It's not like anyone had especially high expectations for "The Lone Ranger." Given the movie's poor pre-release buzz and its positioning opposite the sequel to a wildly popular animated family film, pundits expected "Ranger" to do just modest business; only the might of Johnny Depp's name and the Disney marketing machine were expected to carry it to a domestic gross of about $40 million from Friday to Sunday and maybe $60 million over the whole July 4th five-day weekend.
But the movie didn't even do that well. According to estimates, it earned just $29.4 million over the three weekend days and just $48.9 million over the five days since it opened on Wednesday, July 3. Given the film's production cost, reportedly between $225 and $250 million, that weak opening makes "Lone Ranger" a flop the size Disney hasn't seen since last year's "John Carter."
Why was this Western so slow on the draw? After all, despite all the bad reviews from critics and the negative buzz about the bloated budget, the movie earned a solid B+ at CinemaScore, indicating positive word-of-mouth among those who saw it. But that was only if you could get them into the theater first. Here are some possible reasons why they couldn't.
"Despicable Me 2" grabbed all the family audience. Well, not all of it; Disney's own "Monsters University," champ for the two previous weekends, still had strong legs, earning another estimated $19.6 million this weekend. But otherwise, most of the family crowd went to see "Despicable," which earned an estimated $82.5 million over the three-day weekend and $142 .1 million since it opened last Wednesday. And why wouldn't they? Reviews were almost uniformly positive, and the movie was rated PG, not PG-13, like "Lone Ranger."
"Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain" grabbed all the guy audience. Well, not all of it; plenty still went to see the raunchy comedy of "The Heat" or the zombie action of "World War Z." But the stand-up comic's new concert film, which earned an estimated $10.1 million from Friday to Sunday and $17.5 million over the five-day holiday, sapped a good chunk of the guy audience that might have enjoyed the action of Disney's Western.
People don't care about the character anymore. The Lone Ranger was popular in the 1950s, thanks to the Clayton Moore-Jay Silverheels TV series, but he was pretty old hat 32 years ago, the last time Hollywood tried to revive the franchise. Since then, there's been little in the way of movies, TV shows, comic books, or videogames to help keep the character from being forgotten.
People don't care about Westerns anymore. Sadly, the Western was largely passé when the Lone Ranger saddled up again in 1981; it's even more of a relic now. Despite the rare success in the genre ("True Grit," "Django Unchained"), the multiplex has been a Boot Hill for expensive attempts to revive the Western, from "Wild Wild West" to "Jonah Hex" to "Cowboys and Aliens." Even "John Carter" was essentially a Western set on Mars. Unfortunately, young moviegoers have moved on.
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. "Lone Ranger" does have an A-lister in Johnny Depp, but in the sidekick role. The new Sherlock Holmes movies wouldn't work if Robert Downey Jr. were playing Dr. Watson, and someone like Hammer or Joel Edgerton were playing Holmes. So it is with the Lone Ranger and Tonto.
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. In this case, they took a fairly simple Western narrative and piled it high with expensive spectacle. Bruckheimer, of all people, should have known better. Not only did he flail in recent years with his attempts to Pirate-ize the "Prince of Persia" videogame and the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" musical vignette, but he also nearly lost this project when Disney pulled the plug over its cost overruns. The studio changed its mind after the Western was supposedly scaled back, but the result looks as extravagant and over-the-top as the initial version was reputed to be. Like Depp, it appears no one could say no to him, even though they tried.