Disney Rides Into Box-Office Ambush With ‘The Lone Ranger’
By Christopher Palmeri & Michael White
“It is a huge gamble,” said Doug Creutz, an analyst with Cowen & Co. in San Francisco, who predicts a $100 million write-off for Disney. “You need the film to be really good.”
Critics have been harsh. Of 62 reviews compiled by the website Rottentomatoes.com, 79 percent were labeled negative. That compares with 49 percent “rotten” out of 218 reviews of “John Carter,” Disney’s March 2012 sci-fi fantasy about a Civil War veteran transported to Mars.
“‘The Lone Ranger’ is a drag as an action movie,” wrote Alonso Duralde, critic for the industry website The Wrap.com. “It’s not funny in its attempts at self-parody, and it feels like a Western made by people working off a checklist of tropes.”
The reintroduction of “The Lone Ranger” tells the story more from Tonto’s point of view and introduces comedic elements, such as a stone-faced Depp dodging bad guys on a speeding train. Hammer, 26, is out to avenge his brother’s murder as the masked ranger.
Coveted product placements were difficult in film’s 19th century setting, so in its promotions Time Warner Cable links the speed of its Internet service to the Lone Ranger’s fast white stallion “Silver.”
“What these partners have done is take that idea of riding for justice, take those icons--the mask, the silver bullet, riding the white horse--and made those themes relevant in new ways,” said Asad Ayaz, a Disney marketing executive.
Kawasaki opted for commercials mingling scenes of the ranger racing along on horseback with shots of off-road enthusiasts riding dirt bikes or four-wheelers. A voiceover compares Old West heroes with Kawasaki owners riding their “steeds forged of steel,” according to Chris Brull, the company’s U.S. director of marketing, who declined to put a dollar value on the company’s campaign.
Since it opened, things aren't looking good:
‘Lone Ranger’ a Train Wreck While ‘Despicable Me 2′ Shines for Explosive Fourth
By Andrew Stewart
Adding in only $29.4 Friday-Sunday, the masked rider and his faithful Indian companion overall brought in nearly $90 million less than “Despicable Me 2”
By Todd Cunningham
Over the five-day holiday weekend, the masked rider will have brought in around $49 million. That’s about $20 million under analysts’ projections and nearly $90 million behind the total of the No. 1 movie, Universal and Illumination Entertainment’s animated family film “Despicable Me 2.”
Worse, the $29.4 million three-day Friday-Sunday total for the $225 million adaptation of the classic radio and TV show, with Armie Hammer as the title character and Johnny Depp as Tonto, was weaker than that of last year's bomb "John Carter."
That $250-million sci-fi adventure opened to $30.1 million, topped out at $73 million at the domestic box office and Disney wound up with a $200 million write down.
It’s hard to imagine Disney executives aren’t questioning the decision they made last summer to restart production on the Western after having shut it down when the budget began spiraling out of control.
“The Lone Ranger" marks the second consecutive major box-office misfire for Depp, who starred in last summer’s “Dark Shadows.” That send-up of a 1960s TV vampire soap cost $150 million to produce and topped out at $80 million. It opened to a mere $29 million--and "The Lone Ranger" did worse than that.
With Depp and the "Pirates of the Caribbean team of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski on board, Disney had hoped “The Lone Ranger” could do for Westerns what that $3.7 billion four-film franchise had done for pirate movies.
That’s clearly not in the cards now. And to recoup that huge production budget--and the cost of a major marketing campaign--it would have to overperform abroad. Even with Depp, one of the world’s most bankable box-office stars, that’s an extremely long shot because Westerns don’t normally play strongly overseas.
“The frustrating part for us,” Disney’s head of distribution Dave Hollis told TheWrap Sunday, “is that we had all the ingredients here. You take a classic franchise, team the world’s most successful producer, an award-winning director and the biggest movie star in the world and you think your chances of success are pretty good. But we just didn’t make it work.”
And the belly-flop means it ranks with the biggest Western bombs of all time, such as “Wild, Wild West.” That was the 1999 Will Smith-Kevin Kline horse opera that opened to $27 million despite its $190 million budget, huge for that era.
Review: 'The Lone Ranger' Is A Fun Summer Ride
By Mark Hughes
The focus on Depp and the POTC link is good for broad global marketing, where Depp’s star power alone plus the enormous continued popularity of the POTC series are enough to generate strong box office figures, but domestically those things have less weight in a crowded summer race. The film is actually about the early expansion across the western USA, the rise of warfare between the white settlers and the Indian nations, and the way politics and business colluded to create a war with a terrible, inevitable outcome. That’s a narrative that would probably catch a lot of attention from audiences looking for something unique in the field of films vying for attention right now, and I’m surprised Disney didn’t capitalize on all of that for the July 4th opening week.
But as I said, while the North American box office will suffer from the combined overwhelming onslaught of negative press and unclear marketing, it won’t have such trouble overseas, I suspect. The $100+ million domestic total is likely to be overshadowed by a foreign gross that will approach $200-300 million, if Disney aggressively promotes it properly. That means a final box office potential of anywhere between $300 million to $400 million. Surely not what Disney was hoping for a film with this star power and such a great, successful creative team working on a known brand that has mild links to the superhero genre—no doubt they thought $200+ million might be up for grabs domestically, and another $400 million overseas, perhaps. Alas, that doesn’t look possible at this point, although of course it’s not entirely out of the cards that it could pick up lost ground over the weekend and end up closer to $60 million for the first five days and go on to $150 million domestic, then add a stronger $300-400 million in foreign receipts. But that’s a best case scenario now, and not a likely one.
Disney took what could've been a good cowboys 'n' Indians movie and turned it into a three-ring circus. I don't want to say Depp's Tonto is a sideshow freak, but as the movie begins, he's literally a sideshow freak.
The lack of Native authenticity probably is a big factor in the public's rejection of the movie. Anyone who remembers the old TV show wants something like that, not Captain Jack Sparrow in a Flying Nun headdress.
For more on Johnny Depp, see Critics Agree: Lone Ranger Is Bad and New Tonto as Racist as Old Tonto.