Ike Perlmutter claims Disney fired him for saying Marvel films were too expensive

Billionaire Ike Perlmutter, the chairman of Marvel Entertainment, was one of the most high-profile casualties of the Walt Disney Company’s layoffs last week.

The entertainment company justified the job cuts, totaling 7,000 employees, as a way to slash costs and remove redundancies. 

But Perlmutter says he was terminated for a different reason: complaining about how costly Marvel movies were becoming.

Cost-cutting “was merely a convenient excuse to get rid of a longtime executive who dared to challenge the company’s way of doing business,” Perlmutter told the Wall Street Journal.

Perlmutter accused Disney of being too focused on ticket sales and revenues while letting costs get out of control. “All they talk about is box office, box office,” Perlmutter said. 

“I care about the bottom line. Only people in Hollywood talk about box office,” he continued.

Cost controversy

Perlmutter was the chairman and CEO of Marvel Entertainment before Disney acquired the comics company for $4 billion in 2009. Perlmutter remained as Marvel’s chairman and is now one of Disney’s largest individual shareholders.

Perlmutter has long griped about the high cost of Marvel films, putting him at odds with others at Disney.

In 2015, Disney CEO Bob Iger removed Perlmutter as the head of Marvel Studios due to a dispute over the budget for Doctor Strange.

Earlier this year, Iger—now in his second stint as Disney’s CEO—claimed on CNBC that Perlmutter had tried to fire Kevin Feige, the producer for Marvel’s films, forcing Iger to step in “to prevent that from happening.” (Perlmutter told the Wall Street Journal he never tried to fire Feige, who is now the president of Marvel Studios.)

Disney’s Marvel films have grossed $23 billion at the global box office.

Iger also claimed in his 2019 memoir that he had told Perlmutter to order his team to stop “putting up roadblocks” to films starring Marvel’s female and Black superheroes.

Black Panther, released in 2018, has the second-highest box office for a Disney-produced Marvel film. 

By the time he was fired, Perlmutter was in charge of just Marvel’s comics publishing and licensing businesses, with both Marvel’s film and TV divisions reporting directly to Disney.

Yet Perlmutter said he continued to complain about the high costs of Marvel movies.

He even claimed that former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who was unceremoniously booted from the position earlier this year in favor of a returning Iger, shared his concerns about the high spending, yet was powerless to change things.

“There was no way to force the issue because the creative people at the Walt Disney Company are very powerful,” Perlmutter told the Wall Street Journal. 

The Walt Disney Company did not respond to Fortune’s request for comment, but a Disney spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that the company told Perlmutter that his termination was part of the broader layoffs.

Backing Nelson Peltz

Perlmutter confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that he supported the campaign by activist investor Nelson Peltz for a board seat at Disney.

In stock exchange filings earlier this year, Disney revealed that Perlmutter was lobbying for Peltz behind the scenes.

In January, Peltz said he wanted to “restore the magic” at Disney, criticizing the company for poor succession planning, an expensive streaming strategy, and costly acquisitions.

Petlz ended his campaign after Disney announced that it would launch a massive restructuring plan, cutting $5.5 billion in costs and 7,000 jobs. 

“If a guy is going to do everything you wanted him to do, where’s the argument?” Peltz told Fortune in an interview after ending his campaign for a board seat.

Disney’s layoffs, which started last week, go beyond Perlmutter.

The company has cut jobs in its television production and content acquisition divisions, and shuttered its metaverse department. 

Another casualty of the restructuring is Marvel Entertainment, whose divisions are being integrated into other parts of Disney, according to the New York Times.

In his interview with the Journal, Perlmutter still supported his efforts to get Peltz a board seat—even if they helped trigger the measures that led to his firing.

“I learned one thing about creative people my whole life,” Perlmutter said. “You cannot give them an open credit card.”


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