Disney Loses on Lone Ranger

Via the BBC:  Walt Disney to lose millions on Lone Ranger film

Walt Disney has warned that its Lone Ranger summer blockbuster will lose it between $160m-$190m (£104m-£124m) after heavy spending on promotion failed to bring returns.

What I find interesting about this is how obvious it was that this was a bad idea from the start.  It is amazing how a company that knows a thing or two about entertainment could make this bad of a “summer blockbuster.”  For example, I know Depp has been gold in the Pirates films, but it was pretty obvious from the beginning that casting his as Tonto was not going to end well.

And note:  I have fond memories of reruns of The Lone Ranger from when I was a small child, so was predisposed to like the idea of a Lone Ranger film.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Popular Culture, Quick Takes
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Joel says:

    It’s amazing that Depp talked about how he was fixing the racist portrayal of Tonto, when his version looked just as bad if not worse in the trailers.

  2. legion says:

    Not to mention that Depp is hardly the only anchor on this boat, from what I’ve heard. The Lone Ranger – like The Green Hornet and The Phantom before it – is a story from the comics of the 20s and 30s, for cryin’ out loud… it’s just not a property that holds any interest for anyone under the age of 60, no matter who you put in the roles.

  3. @Joel: Exactly. How this was not obvious, I don’t understand.

  4. JWH says:

    Does Hollywood make anything but big-budget would-be blockbusters these days? I would think that there should be room for, say, rom-coms and other pedestrian fare. A rom-com might be tapioca, but it also doesn’t cost as much as a CGI spectacle.

  5. TastyBits says:

    @Steven L. Taylor

    In many cases, the foreign and domestic tax schemes make it difficult to lose money. At one time, the German tax credits could subsidize a large portion of the costs, and if I remember correctly, there was no limit on how little needed to be done in Germany.

    In a true free market, Disney would pay for its mistakes, but I doubt Disney will bear the full cost.

  6. PJ says:

    Today’s Wikipedia article: Hollywood accounting

    (Now, obviously, this does seems to be a genuine loss and not a loss created through accounting…)

  7. wr says:

    @TastyBits: Well, Disney’s writing off close to 200 million on this, so yeah, they’re bearing the cost.

  8. Anderson says:

    My kid watches Disney XD whenever he gets the chance, and while I saw Monsters U advertised heavily, I never saw an ad for the Ranger movie. Which led me to suspect that Disney decided not to throw good money after bad.

  9. Pinky says:

    If you look at Johnny Depp’s career, he’s only been modestly successful outside Tim Burton movies. Now, part of that is because he typically works on small projects and Burton tent-pole movies, but he hasn’t really scored with his more Hollywood movies without Burton. Even his last Tim Burton movie, Dark Shadows, didn’t do particularly well. That was also a new version of a product that most kids wouldn’t have heard of.

  10. And unlike last year, when “John Carter” bombed, the mouse doesn’t have “Avengers” waiting in the wings to right off the loss with.

    (They have “Iron Man 3” instead. I’m starting to think Robert Downey Jr. is now grossly underpaid for those movies…)

  11. TastyBits says:

    @wr:

    I agree that the loss was probably much larger, and this is the residual amount they could not offset. It is also possible that they are using the loss to keep from paying anything based upon the net revenues.

  12. What I find interesting about this is how obvious it was that this was a bad idea from the start.

    Having seen the movie, it’s not obvious to me that it was a bad idea. The movie they released was terrible, but there were enough bits in it that make me think it could have been a good movie. And Depp was actually one of the good bits. Armie Hammer was the casting decision I don’t get.

    The biggest problem is that they couldn’t seem to decide whether they wanted the movie to be a tongue-in-cheek action comedy or a darker-and-grittier reimagining of the Lone Ranger and the mood whiplash of zig-zagging back and forth between the two extremes is what the ruined the film.

  13. sam says:

    @legion:

    a story from the comics of the 20s and 30s, for cryin’ out loud…

    Hey! So what? FWIW, I listened to it on the radio in the 40s and saw it on TV in the 50s. It’s a good story, and in the hands of someone other than Jerry Bruckheimer (whom I’m convinced believes nuance is a kind of cheese), it could be successful. I don’t think kids are as opposed to the “old” as we think. They do respond to good stories well-presented.

  14. sam says:

    Moreover, and along these lines, the western isn’t dead. We’ve been watching Hell on Wheels, the AMC series (thank God for Roku and Netflix). If you haven’t seen, do give it a look. Pretty good TV, almost as good as Deadwood.

  15. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @legion: The Lone Ranger – like The Green Hornet and The Phantom before it – is a story from the comics of the 20s and 30s, for cryin’ out loud…

    Batman and Superman were both created in the 30’s. Captain America dates from 1941, and they’ve had successful films. And Indiana Jones was set in that era.

    It’s not just the age of the character or the origin of the story. It’s how it’s handled.

  16. James Pearce says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Armie Hammer was the casting decision I don’t get.

    Oh, I can understand the casting decision. He’s a young star with leading man good looks and charm. He’d do the job and not cost a lot of money.

    What I don’t get is the part they wrote for him. He’s a pacifist boob until the third act? Boring!

    You’re right about the mixed tone, too. I didn’t mind that so much as the dreadful pacing. How many climaxes did that movie have anyway? I remember thinking during one, Oh, good….it’s almost over. But nope, here’s comes another 15 minute set piece…..

    All in all, what a drag.

  17. @legion:

    a story from the comics of the 20s and 30s, for cryin’ out loud… it’s just not a property that holds any interest for anyone under the age of 60, no matter who you put in the roles.

    Looking at the top 10 grossing movies of this year so far we’ve got characters from the 60s (Iron Man, Star Trek), characters from the 30s (Man of Steel), and characters from 1900 (Oz the Great and Powerful). Clearly people under 60 have an interest in older characters provided they’re done in a halfway decent manner.

  18. @James Pearce:

    The problem with Armie Hammer is that he’s not a strong enough personality to have someone like Johnny Depp as a side kick. It’s like getting a piece of white bread smeared with blue cheese. It doesn’t matter how great the bread is, you’re not going to taste it at all.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    Once it hits the overseas market I’m guessing that it will not lose the kind of money analysts currently project. I lived and traveled in Asia for 3 years and these kind of movies (as cheesy as I think they are) do well. If The Lone Ranger had cast, say, a couple of Victoria’s Secret Models as Tonto’s love interest, they’d probably be talking about how much profit they hope to realize.

  20. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Batman and Superman were both created in the 30′s. Captain America dates from 1941, and they’ve had successful films. And Indiana Jones was set in that era.

    True, but the comics characters have had a continuous cultural presence since their inception, and Indy was solely created for a modern (at the time) audience & has had regular new installments since the first. But these movies made off of pulp-era newspaper strips just don’t have any pull on people who didn’t actually grow up with it.
    @sam:

    They do respond to good stories well-presented.

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    It’s not just the age of the character or the origin of the story. It’s how it’s handled.

    On this I totally agree – the specific characters are just sugar water; doing it _well_ is what makes a movie successful, and I think that’s where all the ones I’ve mentioned fall down (and where a lot of the counter-examples, like Iron Man & The Avengers succeed) – when Hollywood makes a “blockbuster”, they’re building something they can just throw money at & get more money back – there seems to be no interest at all in making it a “good” movie. A lazy studio exec hires a lazy producer, and they make a lazy movie that has a popular title/subject/character name, and never do any actual work on the “hard” parts of the film. Just saying “Let’s make a summer blockbuster! Here’s a blank check-go buy a hot name!” ain’t enough – you still have to do hard work to make a good movie… Remember Warren Beatty & Madonna in Dick Tracy? Or Uma Thurman & Ralph Feinnes in that “other” Avengers movie? The property names were ones someone in the studio remembered, and assumed would carry them to popular success, but nobody put the slightest effort into making them “good”.

  21. JohnMcC says:

    I hardly ever watch movies so what I’m doing here I don’t really know. But I wanted to say that like Mr Sam above, I listened to “The Lone Ranger” on the radio before anyone we knew had a TV. And that when I heard that Mr Depp was going to ‘fix’ the ‘racism’ he saw in the original ‘Tonto’ I was vexed and irritated. I’ve always thought that Jay Silverheels played an ‘Indian’ who was a man of dignity and courage. In childhood games, I never had trouble playing the Tonto role to the next door neighbor’s Lone Ranger.

  22. Craigo says:

    @al-Ameda: The Lone Ranger only has three big foreign markets left, all in Europe. And given that the studios make even less from foreign grosses than the fifty cents on the dollar they get from US exhibitors…

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @legion: Remember Warren Beatty & Madonna in Dick Tracy?

    I have to confess, I kinda enjoyed that one…

  24. wr says:

    @Pinky: “If you look at Johnny Depp’s career, he’s only been modestly successful outside Tim Burton movies. Now, part of that is because he typically works on small projects and Burton tent-pole movies, but he hasn’t really scored with his more Hollywood movies without Burton. ”

    Except, of course, for the insanely successful Pirates of the Carribean movies, which have collectively grossed in the billions. And which come from the same creative auspices as TLR.

    Which is, by the way, the answer to why this film was greenlit. When the producer, director and star of one of the studio’s biggest franchises say they want to collaborate again on a new franchise, at some point, even if the execs have misgivings, they are probably going to roll the dice on the people who delivered for them before…

  25. Pinky says:

    @wr: You’re right. I was thinking Burton was involved in the Pirates movies. I see Johnny Depp in heavy makeup, I think Tim Burton.

  26. @wr:

    Which is, by the way, the answer to why this film was greenlit. When the producer, director and star of one of the studio’s biggest franchises say they want to collaborate again on a new franchise, at some point, even if the execs have misgivings, they are probably going to roll the dice on the people who delivered for them before…

    An excellent point.

  27. @Stormy Dragon:

    Having seen the movie, it’s not obvious to me that it was a bad idea. The movie they released was terrible

    It was less that I thought a Lone Ranger film was a bad idea (indeed, I thought it was a good idea in the abstract), it was just everything I heard about this particular movie, even in the pre-production phase, seemed potentially problematic. Probably because Johnny Depp as Tonto always seemed like a place for a big problem.

  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    The Lone Ranger sucked!