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Tron: Ares Shuts Down Due to Strike, But Could It Be a Blessing in Disguise for Disney?

Tron: Ares was apparently supposed to start production this week in Vancouver, but the sequel has shut down production due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, with Disney forced to lay off 150+ crew members.

Could this ultimately be a blessing in disguise for Disney? Of course. I’m not sure I see the appetite out there for a new Tron movie, let alone one starring Jared Leto, who doesn’t appear to be a box office draw in the way that some studios think he is — all due respect to Leto, who is clearly very talented.

Tron doesn’t necessarily need a butts-in-seats movie star — Garrett Hedlund starred in Tron: Legacy, which grossed $400 million worldwide, and Leto is certainly a bigger star than him — but this still feels like a dicey proposition, and the exact opposite of what Bob Iger said he planned to do upon his return to Disney.

To quote Bloomberg back in February, “Iger’s programming strategy has always been less is more… and Iger will push the teams at Marvel and Lucasfilm, in particular, to be careful about which shows it makes from those worlds.”

In other words, Iger signaled a shift away from unnecessary sequels — you know, like Tron: Ares — unless there’s a compelling underlying idea. I like the idea of a walking, sentient AI program that escapes into the real world, but I’m not sure that this big-budget franchise is the right vehicle for that idea, which seems better suited to a mid-budget thriller.

But Disney loves its lightcycles, so the studio is pressing forward with this ill-advised sequel, which hails from writers Jesse Wigutow and Jack Thorne. Director Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) has, indeed, assembled a strong ensemble here, with Leto due to be joined by Evan Peters, Jodie Turner-Smith, Greta Lee, and Cameron Monaghan, though it’ll be interesting to see whether any further scheduling delays affect the availability of the cast. As of now, it’s also unclear whether Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, or Hedlund will reprise their roles from past Tron movies.

Tron: Legacy
Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy/Disney

Tron: Legacy was produced on a budget of $170 million, and while it likely cost a pretty penny to bring back Bridges and then de-age him, that film didn’t have to account for COVID safety and the extra costs it continues to add to every movie’s budget. My point is that if this sequel is in the same ballpark, costing $180 million to $200 million before marketing, then Disney is going to have a hell of a time earning back their investment in the post-pandemic marketplace.

I know this is just a delay and Tron: Ares is still expected to move forward after the strike is settled, but Disney should take this opportunity to reevaluate things while production is on pause, though our hearts do go out to the crew that has been affected.

Rønning, for his part, aired out his own frustrations on Instagram, where he advocated for a faster resolution to Hollywood’s ongoing double strike, which he nonetheless supported.

The caption of his post can be found in full below:

“The absolute best moments of my career have been watching an actor perform in front of the camera — taking the scene and the text to a higher place. I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with amazing talent. It’s a huge part of why I’m a filmmaker. However, like myself, being an actor or a writer, means you’re a freelancer. And I can tell you, the constant uncertainty is not for everyone. To that end, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask for a better safety net.

Many of my best friends are writers. Everything starts with the story. Everything starts with you. That must continue. And that means that AI needs to be regulated. There is no doubt about the threat the technology poses to all creatives.

Today was supposed to be our first day of principal photography on Tron: Ares (a movie subsequently about AI and what it means, and takes, to be human). Instead, we are shut down with over a hundred and fifty people laid off. It’s indefinite, which makes it exponentially harder for everyone.

The AMPTP, SAG-AFTRA, and WGA need to speed up the negotiating process and not leave the table until it’s done. This is Hollywood. We close deals for breakfast. Why do we suddenly have all the time in the world when every day is so precious? These tactics are extremely frustrating. It’s time for diplomacy so we can get back to work — under conditions that are fair to everybody.”

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