Boba Fett Movie Shows How Disney Turns Characters Into Profits

Boba Fett is getting a solo movie, demonstrating one of Disney's business model strengths.

Jan 10, 2014 at 10:15AM

A year after Disney's (NYSE:DIS) $4 billion Lucasfilm megapurchase, news continues to trickle in on its plans for its newly acquired properties. The new Star Wars trilogy is already under way, and two other "mystery" films are slated in between the trilogy films's releases. Now Metalocalypse director John Schnepp is adding to the suspense by "confirming" that one of these is a Boba Fett solo film.

All Lucafilm properties -- the greatest of which is the Star Wars property -- will be changed in how they are presented on film. These changes jive better with Disney's business strategy and make the Lucasfilm acquisition one of the smartest business moves this decade...and Boba Fett proves it. Simply put, Disney bets it can make billions by leveraging the thousands of new characters it's acquired.

Boba Fett: The Movie
First things first: John Schnepp is not the last word on the mystery Star Wars films. He refused to cite his source, yet was bold enough to say in an AMC movie talk interview that he "knows for a fact" that Boba Fett is getting his own film. This is still a rumor until confirmed by Disney, but if nothing else, it's a really good rumor.

As long as the Star Wars Universe remained under Lucasfilm, a Boba Fett solo film was unlikely. The six released films have all centered on a single story: the Sith vs. the Jedi with the entire fate of the galaxy at stake. These films don't center on any one person. There are stars such as Darth Vadar and Han Solo, but they are only important as they relate to the story itself. For this reason, Disney's plan of character-based solo films -- such as Boba Fett, Yoda, or Han Solo -- is a sharp deviation from the Star Wars films historically.

It may seem strange that a character who's appearance in the Star Wars films was very brief (and his dialogue even briefer) would even be a consideration for a solo film. But in reality the character has quite a cult following. Fandomania.com ranked him the 84th greatest fictional character of all-time -- just below Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz -- which makes a solo film seem viable.

Character-based vs. story-based
Disney is known for being a character-based studio. Once it has a character in its arsenal, it can do anything with it. It's able to take the dark villain Maleficent from its 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty, and turn her into the star of her own upcoming movie. It took Captain Hook and Smee -- antagonists from the classic Peter Pan -- and turned them into the antagonists of the wildly successful Jake and the Neverland Pirates TV show. Disney loves creating, using, and reusing characters.

This differs from more story-based studios. Besides the Saw franchise, Lions Gate (NYSE:LGF) rarely makes a sequel, and never pulls a character from one property to create an entirely new property. That's not to say Lions Gate makes bad movies, it only demonstrates that Lions Gate doesn't leverage a property like Disney does.

The economics of the Marvel purchase
The business advantage of being a character-based studio is the ability to better leverage properties for higher revenue. This is illustrated well with Disney's purchase of Marvel. This was seen by some as just purchasing the Avengers film series, but Disney got way more than that.

Marvel boasts more than 9,000 characters under its roof. The movie rights for some characters belong to other studios -- such as X-Men and Fantastic Four and all their supporting characters, which belong to 21st Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOXA) -- so an exact character count is difficult. But even if Disney acquired the rights to just half of Marvel's characters, it still paid under $1 million per character. Granted, characters like Rocket Racer and Bird-Brain remind us that not every character in the Marvel universe is movie-worthy, but many -- possibly hundreds -- could be. New characters such as Ant-man, the Black Panther, and Dr. Strange are currently in development and could become their own movie franchises.

Beyond big-screen success, TV is another venue where Disney can leverage the Marvel properties. It's currently finishing up season one of its Agents of SHIELD property, which airs on its own ABC. But now Disney is leveraging its Marvel properties further with its recent deal with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) to develop five (!) TV series based around The Defenders. This a team made up of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. Netflix is set to produce each series with each team member receiving its own 13-episode season, before culminating in a crossover series a la Avengers. These series will be available exclusively on Netflix starting in 2015.

May the conclusion be with you
The general perception is that Disney paid $4 billion to make the next Star Wars trilogy -- seemingly overpaying. But remember, leveraging characters is how Disney makes money. Whatever it's done with its Marvel characters, it will also do with dozens of Lucasfilm characters. These characters -- once developed in the entertainment arena -- can be further leveraged down the road with Disney's theme parks and merchandise divisions.

Boba Fett is such a small character, but he's a big illustration Disney's ability to leverage its massive character base for years to come.

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Jon Quast has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Netflix and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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