He’s arguably the most powerful man in Hollywood – the boss of The Avengers, The Lion King, Star Wars and Toy Story, not to mention Mickey Mouse.
Since becoming chief executive of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, Bob Iger has masterminded the Mouse House’s growth into an entertainment empire with the takeovers of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.
The studio’s films have taken $8.3bn (£6.4bn) at box offices worldwide so far this year, and account for about $4 in every $10 spent at North American cinemas.
Following the publication of his memoir, titled The Ride of a Lifetime (Disney does theme parks too), he gave his only UK interview to BBC media editor Amol Rajan.
Here are five key things he said, including why “less is more” in the Star Wars universe, why Martin Scorsese was wrong to compare Marvel films to theme parks, and why Disney didn’t go through with a deal to buy Twitter.
‘Too many Star Wars films’
Disney bought Marvel in 2009 and turned it into film’s most lucrative franchise. There have been 10 Marvel films in the past three years, with eight more coming in the next three. Is there a danger of over-saturation?
“Marvel is just doing sensationally well,” Iger replies. “The last film they released [Avengers: Endgame] had the highest global box office in the history of the motion picture business, and their pipeline is very, very rich with new stories and new characters and new adventures and new superhero exploits. So not true.”
It’s a different story with Star Wars, though. After a run of a film a year for five years, ending with The Rise of Skywalker this December, there will now be a gap until the next instalment in 2022.
“I have said publicly that I think we made and released too many Star Wars films over a short period of time,” Iger says. “I have not said that they were disappointing in any way. I’ve not said that I’m disappointed in their performance. I just think that there’s something so special about a Star Wars film, and less is more.”
Britain must wait for Disney+
There may have been too many Star Wars films, but there clearly haven’t been enough Star Wars TV shows.
Disney is launching its own streaming service, Disney+, in the US on 12 November, with the highlights including The Mandalorian, an original live action series that takes place after the fall of the Empire in 1983’s The Return of the Jedi.
But British viewers will have to wait to watch it. Or anything else on Disney+. For up to a year.
“We haven’t announced a date for launch in the UK,” Iger says. “Our plan is to roll out Disney+ in most of Western Europe within the first year that we launch in the US.”
Scorsese ‘has never watched Marvel’
The legendary Taxi Driver and Goodfellas director recently put the boot into Marvel by saying they are closer to theme parks than real films because it “isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being”.
“Ouch!” is Iger’s reply. “Martin Scorsese is a great film-maker. I admire him immensely. He’s made some great films. I would debate him on this subject. First of all, Marvel’s making movies. They’re movies. That’s what Martin Scorsese makes. And they’re good movies.”
He goes on: “I don’t think he’s ever seen a Marvel film. Anyone who’s seen a Marvel film could not in all truth make that statement.”
Succession ‘reminds me of a certain family’
Disney completed a $71bn (£54bn) deal for Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox – including the likes of X-Men, The Simpsons and Fantastic Four – earlier this year after a bidding war with Comcast.
“As, you’d expect, Rupert is a tough negotiator. But he’s true to his word. When he says yes to something, he sticks to it,” Iger says.
He also lifts the lid on the lengths he went to before a Fox board meeting in London in 2018 in order to win the deal. He wanted to make a new bid to Murdoch in person without Comcast getting wind of his plan, but was worried the Disney private jet would be picked up by online plane trackers.
“We decided that if we flew a Disney corporate plane to London, it may tip Comcast off that we may be coming in with a bid that was higher than theirs, and we didn’t want anybody to know that,” he says. “We decided we would leave our plane in Belfast and then charter another plane from Belfast to London so that we wouldn’t fly in with the Disney jet.”
He asked to meet Murdoch in the afternoon before Fox’s evening board meeting. That wheeling and dealing has echoes of TV hit Succession, about a media mogul and his family.
Iger said he had seen a few episodes. “There are things in it that remind me of a certain family that’s been involved in the media business. But I think, you know, there’s a lot of fiction in it as well.”
‘Cold feet’ over buying Twitter
Iger’s book reveals Disney also came close to a deal to buy Twitter, but he pulled the plug at the last minute. He says he got “cold feet” because it was “too controversial”.
“I thought there were responsibilities we would have to take on in running Twitter in terms of its position in the world and its effect on the world,” he says.
“While I was intrigued with what it might represent in terms of opportunity for us, I thought the responsibilities would burden us with things that would be potentially too distracting, too controversial, too challenging to manage.”
Listen to the full interview with Bob Iger on BBC Sounds in Making the Mouse Roar.
It is customary in most examinations of a CEO’s tenure to highlight errors and missed opportunities, find competitors who will bad mouth said individual, and, when it comes to those who lead global corporate giants, question whether any financial successes have been justly shared, within the company and across wider society. To immerse yourself in coverage of Bob Iger is to find journalists struggling and generally failing on all three fronts.
Mr Iger’s reign at The Walt Disney Company does present challenges to even the most sceptical of journalists.
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