Late last month, Ike Perlmutter, the head of Marvel Entertainment notorious for his backing of President Donald Trump, was let go by the Walt Disney Company. At the time, the official word was that Perlmutter, who acquired control over the Marvel Comics business in the late ’90s and sold it to Disney for $4 billion in 2009, had been laid off as part of larger cuts at Disney intended to cut costs and streamline businesses.
But Perlmutter, 80, says that narrative is a “convenient” one, and instead claims Disney outright fired him, according to an interview with The Wall Street Journal posted Thursday.
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A spokesperson for Disney told the Journal that Horacio Gutierrez, Disney’s general counsel, called Perlmutter in late March to inform him his job was being terminated as part of the overall layoffs at the company; Perlmutter says he did “not remember” Gutierrez sharing that rationale for his dismissal.
Disney reps did not immediately respond to IndieWire’s request for the company’s official recollection of the termination call.
“It was merely a convenient excuse to get rid of a longtime executive who dared to challenge the company’s way of doing business,” multibillionaire Perlmutter told the Journal. “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.”
Perlmutter asserts his termination stemmed from longtime disagreements with other executives at Disney that revolved around the business strategy of superhero films at Marvel Studios. Specifically, Perlmutter felt that movies were getting “too long” and too expensive to produce, and that the company was prioritizing ticket sales over the franchise’s actual bottom line — Marvel films have grossed more than $23 billion globally as of the latest film, “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”
“All they talk about is box office, box office. I care about the bottom line. I don’t care how big the box office is. Only people in Hollywood talk about box office,” Perlmutter told the WSJ. “There was no way to force the issue because the creative people at the Walt Disney Company are very powerful.”
Perlmutter said he shared his concerns over the budgets of superhero films and their lack of profitability with Bob Chapek during the latter’s two-year term as CEO. Perlmutter says Chapek shared his opinion at the time, but didn’t have the ability to change spending plans after they were approved by senior management. Perlmutter says he received profit-and-loss statements on Marvel Studios films until 2021, when his access was cut off.
In the Journal interview, Perlmutter also named Nelson Peltz — the activist investor and Disney shareholder who made headlines last January for his proxy fight to join the company’s board — as one of his allies at the company. Perlmutter did not formally join the battle, which Peltz ended in February, but he called Disney directors and helped lobby for his friend’s addition to the board.
Another source of tension between Perlmutter and Disney leadership was the ongoing legal struggle between Florida lawmakers and Disney over both the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Disney World’s tax status. Perlmutter said he repeatedly advised Disney executives to not get involved with politics, calling it a “no-win situation.”
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
In 2015, Disney reorganized leadership so studio president Kevin Feige would report directly to Walt Disney Studios’ chairperson, and not Perlmutter. In 2019, Perlmutter further lost power when Feige was promoted to CCO of Marvel Studios, putting him in control of Marvel TV and media, which Perlmutter formerly oversaw.
Perlmutter had been steadily losing power at the company for several years; his open support of Trump didn’t help. Perlmutter was one of a few on an informal council that advised the former president on policies for his Department of Veterans Affairs.
In 2017, it was reported that Perlmutter was behind the lack of merchandise for the “Avengers” character Black Widow, due to a belief that consumer products from a female superhero wouldn’t sell well. The opinion, and decision, caused considerable outcry.
Though Perlmutter is now out of a job at Disney, his involvement with the company isn’t over; with around 30 million shares, Perlmutter is one of the largest individual Disney shareholders, which helps contributes to his reported net worth of around $4 billion — or a Marvel Comics in 2009.
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