If it is possible to feel sympathy for the demise of a competitor, such feelings were on display Wednesday evening at the CineAsia distributors and exhibitors’ convention in Hong Kong.
20th Century Fox made what was expected to be its final product presentation at the event as an independent studio. The mega-acquisition of Fox by Disney is scheduled to be completed in the first half of next year, a move that reduces the number of Hollywood “majors” from six to five. Job losses and other consolidation is expected.
Corridor talk for the past two days at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre has been as much about when and where the Disney ax might fall as it has been on the U.S.-China trade war and theatrical technology. There is a certainty of disruption and an anticipation of pain as a result of the Disney-Fox deal, even in the growing Asia-Pacific region.
CineAsia chairman Bob Sunshine called the Fox presentation a “bittersweet moment” and gave goodie bags to Andrew Cripps, president of international theatrical distribution, and Kurt Rieder, Asia Pacific executive VP of theatrical. They entered and left the packed theater to the stirring strains of Queen and recent Fox hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Both men remained on message and calmly professional. Cripps called 2018 a year of “overwhelming uncertainty,” saying that “at the office our mantra had been ‘business as usual'” but that it had “not been easy to deliver on.” The studio nevertheless enjoyed its 10th successive year with $2 billion in revenue at the international box office.
Cripps was quick to disappoint rumor mongers by saying he had no corporate restructuring tidbits to share.
Instead, his and Rieder’s double act smoothly cued up trailers for “The Kid Who Would Be King” and teasers for Blue Sky Studios animation “Spies in Disguise” and Fox Searchlight drama “The Favourite.” They played extended footage from “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” which releases from June, and 3D footage from upcoming James Cameron production “Alita: Battle Angel,” which releases in February.
Applause at every turn seemed warmer than usual, as the audience of Asian distributors and executives from other studios was reminded that Fox has an 83-year legacy and a record of 23 consecutive CineAsia appearances.
Rieder even managed a moment of gallows humor. He unveiled a two-year forward-release calendar, including a rebooted “Terminator” and the next “Avatar.” “Take a good look, folks,” he deadpanned. “This is what $71 billion gets you these days.”