An Elegiac Tone as 20th Century Fox Faces a Disney Future

By BROOKS BARNESAPRIL 26, 2018

Stacey Snider, the chairwoman of 20th Century Fox. Walt Disney Studios is poised to absorb her company, and Ms. Snider is not expected to stay once the deal goes through. Credit Dan Steinberg/Invision for Twentieth Century Fox, via Associated Press Images

LAS VEGAS — Stacey Snider, chairwoman of 20th Century Fox, arrived at a film industry convention here on Thursday and did her best to promote her upcoming movies to theater owners. Let’s hear it for “Deadpool 2,” arriving on May 18!

But an unmistakable wistfulness — and a bit of defiance — also hung in the air inside the Colosseum at Caesars Palace during Ms. Snider’s 90-minute presentation. With Walt Disney Studios poised to absorb 20th Century Fox as part of a $52.4 billion deal with Rupert Murdoch, it was perhaps the last time that Fox would arrive at the National Association of Theater Owners gathering as a stand-alone studio.

Ms. Snider touched on the merger in her speech, but she allowed a lengthy reel of clips from Fox hits over the years to do most of the talking. The scenes conveyed the mixed emotions that many people inside the studio have about being absorbed by Disney. “This is our legacy,” Ms. Snider said, fighting back tears, as she introduced the footage.

There was Walter Pidgeon from the Oscar-winning “How Green Was My Valley” (1941) saying in a sad voice, “Something has gone out of this valley that may never be replaced.” Grinning after sliding down a muddy jungle ravine in “Romancing the Stone” (1984), Michael Douglas shouted, “What a ride, huh?” Macaulay Culkin clapped his hands to his face and screamed in a snippet from “Home Alone” (1990), while Ellen Page, the star of “Juno” (2007), made an obscene hand gesture directly into the camera.
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A clip from the 1941 film “How Green Was My Valley,” starring Walter Pidgeon, was part of a highlight reel of Fox hits from over the decades that was shown to a gathering of movie theater owners. Credit John Springer Collection/Corbis, via Getty Images

It played to the room like an “In Memoriam” segment from the Oscars.

The video — which featured footage from more than three dozen Fox films, including “All About Eve,” “Titanic,” “The Sound of Music,” “Avatar,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Alien” and “The Devil Wears Prada” — concluded by showing various versions of the towering 20th Century Fox logo over the years, accompanied by the studio’s signature trumpet fanfare.

Continuing the end-of-an-era vibe, Chris Aronson, Fox’s president of domestic distribution, then took the stage and rattled through the names of employees in some of the departments at Fox that are expected to be downsized after Disney completes its takeover. Antitrust regulators are currently scrutinizing the deal; Fox executives have said they expect approval by the middle of next year.

Disney has not yet given many details about how it plans to operate 20th Century Fox, which was founded in 1935. It is assumed in Hollywood that Fox will sit beside Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar as a label inside Walt Disney Studios. Fox Searchlight, which specializes in art films and has been an Academy Awards powerhouse, will remain a separate brand.

Ms. Snider, who is not expected to make the move to Disney, cited the recent success of Fox’s “The Greatest Showman” when briefly referring to the acquisition in her speech on Thursday.

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“We face a new transition — a potential merger that will have lasting implications for the movie business,” she said. “I have no more insight into this transaction than you do. But I am holding onto the very basics — what helped make ‘Showman’ a hit. Let’s stay dedicated to the future of cinema and passionate about the films to come. Let’s wear our hearts on our sleeves and aim to please in every frame.”