What does the big Disney Studios shake-up mean for Disney's movie future?

In a huge shakeup, there's a new boss of Disney's live-action movie division! Can this mean better changes for Disney movies?

2022 Toronto International Film Festival - "The Menu" Premiere
2022 Toronto International Film Festival - "The Menu" Premiere / Amy Sussman/GettyImages

Walt Disney Pictures is seeing a big shakeup with a major exec stepping down. Is this a sign Disney is trying to change its box office fortunes?

2023 was not the best of times for Disney at the box office. After years of domination, the studio lost the crown for the highest-grossing studio in Hollywood. That's primarily due to films that either underperformed or flat-out flopped, such as Elemental, Wish, Indiana Jones, and the Dial of Destiny, and more. Even the once-unstoppable MCU couldn't succeed. 

The effects have been felt as Disney has put off several top films like Elio and the Snow White remake until 2025. Bob Iger has been vocal about his feelings on the studio's fortunes faring so poorly, leading to speculation a change was coming.

That change has arrived as Deadline reports that Walt Disney's President of Motion Picture Studios Sean Bailey, the man who spearheaded the live-action remakes of animated classics is leaving after 15 years. Searchlight co-president David Greenbaum will take on a newly created role as President, Disney Live Action and 20th Century Studios. He'll report to Disney Entertainment co-chairman Alan Bergman. Steve Asbell will continue to serve as President, 20th Century Studios, a role he's had since March 2020. He will report to Greenbaum.

Bailey will be staying on as producer for the upcoming Tron: Ares. He issued a statement speaking well about his departure. 

"These 15 years at Disney have been an incredible journey, but the time is right for a new chapter. I'm deeply grateful to my exceptional team and proud of the slate and history we've built together. I joined Disney while producing Tron: Legacy, so it seems fitting that I will have the opportunity to work on the latest Tron as I depart. I wish Bob Iger, Alan Bergman, and all my amazing colleagues the very best for a bright future."

It's easy to theorize that Bailey is being made the fall guy for Disney's rough 2023. However, a recent Variety report indicates that with his contract coming up in 2025, Bailey was already thinking of departing. It also comes amid buzz about Iger's own future with the company amid a growing proxy fight. 

While this sounds good, what does this mean for Disney's future movie slate?

How does this change affect Disney movies?

Many will say Bailey's tenure was both a blessing and curse to Disney as he was the one who spearheaded the live-action adaptations of animated hits from Alice in Wonderland to The Little Mermaid. However, for every one that succeeded, another faltered, and the high budgets for the movies were a reason for Disney's current box office woes. 

Disney isn't the only studio to have some box office flops in 2023, but theirs seem bigger because of the huge budgets. With the 2023 strikes still being felt, Disney needs to do some cost-cutting, and thus, logically, lower-budget films that are a bit more original are better. 

Greenbaum can do that as the man's credits include pushing Oscar winners The Shape of Water, No Country For Old Men and Nomadland. He's worked with directors like Yorgos Lanthimos, Wes Anderson, Guillermo del Toro and Taika Waititi, all quirky and visionary men and expanded Disney's influence on original shows on Hulu. He's well known for fighting to get some scripts other studios wouldn't touch made and brought to great success. 

In short, this is an executive who's less likely to rubber-stamp $200 million for a live-action The Aristocats and instead try to push a lower-budget original movie. One of 20th Century Studio's best efforts in 2023 was The Creator, a sci-fi film that made over $100 million but, more importantly, cost less than $90 million to make. That's much better than scores of Disney productions with budgets over twice as large and thus unable to break even. 

With Greenbaum at the helm, Disney's live-action slate may get the shot in the arm it's needed with less focus on remakes and IP stuff and trying to actually make original movies come out. It could even be a return to the Disney of 20 years ago with a more eclectic slate for audiences of all kinds. 

It's still early to tell as this literally just happened, and likely, Iger will still call some shots on what gets made. Disney will still push the MCU and Star Wars and likely mine their animation library for more projects. But Greenbaum's past work proves he has the goods to craft a new future for Disney movies, one that's more inclined to movies from daring directors with budgets that lead to better box office and critical success. 

As wild as the change at Disney is, the time for the live-action animated adaptations might be coming to an end and a new era that harkens back to the Disney of old, which is good news for the company.