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Sean Bailey, Disney’s live-action film boss, is leaving the company

A group of people walking with picket signs underneath the entrance to the Disney studio lot in Burbank
The Walt Disney Studios lot in Burbank.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Sean Bailey, the longtime Walt Disney Co. executive who oversaw the studio’s live-action movies, is stepping down, the Burbank-based entertainment giant announced Monday.

David Greenbaum has been appointed to the newly created role of president of Disney live action and 20th Century Studios, and will oversee film projects for both units spanning theatrical and streaming platforms. Bailey is exiting his position after 14 years at the helm.

The high-level change at the top of Disney’s live-action film unit has been rumored, particularly after the rocky performance of some recent films.

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During his tenure, Bailey oversaw a string of blockbuster live-action remakes, including “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Lion King,” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Most of those films topped $1 billion worldwide in box office receipts, while last year’s “The Little Mermaid,” raked in $560 million (it struggled in overseas markets).

But despite high-profile successes, Bailey’s division was behind last year’s box office flop, “Haunted Mansion,” inspired by the vaunted Disneyland theme park ride.

Bailey’s contract was due to expire next January, and it was reported that he had discussions with Netflix executives taking the top film job there. While Bailey is not expected to make the switch to Netflix’s Sunset Boulevard-based campus, revelations of the talks prompted considerable reflection by Bailey and Disney’s top brass about the studio’s live-action film strategy and pipeline, according to a knowledgeable person who was not authorized to comment publicly.

Bailey, who wasn’t interested in extending his contract, will return to his roots as a producer of “Tron: Ares,” for Disney, the company said in its statement.

The new leader, Greenbaum, most recently served as president of Searchlight Pictures, where he jointly managed the studio’s film and TV projects with Matthew Greenfield, who will continue in his role as Searchlight Pictures president. Disney acquired the specialty label as part of its $71.3-billion purchase of 21st Century Fox properties from Rupert Murdoch nearly five years ago.

Searchlight has had plenty of awards success, and Greenbaum helped guide dozens of feature films, including Academy Awards winners “The Shape of Water” and “Nomadland,” to the big screen. He was also involved in shepherding Yorgos Lanthimos’ “Poor Things,” which currently is nominated for a best picture Oscar. Greenbaum was also involved in the making of past standouts such as “The Menu,” “The Favourite,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Black Swan.”

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Before joining Searchlight more than a decade ago, Greenbaum was a development executive at Miramax Films.

“David has an incredible creative sensibility and eye for film, and he has built a reputation as an exceptional leader and creative executive, as proven by his track record at Searchlight Pictures and deep relationships throughout the industry,” said Alan Bergman, co-chairman of Disney Entertainment, in a statement.

“I’m thrilled that he’ll be taking on this new and important role. We’ve had the great fortune to have a strong creative leader in Steve Asbell at 20th Century, and I’m excited for him to work closely with David as we take a more strategic look across both brands from a creative and operational standpoint. I also want to thank Sean Bailey for his many contributions and leadership over his tenure at Disney.”

Bailey, in a statement, said it was a good time to move on and wished Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger, Bergman and others “the very best for a bright future.”

“These 15 years at Disney have been an incredible journey, but the time is right for a new chapter,” Bailey said. “I’m deeply grateful to my exceptional team and proud of the slate and history we’ve built together. I joined Disney while producing Tron: Legacy, so it seems fitting that I will have the opportunity to work on the latest Tron as I depart.”

Netflix has not named a replacement for its film chief, Scott Stuber, who last month announced his departure from the streamer. A Netflix spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.

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