Collider reports that Scarlett Johansson might produce and star in an adaptation of Walt Disney’s theme park ride, Tower of Terror. The screenplay will be written by Josh Cooley, who has also worked on Inside Out and Toy Story 4. Johansson is now aware that there are far fewer opportunities for studio-backed vehicles after her 11-year tenure as Black Widow in MCU. Her attempts to make an old-school movie were met with controversy when it was revealed that Rub and TUG’s real-life protagonist was a transgender man. This led to outcry similar in her portrayal of a non-Japanese robotic warrior in the $110 million budget adaptation of Ghost in the Shell.
Johansson doesn’t want to quit her job. Johansson just received two Oscar nominations for Netflix’s A Marriage Story and Searchlight’s Jojo Rabbit. We’re now past the point when a $40 million R-rated original such as Luc Besson’s Lucy can reach $465 million globally. Walt Disney is aware of the difficulties that franchises outside the MCU are facing. Pixar cannot hope to rebound after a series of underperforming films and (due to the pandemic), straight-to Disney+ originals. The entire animation sub-genre is almost as dependent on established franchises or marquee characters as live-action movies. Bob Iger’s reign of 15 years was built on acquisitions (Pixars, Marvels, Lucasfilms, Fox, etc. However, the Mouse House hasn’t had a new live-action franchise since 2004’s National Treasure and 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean.
Disney should have spent the same amount of time searching for the “next National Treasure” as the next Pirates of the Caribbean. (see Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Prince of Persia. Tron: Legacy, John Carter, The Lone Ranger, Tron: Legacy, John Carter, The Lone Ranger). Because it was not very merchandise-friendly, they allegedly didn’t move full speed ahead with National Treasure 3. Disney still started its “we owned Hollywood” phase when they worked hard on making the next Alice in Wonderland. (See Frozen and The Force Awakens. Maleficent, Beauty and the Beast. Jaume ColletSerra’s Jungle Cruise is about to become Disney’s 17th new live-action non-MCU franchise. It has about a month before it goes theatrically and Disney+. They may be closing the loop by Disney moving forward with another theme park adaptation.
The post-9/11 blockbuster films of Shrek, Spider-Man, and Harry Potter were dominated by Pirates of the Caribbean. However, The Country Bears (which was essentially Almost Famous for children) and The Haunted Mansion ($182million on an $80 million budget) did not predict a great future for Disney’s theme park movies. The most nostalgic-friendly Disney animated films were mostly out of reach in 2021 in terms of remake/reimagining potential, except the in-production of The Little Mermaid. The future of theatrical animation is uncertain. Even Lucasfilm, Marvel and James Cameron’s Avatar sequels remain in “trust but verify.” mode. Disney needs live-action franchises that have at least some viable IP. Theme parks are the next obvious treasure trove.
Non-narrative IP can be turned into movies by giving you a blank canvas. Gore Verbinski’s Curse of the Black Pearl created an original story with original characters, such as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow or Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Turner. This movie was an inspiration for Hollywood to use the protection of IP and let their imaginations go wild. This is how brands should work. Because you know people will show up at Star Wars VII, so you cast Daisy Ridley as Daisy Ridley and John Boyega to be the new heroes. People show up to Wall-E and Inside Out because Pixar is a trusted brand.
I don’t know if Dwayne Johnson’s Jungle Cruise and Emily Blunt’s Jungle Cruise are any good. I also don’t know what Scarlett Johansson’s (currently theoretical, but not necessarily linked to The Twilight Zone) Tower of Terror will look like. The Mouse House could be back at the start, creating movies from iconic Disney park rides. It is important to protect the ride and stars and hopefully a marquee Director to make memorable hero’s journey franchise-starters from them. This means that films should be different from one another in terms of genre and scale. This is a chance to make films that are different from each other in terms of scale and genre.