Source: Toronto International Film Festival

‘Ford v Ferrari’

The Fox film brand and legacy has lost one of its most powerful champions in the wake of the Disney merger as it emerged on Thursday (30) that Emma Watts, production chief at the recently rebranded Twentieth Century Studios, has resigned.

It is understood Watts came to the decision by herself. The senior executive - one of the few former Fox top brass to survive the cull after Disney acquired the studio and other 21st Century Fox entertainment assets last spring – would have taken stock of the landscape in the wake of the merger.

As a result of that acquisition, Disney slashed the Fox slate, essentially turning the studio into a production label. Fox endured one of its worst years at the box office in 2019, and earlier this month Disney excised the “Fox” name from the company branding.

Watts’ existing creative team remains in place and a new leader is expected to be named in the coming weeks.

While Disney sources said there were no current changes to Twentieth Century Studios’ development or release slate, the future of the entity formerly known as 20th Century Fox and the films it stood for has come into question more intensely than ever before.

On top of the aforementioned woes, the company has now lost a widely admired production chief with close ties to James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, James Mangold, and Ryan Reynolds. This year’s banner releases from Twentieth Century Studios include Reynold’s summer tentpole Free Guy, while Spielberg’s West Side Story is scheduled to open in December.

Most recently she oversaw the critical and box office hit Ford v Ferrari, and had been working closely with Cameron in the run-up to the December 2021 release of Avatar 2. Watts had also been a prime mover in the genesis and success of the Deadpool franchise, among many other hits.

Disney senior brass Alan Horn and Alan Bergman acknowledged the departing executive’s’ “many wonderful contributions to Fox over the past two decades”.

Over at Searchlight Pictures, co-heads Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula remain in place. Disney chief Bob Iger has praised the unit, whose $50m global release Jojo Rabbit earned six Oscar nominations. Searchlight debuted two films at Sundance: Wendy and Downhill, and announced this week that Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch will open in the US on July 24.

Watts announced her move to staff on Wednesday. The note appears below:

I am writing to you today to share that, after much reflection, I’ve made the difficult decision to step away from Twentieth Century.

Over the past many months, it has been my top priority to continue to foster great filmmaking while leading this team successfully through the integration period with Disney. After reaching this point, I approached Alan and Alan, realizing that it was now time for me to pursue new opportunities.

I started at Fox 22 years ago — Titanic was in theaters, George Lucas had just announced his second Star Wars trilogy, and X-Men was in development. I was a young creative executive eager to learn the business, and from day one I was welcomed. Who knew that together we would add Night at the Museum, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Martian, Deadpool, Logan, Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story and, of course, Jim Cameron’s Avatar to the studio’s already storied legacy. It was a front-row seat to an incredible evolution culminating in Fox becoming a part of one of the greatest media companies that continues to shape our industry on a global scale.

Disney has an immensely gifted and creative leadership team, and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the expanded company. Even more so, I am deeply grateful for the time I’ve spent with all of you. Thank you for your dedication to supporting great talent and storytelling, and above all, for your friendship.

I’ll be here and available for the next few weeks to support the transition process.

All the best,