The Dark Side

Age of the Geek Column: So far this year I've gone to the movie theater ten times. Four of those times were to see movies made by Disney related studios.

That number will go up to five later this year when the next Star Wars movie comes out. Between Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and their own theatrical offerings, Disney's power in the movie industry cannot be overstated. It's safe to say that, once "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" releases, Disney will have had a hand in five of ten highest grossing movies of 2017.

Disney's economic power over the film industry cannot be understated. And as we all learned from Spider-Man, with great power comes great responsibility.

Ironically, or maybe appropriately, that message was absent in this year's Marvel Studio's backed "Spider-Man: Homecoming." Coincidentally, that philosophy also seems to be absent in Marvel Studio's parent company.

Instead, Disney is using their great power for great profitability, issuing theaters with strict terms for showing the new Star Wars movie. According to the "top secret" terms reported on by the Wall Street Journal, theaters that want to put the continuing adventures in the galaxy far, far away on their screen will have to surrender 65 percent of their ticket sales revenue to the House of Mouse, a larger cut than the typical 55-60 percent. Theaters will also be required to play the movie exclusively on their largest screen for a minimum of four weeks.

This puts smaller theaters in a tough position. A small town theater with a single screen can effectively serve their entire market within two weeks. Forcing theaters to play to an empty theater during those last two weeks isn't practical and will have smaller theaters considering not showing the movie at all. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Hampton Windsor Theatre's board of trustees.)

Larger theaters are almost in a worse situation. They cannot afford to not show the movie so they're effectively forced to agree to any terms Disney sets. Disney has altered the deal and they have to pray they don't alter it any further.

What's incredible is that this isn't even the most brazen case of Disney throwing their weight around in the last couple weeks. The media giant has recently gotten into a public beef with the LA Times over the publication of an article detailing their strained relationship with the City of Anaheim, home of Disneyland.

The article in question was a two-part story that looked at Disney's influence on the city's local politics and the numerous subsidies and favorable deals the company has received over the years as a result. There's no doubt that Disney is an economic powerhouse in Anaheim, but taxpayers have begun to wonder if they're getting their fair return on their investments and if the mouse holds too much power over the city.

In response to the article, Disney has blacklisted the LA Times, denying them access to review screenings of "Thor: Ragnarok" and presumably other upcoming Disney flicks.

On the off-chance that a high level Disney executive happens to read this, here's some free advice. When you're being criticized for using your economic might to strong-arm an entire city, retaliating against a newspaper by hitting their movie review section doesn't make for the best optics. The whole world knows that Disney was built on an obsession with controlling public perception. The more you tighten your iron fist, the more public relation fiascos will slip through your fingers.

It's no secret that Disney isn't a benevolent corporation dedicated to creating happiness and good will. They sell entertainment for money and they are, bar none, the best at the world at it and they got that way by being ruthlessly effective in their business practices.

At the same time though, what is anybody going to do about it? I can deride Disney all day for abusing their position, but at the end of the day my ticket to the next Star Wars movie is already bought. I'll be at "Black Panther" on opening weekend early next year. In the meantime I'll get caught up on "Duck Tales" and "Star Wars: Rebels." Disney owns far too much of the things I like to make any economic punishment I can inflict worth the effort.

If there's a line Disney would have to cross before I stopped funneling money into them, they haven't found it yet. That said, I'd rather they didn't go out looking for it.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and wishes Disney would spend more energy living up to their public persona than trying to control it.