An underwhelming performance of the big-budget Western marks a major blunder for Pirates of the Caribbean producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski.
Disney's The Lone Ranger has ended up in the box office doldrums, with the studio and even producer Jerry Bruckheimer facing a substantial loss after the tame opening of the Johnny Depp-Armie Hammer Western in North America and in its first overseas markets.
Just as Lone Ranger began rolling out in theaters July 3, Cowen & Co. analyst Doug Cruetz predicted a $100 million write-down for Disney. Now, according to a report by The Hollywood Reporter, box office experts and rival studio insiders say that the loss could approach or even surpass $150 million based on final opening numbers. Disney will likely weather the storm thanks to summer box office hits Iron Man 3 and Monsters University.
Directed by Gore Verbinski, Lone Ranger -- based on the 1930s radio show and 1950s television series -- posted a five-day domestic opening of $48.9 million, dismally low considering the film's $250 million production budget and a worldwide marketing spend of around $175 million.
Given its poor opening and stiff July competition, box office experts now calculate that Lone Ranger will reach only $125 million domestically, if that. Overseas, it may earn $150 million for a worldwide total of $275 million. Despite Depp's international star status,the film grossed $24.3 million from 24 markets for a worldwide opening of $73.2 million.
In 2011, Disney was forced to take a $200 million write-down when the ill-fated John Carter -- costing more than $250 million to produce -- topped out at $282 million worldwide.
“It's very disappointing," Disney executive VP worldwide distribution Dave Hollis reportedly said. "Everything was perfect on paper, so today was incredibly frustrating."
Reuniting the same team behind the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean franchise -- Bruckheimer, one of the most successful producers in Hollywood history, Verbinski and Depp -- Lone Ranger was intended to launch a new live-action franchise for Disney, even though Westerns are typically a tricky genre, particularly overseas.
In August 2011, former Walt Disney Studios chairman Rich Ross suspended production of Lone Ranger because of concerns over the $250 million budget in the wake of box office bomb Cowboys & Aliens, also a Western.
But after Bruckheimer and Verbinski promised to scale back the budget to $215 million, Disney gave the go-ahead. As part of the agreement, Bruckheimer also agreed to pay for a portion of any budget overages, although it isn't known what the split is between him and Disney. That arrangement could put some of the financial loss on Bruckheimer's shoulders.
Ross was let go in April 2012, and by the time Alan Horn took over the top job that June, Lone Ranger was midway through shooting. There were a number of setbacks during the shoot, including poor weather and problems with complex train sequences, causing it to run over schedule and drive the budget up.
Jennifer Wolfe is Director of News & Content at Animation World Network.