SHOWEAST 2018 Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award: Chris Aronson, 20th Century Fox

The Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award has been a fixture of ShowEast since 1987, honoring companies and executives in the industry who have made an impact through their philanthropic efforts. This year’s recipient, 20th Century Fox’s President of Domestic Distribution, Chris Aronson, has been involved in industry charities for over two decades. Aronson’s support of the Variety Club ‘s Northern and Southern California chapters has spanned 25 years, and he recently served as president and chairman of the Will Rogers Motion Picture Foundation—an organization he has been involved with for 20 years. Aronson oversees sales and theatrical distribution for 20th Century Fox across the United States and Canada. Boxoffice caught up with the executive to talk about his career—and the changes awaiting our industry in the coming years.

How did you find yourself working in the film industry? Is there anyone you consider to have been a mentor or instrumental in your career? 

After graduation from college, I worked in a management training program for an industrial company that sold tube and pipe. I heard of a job opening at Universal Film Exchange and was asked if I wanted to apply. I did and went on the interview. It was a weighty decision to make—tube and pipe or movies? It was close (not at all), but movies won. Lou Lencioni, Chuck Viane, and Bruce Snyder have bestowed upon me the gifts of patience, guidance, and wisdom in navigating the sometime choppy waters of the motion picture industry. And Tom Sherak instilled in so many of us the virtues of philanthropy and the importance of giving back.

How would you recap 2018 so far for our industry? 

For the industry as a whole, it has been a banner year as we look to be on course for setting a new high for box office revenue. Simultaneously, 2018 will be a sea change year with the Disney/Fox deal, which will forever alter our business landscape.

Fox has embraced the idea of a varied slate—from ensemble superhero movies (X-Men and Deadpool) to films with social relevance (October’s The Hate U Give) and big cinematic spectacles that aren’t pre-packaged in a ready-built franchise (November’s Bohemian Rhapsody). How important is having such a diverse offering at the multiplex?

Walk down any street, in any city in the world, and you’ll find diversity. We live in a diverse world and moviegoers reflect that diversity. At Fox, we have always believed in making movies for a wide range of global audiences. Successful movies are about great storytelling, and as long as there are great stories to tell, we will make movies that tell those stories to entertain audiences around the world.

What do you consider to be the biggest threats facing theatrical exhibition? How can exhibition and distribution prepare to face those challenges? 

Let’s face it—we’re in a fiercely competitive environment for entertainment choices. It’s incumbent upon our industry, distribution and exhibition collectively, to ensure the theatrical moviegoing experience caters to modern media consumption demands. Studios must create the most compelling content possible, and exhibition must create the most inviting environment possible, while simultaneously ensuring the price-to-value ratio is balanced. 

You’ve been in this industry for three decades, including 13 years at Fox. How would you describe Fox’s legacy in the film industry? 

Since its inception, 20th Century Fox has been innovative and daring when it comes to creating big-screen entertainment. From How Green Was My Valley to The Sound of Music to The French Connection to Star Wars, this can certainly be attributed to great filmmakers and bold leadership. The Darryl Zanuck era set the stage for the modern iteration of Fox with James Cameron’s Titanic and Avatar being monumental global achievements. Twentieth Century Fox has championed filmmakers and visionary storytelling, which has had a profound impact on this great industry.

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