When Disney bought Fox, they also got Fox Searchlight, the artsy part of the deal, the films that get Oscars and kudos. They changed the name to Searchlight, ditching the Fox part and were pressed to market decent, very well made films for smart people.
And they’ve failed.
The test was “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” written and directed by Armando Iannucci, the creator of “Veep.” The film opened the Toronto and London film festivals last year, had a 93 with reviewers, and should have been a top entry for awards season.
Instead, Disney has killed the film. They released it into 1,330 theaters this weekend with no marketing or promotion. The result is a $562,000 box office. So the movie is dead in the US. If I were the people who made it, I’d be in tears. I’m sure they are. Dev Patel, Hugh Laurie, and the whole cast are so marvelous, the writing, the direction and production are spectacular. But this disaster is why Disney simply can’t have live action films for adults in which characters don’t wear capes. They can’t do it. More importantly, they won’t do it. I don’t know why.
Meanwhile, of course, Disney’s Marvel division made $7 million with “The New Mutants,” an X Men spin off that brought die hard fans to the theaters in states where they’re open. Marvel fans don’t care that the company’s CEO gives millions to Trump, or that they might get sick in the theater. They want their super heroes. So they got ’em. “The New Mutants” is a hit around the world, too. So, bravo for them.
What can Disney do for “David Copperfield”? Relaunch it on Disney Plus, for one thing. Put some effort into an Oscar campaign, which it so deserves. Do it for Dev Patel and Iannucci at least. Make some lemonade out of lemons.
PS This should make us nervous about coming Searchlight films, like “Nomadland” with Frances McDormand.