By Gary Susman
"Despicable Me 2" grabbed all the family audience.
"Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" grabbed all the guy audience.
People don't care about the character anymore.
People don't care about Westerns anymore.
Who was that masked man? Casting someone charismatic and familiar in the lead role might have made a difference. No slam against the talents or chiseled jaw of Armie Hammer, but he's never carried a mainstream picture, and his star quality remains unproven. Granted, it's been common in superhero movies in recent years to cast handsome, earnest, untested actors in the lead roles (see "Thor" or "Man of Steel"), but that's not always the wisest course.
Not every idea Johnny Depp has is brilliant. Depp's name is still golden overseas, and after the bizarre creative choices he made in creating Capt. Jack Sparrow paid off, Disney was obviously willing to cut him a lot of slack. Still, playing up Tonto at the expense of the Lone Ranger, or costuming Tonto like Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley with an Angry Bird on his head may have seemed too eccentric even for Depp's biggest fans to agree to ride along.
Not everything Jerry Bruckheimer touches turns to gold. Producer Bruckheimer, along with Depp, director Gore Verbinski, and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, managed to turn a Disney theme park ride into a franchise worth billions, but that doesn't mean everything this group does will work as well as the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
I doubt other movies could "grab the audience" from a great movie, so I'd discount the first two reasons.
Lack of interest in the Lone Ranger and Westerns is certainly possible.
This posting effectively answers its own assertion about Armie Hammer's drawing power. In addition to Thor and Man of Steel, see the Spider-Man movies, the Lord of the Rings movies, the Harry Potter movies, etc., etc.
I'd say the last two factors--Depp and Bruckheimer--contributed to the problem, at least. They may have been the primary factors in the movie's failure.
Here's what analysts have to say:
The Lone Ranger Represents Everything That’s Wrong With Hollywood Blockbusters
By Gilbert Cruz
Johnny Depp's hard times continue as 'Lone Ranger' bombs
By Arienne Thompson
"Outside of Jack Sparrow (from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise), he's not a huge box-office draw," says Jeff Bock, senior box-office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. "Everybody knows that if you just look at his box-office record. He's probably offered just about every role out there still because his name does carry weight, but he chooses to go that road-less-traveled path."
The very thing that made him may become his undoing, though, says Brian Balthazar, editor of POPgoesTheWeek, a pop-culture blog.
"I do think there may be some audience fatigue in the type of character Johnny Depp plays. He played quirky Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, and then he was the quirky Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland,and he was quirky Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He actually needs to play an ordinary guy. The public has seen him play a quirky, madcap character so many times."
Critics' distaste for Ranger repeatedly noted that Depp's Tonto was not far off from his twitchy, affected Jack Sparrow performance. Ranger, with a $225 million price tag and Depp's name attached, was expected to be a summer blockbuster yet pulled in a paltry $49 million over the July Fourth holiday weekend, making it one of the biggest flops of the year so far.
"It's not a good film. It's tired, it's lazy filmmaking, and he plays his oddball role well, but it's not enough to make up for everything else about it that is been-there-done-that," Bock says.
Dark Shadows, Lone Ranger...how many flops before people realize Depp is a great actor, not a great draw? In other words, Pirates was a fluke.
Finding Neverland, Sweeney Todd, and Public Enemies are the norm for a Depp movie, not the Pirates series. People aren't aching to see Depp unless he's Captain Jack Sparrow.
In other surprising developments, don't expect the next Daniel Radcliffe movie to do as well as Harry Potter. Don't expect the next Elijah Wood movie to do as well as Lord of the Rings. The stories and characters made these movies, not the actors.
Depp's lack of drawing power and his bizarre take on Tonto are two major negatives that Disney didn't consider. When you combine them, you have a perfect storm of fatally flawed decision-making. It's an epic fail waiting to happen.
“The Lone Ranger” failed because it wasted money
With "The Lone Ranger," Disney lost big on a bad idea. But in Hollywood, failure's almost as good as success
By Andrew O'Hehir
I almost don’t know whether to give the Walt Disney Co. a medal for bravery or an award for extreme stupidity. You can’t say the Mouse hasn’t been trying, that much is for sure. The debacle of “The Lone Ranger” follows hard on the heels of the now-legendary 2012 bomb “John Carter,” which forced the studio to take a $200 million write-down, and the 2011 summer disaster “Mars Needs Moms,” a less expensive film but an even bigger flop. (“John Carter” also wasn’t awful, but “Mars Needs Moms” was. I believe the NSA has systematically scrubbed that movie from the collective human memory bank.) In all three cases, the writing was on the wall long before the movies reached theaters: “Lone Ranger” and “John Carter” were attempts to revive semi-defunct genres (the western and old-school, sword-and-sandal sci-fi) at immense expense, while “Mars Needs Moms” was a muddled effort to recapture some ‘70s Disney magic by targeting women and family audiences with a science-fiction film.
There’s a clinical term that describes people who keep on making the same mistakes and expecting different results, right? Oh yeah, it’s “crazy.” On one hand, you have analysts like Todd Cunningham of the Wrap urging Disney to stay away from so-called original projects and stick with established superhero or comic-book franchises. (And yes, I do find it amusing that movies based on a long-running radio and TV serial, or on the work of a massively popular science-fiction pioneer, are considered “original” material.) On the other, a different Wrap article by Brent Lang quotes an unnamed movie executive as saying that if Depp showed up at the door with an idea for a $150 million action-thriller in which he played an eccentric character in extreme makeup, not a single studio in town would turn him away. To me this looks like a structural problem, one that isn’t about westerns or science fiction or Disney or Johnny Depp. If, that is, this even is a problem. One could also understand big, stupid, money-losing pictures as a feature of Hollywood’s production system, rather than a bug.
When I say that “The Lone Ranger” was a bad idea, by the way, I don’t mean that making the movie itself, warts and problematic Native American character and all, was indefensible. Sure, a little Johnny Depp goes a long way, these days, but God love the guy–he’s a genuine dose of old-Hollywood weirdness in a stultifying corporate environment, and on the whole I think the culture’s better off if he pursues his pet projects. I even liked “Dark Shadows” (go ahead and mock), and am on the record as believing “The Lone Ranger” is an intriguing and ambitious effort to blend an old-time adventure flick with a post-Peckinpah revisionist western. I do mean, however, that making that movie at that price–a sum that sounds shocking to ordinary people, and that could feed the inhabitants of several African villages for the rest of their natural lives–is irrational and idiotic on more levels than I can count.
If Messrs. Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Depp et al. had managed to “right-size” the picture, at a budget level of somewhere around $80 million or $90 million, let’s say, then all this fascinating postmortem analysis is not happening. The opening weekend gross for “The Lone Ranger,” even after all the dreadful publicity, was almost $50 million. Considered in the abstract, hey, that’s a lot of money! There is absolutely no question in my mind that the right combination of mid-level budget and oddball, niche-oriented marketing campaign could have produced a tidy little summer movie turning a tidy little profit. Everybody goes home happy.
But what fun is that? As anyone who happens to be reading this who works in Hollywood is already muttering, that’s a ridiculous scenario. It’s not that it couldn’t be done, but that Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer would never do it. The movie industry, at least at that level, operates on the same delusional principles as the military budget or Wall Street executive salaries, where bigness, waste and needless expenditure in all directions become markers of significance and ambition. To make “The Lone Ranger” for less money than Bruckheimer and Disney spent on the massively profitable “Pirates of the Caribbean” series might have been prudent. (OK, it definitely would’ve been.) But it also would have been seen, by the devoted priesthood of the industry, as being small-minded and grasping, as a failure to dream or an admission that the moviemakers really didn’t want the alluring devil’s candy of massive success and adulation, theme-park tie-ins and fast-food figurines and copyright-violation Tijuana parody T-shirts and all the rest of it.
Our last critic agrees with O'Hehir about the right direction for movie-making, even if O'Hehir backed away from his own suggestion.
Disney Epic Fail
By Forrest Rawls
I think it’s time to go back to unknown actors, and writers and start on a small scale (Hello Indie!) before going epic. I would think that those who want to make money would spend less so that the outcome of the paycheck is higher if done well and no red if the movie bombs. Not betting on an actor to carry a film and paying a load of dough to make it. I know some movies may need special effects and car chases, but come on there are decent things on YouTube.
If that happens, the blame goes mostly to Depp, who conceived his bizarre take on Tonto and used it to convince Disney to greenlight the movie.
For more on Johnny Depp and Tonto, see Ranger too Racist to Reboot and Tonto = Captain Jack Sparrow.