Disney Drops Fox Name, Will Rebrand as 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures

The mouse has officially killed the fox.

In a move at once unsurprising and highly symbolic, the Walt Disney Company is dropping the “Fox” brand from the 21st Century Fox assets it acquired last March, Variety has learned. The 20th Century Fox film studio will become 20th Century Studios, and Fox Searchlight Pictures will become simply Searchlight Pictures.

On the TV side, however, no final decisions have been made about adjusting the monikers of production units 20th Century Fox Television and Fox 21 Television Studios. Discussions about a possible name change are underway, but no consensus has emerged, according to a source close to the situation.

Disney has already started the process to phase out the Fox name: Email addresses have changed for Searchlight staffers, with the fox.com address replaced with a searchlightpictures.com address. On the poster for Searchlight’s next film “Downhill,” with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell, the credits begin with “Searchlight Pictures Presents.” The film will be the first Searchlight release to debut with the new logo. “Call of the Wild,” an upcoming family film, will be released under the 20th Century banner, sans Fox.

Those logos won’t be dramatically altered, just updated. The most notable change is that the word “Fox” has been removed from the logo marks. Otherwise, the signature elements — swirling klieg lights, monolith, triumphal fanfare — will remain the same.

Insiders characterize the change as rather inevitable. Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox last March included the 20th Century Fox film and TV studios, but not the Fox broadcast network or Fox News, which remained part of Fox Corp. under CEO Lachlan Murdoch. That automatically injected a level of brand confusion at odds with the highly differentiated divisions within Disney’s ranks, and Fox Corp. has no reason to change its name.

The original 20th Century Fox was formed in a merger in 1935 between Twentieth Century Pictures and Fox Film Corporation. The company’s art deco searchlight logo and rousing theme song became an iconic Hollywood brand, and the studio released some of the most beloved and successful movies in Hollywood history, including “Avatar,” “Titanic,” “Home Alone,” “Die Hard,” “Alien,” “Star Wars: A New Hope,” and “Planet of the Apes.”

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought 20th Century Fox in the mid-1980s, along with a suite of American television stations, which allowed Murdoch to create the Fox TV network. Fox’s TV programming set itself apart with a slate of irreverent and provocative shows that deliberately pushed the envelope of what was possible on broadcast television. Murdoch further expanded the Fox brand with the 1996 launch of Fox News, which established a (highly lucrative) reputation for conservative partisanship; by the time of Disney’s acquisition, Fox News had also weathered multiple sexual misconduct scandals.

All of it added up to specific associations with the word “Fox” in the media landscape that proved to be anathema to Disney’s scrupulously maintained family friendly brand.

As one insider puts it, “I think the Fox name means Murdoch, and that is toxic.”

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