Why Using Harrison Ford in a New Indiana Jones Movie Would Be a Huge Mistake for Disney

2013 was one heck of a year for Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) . The company's stock closed the unlucky-numbered member of the 2000s near its 52-week high, which meant that it was in the mid-$70 price range. For those who remember when the shares seemed they would be stuck in an obnoxious range closer to the mid-$30s forever, this is just an amazing achievement.

A lot of the company's success can be traced back to CEO Bob Iger's acquisition strategy. Although I am not a true fan of that strategy -- I personally feel that we could have gotten to these levels by focusing on innovation over purchases, but that's a story for another day -- I would have to assume that a lot of the institutional interest that is pushing the stock higher and higher is rooted in the collection of assets that Iger has accumulated during his tenure.

One such asset is Lucasfilm. Besides the "Star Wars" stuff that came with it, the company also controls the "Indiana Jones" IP that fanboys and gals go wild over. 2013 was the year that saw Lucasfilm buy back certain distribution rights from Viacom's Paramount film division so that Disney would be able to proceed with a new "Indiana Jones" adventures sometime in the next few years. Tim Beyers mentioned this in a previous article, and he also asked an interesting question: Is Disney going to bring back Harrison Ford, Mr. Jones himself?

Don't do it!
Disney easily could bring Ford back. The nonsense that he's too old for the role is just that: nonsense. Here's a little secret: Ford is playing a character, he isn't actually doing all the daredevil stuff that's going on in the film. Audiences know this and can simply intellectually accept that Indiana Jones, even as an old guy, is that rare individual who can still be the superhero archaeologist. The last film, which contained interdimensional aliens and the refrigerator on the nuclear testing site, possessed a few references to the character's age. I thought that was superfluous. Jones is Jones, and he's simply a spry elderly adventurer as far as I am concerned.

Here's why Disney shouldn't bring Ford back, though: the company needs to make the movie as cheaply as possible. This would also be the reason Steven Spielberg and George Lucas should be given the boot, too.

Disney can't just collect assets. The company and its execs have to manage them properly for profit maximization. I get that everyone is excited about Lucasfilm and Marvel, but now is the time for specific ideas to be put in place that bring costs down. That's what it's about at this point: bring costs down so that the most can be made of these big brands.

Either "Indiana Jones" is a brand or it isn't. If it is, then it doesn't matter who is in it. Some might think a Bradley Cooper should be the next Jones, or maybe even Johnny Depp; maybe even some would love to see Tom Selleck finally be given the chance! (No one wants to see Shia LaBeouf in the role, though, I'm pretty sure of that.)

Brand equity trumps even Harrison Ford
You know who I want to see play Jones? Someone that no one has ever heard of. Whoever that might be. Just find the best unknown out there and be done with it. Find an economical director, an unknown screenwriter, and similar low-cost talent and we're in business.

Going against the grain like this might seem foolhardy, and it very well could be. Risk, however, is part of Hollywood. I would rather take the chance of casting an unknown from the Disney Channel so that my shares could benefit in the best possible way should the film turn out to be a big hit. Let's be honest: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull grossed $786 million globally back in 2008, according to Box Office Mojo. Could Disney go too wrong with a Ford/Spielberg/Lucas-less "Indiana Jones" film after that? I doubt it.

Iger seems to have, at the moment, all of the cool assets he wants. Granted, when the next CEO takes the reins in a couple years, he or she might continue looking at media assets to add to the portfolio. For now, the main goal should be to cut costs wherever possible, increase the exploitation of the assets by banking on brand equity over talent equity, and to roll the dice. If the first unknown-actor-driven "Indy" film doesn't work, that's OK -- make another one. It's unlikely, though, that using an unknown is too much of a risk since casting agents employ a combination of strict science to go along with the art of selection. In other words, Disney works with smart professionals, and it won't let unqualified thespians step into a role that has been made iconic over the past 30+ years.

Sorry, Mr. Ford, you may not be worth it
Harrison Ford is a great actor. There's no question about it. But his presence in a film doesn't guarantee success; it only guarantees a big payday for Harrison Ford. Recently, my portfolio was banking on a film that was supposed to be a huge hit in part because he graced its frames with his presence.

I am, of course, talking about Lions Gate Entertainment's (NYSE: LGF  ) Ender's Game. The movie grossed $112 million worldwide (at the time of this writing) against a reported budget of over $100 million (according to Box Office Mojo.) Remember the hype on that one? It was sold on its potential to be a significant cultural event at the cinema, but it fizzled instead.

Again, failure is fine, so long as one is hedged as much as possible. Keeping Ford away from the next "Jones" film is nothing less than exercising financial prudence.

If he wanted to work for a few million dollars and no profit participation, give him the fedora and the bullwhip. It's doubtful that he'd take the cut in salary, though. For that reason alone, I do not want Harrison Ford in the next "Jones" project. Buying Lucasfilm is not the stroke of genius in and of itself -- the genius is in how the expansion of the intellectual properties contained within that company is handled.

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Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 3:28 PM, msorrentino wrote:

    Except to most fans Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones having an Indy film without him is a guaranteed way to alienate existing fans, which would be a bad thing. Besides, even if they reboot it they would probably still cast him in the reboot in the role of Indy's father Henry Jones Sr. originally portrayed by Sean Connery.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 6:14 PM, bigboulder wrote:

    It is true that the Indiana Jones franchise will live on beyond Harrison Ford, much the way Superman and Tarzan have lived on after decades of new faces in those roles. However, like Christopher Reeve as Superman, fans will not be interested in seeing anyone other than Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones until after he has passed away. Even then, it may be a challenge to find a young actor who will be able to fill Ford's shoes. Harrison Ford is an expensive actor, yes. But the reason he is expensive is because he has an old-Hollywood charisma that not everyone can boast. The smart move would be to cast him again, for as long as he is willing to take on the role. At his age, that will probably be only one or two more films. Then, when he does pass on, Disney will be able to cast a younger Indy Jones, or the son of Jones, and not look like a horrible overlord to the millions of Jones fans, both present and future. In the long run, the property and fan approval is worth far more than the salary of the actor who made the character the success that it is.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 3:30 AM, hc wrote:

    Dump the original star for a younger one for a new generation- yeah, that worked great for Jack Ryan! Oh wait.... it didn't! The reason Indiana Jones worked great for audiences is the combination of Harrison Ford's specific persona plus Speilberg's particular strengths as a director. The last one was admittedly terrible, but I put that more on Lucas's stubborness (and ability to have the final say-so) than Speilberg. DUMB DUMB DUMB thinking here in this article. Steven Mailas, I don't know anything about you personally, but your judgement is horrible here. There are times where actors are replaceable, but not in this case.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 8:12 AM, jazz wrote:

    profit has already killed the movie industry...leave indy alone...

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 8:48 AM, davidiste wrote:

    Spoken like a true investor. It's okay in your line of reason to dump Ford because he costs too much which hurts earnings, but your advice to Ford is it's okay to earn very little so you can earn more. Also amusing to read your complaint that Ford can't do all the stunts anymore anyway, so he is somehow less legit. He's an actor and this is a movie we are talking about. He acts for a living. It's all fake.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 8:49 AM, HerbieJPilato wrote:

    Depp and Selleck are too old, and Cooper is over-rated and out of his league for Indy.

    Ideal choice: go with an UNKNOWN!

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 8:57 AM, StewPidasle wrote:

    All the worlds cost-cutting is why EVERYTHING in this world is crap these days. Electronics, foods, cartoons... everything has turned to garbage because of greedy untalented thinking like this. Quality things need to be composed of quality ingredients. You can't just make things on the cheap all the time. You need a solid director, script, and actors to make a good film, you can't just hire the guy who made Grumpier Old Men to make your big budget action film. It won't work. Your thinking is awful.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 9:06 AM, Bullethead wrote:

    Please just stop making Indiana Jones films. No Harrison Ford = No Indiana Jones. Corporate greed; Ruining America, brick by brick.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 9:10 AM, georgethree33 wrote:

    The Motley Fool indeed.

    As long as Harrison is able to play the role, and willing to - the audience will want to see him play it. He could easily agree to take a small payout upfront for part of the gross after it's success. But if you think the audience will think kindly of an Indy film sans Harrison - while he's still around and kicking - you're only fooling yourself.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 9:27 AM, patrickbrookkane wrote:

    Isn't this a moot point? Didn't Ford negotiate terms for reprising his role in the next Star Wars to guarantee another Indiana Jones would also be made and that he'd be reprising his role there too?

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 9:27 AM, TheThunderMonkey wrote:

    I concur. They should start treating Indiana Jones like a James Bond character.

    As long as the story is good and the acting is good, people will see the movie.

    If there's such an inherent need to have Mr. Ford in the movie, cast him as Dr. Henry Jones.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 10:11 AM, henry2014 wrote:

    I'm fan of Indiana Jones for years, since the 1st film.

    And I can not figure out an Indiana Jones other than Harrison Ford. It will not be the same. In the same way that Disney create this character, can create a new one that will love te new generations. May be a sequel of a Son of Indiana, may be the Grand Son where the new character has adventures, as archaeologist? in XXI century mixed new "world situations adapted to XXI century".

    Is the same, for example with he films o DREDD or TOTAL RECALL, where I prefer the Stallone as DREDD, and Schwarzenegger as the Quaid in Total Recall.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 10:13 AM, Nanook wrote:

    Indiana Jones could very easily continue on without Harrison Ford. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Ford and feel he portrays Indy perfectly. But he is only part of what makes the movies and Indiana Jones character so entertaining and enjoyed by so many. Granted he would be missed in the role, but with the right actor replacing him it could be just as good and successful as the previous films. Take James Bond for example. The 007 franchise has been going strong for 50+ years with no signs of fading away anytime soon, despite having 6 different actors in the lead role. Which brings me to my point. Harrison Ford is not the only person to play Indiana Jones. Sean Patrick Flanery donned the fedora for television in the early nineties, lasting 2 seasons before being cancelled due to high production costs. So why not bring him in as Ford's successor to the role? He was good enough to be Indy once, why not again?

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 10:23 AM, tfarrell1226 wrote:

    The only fool here is the author of this article. Yes Harrison Ford is old, yes the last movie was terrible, but if you don't want to alienate fans and push this franchise into the future you need to respect what it was built from. A proper goodbye to Harrison Ford is the only way to reboot this franchise and then introduce a new actor into the role. I thought that was the intended purpose of Shia Labuf in the last movie. To leave Ford out of this one would be a huge insult to the millions of fans to this franchise and many people if not done properly will never go see a rebooted Indiana Jones without a translational movie honoring Ford as the iconic character.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 10:35 AM, WiseOne wrote:

    This article is spoken like a true investor. Investors are what's ruining this country, by putting corporate interests (profits) ahead of everything else. You should listen to the Pope Mr Mallas, Money should serve man, not rule man.

    Just because you lost money on a movie Ford was in does not mean Ford is not marketable. Let's see what Star Wars Ep VII makes with Ford in it. I bet a little more than what the flawed movie Enders Game did.

    The fact that you own shares in one of the most corrupt companies in the world (Disney) hints at your ignorance. Your idea to replace Ford so Disney can make money only proves it.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 10:41 AM, tomlaplaya wrote:

    I do not want to see Indiana Jones getting around in a wheel chair. Harrison is too long in the teeth! Get some new blood in the role!

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 10:46 AM, grimshawl wrote:

    the fool is indeed foolish on this one.

    " Either "Indiana Jones" is a brand or it isn't. If it is, then it doesn't matter who is in it. Some might think a Bradley Cooper should be the next Jones, or maybe even Johnny Depp; maybe even some would love to see Tom Selleck finally be given the chance! (No one wants to see Shia LaBeouf in the role, though, I'm pretty sure of that.)

    Brand equity trumps even Harrison Ford

    You know who I want to see play Jones? Someone that no one has ever heard of. Whoever that might be. Just find the best unknown out there and be done with it. Find an economical director, an unknown screenwriter, and similar low-cost talent and we're in business.

    Going against the grain like this might seem foolhardy, and it very well could be. Risk, however, is part of Hollywood. I would rather take the chance of casting an unknown from the Disney Channel so that my shares could benefit in the best possible way should the film turn out to be a big hit. "

    bad advice sue to make a flop out of the next movie and alienate the fans.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 12:04 PM, austinwdallas wrote:

    I think a complete unknown would never happen knowing the way Hollywood works with such a big franchise. As long as it's not Shia LaBeauf. If I was was casting, I would want these actors to come in for a screen test. They need to be good looking and also believable as a professor.

    Michael Fassbender, Kit Harrington, Ben Foster, Tom Hardy, Liam Hemsworth, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Harry Connick Jr., Chris Pratt, and Jason Clarke

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 12:29 PM, JonathanSwift wrote:

    The problem with Ender's Game is that Hollywood is notorious for ruining great books. I liked the film version and will buy it but I am a huge O S Card Fan. I do think the boycott on the film had an effect in that it tarnished the film for those unfamiliar with it. It probably pulled in 100+mil only because ford was in it or it could have been worse. And the film could have been much better.

    The problem is not with actors.. it is how these films are done. Stop wasting money on huge explosions!!!! One big one a movie is enough. Spielberg has lost his touch or he just tacks his name onto things.

    I would see a new Indy film but a lot won't. COnsidering how many did not like the newest superman.. it is hard to reboot someone in a classic role. Took 3 tries to get a new Hulk although I loved Norton.. but he had a price tag.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 12:52 PM, MarineMovieBuff5 wrote:

    If they want to use Harrison Ford (and I believe they should) he should either be as the "older" Indy who is recounting his earlier adventures or as has been suggested as Indy's father. Similiar to the defunct YOUNG INDIANA JONES TV series where an older Indy talked about his life and a child or young adult played the actual character.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 1:26 PM, livewire wrote:

    There is a win-win for the fanboys and the studio: set a portion or even majority of the plot as a elder Jones flashback, akin to the River Phoenix role. You could even reprise Connery's Jones Sr. as long as it is a cheap cameo, or in voice only if he's too costly. Ford can begin the story as a memoir, possibly even end the story in his current time as the "museum piece that got away" is finally won. Opens the further plot line for sequels shot 100% as a younger Jones going forward while lending legitimacy to the NEW UNKNOWN Jones actor who takes the reigns, a Liam Hemsworth type. Keys would be eliminating LeBeouf, multiple changes in location (a great part on movies 1 and 3), and less supernatural plot lines. The early movies served as education as much as fantastical entertainment. Maybe Jones finds and saves (loses) artifacts referencing the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World. So much fact-based fictional opportunity.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 2:01 PM, psion9999 wrote:

    I like to think Ender's Game didn't do well because so many of us despise and boycott the hateful bigot Orson Scott Card, not because of any actors or distributors of the film. I'm a huge sci-fi fan and would have watched the film, but I don't care how "good" his writing is - his politics are vile. As for Indiana Jones... I suppose I would be happy to see it live on as a brand, since it was such a part of my childhood. But nobody will ever replace Harrison Ford in my mind.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 2:47 PM, Jarbeez wrote:

    This is why you are writing a story like this instead of running a multi million dollar company. Disney would make so much more money having Ford, Lucas, and Spielberg involved than they ever will if they try to develop a cheap knock off.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 3:51 PM, Skeeze wrote:

    I can give everyone a TL;DR version of this article: quanity over quality. No they should not replace Ford while he is a live and willing to do a movie. I can understand giving him a much smaller part as the wise dad/mentor who's now in retirement but cutting him out completely and replacing such an iconic actor is a huge mistake. People like you Mr. Mallas is the reason Hollywood doesn't turn out very many great movies. Ask anyone what their favorites are and I bet my paycheck the majority of them was made before 2004.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 6:11 PM, BigDadd132 wrote:

    I'll be honest. I think the idea of an Indiana Jones film without Harrison Ford is foolish. Indiana Jones is my favorite film character ever. Saw Raiders of The Lost Ark 14 times in the theater as a kid. I've collected Indy memorabilia for 30 years. I would have ZERO interest in a film without Harrison Ford. ZERO..Just would rather not see another film made than one with a different actor.

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 7:00 PM, vet212 wrote:

    To NOT bring him back would be a worse mistake Mr. Ford is Indiana Jones he should portray him as he ages no one stays young forever and that should include movie charectors

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 8:14 PM, foxielou78 wrote:

    HARRISON FORD IS INDIANA JONES. SO YOU HAVE TO USE HIM!!!!

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 8:40 PM, blahblahblah2 wrote:

    I could care less about the bottom line

    just make a good movie .....

    stock holders are biased and they should post excerpts from there long winded rants.

    Believe me I get that they should make money look at the mess that was the Lone Ranger why not mention that in this article?

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 9:24 PM, phoenix1172 wrote:

    I grew up with Indiana Jones and to me Harrison Ford will always be Indiana Jones. I'm fine if they want to make additional movies, but the movies needs to take place in the world where Harrison Ford is Indiana to interest me. I'd be fine if they went the prequel route (like they did with River Phoenix playing Indiana Jones), but I don't want to see another movie with some other actor like Bradley Cooper playing the original Indiana Jones.

    Put together a script using Harrison Ford in a role similar to Sean Connery in the third movie and pass the torch to a younger actor that can take on the name without replacing the original. I guess they tried to do this in the fourth movie, but Shia has since crashed and burned and is probably not wanted back. Do one more Indiana Jones with Ford and let him go out on a high note without any swinging through the trees with the monkeys like Tarzan (among other crazy things that happened in 4).

  • Report this Comment On January 22, 2014, at 10:27 PM, cgom774 wrote:

    I agree with you that they must take some risk. But you, my friend, are taking too much of it....

    Indiana Is Harrison... A new movie should be some sort of a re-boot of Raiders of the Lost Ark if Harrison will not be in there... And the character should be a re-booted Indiana NEVER the same...

    Thank you

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 9:56 AM, CRW123 wrote:

    Have Harrison Ford play Henry Jones Sr and then have Shia Labuf play Henry Jones Jr and make another movie like Indiana Jones and the Last Cusade. The son rescues the father.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 11:17 AM, northsidevic wrote:

    Eventhrough Harrison Ford is a great actor, but he is getting a little to old to be Indiana Jones..they need a younger person for the role and have Harrision Ford star as a coach or teacher that tells the younger jones what to do

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 3:22 PM, Shaun1138 wrote:

    Harrison Ford will be in the next Indiana Jones film. It will be his final appearance as the character.

    Ford's deal to return to the role of Han Solo for the Star Wars films was tied to one more Indiana Jones film that will be fast tracked in the near future.

    Then Disney can do what they want. Ford will take a final bow.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 3:54 PM, leebob wrote:

    In reading this article, I also started to tink about the possibility of framing the story as flashback simliar to what livewire described above.

    The main story could focus on Ford as Indiana with a related backstory taking place when he was younger. If the backstory played well with audiences, it's role could be expanded in future installments.

    I'm not a writer, so have no suggestions on the McGuffin, but I always thought it would be interesting to see how things fell apart between Abner Ravenwood and the young Marion and Indy.

    Don't ask me about casting for the youger Indiana, 'cause that would be a challenge...

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 5:50 PM, carnybarker567 wrote:

    Sean Connery was Bond. Johnny Weismueller was Tarzan. So goes wit Indiana Jones.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 7:31 PM, JoeArizona wrote:

    Ok, let's see if this makes sense...

    You're an exec at Disney. Harrison Ford wants to play Indy, but you feel that you can save a few bucks and hire an unknown to play the role that Ford created and personifies. You also want to roll the dice with an unknown writer, and hire a hack director who you pray imitate Spielberg's style.

    What could possibly go wrong?

    The last Indy move made three quarters of a BILLION dollars. And it admittedly sucked.

    If your cut-rate production doesn't make AT LEAST that much, your career is over. Done. You will never work in this town again.

    Any industry exec with that decision will go with what works. To do otherwise is to commit career suicide.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 8:11 PM, cmalek wrote:

    You save some (a lot) money by using an actor other than Ford. Great. How do you justify your cost cutting when the movie doesn't even break even? How much money is Disney going to make when the stock takes a nose dive because the movie flopped?

    Maybe Disney should cast Justin Bieber as Jones. Just think of the money you make when all his fans go to see the movie!

  • Report this Comment On January 24, 2014, at 1:49 PM, drrdanderson wrote:

    The author, Steven Mallar, was kidding about using Jonny Depp or Tom Selleck instead of Harrison Ford? He had to be! That would be much like removing Tom Gardner from the Motley Fool staff to save money.

    Also the mention of giving Steven Spielberg and George Lucas the boot---again to save money is crazy. Remove great talent to make more profit?

    The number of negative comments on this piece speaks for itself. Shame on Steve Mallar. Hope that he is not managing large amounts of money for the fool.

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