Ike speaks! At long last, the legendary penny pincher Ike Perlmutter, former chairman of now dissolved Marvel Entertainment, has clapped back against Bob Iger. The current Disney head unceremoniously laid off Ike last week, in a cost cutting move that was spearheaded by Ike’s own machinations.
For Ike Kremlinologists, this is rich, rich stuff. I can’t remember the last time that Perlmutter gave an interview, or if he ever did before. But such was Ike’s ire over his treatment by Iger that he has broken his silence with the Wall Street Journal, having his say and explaining that…the MCU makes too much money.
Yes, that is right.
“All they talk about is box office, box office,” the 80-year-old Perlmutter told WSJ. “I care about the bottom line. I don’t care how big the box office is. Only people in Hollywood talk about box office.”
All…people….talk about…is making money. You’ll recall that the MCU has made over $23 billion at the box office. By far the most successful franchise in movie history. But they had to spend money to do it! And that is Not Ike’s Way.
Kinda mind blowing, kinda a window into how Iger and Ike clashed…and also a chilling window into how this obsession with not spending money has impacted Marvel’s own publishing over the years.
The main purpose of the interview is for Perlmutter to insist that he wasn’t laid off, he was fired for having a fundamental difference of opinion over business matters with Iger – but one of the main disputes was trying to convince Iger to spend less money on the MCU films, which Perlmutter felt were “too long and too expensive to produce.”
“I have no doubt that my termination was based on fundamental differences in business between my thinking and Disney leadership, because I care about return on investment,” Mr. Perlmutter said.
Disney executives and Marvel Studios leadership, he said, have a singular focus on ticket sales.
It should go without saying that Marvel’s movies are incredibly profitable. Yes, they have been costly to produce – Avenger’s Endgame’s budget was $356–400 million – but the returns from not just box office but licensing have been huge, and attention to detail is part of what got them there. I you think Ike’s Way is the way, then have a look at Inhumans, a legendary flop that looked embarrassingly cheap, but was Ike’s signature pet project.
As anyone who runs a business knows, sometimes you have to spend a penny to make two pennies. Which in Ike’s mind comes out to spending two pennies where one will do.
While some have said this WSJ interview is a puff piece, if you read it in the voice of an old Israeli man, it’s not hard to hear some prime cloud-yelling. And also a true obsession with not spending money.
Of backing of his neighbor, fellow 80-year-old Nelson Peltz, in his attempt to takeover the Disney Board, Ike says “My experience with any major corporation, when they’re having problems and they don’t have the free cash or whatever it is, usually people like Nelson Peltz know how to put it back on track. I learned one thing about creative people my whole life: You cannot give them an open credit card.…They’re doing this for 30 years, why would they change?”
Don’t let those creatives have any room! You’ve got to keep them in line!
Perlmutter also claims that, contrary to what Bob Iger reported, he never wanted to fire Kevin Feige, he just wanted the budgets to get under control. According to the article, Ike received P&L reports on every Marvel movie until 2021, and you can just imagine his blood pressure boiling when he saw the spending.
As recently as October, Mr. Perlmutter had asked Marvel Studios leadership for financial information on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” a 2022 movie that grossed $956 million globally, according to people familiar with the matter.
At various points, Mr. Perlmutter said, he raised concerns with then-CEO Mr. Chapek about what he viewed as out-of-control spending on Marvel movies.
“There was no way to force the issue because the creative people at the Walt Disney Company are very powerful,” he complained. Let’s be clear here once more: Ike doesn’t care if the movies make a billion dollars (several have), he’s just concerned about what they cost.
Also to be kept in line: Disney’s support for human rights. Perlmutter’s relationship with Florida governor Ron DeSantis is also explained a bit. After Disney pushed back against DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Perlmutter was alarmed that Disney was getting involved in politics and he called up the gov.
“Ron, you’re right. Disney doesn’t have the right to get involved with politics, and you know, I’m the largest individual shareholder,” Perlmutter told DeSantis. (Is Ike the largest individual shareholder? The jury is out on that.) “It’s a no-win situation,” he added.
The article also contains some kinda pro-Ike statements. Former Marvel Entertainment chairman Morton Handel acknowledges that Ike is a penny pincher, but “in my own experience, I have never come across a more effective manager than Ike Perlmutter.”
Former agent David Maisel, the true father of the MCU (he’s the one who came up with the idea for Marvel to start its own studio) also had some supportively neutral words, noting that his plan for Marvel Studios was as “a grandiose and expensive business” and Ike provided some solid business support that resulted in Disney buying the studio for $4 billion.
Perlmutter’s well known charitable contributions are also noted, along with a more recent support for transgender medical care: Thanks to Ike and his wife Laura’s charity NYU Langone Health was able to hire a top cosmetic surgeon who specialized in gender-transition procedures, and Ike has even offered to pay for gender-transition surgery for Disney employees.
I’ve been told of Ike’s devotion to charity by several people, and I’ll just say….people are complicated. You can know what the right thing to do is in one area and still fuck people over about the same thing in another area. If Ike really cared about trans people, supporting DeSantis’s open campaign against their very existence might be more important than keeping Disney “out of politics” by failing to support basic human rights.
Following up on last week’s news about the end of Marvel Entertainment, I continue to hear that Marvel Comics is just fine following the shake-up, and will in fact be free of Ike’s bizarre and very hands-on OCD about spending money. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear more anecdotes about how this impacted Marvel coming out in the coming months, but given his complete obliviousness to spending to make higher quality products you can begin to see how Marvel’s book division, in particular, was held back by this fixation. We just ran the annual Bookscan report and Marvel’s bookstore performance is shockingly poor: literally all of their licensees sell better in bookstores than Marvel itself, despite 14 years of Marvel being the #1 brand in entertainment.
Ike’s fixation has deep tendrils that may never be entirely removed.
Just to finish this off, up Perlmutter also released his own statement about being removed from Marvel – and he even uses the word “fixation” unprompted!
“I have long expected that my working relationship with Disney would end. That it should come as a result of my trying to help Disney improve its business should sadden many shareholders as it does me, the company’s largest individual shareholder. Despite my employment termination, I will continue to hold my shares of Disney and continue to seek improvements at the company for the benefit of all stakeholders.
“Anyone who knows me is well aware of my fixation on fiscal discipline to improve efficiency. It is that approach to Disney’s operations that has formed my support for Trian, in seeking to restore the dividend, fix the company’s inflated cost structure, and ensure a successful CEO succession. Trian CEO Nelson Peltz has a long history of improving shareholder returns at many leading consumer businesses. I believe he could have done the same for Disney as a member of its board. It’s a disappointment for me and I believe many fellow shareholders that he wasn’t welcomed to the board and that it took the threat of a proxy contest for the board and management to begin to act.
“My ties to Disney are deep and extend more than 30 years. The Marvel brand which I brought to the company in 2009 is now one of the strongest and most profitable business units in the company, as well as one of the best-known entertainment franchises in the world.
“I wish only the very best for Disney stakeholders – its employees around the world, its millions of devoted fans and customers, its brilliant creators and contributors, and its many shareholders, like me. I will continue to advocate for actions that secure Disney’s long-term financial health and allow a new generation of management to reverse the trend of falling shareholder equity and return the dividend to its prior level.”
Ditto — finding these articles fascinating, particularly as so little’s been written about him from comix news sites.
Couldn’t have happened to a better and bitter racist Trump supporter.
Do you think the quality of the Marvel comics will now improve?
He can believe what he’s saying as much as he wants. Doesn’t ever mean it’s true.
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