Corporate politics are generally not all that exciting for movie fans, but when the power struggle will help determine the person who oversees some of the most beloved movie franchises in history, they matter a whole lot. That’s why Disney’s new power vacuum is high-stakes for film lovers and geeks.
After winning an initial power struggle and earning the on-deck position to replace current Disney CEO Bob Iger upon his 2018 retirement, current Mouse House COO Tom Staggs unexpectedly announced he is leaving the company at the end of the year, suddenly clouding the future of Disney’s leadership. Staggs’ 26-year tenure at Disney, which included running the theme park division, made him an obvious candidate to take over and no one at the company can clearly say who would be an equal who’s next in line. The hiring hiccup leaves the future output of Disney companies like Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm up in the air. Mess with their superhero movies and space sagas set in faraway galaxies and fans would be wise to take notice.
It’s not like Disney will lose Marvel or Lucasfilm because of all this. It’s inevitable that we’ll be getting more and more Captain America and Star Wars movies until the inevitable heat death of the universe as long as they make money. The problem with the Disney situation isn’t with when we voracious entertainment consumers will get to enjoy our favorite franchises, it’s what we’ll end up getting. It’s partly Iger’s fault in a bittersweet kind of way.
Under his leadership, Disney has emerged as something more than just a nostalgic peddler of plush toys, cartoons, and amusement parks (though, to be fair, it’s still that). Under his watch, Disney made a series of bold acquisitions that has irrevocably shaped the current entertainment landscape. He smartly fully acquired Pixar in 2006 for approximately $7.4 billion, but even that was a dry run for what came next. He helped acquire Marvel Entertainment and all of its superhero properties three years later for upwards of $4 billion, and paid the same amount for production company Lucasfilm in 2012 to kickstart the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises.
Under Iger’s tenure, Disney profits have increased by 12 percent, with the number at $8.4 billion last year alone, and according to the New York Times the company’s shares shares have recently traded for about $75 more than when he started in 2005. His savvy business moves have literally paid off, but to audiences Iger’s worth is also one of creativity, and when he steps down it may primarily affect the companies he helped acquire.
Igers essential worth to audiences is that he trusts in the creative minds hes help put in place to shepherd lucrative companies under Disney’s umbrella. John Lasseter is the figurehead of Pixar, Kevin Feige is the head of Marvel Entertainment, and Kathleen Kennedy is the boss at Lucasfilm. Iger has all gone to bat for them and, by association, the movies they make in ways business-minded CEOs don’t normally go about things. In September 2015, Iger allowed a shakeup in Marvel’s power structure that made Feige the driving force behind the movie brand. He’s also given Kennedy an unprecedented level of control into expanding the Star Wars universe. He told Bloomberg in 2013, “I don’t want to over-commercialize or overhype this. It’s my job to prevent that.”
Iger has already extended his retirement from previously announcing the end of his tenure in 2014, and the end is now nigh. Any multi-billion dollar corporation would want to know who will be steering the ship after the current captain heads for land, and Disney’s ship is headed into an unknown future. It’s a critical time, with Marvel headed into a new phase of films, ‘Star Wars starting its newest saga, and a new Indiana Jones* movie gearing up.
A Disney statement on Staggs’ departure said the company’s board will “broaden the scope of its succession planning process to identify and evaluate a robust slate of candidates for consideration.” Those candidates should follow in Iger’s lead and let the main people whose main job it is to create to, well, create. It’ll only make them more money and keep the fans happy too.