One of the more interesting
outcomes of the Wolverine leak last week is the flurry of theories as to
who was responsible for it. As far as I can tell, Devin
started it off
, pointing to one of the post houses, and since then sources
across the internet have suggested everyone from someone with a
grudge against fox
to the director, Gavin Hood*. One commentator
even suggested that Fox
released it themselves as a part of an insurance scam


The odds are that the most
mundane explanation: that it was accidentally leaked from the post house, is
the most likely, but the other rumours do cast light on how the public
perception of Fox has become incredibly negative in recent years.


It’s fair to say that
they’ve brought most of this bad feeling on themselves. Over the last few years
20th Century Fox’s cinematic output has been less than stellar,
culminating in last year’s offering, where their tentpole pictures were Jumper,
The Day the Earth Stood Still and The X-Files: I Want to Believe,
all of which were critically panned. At the same time their annual per-picture
gross has also been steadily waning, from over $209** million/ picture in 2000
down to $63 million in 2008.


Over the same period the
studio has been making more and more movies that are sequels, remakes or
adaptations of TV properties. In 2000 their entire slate was original films, by
2007 nearly half of the films that Fox produced were based on existing


Possibly as a reaction to
this drop in gross profit the studio’s executives have become notorious for
interfering with in-production films. So much so that Alex Proyas, director of The
, Dark City and most recently Knowing, has
sworn never to work with Fox again


The studio also pissed-off a
huge number of film fans last year during a dispute with Warner Brothers over
the rights to Watchmen. As always with Fox most of this bad feeling came, not
with their claim, but with how they handled it, waiting
until most of the work had been done, and then trying to have the film’s
release stopped


The problem for Fox is that
because they have, on occasion acted in an unfortunate manner, they have been
cast as a pariah, and can’t do anything right. Couple that with their creative
downturn, and it’s clear that the studio are in trouble.


The bitter Irony, of course
is that Fox used to be one of the most loved and respected studios in
Hollywood. Not long ago Fox put out Titanic; the most successful film of all
time. Prior to this they were (at least in part) responsible for an almost
endless list of films that were not only successful, but are also considered
classics, and touchstone movies within their genres.


Fox aren’t the first studio
to cause themselves problems. In the late nineties Disney’s animation division
were in a similar position, churning out a stream of poorly executed drivel,
and straight-to-video sequels. The rot was only really stopped in 2006, when
Disney bought Pixar, and installed John Lasseter as Chief Creative Officer for
both companies. Instantly Disney stopped plundering their back catalogue, and
started to look to the future. Now the situation has changed: Bolt made
$287 million worldwide. Compare that to their last animated release, Meet
The Robinsons
, that limped to $169 million, and anticipation for The
Princess and the Frog
, their first traditionally animated film in five
years is palpable.


It wouldn’t be too hard for
Fox to turn around. While Fox have been slowly destroying themselves, their
‘indie’ subsidiary, Fox Searchlight have been regularly hitting the right
notes, both critically and commercially. Films such as Little Miss Sunshine and
Juno have received critical praise, and also made substantial sums of money.


The first step, therefore,
in the rehabilitation of Fox should be to take key people from Searchlight, and
install them in senior positions at the parent studio. Once that has been done
executives need to stop micro-managing every decision, and allow producers and
directors to do their job. If they don’t trust them to do a job, hire someone
else in the first place.


In addition to these fairly
major steps the company needs to start innovating again. Recently the closest
thing to innovation has been The Happening; a film so dire it should
serve as a warning rather than an influence, but in the past films like Alien
and Star Wars were original takes on stale concepts, and they
influenced films that came after them. Similarly, X-Men was the first
serious superhero film, and is responsible for films like Batman Begins
and Iron Man not being campy self-parodies. This innovation can only
happen, however, if Fox stop worrying about pleasing key demographics and start
worrying about making coherent, intelligent films.


Fox also need to stop
slavishly following industry trends. After the success of the rebooted Bond
and Batman franchises Fox have publicly proposed reboots for The
Fantastic Four
and Daredevil. They’ve even used the words ‘darker
tone’. What Fox is missing is that Bond and Batman reboots
weren’t successful because of their darker tone, but because both franchises
hired creative teams with a strong vision and a respect for the original source
material and the characters. The only way for this to happen with these
properties would be for Fox to return them to Marvel. Of course if they did do
that they could negotiate a hefty fee for the rights, as well as a distribution
deal, and could well end up better off financially than if they took a gamble
on remakes and lost.


The real way to save Fox
though, is for them to remember that they are in the entertainment business. It
may sound ludicrous, but with all the merchandising tie-ins, computer game
spin-offs and lines of ancillary income they have become more concerned with
making sure there is a potential line of toys in a film than whether it has a
compelling story. Until they remember that their job is to entertain anything
else they do will be inconsequential.


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*I’ve reproduced this quote
from below, because I can’t believe that a studio exec is accusing
Gavin Hood of sabotaging his own movie, and desperately hope somebody can tell
me that I’ve ms-read it


‘One Fox executive close to the investigation said
the studio did not yet know exactly how many outside vendors had access to the
film. “There’s the reproduction house sending it to the trailer company or the
marketing department, there’s the director, his assistant. Unfortunately there
are multiple ways it could get there (to the Internet),” said the executive.’


**All box office data is