing those massive cheques. Bob Iger and the Walt Disney Company realize that by nurturing a franchise, you can unlock untapped riches while also delivering great content.

And I haven't even touched on the massive, yet-to-be-completed deal with 21st Century Fox, which could (and already has) turned the industry on their head.  For those still unaware, the proposed deal, which still has yet to officially go through, will see Disney paying a whopping $52.4 billion in stock in return for 20th Century Fox, FX, National Geographic and more networks (check out 21st Century Fox's official press release if you want to know that actual details).  Perhaps even more pertinent to the mass audiences is the acquisition of superhero characters such as Wolverine and the X-Men to the already successful MCU.  Now whether or not you think that this is good for the film industry (there have been words such as monopoly being thrown around, which I don't think is particularly undue), nobody can deny that Disney is making all the right moves for their business.  20 years ago, nobody in their right mind would predict that Disney would own half of the entertainment industry both on the big screen and small screen.  

Of course, massive acquisitions such as Pixar, Marvel and Fox aren't for the sole purpose of blockbusters. Part of what makes Disney and their new assets so great is the diversity of films that they release. When people say Disney most think of animated films like Frozen or Zootopia. However, many forget that Disney also owns the Touchstone banner that include releases such as Lincoln and Bridge of Spies. In addition to those dramatic Academy Awa‍‍‍rd contenders, they have their live-action remake franchise which has grossed large sums in its infancy as a franchise as well as their direct-to-television films developed for ABC and the Disney Channel. Their television, which is beginning to become more and more cinematic in its own right, also shows this diversity including A+E Network, ESPN and Freeform. Disney is far more than just its animation and family driven content, another contributing factor into their success.  And if this Fox deal goes through, Disney will become even more diverse with the acquisition of Fox Searchlight, perhaps the most prolific acquirer of small, festival circuit films within the big studio system.

Those damn Simpsons predicted it again.  Oh yeah, the Simpsons are owned by Disney now.

His name is one that isn’t really known to the general public but is a powerful one nevertheless. Bob Iger is one of, if not the, greatest businessman on the planet and one hell of a leader. Of the aforementioned deals to acquire other properties, Iger was personally involved with every single one of them and also hired John Lasseter, Kevin Feige and Kathleen Kennedy to lead these respective divisions. Coming off of a less than stellar CEO in Michael Eisner, Iger was dealing with a company that was at it’s lowest in a long time. And yet in the past 12 years of being CEO, he’s more than tripled its net worth. Through his worldwide expansions in film, television and the theme parks, Iger’s aggressive business tactics have paid off. The Walt Disney Company is now one of the largest in the world and currently the most powerful of all major motion picture studios, all thanks to I‍‍‍ger’s leadership. He’s stated that he wants to retire soon and is currently on contract until July 2019, but I sincerely hope he stays on longer, because he’s done an incredible job.

Iger is just like a cooler version of the Emperor.  Not that the Emperor isn't cool, it's just he tends to electrocute people who fail him while Iger... well hopefully he'll just yell at you.

The Walt Disney Company is a corporation that holds a special place in my heart. They hold special pieces of my childhood whether it be those special family trips to Disney World or the worn-out Lion King VCR. Their success is due to the factors listed above, but there are many more that I have left out including but not limited to the incredible leadership of the subsidiaries’ Presidents, the creativity of the imagineers and their incredible film marketing techniques. I could spend a year talking about the various intricacies that makes Disney tick and I’m sure there’s also many things that I, nor the general public are aware of (I challenge you, for the next time you see a Disney branded product to really think about all the work that went into it and just how effective it is). The bottom line is that if Disney continues to conduct business the way they have since Iger’s takeover, the House of Mouse is going nowhere anytime soon.

Walt Disney is without a doubt, one of the most influential figures not only in the film industry, but as a businessman overall. Starting off as an artist who had a vision for animated films, his name has now become synonymous with creativity, childhood and fun. On the theme park side, his purchase of the land in Orlando for Walt Disney World was nothing short of genius. Using various techniques to keep the project a secret ON TOP of the incredible financial risk he took, Walt Disney is a businessman that all entrepreneurs should study. It’s no fluke that his company is still the powerhouse it is today. Much like a building, a company cannot stand without a good foundation and Disney laid the best for his. Without the trailblazing efforts of Walt Disney and his contributions to the film industry, Bob Iger wouldn’t have been able to build Disney into the giant it is today.

The Disney Factor

The Diversity Factor

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