It wouldn't be wrong to say that Disney is enjoying one of the best years in the company's history. Not only did it release the highest-grossing movie of all time (Marvel Studios' Avengers: Endgame), but it also closed a multibillion-dollar acquisition of 20th Century Fox. With the Mouse House now one of the most powerful and lucrative corporations on the planet, CEO Bob Iger decided it was the right time to release a memoir about his time as captain on the family-friendly multimedia ship.
Now on sale everywhere, The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned From 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company covers everything from how Iger came to work for Disney in the first place, to the company's purchase of Pixar, to its purchase of Lucasfilm, to its purchase of Marvel, to its purchase of Fox. Yes, Disney has burned through plenty of cash in the 21st century, but its gambles have paid off in ways no one could have predicted at the time.
For instance, Iger mentions in the book that the company considered buying Marvel when it was run by Michael Eisner. This never went through because many higher-ups felt that the comics publisher was "too edgy" and "would trash the Disney brand." Marvel wouldn't come into the Mickey Mouse family until 2009, a year after the first Iron Man movie hit theaters and changed superhero flicks forever. Even after Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige proved that he could turn any character or team into box-office gold, Iger was confronted with pushback from certain executives at Marvel Entertainment to whom Feige was beholden in terms of decision-making. They didn't believe that diverse heroes (like Captain Marvel and especially Black Panther) could make money or carry franchises. That, coupled with a long-held Hollywood "superstition" that movies with black leads and casts don't fare well in international markets, put a major obstacle in Iger's path.
"We had a chance to make a great movie and to showcase an underrepresented segment of America and those goals were not mutually exclusive. I called [Marvel Entertainment CEO] Ike [Perlmutter] and told him to tell his team to stop putting up roadblocks and ordered that we put both Black Panther and Captain Marvel in production," writes Iger in his "tell-all" memoir.
This request led to two of the biggest-grossing movies in box-office history; both projects ended up racking up over $1 billion worldwide. In particular, Black Panther (helmed by director Ryan Coogler) became a massive cultural phenomenon and gained Iger praise from major celebrities such as Spike Lee, Oprah, Gayle King, Denzel Washington, and even President Barack Obama.
Then there's the whole section about Disney's revival of the Star Wars brand with Episode VII - The Force Awakens in 2015. Per Iger, George Lucas wasn't all that happy when his outline and ideas for further installments in the galactic franchise ended up totally ignored.
"Early on, Kathy [Kennedy] brought J.J. [Abrams] and Michael Arndt up to Northern California to meet with George at his ranch and talk about their ideas for the film. George immediately got upset as they began to describe the plot and it dawned on him that we weren’t using one of the stories he submitted during the negotiations," reads the CEO's account of events. "The truth was, Kathy, J.J., Alan [Horn, head of Disney Studios], and I had discussed the direction in which the saga should go, and we all agreed that it wasn’t what George had outlined. George knew we weren’t contractually bound to anything, but he thought that our buying the story treatments was a tacit promise that we’d follow them, and he was disappointed that his story was being discarded. Just prior to the global release, Kathy screened The Force Awakens for George. He didn’t hide his disappointment. 'There’s nothing new.' he said."
That's how a lot of fans felt following Episode VII's release, with many folks stating that the film was just a remake of A New Hope with an even bigger Death Star at the end.
"In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to him to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, 'There weren’t enough visual or technical leaps forward,'" continues Iger. "He wasn’t wrong, but he also wasn’t appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars. We’d intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films, to not stray too far from what people loved and expected, and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do. Looking back with the perspective of several years and a few more Star Wars films, I believe J.J. achieved the near-impossible, creating a perfect bridge between what had been and what was to come."
Abrams is returning to end the trilogy he kicked off in 2015. Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker opens in theaters Friday, Dec. 20.