Disney studio cochairman Alan Horn passes reins to Alan Bergman
Disney is passing the torch at the top of its movie studio.
Alan Horn, who was named chairman of Walt Disney Studios in 2012, is turning the job over to veteran Disney executive Alan Bergman as the Burbank-based company takes the latest step in its transfer of power.
But Horn, 77, is not retiring. The highly respected executive will continue as the studio’s chief creative officer, a title he received last year, reporting to Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Chapek. Bergman also will report to Chapek.
“It has been an honor to lead the Walt Disney Studios over the past eight-plus years,” Horn said in a statement. “It has been an amazing run, and the time feels right to shift my focus solely to our enormous creative slate.”
The leadership transition, which takes effect Jan. 1, was expected. Disney made Horn and Bergman cochairmen in May 2019 , setting the stage for succession. At the time, Disney framed the move as a formal recognition of the working partnership between the two leaders, with Bergman as the studio’s business head and Horn as the expert on the creative side of Hollywood.
Bergman, 54, who has been with Disney for two decades, served as studio president from 2005 to 2019 and played a key role in the integrations of acquisitions: Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm and, most recently, the 21st Century Fox film businesses.
Disney has pushed back the release dates for ‘Black Widow,’ ‘Death on the Nile’ and multiple other films, in a blow to movie theaters.
The plan comes at a time when Disney’s studio business is taking on the massive task of filling a pipeline of new content for Disney+, the streaming service the company launched a little more than a year ago.
Disney recently announced a trove of movies and TV shows in the works for streaming, saying at its Dec. 10 investor presentation that it was planning 10 “Star Wars” series and 10 Marvel TV shows, as well as dozens of titles from Walt Disney Animation, Pixar, National Geographic and Disney’s live-action film arm. Disney+ needs new content to continue drawing subscribers, who currently number 86.8 million.
Disney has delayed many of its high-profile films amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered the majority of North American cinemas. Marvel’s “Black Widow,” starring Scarlett Johansson, is currently set for a May theatrical release. The studio will release Pixar’s “Soul,” which was previously planned for theaters, directly to Disney+ on Christmas Day for no additional charge. The streaming service costs $7 a month.
Emboldened by the success of Disney+, Chapek in October revamped Disney’s corporate structure, organizing its media and entertainment units into content businesses that produce movies, TV shows and sports programming, alongside a newly created group to distribute that content through traditional channels and direct-to-consumer services.
The division Bergman and Horn oversee is now dubbed Disney Studios Content, which encompasses a sprawling array of units including the Blue Sky animation studio, prestigious film label Searchlight Pictures and Disney’s live theatrical production business, in addition to Lucasfilm, Marvel and Pixar.
“I am grateful to take on the role of chairman of the studios as I believe deeply in our people, culture, and the work we do,” Bergman said in a statement.
It’s unclear how much the executive change will affect how the studio operates. The heads of Disney’s production arms will continue to report to both Bergman and Horn on creative matters; they include Walt Disney Studios production president Sean Bailey, Pixar chief Pete Docter, Marvel president Kevin Feige, Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy and Walt Disney Animation Studios head Jennifer Lee.
The pandemic has accelerated Disney’s heightened focus on streaming, as it has at rivals including AT&T’s WarnerMedia and Comcast’s NBCUniversal. Disney’s direct-to-consumer operation, which includes ESPN+ and Hulu, has been a bright spot for the company while its parks and other businesses have been hobbled, resulting in thousands of layoffs. Disney said this month it is targeting up to 260 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024.
The transition from Horn to Bergman mirrors that between former CEO Bob Iger and Chapek. Chapek succeeded Iger as CEO in February as Iger took on the role of executive chairman, overseeing the company’s creative endeavors.
Horn, who led rival film studio Warner Bros. before joining Disney, oversaw a remarkable period of success, as Disney dominated the box office during the last several years with films from brands including “Star Wars,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pixar and Disney’s own animation and live-action businesses.
Disney movies grossed $11 billion in global box office in 2019, a record for any studio. The company’s returns were propelled by blockbusters including “Avengers: Endgame,” Pixar’s “Toy Story 4,” “The Lion King” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”
As president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. from 1999 to 2011, Horn played a key role in the industry’s transition to a business focused on movie franchises based on branded properties, with hits including the “Harry Potter” series and Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins.” His tenure also saw the release of Oscar winners “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Departed.”
Horn cofounded Castle Rock Entertainment with Martin Shafer, Rob Reiner, Andrew Scheinman and Glenn Padnick in 1987, serving as chairman until 1999. The production company was responsible for such movies as “The Shawshank Redemption” and the landmark TV sitcom “Seinfeld.”
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