LOS ANGELES — Sound the trumpets: 20th Century Fox, a name and klieg-lit logo that stretches back 85 years in Hollywood, is dropping the word Fox, a move that may prevent consumers from mistakenly thinking the movie studio has anything to do with Rupert Murdoch’s polarizing Fox News media empire.
The Walt Disney Company bought most of Mr. Murdoch’s entertainment assets last year in a $71.3 billion deal. That included the 20th Century Fox studio and its art-house sibling, Fox Searchlight. On Friday, employees at the main movie studio arrived to a new email format (@20thcenturystudios) without the Fox. A Disney spokesman confirmed that both labels, now officially known as 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures, would drop Fox from their logos. Disney had no further comment.
“Downhill,” a comedic drama starring Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, will be the first movie to bear the Searchlight Pictures name. It arrives in theaters on Feb. 14. “The Call of the Wild,” set for release on Feb. 21 and starring Harrison Ford, will carry the 20th Century logo. The trumpet fanfare (composed by Alfred Newman in 1933), klieg lights and familiar monolith logo will remain.
It is not surprising that Disney would rename the movie operations. In October, 20th Century Fox Television, a small-screen studio that Disney bought as part of the deal, became part of a new entity, Disney Television Studios.
Mr. Murdoch still owns the Fox broadcast network, Fox News and a chain of 28 local Fox television stations, among other media assets. His new company is called Fox Corporation, and one of his sons, Lachlan Murdoch, is chief executive. (The old company was called 21st Century Fox.)
The Fox brand became synonymous with Mr. Murdoch starting in the mid-1980s, when he bought a stake in the 20th Century Fox movie studio and founded the Fox broadcast network to compete with ABC, CBS and NBC. He eventually took full control of the movie studio. Fox News arrived on the cable scene in 1996 as an alternative to CNN and grew into a behemoth that dwarfed the film company as a moneymaker.
Fox News remains a media superpower, but its brand has become a polarizing one. The network’s founding chairman, Roger Ailes, and one of its most popular on-air personalities, Bill O’Reilly, became the focus of sexual harassment scandals in recent years. Its prime-time opinion hosts are vocal supporters of President Trump.
Hollywood figures have grown more vocal in their criticism of Fox News. In 2018, for instance, Steve Levitan, the creator of “Modern Family,” which airs on ABC but is produced by the Fox studio that Disney now owns, wrote on Twitter that he was “disgusted to work at a company that has anything whatsoever to do with @FoxNews.” His comments came amid the 24-hour news channel’s coverage of the Trump administration’s border security policy.
Movies have been branded with the Fox name for more than a century. The name dates to 1915, when William Fox, a Hungarian immigrant, left the fur and garment industry to start a motion picture company. The 1929 stock market crash, among other misfortunes, forced the Fox Film Corporation to merge with a competitor, Twentieth Century Pictures, to form 20th Century Fox in 1935. The combined company made such Hollywood classics as “The Sound of Music,” “All About Eve,” “Alien” and “Die Hard.”
Also on Friday, Disney ended a lavish film-production deal with Peter Chernin, who was once Mr. Murdoch’s second in command. The decade-old agreement was with 20th Century Fox, which released Chernin Entertainment-produced films and paid for all or part of the costs. Films made under the deal included the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy and the current Oscar nominee “Ford v Ferrari.”
Mr. Chernin told The New York Times in 2018 that he had about six years remaining on the deal. But the alliance no longer made sense under Disney, which generally does not share ownership of films and plans to pare down 20th Century’s release slate to focus almost entirely on franchise movies. Disney and Chernin Entertainment will continue to work together on a handful of those, including a new “Planet of the Apes” film.
“I have nothing but praise for Disney,” Mr. Chernin said in a statement. “They were gracious, classy and paved the way for me to continue to build the company however we want.”
The news about Chernin Entertainment was first reported by Variety.