When the Golden Globes announced its nominations Monday, it offered a tale of two cities.
In one camp was 21st Century Fox. The company had nothing less than a dominating performance. The three most nominated movies of the day — “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “The Post” — all came from Fox units. (The most-nominated among them was “The Shape of Water,” the Guillermo del Toro 1950’s-era genre mashup, with seven.) The studio also scored three nominations for the Hugh Jackman circus musical “The Greatest Showman.”
Collectively, Fox had 27 film nominations — more than twice the nearest competitor (Sony, with 12). Sister company FX also had eight nominations on the TV side, driven primarily by “Feud” and “Fargo.” That was good enough for third place, behind just HBO and Netflix. And that’s not counting a show like this “This Is Us,” which is produced by Fox’s TV studio division and had three nominations of its own. A company that was an awards also-ran a few years ago was now an unassailable leader.
In a very different camp sat Disney. The entertainment giant didn’t, well, have much of anything at all. It’s not really in the awards business anymore.
The company landed just two nominations on the film side and three, via ABC, in TV.
This isn’t an idle contrast, of course. Disney is poised to buy much of Fox — both the entire film studio operation and FX. Which means the 2017-2018 Golden Globes powerhouse is about to undergo a major transformation. And it raises the question: What would happen to productions like these in a combined company?
The generous read would be that they’d do just fine because Fox complementarily has movies and shows that Disney doesn’t traffic in. Disney could take advantage of Fox’s foothold in this area to beef up its offerings with original intellectual property.
More realistically, though, say analysts and insiders, Disney would take long and close looks at productions like these. Many of them would struggle to exist in a studio focused on global blockbusters, or tentpoles, as Disney does.
That’s because most original movies, though costing a lot less than the sequels and brand-driven productions Disney specializes in, come with much greater uncertainty.
Disney executives, for example, would have loved “Hidden Figures,” the 2016 box-office phenomenon that had a lot of awards traction too. But would they want “Battle of the Sexes” or “Patti Cakes,” two highly touted 2017 Searchlight releases that fizzled both with voters and at the box office? Prestige filmmaking is a dice toss even in the best of years. A company like Disney that seeks safety in brands might not want to bother.
In fact, the last time the firm was seriously in the specialty film game was more than a decade ago, with Miramax. And that didn’t end so well.
Fox’s resurgence has been driven by Stacey Snider, the Universal and DreamWorks veteran who has restored Twentieth Century Fox’s luster with the kind of mainstream but award-friendly material embodied by “The Post.” She also has continued to offer broad support to Fox Searchlight, the long-standing specialty division run by Nancy Utley and Steve Gilula, that has relocated its awards momentum of a few years ago with “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards.”
But where will this be in a combined Disney-Fox? Experts say Snider is likely to leave in a merger; she wouldn’t have the necessary latitude with Disney chief Alan Horn already in place. How much Twentieth Century Fox would even exist as a separate studio remains up in the air.
Searchlight, one of the longest running and most successful of Hollywood’s specialty divisions, could continue, though with what staff and mandate also remains an open question.
The dozens of Golden Globes nominations offer one of the best arguments for why Fox is so desired by Disney.
Or they could be the studio’s last hurrah.